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Dear Mary

Mary solves your problems: A family friend stays over all the time – but never actually asks us out

Also: How to deal with those overdue ‘thank-yous’ and taking on a pompous maître d’

11 November 2017

9:00 AM

11 November 2017

9:00 AM

Q. We have a family friend we don’t see nearly as much as we’d like. This is because he’s so near perfect — clever, funny, civilised, and also single with an interesting job — that he’s in great demand as a guest. When we do bag him before somebody else does we adore his company and he clearly enjoys ours.

My gripe is that I’ve realised he’s been coming to stay with us for 30 years, either in houses we’ve rented abroad, in Scotland or just as a weekend guest at home, yet has never invited us to lunch, the cinema or even for a walk. This is nothing to do with a return of hospitality; he’s not in a position to ask us back and he’s generous with presents.

It’s that he seems happy not to see me for months at a time unless I initiate something. I just feel there is an inequality of enthusiasm which needs to be addressed. But I don’t want to give the impression that I am bitter or harbouring a grudge.
— Name and address withheld

A. Don’t take it personally. Such bachelors are often emotionally illiterate. Demand having made them socially passive, it ceases to occur to them that they should initiate contact. It would be a kindness were you to help this near-perfect man become even better-rounded. Collude with a mutual friend who will be seeing him soon. During a private moment she can raise your name, adding: ‘So how did the confrontation go?’


When he replies, ‘What?’ she can say, ‘Oh, she’s rather hurt you never try to see her unless she invites you to stay. Oh,don’t worry, she must have thought better of it. But is it true you never initiate contact? Why is that?’

Q. I spent £250 on one godson’s wedding presents and £300 on another. Six months later I have heard nothing. I mind about no thank-you letters, but care more about knowing whether they received the gifts. Can you advise?
— T.M.P., Bruton, Somerset

A. Text or email them with this enquiry: ‘Horrified to see, when looking through my credit card statements for the past six months, no mention of the gift I bought you through the normally reliable (here name the relevant supplier). I’m so sorry to have disappointed you. Can you confirm you never received (here name the relevant present) and I will re-order it?’

When they reply that they did receive the presents and are very sorry they have been too busy to thank you, you can email back, ‘Phew! And silly me. The payment went through my debit account.’

Q. My hackles tend to rise when a pompous maître d’ asks, ‘Do you have a reservation?’ in a sneering way. I want to put him in his place. What do you recommend?
— G.C., London W1.

A. Why not break the ice by taking a tip from Paddy Renouf and saying: ‘I have many reservations about this restaurant but I’d like to try anyway.’

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