DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been married for 46 years to a distinguished professor. Last spring, his academic department gave him a retirement party in honor of his 44 years of teaching, his seven books and his dedicated work.
The party was held at a trendy restaurant, with one room reserved for cocktails, and another for the seated dinner.
When my husband went to the other room, I was slow to follow because I was assisting an elderly woman who had a bad leg. Because of her understandable slowness, we were the last to arrive.
My husband was seated at a table with eight colleagues. The elderly woman and I sat in the very back of the room -- the only place available.
Six or eight people made speeches in honor of my husband, but the acoustics of the room meant that I could not hear a word.
My husband says he was just “going with the flow.” I believe that I deserved to be included in his “flow.”
I would like to know what etiquette prescribes for the treatment of a spouse when a retirement party and dinner is being held for the partner.
I have felt depressed and mortified every day since then. I feel very demeaned and cannot recover.
GENTLE READER: Please do not feel that Miss Manners is unsympathetic because she feels obliged to remind you that this party was not about you.
It is true that in a good marriage, each person contributes, in big and small ways, to the success of the other. When Academy Award winners go on about how they couldn’t have achieved that without (a list of relatives, teachers, colleagues), it is probably true.
And your husband could have given such a speech, mentioning whether he tested his ideas with you, had your critique his work, or simply been able to work because you created a domestic realm in which it was possible. But as he is not a part of an awards ceremony world, where everyone knows that such acknowledgments are expected, Miss Manners would not fault him, much less consider it reason to nourish a grudge.
Etiquette does not prescribe, as you suggest, that public recognition be conferred on the spouse. In that case, there would have been a head table of 18, including the colleagues’ spouses and partners.
Miss Manners deeply hopes that there are occasions when your achievements are recognized, whether these are private matters that should be celebrated by your family and friends, or professional ones that would garner public recognition.
And she would hope that then, your husband would proudly join in the admiration without expecting that he be given credit, too.