Manner Matters: Birthday Bill Blues


[Image: Robyn Lee]

Dear Molly,

One of my husband's best friends has a wife I don't care for, especially when it comes to meals and entertaining. The short version is that we have not dined with them in a few years since I implemented a reciprocity rule for hosting. While I love hosting, it's nice to be a guest, too. So if I invite someone over, I don't invite them again until they invite us to something. Sadly, once I adopted this personal rule, the truth of our friendship manifested: we were always hosting at our home and paying for this couple if we met out.

I received a text message from the wife a few days ago after not much more than an occasional Facebook post for communication. She invited us to dinner to celebrate her husband's birthday. I feel like she did this with the expectation that we will pay for everyone! How should I handle the check? We are obligated to get a sitter to attend, and while the occasion is for a birthday, as their unexpected guest I feel that they should be paying. There's no question that we'll go as my guy loves his friend dearly, but we haven't socialized with them in at least two years and prior to that the friendship was entirely at our expense. I want to be a gracious person, but I don't want to bankroll them anymore. The real issue is that my husband is a truly nice guy and will insist on paying. What can I tell him so that at the least we will split the bill? Thank you! Sick of Paying

Dear Sick of Paying, In so many ways you are in the right. You are right about reciprocity (that if someone invites you to a social event ideally you should issue the next invitation). You are right about how whoever issues an invitation should expect to pay. And yet... you need to eat this one. I say this not as an etiquette guru, but as a married person and a person with friends and a person who has seen spouses undermine friendships intentionally and unintentionally. You just need to know you are right and take satisfaction in that, go to this birthday dinner, and let your husband be the truly nice guy that he is and pay for it. You don't need to go back to the old days, where you saw a lot of these people and always hosted them and resented it, but a dinner every two years? It's worth it.

Worth what, you may ask? Worth having your husband have some level of connection with someone you describe as one of his best friends.

So: "How should I handle the check?" You don't. Leave it up to your husband. "What can I tell him so that at the least we will split the bill?" Nothing. Again, leave it up to him. I'm not advocating this in some bizarre patriarchal way. I'm saying that it's a good idea within a couple to leave the details of a friendship—including who pays for dinner—to the primary person in the friendship.

Those details, by the way, including issuing and accepting or declining invitations. So leave it up to him whether or not you accept this dinner invitation. I might even try to encourage him to make future plans directly with his friend.

It's clear from your letter (because you say as much) that you don't like your husband's friend's wife. Fair enough. But your husband likes his friend. Be the gracious person you want to be, not so much to this woman (although that is part of what I'm suggesting), but to your husband. Don't make waves around this friendship. Just let him have it and pay for dinner if that's his way, without saying a word.

As my great-grandfather used to quote Ogden Nash at weddings: "To keep your marriage brimming/ With love in the loving cup/ Whenever you're wrong, admit it/ Whenever you're right, shut up."

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