Permission to Marry? Is It 1950?

My girlfriend and I have decided we’d like to get engaged. Before we do, I want to ask her parents’ permission — not because she belongs to them. I just think it’s polite and would start our relationship on the right note. I would also like to do this in person. But my girlfriend wants to get engaged this summer, which would prevent my asking them in person because they live across an ocean. I’ve asked her to wait a bit to let me do what I think is the right thing, but she is resistant. She said waiting will make her sad. What should I do?


It’s hard to be entirely rational about traditions that are rooted in inequality. I appreciate your reassurance that your girlfriend does not belong to her parents. I also suspect that you’re right: Many parents would find you respectful for asking permission to marry their adult daughters.

But let’s not kid ourselves: This tradition harkens back to a time when women were property that belonged to their fathers. I didn’t hear any mention of your girlfriend asking your parents for permission to marry you — or how she feels about you asking permission, generally. So, how seriously, really, are you prepared to take this questionable formality?

Given your geographical limitations and your girlfriend’s impatience, go for a grand compromise: Set up a phone (or video) date with your prospective in-laws by email. This will create some anticipation before the big reveal of your telephonic request. It may not be in person, but still has many of the trappings you desire.

We’ll Meet You There

We are in our 60s. Recently, we began a dining-out relationship with another couple who are a few years older than us. We would be happy to drive, but they insist on taking turns. Behind the wheel, the husband seems disoriented, and his wife is jumpy and focused on his every move. We don’t feel safe. We aren’t close friends, and it isn’t our place to initiate a conversation about age-related driving. But we aren’t interested in being their passengers. Next time, we’re prepared to say we’ll meet them at the restaurant. But eventually, they’ll figure out what’s going on. How do we avoid their embarrassment or defensiveness?


Safety trumps manners, which doesn’t mean you can’t be polite or compassionate when you speak up. Unfortunately, the roadways are filled with more than just the four of you. If you are correct about the husband’s impaired driving, how would you feel if he hurt someone behind the wheel and you’d said nothing?

The next time you see them, say: “We’d like to raise a sensitive subject. We’ve noticed that your driving is erratic. We may be wrong, but we hope you’ll consider talking to your doctor or taking a driving test. You can always Uber any place you want to go. We just want you and others to be safe.” He may dismiss you (or even be upset). But speaking up is the right thing and handing over the car keys is often a process.

The Big Question

I am a junior in high school, and like many others, I am frequently asked the big question (the equivalent for older people of “When are you getting married?” or “When are you having children?”): “Where are you going to college?” Most of the people who ask barely know me. And many (I feel) are just trying to fill the air. I find the question intrusive and irritating, but I don’t want to be rude. What can I say to steer clear of the college conversation?


You’re right, Lucia. Many adults see a 16-year-old and beeline straight for the high-stakes world of college admissions. Personally, I’d rather know what you’re watching on Netflix. It’s more interesting and often something I wouldn’t find on my own.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to pre-empt a question before it’s posed. So, the next time someone asks about your college plan, say: “I don’t know yet,” or “That’s a longer discussion.” Then redirect the conversation: “Did college have a big effect on where you are today?” Hint for the future: Most adults love talking about themselves.

Ew, but O.K.

I spent a few days with a friend who was visiting from out of town. I live in an urban center; he lives in a small town. While we were having dinner at a nice restaurant, he used his cloth napkin to blow his nose. I was shocked. I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I said nothing. But I was very disturbed by his lack of table manners. Your thoughts?


I reject the implied premise of your question: that city dwellers are more urbane than country folk. (I have seen people in New York do grosser things than anyone in Vermont ever imagined.) And a polite person knows that the only correct response to your adult friend’s behavior is to act as if nothing amiss had occurred. Good manners never make other people feel inferior.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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