My husband and I are close friends with another married couple. The woman is an old high-school buddy of my husband. The man is a sales representative and, in the course of his work, often finds himself in our neighborhood.
Sometimes, perhaps once in eight weeks, he impulsively stops by, uninvited but welcome, for a cup of coffee and some gossip. This is during the day, so my husband is at work. If he stops by early enough, my children are in preschool.
I always tell my husband about these visits, in part to hold myself above suspicion, and because it seems a natural topic for dinner conversation.
My visitor, however, has asked me to keep these occasions secret from his wife. Once, when he used my phone to call his wife, he even asked me to take my children in the other room so she wouldn't hear their chatter in the background. This secrecy makes me feel uncomfortable.
He claims that his wife would fuss at him for goofing off when he is supposed to be working. He also has delicately hinted that she is unreasonably jealous and would construe these visits as improper.
It is none of my business if he chooses to keep secrets from his wife, and I do not wish to provoke a fight between them. But I find it distasteful to be a party to deception. I worry that one day I might repeat something to her, whom I see more often than him, and she'll ask, "When did you hear that?"
I've hinted at my disapproval, saying, "I can't have men visiting me during the day without telling my husband -- it doesn't look right."
Should I tell him that unless he confesses, he can't come over any more? Or should I respect his right to privacy?
If I am to take a firm stand, how can I phrase my ultimatum, assuring him that he is a welcome friend, while insisting on full disclosure?
Because she finds distasteful the assumption that ladies and gentlemen cannot be genuine friends and therefore cannot be trusted alone, even for a cup of coffee in the daytime, Miss Manners would be prepared to defend you against the idea that these visits are improper. It would not be easy, either.
But there can hardly be any question that being a party to deception is highly improper. Manners certainly do not require you to risk your reputation, and to do something you know is wrong, in order to assist someone else to reduce the risk to his own reputation, when he has decided to do something he admits will be considered wrong.
Why can't you say to a friend what you have said to Miss Manners -- that you find it distasteful to be a party to deception?
However, if you feel you must do it more delicately, you can simply say, "I'm dreadful at keeping secrets, so I really must ask you not to trust me with anything you don't want known." Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.