Someone who explicitly told me more than a year ago that we could not be friends, and has not spoken to me since, is attending the upcoming wedding of mutual friends. I am concerned we’ll be seated at the same table, which might create awkwardness for my family, who know nothing of this. Should I give the bride and groom a heads-up?
M.H. / Boston
No. I am going to assume that the other person is sufficiently in Competent Grown-up Land and that you can rely on him or her not to make a scene as long as you behave civilly. If this is not the case, talk to the best-person-of-honor about it.
You might want to reach out to your former friend, suggesting that you put your own animosity aside for the occasion, unless your instincts tell you this would be misinterpreted. In any case, give your family due notice; it will be less awkward if they’re prepared.
Personal background: I was once on utter furious nonspeaking terms with a friend and a third woman in our circle invited us to a “bachelorette party” for her wedding that turned out to be just the three of us. We survived. So will you.
My toddler received a birthday party invitation with “no gifts, please.” The last time my husband took our son to a party with a similar note, he was basically the only one who showed up without a present — there was a table full of gifts. Are we in the wrong if we don’t bring a gift? I certainly don’t want to appear stingy, but as a parent who struggles to contain the amount of stuff that kids accumulate, I respect other parents’ efforts to do the same. Has “no gifts, please” become a social nicety that is meant to be ignored?
H.A. / Watertown
A “no gifts” request often is ignored, as you and your husband have observed, but that doesn’t mean it’s meant to be. People mean it, you know they do — you look in your own hall closet or mudroom and know exactly why they mean it. I sincerely doubt anyone who writes “your presence is your present!” on an invite is merely doing so to appear altruistic, and will in fact be deeply offended if goodies are not forthcoming. (And if they are? That’s a “them” problem, not a “you” problem.)
Taking people at their word is both more efficient and more respectful than playing guessing games about their real intentions and desires. And oh, efficiency and respect so rarely go together that when one can grab an interpersonal BOGO, one ought to.
If your husband feels self-conscious, urge him to stiffen his resolve for the children’s sake. There are lessons here about consent and non-materialism and the diversity of ways to celebrate. If he wants to disregard people’s personal wishes and spend money wastefully to avoid being judged by other people who won’t follow written instructions, he can do that for grown-up parties, but he should set a better, less confusing example for the kids.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.