Q: Is there any way politely to turn down what I call a “trap” invitation like this?
“We would love for you to come for lunch (dinner, etc.) with us. Let us know which of the following dates you are free: (e.g.) the 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 24th, 25th.”
To decline, the recipient is forced to lie or sound rude.
Sadly, people who reject both of these responses are left believing that the only alternative is to cave to others’ wishes.
The problem is with the rigid definition of lying. Outside of courtrooms, the standard of “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” is not necessary. It is possible to decline an invitation graciously without giving any excuse (“Oh, I would have loved to, but I’m afraid I can’t”) or one that is so vague as to be meaningless (“You are so kind to ask, but unfortunately we are busy then”).
Pedants may argue that these are lies: You would not really have loved to comply, and you are not actually all that busy. They fail to understand that these are conventional phrases, not meant to be taken literally. It is as if you would be condemned for saying “Good morning” when it is raining.
Usually, repeating these statements at each offer eventually makes the asker give up. But as you have noted, some people persist. In that case, you must expand the reply into a blanket excuse: “I’m so sorry, but this is a rather busy time for me. Thank you for thinking of me, though.”
I wear one anyway, because my mother taught me that it is indecent for a woman to go without. Even underneath demure clothing, it can be possible for others to see that the outline of straps is not present, or worse, notice that perhaps a woman is cold. According to Mom, this would lead observers to determine that the woman was of poor moral character.
When I explained to my husband that this is the only reason I bother to wear brassieres, he laughed and said that my mother was wrong. He does not believe it would be a breach of social norms to forgo a bra that is there only to prove its own existence (provided that my dress or top is not sheer or too tight).
I would love for him to be right, but I am not convinced he is the expert he thinks he is on this subject. Can you please provide guidance?
But in the interest of marital peace, she will whisper: So wear an undershirt.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.