Miss Conduct

A pet cause

Keeping a party from going to the dogs, plus the spouse who wouldn't slow down.

By Robin Abrahams
August 21, 2011

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Last summer, I hosted a formal outdoor party to celebrate my sister’s elopement. My cousin brought his very large dog, which begged, swiped food off tables, and terrified a child. I asked my cousin to please tie the dog outside the garden, and he refused, so I snapped that he would have to take it home. He and his wife left in a huff, were icy to me for months, and have made it clear that they have no interest in going anywhere that their dog is not welcome. Now I’m hosting another celebration for this cousin’s sister. Of course I want him and his wife to attend – but not the dog. How can I do this without causing hard feelings?

A.F. / Osterville

Unfortunately, all the politeness in the world can’t guarantee the reactions of other people. There’s nothing truly magic about the word “please.”

Since the party is to honor your cousin’s sister (also your cousin?), talk to that relative first. Cousin K-9 and the missus sound like the sort to drag third parties into things, and you certainly don’t want the very person you’re celebrating to feel blindsided or caught in a tug of war. So give her a heads-up and take her advice, if she has any, into account.

When you talk to Cousin K-9, lead by apologizing for your tone at last summer’s party. Then explain that you hope to avoid any awkwardness this time, so you thought you’d tell them in advance that this party is to be for humans only. Let them bluster, and don’t get pulled into an argument: your house, your rules. (Of course, logic is on your side, whether one is primarily concerned with the quality of the party or the welfare of the dog. Dogs, like people, need to learn both how to behave appropriately in a social setting and how to be on their own for a period of time. A dog that can’t do either is an unhappy dog that can become a danger to itself or others.)

If they get dreadfully sulky, point out that this party is not for you or for them, but for Sister Cousin, and ask them to please keep the focus on ensuring that she can have a delightful and stress-free time.

Now that my wife and I are empty nesters, we have more opportunities to go out to dinner. Once our plates are cleared, my wife always politely declines one last drink or cup of coffee and asks for the check. I would like to sit for a few more minutes and enjoy her company and a beverage, but she insists that we should let the restaurant turn over the table. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with resting for another 15 minutes after a big meal.

Do you have an opinion?

P.A. / Falmouth

Your wife is a lucky woman if, after years of child-raising and date-night deprivations, she is married to a man who still enjoys lingering with her over candlelight and cocktails. And a man with good etiquette, at that: You are correct that a diner is under no obligation to flee the premises the moment the last morsel of food strikes his or her stomach. Your wife needn’t fear that the two of you are being rude by indulging in a postprandial cup of coffee or drink.

Are you sure, however, that it isn’t that she herself would rather go home straightaway? Some people are lingerers and savorers, and others prefer to wrap things up briskly and get home to their Law & Order reruns. (And just as with slobs and neatniks, or the always chilly and the overheated, we do seem to find romance with our opposite numbers.) Since beginning this column I’ve discovered that even long-married spouses will occasionally fall back on – or invent – rules of etiquette in order to get their way without saying what they want outright.

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

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