DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband is a very popular local public figure. We are often invited to spend the evening with people whom we do not like and with whom we do not want to spend time, but whom we don't want to offend.
These are people we know slightly, but have never invited to our house and never will, and they often live more than an hour's drive away. They call and mention several suggested dates up to two months in the future and we say we are "already busy" for all of those dates, explaining that my husband must go out for business reasons almost every night (hint! hint!).
They then say, "So when are you available during the next year? You name the date."
How do we decline these invitations without offending them? Or, if there's no way other than to offend them, what's the least offensive way?
My husband wants to "get sick" at the last minute, but the one time we did that they cancelled the entire dinner and immediately made the same offer for the next calendar year. We can't say, "We don't go out in the evening," because they know we do. What we want to do is stay home alone together in our jammies and slippers with a takeout pizza without having to smile and remember names and make small talk. Help!
GENTLE READER: George Washington's solution to this problem was to declare that being president made him so much in demand socially that he was granting himself and his successors an exemption from the general obligation of paying visits.
No one else is likely to get away with admitting to being so popular, and, as Miss Manners recalls, there was quite a bit of grumbling at the time about just who President Washington thought he was. Canceling after accepting and skittering around about finding dates are only going to raise this question about your husband.
But if it is unseemly to confess that you cannot satisfy the social hopes of all your admirers, it can be endearing to confess that you share most people's difficulty in performing all your more personal social duties. Your answer to when you will be available should be "You're so kind to invite us, and we wish we could name a date, but it will have to be after we figure out how to manage seeing relatives and friends whom we feel we've neglected."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: After my mother passed away, my father remarried when I was 18 and in college. My relationship with his wife has always been fine, but I never considered her my mother in any way, and have always let Mother's Day pass unacknowledged.
However, I recently learned that my two older siblings have acknowledged the occasion with cards (we all live out of state). I know you won't tell me to send a store-bought card, but should I be writing a personal note or making a special call? Should what my brother and sister are doing affect my judgment on this? I don't want it to appear as if I'm some kind of holdout or have animosity, but the fact is, she's not my mother.
GENTLE READER: No, but since she is your father's wife and you are on cordial terms, you should occasionally express your affectionate regard.
The occasion need not be Mother's Day. Her birthday, their wedding anniversary and holidays are such times, and doing so on no particular occasion is especially charming.