Miss Conduct

No boys allowed

Barring new husbands from the girls weekend, plus defusing bombshell questions

By Robin Abrahams
January 9, 2011

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I’m in my mid-20s and have two close friends getting married this year. Every summer I invite them and two other close friends (who are single, as I am) for a girls weekend at my family’s summer house on Cape Cod. The five of us have a great time. I’m now concerned about how to proceed once they are married. Do I invite their husbands as well? I’d hate to make them feel as if their husbands were being excluded, but my family’s home is not large enough for seven guests. What should I do? M.C / Boston

You’re so cute, M.C.! Darling, there is nothing married women love more in the world than the feeling that their husbands are being excluded. Socialize with your newly coupled friends as couples on occasion, but you needn’t treat them, post-marriage, as though they have suddenly become conjoined twins. Keep this as a girls-only weekend for as long as you can – and by “for as long as you can,” I mean for decades. As you move through your 20s and start to make more serious romantic and career commitments, this annual retreat will become even more valuable for the five of you. You have the beginning of a wonderful, lifelong tradition on your hands, one that with luck can last you and your friends through wedding-planning stress, pregnancies, career changes, health crises, divorces, and more.

You have addressed many instances regarding how to respond when someone asks you an unintentionally intrusive or rude question. What is your advice for a host when this happens between two guests? For instance, when a woman asked my dear cousin whether his Asian wife was a mail-order bride? (To which I responded with laughter and an “Are you kidding?”) Or when my mother-in-law asked the white mother of a biracial child when she had adopted her little girl (to which I was uncharacteristically speechless)? How does one politely protect his or her guests, but not at the expense of another guest? E.H. / Sudbury

Good on you for realizing that this kind of thing is a host’s responsibility to address. Ensuring guests behave properly isn’t one of the fun parts of hosting, but it is necessary. Depending on the situation – exactly how bad the comment was, how offended the other person seems, the general social intelligence of the offender – there are several options. Treating the question as a joke, as you did with the mail-order comment, is one of them. Taking charge and either answering or deflecting the question is another: “In fact, Amanda isn’t adopted, her father is African-American. Families sure come in a lot of configurations these days! She also had the lead in the holiday pageant this year and was great. Did you ever do those as a kid?”

If someone drops a real bomb of a question, leaving the other person looking shellshocked, you lock eyes with the questioner and say, in a tone of silken steel, “Excuse me, can you help me in the kitchen?” Get them out of the situation, tell them what line they crossed, and ask them to apologize. If you do this in a cheerful, matter-of-fact way, they will most likely go along with it. If they don’t, kindly suggest that it may be time for them to leave. (It’s a good idea to have a wingperson – a romantic partner or good friend – to help out at parties. If you have to take a guest aside, your wingperson can keep the others occupied and make sure an awkward silence doesn’t descend.) And in all cases, do apologize to the recipient of the tactless question on your own. Most people are good sports about this kind of thing, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like their good sportsmanship to be recognized.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.

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  • January 9, 2011 cover
  • Jan. 9, 2011 Magazine cover