Always on the lookout for new social forms, Miss Manners was fascinated to read of the solution reached by a group of parents on Long Island who banded together to do something about their grown-up children's problems in meeting eligible people.
It seems that the offspring's own attempts to find suitable suitors were failing. As hard-working "professionals" (a term that is beginning to tire Miss Manners, who has always preferred to socialize with amateurs), these young people found no proper facilities for meeting those equal in status, but opposite in gender.
The current social form of the singles gathering, at bars or under more respectable roofs, did not serve the purpose to their satisfaction. As Miss Manners has often heard, this event is populated exclusively by undesirables, with the sole exception of the complainant.
A further criticism is that videotape exchanges, classified advertising and other such devices for matching people attract only those who are 1) unmatched and 2) eager to be matched.
Indubitably. Miss Manners is far from quarreling with the premise that the ideal suitor is one who was totally content with life until encountering oneself, an event that inspired a sudden, unexpected, but passionate yearning to be mated. For instruction on how to simulate this state while carefully checking out the financial prospects of all possible contenders, she recommends studying the Victorian novel.
At any rate, the available forms, collectively known by the erstwhile participants as "meat markets," were not working. More drastic social action seemed to be called for.
Taking matters into their own hands, the parents organized themselves under the name of Punch, for Parents of Unmarried Children, and began throwing their own social events. Culling a guest list of some 500 children, ages 20 to 40, of 200 couples, they take turns scheduling Sunday afternoon parties of 30 to 40 young people of the same approximate social level. (Miss Manners prefers not to go into the unseemly matter of which careers qualified and which did not.)
Providing the pleasant, normal social environment of their own homes, the host parents stay quietly in the background, intervening only to rescue stranded guests.
The guests themselves seem to have taken the social posture of reluctant but gracious compliance with their parents' plans. Relieved of the onus of obviously voluntary participation, they are apparently able to exhibit the attractive posture of interrupting their satisfactory lives out of filial obligation.
In sum, the project seems to be a success, and one of the parental organizers reported encouragement from other parents, and the likelihood of the practice becoming widespread.
You will have to forgive Miss Manners for laughing herself silly (in a subdued, ladylike way, of course). If one has been observing the social scene as long as she has, one is occasionally rewarded with the hilarity of watching people take pride in laboriously producing the obvious.
These people have simply reinvented the debutante party.
Just as those who rejected marriage as an artificial and constricting form have gradually refined the custom of living together by specifying emotional, household, financial and other legal obligations until they have now pretty much reinvented marriage, the Long Island parents have discovered what parents have always known:
If you want your children to find suitable mates, you must provide them with a pool of such people from which to choose. Not only does this allow you to use your own judgment, but it saves face for the child by allowing him or her to deride your matchmaking instincts instead of having to acknowledge his own.
Realizing this does not detract from Miss Manners' admiration for these parents. All enterprising parents, including those who traditionally sacrificed themselves by enduring hectic social seasons until their children were safely married and the parents could collapse in the country, are to be commended.
But in our time, the form of the debut has become so encumbered with obsolete practices as to have pretty much outlived its usefulness. The enormous expense and its association with limited groups (who even then often have difficulty mastering the traditional social practices) made it unsuitable for most people; the age factor is now wrong, because the 18-year-olds do have sufficient social opportunities when they are in school, but are not yet ready to marry; and the ludicrous custom of presenting debutantes to people their parents don't even know, sometimes in strange cities, defeats the entire purpose.
This new type of party strikes Miss Manners as a sensible adaptation of the purpose of the debut, with forms that are more suitable to the age group that really is ready to marry. By lessening the expense and formality, one is able to prolong the "season" and remove the pressure.
Miss Manners only advises more subtlety about the name and stated purpose. The success of the debut, and of any such event, depends on the subjects' being able to eschew any eagerness at all, even any interest, except that of placating their unreasonable parents.
I have blond hair. I am pleased that it is so. What does not please me is the reaction to it that I encounter from other women.
I have been blond all my life, have fair skin, blue eyes and blond-haired children. Yet I am frequently asked by other women whether this is my natural hair color.
I think that question is rude and do not feel obliged to provide an answer. Yet failure to answer has in the past caused the questioner to suggest that in her opinion I should select another shade of dye, as she thought my hair did not flatter me. I was rendered entirely speechless.
We live in such a nosy age that people seem to forget they are entitled to be offended by such questions. Miss Manners agrees you should refuse to answer, but you are apparently doing so in a way that suggests you are concealing the truth rather than rejecting the question.
Draw yourself up, look the questioner straight in the eye and say indignantly, "I beg your pardon!" If the questioner has the effrontery to persist, escalate by saying in a voice of soft disbelief, "Why, how dare you?" And then stare hard, shocked, until she starts backing down with an apology, which, in the interests of social harmony, Miss Manners will allow you to accept.
I havebeen asked to chair an important gala for a professional association I belong to and have been given carte blanche to choose committee chairs and hosts. Among those I invited to serve as hosts are a charming couple who are very active in the association and have done a superb job organizing and hosting a number of functions.
The problem? Since I last saw them a few months ago, Mrs. X has become an alcoholic. This past week, I attended a dinner at their home; when my husband and I arrived, our hostess was already tight; and by the time the fish course was served, she had passed out, dead drunk, and had to be carried upstairs. I learned later that it was not the first time this had happened recently.
I am very fond of Mr. and Mrs. X and don't wish to hurt them or lose them as friends. I was brought up to believe that once one has invited people to something, one can't uninvite them.
I can neither cancel the gala nor reschedule it, nor can I afford to have Mrs. X ruin it with her unseemly behavior. Unfortunately Mr. X's parting words to me were "My wife and I are really looking forward to working with you on the gala." Is there any way I can gracefully extricate myself from this unhappy mess?
It is an unhappy mess, and you are quite right that you cannot recall such an invitation directly, particularly on embarrassing grounds that are difficult to prove.
However,you can hint at their withdrawing by saying, either to Mrs. X or to her husband, that you have noticed that she hasn't been well lately, and are afraid that the strain of work would be a burden on her.
If they insist, you might keep someone posted to usher her away from the event, should she seem unwell.
I wanted to have a very nice wedding, but to manage it financially, I had to limit the guest list. I am now faced with replies from several people who have filled in for "number of persons attending" more people than were invited.
If I receive many more of this type of reply, I will have to change my menu to accommodate people who were never invited. Can I in some tactful manner inform these people that they are not at liberty to invite whomever they please?
Now do you understand why Miss Manners hates those little cards with what appear to be restaurant reservation requests? If you ask how many people your guests want to bring, they are going to tell you.
She is afraid that you now have the choice of throwing a wedding for the friends of friends, or calling the original friends and apologizing for having seemed to be able to accommodate more than those whose names were actually on the invitation: "You know I love your children, but we've simply had to limit the party to adults"; or "I'd adore to meet your new friend, but we just can't manage it at the wedding -- you must bring him around as soon as we're settled."
1987, United Feature Syndicate Inc.