Q. Someone I was at university with but hadn’t seen much of over the ten years since invited me to come for a weekend at his country house. I went once and, although it was perfectly fine and they are perfectly nice, wouldn’t want to go there again. Life’s just too short to spend weekends with people you can’t really talk to. But now his wife has identified me as a ‘spare man’ and is keen for me to come again. I have given excuses for not accepting subsequent invitations but she is really persistent and has now said they are going to be there all of July and August and can I just name any weekend. How can I give a permanent refusal without being rude?
—Name and address withheld
A. Turn this bullying to your advantage. There must be some other ‘spare men’ among your acquaintance whose conversation you do enjoy. Explain to your putative host that you are finding difficulty identifying a spare weekend since you have a backlog of single male friends you need to find time to spend weekends with. Give the names of some of these single men by way of illustration. There can never be enough spare men in a country house and the obvious solution she will arrive at is that you should bring one of these men along with you, if not two. In this way you will have compatible company to dilute that of your hosts and will find the weekend much more palatable.
Q. What is the best response when men knock at your door claiming they have just enough tar left over from a nearby job to do your drive? One friend I know said yes to the price offered but, when the job was finished, found himself being charged (with menaces) many times more than the original quote. Another, who politely declined from the outset, was left feeling very threatened. I live alone and in dread of their knocking. What should I say if they come to me?
—N.B., East Lothian
A. If and when these men knock, smile pleasantly and say, ‘I’m sorry, the owners aren’t in. I’m just cleaning up here. ’
Q. A girl I know is gearing up to marry a really unsuitable man. She is beautiful, interesting and talented. He is boring, bossy and hideous, but a millionaire. She, despite all her talents, still doesn’t have a job and can’t afford to pay rent in London any more. Most of her close friends think that desperation is driving her delusion that this man would be an OK husband, but how can we tactfully stop her from making this mistake before it’s too late?
—Name and address withheld
A. You may stand back and let the marriage go ahead. Take solace from the Italian poet, novelist and acute social observer Cesare Pavese (1908–1950), who noted, ‘No woman marries for money; they are all clever enough, before marrying a millionaire, to fall in love with him first.’