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MISS CONDUCT

Waiting for Wedding Whoopee

When brides and grooms should exit their big event, plus age remarks and spouse absences.

Miss Conduct
(Illustration / Nathalie Dion)
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Does proper etiquette still require a bride and groom to leave their wedding reception early as a signal to guests that they may leave, too? If the newlyweds are having fun and stay later, shouldn’t the guests feel free to leave if they are tired?
K.P. in Mashpee

The tradition of the bride and groom decamping posthaste, leaving the wedding party to keep the festivities going in their stead, dates from a time when the novelty of marriage exceeded the novelty of having all one’s friends together at one time. Back in the day, what could induce a young bride or groom to hang around eating cake and candied almonds with Joe from the plant or Sally from next door? Joe or Sally would be around tomorrow, but the honeymoon and mysteries of married life began tonight! Today, however, many wedding couples have been living together for months or years – and have a guest list of dear friends who haven’t been seen since junior high band camp. So modern brides and grooms are more likely to want to revel and reminisce into the wee hours.
Which doesn’t mean that all the guests must keep up the pace. At most receptions, there will be a series of toasts or a cake-cutting that clearly indicates that the "official" part of the festivities is over and the party part has now begun. After this point, guests can feel free to leave (once they’ve greeted and congratulated the wedding couple, that is).

As an emergency physician who looks younger than my (almost 40) years, I have patients constantly tell me, "You look way too young to be a doctor." While this is flattering, I do tire of it and want to be taken seriously as a physician. My usual approaches – ignoring it, responding that "I wish I were as young as you think I am" or "That’s only because you can’t see all the gray," or stating my age – don’t feel satisfying anymore. What’s another response?
A.F. in Boston

It sounds like you’re doing fine to me. Looking for a response that you’ll find "satisfying" is unrealistically hopeful. Do you have a satisfying response to "So, what do you do?" or "Can you believe it’s July already?" Small talk isn’t meant to be interesting or informative; it’s just what we humans do instead of picking nits off each other.
You’ll keep hearing that you look too young to be a doctor until the sad day comes when you don’t hear it anymore. Patients who comment on your apparent youth aren’t doing it to undermine your confidence or authority. Rather, they are trying valiantly to maintain the social niceties in a situation that leaves them vulnerable, stressed out, lacking in dignity, and probably in pain. So let them know they did a good job. Respond to your patients’ tepid little jokes with tepid little comebacks of your own that make them feel as though they are competent social beings, despite discomfort and discombobulation.

Fairly often I’m in social situations without my husband, who’s disabled, and I’m approached by people who skip asking about me and go right to asking about him. I’m not his nurse, I’m his wife! I find it offensive that I’m not asked how I am first. How do I get my point across in a humorous way?
J.P. in Waltham

People might do this whether your husband was disabled or not. When I go to events without my husband, people often ask where and how he is before asking about me. And my husband tells me that he has had the same experience. Our friends don’t mean to deny our independent personhood by doing this. They are only expressing loving concern about the health of our bodies and our marriage and giving us room to air our worries, if we’ve got any.
But regardless of people’s intent, you experience these questions more often than I do, and it feels different to you because of your husband’s disability. Here’s the thing: You and your husband live with his condition. It is a fact of life for you, albeit an inconvenient and perhaps painful one. To people on the outside, though, it may not seem like that. Those of us who are not at present ill or disabled sometimes assume that the lives of those who are consist of one long emergency, and that therefore it’s rude not to express concern at every available opportunity.
As you say, you’re not your husband’s nurse, and you can respond to queries about him in ways that make that clear. "Oh, he’s fine except for a Sudoku addiction that’s spiraling out of control" or "He’s great – we’ve been reading Jane Austen aloud to each other in the evenings. Have you ever done that?" This is sufficient for acquaintances – there’s little point trying to change the behavior of people you don’t see often. You can be more direct with closer friends; let them know that if you’re socializing solo, it doesn’t mean that they need to rush in with worried questions. Tell them a simple "How are you?" will do, and if there’s anything they should know about, you’ll tell them.
My Word

This summer, ladies, why not bring back the fan as an accessory? Fans are feminine and attractive, environmentally friendly, and give people who are trying to quit smoking something to do with their hands. (Got a good etiquette tip? Send it along to missconduct@globe.com, and it may appear in a future "My Word!")
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.

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