How can someone so amazingly popular feel awkward and unwanted?
There is scarcely a party to which And Guest is not invited, even -- in fact, especially -- to wedding festivities and family holiday celebrations. Leaving A.G. off the list inspires indignant protests from those who made the cut. Nothing could possibly be any fun if A.G. isn't going to be there, they do not hesitate to state. Hosts are afraid to slight such an esteemed person.
So why is this life of the party not gleeful with anticipation? Why does the polite A.G. fret about being genuinely welcome, and worry about how to perform the most basic duties of a guest, such as answering the invitation and, when customary, sending a present?
Could it be, Miss Manners wonders, because going to a party without a direct invitation from the host feels remarkably like party-crashing?
The intermediary host -- the person who declares such an invitation unnecessary, but has actually received one -- is quick to deny this. "Oh, no, don't be ridiculous. I know they're dying to have you."
Sometimes the authority for this statement comes from general permission, such as a written invitation that bears the designation of "and guest" or allows the recipient to fill in the number of people who will attend. Sometimes the hosts have been asked about bringing someone in particular or have volunteered that it would be fine to bring anyone. Sometimes the hosts have not been asked, under the assumption that of course they want their chosen guests to bring guests of their own choosing.
And there is poor old And Guest, with only a secondhand assurance of being welcome and little notion of what is expected of a second-class guest.
That is because no such category should exist. And it is up to the hosts to see that it does not.
They can begin by issuing direct invitations to those whom they know, rather than falling into the habit of saying "Bring Tabitha" or "Tell your brother to come, too." It makes a huge difference to be invited by name.
If there are requests to bring extra people, they, too, need to be invited by name, if indeed they are invited at all. We have generously included the previous category of people who must be included at social events, from spouses and spouses-to-be to both halves of couples who have merged their social lives. A host who has only just been informed of such an attachment should ask for that person's name and send an invitation.
Less serious requests, especially ones to serious events, may be declined with regret. Anyone who needs to bring entertainment to get through your dinner party is going to be a terrible guest anyway.
But where does this leave And Guest?
At home, if there is not convincing evidence that the hosts are aware and willing. Out front if there is, making up for the hosts' deficiencies by seeking them out and performing a self-introduction, participating in any present that the person directly invited gives and writing a separate letter of thanks.
With any luck, the hosts will notice for next time that the name in the introduction, on the card with the present and on the letter of thanks is not And Guest.
Dear Miss Manners:
I have just started life in a dorm and I find it hard to meet people or strike up conversations. Do you happen to have any pointers?
Do your laundry.
Miss Manners does not intend this as a comment on your hygiene, which she has not the least desire to examine. Laundry rooms are the respectable place for accidental meetings in dormitories and apartment buildings. They provide a legitimate excuse for clean people to hang out with nothing much to do, and such sure-fire conversation starters as "Oops, I forgot my soap."
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)2005, Judith Martin