Before going all dewy-eyed upon receiving a wedding invitation, it might be useful (Miss Manners confides in a discreet whisper) to make some inquiries.
Not that you would begrudge your friends their happy celebrations, whatever the circumstances. But there are so many different events now being described as weddings that you might want to know just what it is that you are expected to celebrate.
To begin with, is the wedding marking the couple's beginning entry into (this) marriage, or did that already take place, days, months or even years before?
Is this wedding, for example, one in a series of ceremonies being enacted sequentially in different locations for different onlookers?
Is it a reenactment of a previously publicly solemnized marriage, perhaps even one that you attended, being redone for stylistic reasons and heralded as "we can finally afford the wedding of our dreams"?
Is it a reprise of a wedding as it did take place (a sort of picking-up-the-option now known as a "reaffirmation of vows")?
And that is assuming that the wedding is connected with a marriage at all. Nowadays, this is too big a leap to take on faith.
If not, is there an intention of marriage that is thwarted by legal impediments or financial handicaps?
Or is this an assumption of the advantages of a wedding -- hoopla and dry goods -- on the part of people who reject its obligations?
Or is the whole thing a joke on the part of people who are not even romantically involved with each other, much less making even a loose commitment?
Miss Manners is not as flinty-hearted as she looks. She would prefer that a reception for newlyweds or an anniversary party be honestly labeled as such and skip the ceremonial replay, but she does not necessarily demand an on-the-spot legal event to put away her share of champagne on behalf of happy couples.
What drives her away from this drink is when desire for a wedding is coupled with disdain for marriage. It does not seem too much to ask of people who could get married but have no wish to do so to forgo aping the event.
Mind you, she understands the attractions. Weddings are now being regarded as opportunities to boss around one's family, collect tributes from friends and indulge in a formality that is otherwise missing in modern life, and naturally everyone wants to have them. And just as naturally, many are leery of getting stuck with mates of whom they may tire.
But combining those positions is spreading an etiquette problem that Miss Manners's dear grandmother never had to face.
In that lady's day, fake weddings were held in private, at the instigation of a nonbridegroom who wished the nonbride to believe herself to be legally married for the next night or two. Invitations were not issued. Now that the nonbride is as interested in nonpermanence as the nonbridegroom, however, invitations are issued far and wide.
And those who receive them are worrying about what their commitment is to couples who are not making a commitment to each other.
The commitment to accept or decline a social invitation, and to attend if one has accepted, remains in effect. But as for the rest -- treating a party as if it were a wedding -- Miss Manners doesn't see why the guests should not be as free of responsibility as the hosts.
Dear Miss Manners:
It seems that anyone who is anyone has an entourage, and I feel that I would like to have one, but I am somewhat concerned about its composition. I do not, for example, need a dog handler or a dietitian, and I have no need of a publicist.
I would, therefore, appreciate your advice on what you would consider the essential composition of a modest entourage. I am a single, heterosexual male in my sixties, and, while I am willing to spend the necessary money, I do not want to appear crass or arriviste.
Then Miss Manners considers it unfair of you to take on an entourage, thus depriving those who do.
Dear Miss Manners:
I will soon be having weight loss surgery, and my stomach will be able to hold less during each meal than it used to. What would be the proper thing to do and say when dining out? Should I order my own meal and waste most of it? Would it be a mistake for my spouse to order his dinner and ask for an extra plate?
What should I say when our server asks for my order? If the server starts giving me the "specials" and the "what's good here" speech, what should I say? I do not feel that my surgery status would be anyone's business but my own. I can't ask for a doggy bag, either. We do not have any pets to enjoy it, and I do not like leftovers.
But do you like suggestions? If so, you could ask the server for a helping of those.
As Miss Manners understands it, even though restaurants sell food, they generally refrain from force-feeding their patrons. You could order an appetizer or request something light, which sounds ladylike, without pleading changes in the dimensions of your stomach, which doesn't.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com, or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c)2002, Judith Martin