Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 30 January

These days, couples often socialise separately. What are the rules for hosting and attending events without your other half? Thomas Blaikie advises…

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
‘I’ll have to check whether my husband is free,’ I said to the lady on the phone who called to ask us to dinner. ‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘I always invite couples separately.’ Is this normal? Of course, by that time I couldn’t very well refuse.
Carmen Leith, Edinburgh

Dear Carmen,
The girls’ night out and indeed the boys’ night out, neither as a rule involving either boys or girls, are phenomena familiar to us all. Usually these events are arranged spontaneously when it emerges that a number of partners are away on business trips or whatever, so the mice are free to play.

Participants know each other quite well and either go careering round a number of bars in their neighbourhood or foregather in someone’s home and deliver a deliciously exaggerated, if idiotic, version of whichever gender stereotype pertains. These groups are something of a menace, in public places, to anyone having any other kind of night out.

So the principle is very clearly established that the sexes enjoy intermittent relief from the duties of coupledom. Indeed, some would say that a pair who are glued at the hip have got something wrong with them and will surely explode with the intensity. What’s more, men and women have traditionally gone their separate ways at gentlemen’s clubs, the Women’s Institute, bring-and-buy sales, golf clubs, etc. It’s nothing new.

So why is it still de rigueur to invite both halves of a couple to dinner parties, drinks parties, lunches, weekends away, etc? In the 19th century, social life was a parade of marriage and respectability. A woman unaccompanied by her husband was a scandal. Are we not more liberated now? Do we not have a less dependent and more equal idea of relationships? But to invite one without the other is still impossible. Nor is it easy for one half of a couple to refuse an invitation without implying that they have some pointed reason for not wanting to go – rather than that they don’t always follow their spouse about everywhere.

Thirty years ago, there was a London hostess who refused to have partners simultaneously. This was thought eccentric but she got it established firmly and guests acknowledged the advantages. People behaved differently on their own, conversation was less likely to turn on domestic matters and spats and bickering were avoided.

Unconventional it may be, but what is wrong with inviting separately? As a blanket policy, it would be dismal, and unworkable; as an attempt to stage a diff erent kind of event, provided it’s clear what is intended and there’s nothing personal in excluding boon companions, then why not? If going alone, consider it an adventure.

Please send your questions to thomas.blaikie@lady.co.uk or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT… BEING ON A STICKY WICKET

This is quite serious actually and really happened. In August this year a man was boarding a train in a hurry at Stirling, near Perth, Australia. There was a ‘mind the gap’ sign but he didn’t mind the gap and his leg slipped into the gap. He couldn’t get it out again. Basically he’d got 90 tons of train squeezing his leg. The railway people reacted swiftly and got all the passengers off the train in order to collectively push it so the man could get his silly old leg out. It took about 10 minutes and you can see the whole thing on YouTube. The man was perfectly all right. Often we dwell on all the annoying things other people do, like shout into their mobile phones right outside your house or draw up in their cars and sound the horn because they’re too lazy to get out and ring the doorbell to tell their friend they’ve arrived to fetch them. I thought I’d mention this incident in Stirling, as the New Year begins with new hope, as an example of how people are quite nice really. I hope you won’t say it could only happen in Australia.


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