DEAR MISS MANNERS: When hosting a dinner at one's home or attending a dinner at someone else's home, how long should the evening last? I'm speaking about casual dinners with no formal cocktail hour but usually appetizers, a main meal and dessert.
I think two or two and a half hours is appropriate for such an event, but it seems that among my friends, dinner evenings last four hours or more, even on weeknights. If I try to leave earlier than the other guests, I feel rude, as if I'm eating and running.
When hosting in my home, I have sometimes resorted to asking a friend beforehand to break the evening up a little earlier, but that feels awkward, as well.
Am I wrong? Should a casual in-home dinner last for four hours?
GENTLE READER: Well, let's add it up:
The invitations are issued for 7 p.m., but no one shows up until 7:50. The food was going to be ready by 8:30, but isn't quite. Or it is overcooking, because some guests are still missing. So it starts at 9. By 10:20, all the food has been served and eaten, but the hosts have not given the signal to leave the table and return to the living room, so the guests feel glued to their chairs.
Yes, that's four hours, easily, before they bolt. And guests are supposed to spend half an hour over coffee after that.
But Miss Manners is not pitiless. If the meal is well over but the hosts aren't budging, or if the rest of the company is simply lolling around having a good time, she gives you permission to plead that you don't want to break up the party but you must slip out because you have to be up early.
Of course, if it is your living room, it is harder to escape. If you started the meal on time because (as you tell late guests) they would have wanted you to go ahead, and ended it by getting people up from the table for coffee and they still won't leave, it may be time to stand up and say how lovely it was to have them.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am in my early 20s and have been married for four months to a man of similar age. When we announced our wedding, we received several comments of the "What are you doing, you are too young" variety, including several friends and family members who told us we had no idea what we were getting into.
Even now, post-wedding, we are still getting intrusive comments from friends (the family fortunately has calmed down) telling us that we should have waited longer. One of his friends was so bold as to tell him she didn't believe he was truly in love, but simply "playing house."
We were very offended by this. Frankly, I am tired of having to explain myself over and over to people. I got married because I want to build a life with him and I love him dearly. Is this really anyone else's business? Do we really owe other people explanations?
GENTLE READER: Certainly not. But you should smile and say, "Thank you, we feel very lucky." The "thank you" should throw them, but if anyone persists with negative comments, you could add compassionately, "Actually, we're very happy. I'm so sorry you're not."