Miss Manners: New partners aren't likely to find jocular threats amusing

  • August 4, 2014 - 2:40 PM

Dear Miss Manners: It seems that when a person’s betrothed (or new spouse) is introduced to friends and family, someone often feels the need to threaten the new addition about what will happen if they ever hurt the other person. I realize that people probably intend to show how much they care about a friend or relative. But to me, it seems one should at least assume that the person could select a good partner.

Is it really necessary or acceptable to bring up the possibility of “If you ever hurt him/her …”? How should these remarks be handled?

Gentle Reader: Two justifications are given in defense of such behavior: that it shows the person “cares” — and that it is meant in jest. Miss Manners is willing to assume the former. As to the latter, not only do the recipients not find this approach amusing; they are likely to remember it for years to come.

Look the speaker in the eye and, with a knowing demeanor, explain that the remark exactly mirrors how you feel about anyone who would hurt your betrothed. If you deliver it properly, the relative will spend the rest of the evening wondering what your intended has told you about him.

OK to retract invite

Dear Miss Manners: I’ve invited several friends to a holiday dinner. One couple have responded (by e-mail) that they may not be able to come because their cat is very sick. It sounds like they will probably end up staying home with the cat, but they also want to leave their options open until the last minute.

I’d like to invite another couple in their stead. (I’m limited in how many I can invite by the size of my dining table.) Is there a gentle way to convey this when I respond to their e-mail?

Gentle Reader: There is nothing wrong with shutting the door into which your guest has inserted his metaphorical foot. Miss Manners appreciates that doing so will be less painful for both parties than if it were a real door. E-mail your friends that you completely understand, adding that of course they will want to be home with poor kitty. You are so sorry that they will not be able to attend, and you look forward to rescheduling.

“Miss Manners” is Judith Martin of the Washington Post. Send questions to her website,

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