Dear Virginia, I’ve been offered the use of a cottage in the country for a weekend in the summer and want to ask a bunch of friends to come down there with me – we were all students together about six years ago. Some have got married, others are still single. The problem is that one of my friends has just married a much older man – he’s older than my own father! And hers! – and to be honest, I don’t want him to come. Do you think I could ask her on her own or would that be too rude?

Yours sincerely, Baca

I'm afraid you have come across one of the great drawbacks to your friends getting married. The fact that your friend's husband is as old as Methuselah isn't the issue. It's that you clearly find him unsympathetic. It was ever thus. I can't count the number of close girlfriends I've lost to husbands who are so unpleasant and irritating that it's an effort to ask them round by themselves, let alone with anyone else. Similarly, the most fascinating men friends have often ended up with air-heads or bluestockings, neither of which I can really get on with. One day, remember, you will probably get together with the man of your dreams and although you will think he's the bee's knees, you have to remember that a great many of your friends will be groaning behind your back, wishing you'd remained your delightful single self without this nightmare tagging along by your side, and, in his circle, there will be just as many people saying exactly the same about you behind his back.

They say "you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family", but equally, you can choose your friends but you can't choose their partners. It's only very mature friends and partners who realise that they each have a life outside the shared home and need to have moments to scamper about in it on their own.

With this friend, at least, you can be sure that her husband will drop dead at some point in the not too distant future, so you'll be able to enjoy a bit more single life with her. In the meantime, you'll have to ask him for the weekend. However, you might be able to get a bit of leeway.

It's no bad technique, if you want to do something that's rather bad-mannered, or that could be interpreted as insulting, to try to turn the suggestion into something polite. So why don't you say to your friend: "We'd all love your husband to come, but we're worried he might find it too boring, being with a gang of people far younger than him who he's never met before. If he feels he'd prefer not to come we'd miss him, but would quite understand." Put the onus to come or not to come onto him. If he's understanding he'll stay away. Such a twist oils the wheels and makes life easier for everyone concerned.

And anyway, who knows, he may well be relieved of the chance not to have to mingle with the ghastly crowd of young people that his wife still likes to hang out with from time to time. Remember, it works both ways.

Invite no partners

Have you met this geriatric cradle-snatcher? He might be the life and soul of the party. Seriously, should you invite any partners? Does Mr A really want to hear about the time his wife got drunk and did a striptease in the Union bar; does Mrs B need to learn about the time her husband had a fling with that intellectual who turned out to be such a tiger in bed? Even worse, it will come out that C and D were an item for a while and that will be a real shock to Mr C and Mr D.

If you want to share your rural idyll, why not invite people from the present who you know will get along?

John Gresham

By email

How old is too old?

Yes of course it would be rude! How will you explain that others have brought husbands/partners? Do you not want him there because he is boring or is it specifically because he is old? How old is too old for you? Are there other criteria for bringing a husband – is there a lower age limit? Just be honest, because if this comes out during your weekend, expect to have a weekend of uncomfortable silences and strained conversations. Not to mention your friends thinking are you being judgmental about their relationships. While you're at it, check Wikipedia for a definition of a friend – you clearly have a different one from me.

Jacqui Francis

By email

Don't be selfish

You say: "The problem is that she has just married a much older man." Just ask yourself: "Who has the problem?" Clearly it isn't your friend or her husband who are, presumably, perfectly happy about the situation. Let's hope that you do exclude her husband from the invitation. She will then see what a selfish and judgmental ex-friend you have turned out to be and can get on with her life without the burden of your disapproval.

Roger Blassberg

St Albans, Herts

You're being ageist

Try substituting the work "black" for "old" and you may understand my horror at your ageist attitude.

christine Stock

Centre for Innovative Ageing

Swansea University

Age is just a number

If reminiscence were the sole purpose of your reunion weekend, you would invite only those who shared your past, but you are open to including spouses. To consider excluding your friend's husband from your list is insulting. Are you afraid he might put a damper on your group's youthful vitality? People's lives move in different directions. Only by embracing those changes will your friendships continue to grow. Age is just a number and does not preclude the possibility that this older guy may actually prove to be a valuable addition to your house party.

Elinor forbes


Next week’s dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for four years with no success. Both of us are longing for a baby. Last month, when he was away, I had a brief sexual thing with a work colleague. I was drunk and he'd just broken up with his girlfriend. Both of us immediately regretted it. But now I find I'm pregnant. Because of dates I realise that, though it could be my husband's, the chances are that it's not. But I'm tempted to keep quiet about it and just go ahead, pretending I'm certain it's my husband's. I know he'd be delighted. Because I long to be a mother, I really don't want to have an abortion – and anyway, I could hardly have one without my husband knowing. I'm in such a state and time is running out.

Yours sincerely, Nollie

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