QUESTION: Help resolve the dispute. A friend says that if she invites me to go with her to an event for which she has free tickets thanks to her employer, I must pay in advance for both of us, as well as parking, drinks, etc. I say that if I get free tickets to the event and invite her, spend the evening as usual – share dinner, etc., and just have fun together thanks to the free event. Of course, I would reciprocate if I had tickets for something else.
What made the situation that caused this question even worse was that she broke the news to me after we had already attended the free event and told me that I needed to send her money to pay for her dinner. Now she’s mad that I didn’t offer or send the money. What is the correct protocol and expectations here? How can I get out of this and save the friendship? I understand the recognition of how nice it was that she invited me to the event, but I don’t think I’ll have to pay for her entire evening either.
KALI ANSWER: Does the employer take anything from her salary? I’m trying to give your friend the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, it sounds like a great free night out for your friend. Just be honest with your friend. It might make you realize that this friendship is a bit one sided. Rude!
ANSWER LILY-BETH: I think the problem is that she forced that expectation on you after the fact. It’s also a problem (for her) that you didn’t offer anything that night. Unspoken expectations and the resulting disappointment that they weren’t met have brought you to this moment. Next time, discuss the details of something like this in advance. You can offer to pay in advance for, say, drinks or parking and feel her reaction. Or ask how much you owe her for the tickets. Then she could say, “Oh, the tickets are free, but you can invite me to dinner.” It may not be what you want to hear, but addressing it ahead of time can help set the tone for the evening.
Then, after that, she probably should have vented her frustration so you could work it out as friends instead of sending you a bill. Also, I don’t think you were wrong in thinking that since the tickets were free, you could split the cost and then take it another time. But keep in mind that this is not always the case when it happens again; instead of reciprocating with free tickets later, reply that evening and enjoy!
ELENA’S ANSWER: When someone has tickets and invites you to an event, it makes sense to offer drinks or dinner as part of the evening if your budget allows for both of you. I don’t think your girlfriend should expect that if she invites you to an event and most people won’t require you to pay for everything. But it’s best to ask in advance what you have to provide. You can then decide if you want to accept a free ticket in exchange for dinner and drinks for two.
GUEST ANSWER: Elisabeth Prosser, Community Volunteer: Oh my god, oh my god!! If ever there were sadder situations in which the old ones saw what happens when we guess!! This friendship may not be restored.
The guest should apologize, send a friend a thank you note for the evening and include a check or gift card for the cost of her friend’s dinner and parking and maybe some more – and then she should FOREVER remember that (1) this friend needs to be handled with care, and (2) always in the future to discuss the evening when the invitation will be issued. A costly lesson learned. To reproduce, the conversation should have gone like this:
Mary: Janey, they gave me tickets to the Elvis concert next Wednesday – do you want to come with me?
Janey: God, yes!! Thanks for asking me – do you want me to drive? How about eating first?
Mary: That would be nice… but I’d rather drive.
Janey: Okay; so I’ll pay for parking. Will we have time to eat first?
Mary: Not much, after I’ve finished my work. How about Café Bijou… it’s close.
Janey: Yes, but it’s expensive. How do you feel about China Express?
At this point, friends can discuss dinner and Janey can understand her friend’s expectations; some friends didn’t expect to be treated when the tickets were free. Separately, if Janey can’t afford to pay the dinner bill, she can find excuses for skipping dinner and deal with any consequences immediately. In any case, if there is an intermission, the guest should always treat himself to a drink or snack. The invitee must always find out what is expected of her, and since it is her duty, it is her duty to clean up the mess. So, sorry, although it may be a very titled friend, you need to pay for her evening: this is the cost of the lesson and friendship.
Since 2009, Callie, Lilly-Beth and Helen have written this column on generational etiquette. They also include responses from guests from a wide range of ages each week. So many years later, Callie is in her 20s; Lilly Beth is in her 40s and Helen is in her 60s. For etiquette questions, email [email protected]