Miss Conduct

Once more with feeling

Being roped into a lavish commitment ceremony. Plus, decoding an invitation.

Lucy Truman

My best friend eloped when she was young and has mentioned more than once that she regrets not having had a wedding. So when she announced that she was having a commitment ceremony for her 35th anniversary, I was thrilled. However, she is planning to wear a long white dress with a full train and waist-length veil and invite nearly a hundred guests. She has asked me to be her matron of honor. I feel that this is more appropriate for a twentysomething first-time bride, not a mother in her 50s. I fear she is making a spectacle of herself — and me, too. How do I tell her this? Or am I just being an old wet hen?

D.B. / Acton

I agree that your friend’s idea sounds wildly silly and also uncomfortable for those children you mention — I can’t imagine they’re looking forward to the oh-so-Freudian sight of their mother dolled up as a blushing virgin bride. That said, we have the right to make fools of ourselves in this country, and many folk clearly believe it’s downright patriotic to do so. Is your friend one of these kinds of people, all devil-may-care? Then let it go. On the other hand, if you think she might regret it later on — that’s the kind of thing a best friend and matron of honor ought to say, isn’t it? The point is, though, speak up or don’t speak up based on how you think your friend feels about making social blunders. Not everyone cares as much as you and I do.

You may, however, gently insist on choosing your own dress for the occasion and declining any duties that seem undignified. You don’t have to pretend to be a sorority girl just because your friend is.

My husband received an invitation to honor a colleague, and it is unclear whether spouses are included in the event. He refuses to contact the host, declaring that to do so would be “rude and presumptuous.” I suspect that he thinks such behavior would be construed as fishing for an invitation, but I don’t think so. If spouses are invited, that’s fine; if not, that’s also fine. This is, I believe, not an intimate dinner for four or five, but a testimonial dinner for up to 40 people. Please advise!


C.H./ Bellingham

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

A testimonial dinner for a colleague is the sort of thing spouses usually are invited to. It’s also the kind of thing spouses often devoutly wish to avoid. If you’ve got a plausible excuse to spend the evening with American Horror Story and a bowl of popcorn, latch on tight! Better than rubber chicken and lukewarm chardonnay consumed to the droning tones of accolades that are meaningless to you.

It’s perfectly acceptable to contact the host and ask for clarification. (“What does ‘festive collegiate formalwear’ mean, Bob?”) However, while asking the host would not constitute “fishing,” it would constitute telling the host that his invitation was unclear. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the underlying reason that your husband won’t do it — not because he’d look socially inept but because he’d be pointing out the ineptness of the host. (“You’re in charge of all our grant proposals, Bob, and you can’t address an invitation?”) If your husband is uncomfortable, don’t push the issue. Stay home, enjoy your evening, and if it turns out that spouses were invited and your absence was noted, make sure you and your husband have the same face-saving white lie.

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

NEED ADVICE ON AVOIDING AN EMBARRASSING SITUATION? Write to Miss Conduct at And read her blog at