Social Etiquette and Good Manners/sensitivity with friends


QUESTION: Dear Cynthia,

I have an old friend in another city who I see twice a year when he comes here on business. We generally meet for dinner and drinks. While I enjoy catching up with him, I find that he repeatedly brings up my single status (he is married with two children) and probes into why I am still single and the efforts I have made to find a partner.

While a partner would be nice, I am actually quite happy with my life right now, and have a busy schedule in and outside of work as well as being a part-time student. When with him, I attempt to politely change the subject, talk about other activities, ask him about family etc, but he repeatedly refocuses the conversation back to my singleness. He is obviously happy with his married and family life and may feel that his life is one that others should envy and should model.

I find his approach intrusive, a bit disrespectful and, if I am honest, makes me enjoy meeting with him less as it feels like I am meeting with a coach or mentor rather than with a friend who accepts me for who I am.

I would be grateful if you would advise me on how I might handle this in the future.

Many thanks.

Yours sincerely,


ANSWER: Dear David,

Thanks so much for your question - one I get often - so know you aren't the only one being prodded to change their life to fit the model of a friend or relative.  My suggestion is that when you are on the phone making  your plans with your friend to meet that you tell him that you are eager to see him and catch up but under no circumstances are you going to discuss your marital/single status.  Tell him it really turns you off to seeing him if all he wants to know is when you are getting married and to whom.  Tell him that if and when you find the right partner/lady, he will one of the first to know. But in the meantime, please leave it out of the conversation.  There is so much more to talk about than that.

If he tells you that he will respect that topic of conversation is off the table, then make plans.  If he says he won't, then tell him that you would rather not meet.  That will undoubtably change his mind and he'll leave the subject alone.

Whatever you do, don't accuse him of anything, like making you feel bad because you are single.  He will get defensive and you might lose a friend.  By setting boundaries for the conversation about your singleness, you won't lose a friend.  

[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you so much for your useful response.

Just as a follow-up question, if I may. What is a good way of cutting off conversation on these matters if they become raised, and someone insists on bring it up? I was always taught growing up that when it is clear someone is wishing to change the subject it is an important cue to move on and it is rude to persist.

I do find it interesting that single people need to almost justify their situation but it would not be seen as ever socially acceptable to ask people why they decided to marry and why they haven't remained single.

Thank you once again.


Hi David,

It is rude to continue a strain of conversation when the other person has indicated that they don't want to talk about that subject.  I suggest that when you are approached with the "why are you single?" questions, you simply say, "I haven't found the right woman. I'll let you know if that changes."  If they pursue, just repeat yourself and then tell them that you would rather not talk about that so "let's talk about...".

Social Etiquette and Good Manners

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Cynthia W. Lett


Proper manners with friends,family,colleagues,neighbors and everyone else you know.


I have been an etiquette expert teaching and consulting on the subject worldwide since 1983. I started and serve as the Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals and am considered a leader in the field of etiquette and protocol training and execution. I edited "Etiquette for Dummies" and have recently written "Lett's Talk - Everyday Etiquette Dilemmas and What to Do about Them". My book, "That's So Annoying:An Etiquette Expert on the World's Most Irritating Habits And What To Do About Them" was published in 2009 and is available wherever books are sold. I taught the Business Protocol class to Master's level students at the George Washington University, Washington, DC for seven years I served as Chief of Protocol for MCI Telecommunications for three years.

International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals, ASTD, PCMA, National Speakers Association

I have been quoted over 700 times in the past 5 years worldwide. Publications include Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Washington Times, NY Times, Washington Business Journal, USA Today, Associated Press, London Times, Newsweek Japan edition, Newsweek US edition and many many more.

I am a Certified Etiquette Professional (CEP) and Certified Protocol Professional (CPP) earned by examination through ISPEP. I have a Master's degree in hospitality law and undergrad degrees in Restaurant & Hotel Management and Public Relations/Interpersonal Communications from Purdue University.

Awards and Honors
Who's Who Worldwide,Who's Who of American Women, Distinguished Darden Professor (Purdue University).

Past/Present Clients
World Bank, United Nations,US Dept. of State, US. Dept. of the Army, Pentagon, Barclays Global Investors,Accenture,Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, The White House, Dept. of State, AT&T,Bank of America,American Association of Clinical Pharmacies,Ritz Carlton Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Marriott Hotels,Starwood Hotels,and many more.

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