Miss Conduct

Tales of the uninvited

Advice for a teenager who didn’t make the guest list and a couple limiting ‘plus ones.’

Illustration by Lucy Truman

> I am a freshman in high school who carpools with a (most likely) oblivious adult. Often she will bring up one event or another that I was not invited to, which always makes me feel awkward. My mother raised me to believe that it was rude to bring up a social affair in front of people who were not invited. What should I say the next time?

S.B. / Boston

Does the Clueless Carpooler make you feel awkward on her behalf or on your own? If you are mostly concerned about helping the C.C. save face — if your first thought is something like “Sweet fancy Moses, she’s stepping in it again” — then don’t feel too much anxiety on her behalf. Yes, your mother is right that she is committing a faux pas. And your instinct is correct that courtesy consists partly of allowing other people to display courtesy and discreetly covering for them when they don’t.

This doesn’t, however, require the manipulation skills of the Black Widow. Simply say you didn’t attend. If pressed, say you weren’t invited. (You needn’t protect people from their own cluelessness forever. Deciding when to draw that line is a tricky business, but people who ask a follow-up question to what is obviously polite stonewalling deserve what they get.) Then change the subject.


 If you’re bothered yourself and wish she wouldn’t bring it up, tweak the above formula just a bit. Instead, speak more deliberately than usual and say something like “I’m not that close with Heather. I saw The Amazing Spider-Man this weekend, though. Funny that the director is named Webb, don’t you think?” Say the “not that close” part as though you were a Mafioso tactfully cluing in a civilian that Heather belongs to a rival family.

> My son is engaged to a lovely young woman. They aren’t inviting “plus ones” to the wedding unless the person is engaged or has a serious live-in partner.  I have fielded several calls and e-mails from my husband’s sister, insisting that her son’s girlfriend be invited. I politely explained the couple’s guideline, citing limited resources, and asked for understanding. In response, she offered to pay! We are holding fast, but I am worried this is going to cause a ruckus.

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I.S. / Arlington

Do not give in! It’s rotten and unfair for the rest of us when the obnoxious people fight to get their bulldozing way. Your son and his bride are being stringent in their guest list, but neither unreasonable nor impolite. (Inviting some “plus ones” without others, though, would be impolite.) The phrase you want is “I’m afraid that’s not going to work,” and you must repeat it as necessary, ad nauseam. Delete her e-mails and voice mails without response, if they’re more of the same. At some point, you should give the wedding couple a heads-up on the issue, and definitely let your husband know. Depending on general family relations and how involved you are in the wedding planning and so forth, it’s your call on when and how to do that. You should, however, try to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises.

I do pity your . . .  let’s see if I’ve got this . . . sister-in-law’s son’s girlfriend, should that couple ever decide to tie the knot. What a delightfully take-charge mother-in-law she’ll have to help her out, won’t she?

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams this Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m.