Q. I invited the members of our department in for refreshments. One person asked me if spouses were included. I explained that I can comfortably have 12 people but not 24, and therefore it was "staff members only." He replied that he would not go where his wife was not invited, and stayed away.
My husband and I invited a couple to be our guests at a restaurant. The wife phoned me and asked if her daughter was invited also -- daughter was quite fond of me, etc. I was too embarrassed to refuse. My husband was annoyed at me and at the bill.
I invited a friend to come and spend some time with us. She replied that she never goes anywhere without her husband and would not come unless he was included.
Are these liberties considered appropriate behavior?
A. You are a little ahead of change on the social scene and bound to run into more problems of this nature unless you slow down.
Miss Manners gathers that you wish her to put these people in the same category as those who insist on bringing dates wherever they go, which is to say, using your invitation to entertain their own guests. She is always ready to chastise such people.
But your guests are not talking about prospects they picked up last night in bars; they are talking about their own immediate families.
Until a few years ago, husbands and wives were supposed to go out only as pairs. They were never invited to a social function separately, and even an invitation to both was declined if one was unable to attend.
Couples formed the minimum social unit, and unmarried people were neglected socially unless temporary partners could be found for them. A rather unpleasant trade in Extra Men developed. The table had to balance, and never mind what it did to the guest list.
Nor is changing this so very modern an idea. In the 18th century, it was more common than not for respectable married people to lead separate social lives. It gave them more to gossip about together.
But we cannot quite go back to that system either. Such social life was feasible only among people who didn't work. Aristocrats could manage it splendidly, and peasants didn't have the time for partying.
With the development of the middle class, there came to be people who both worked and had some time and money for society. That is when the couples social scene took hold, because a person who worked all week naturally expected to spend his scarce free time with his family, whether going out or staying home.
That aspect is all the more important now that both spouses are probably working all day. It is very understandable that they resent being asked to evening engagements that again separate them from each other and often from the children as well.
If you care about such people, Miss Manners urges you to be open to knowing their families as well. If you are merely extending the work-time coffee-hour relationship, then confine it to weekday lunch time, when they are separated anyway. That would be extremely good manners.