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Goodbye, God Bless, and Good Riddance 

Here it is: The final word on how to address envelopes

Wednesday, Jun 22 2005
Dear Social Grace,

We are having a lunch in our office next week for a member of our team who is being deployed with the military. We aren't happy about it, but we do want to show our support and wish him well with a safe return and all that.

How do we handle the cake? Just "Bon Voyage"? Any decoration? Little plastic green Army men? A small flag? Or maybe just working red, white, and blue into the frosting trim somehow? It will be a buffet -- a casual arrangement, but nice. Help?


Dear Nina,

As far as a cake, a red, white, and blue theme is certainly appropriate -- as are some small flags (the frosting shouldn't be a direct representation of the flag, though -- "eating the flag" could seem to be disrespectful). I'd also suggest that Army men and other "war toys" be avoided. This occasion isn't something to be treated with too much levity -- it can be happy, but it's not a joke.

"Bon Voyage" makes sense -- a more direct sentiment such as "We'll Miss You" would be fine, too. And the people who serve our country overseas often appreciate a heartfelt "Thank You." Perhaps you could work that in.

Dear Social Grace,

A few of us need to send a sympathy card to the wife of our pastor at church. Do we address the envelope using "Mrs. Jane Doe" or do we use "Mr. and Mrs. John Doe and Family"?

Thank you.
Lois Wessling

Dear Ms. Wessling,

If the questions I receive are any indication, addressing envelopes is one of the primary social concerns of Bay Area residents. So once and for all, friends and neighbors, I'll say this: When people talk about someone who was "so rude!" they are almost never talking about someone who didn't get her envelopes addressed exactly right.

Getting your envelope in the mail is what's important here, as are the envelope's contents. Envelopes themselves are just not that big a deal to most people. And for the record, I'll add that many folks find traditional envelope-addressing standards to be sexist or otherwise inappropriate to modern lifestyles.

That said, you may address a letter to Mrs. Doe alone, or you may address a letter to her and her family if that makes more sense. Neither is wrong. If you address this letter to her alone, the correct traditional form would be "Mrs. John Doe" -- you combine "Mrs." with the woman's first name and the husband's last name only if she is divorced but still using that name. (I told you some might find this sexist -- but I'm just telling you how it's done; I'm not necessarily endorsing it.) If Jane had kept her own last name when she married, she would be a "Ms." -- "Ms. Jane Jackson." And if you were writing to her for business reasons, she would be a "Ms." -- "Ms. Jane Doe" -- unless she'd made another preference known.

When you do need to write to both Jane and her husband, the correct form for many ordained ministers includes "The Reverend" -- if your church is in the Protestant family, for instance, address your envelope to "The Reverend John Doe and Mrs. Doe."

Dear Social Grace,

I am a gay man, happily coupled with my live-in boyfriend of two years. A close friend of mine from college has invited me to her wedding with an "and guest" attached to her "save the date" card (formal invites to come), despite the fact that I've been with my boyfriend for almost two years. She has met my boyfriend and they got along very well. (We live on opposite coasts, so we're not as close as we once were.)

I find the fact that my life partner is relegated to "and guest" status offensive and disrespectful to our relationship. I'm trying to imagine why she would do this. Perhaps she couldn't remember his last name? (She could easily have sent me an e-mail to ask.) I wonder if I'm being oversensitive, being in a relationship that is disrespected and discounted on a daily basis by some of our elected officials. Regardless, is there a way I can explain to her how important this is to me without being overly confrontational? I thought an e-mail with a friendly reminder of my boyfriend's last name would be too passive-aggressive.

So, should I suck it up and let it lie, or address my concerns with the bride?

My Boyfriend Is Not a Guest

Dear Coupled Sir,

Everyone, please, never take your anger at politicians out on your friends. It's a waste of perfectly good anger (which you could channel into political activity), and it's unfair to your friends.

In situations like these, you should try to consider intentions. Your friend certainly didn't intend to slight you or your relationship. She may have forgotten your boyfriend's last name. She may not be aware of how serious your relationship is. Or she may, subconsciously even, feel that unmarried relationships are less "permanent" than married ones.

This widely held perception is a problem for many "happily coupled" but unmarried twosomes, not just same-sex ones. Despite countless high-profile marriages that have lasted about as long as a container of yogurt, a marriage certificate often seems to give a relationship social "weight." (And we won't even start on the inequality implied by formal envelopes addressed to unmarried couples.)

I think your friend's error is best met with correction by example, not correction by lecture. You may let her know by e-mail that you and Joe are looking forward to getting the invitation. You may let her know, after the wedding, how lovely her reception was and how you and Joe hope to have a similar one someday. Or you may someday, without blaming her, talk about the problems caused by others not taking your relationship as seriously as they would a government-sanctioned one, even if they don't realize they're doing so.

Dear Social Grace,

My boyfriend recently broke up with me after nine years. We had gotten engaged in May 2003. He broke off the engagement after a year, but we continued to see each other. He always wanted me to wear my engagement ring and I did. Now that he has broken up with me he is asking for the ring back. What should I do?


Dear Teresa,

Since he asked, you should give it to him, and try to consider yourself well rid of it.

About The Author

Social Grace


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