Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 2 November 2002

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. Could you give me some guidance on how to keep my parents' and acquaintances' opinions about my single life to themselves? At 32, unmarried without children and happy about it, I hear a regular chorus from the parents and assorted people: 'You ought to get married sometime soon'; 'Shouldn't you be finding a wife by now?' etc., etc. As if I could just pop down to Harrods this sunny afternoon, pick up a sweet young thing without a second thought, maybe even find a nice one off the rack at a 10 per cent discount. How can I let them know that their opinions and helpful suggestions are of no value to me, without ruffling any sensitive feathers?

D.V., Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

A. Explain to the well-wishers that you have taken a considered decision to delay matrimonial commitment until your late thirties or early forties. Demographics prove that at this time of life there is a glut of desirable single women yet only a handful of single men of compatible age. You are aware that desperation distorts the cachet of a bachelor so he appears incrementally more attractive with each passing year. By hanging on until the last moment, you will therefore be able to bag a top-of-the-range wife of a superior quality to the sort you would be able to attract at your current age - since, in your own opinion, you are not much of a catch. Self-deprecation of this sort can only unleash an enjoyable flood of flattery and reassurance, so in this way you will turn the nuisance of their probings to your advantage.

Q. During a recent duck-flighting expedition on a Scottish estate with royal connections, I found myself standing on the edge of a pond in close proximity to a gamekeeper for up to two and half hours in the freezing cold. As a novice gun, my inclination was to make small talk with the fellow, but my attempts at affability were rebuffed. Did I do the wrong thing, Mary?

G.W., Marlborough, Wiltshire

A. Yes. Duck-flighting is not a cocktail party and guns are meant to be in awe of, or listening to, nature. The odd sentence is acceptable, but otherwise guns are supposed to be listening for the whoosh of the teal coming in to the pond.

Q. A visitor to my house commented that it was very mal vu to display invitations along one's mantelpiece. However, I need my invitations on display as I have a very bad memory and they will certainly dry up if I forget to attend things. What is your view, Mary?

P.M., Salisbury, Wiltshire

A. Sadly, it is incorrect to display invitations on a mantelpiece, on the grounds that persons passing through the drawing-room might be dismayed to see events to which they themselves have not been invited despite knowing the hosts. You can display them instead on your fridge, using fridge magnets, or on a Sloane Ranger-style quilted noticeboard at eye level with your kitchen table.

If you have a problem, write to Dear Mary, c/o The Spectator, 56 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LL.