DEAR MISS MANNERS: My friend Joe has spent Christmas Eve with my family and me for the past 12 years. He has dated Sue for the past year, so we naturally invited her and her teenage daughter to join us for dinner and board games.
Our Xmas Eve meal is a large, buffet-style extravaganza which takes hours to prepare. Sue and Joe said yes with a caveat -- they were trying to book a flight for a tropical vacation over the Xmas holidays and could not confirm their attendance until they knew their travel plans. I asked them for at least a week's notice because of the time involved in preparing the buffet.
My family and I also decided that we would forego the event if "non-family" members did not attend, in favor of a quiet, casual evening out. Another couple was also invited and they too said that they would get back to us if their other plans fell through.
Three days before Christmas, I (politely) asked Joe and the other couple for an answer to our invitation, since it directly affected our plans. Joe and the couple said they would attend, but Sue was still looking for a flight.
On December 23rd, Joe and Sue broke up. Later that day, Sue called my sister-in-law to say that she would also attend the dinner. It had apparently slipped her mind that she and Joe had split up and also that Joe was planning to attend -- even though that was one of the issues which fueled the break-up. When my sister-in-law learned about the break-up from Joe, she was faced with the unhappy task of "un-inviting" Sue. An invitation was extended for a Boxing Day event, which was declined.
I have since been told by Joe that I was unspeakably rude for demanding an answer to our invitation from both him and the other couple. He felt that we should have prepared the meal for nine people instead of four and then just refrigerated the left-overs if no one showed up.
I have been told by Sue that we were unspeakably rude for "un-inviting" her, in spite of the fact that her presence would have made us all very uncomfortable, even assuming that she and Joe did not resume their fight in front of us all.
My sister-in-law was told by the other couple that we were unspeakably rude for not also inviting them to Christmas dinner since it was obvious we were planning a big family meal and they had made it clear that they had nowhere else to go and had no intention of cooking for themselves.
Was I wrong to insist on an answer? Were we wrong to un-invite Sue? Were we wrong not to invite the other couple for Christmas dinner? How can we avoid such breaches of etiquette in the future?
GENTLE READER: Ah, yes, nothing says Christmas like a bunch of unspeakably rude people speaking unspeakable things to one another. What do you say we move on to the next jolly holiday?
Miss Manners' New Year's suggestion is that you get yourself a fresh list of guests. You can avoid such carryings-on by striking from your list everyone who doesn't give definite answers to invitations, who makes outrageous demands and who tries to cover his own rudeness by calling you names.