Is there such a thing as appropriate topics to only converse about in mixed company anymore? Or does anything go?
My husband and I have a 12-year-old daughter that we homeschool. On a regular basis, we open our home for dinner to get to know the other families from the co-op better. Two months ago, we had a family over for dinner. After the husband talked about overcoming an illness, the outgoing mother shared of her experiences of her water breaking during each of her three children’s births. The kids’ ages ranged from 8 to 13. It wasn’t like this was a recent experience. This struck me as odd that she would share this personal event in front of the husbands and kids. It seemed to me this should be a “ladies only” conversation. I inquired with my husband and daughter after they left how they felt about the conversation. My husband admitted it made him feel uncomfortable. My daughter was “grossed out” and kept wishing the mother would stop talking.
The next month when we had another family over for dinner, the same situation occurred. After the husband shared about healing from a recent injury, the mother, whose youngest is nine, shared about her labor experience that led to a C-section. I politely tried to cut her off, explaining that I have a queasy stomach when it comes to medical procedures. The mother steered the conversation from the gory medical details to the disappointment of not experiencing a natural birth. Neither the husbands or kids were participating in the “family dinner.” Again, I felt this was a topic to be shared in private and not at a group dinner.
I will extend some grace, knowing that the pandemic is causing many of us to feel an impact from lack of social connectivity.
My husband and I had our only child when we were 40, often making us 10 to 15 years older than the other parents with a child our age. Am I outdated to think there are topics which you refrain from talking about in mixed company?
Dear Fuddy Duddy,
There most certainly are topics that are appropriate for mixed company and those that are not (details of childbirth are not appropriate in my opinion). However, it’s also true that in certain circles, people are comfortable sharing very intimate information.
I can’t say why people feel it’s permissible to discuss intimate information, other than it can feel good to talk about one’s personal life, and culture has been trending toward informality for a few generations now. Certainly pandemic isolation may also be blunting our social graces.
I do think it shows a basic lack of respect and/or awareness to discuss topics that make others present feel uncomfortable. However, as you said, we need to have grace for others because most people don’t intend for their conversation to bore, disgust, or offend.
At the table, where the audience is captive, my rule of thumb would be that conversation should be as pleasant and engaging as possible for everyone.
Descriptions of things with an ick factor are not suitable. I would say childbirth should be ladies-only for sure (I really cannot imagine any man of my acquaintance being interested in the details of this event). As for illness recovery, this is probably not interesting to most youngsters and so better discussed in adults-only conversation, of course with consideration for the interest of others.
Dinner conversation is often the result of where our minds have been during the day, so when we cultivate some knowledge and appreciation for the beautiful and amazing things in this world, our dinners will be lively and interesting and broaden everyone’s perspectives.
I would love to hear from readers what topics of conversation you have found enjoyable for the table, and maybe our older readers can chime in about what they were taught about table conversation etiquette. Please send suggestions and topics to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have recently been able to find the contact information for a dear friend. When I last wrote to this friend, she was going through a tough emotional time. I often wonder if in my zeal to share all of my news, I neglected to express concern for her situation. Though I really cannot remember exactly what I wrote in the letter, I do know that I have not heard from her since. (Note: We have both moved several times since that last communication and did not have cell phones yet.)
When I tracked her down this month, it was her place of business, so I left a message with her receptionist. After two days of no return call, I called again to get the business mailing address in order to send a Christmas card. I chose to include my contact information “if you want to be in touch.”
If I offended this friend in any way, I would appreciate the opportunity to apologize, and wonder if there is anything else I can do, without seeming pushy or presumptuous?
If you have not yet heard from her after the holidays have passed, I would write to her again. In this letter, I would share your reflections that perhaps you were not sensitive during her time of difficulty and offer your apology if this was indeed the case. This will allow her to see that you do care and value her friendship, and apologizing will also give you peace of mind. It would be good to reiterate that you would be happy to renew your friendship since you truly do care about her, and because you are sincere, I don’t think this is presumptuous or pushy.
There could, of course, be other reasons why she has not responded—busyness, or perhaps she’s in a profession that’s experiencing difficulty or extra work at this time due to the holidays or pandemic.
Do you have a family or relationship question for our advice columnist, Dear June? Send it to DearJune@EpochTimes.com or Attn: Dear June, The Epoch Times, 229 W. 28th St., Floor 7, New York, NY 10001.
June Kellum is a married mother of two and longtime Epoch Times journalist covering family, relationships, and health topics.