The Tag-A-Long Guest

by admin on March 9, 2011

Hello Jeanne and fellow Etiquette Hell readers,

I recently had a visit from an old friend (let’s call him M) and we were talking about an incident that I would like your opinion about.

This happened about five years ago while we were both in our 4th year of college.  I was living by myself near the campus and wanted to invite a couple old friends from out of town up for New Year’s Eve.  I invited M and another friend E, both male. The invitations were verbal over the phone something like “Hey, want to come stay here for New Years?  I’m inviting E/M too.”  My thought was that we would just have a guys night out.

E arrived first and we were watching t.v. until M got there.  However, he did not arrive alone.  He brought his girlfriend (H) with him.  I was surprised because I had not said anything to him about bringing her along and he did not say anything to me about bringing her.  I even thought back to when he called to tell me he was on his way there, he did not say we are on our way there.  It caused some tension later that night, but in the end we all had a good time.

When I brought this story up at the recent visit with M he told me I should have expected him to bring the girl he was dating at the time.  We then asked another friend who heard the story what he thought and he agreed that if M was dating someone at the time I should have expected her to come along with him.  My question for you is, should I have expected him to bring her?  If so, shouldn’t he have at least told me that he was bringing someone else who would be staying the night in my home?

Thank you for your advice.

First, let me give you a hearty “way to go” for making the effort to be a hospitable kind of guy and second, to commend you for wanting to do it right.  It warms my soul.

The first error was on your part to not have communicated clearly that this was a guy’s only event.   While you intended your guest list to be limited to those with a surplus of testosterone, it’s unlikely they read between the lines and your mind to know that for certain.   Had they, M would have either declined or asked to bring his girlfriend anyway.   My college senior son hosts the occasional evening party he calls “Man, Meat, Movie” and it’s obvious by the name that anything that doesn’t have a Y chromosome is not a part of the party plans.   (When he was in high school, we hosted a party called “The He-Man Fellowship of Manliness” which involved a very aggressive form of capture the flag in the pouring rain, mud wrestling and consumption of large amounts of beef.  No ambiguity there!)  So, extend your invitations with the clear message of the theme, in this case, it was to have been “Guys Night”.

M was wrong to assume an invitation given to him to sleep over at your house was also extended to his girlfriend.   While etiquette does recognize that dating couples can be a social unit and should be invited together for parties and dinners, there are exceptions to that which are weddings and overnight sleeping arrangements.   A host is never under an obligation to extend invitations to weddings or their home to the date of their intended guest.    I know many of the younger generation think that just because pre-marital sex is so culturally prevalent that this excuses their presumptions that hosts should welcome and extend hospitality to those presuming to sleep together under their roof.  Had an invited house guest made that presumption upon my hospitality and showed up with an additional uninvited house guest, the awkward level would peak pretty high and quickly as the words, “I’m sorry, I cannot accommodate that request”, came out of my mouth.   Arrangements would have been made to bed them separately and therefore the awkwardness continues because I would not have been prepared for that scenario.

M should have asked you if H could come and then you would have had to decide which mattered more to you, having M (with H) come to your party or keep to your original plan of having a guy’s only theme which would have been limited to you and E.   But let’s face it, New Year’s Eve ranks high up there for holidays that lovers want to be together to celebrate the start of a new year.  M probably would not have come at all if you had excluded H.   Such are the dilemmas of all hosts and hostesses!

{ 71 comments… read them below or add one }

YWalkalone March 10, 2011 at 4:47 am

Actually, I have an issue I have been dealing with recently that maybe EHellions can help me out with, although it’s slightly off-topic. I am an engaged female who has been very close friends with a male for years. Other than FH, of course, he is one of the few people I feel comfortable opening up to, and we always have great, usually deep, conversations (he is my sounding board–as he is close to completing his psychology degree, he has helped me deal with many issues in my life). He has been seriously dating a woman for about six months now, and I like her very much, however, as I still don’t know her very well (and yes, I have been trying to remedy that!), I don’t feel comfortable discussing anything personal in front of her yet. He used to come over at least once a week and “hang out” with FH and I, and we would have our conversations. Lately, though, as he is still in the “honeymoon” phase in his relationship, it seems he can’t go anywhere without her. I have called him multiple times and said, “Would YOU like to come over?”, as opposed to “Would you and ‘Angela’ like to come over?”, and every time he has responded with, “Sure, WE would love to come”! While I enjoy Angela’s company, I would like to have one evening with him only. I have not been sure how to tactfully go about this because I don’t want Angela to feel excluded, but more importantly I don’t want my friend to become offended or get the impression that I don’t like her. I worry that if I invite him again and he responds the same way, and I try to tactfully clarify that I meant only him, he might then assume that I don’t like Angela, and even if I reassure him that I do enjoy her company, he will think I am being insincere. So how do I tactfully, graciously invite someone who has become “attached at the hip”? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you!

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karmabottle March 10, 2011 at 7:01 am

I am amazed by how many posters think that the OP wasn’t “clear” enough in his invitation!
Since when does one assume that “you” means “you and others you could possibly be dating”?

Additionally, a current girl or boyfriend of the month doesn’t rate the same level of inclusion in invitations that a spouse, live-in, or affianced person does. And even then, it’s not automatic!

Thirdly, I’m shocked at how many folks here are advocating that you should *ask* if you can bring along your boy/girlfriend. No, no, no, no, and No! That’s one of the biggest etiquette guidelines we have had for decades. Why put the host in the position to have to say “no”?

You *don’t ask* if you can bring them, you clarify what the event is to be—the same way you would if you needed to know the dress code to an event. “Should I plan for garden wear or semi-formal?”

Watch how easy this is. It works all the time:

“Thanks for the invitation to your house for Easter brunch, Ellen. Will it be a friends time, or a whole family event?”
“Friday night sounds good. Just us friends or spouses too?”
“Yeah, let’s go see Inception. Ladies night out, or couples?”

It’s so easy for the host/ess to answer this question. Whatever their reply, you answer, “Great! Sounds wonderful! I’m/we/the kids and I/etc. will really look forward to that!”

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Bint March 10, 2011 at 7:43 am

YWalkalone, I don’t think you can do this at the moment, to be honest. Also, your fiance might be happy with your close friendship with a man, but Angela might not be. She may well find your closeness uncomfortable, threatening, or inappropriate. You have a fiance. She may wonder why you also need her boyfriend too, and think it’s time you backed off from the ‘great deep’ conversations with him as a ‘sounding board’. Yes, she may also be insanely jealous or irrational, but she just might not hold the same views. I wouldn’t be happy having an engaged woman hanging out with my husband for deep conversations once a week without me, unless it was his sister. It’s not to do with jealousy, or suspecting anyone of doing anything – I just don’t think it’s appropriate.

Your friend didn’t have a closer woman than you in his life, but now he does. He may be bringing her with him to show her that he respects that position. He may be unhappy without her at the moment. Or he may now also feel slightly awkward at having a girlfriend and then having deep meaningful conversations on a regular basis with another woman, who is engaged to someone else.

I don’t think you’ve realized that you invite him to come and visit you *and* your fiance, but are expecting him to leave *his* girlfriend behind. And you’re saying he’s joined at the hip? I think it’s far more likely he’s assumed (given ‘you’ can be plural or singular, and he has no way of telling which you mean if you don’t say so) that it’s a couple visiting a couple. Asking him not to bring Angela while your fiance is there would be pretty rude and insulting to her, especially since you want her to stay behind so you can talk about your personal issues. It’s putting what you want above his relationship, and that’s just not fair. I really wouldn’t go down that route – I would back off and show both of them you respect them as a couple.

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Jillybean March 10, 2011 at 10:49 am

YWalkalone – I agree with Bint to an extent. It might be a good idea to just back off and see how things naturally progress. While he might have been comfortable being close friends with you because your fiance had no problem, he may feel differently now that he’s in his own relationship. And I say this as someone who has a male best friend, and many other male friends, and I’m married to a man who has a female best friend and many other female friends. My husband and I do not think the bonds of friendship should be limited to only people of the same gender, however, a friend of his got married a few months before us and their relationship was altered because of it.

Prior to her marriage, this friend and my husband would hang out on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes I tagged along, sometimes I didn’t. Since she got married, she no longer hangs out with him without her husband (even though, I know for a fact her husband would be ok with it, and would actually love to be a little less glued to her hip, lol). HER comfort level of hanging out on her own changed based on her marriage. It could be that the same has happened to your friend. It could be that Angela is imposing (officially or unofficially) some new code of behavior – or it could be that your friend is imposing that new code on himself. If you give it a little bit of time, it might shift again (as Angela gets to know you better, or as he becomes more comfortable in their relationship, etc), but unfortunately you may have to accept the friendship under new conditions. It’s a bummer, but unfortunately many people feel that way that Bint does (that it’s not appropriate) or how Renee (earlier in the thread) feel, and you are not likely to change their minds.

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Jillybean March 10, 2011 at 11:56 am

@karmabottle, in regard to: “I am amazed by how many posters think that the OP wasn’t “clear” enough in his invitation! Since when does one assume that “you” means “you and others you could possibly be dating”? ”

Based on the responses, I’d say in many circles of friends, “you” means precisedly “you and whoever you might be dating” – so while I’d agree that the OP wasn’t necessarily UNclear, he certainly could have been MORE clear for the sake of avoiding any confusion based on, “well, that’s what ‘you’ means in my groups.”

As for “You *don’t ask* if you can bring them, you clarify what the event is to be—the same way you would if you needed to know the dress code to an event. “Should I plan for garden wear or semi-formal?””

I actually think your examples that followed are exactly what people were advocating. Asking for clarification, not necessarily asking if you can bring someone along. They may have worded it differently in their post, but my guess is what you were suggesting was similar to what most were suggesting.

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AS March 10, 2011 at 12:40 pm

@Karmabottle – I was one of the many people who said in my post that my boyfriend or I ask whether the other person is invited or not. It means that I “clarify” with the host, as you yourself said that “you” is a very ambiguous term. And guess what – I have usually got a positive reply.
For example, a colleague of mine once invited us by an e-mail, the wordings were in the lines of “my wife and I’d like to invite you to lunch at our place…”, and I asked “does the invitation extends to partners/family are too?”. He replied saying that he’d like to clarify that partners/spouses/children, all are invited. I did “ask” him as there is a question mark at the end of the sentence, but according to your definition, I “clarified”. If you have noticed, your examples have question marks too. Anything in English language that ends with a question mark can be called “asking” and that is what most of us meant by asking, and you prefer to call it “clarify”. Asking does not specifically mean “may I bring my boyfriend”. And guess what? Even when you “clarify”, the answer may be “no”, for example, “I am sorry, but I was thinking of it as a girl’s day out”.

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AS March 10, 2011 at 12:47 pm

@YWalkalone: I agree with Bint and Jillybean. I think there isn’t a good way you can hang out with only your friend without including “Angela”.

Once your friends have a girlfriend/boyfriend, things change. Especially given that they are still in their “honeymoon” phase, it might be even more tricky. Maybe your best idea would be to sit back and see how things fall in place.

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irish March 10, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Hi YWalkalone, I have a suggestion that might help you maintain the friendship with your male friend. I can see why Angela might feel left out if you invite just him and not her to your house in the evening to hang out with you and your fiance. It’s the evening, it’s an intimate setting, and your partner is there – why shouldn’t your friend’s partner also attend? could be her reasonable. Maybe you could consider meeting your friend for lunch or coffee without either partner. It’s a more neutral setting in the daytime, and if your fiance doesn’t attend there’s no reason why your friend’s girlfriend should be there.

Believe me, I’m sympathetic. I lost a male friend in related circumstances. I don’t have any problem with the fact that my boyfriend has close female friends, and that they may tell him things they wouldn’t like him to pass on to me. I like to attribute this to the fact that I’m confident in myself and my boyfriend is an incredibly loving and reassuring man :) but being honest, I don’t think I would be entirely happy if a female friend of his invited him to her house, he asked if he could bring me, and she said ‘no, I want to have a personal discussion with you about things I don’t want your girlfriend to hear’. Whereas, I would never expect to come along if he was meeting that same friend for lunch, because in a neutral setting like that, it’s just a question of two people giving each other their time, and bringing along a partner sets up the friend as third wheel.

I hope this helps. It even occurs to me that if you make it clear that Angela is always welcome in your house, this will legitimise it if your friend chooses to visit you without her. But definitely there’s something about the private setting that makes it difficult to refuse hospitality to partners without appearing rude, even if your intentions are innocent.

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irish March 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Sorry, typo! ‘Why shouldn’t your friend’s partner also attend? could be her REASONING’ is what I meant to say.

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Michelle P March 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm

@Renee, I was in no way “rigid” about my schedule. I was a full time college student and a single mom of a toddler; meeting in the middle of the day was simply not an option.

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--Lia March 10, 2011 at 3:02 pm

YWalkalone– What do you do? Wait. There’s nothing you can do at this point in their relationship that will get you private time with your old friend that won’t do exactly what you’ve spelled out. It might put him in an awkward spot, cause jealousy, offend him, exclude her, make them jump to incorrect conclusions about how you don’t like her, and ruin things all around. Give him as long a honeymoon period as he likes. Be glad that he’s found someone. Invite them as a couple to do things with you as a couple with your fiancee. Continue to wait. Then …

Invite Angela along to something just the women might enjoy, maybe a movie that came up when all 4 of you were together and that just you and she said looked good. Or something else that appeals to just the 2 of you. (In my world, it’s exercise at the gym. For some reason, dance exercise classes are something the women like to do together and that the men don’t go near. Even walks in the park for exercise seem to be a women’s only activity.) After you’ve established that there are things you and Angela do together without her boyfriend, broach the possibility of doing something with him (lunch and a long talk) without her. And even then, be prepared for a no answer.

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gramma dishes March 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I think –Lia has the right approach.

You have to decide: Do I want to maintain my friendship with JUST him, or do I care enough about him to include her?

If you do want to include her as a part of that friendship, I’d go with –Lia’s suggestions. But know that even if you do continue your friendship (with both of them) it is unlikely that your relationship with him will ever be exactly the same as it was before she came into the picture.

If you don’t want to include her, then I think you can kiss his friendship good-bye. He isn’t going to just sit around and stagnate in order to keep you company in the manner to which you’ve become accustomed.

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gramma dishes March 10, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Oh. My previous comment (right above) was intended for YWalkalone, not the OP. Sorry if it caused confusion.

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karmabottle March 10, 2011 at 5:41 pm

@Jillybean: The only problem is that one can’t define the world by the way it is done in one’s circle. The world is bigger than that. Of course a circle has norms, but if a person ever plans to operate within the rest of the world, using a wider vision than just one’s circle is important. That’s the whole reason we have etiquette guidelines: to standardize how interactions occur to suit the widest variety of situations.

@AS: You may have me confused with someone else. I did not say that “you” is ambiguous. It’s not. It’s quite clear. Additionally, “asking” and “clarifying” are too vastly different things. “Ask” is a request. “Clarify” is to clear up. The difference is enormous.

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Jillybean March 10, 2011 at 10:40 pm

@karmabottle – of course that’s why etiquette guidelines exist, yet people keep showing up with uninvited guests, so clearly putting as much information out there up front is never a bad idea. In no way am I implying the OP was wrong or that M gets a pass, but, when it comes to invitation specifics the concept of “less is more” simply doesn’t apply.

As for clarifying and asking being different, well, as someone else suggested you must “ask” for clarification. I suppose you could demand clarification, but simply asking is nicer. And many of the posters echoed that sentiment in their posts:

Kai suggested: He could easily have asked when the invitation was given whether his girlfriend was invited or not (not he should ask if his girlfriend should come)

Ashley said: I always make a point to clarify whether or not SOs are invited to functions.

Ugh said: I say, “Well, that would be nice, but I have the kids.” I don’t assume they are automatically invited either.

Guinevere said: I quiz my hubby about how invites are worded, and even have him email or call the host to be sure it’s a guys-only event.

From Sarah Jane: While I believe that no one should presume he or she is invited to an event, nor should he or she fish for an invitation, nor should he or she attend uninvited, what I’m hearing today is that it is not altogether unreasonable for a couple to wonder if they are expected to attend together, and that such clarification should be sought

Chocobo said about the manly/girly event titles: For me, I would probably ask in these examples whether the other spouse was invited, because I know our interests aren’t normative, but not everyone would.

Louise: If the invite is for a “loaded holiday” such as New Year’s Eve, by all means clarify (I’ve done that myself), but don’t assume your significant other is included.

I won’t quote more, but a quick glance at the rest of the posts I didn’t notice a single person saying you should say, “Can I bring my significant other?” which is what you seem to think they are saying. Rather, I see a lot of people recommending exactly what you are, clarification. So, I stand by my point that the more information given in an invitation the less likely you will be to open your door to find an uninvited guest standing at the side of your friends. Wouldn’t you agree that etiquette would call for your guests requiring as little clarification as possible when issuing you’ve issued them an invitation?

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karmabottle March 11, 2011 at 7:01 am

Okay, Jillybean.
In rebuttal to your examples, here is the other side that posters are also including. This is why I said that I am surprised how many people suggest it’s okay to ask.

“If you want to bring your partner when they haven’t specifically been invited, ask.

“For me, I would probably ask in these examples whether the other spouse was invited, because I know our interests aren’t normative, but not everyone would.”

“As the girlfriend of a man who gets invited to events quite often, I ALWAYS make sure that if he invites me along, that he asks the host if it’s OK.”

“If the live-in partner is a “new addition” to the guest’s hosuehold maybe the guest could ring up and politely ask, with an offering to bring an extra dish/bottle/gift for the host either from the guest or the guest’s partner as well as offering to assit the host and actually doing it.”

“If I am invited by my friends for a party, I ask them if I can bring my boyfriend along if they haven’t specified.”

I’d say we pretty much exhausted this discussion. Thanks for your point of view. Always interesting to debate with others.

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YWalkalone March 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm

@grammadishes–“He isn’t going to just sit around and stagnate in order to keep you company in the manner to which you’ve become accustomed.”

I find your statement insulting and unnecessarily venomous. If you had read my comment, I stated specifically that I like his girlfriend and enjoy her company, and that I was trying to find a polite way to suggest we talk alone ONCE. I stated that rather explicitly. At no point did I complain, “Why isn’t he over here every week like he used to?” Of course he is going to spend less time with me now that he’s in a serious relationship. That’s completely natural and encouraged. If I were demanding that he continuously cancel plans with her to spend time with me, that would be wrong, my priorities would not be in order, and you would be right. But apparently you think it’s out of line for me to want one lunch with him? Obviously something is skewing your viewpoint so that you read into my comment what you wanted to, instead of what I expressly stated. And I find your approach, and response, to be mean-spirited and spiteful. I wonder if you would have had the same reaction if I had said my friend was a female who seemed “attached at the hip” to her boyfriend?

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AS March 14, 2011 at 9:45 am

@Karmabottle, agreed that you hold on to the view that you does not mean “you and whomever you are dating”. I probably confused with someone else there. Sorry about that.

But I still hold on to the “clarify” and “ask” argument. The terms by themselves might mean different things. But in actual usage, the same sentence can be used for both, because you ask in both cases. If some people (like me) said “ask” in the comments section of this post, we probably meant “clarify” rather than ask. Not all of us put too much emphasis on the finer details of every single word we use and hence use certain words interchangeably. Thanks for enlightening us. You’ll have to understand that regardless of what we used in the arguments, most of us actually clarify with the guest if “you” meant “you and guest” or “only you” when we ask them. In all the examples you used from other comments, you can easily substitute “clarify” for “ask”, and the sense still remains the same.
I don’t think it is a good idea to blame other people for doing something wrong just because they don’t use language as precisely as you to do.

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Ginya March 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm

@OP, My general feeling here is that the next time you might want to be explicit about it being a guys night out. Although I can pretty much tell you now that M wouldn’t have come had you told him his girlfriend wasn’t allowed on New Year’s. Couples generally like to spend such occasions together, so it’s a toss up of what was more important to you. – I do think it’s a bit weird that he never used ‘we’ in any context while talking with you though.

@YWalkAlone: I have some bad news for you, I have been ‘Angela’. Let me tell you how this story ends if you keep trying to arrange a meeting to be alone with him – you don’t have your friend anymore. Regardless of how innocent your relationship, to many women such an arrangement is completely unacceptable. When my husband and I first started dating. He had a similar friend, however she was single. While my husband (then boyfriend) didn’t mind, I sure did. He swears to this day that they had a platonic relationship, but I simply found it unacceptable that she wanted to spend time with just him. It may be a little irrational, but other relationships taught me well not to let something like that fly. Our relationship almost didn’t survive because of her insisting I not come along, and in the end their relationship was terminated. I still think it’s because she had feelings for him – I know you say you don’t but from Angela’s perspective it sure might seem like it. If you care for your friend and you want what’s best for him, stop trying to finagle a meeting for just the two of you. It won’t go over well, and you’ll probably end up loosing your friend.

I don’t think grammadishes intention was spiteful or venomous just VERY blunt. You’re relationship with your friend has changed, and it’s probably best you adjust accordingly. The days of him coming over unaccompanied are dead, and while you might want to go back to them, by trying to be alone with him you’re probably going to put him in a bad situation, even if it is just lunch. Speaking from her point of view it doesn’t look good.

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karmabottle March 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm

@AS: Wow, way to change the entire discussion around to complain that I use English as it is meant to be used. Just…wow.

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