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Courtesy titles don’t depend on marital status

Dear Thelma: I have a friend who is getting married soon and has decided to keep her maiden name. I have also kept mine, and we have a disagreement about how we should be addressed. I have always used “Ms. Sally Smith,” whereas she thinks the proper address is “Mrs. Sally Smith.” I have always thought the latter was for a divorced woman who kept her married name. Which is correct?

A: Both forms of address are correct for a married woman.

Traditionally, courtesy titles were tied to marital status and closely to the husband. Times dictated that a married woman should only use the title “Mrs.” in connection with her husband’s name. Miss Sally Smith married Mr. Daniel Jones and became Mrs. Daniel Jones. During those times, a woman’s first name appeared in an address only if she were a divorcée – Mrs. Sally Jones.

With the introduction of Ms., titles have lost their vital connection to marital status. Sally Smith who married Daniel Jones can properly and graciously be called Mrs. Daniel Jones, Ms. Sally Smith or Mrs. Sally Smith.

Dear Thelma: What do you do when friends you regularly go out to dinner with and split the bill with begin ordering expensive alcoholic drinks? They don’t make any effort to pay for their own alcohol but expect my wife and I to pay for half of what they drink. What do we do?

A: Everyone who goes out with friends with the intention of splitting the bill should stay aware of how their orders match up with their companions. Use your heartsense – that common sense of the heart that steers you right from wrong. Of course no one wants to get stuck with more than their fair share of the bill. If you ordered prime rib and your friend ordered a salad, don’t fool yourself into thinking that he’ll find it acceptable to simply split the bill down the middle. If you drank a bottle of champagne and your friend had water with lemon, no, she doesn’t want to pay for half of your bubbly.

If your expenses total greatly over half of the bill, then you – the person who ordered the most – should contribute more than half to cover the added cost or ask the waiter for separate checks. Don’t expect the friend who’s been finagled to voice a concern as he’s in a socially excruciating position. You yourself must realize that it’s a concern and take care of it. That is the courteous thing to do.


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If you are stuck in a pattern of paying more than your fair share, you must start a conversation with your friends that will resolve the issue so that you do remain friends. Before your next dinner out, say to your friends, “We need to discuss how to handle the expenses for our evening out. Beth and I aren’t planning to order more than one drink each, so I thought we’d ask the waiter before the meal to give us separate checks. Is that fine with you?”

Your dinner companions should have no reason to disagree and asking for separate checks will be more simple than trying to sort out the bill after it comes.

Once you’ve had this one-time conversation, you can simply ask the waiter for separate checks before every meal. It should become your new pattern and may go a long way to enhancing and extending your friendship. Remember this the next time you start going to dinner with new friends and set the stage for separate checks from the beginning.

Fairness, friendship and good manners never go out of style.

Post your comments or ask a question about etiquette at Thelma Domenici is CEO of Thelma Domenici & Associates, offering corporate coaching and contemporary social skills development programs to all ages.