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Originally published Sunday, January 19, 2014 at 5:04 AM

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Please don’t forget kindness in perfect-party quest

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax on the things we can, and cannot, control when planning celebrations.


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Dear Carolyn

DEAR CAROLYN: When I was married four years ago, a shocking number of people did not understand the etiquette of being invited to a formal event. Some people showed up in jeans when the invite clearly stated “cocktail attire.” Some showed up without having RSVP’d. However, the worst came with dates who were clearly not invited. Thankfully it all worked out because we had some extra chairs from people who said they were coming and just never showed.

I am planning a smaller party to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, and I need a way to communicate information — such as “only the person on the invite may show up” and “I need to know if you are coming or not so I can order enough food” — to my guests without being rude. The venue holds a maximum of 45 people. It also is one of those “if you show up without a jacket one will be provided for you” places.

I have a couple of friends who are dating less-than-stellar people — one is a terrifying drunk, and this party will be open bar. The other is an inappropriate “lady” who apparently has a personal quest to be as loud and braying as possible while wearing as little clothing as possible. I do not want these people showing up expecting to get in.

Do I hire someone to stand at the entrance with a list of names? Do I send out regular invitations but spell out these additional bits of information on a Facebook page? I am at a loss.

— Stressed Hostess

DEAR STRESSED HOSTESS:

There’s no one answer that fits all of your complaints. The no-RSVPs and no-shows, of course, are flat rude, and I feel for you. But wearing jeans? That’s more complicated.

It starts with ignorance, I believe — and vagaries like “cocktail attire” don’t help, especially when 99 percent of the cocktails I see in the wild are attached to someone wearing jeans. Yes, I know what the term means — but I’m still grateful to hosts who use the old-school white tie/black tie/semi-formal/casual instead of making the extra push to stage-manage their parties. But that’s just me.

The angry drunk, meanwhile, is a problem. Talk to your friend, give examples of terrifying behavior you witnessed and express concern for your friend’s well-being. Then, weeks later when you regretfully insist the angry drinker is not welcome at your event, you won’t appear more concerned about your party than about your friend. Ahem.

And the woman you give the “treatment”? The one you write about like she’s a surface in a public restroom? She called, and she’d like her humanity back. Wow. If what you’re really asking me is how you can purge your soiree of riffraff without appearing as if that’s what you’re doing, then you’ve bellied up to the wrong bar.

So let’s back up to what your motives are for this party. Is it to spend time with loved ones, celebrating your good luck? And you assume parties are supposed to be a certain way? Or is it to create an image of how you’d like others to perceive you?

Stress is what fills the gap between what we covet and what we actually get. It’s also what makes a lousy host, because a good host makes guests feel comfortable, whether they’re in a palace ballroom, a backyard barbecue, or in a palace ballroom dressed for a backyard barbecue.

All of this is why my advice is to change your baseline intentions. Right now, your baseline is your idea of the perfect party, and you’re trying to get all the jaggedly pieces to fit that image. I suggest you use those pieces themselves as your baseline — who your guests are and what you can expect of them, why you’re celebrating — and build a party from there. That’s how you made your wedding work, right? It’s not as photogenic, but it’s a lot more fun. Not to mention, kind.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living



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