Miss Conduct

Do I have to go to every birthday party?

Plus, advice on gender bias . . . against men.

Illustration by Lucy Truman

I am a great-aunt to multiple kids. There is a birthday party every couple of months for one of them, and they each have a party every year. We did not have this growing up. Contributing food and wine and a present and counting gas, it all usually comes to about $50. I don’t have kids, but when I baby-sit for all, I do not charge. Do I have to go to all of these events?

Anonymous / Tiverton, Rhode Island

People often ask me: “Do I have to  . . . ?’’ Do I have to write thank you notes by hand? Do I have to refrain from punching people who pet my pregnant belly?

I wonder about this. What does “having’’ to do something mean? There are very few things we are truly compelled to do. We have to breathe. You can’t hold it until you die. You don’t have to drink water. You’ll just die if you don’t. Compulsion is rare. Consequences are ubiquitous.


When most people ask me D.I.H.T.? they mean “Is there an etiquette rule that states a person should  . . . ?’’ Sometimes they mean something else, though. So let’s run through some options.

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Will I go to jail if I don’t go to all these birthday parties? No.

Will I be breaking a rule of etiquette? Not as long as you RSVP promptly and politely.

Will my family members be hurt if I stop attending birthday parties? Probably.

Will I still be able to think of myself as a good person? People have been able to justify far worse behavior, so, sadly, yes.


Will I regret being cranky and selfish when I’m older, when these great-nieces and -nephews might be the only family I have living? What do you think?

At a recent dinner party, a guest was conveying her dislike for her daughter’s new soccer coach. Besides his personality, she said, she was pulling her daughter because “What business does a middle-aged man have hanging out with a bunch of girls anyway?’’ I find the notion that all men are murderers and molesters extremely offensive. But the few times I’ve spoken up, I’ve been lambasted. What is the proper response?

R.R. / Cambridge

“I think you were absolutely right to follow your instincts. And if you want to have an actual conversation about kids and predators, let’s do. But doing a drive-by on an entire gender is a jerk move.’’

Say it calmly. Don’t demand an apology, just state your piece and let Ms. Profiler take the conversation, or her company, elsewhere. (If you are the host, then it’s your prerogative to announce, “Let’s change the subject,’’ but guests ought not be quite so authoritarian.)

I can explain why you were lambasted. Every woman on earth has had the experience of being harassed or intimidated and pressured to “lighten up’’ or “take it as a compliment.’’ The requirement to “be polite’’ has been used over and over to keep women from standing up for themselves and one another.


This isn’t an excuse, just an explanation. Children need both men and women in their lives. Ms. Profiler knows that, deep down, just as you do. Subtly reminding her of that reality, and naming her insult to you as what it is, might not feel like you are taking enough of a stand. But you will be. Trust me.

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 on November 7 from noon to 1 p.m.