Miss Conduct

Advice on dropping a third wheel

Plus, the surprisingly complicated ethics of requesting a song at a concert.

Lucy Truman

I see a friend for dinner every few months or so, and her husband always joins us. He’s a great guy, and I enjoy his company. However, it would be nice to spend time with just my friend and be able to talk freely rather than limiting conversations to those which include him. (I’m single, so I can’t bring a significant other.) I’ve suggested that maybe he’s bored and doesn’t “have” to come, but he wants to, and she wants him there. Is there a tactful way to suggest that she leave hubs at home, or am I stuck with him?

S.R. / Boston

The good news is that there is indeed a tactful way to make your case. The bad news is that you’ve already tried it — “Maybe he’s bored!” — and been just as tactfully rebuffed — “Not my Nigel!” Your question was asked and answered a long time before it came over my e-transom. You could try proposing a spa day or some other ladies-only activity and see how your friend reacts, but my Spidey Sense says she’ll decline with faux regret.

A close friend who can’t be pried apart from a spouse, ever, can be a cause for concern. A guest who wishes to bring a spouse to a no-spouses event should be gently but firmly debriefed and dissuaded. When a casual friend insists on always being half of a couple, though, your best bet is to buddy up to the spousal unit. Stop thinking of the husband as an appendage to a girls night out and think of them, instead, as a couple you hang out with occasionally.

At a concert in a small venue, when the artist asks for requests, is it rude to ask for a well-known cover by the artist as opposed to one of his original songs? Assuming the cover song by the artist is relatively popular as a recording but is obviously not his own music.


R.J. / Canton, Ohio

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Miss Conduct wants to throw flowers and bravos at you, R.J., for your understanding that live performers are human beings, not meat-based streaming platforms for music and spoken-word poetry. Live music, theater, or comedy should be seen as a social event, not as a consumer experience.

That said, audience members have every right to maximize their personal enjoyment, which includes requesting the songs they most want to hear. I checked with a couple of musician friends to see if they thought a cover request was vaguely insulting to their original oeuvre. One of them was quite firm that it was not, saying that any request was a compliment: “That person wants you to play something more for them. And if you’re not in a band to entertain people, I think you’re doing it wrong.” (He did allow as to how “Hey! Play something I know!” is not a request that gladdens a musician’s heart.)

Another friend said, yes, “there is a certain feeling when they request a cover you do — oh, you don’t like the stuff I write?” But a request for an original song feels “almost creepy,” stalkerish. He went on to muse that people who request a band’s popular songs seem like shallow fans, while those who request the obscure ones may be trying to prove their hipster cred. Since a sufficiently neurotic performer can twist any audience reaction into a dagger to the heart (“Roses? With my allergies?!”), you may as well ask for the song you want to hear. You sound kind, enthusiastic, and sincere, which is all that a performer can want in an audience.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

WHAT DILEMMAS ARE YOU FACING WITH YOUR FRIENDS? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at