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Miss Manners: Just say ‘I can’t make it,’ and leave it at that

Dear Miss Manners: I was recently reminded of a situation in which I acted badly. Due to covid restrictions, this is not a scenario likely to come up again soon, but I am hoping you can tell me what the mannerly approach would have been, so I can do better in the future.

Last year, I was invited to a cookie decorating party. My job is to work with children who have significant behavioral challenges, and it had been a particularly stressful year. I declined the invitation, stating that I was too stressed out from work to go. (It had been the kind of year where, when I got home from work, I would crawl into my bed and hide under my comforter for a couple of hours.)

The day of the event, my friend called to ask me if I would reconsider and attend her party. The truth was, I had declined the invitation because I suspected kids might be in attendance. I've found that when work is really stressful, I cannot be around children because I cannot turn the "teacher" off. In a weak moment, I thought I'd just tell her what the problem was: I asked her if kids were going to be there, and told her that it was a point in the school year where I couldn't handle being around children.

She responded pretty coldly and told me that she couldn't tell parents not to bring their kids. Then she gave me a weird lecture about how parents deserve to go to parties and have social lives, too.

I had zero intention of trying to change her guest list; I just wanted to know if kids were coming, so I would know not to be there.

I do understand that you can't ask who is coming to a party before you accept an invitation, but is there any polite way to inquire about whether children are expected?

At a cookie decorating party? Miss Manners would think that you could have made a pretty educated guess.

Avoiding a whole category of people, rather than irksome individuals, does not make the excuse any less rude. But your friend also should not have pressed you on what was an otherwise politely declined invitation.

Dear Miss Manners: I have been thinking about whether my gift to a charity in a couple's name was rude. The wedding couple had requested no gifts, but to make a donation to a specific charity instead. They included a box at the reception in which to place donations.

I could not support the charity's mission. After careful thought, I made a donation in the couple's name to a highly respected local charity, whose mission is not controversial.

I never received a thank-you, and I wonder if I have offended. Should I have just not sent a gift?

As Miss Manners does not believe that presents are fungible, she sees no harm in either following the couple’s desire not to receive anything or in substituting a real gift.

Substituting a different charity was an unfortunate middle ground. It underlines your unhappiness with the intended charity while forgoing your opportunity either to claim that you could not contain your generous impulse to give them something for themselves, or to claim that you were never good at following directions.

At this point, the wisest course is to acknowledge that the wedding is over and act as if everything is fine.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

2021, by Judith Martin