Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 2 April 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. As a single person I invite many people over for dinner. Invariably the numbers are not equal, but I go to immense pains to get a mixture of guests who will find each other interesting, and also try to cook something special and delicious. The return invitations are invariably of the ‘take-us-as-you-find-us’ variety (‘Do come over. It’ll be Just Us. I don’t know what I’ll cook — probably pot luck’). To rub salt into the wound, at these suppers I am regaled with stories of the sparkling dinner parties my hosts have recently held, all featuring people who are fascinating but — most important — in couples. One shouldn’t give in order to get something back, but I am beginning to refuse all invitations and to grudge asking people over.

Name withheld, London E14

A. Thank you for highlighting this social injustice of which too many dinner-party-givers are guilty. Their justification is, usually, that there are no presentable single men, so, rather than depress a lady singleton by accentuating her status in a room full of couples, they invite her on her own. This doesn’t excuse the food.

Hosts must take a lead in resolving this inequity. One who has done so with success is a prominent socialiser of my acquaintance. Regularly entertaining without his wife, X has made a feature of baldly declaring that he is having other singles only and inviting only one member of a couple to both dinner and three-day-long houseparties. He does this not for concupiscent purposes but simply in recognition that people like to get away from their partners from time to time and, what’s more, it is convenient for them. It is difficult for both members of a couple to ‘get away’ even just for dinner, especially if they have children. The formula also works because one often likes only one member of a couple.

In this way he entertains his spinster friends on an equal level with the other guests who are all rather stimulated by revisiting their own singleton personas. There is no reason why you yourself should not take a lead on behalf of other singletons and put it to your coupled-up friends that, for understandable reasons, you would like to try out a new policy of inviting one member of a couple only. They can hardly object.

Q. I enjoyed your suggestion of special edition stamps as presents to commemorate the second marriages of older people. Sadly these would be superfluous for the royal wedding I am about to attend. I have been told there is no need to give a present but I would like to mark my support for this exceptional couple who do, I admit, already have everything. What do you suggest, Mary?

Name and address withheld

A. May I recommend a present from the Wedding Garden Company (01342 832123), www.weddinggardencompany.co.uk, which can suggest and supply suitable plants or Trees Direct (01588 680280), www.treesdirect.co.uk, from whom one octogenarian was recently ecstatic to receive 80 trees as his 80th birthday present. You can never have too many plants or trees and their appropriateness as royal gifts is that they benefit not just the royal recipients, but also their loyal subjects, by helping to offset the damage caused by global warming.