DEAR MISS MANNERS: I own a home with my boyfriend of six years, and I love entertaining. Mostly, this consists of family parties; his family lives nearby, mine a bit further. We all get along very well.
However, I am repeatedly chagrined by his family's use of our entire house during get-togethers. I want guests in my home to feel relaxed -- but certain members of his family always seem to find their way into areas of the house where I don't feel they should be: the bedroom, my art studio, my office, the guest room where a member of my family is currently staying (unaccompanied by said guest), none of which are located on the ground floor of the house. Most often, it's his middle-school-age nieces, but occasionally his siblings as well.
Maybe it's just me, but I feel that it's not appropriate to enter someone's bedroom uninvited, and there are certain boundaries to be respected when someone invites you into their home. My office contains sensitive documents, and my studio, expensive supplies and equipment.
I have appealed to my boyfriend to help me keep everyone in the common areas, but he's less than vigilant with the follow-through.
I am in the habit of reminding his nieces when they arrive to please stay downstairs with everyone else -- and generally try to say this within earshot of the other adults -- but it seems I'm wasting my breath. The last time I found the nieces and one of my boyfriend's siblings in my office, the sister told me it was OK because she was chaperoning them. It was all I could do not to cry out in exasperation, "Yes, but why are you all in here?"
As much as I love cooking and getting together with family, I'm beginning to feel I can't host any more gatherings until I replace all the doorknobs in my house with ones that lock. Or am I in the wrong -- by inviting people into my home, am I inviting them to every room of it?
GENTLE READER? No, you are not wrong.
Miss Manners proposes that you try enlisting your nieces as guards, which might appeal to their sense of power. You could say conspiratorially that you don't want "other" guests meandering around, and ask the nieces if they can subtly and gently distract or herd wanderers into the designated areas for entertaining.
Of course, the fox-guarding-the-henhouse approach does not have a high success rate. In that case, Miss Manners suggests that you look into replacing those doorknobs.