DEAR MISS MANNERS: One of the pleasures of my life is spirited discussion and debate. I love to discuss both concrete and abstract topics. And there's no time I enjoy such discussions more than when I'm socializing with friends at a party or at a bar.
My problem is that I've long since observed that a good many persons are alienated, or feel excluded, by such discussions. Even when I avoid the more controversial issues of religion and politics, I sense that most people (outside my immediate circle) resent the implication that they should have to engage in strenuous mental activity in what is, after all, their time to relax and unwind.
I think this is entirely reasonable, and so I generally try to keep discussion light when in unfamiliar company -- following Disraeli's advice that in society nothing must be discussed. This is a small sacrifice.
But I wonder if it might be excessive -- and whether I might be inadvertently excluding potential participants. My question to you, Miss Manners, is whether there is a socially appropriate way to engage in debate or serious discussion in a party atmosphere.
GENTLE READER: Not if someone is already attempting to find out whether the bartender thinks that life has any real meaning.
Parties and bars are not the proper venue for holding serious discussions. This is not only a matter of putting the effort into thought -- it's the noise level, the interruptions to recognize other people, the noise level, and the need to refresh drinks. And did Miss Manners mention the noise level?
But such gatherings are excellent places to identify people with whom to have serious conversations elsewhere. Have you never heard of "Why don't we go some place quiet where we can talk?"
Oh, wait. That might mean something else. Mentioning coffee adds respectability, Miss Manners is given to understand.
You are probably not going to attract many partygoers by appearing to be holding a private seminar with your immediate circle. But if anyone stops to listen to an ongoing conversation, you should fill the newcomer in on what has been said, and then pause to exchange acquaintance-making questions. An interested person will soon lead you back to your topic.
A better method is the ordinary party procedure: You exchange small talk with someone new, toss out an idea or two, and see if any are tossed back, rather than let drop. Parties being what they are, your conversation will be interrupted just as it gets interesting. And that is the time for you to suggest getting together elsewhere.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My stepdaughter will marry soon. Several immediate family members have asked me to keep the bride's mother -- my wife -- under control at the wedding. At my stepson's wedding, when my stepdaughter introduced a friend to her father with, "Dad, I'd like you to meet Jane Doe; Jane, this is my father," my (sober) wife said in a loud voice, "He's just the sperm donor!"
In addition to uttering such a rude statement, I believed it poorly reflected the truth. The father of my stepchildren is an upstanding man, and met his support obligations resulting from the divorce. He has maintained a good relationship with his children, and with me.
What do I say to my wife to try to avoid a repeat performance?
GENTLE READER: "I hope you won't put me in a position where I will have to defend him in public."