Dear Civilities: My sister and I have a group of girlfriends (there are five of us, total) who have been getting together for regular dinners about every four months. My sister is a lesbian and recently engaged; the other four of us are straight, and in relationships. My sister has asked if she can bring her fiancee to these “girls’ night” dinners – but the rest of us are finding it a little awkward. We like the freedom of getting together without our significant others; we feel we can let our guard down and talk honestly. If my sister brought her fiancee, we think it would change the dynamic. Is it ok for the rest of us to politely tell my sister that we’d rather she didn’t bring her fiancee? After all, none of us brings our husband/boyfriend. What’s the best way to do this without offending my sister or her fiancee? –Name withheld
Answer: Your question made me laugh – with you, not at you – because I know exactly the kind of outings you mean. Every couple of months I go out to dinner with three straight, male, married friends. We talk about our work, the world, and naturally, our spouses. (Isn’t that part of the DNA of these groups?) I’d never suggest that my husband Jim join our outings. Yes, he qualifies by gender, just as your sister’s fiancée does, but that’s not the point of these get-togethers.
What should you do? First, don’t make it personal by telling your sister (even “politely”) that you’d “rather she didn’t bring her fiancee to our dinners.” Instead, you need to talk with your sister (no e-mail, please; too much likelihood of a greater misunderstanding), clarifying the membership rules of “girls’ night out” by explaining that the group is meant to be a “no spouse” zone and not just a “no testosterone” one, which I’m guessing is what she thinks. Terry H., a lesbian who posted on my Facebook wall in response to your question wrote: “No spouses to ladies’ night. I wouldn’t want someone to bring their spouse regardless of their sex because it changes the dynamic of the group.”
Perhaps, your sister thinks that there are special rules for lesbians’ partners? Just as in many of the legal fights for same-sex marriage rights, the underlying premise is always equal rights, not special ones. Your sister’s fiancee can stay home – catching up on episodes of Orange Is the New Black or The Fosters – or start up a group of her own, maybe with all your girlfriends’ spouses! A final suggestion: Why not schedule a couples’ dinner with all your friends so that everyone gets to meet your sister’s fiancee?
Agree or disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comment section below.
E-mail questions to Civilities at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Unfortunately not all questions can be answered.) You can reach him on Facebook at facebook.com/stevenpetrow and on Twitter @stevenpetrow. Join him for a chat online at washingtonpost.com on Dec. 23.