Dear Miss Manners: I'm almost in tears, and I'm not even the one affected.
I have a difficult cousin who is getting married. She has no friends. No one is standing up for her, there are no showers or festivities, and the one abortive attempt at one was canceled because no one would come. I've had trouble with this person in the past, but I wouldn't wish this on an enemy, much less a relative.
As I reflected on what I could do for her (I'm throwing a small party in her honor and prevailing on my own friends to come meet the bride), it occurred to me that I am surrounded by lonely friends, relatives and acquaintances who are living like virtual hermits. They only happen to brush up against other people at work or grocery shopping, often not even then, and they are depressed about it. I'm hardly a popular person, but I try to make introductions.
What can the somewhat-more-popular people do to relieve the friendlessness of the less- popular people they know and care about? What has happened to society, Miss Manners?
Don't worry, I won't call it a shower when I fete my cousin, the bride. I may be an unwashed heathen about most things, but that much was drummed into my head.
Some of the things that happened to society:
Longer work hours.
Obligatory socializing with colleagues.
The shirking of guest responsibilities — including answering invitations, showing up and reciprocating — resulting in an unwillingness to entertain.
The shirking of host responsibilities, so that those who do entertain rarely have their hospitality reciprocated.
The notion that any gathering must be about an occasion (such as a birthday, graduation, marriage or birth), and one that involves presents for the hosts.
The redefinition of “friends” to describe strangers.
The elevation of the importance of the menu to the extent that attempting to provide a communal meal, even within a family, means catering to a bewildering variety of requirements and preferences.
Bless you for trying to fix this. It will not be easy. All of the above behaviors will be working against you.
But Miss Manners has a suggestion — one that she has plucked out of the distant past. At its grandest, it was called keeping a salon; the more modest version was having “a day” when one would be “at home.” In both cases, the idea was the same: making it known that you have a regular time when your acquaintances may drop in without notice.
For example, Saturday or Sunday afternoon, so they might stop in after their chores or before going out for the evening. It would not be mealtime, so you could serve only soft drinks and cookies, or perhaps crudités and prosecco.
At first, you would invite a wide assortment of people from different aspects of your life. But then you could make it known that this was a weekly (or monthly) event, when they needn’t commit themselves, but would always find a welcome. Many will probably veer off, but those who find it interesting will soon be introducing others. And acquiring friends.