It’s probably relevant to mention this is assuming the spouse knows you won’t get along but has nothing against the partner coming. Or are you supposed to invite them and let them/hope they decline?
In my experience this is only ok if you do the same to everyone. So you can say no partners but not specifically uninvite one person’s partner if other partners are coming.
I think that it works like this:
- If you invite a coupled person to a party, the invitation is generally assumed to include their partner unless explicitly stated otherwise
- It’s usually considered rude to explicitly uninvite someone
- Partly because it’s considered rude to tell people about parties they aren’t invited to
- But it’s considered ok if there’s a general reason partners aren’t invited that isn’t personal, because then it’s not an insult
- Eg: if no one’s partner is invited, or if it’s a single-gender event and the partner isn’t that gender
Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s always wrong to be rude in this way. Just that it’s a convention it’s worth being aware of, because ignoring it can have unintended consequences.
A couple of situations in which it might be a good idea to violate this convention:
- The person you don’t want to invite is or was abusive towards you or someone you’ll be inviting
- The person you don’t want to invite ruins parties by telling racist or misogynistic or otherwise hateful jokes, and has repeatedly refused to knock it off
two thoughts (1) if the host says not to bring food, it’s polite to bring a small host(ess) gift that you think the person will like (2) it’s okay to invite people by saying “I’m asking each person to bring a side dish, would you be able to do that?”
About host(ess) gifts:
- Flowers are generally considered appropriate
- But not roses, especially if you are a man and the host is a single woman. Roses are associated with romance and are likely to be seen as intrusive flirting.
- If the host has children who will be present, something for the kids can be a polite choice. But make sure that it’s either a thing that can be shared easily or that there is one for each kid (eg: if there are three kids, three kaleidoscopes, not one).
About inviting and saying you’re asking everyone to bring a thing:
- It’s better to tell someone this *before* they accept the invitation
- Because if they’ve already said yes, there’s no polite way to change their mind after being asked to bring something
- Especially since some people are uncomfortable declining directly and make polite excuses like “I’m sorry, that sounds lovely, but I have other plans.”
- So they might say yes and not really be ok with it because there’s no polite way to say no at that point
If you’re having wine, have some soda or cider too in case there are people who avoid alcohol. Hard cider is also a nice alternative to beer
That’s an important point. If you’re having a gathering that includes alcohol, it’s important to have non-alcoholic drinks too.
A lot of people avoid alcohol for various reasons, and you don’t always know who they are.
And even people who drink often find it easier to avoid drinking too much if there are non-alcoholics drinks available.
Also, consider who you are inviting when you’re deciding whether to have alcohol. If you’re inviting people who tend to be really obnoxious when they’re drunk, it might be better to stick with soft drinks.
One potentially enjoyable form of interaction is to have people over for dinner.
Some ways this can be good:
- Eating together can make conversation easier
- Since it creates an activity and a focus
- But it doesn’t take up all the attention; you can still talk
- Eating at home can be cheaper than going out
- It can also be less overloading, since your place is probably less noisy than a restaurant
- It can also be more private, because you’re less likely to run into unwelcome people, and because there aren’t as many people around who could overhear
Some things about guests:
- Invite people who you like
- Invite people who like each other
- It’s not very much fun to hang out with a group of folks who dislike one another, even if you like all of them separately
- Don’t invite too many people. It’s much more fun to have dinner with a group of people that’s a comfortable size for you
- It’s often considered rude to invite someone but not their partner, with two major exceptions:
- If you’re hosting a single-gender event and their partner isn’t the relevant gender, or:
- If you’re hosting an esoteric interest gathering and it’s something only one of them likes. (Eg: If you’re having a party for people who like to talk about spiders, it’s probably ok to not invite a partner who hate spiders)
Some points about food etiquette:
If you are in your 20s and living in the US, it’s likely that you’re in a culture in which it’s normal for guests to bring some of the food. (This is different from a potluck, which is a communally-hosted kind of meal at which no one person has primary responsibility for making the food. I’m planning to write a different post about that later.)
If you are invited over for a meal:
- It’s considered polite to offer to bring something
- The most polite way to ask is to say something along the lines of “What can I bring?” because it suggests that you’re expecting to bring something rather than hoping they’ll tell you not to bring anything
- If they say not to bring anything, don’t
- Some people prefer that you don’t, or might have cultural or medical reasons to want control over the food that’s in their space
- Also, in some cultures it’s considered rude, so if someone doesn’t want you to bring something, it’s important to respect that
If you are doing the inviting:
- It’s usually considered rude to ask people to bring things if they haven’t explicitly offered to
- If people offer, it’s ok to assume that they mean it, and to ask them to bring something
- But be reasonable about it. Don’t ask people to bring something expensive or complicated unless you are planning the meal together and hosting jointly
- It’s usually considered reasonable to ask someone to bring one of these things: bread, wine, salad, soda/juice, or a dessert
Some specific things about food:
- You should make/buy a main dish that is filling and has protein of some sort
- And also probably a side dish or two
- And drinks of some sort – but it’s ok if it’s mostly water
- Make sure you have enough plates/cups/knives/forks/spoons/etc for everyone
- Find out if people you’re inviting are allergic to anything
- If you are serving meat, find out if there are any vegetarians
- If some people are vegetarian, it’s nice to make a vegetarian protein in addition to the main meat dish
- But in any case, at least make sure that some things don’t contain meat (eg: don’t put bacon bits on the salad or use lard to make a pie)
This is a good kind of gathering. Are there other things people should know about how to do it?