Miss Conduct

Advice: Can you throw your own birthday party?

Plus, diffusing tensions with a neighbor over on-street parking.

Lucy Truman

Is it tacky to throw your own birthday party? I am a single 37-year-old woman with a fair number of friends and acquaintances, and I would like to use my Saturday night birthday to gather with my friends without imposing any obligation on them (to bring gifts, etc.). Thanks for your advice.

B.R. / Washington, D.C.

Get party planning, girlfriend! It most certainly is acceptable to throw your own birthday party. You’re thinking of wedding and baby showers — those are straight-up fund-raisers, and as such the invitations need to be laundered, as it were, through a third party who is close to your interests but not actually vested in same. Birthday parties are celebrations! If you’re also determined to have a cake and song, ask a friend to stage-manage that portion of the evening so that you’re not in the cringe-comedy position of ordering people to sing for you.

You can put “no gifts, please” on the invitations, phrased as straightforwardly or whimsically as suits your style. Some folks will bring something anyway, because they like to do that kind of thing. Thank them, then put the gifts aside to open later to avoid embarrassing people who followed your instructions.

Parking was tight on my residential street this winter, and once I inadvertently took up two spaces. My neighbor “Florence” left a note on my car and also took it upon herself to speak to me. I thought all this was fair at the time, but she continues to bug me about my parking, even though now there are plenty of spots. Today she ran after me as I was unloading groceries to tell me that a few weeks ago, I’d once again taken up two spaces. I wanted to clock her with a can of beans. I already told her I was doing my best, but she seems to have a zero tolerance policy.


M.W. / Charlestown

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What do you think is motivating Florence? Personal animus against you? Or against something you represent? Does Florence appear to have a full life, with frequent opportunities to express herself? How would you describe the tone of her criticism: Worried? Superior? Helpful? This is a clue to how Florence sees herself. To know your enemy’s state of mind: Whether your goal be a battle won or a peace made, this must be your first step, grasshopper.

You and Florence are locked into a cycle of mutually assured aggravation. The trick you need to pull off is to briefly interrupt the cycle the next time it starts and treat Florence as your ally against this stupid meshugas that has developed between you. Almost as though there were some malicious third party sowing discord between you — you and Florence, who are such buddies at heart!

Thinking about Florence’s motivations will help you craft your delivery. The words should go something like this: “You know the Serenity Prayer? About asking for the serenity to accept the things you can’t change, strength to change the things you can, and the wisdom to tell the difference? I say that to myself at least once a day. Anyway, Florence, the thing is, my parking is firmly in that first category. I do my best. Of course, if you want to keep criticizing me, then I guess you get to be one of those things I have to have the serenity to accept!”

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