Q. I can still recall the pain of not being allowed to accept an invitation to a "perfectly fabulous" party in high school because my mother pointed out to me that I had no intention of ever returning the invitation, hence should not impose on my host's hospitality. (Well, he was a drip.)
"But, mother, everybody is going, and I'm sure they're not going to bother to invite him back, either."
"Well, those people have no character," was the immediate rejoinder.
I'm not sure I would be quite so rigid in following this rule were Ronald Reagan to invite me to a soiree, and I hope he and Nancy would understand if I only followed up a charming evening with a sincere thank-you-note.
After years of being the office party-giver (on my own time and money), with a return rate (thank-you notes or invitations) that would be merely embarrassing to recount, were it not so painful to me, I have finally seen the light and shifted my social intentions in other directions. The only thing is, I keep getting comments like, "You don't have those great parties like you used to, do you?" (This from a girl two desks away who has never even asked me to join her for a dutch-treat lunch with her other office buddies).
Another "fabulous party-giver" has picked up my mantle and her complaint is the same. I'd like to tell her she'll end up feeling as used as I've felt, but I don't like to pass on my sourgrapes attitude, because her answer would be the same as mine would have been: "I love people and I'm glad to see them have a good time."
Are there people in this world who invite such abuse? I might mention in passing that we party-givers are competent and cooperative workers and not of the disruptive type in office politics. How does one adjust to being a giver and never a givee?
A. God bless your mother for teaching you that accepting an invitation, like accepting a present, is only proper within the system of mutuality that is called friendship. And yet Miss Manners has heard of such as she abused for robbing childish society of its spontaneity by insisting that getting be paired with giving.
One cannot, of course, always repay in kind. Perhaps some of your high-school friends could not reciprocate because family circumstances made entertaining impossible; perhaps your office colleagues have also, for reasons of time or money, been unable to match your parties.
But no excuse about time or money will justify omitting a letter of thanks to someone who has invented his time and money in entertaining you. And that is just the beginning. Other ways for someone who has received hospitality to show that he reciprocates the warm feelings that prompted it include sending small, thoughtful presents, such as home-baked food, extending an invitation to a manageable event, even if it is only tea and cookies.
We cannot pardon any of your guests who have made no efforts at all. Such people grow up thinking of party givers as professional entertainers, as if they were owners of restaurants or night clubs. They probably feel equally free to cancel out at the last moment, to bring additional guests without notice and to critique your hospitality to others.
Miss Manners does not blame you for turning your talents to more worthy people; nor would she blame you if you replied to their rude complaints that you had tired of being always a host and never a guest.
The reaction will be that you are petty and calculating. You might console yourself by remembering that your mother taught you not to make the mistake of socializing with people you find to be drips.