Q. Is there a tactful way to keep one social offer on hold while waiting to see if you have made the cut for something ‘better’ you know to be happening on the same date? It’s easy enough if the invitation comes in by email or letter, but not when you are put on the spot by someone ringing up. This happened the other day and the caller, a slightly bullying woman, sensed that I was prevaricating and said, ‘I don’t want you to feel ambushed. Take your time, think about it.’ Not wanting to be rude, I quickly accepted immediately. Inevitably the invitation for the preferred event came in by email a couple of hours later.
— J.P., Herts
A. The key thing is not to respond to a verbal invitation by saying ‘Help!’ This is the tactless habit of one over-popular bachelor. Next time such a phone call comes in, begin banging on a table or door and shout ‘Oh no. We’ve got builders in and I can’t hear a word you’re saying . I’m so sorry. Can I ring you back when they have gone?’ This will buy a bit of time.
Q. I am a divorced woman in my late fifties and find myself unexpectedly seeing a lot of a divorced man of my own age. We are very happy to be together but neither of us can stand the idea of referring to the other as our ‘partner’. Short of actually getting married, Mary, what other term can we use? Boyfriend/girlfriend sounds too babyish. Consort is pretentious. Companion is twee and so it goes on. Any ideas?
— B.A., Edinburgh
The word ‘admirer’ is also twee but somehow strikes the right note, being pleasantly self-mocking and not spelling out too many details which are none of anyone else’s business (e.g. ‘lover’). It also works as an ice-breaker when you introduce each other to new people. Everyone enjoys the debate about what term could be used other than the dreaded ‘partner’.
Q. My husband and I have made friends with a local couple who are very much on our wavelength. We would like to see more of them but the problem is that the charming thatched cottage they occupy is not overly clean and we are reluctant to risk further stomach upsets by going to them. We couldn’t care less about cutlet for cutlet but they obviously feel it is de rigueur to return hospitality and insist they won’t come again to us until we have been to them.
— Name and address withheld
A. Spare their feelings by pretending you have just discovered you are allergic to the airborne moulds associated with thatched cottages. This is a genuine condition which can trigger severe asthma, rhinitis and watering eyes in those susceptible. Suggest a compromise for the hospitality issue which is that they come to your house, you provide the food and they bring the wine.