Miss Conduct

Wedding day disasters

Time to close the door on hurtful family, plus artfully declining to dance at a wedding.

By Robin Abrahams
July 10, 2011

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My parents have not spoken to me since I eloped five years ago at age 39. They are paying for and planning the upcoming wedding of my sister (who speaks to me occasionally). Today, we received an invitation with registry information but no RSVP card. I checked, and it was not a mistake – it was determined that it was “acceptable” for us to attend the wedding but not the reception. I think my sister should have written a note along the lines of “We know things are difficult, but we’d like to get together for a dinner with you” without a gift request. Am I wrong? I find myself thinking the best present is a book on etiquette.

A.S. / Portsmouth, New Hampshire

I think the best present is the one you wisely gave yourself five years ago: a chance to create a family of your own with a new and better way of doing things. You may not be happy about the situation with your parents, but it seems as though you are at peace with it. So you might want to consider taking control and ending things between you and your sister as well. You say she speaks to you “occasionally” – are you, like oysters, only acceptable in months with an “R”? And you’re being remarkably tolerant about the wedding, suggesting that if she hadn’t asked for a gift and maybe sprung for dinner, you’d have been all right with being excluded. Her decision to cut you out of the reception is appalling, and the fact that your parents are paying for it is no excuse.

Don’t attend the wedding. There’s no dignity in going where you aren’t wanted. If you decide to end things with your sister, calmly and politely explain why. If you don’t mind being pleasant during your “occasional” exchanges, then keep doing that. And look at your budget and figure out how much you normally spend on family wedding gifts (surveys show most people spend around $75 to $125). Then take that money and buy the best bottle of champagne you can afford. Leave enough change to get some good local strawberries and some cheese and crackers. Then spend a summer evening sitting outdoors with your husband, toasting your life together.

Is there a way to politely but forcefully decline an invitation to dance at a social event? I find absolutely no enjoyment in dancing. Zero. None. At a wedding, say, where I’m enjoying a conversation, a woman (niece or cousin, for example – I’m married) will attempt to pull me to the dance floor. The next three minutes are horrible. When the misery is over, I go back to jokes about my bad dancing, laughing it off. If I liked dancing and was bad at it, so be it, but I absolutely hate it. How do I stop this without looking like the bad guy?

M.W. / Littleton

Apologies for using your suffering as an opportunity for a public service announcement, but here goes: Attention, dancers! When you ask us and we say, “No thanks,” graciously accept our refusal and leave us alone. Those of us who say we hate dancing aren’t faking. We aren’t shy. We don’t lack self-esteem or joie de vivre or a healthy libido. We aren’t repressed by our upbringing. We truly, genuinely hate it. Really.

When you’re asked to dance, M.W., decline in a way that doesn’t dismiss the asker entirely – promise to catch up with her later, or suggest a walk outside or a fresh drink. Keep putting people off until later, later, later, until it’s too late. Say you’re worried about your knee. (It’s not a lie. If you’re older than 25, you’re worried about your knee.) And for heaven’s sake, get your wife on your side! Let her know that you’ll be in a much better post-party mood if she helps keep the jitterbuggers from bugging you.

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


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