DEAR MARY ANN: My friend is always picking up the tab whenever we go out for a meal or drinks together. She is a lovely, generous person, but this drives me nuts! I'm happy to be treated for a special occasion or even once in a while, but this happens all the time. I've asked her to split the bill or to let me pay, and I get a big argument from her. The times I've managed to pick up the check have required serious planning and maneuvering with the waiter, which kind of lessens the fun of a night out. Any suggestion for how to handle this?
-- ALWAYS TREATED
DEAR ALWAYS TREATED: Your lovely friend is controlling and manipulative. Say "No!" to her forceful personality the next time she tries to orchestrate who pays the tab. Her take-charge agenda may be a ploy to make you feel indebted to her. She knows you are uncomfortable when she takes the bill. Before you arrange another get together with her for drinks or dinner make certain she has a clear understanding that there will be separate checks. When you are seated, reiterate the separate check request to the server. Healthy adult relationships need balance. Her generosity is a subtle attempt to put you on an unequal footing that makes her look superior. It is demeaning. You need to change the pattern of this relationship.
DEAR MARY ANN: I am having a housewarming/birthday party for my husband, and my sister wants to invite people that my husband doesn't know. I may know some of them but only slightly. What should I tell her? What is the etiquette?
-- QUESTIONING PARTY PLANNER
DEAR PARTY PLANNER: Parties are a great way to reconnect with old friends and network with interesting new people. If your husband is comfortable with larger groups tell your sister to invite her friends. Plan an open house for the joint housewarming/birthday party. Often the best parties are gatherings of loosely connected people who enjoy the chemistry of a new face. However, if your husband is more comfortable sharing his birthday with a smaller, more intimate circle of friends, make sure your sister understands this party is an invitation-only event and you are the one who controls the guest list.
Need some Steel Advice? Email questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Mary Ann Wellener, Steel Advice Column, c/o Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Follow Mary Ann on Twitter at @PGSteelAdvice.