my boyfriend’s company doesn’t invite non-married partners to their holiday party

A reader writes:

The major hospital my boyfriend works for throws a swanky holiday party at a trendy restaurant downtown every year. We were both excited for me to meet all of his colorful coworkers, until he found out that only married employees are allowed to bring guests. This strikes me as really odd. It seems like either everyone should be able to invite a guest or no one should, or, at the very least, it should be based somehow on professional status, not marital status. Am I just being a whiny millennial, expecting invites and pats on the back when they aren’t justified? Or is this a weird company policy? I can’t help but wonder how this would feel if I were 35 instead of 25, and the only unmarried person in my cohort, or if I were a dateless manager chatting with the husband of my married 23-year-old assistant, or recently divorced… This list goes on.

I know as far as work problems go, this isn’t a bad one, and I would never ask my boyfriend to insist I be invited or anything crazy, but I really want to know: Are my expectations too high? Or is this in poor taste?

The short answer: Nope, this isn’t that unusual.

I’ll give you a longer answer too, but first I need to address the idea that this would be especially bad for a dateless or recently divorced manager who ended up chatting with the husband of her 23-year-old assistant. Because … it’s very unlikely that this is upsetting for them. Plenty of people are unmarried by choice, or at least perfectly content about it, and even those who aren’t are unlikely to get angsty over it from an office party. (In fact, many of them will be glad that they at least got out of dragging a date along to the event.) So the unmarried people will be just fine. (And I know you mean well here, but you want to be careful about not condescending to uncoupled people, and especially about not assuming that their feelings on their romantic status are tied to their age.)

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, the longer answer to your question:

This isn’t uncommon. Certainly many companies do allow employees to bring unmarried significant others to holiday parties, or to bring any type of plus-one, but many other companies restrict it to spouses. For that matter, some don’t even allow guests at all.

And if you look to formal etiquette, this isn’t outrageous. The formal etiquette rule says that you invite spouses together because etiquette treats married couples as a unit, but otherwise doesn’t typically recommend supplying a generic “plus one” invitation. Plenty of people have updated that rule to also include long-term partners, but the general concept of just inviting spouses doesn’t come out of nowhere.

And keep in mind — this isn’t really a social event, no matter how much it might be packaged that way. It’s a work event, designed to strengthen bonds among coworkers, and it’s reasonable for them to put whatever limits they want on who attends.

It’s also worth mentioning that, precisely because these are work events rather than true social ones, these parties aren’t usually a treat for the significant others who go. An awful lot of people see their significant others’ office holiday parties as an obligation to be borne, not a social event to look forward to.

So sure, your boyfriend might take note of this as a sign that he’s working at a somewhat traditional company, at least in this particular way, but I wouldn’t read it as a sign that they’re terribly gauche or even particularly out of line with what’s done at many companies.

{ 310 comments… read them below }

  1. Sue*

    I think the word in the last sentence should be ‘gauche’. I just googled for ‘gouche’ and…um…shouldn’t have.

      1. AdAgencyChick*


        Also, “an obligation to be borne,” not “an obligation to be born” — this one made me giggle because I couldn’t help thinking of new-baby imagery!

  2. Jamie*

    I’m just sitting in amazement that anyone is upset that they didn’t get invited to their SOs company party.

    I’d love that – would save me the trouble of coming up with a new excuse for missing yet another one.

    1. The IT Manager*

      swanky holiday party at a trendy restaurant downtown

      While I agree with Jamie and prefer not to attend my own holiday party much less my SO’s, I suspect the company does it as a cost saving measure as well since it sounds expensive.

    2. Jen*

      That’s what I was going to say! I attended one of my husband’s work parties and haven’t gone to another one. They’re really super boring if you don’t know anyone.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      Srsly. I don’t even like going to my own company’s party (introvert here!), and if my husband told me I had to a) go to one of his and b) be “on” the whole time so I can impress the higher-ups, my response would be, “You owe me BIG-TIME.”

    4. Mike C.*

      I think the OP is more upset that their relationship isn’t being taken seriously because they aren’t ~*~married~*~ yet.

      1. Jamie*

        That’s the thing though, why would her boyfriends employer take their relationship seriously, or give any thought it it one way or the other.

        I guess I don’t understand that need.

        My husband’s work, I am sure, spends exactly zero time thinking about me or our marriage – nor do the people at my work care about the status of our relationship outside of thinking he’s a nice guy (those who have met him.)

        I can see being upset by family not including an SO in social gatherings – totally – because the lack of acknowledgement would sting. But why would anyone look to a work place to validate their relationships, of any kind, outside of qualifying for benefits?

        1. Mike C.*

          For many younger people, they aren’t treated as “real people” or “real adults” by others (oftentimes others who have power over their promotion or even employment) until they pass a number of frankly artificial milestones. Things like:

          1. Getting married.
          2. Buying a house.
          3. Having 2.5 kids.

          I constantly see messages like this all the time. My dedication to my significant other isn’t meaningful unless I’m willing to buy a ring – otherwise I’m just whoring it up with whoever I find at the bar Friday night. I’m not willing to “set down roots” and “be a productive citizen” until I own a piece of land. And until my legally married wife has a litter of children, I’m just a selfish manchild that doesn’t understand the true meaning of love and responsibility.

          It’s not that this party isn’t in an of itself an issue, but rather it’s a part of a much larger issue. It happens over and over and over again, in the family, at work, in the wider world and so on. It’s irritating and stupid and after awhile you feel the need to put your foot down at some point.

          1. Jamie*

            I guess I just have a more internal locust of identity because I cannot imagine caring about how total strangers assess my relationships.

            And if these things are affecting promotions, salary, etc. then that definitely needs to be addressed – no question – but the answer is in the company learning to stop judging employees based on their personal relationships, not making sure all relationships are equally recognized.

            You aren’t going to solve this problem by the employer inviting people’s dates to the Christmas party – you’re going to solve the problem by getting to the point where they aren’t judging their people based on marital status, etc.

              1. A Bug!*

                No, fposte, it’s an internal locust, a set of biological needs that drive her every so often to swarm and damage crops. Like pon farr.

            1. Mike C.*

              I feel like you aren’t taking my response seriously. Congrats on your internal locus of identity, but I’m really uncomfortable with what you’re trying to imply with that statement.

              I didn’t say “complete strangers”, I said “It happens over and over and over again, in the family, at work, in the wider world and so on.” Those aren’t strangers, those are people I know, people I have to spend time with, and people who have a significant impact on my life.

              Secondly, you said, “You aren’t going to solve this problem by the employer inviting people’s dates to the Christmas party”. I never said I wanted to “solve” this problem, I’m simply trying to explain what the problem is in the first place and why now someone might complain.

              “Getting to the point where they aren’t judging people based on their marital status” starts by saying, “what you are doing isn’t cool”.

              1. Jamie*

                I do consider the OPs employers to be strangers to her and I even mentioned in my comment that family is different.

                I took your response seriously, I understand being upset if it affects your livelihood (promotions/salary/etc.) but not the need for validation from a workplace or anyone not close to you. I get wanting to change things if it’s affecting you professionally, but I don’t see how including dating couples to the Christmas party would help to that end.

                1. TL*

                  I think Mike C. is just saying it’s tiring to hear that same message pounded over and over in your head, even if you’re comfortable enough not to conform and even if you don’t care that much what strangers think.

                  It’s like when people ask me if I have a boyfriend as their very first or second question to catch up on my life. Yes, it usually is people I don’t know that well and don’t care about but after a while it really grates on me. There is more to my life than a (lack of) significant other. (and my brothers don’t get it nearly as quickly. Very irksome.)

                2. Kou*

                  It’s easy to say “who cares what strangers think,” but in reality everyone cares what strangers think sometimes. Especially when those strangers are everyone else your partner knows excluding you all the time in new and exciting ways.

                  Because it’s never just this one party, it happens a lot, and often in much more meaningful ways than a company party. “Oh sure honey, go to your sister’s family-only wedding out of state, I’ll be fine here.” This just hits the bruise again.

                3. dustycrown*

                  Mike C is right; it’s not just about the office party. It’s everywhere. My significant other and I have been together 20 years, we own a house together, we have joint bank accounts, but I can’t make a doctor’s appointment for him, or pay a bill over the phone, or even get tech support from DirectTV unless I’m his wife. When I’m asked “Is this his wife?,” it irks me to have to explain the nature of our relationship to some random customer service person. It’s none of their business. Sometimes I say, “I’m the woman who washes his underwear,” and that embarrasses them enough that they just move on. Sometimes I say I’m his secretary, because that works really well, believe it or not. Sometimes I just say “Yes, I’m his wife” because those magic words will let me get done what needs to be done. What are they going to do, ask me to produce a marriage license before they ping my satellite box? :)

              2. Mints*

                Yeah, I think it can feel like one more instance of people being dismissive. It’s not a big deal in itself, but it can add up to alot.
                Mr. and I have been together for eight years, living together for several, yet a family member called us “playing house” because apparently commitment doesn’t exist without biological offspring.

                I think we each have different markers of being an adult and being committed and this feels like people are imposing their markers on me.

            2. Bar*

              Clearly you haven’t been subjected to discrimination because of this then.

              In some states and counties, people aren’t allowed to live together if they are unmarried. In some states, there are still laws prohibiting homosexuality.

            1. Renee*

              This is actually the first thing I thought of when reading this post. I wonder if this company is in a state that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage, and how that would make any same-sex couples feel who consider themselves married in every sense but the legal one.

            2. Mike B.*

              THANK YOU.

              I’m sure Jamie didn’t mean it this way, but “we don’t need impersonal organizations to validate our relationship!” is the kind of thing you tell yourself when they don’t so you can sleep at night. Because we DO need it, irrational as it may sound. It stings not to have that validation, and all the more when it’s been withheld for most of your life.

              At any rate, this is clearly doing a number on some people’s morale. That should be enough reason for them to reconsider the policy.

          2. BCW*

            Mike, I’m just curious what part of the country you are in. I’m in Chicago, and I’ve never gotten that feel as a 30 something unmarried person. however I know people in smaller areas or more rural places and they felt they HAD to be married by the age of 25. So while I do get the obligatory “are you dating anyone” at family functions, I don’t think people see me as any less.

            If this does happen all the time in your life, I could definitely see how it would be annoying. However I still don’t think the OP has any right to be upset that her boyfriends company doesn’t want to pay for her dinner and drinks. I mean I’ve been places with some really bad holiday parties, or none at all. So to me the expectation of an invitation for a just dating sig other is a bit much. I mean then you get into semantics. Should you just be able to bring whoever you want? Someone you are casually dating? A “serious” relationship? I think its just too hard to determine that, so a spouses only policy makes total sense.

            1. Twentymilehike*

              I’m reading these comments and wondering if my views are colored by the area it live in, also. It’s completely normal for committed couples not to be married in my neck of the woods, and I was actually pretty floored to think that a “spouses only” policy would be normal these days. IMO, I expect it to by guest or no guest, without any qualifier of who the guest can be.

              And for the record, I generally enjoy office holiday parties because I enjoy the people I work with; and they are not strangers to by husband, either, as someone mentioned up thread.

            2. A teacher*

              It may be too late, but I’m about your age and worked in Chicagoland for several years and am from the outer burbs I guess. I have gotten that feeling from lots of people, the “oh you’re single and that’s and you have no family” or when are you getting married, you can’t possibly have a child without a man, etc…grating for sure

            3. Cathi*

              I’m a late 20’s person in Chicago and I’ve had very much the same experience as Mike C. I felt it before I got married, and I definitely noticed a profound difference in how my relationship was treated after I got married.

              It wasn’t so much that people thought less of *me*, but less of my *relationship*. Haven’t seen boyfriend in three months because we’re long distance, and want a couple days off work to go see him? Sorry, can’t accommodate. Yet at this same workplace, when my now-husband was gone for a week and a half, I was asked if I’d like a day or two off to spend time with him when he got back in-country. Or getting an e-mail the day after we married, inviting me to a wedding only he’d been invited to before, since we were “legit” now.

              Regardless, this has very little to do with a workplace policy about party guests. Just makes policies like that a little more salt in the “no one takes my long-term relationship seriously :(” wound.

              1. Rana*

                Agreed. When I was living with my not-yet-husband several years ago, I had to decide whether to refer to him to colleagues as my “boyfriend” or my “partner” – both of which had issues. “Boyfriend” implied a less-serious relationship, while “partner” implied that we were a same-sex couple (which didn’t bother me, or him, but could get confusing, and carried some small risk in the conservative small town we were in at the time).

                What I found was that people who knew we were serious and living in the same house together almost inevitably started referring to him as my “husband,” which was annoying in other ways (not least because at that point it was a lie). It was as if they had these pre-fitted boxes of expectations, and because we fit best in the “married” box in their eyes, we got that label, despite it being flat wrong. But it just as easily have swung the other way; my family struggled for years with their perception that we were fooling ourselves that it was a serious, long-term relationship – if it was, went the thinking, why haven’t you gotten officially married yet? What’s wrong with you?

                Now, in Chicago, where we are married, we have suddenly become an order more “real” and more “adult” by dint of expecting a child and planning to buy real estate – even though our actual relationship is no more “real” than it was without those things. It’s genuinely bizarre.

                1. lAURA*

                  I can relate to this. My “boyfriend” (I prefer to use this title for him, even though it carries more fluffy connotations, over “partner”) and I are long term, extremely serious and committed, are going to get married as soon as we can afford it, and looking into buying real estate – Yet, people still ask me if we’re “still together” when they haven’t seen me for a little while.

                  To be frank, I will often refer to him as my husband or fiancé to make some interactions go more smoothly – with bank employees, colleagues, customer service people, etc. even though it is dishonest.

            4. BCW*

              Maybe I’m just lucky then to have not really experienced that. I know in general, the women I know tend to mention that stuff a bit more, but I honestly have never felt like I wasn’t considered an adult.

          3. cf_programmer*

            I think that might be a regional thing. I’ve gotten that in the East and the Midwest, but never out here on the West Coast. (I’m happily divorced and intend to stay that way.)

            1. AGirlCalledFriday*

              I’m early 30s in Chicago, I definitely feel that – you aren’t quite an adult yet – vibe, but it is infinitely less here than it is in my small hometown in Wisconsin, where everyone my age seem to be married with kids. When I was in Japan, my grandmother sent me a book about landing a husband. The funny part was that I opened the package in front of my date for the evening. I thought it was hilarious…him, not so much.

              1. Anonymous*

                You need to move to the friendly coast. And become a Seahawks fan! Just say no to SFO.

                That’s really funny about the book!

          4. Collarbone High*

            This is just a small example, but I’ve read so many reviews of “How I Met Your Mother” that talk about how the characters “are finally growing up” because they’re getting married and having kids. Even in some throwaway recap, the message is, being an architect or a news anchor or a teacher doesn’t fulfill any of the requirements for earning the grown-up badge.

    5. Cath@VWXYNot?*

      My marriage suffers from a massive disparity in the relative desirability of invitations to our respective work parties.

      My work (academic scientific research, so tight budget) does nibbles and two drinks tickets per person in a local pub, with a couple of speeches by professors and lots of shop talk about science. The door prizes consist of gifts given to our Purchasing department by vendors throughout the year. Mostly t-shirts. We go home on the bus afterwards.

      His work (movie industry) does massive, lavish, fully-catered, open-bar parties in swanky restaurants, with entertainment, fake-money casinos, novelty photo booths, extravagant prizes, free taxi vouchers to get home, outtakes from the movie in question playing on big screens, and (sometimes) movie stars in attendance.

      “but honey, I go to all your work things!” somehow doesn’t work as a bargaining chip when I’m trying to persuade him to come to my office Christmas party…

      (I should say that I think my office Christmas parties are excellent, and hubby does get on well with other members of my department)

      1. Kaz*

        My husband won an Xbox at my company party. Too bad they were bought out the next year because he wasn’t all that hot on going at first but was quite game for going the next year!

        1. Stephanie*

          My husband is amazingly lucky at his work holiday parties. He seems to win something ever year they have a raffle. The bigger items: One year (when it was kept ‘smaller’ with no spouses/SOs), he called me to ask if I could come help him because he had won a giant flat screen TV (with playstation and these 3D glasses) and it wouldn’t fit in his car. Last year, at a new company, he won the Kindle Fire.

          He is a software engineer, and pretty much every year around the holidays I start questioning my career choices, as we met when I was in grad school and the holiday party in our lab was always potluck style with a white elephant gift exchange.

          1. BarefootLibrarian*

            Stephanie, I could have wrote your post myself! I’m a librarian and we generally have a pot luck thing at work during normal business hours and my husband’s company (also a software engineer) does LAVISH parties with open bars and 5 star restaurant catering and over-to-top gifts and awards for all kinds of things ($1000 cash for “most improved employee” for example). I often find myself questioning my career choice at the holidays lol. Especially since he also gets regular bouses and raises and I haven’t had so much as a cost of living raise in 7 years.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      I used to hate getting invited to my actual work party at Exjob. I never had anyone to bring (the company had plus-ones, and it had to be another adult, though they didn’t specify who). It was uncomfortable and boring and I only went for the food. After the first few years, I started being busy. It bugs me to attend work parties after hours–and they kept it up even when we were hurting during the recession. Just do a freaking potluck already.

    7. Kou*

      I know I’m weird but I love this kind of thing. I like seeing where my family and friends work or meeting the people they work with, and I’ll take most any excuse for a social event as long as everyone going isn’t a jerk. My partner’s employer also does a big swanky party, but they let you bring anyone. If they didn’t I would also be pretty grumpy to have to miss it, since he works with some lovely people and the whole event is very nice.

      I also agree with Mike C that sometimes it’s frustrating when people act like you’re not *really* part of your significant other’s family unless you’re married– sometimes I want to shake people and scream “We own a home! We have joint accounts! I am a real person!” I know it’s not against etiquette to be spouses-only, but knowing I’m on the other side of the line in the sand saying who is and who is not worth the cost per plate can be very disheartening sometimes.

      1. Jean*

        Mike–I can relate to your annoyance! Many moons ago I was a young, unmarried, apartment-dwelling, not-yet-parent who rode my bicycle to my full-time job. No way did I qualify as an adult in the eyes of my married-with-mortgage-and-children colleagues! In later years my husband and I got the same fisheye when we were “shopping” for a congregation. Apparently some people cannot understand why anyone over the age of 25 or 30 doesn’t have all parts of the job/spouse/mortgage/children luggage set. Grrrrr.

      2. Tina*

        I can commiserate on being treated like you’re somehow not committed or in a “real” relationship. After living together for 5 years, I finally got married, but we don’t own property and we don’t have (or intend to have) children. I refuse to have joint bank accounts. I wonder if that means our relationship still isn’t “real” because we haven’t gone the full (socially pre-determined) 9 yards?

        That being said, in this particular case of being invited to the company party, I wouldn’t think twice about not being invited, married or not. I have no interest in hanging out with the fella’s co-workers, and he has little interest in hanging out with mine. Come to think of it, unless it’s someone I knew well and liked, he could be invited to a wedding without me and I wouldn’t care about that either.

        1. Liz*

          Tons of couples keep separate bank accounts. Why on earth would anyone even know about this to judge you?

          1. Rana*

            No kidding. My parents have separate accounts, as do my husband and I. But, yeah, for some people it’s one more sign that a relationship isn’t as “real” as one that has joint assets. Why they care so much, I do not know.

            1. Tina*

              Most people don’t know about the status of our bank accounts, but related topics come up in conversations. Some people think it reflects that you’re not truly committed to each other, and/or that you’re planning for your contingency (future divorce). Shrug. Not a big deal, just one in a series of assumptions.

      3. Jen in RO*

        I would like to go to my boyfriend’s office parties too – I know some of his coworkers and I don’t have enough parties in my life! It would really annoy me if I wasn’t invited just because we don’t have a piece of paper… but I also wouldn’t lose sleep over it.
        (The problem is solved, for us, by the fact that *he* hates parties and he avoid them like the plague.)

  3. nuqotw*

    A lot of people see their *own* office holiday parties as an obligation, not a social event to look forward to.

    1. FD*

      Ugh yes. I’m so glad that the place I work for doesn’t care whether you attend the holiday parties or not. Social time is really not my thing.

    2. Poe*

      I am in charge of planning the holiday party at NewJob. I want to just say “okay everyone, here is $20, do with it as you will”. I want to cry.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I’m with Jamie. Food and drink at work during work hours. No guests invited. If you do not want to socialize, stay at your desk and work.

        I’m personally okay with a potluck (non-alocoholic drinks, desserts, and chips) but some people are sensitive so catered may be safer.

    3. Anonymous*

      I always come down with an illness the day of the office party, its a tragedy and I’m always sad about it.

      1. businesslady*

        I know that in my organization (based in a state where gay marriage still isn’t legal), their policy on benefits is structured to avoid this discrimination: you have to be married in order to receive benefits for an opposite-sex partner, but they’re offered to same-sex partners regardless of marriage/civil union/etc. (a former coworker who wanted to add her boyfriend found this “unfair”–eyeroll).

        anyways, considering that there’s an easy workaround for gay couples on this much more important issue, I can’t imagine there’s no way to make a “spouses only” holiday party non-discriminatory…if the company is so inclined, of course, which is the real question.

        1. anon for this*

          Hey, why the eyeroll? My very long term boyfriend looked into getting me onto his much better insurance, but was told the same thing – because we were opposite-sex, it was not allowed unless we were married. I understand the policy, but I think people in general should be mindful there are a lot reasons why couples (straight or gay) choose to get or not get married, for example… I have a friend who has never married her boyfriend of many years because she’s a 30something three time cancer survivor, it’s sadly very likely it will come back again and she will die within the next decade, and she does not want to leave her boyfriend with a mountain of medical bills after she’s gone. (This happened to a mutual friend of ours who did marry her husband before she died and we had to watch him loose his house while grieving for his wife.) I have gay friends who had religious weddings twenty years ago and I haven’t gotten a civil union (all that’s available in my state) because they believe it is insulting and they are waiting for actual marriage equality. I have another friend who is putting kids through college who has decided not to marry her long term partner until the kids are out of school due to financial aid considerations and her ex-husband’s record of not paying child support despite the divorce decree. I know people who are caretakers for their elderly parents who are delaying marriage for that reason. And of course, some people just don’t want to get married, which is totally fine too.

          Companies have the right to make whatever decisions that they want of course, and with benefits like health care you have to decide where the line is somewhere. But when you’re talking about a Christmas holiday party, I think this is just silly… look at all the people you know who have been married and divorced multiple times, as opposed to other unmarried couples who have been committed for years.

          1. businesslady*

            the eyeroll was more in relation to her specific situation/relative “unseriousness” of the boyfriend in question–& the fact that, on the balance, committed gay couples have to deal with a lot more “unfair” than unmarried straight ones.

            but I take your point that there are reasons beyond “don’t want to” that also prevent straight couples from getting married, & I wasn’t trying to scoff at those.

            1. anon for this*

              Ah gotcha, that makes more sense. I personally wish that all companies would just order up some cookies for the break room, slip me a $100 bill in an envelope and let everyone leave early on the last day before Christmas!

          2. TychaBrahe*

            I know a young widow whose late husband’s pension would be cut off if she remarried, and she’s counting on that to pay her kids’ college educations.

            This is one of the reasons that California permitted heterosexual couples to have civil unions. A couple could be civilly-unioned, which counts for things like medical power-of-attorney and spousal survival, and which clergy members recognize as akin to a marriage license for the purposes of conducting a religios marriage, but which isn’t a civil marriage that would stop pension or social security survivor’s benefits.

            1. Elaine*

              That’s weird and sad. You’d think the late father’s pension should still be allowed to benefit his children after his death.

              Hmm. Well, anyway, in my company’s state, same-sex marriages are illegal, but you can be registered as a domestic partner (straight couples to). So, if you want the company benefits for your partner, you must be registered.

              Our holiday party didn’t specify — it just said “partners welcome.” So, my husband qualifies, and I guess if he were a serious boyfriend he would also.

    1. Brightwanderer*

      This. I agree a general +1 invitation would be over the top, but deciding which partners are allowed to attend based on a legal status they may not be able to obtain even if they desperately want to is not okay. I also think it’s not really okay to act as though the couple that’s been married 5 years is more legitimate than the one that’s been together without marriage for 10, regardless of gender, but it’s the fact that this rule would completely exclude non-heterosexual couples anywhere gay marriage isn’t legal that’s unacceptable to me.

      1. fposte*

        Though it’s possible that they are, and that it didn’t apply to the OP so she didn’t mention it.

      2. Elaine*

        In most states, live in partners would be considered common-law spouses, maybe…and our state doesn’t allow for gay marriage, but does cover registered domestic partners. I would imagine (hope!) that registered partners would meet the “spouse” criteria for a friggin’ party, if marriage in that state were illegal.

        1. Annoyed Anon for this*

          I don’t think in most states common law marriage applies and in those where it does it’s got pretty specific criteria.

          I know people use the term informally, but in order for it to have legal standing one would have to really research the law as it applies to their state.

      3. Emily K*

        The reason they choose the legal standard is because it’s objective, unambiguous, and impersonal. No company wants to be in the business are trying to decide whose unmarried relationships “count” and then inform some employees that their relationship was only 3 years long with 2 years cohabiting and no children so they didn’t *quite* make the cut, even though those folks who had been together 2 years with 1 years cohabiting and an infant together did make the cut, as did the 4 year couple. You’re just asking for people to argue with your decision. But marriage is cut and dry: either you are, or you aren’t, and the government says which, and they don’t have to ask nosy questions about your relationship’s intimate details to figure it out.

        1. Amy*

          See, this comment assumes that there needs to be any “figuring out” done at all. Why does it matter if the person Fiona brings is her husband, her long-term boyfriend or the new guy she’s been seeing a few weeks? It literally makes no difference at all to how anyone will interact with him, how he will behave or how much it’ll cost for him to attend.

          If I found out my boyfriend of seven years wasn’t allowed to come to my work party because we were unmarried, I wouldn’t think I worked for a ‘traditional’ company, I’d think I worked for one stuck in the 1950s.

          The rules of etiquette might not have updated to fit modern relationships, but that doesn’t mean people can’t use their own discretion and common sense to decide whether to apply the outdated ones.

    2. Karen*


      Frankly, if my partner and I were not made welcome at an event (corporate OR social) just because we were not married, I wouldn’t even attend solo. There’s some nice cost savings for the company :)

    3. Brett*

      I read this totally differently at first because I assumed the LW was male based on the headline.

  4. Lacey*

    I guess culture plays a big part in this because in my particular part of the world, this would be very, very odd. In fact, I’ve never heard of it and I think any company that tried to exclude unmarried partners in 2013 would experience such a backlash they would only do it once, if at all.

    1. Anna*

      That’s what I was thinking. I’ve never heard of this and find it incredibly offensive. It suggests that you’re only worth recognizing if you are married; any other state of being is “less than”.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not suggesting some people are “less than.” It’s a party for employees, not their dates, but they’re saying, essentially, that they’re not going to ask you to leave the life partner who you live with home alone during an evening social event. (And yes, I agree with those above that it should not exclude gay employee’s partners in states where gay marriage isn’t legal.)

        1. Ethyl*

          Yeah but I was with my partner for 15 years before we got legally married (our state in the US does not have common law marriage), so saying only spouses allowed WOULD be saying to me that I needed to leave my life partner who I live with at home. To my mind, it’s just not a great policy in 2013 and comes across as kind of outdated.

          1. Anonymous*

            If you have the option to get married and decide not to for whatever reason, then yes there are some things where you won’t get the same recognition as a couple who is married.

            If you want the benefits of marriage then you get married [assuming you’re in a state that legally allows you to, and this doesn’t apply if your state won’t let you.]

            1. TL*

              Legal benefits, sure, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to be treated socially as if your non married long-term relationship is just as valid as a married relationship.

              I would’ve preferred a “spouses and partners” wording Ellen mentions below. I think that would’ve gone a long way towards conveying who it is appropriate to bring without bringing up trouble.

              1. fposte*

                How long is “long-term,” though? I’m guessing the hospital didn’t want to get into that particular can of worms.

                I think this is more manageable in a social situation (which this isn’t), because there’s an actual host to say “Do you might if I bring Sugarlips?” to, and the host is free to say “We’d love to meet her on a less formal occasion” or “Sure, great!” Therefore in that situation you can start with the more formal protocol and bend it as you choose.

                But I think people do sometimes get the idea that a plus one is a social right, and it’s not anywhere.

                1. TL*

                  Committed instead of long-haul? I think most people think of the word “partner” to mean “we’re in it for the long-term but haven’t gotten married for whatever reason.”

                  If I got an invitation for spouses and partners, I probably wouldn’t bring a new boyfriend or even someone that I had been not-so-casually seeing for a while. I would, however, bring someone that I had a made a serious, if not legal commitment, to; that would probably be someone that I had been with for a number of years.

              2. Jamie*

                I like the spouses and partners wording as well (and I agree that partners who cannot legally married should be treated as spouses if they desire) – but the reason etiquette delineates marriage from other relationships is because it’s a clear cut marker.

                Spouses (and personally I would add long term partners) are treated as one social unit. How would a company vet long term, unmarried relationships to see if they hit the partner status? It’s not just living together – someone could have moved in a week ago and they don’t know middle names yet and another couple could be together for 20 years but each own their own home.

                A company, or others shouldn’t be in the business of vetting whether a relationship is valid or serious…and it’s not a reflection on anyone’s relationship if a company doesn’t treat them as a married couple when they aren’t. (Again, excepting those who are legally banned from marriage, but consider themselves spouses.)

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  A company, or others shouldn’t be in the business of vetting whether a relationship is valid or serious

                  Exactly, and society has come up with “marriage” in part so that no one needs to be in that business.

                2. TL*

                  Oh, my expectation is that people would self-vet when the word partner was used. With the exception of a few communities that are committed to gender-neutral terms, I’ve only heard partner to mean “long-term commitment here.”

                3. Victoria Nonprofit*

                  TL, I’d guess that the ability to “self vet” would depend very significantly on who your employees are. For example, 15+ years ago I absolutely would have described my boyfriend-I-was-sure-I-would-marry-but-got-tired-of-after-3-months as my “life partner.” *cringe*

                4. TL*

                  Victoria: It is beginning to occur to me that it looks better in theory than it may in practice. I take the term partner rather seriously but maybe the rest of the world is more flexible with it.

                5. fposte*

                  There you go.

                  And I’m not saying that these restrictions or this party are great ideas; the whole thing is kind of dubious to me. But they’re in sound etiquette company with the restriction, so that’s not the reason to throw stones.

                6. Mike C.*

                  Many companies also have no problem letting you nominate someone to be your “domestic partner”. I was listed as this in my wife’s company. You could change the person every six months.

                  This isn’t the insurmountable problem that some are making it out to be.

                7. TL*

                  Mike C., really? That’s very cool. That allows for nontraditional relationships, even beyond the romantic.

                8. Anna*

                  But that’s a bit of a conflict. If they shouldn’t be in the business of vetting, then that should apply across the board, because they are vetting by giving a pass to married people and a no pass to non-married. Alison is ignoring the major flaw in the reasoning: this policy also cuts out people who are engaged.

                9. Emily K*

                  You know there’s always That Guy (or Girl) who brings his (or her) OKCupid date to the office holiday party.

                  I used to work with one of Those Guys. Every time we invited him to a gathering of friends (which folks’ boyfriends and girlfriends frequently attended but where at least half the attendees didn’t bring anyone) he brought a date, typically someone he’d met online and only been on 0-2 previous dates with, and she would be the only person in the room who didn’t know anyone there. He brought an OKCupid date to a surprise birthday party for one of our friends where his date was the only person who didn’t know the guest of honor. I suspect it related to him being ultimately insecure about himself and about being single, and him believing that he was impressing us by always having a date and impressing his date by showing her how many friends he had.

                  Whatever the reasons, some people just do not have good social judgment. If it’s at a swanky restaurant, that bad judgment starts to run up the company tab.

          2. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

            I see what the company is trying to do here, but maybe they should reword the invite to say “significant other” or “partner”, etc… to make sure that other non-married people in committed relationships are not excluded.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            That’s one thing Exjob did right about it–they said “One adult guest.” There was NO stipulation as to who that guest had to be. Most people brought wives or girlfriends or husbands (there were only a few women working there). There were no same-sex couples; however, the rules did not exclude a same-sex partner. Though given some of the prejudicial crap I overheard in the office, I probably would not have subjected a partner to that atmosphere if I were gay.

          4. Bar*

            What I don’t understand is, why have a party if you don’t want people to come and are discouraging your employees from coming, by not inviting their partners?

            I really hope it’s not seen as asocial to miss this. Or missing networking.

        2. Anonymous*

          For a true social event, I buy that reasoning. However, as many have already noted, it’s a business function and married employees do not bring their spouses to work or other functions. As such, I don’t think it’s odd to exclude spouses from this type of event. I think it is odd, however, to include spouses but not other significant others. I think it should be either employees only, regardless of status, or employees plus one guest.

        3. Meg*

          But what about people who choose not to get married for whatever reason? I know several people that have been together for years, or even decades, and don’t get married because they can’t swing the finances, or have decided it’s not for them.

          Speaking as a “whiny millenial” (and I’m really starting to despise that cliche), I find this weird and a bit rude. It’s one thing to keep the party to employees and their SO’s, but limiting that to married partners? It’s like saying that your relationship isn’t serious enoug hif you’re not actually married.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If you choose not to get married (when you do have the legal option to do it), then yes, that choice has some consequences, just like any choice. You don’t get the social and legal benefits of marriage. There’s no way around that.

            (I don’t buy “can’t swing the finances.” It takes about 50 bucks to get married.)

            1. Gjest*

              But sometimes there are financial consequences beyond the 50 bucks, many of which were brought up above. In those cases, “can’t afford to get married” does apply.

            2. TL*

              I will point out that I do know people who can’t swing the $50 or who have to save up for a considerable time for it. They are by far exceptions, but they do exist.

            3. Mike C.*

              Just because there are consequences to any choice doesn’t mean that those consequences are unjust, arbitrary or otherwise unacceptable.

              And in some families, your $50 wedding will get you kicked out and ostracized by your family. How much is that worth?

            4. Cat*

              Also, it’s not like employers are checking marriage licenses. If you want to refer to someone as your spouse, you can probably bring them to the dinner; nobody is going to do a full background check.

              1. Judy*

                I don’t know about anyone else, but I had to present my marriage license to get my husband as a dependent on my insurance. It also has ramifications for companies about life insurance, retirement and 401k, the marital status of an employee. (The spouse must be the beneficiary of those things unless they’ve signed the rights away.)

                1. Cat*

                  Yes, obviously you can’t commit insurance fraud. But nobody is going to check whether spouses are eligible to attend the party based on whether they’re on the company insurance, if only because plenty of legal spouses don’t use their husband or wife’s insurance. I’m just saying, if you can’t get married because of money or family but want to be, nothing is stopping you as holding yourself out as married for social purposes.

              2. Amy*

                But this assumes that you’ve never, ever mentioned your partner at work before you knew about the rule. Someone who started months before this office party rolled around has probably made casual comments about their relationship status, or even just referred to ‘my boyfriend’ rather than ‘my husband’. Your solution requires that they’ve either never ever mentioned a spouse at all, or they’ve been calling them spouse from the start.

                It would definitely be weird in any office I’ve ever worked in if someone who’d worked there for months suddenly brought up a husband they’d never, ever mentioned before.

            5. Rana*

              Plus there are distinctions between legal marriage and lifetime social commitments to someone. My mother-in-law, for example, married her husband in the church, but not legally, because doing so would have jeopardized their individual benefits. My husband’s aunt and her long-term partner – they’ve been together for decades now, and raised his children together – are in a similar situation.

              In the eyes of the feds, neither couple is married; in the eyes of family and friends, they very much are.

            6. Bar*

              I really respect your blog, but this is very sad to read. You don’t have any idea how expensive marriage can be. Some states make divorce very difficult. If you’re in love, committed, but a little bit worried about protecting yourself, you might not be able to afford a divorce lawyer.

              And it is very risky to go into a marriage with no way out. Do you have any idea how financial abuse and domestic violence relate to one another? Do you have any idea how student loans can be affected? Do you have any idea what it’s like to know you can’t get married because you depend on government benefits to not starve?

      2. fposte*

        I think you’re looking at it backwards. This isn’t a perk; it’s a work thing over a meal. Since it’s happening during social time, it’s customary to invite spouses to those because that’s the social-time rule. It’s also customary for the spouses to say “Are you kidding me?” and stay at home with Netflix.

        1. the gold digger*

          It’s also customary for the spouses to say “Are you kidding me?” and stay at home with Netflix.

          I watched many a series on DVD last fall while my husband was running for the state legislature and out doing campaign crap. I told him that nobody at this level cared about the wife and I had no interest in making small talk with people I neither know nor agree with politically. (We’re in a mixed marriage.)

      3. Amanda*

        I agree with Anna. It may be common but I find it offensive–it suggests that this company thinks marriage is a more valued form of partnership than any other.

        And as for cost savings considerations, I agree with commenter Karen below–if they want to save money and this is truly a work function, then only invite workers. The fact that they open it up married spouses creates a social component, and within that, the company is, intentionally or not, making a social statement that married partners are more worthy than non-married ones.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          it suggests that this company thinks marriage is a more valued form of partnership than any other.

          Society thinks that, not just this company. That’s part of the point of marriage.

          That’s why people are fighting for marriage rights.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              So am I. Marriage is not some arbitrary category that the company randomly decided to favor. Our whole society is set up to do that; it’s part of the point.

              1. TL*

                I think it’s because a lot of people choose not to get married because they see it as a legal institution, not a social one.

                So legal discrimination in committed unmarried vs. married couples makes sense but social discrimination would seem weird if you truly think marriage is mostly a legal state.

                As a person of the younger generation, and at least in my group of friends, it would be weird to treat somebody’s spouse different than somebody’s committed partner in a social context. They’re basically viewed as the same (with the caveat that I’m young enough that none of my friends have even reached a 5 yr point marriage or living together.)

                1. fposte*

                  And certainly some partners stick around longer than some spouses.

                  But we’re not talking a social host, we’re talking a work situation here. Does this workplace recognize partners in their benefits? If they don’t, it would seem weird to me that they’d suddenly decide they’d count them for a party that wasn’t just a bring who you like but disavow them when it came time to something that mattered.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But as far as I can tell, the majority of the population does not see marriage as “mostly a legal state.” So even if you do, it’s reasonable to recognize that it’s out of sync with the broader culture.

                3. TL*

                  From my experience, a lot of society, (the younger generation that I am a part of), is at least understanding/respecting the “marriage as a legal not social institution,” train of thought, even if to them it means more for various reasons. So it would make sense to me that someone asks this question. I think there’s a generational divide happening.

                  Fposte, yes, I understand that the company can’t vet this and it is a work event that is parading as a social event. I can even agree with the policy (unless it’s a state that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage), but I do understand why someone, especially a millennial, would find it odd.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  That assumes, though, that millennials aren’t aware of the broader culture they live in and that they don’t have a general understanding of its mores, which I don’t think is the case.

                5. TL*

                  I dunno. “Yes, but nobody [reasonable] actually thinks that way,” is something that I’ve heard (and thought) more than a few times about things similar to scale in this. I feel like we’re still at a pretty idealistic age.

                  Being aware that the social mores exist doesn’t always translate into thinking the normal, reasonable people enforce them, when most of your friends don’t and the people who do are, say, your old Uncle Frank, who you tolerate because Family. (especially if you’re fresh out of college!)

              2. Victoria Nonprofit*

                But, like the Great Chair-As-Inbox Debate from a few weeks ago, I’m learning from this. Seriously – it wouldn’t have occurred to me that this could be offensive, and I’m glad to know.

                1. Victoria Nonprofit*

                  I agree – caring about something like that sounds crazy to me – but I’m still glad to know that a lot of people are bothered by it. I’d rather know than not!

              3. Jamie*

                From my experience, a lot of society, (the younger generation that I am a part of), is at least understanding/respecting the “marriage as a legal not social institution,” train of thought, even if to them it means more for various reasons.

                What does this mean? Do you mean that there is a segment of young people who don’t see marriage as a social institution any longer?

                I’m not trying to be snarky – I have never heard of that before. Clearly marriage does and has always had legal benefits/strictures to it – but I’ve never known anyone who also didn’t think it was a social institution as well.

                I have legal ties to the bank which holds my mortgage and the village to which I pay taxes. Marriage is seen as fundamentally different to society than a mere contractual agreement…and if there is a change on that front I’m fascinated, because I’ve honestly never heard of that.

                1. TL*

                  Hmm… more like marriage doesn’t carry any more social standing than a long-term relationship and the only real difference is a piece of paper and some rather important legal benefits. Or it’s something you do for the kids, rather than the relationship, or it’s very age-related – even if you’re with someone for 10 years, you’re not going to get married before X age or career point, even if you’re living together for the entire decade.

                  And not everybody feels that way, but the vast majority of my friends and social circle would agree that it’s a valid stance and should be respected (and thus long-term partners should be treated like spouses.)

                2. Harriet*

                  How would they even know who was married and who wasn’t? I’m pretty sure most of the people in my office assume my partner is my husband because what they know of him is that we’ve been together for a long time and co-own a dog, house and child.

              4. Chinook*

                Add me to the voices of those which are angry that marriage gives you special rights. It is a choice you either make or don’t (when given the option). I understand there is a different level at play when there are no same section marriages, but there is a reason it is/has been fought for. That one ceremony gives you a lot of legal and social rights and responsibilities. That being said, I also understand wanting to include a couple who is “as good as married” in social circumstances, but you have to understand what you are giving up when you don’t think that you need that piece of paper.

                I heard on chaplain explain it like this to some army privates – we only care about your spouse because they are legally required to put up with what happens to you. Boy/girlfriends and even fiancée can leave tomorrow with no long term repercussions.

            2. Claire*

              I think there is also some cultural differences within North America. I live in Ontario, Canada and I think it would be weird if my partner of 8 years was excluded from a social/work event because we don’t have a marriage liscence. But, my partner and I are recognized as common-law with the appropriate tax and legal implications.

              In Quebec, Canada, this would be seen as even more strange. I don’t know the stats off the top of my head but marriage is must less culturally common there and most people live in common law relationships.

              I think it’s important to recognize that society and society’s values and opinions change across geographies- even within North America.

              1. fposte*

                Though I could argue that’s not all that different–you’re talking a society that has legal ways to announce a partnership and you’re talking about recognizing those legal ways, same as in the U.S. It’s just that in the U.S., common-law partnership and domestic partnerships (especially for opposite-sex couples) are pretty spotty in their legal recognition, so marriage is pretty much it for official social claim, hence the fight for gay marriage.

                To be honest, I actually do agree with your underlying point–a lot of places have evolved different ways to recognize that people are joined in some significant way, and that making institutions fit people ultimately makes more sense than making people fit institutions.

                1. Zahra*

                  Um, in Quebec, you don’t get any benefits for being common-law (you do get the negative consequences income-tax and social benefits wise, though). So the legal protections for common-law partners are nonexistent.

          1. Bar*

            Maybe millenials aren’t so much out of touch about social mores, but that they live in a different economic reality and they are more likely to look at marriage as a legal institution because so many are marrying for legal reasons (namely, insurance). People are marrying for benefits, not for social reasons, in those instances. What do you do when you’re in love, considering marriage, but your boyfriend gets seriously ill? That’s often the push into marriage.

        2. Emily K*

          It’s not that marriage is more valued necessarily. It’s more objective. It’s determined by a neutral third party. It enjoys broad recognition across society. It doesn’t require the company to ask personal questions about the nature and conditions of your intimate relationship to be determine.

  5. Anon*

    I don’t know – this still bothers me. Especially when I think of long-term partners. I can understand not bringing a SO who you’ve known for 3 months. But someone who you’ve been together with for 3, 5, 10, 50 years… Just because you haven’t been able to get a piece of paper saying your a single unit doesn’t mean that you arn’t.

    1. Jamie*

      I agree that there are plenty of significant relationships without the piece of paper – but if the company needs a cut off it’s the easiest way to do it because they can’t possibly vet the seriousness of each non-married couple – nor should they.

      But what do I know – I think company parties should be catered at work on company time (paid for non-exempt) and followed by sincere thanks for all the hard work this year, passing out of bonus checks, and cutting people loose early.

      Easy, no spouses/SOs, doesn’t cut into personal time, and who doesn’t want more money and to leave early before the holidays?

      But then I am a simple woman.

      1. Anon*

        I guess this is what bothers me. Because a LOT of the time stuff like this isn’t paid… but there’s a certain expectation to come. Yes you could choose not to show up but… not really.

        And I have to say that not getting paid to abandon my SO for an evening really sucks. As it is, I feel bad when I come home telling him about how great the office pot luck was – it would be worse to come home telling him how great the un-paid holiday party was.

      2. Poe*

        I am going to copy-paste part of this into an email to my boss where I beeeeeg to not have to organize some big shindig where people get drunk. When I get drunk, I talk about people I know who died. This would be VERY BAD AT WORK, Y’ALL.

      3. A cita*

        Yeah, I’m not getting this whole need to vet thing. There’s no need to vet. Say the company party is for employees and their spouses or significant partners and let the employee vet for themselves. Sure, like in any system, there will be a handful who take advantage of it and another handful who misunderstand, but generally, the employee would do the vetting of themselves like the adults they are.

    2. The IT Manager*

      This is getting trickier and trickier as more people live together and don’t marry, but this company has chosen to draw a line. And they are picking one that is clear and not open to interpretation.

      Again, I suspect that companies that do do this probably do it for monitary reasons. Limitting it this way limits the cost and allows for the swanky party. If they opened it up to +1 for everyone, it might not be as nice or sought after.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Right, but it’s not realistic for the company to issue a set of guidelines about what relationships are and aren’t serious enough to qualify, so they’re using the traditional system of inviting married partners, which has been around for quite some time and isn’t exactly a shocking insult.

      1. Claire*

        I understand that the company is using it as an easy line to draw and to be frank, I’m not all that worked up about it. But if the company wanted to draw the line, how come they can’t leave it up to their employees to determine who is a “spouse or partner”? We should treat people like adults who can make such social distinctions.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Because the company is the host and it’s a work event. They’re inviting spouses because, as fposte put it above in a different comment, the obligation to invite spouses to dinners and parties “outranks the host choice principle, so spouses slide in on a technicality.”

          1. KireinaHito*

            Well, if your next door colleague, who recently married with someone s/he has met 2 years ago, has the right to invite his wife, while you can’t invite your partner who has lived with you for 13 years, I honestly do find reasons to feel shocked and insulted.
            Plus if the event is “designed to strengthen bonds among coworkers” and the result of it is that you get a bunch of people feeling offended and/or discriminated, then it’s counterproductive and you should probably review your policy.

  6. The IT Manager*

    As a person who has probably been single more than I have been part of couple during my working life, I would personally find it helpful if people could only bring spouses as their guests. More singletons like me at the party. Some people may be fine bringing an aquaintance to a work party, but I am not one of them.

    1. thenoiseinspace*

      A very enthusiastic +1

      I’d hate to feel like I had to bring a date (God only knows where I’d drag up one of those) and honestly, I don’t care to meet my coworkers’ partners-of-the-moment. I’m not involved in their dating lives and have no desire to be.

    2. Emily K*

      I actually love my coworkers and enjoy our staff retreat, holiday party, and happy hours. But I have multiple relationships including a long-term boyfriend I’ve been dating for 2 years, and I’ve never invited him or any of the others to anything because I can’t imagine a worse date. I know none of them would especially enjoy standing by while my coworkers and I drink too much and laugh at inside jokes about coworkers my date doesn’t know and events my date wasn’t present for or doesn’t understand the humor behind because he’s not part of our office culture, and I in turn would enjoy the party less if I felt like I was having to entertain my date and check in to make sure they were having a good time. Just let me enjoy bonding with my coworkers and when it’s done I’ll come home and give you my undivided attention.

  7. Cat*

    Because … it’s very unlikely that this is upsetting for them. Plenty of people are unmarried by choice, or at least perfectly content about it, and even those who aren’t are unlikely to get angsty over it from an office party.

    Thank you!

    More broadly, the only thing about this policy that seems problematic to me is that if you’re in a jurisdiction that doesn’t allow gay marriage, I’d want to make sure I wasn’t excluding anyone’s long-term same sex partner.

    1. Poe*

      YES +1. I am not married. I am not actively dating. And you know what? I flipping rock it. I am single at an age when people expect young women to be…not single. I get comments all the time, and it would be nice if it could stop. My life is my life. When I find out you’re married, I don’t worry that talking to me will be awkward for you because it will remind you of how awesome single life is. Your life is yours, mine is mine, you deal with yours and I’ll deal with mine. KTHXBYE!

  8. Ellen*

    In 2013, the intent described in the answer should really be “spouses and partners,” not just spouses.

    1. TL*

      Yeah, this would be more okay. I think “spouses and partners” would convey a sense of who’s appropriate to bring and who isn’t, without getting into tricky territory of who can/can’t get married and whether married couples are more ‘serious’ than non-married, long term couples.

    2. Anon*

      THIS. This is perfect wording and most people with sense understand it. And it doesn’t leave out straight long-term couples who arn’t married. (We all know someone who’s been with their partner for 50 years but doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage)

      1. the gold digger*

        We all know someone who’s been with their partner for 50 years but doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage

        The first couple that comes to mind when you write that – although they weren’t together for 50 years – is the partner of that guy who wrote “Girl with the dragon tattoo.” They didn’t get married. He didn’t make a will naming her as beneficiary. He died. His books sold by the truckload. His parents get all the money because he didn’t have a will.

        I think of things like that because I am paranoid, though. I always look for the worst-case scenario and plan for it. My husband and I bought our house before we were married (weird state laws about divorce and remarriage) and I made sure we had a lawyer look over the deal so that if my then-fiance died before we were married, the house would be mine and not go to his parents.

        I just hope those people who don’t believe in marriage believe in good estate planning, because I can see some people getting really screwed otherwise.

        1. Andrea*

          Exactly. This is also my concern when I hear about couples like that. Well, not only estate planning but also things like next-of-kin for medical consent and end-of-life decisions. I think that too many people assume that “common law marriage” applies in every state, but in fact it only applies in a handful and often only in fairly narrow situations.

        2. Bobby Digital*

          Whenever I hear a story like that, I don’t wonder why the people didn’t get married. I wonder why the parents are stealing all the stuff.

          1. Judy*

            If you die intestate, I’m pretty sure the order of inheritance is spouse, children, parents, siblings. If there are none, then the money goes to the government. I’m not sure how the partner would get money from royalties, if there is no will to say who gets them.

            We got our wills made out for $750 ($500 for first $250 for “substantially identical second set”) 9 years ago, which included a trust and guardianship for the kids and durable and medical power of attorneys and living wills. If you have anything, just get it done.

          2. Andrea*

            I assume it’s because they never liked the surviving partner, or just because they can since the law allows it, or because they’re using their grief and/or guilt as an excuse to act badly or because they’re just greedy and selfish. Or all of the above. But in any case, couples should make sure they are protected. Hell, even single people should—my single best friend is in her late thirties and I pointed out to her that her parents are her next-of-kin and could make medical decisions for her if she was incapacitated. She isn’t close with them and her parents hold very different views from her and are fairly nuts about it. That thought was enough to get her to an attorney and spell everything out and appoint someone with this decision-making power. (Of course, her parents could still contest that kind of thing and maybe win, but chances are good that none of that will happen anyway.) Personally, I think that’s one of the best things about being married—-I got to choose this man, whom I trust, to be my partner and my family, and I know he would make the decisions I would want in such a situation (though these details are spelled out in writing, just in case).

          3. Amy*


            Or, I wonder why they didn’t just make a will and save the hassle. You can literally leave your possessions to a pet hamster where I live, so there’s no reason why a lack of marriage should stop your long-term partner inheriting. Take one afternoon out of your life to visit a lawyer and see the person you love protected for the rest of their life.

  9. tango*

    I don’t get the big deal. I would rather being doing just about anything than attending my partners Xmas party. The one I did attend, I felt so uncomfortable because I knew noone. But then again, I don’t want to attend my own companies party so maybe I’m just weird.
    The easiest thing for the company to do is to not allow any spouses, partners, significant others, etc to the party. Make it employee only.

    1. Jamie*

      I went to one of those fancy employee only parties once.

      I was new, seated at a table with serious upper management (of which I was not and who I had never met prior) mingling with the commoners (that would be me and some other strangers from different departments) and work talk was prohibited.

      Most uncomfortable dinner. Of. My. Life.

      I won a crock pot in the drawing, left it in the ladies room so I didn’t have to carry it to my car and faked an emergency by texting myself to get out of there immediately following dinner.

      Slippery ice covered parking lot and I couldn’t run to my car fast enough.

      1. Anna*

        Man, you must either be the most anti-social human ever or your company parties suck. Every company party I went to was a blast (until that budget got cut and every party was during lunch and a potluck), nobody got gross drunk, and we had fun activities to do. Even the potlucks featured a ton of great decoration and a lot of fun socializing. Maybe I just got lucky, but I’ve never felt the need to flee.

    2. Andrea*

      I went to my husband’s company party last year, and it was awful. Seriously very boring and awkward. Everyone gathered an hour before dinner and received drink tickets and stood around and drank a little. Then they started the buffet-style dinner. I had asked for menu information beforehand and was told that it was unavailable, so I (wisely) ate beforehand because, as suspected, there was only iceberg salad and bread available for vegetarians (even the vegetable sides had meat in them; I certainly don’t mind not having a vegetarian entrée as long as I can eat the sides, but there were three and every single one had bacon or ham in them). And that was it—just dinner, no speeches or awards or games or entertainment or prizes or music or anything else at all. People just made conversation at their tables after eating for a little while, then got up to leave as soon as it seemed like other people were leaving, too. It was clearly just a “bare minimum” kind of thing that they felt like they had to do for employees. The funny thing is that it’s a great job with very competitive salary, flexible schedules, lots of PTO, and generous quarterly bonuses for the consultants. They pay for training and certs and encourage working from home. But clearly, they aren’t interested in putting on a great holiday party, and they really shouldn’t try. What’s the point?

      I don’t mind not knowing the people there and in fact was looking forward to meeting people (as was he—he works from home most of the time and none of the consultants really ever go into the office, so he only knows the other consultants and his boss). Plus, we’re both really comfortable striking up conversations with folks and that kind of thing. But it was seriously the most awkward company party I’ve ever attended, and longtime employees said it was always the same (down to the menu and location), so I’m never, ever going to that again. I doubt my husband will even go again, either.

      I mean, I get that most company parties are probably better than that but not by a whole lot. Some are worse. But either way, most people aren’t that excited about going, and it just becomes one more obligation. I used to get excited about meeting my husband’s coworkers, too, just to put a face with the name, but it’s not like I remember what they look like later or create any lasting relationships with their spouses after meeting them once. All of that is to say, OP, that you might remember this: By and large, company parties are to real parties what industrial parks are to real parks.

      1. Jennifer*

        I don’t get why people who don’t work there would want to go to someone else’s work party at all. They won’t know anyone there, and the only person they have to talk to is their spouse. Meanwhile, the spouse who does work there has to entertain their SO and can’t talk to the coworkers as usual. I think it’s awkward as hell.

        I am grateful that the one year SO’s were invited to a work party, and that I had an SO, mine ended up not coming (he got himself injured on the way over). It would have been so awkward to have him there, honestly. Usually our work parties are during lunch on a work day, so this is never an issue.

      2. louise*

        Same menu every year and they couldn’t bother to let you know what it would be. Nice. There’s just nothing right about work holiday parties, I feel.

    3. cf_programmer*

      I think, for the OP, this has everything to do with visiting an out-of-budget “swanky” place than anything else.

  10. Karen*

    What happens when the younger cohort at work starts getting married? Does the company wring their fists in agony at the lack of cost savings?

    If this was about cost savings, no guests should be allowed. Grown adults can stay home alone – they won’t have a meltdown. But to say some guests are worthy while others aren’t is incredibly condescending to me.

    If the company is feeling generous and wants guests there, everyone should get a plus one. If money is tight, nobody brings a guest. Very simple.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But do you realize that this is a normal thing, used in lots of other contexts too? Wedding invitations is a good example. Etiquette there says that if you don’t need to supply general plus-1’s, but if a guest is married, you do need to invite their spouse, even if you’ve never met the spouse. You don’t need to invite random dates, but you’re supposed to invite spouses and long-term partners.

      It’s not this company just making up this arbitrary divide. It’s a common tenet of etiquette that’s been practiced for a long time. It’s one thing to say that it should change, but to act like it’s a great insult makes no sense to me, when it’s a long-running custom.

      1. Kelly L.*

        It’s a rule that has actually changed in recent years to include cohabiting couples, though. Even Miss Manners grudgingly insists on it. I don’t know if the link will work, but the quote is below, and if you google it you’ll find the page of her book where it appears.

        “You do not invite one member of a socially recognized couple to a purely social function such as a wedding, without inviting the other.”

        This does allow for the possibility that for a work event it’s different, but I would guess that it’s different in the sense that you can invite no significant others at all to a work event if you want, only the employees. The social unit rule has evolved.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Ack, I accidentally cut off the second part of the quote, which specifically deals with people who have set up housekeeping together.

        2. Andrea*

          I absolutely agree that it would be rude not to invite an established partner to a social function. I would certainly never limit a guest list that way. And I even think it is rude not to invite them to a company party, too (more than just rude if the company insists on a discriminatory policy that would not allow gay employees to bring their partners). But for corporate events, it is still often done via a more traditional rule, even though it’s kind of a stupid policy, and I guess the OP was really asking if it was unusual. If you are partnered and in a state where you can’t get married legally, then it’s different (and obviously, awful and something that ought to be corrected so that everyone who wants to can marry); but otherwise, if you can get married and just don’t, then I guess it’s a different situation. (I don’t have a problem with that practice at all, but I do hope that people who choose to partner and live together without marriage have instead drawn up legal documents that would—in theory, anyway—give them rights in those tricky situations like end-of-life decisions and inheritance rights. For me, it just seemed easier to get married and become each other’s next-of-kin and get all that stuff automatically… which, again, is an option that I believe all people should have.)

        3. Elysian*

          But here I think the distinction is that the company has defined “socially recognized couple” as married individuals (and I hope same sex partners where marriage is not lawful). Otherwise, it is the host’s job to understand the nuance of whose sig other is “socially recognized.” The company shouldn’t have to drawn a distinction there.

          At my wedding, we knew the people we were inviting – we could be nuanced. We knew that G and A had been together for 4 years, but had issues that prevented them from getting married, so we invited them both by name. We knew that R and J had been divorced and then re-married to each other, and that no one really like J, but we kind of had to invite her anyway because they were part of a “socially recognized couple.” And we also knew that Uncle B would be likely to bring a hired escort if he couldn’t find a date willing to go for free, so he got an invite all to himself with no plus one option. We as hosts, knowing the people we were inviting, got to make the call about who was “socially recognized” – rightly or wrongly as we may have done so.

          The workplace wants nothing to do with my Uncle’s escort and it is appropriate for them to draw an unambiguous line. One socially acceptable bright-line is marriage. I would argue its a better bright line than “someone you’ve been with at least 3 years” or “ask us if your date is up to snuff.”

          1. Kelly L.*

            Like I said, though, I accidentally cut off part of the quote. She wrote this, in 1986:

            “The difficulty, of course, is defining such a couple. Traditionally, fiances, as well as spouses, have always qualified. By consensus, like it or not, people who have set up housekeeping together, declaring themselves to be a social unit, are also recognized.”

            She obviously isn’t even happy about it but recognizes that the custom had changed, in 1986.

            1. Kelly L.*

              (It’s also in the text of a more recent book of hers that’s on google books, almost verbatim.)

            2. Elysian*

              Understandable if its a purely social function, but the OP’s question is about a work function. It’s faux-social. The company just can’t reasonably put out an invitation that says “You — and your fiance, spouse, or other individual with whom you have set up housekeeping — are cordially invited to the Holiday Party at Swanky Restaurant!” If you’re a social host, it would of course be in poor taste to draw the line at marriage only when you know there are other socially recognized couples (especially because as a social host, you’ll actually know if they’re a couple, because you’ll know them socially). But I think it is different for a work function. While it may not be the ideal solution, I think it is acceptable for a workplace to draw the line at marriage (and marriage-like same sex relationships when marriage isn’t an option). It is certainly better than having the workplace try to draw a more inclusive bright-line distinction (such as having been together at least x years or something).

          2. fposte*

            I like this. I grant Kelly L.’s point, but I think the work function element is relevant here, especially since we’re presumably talking quite a large employee group.

            However, I would recommend the hospital go back to Miss Manners on weddings and attend to the point about not letting the venue and meal plans drive the attendance numbers. I personally would lean toward retiring the swanky dinner and either go for something employees-only during the work day or do something more reasonably catered for more people after hours.

            1. Kelly L.*

              And I do concede that knowing who’s cohabiting and who’s just casually dating is a lot easier in a social situation, where the host presumably knows everyone they’re inviting, while in a workplace you don’t necessarily know. I think the only way to do it would be with a sort of self-vetting as others have mentioned, which would of course be imperfect. Or just have either no partners at all, or a scaled down event with a +1 for everybody.

        4. Loose Seal*

          But we don’t know that OP and her boyfriend are living together. So they are (could be) even outside what Miss Manners thinks is a mandatory invite.

          I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that if this is the first time this issue has come up, OP and her boyfriend haven’t even been dating 10 months. I might get corrected by OP later but that sounds to me to be a casual relationship. [And all the comments about long-term, co-habitating partners are a bit of a red herring.]

          1. Andrea*

            You know, I bet you’re right about the length of the OP’s relationship. Otherwise, I imagine she would have made the argument that they’ve been together for x years and live together and all that.

            …not that it really changes the answer or the situation here, though.

      2. Kou*

        Yeah, and it’s often considered inconsiderate in those contexts as well. Sure it’s a long running custom and it’s not surprising or necessarily “offensive,” but it’s one that’s fading because it’s less and less relevant all the time as people wait longer to get married– or don’t at all.

        Shortsighted is more what I’d call it, because like you said upthread, the idea is that you invite spouses because you don’t want them leave a partner they live with at home. And that is in no way limited to spouses, nor has it been for a while now.

        So sure, they can do whatever they want. It’s not egregious. But it is silly and they have to know it’s going to put people off to go socialize with some coworkers spouses at a high dollar event while their own partners are at home.

      3. Anna*

        I think you may be a bit behind the times on this, Alison. If nothing else indicates that, the fact you even received a question about this that’s raised so much debate might be an indication.

    2. fposte*

      It’s not about cost savings, though (or at least not simply). This is a standard approach to formal invitations. The fact that some people really like plus ones doesn’t change that. The social rule isn’t that “every party should be open if only people could afford it,” it’s that hosts get to invite the people whose company they desire. In etiquette math, the inviting of spouses together outranks the host choice principle, so spouses slide in on a technicality, but it’s not because when you invite people they always get to bring somebody.

    3. squid*

      100% agreed.
      If the company can’t trust their employees to determine an appropriate +1, then they’ve probably got bigger problems than the party guest list.

      Incidentally: out of my working group of 7, only one of us is legally married. A “spouses but not partners” rule as above would be ridiculous.

  11. A Teacher*

    Why do companies still do parties? I mean really–most of us hate them and if we can get out of going to them we do. When I worked in the private sector, my first year there the company (and hopefully I’m not giving my identity away) rented one of the big, super cool museums in Chicago for our corporate party. We were allowed to bring a +1 and dinner and drinks were included. The following year they scaled back to “regional” parties where we could still bring the +1 and we got either free food or free drinks depending on what party you attending. The next year they called them “regional parties” we were supposed to attend and they paid for some finger food, cash bar, and our significant others were charged $25. People stopped even going and then on formal reviews we were chastised for not wanting to “bond” with the doctors we worked with–the very same doctors I referred 10-15 cases a year and they were making thousands of dollars off my back but getting to attend the party for free while I was stuck paying for part of the party out of my pocket.

    In this day and age, saying “spouses” makes the company sound antiquated, even in the middle of Illinois we call them significant others–which a spouse or long term partner is.

    1. Jen*

      I haven’t been to a big fancy party since the late 90s. My husband’s industry kept going a little longer but even now it’s usually only for employees and spouses are not welcome. My current job has a casual day-time party of staff-only usually at someplace like Dave & Buster’s – just your department. My previous job did a company wide happy hour in the employee cafeteria. Very casual. You wear jeans, drink some bad cheap wine and if you’re lucky you win a $50 gift card to Macy’s. If you’re unlucky, you get the $5 card to Subway.

      1. A Teacher*

        I teach now–the last day of finals our principal buys us food and we bring stuff and do a basic potluck. You don’t have to eat and she lets us leave early on both sets of finals days–low key and that I don’t mind.

    2. Anon*

      “they paid for some finger food, cash bar, and our significant others were charged $25”

      Oh yes, I really hate parties where the guest pays. Here’s a poster for a similar party that I was invited to, but did not attend:

      In fact, my entire team didn’t go, because they would have had to go home after work (the party was on a Thursday), get into cocktail attire, then drive into downtown. They’d have to pay for a babysitter, pay for their spouses to attend the party, and pay for dinner. It was kind of a WTF moment when these posters went up around the office. If you can’t afford to give a fancy party, then give the party you can afford.

    3. Jennifer*

      Well, our parties are during the work day, so it’s like we got a couple of hours off of work for a catered lunch. I am fine with that.

    4. Lindsay J*

      Everyone at my current job enjoyed our company party last year and I am looking forward to attending this year.

      Our owners fly in, take us (and significant others) out to a nice restaurant and pay for our meals. We are welcome to drink if we so desire, but everybody pays for their own drinks. They give a little update on the state of the company, recognize us for our hard work, and then we socialize. I have not heard one bad thing about it from anyone. It might be different because we are one of those small “family atmosphere” type places so we all know and interact with each other on a daily basis and we also regularly see people’s significant others and know them all by name.

    5. BCW*

      See I can see the charge for the guest as an easy way to avoid issues like the OP brings up. You can bring whoever you want, sig other, person you are sleeping with, roommate, as long as you want to pay. The people, like the OP, who really want to go are free to. No one feels obligated. It saves the company money. Seems fairly easy.

      1. A teacher*

        And if it were really optional to go like we were told it wouldn’t have been a big deal but when you’re making over a million a year and want your PTAs making 35,000 or your office coordinators making $12 an hour to pay for the privilege to attend a party with bad finger food and you have to pay for drinks even after paying $25 that’s just wrong

  12. Meg*

    I must be a social butterfly or something. I don’t particularly consider myself “outgoing” because frankly, I don’t put effort into being the center of attention. However, I do engage in conversations and generally friendly and ask questions and participate and whatever else constitutes as being a social butterfly.

    And my former company’s holiday party (which included a +1) was actually pretty awesome and low pressure. I got to meet a lot of contractors within my contracting company I’ve never met before because they worked in a different location or different client. Very swanky and formal, but not stuffy or boring either.

    1. Kate*

      I agree. My husband’s company does awesome holiday parties. Good food, open bars, and good conversation. He works in a med. size company and everyone is very outgoing and friendly.

  13. AdminAnon*

    I once had to attend a holiday party with my boyfriend when we had only been dating for 3 months (he was required to bring a date) and it was the most awkward thing ever. The rest of his team members are married and most have kids. It was a very swanky restaurant and the food was delicious, but I would not relive that night if you paid me.

    Trust me, you’re probably not missing out!

      1. AdminAnon*

        That was my exact reaction. His manager thought that having one person without a date would be awkward for everyone. BF did try to push back, but was (obviously) unsuccessful.

        1. Tina*

          I think I may have just shown up without a date, just for the fun of it. I mean, what’s the manager going to do? Say go home, you can’t come in without a date?

  14. Mishsmom*

    imho it may be correct etiquette-wise, but it can be hurtful. especially to those together for 30 years but not married – and yes, marriage comes with certain benefits – but so does not married. of course our choices dictate the results, but i can’t imagine inviting people to my wedding, or party, and saying if they’re not married (a legal situation is all it is) they can’t bring their partner. i want them to have a good time – chances are – ESPECIALLY at a company party that rarely anyone wants to go to – that they’d have a better time or be more comfortable with a partner there.

      1. anon for this*

        Right, but in terms of our relationship with each other as fellow Americans, all your marriage is to me is a legal situation. I may or may not share your religion or culture or values – all of which influence what I may think of marriage beyond its legal implications – but as fellow citizens, no matter what I personally believe, your marriage license means I have to treat you a certain way because of the legal status you and your spouse have with regard to each other. (For example, recognizing your spouse as eligible for benefits I offer when I am your employer, allowing you to make medical decisions for your spouse when I am your doctor, paying you social security when I am your government.)

        1. Jamie*

          I agree in that I don’t expect anyone to give a rats behind about my marriage with the exception of my husband, kids, and family.

          My comment was in response to a legal situation being all it is…and while individuals certainly don’t have to see it the same way or feel anything one way or the other toward other people’s marriages (besides the legal) the institution of marriage as a whole is seen as something more than a legal transaction by society as a whole. That doesn’t mean every individual feels that way – but I would wage the majority of people see marriage as more of a social construct than signing for a car loan…which is merely a legal transaction.

          1. Chinook*

            I think marriage is more than a mere legal contract if only because it is a combination of rights and responsibilities that go on for an definite period of time and through all sorts of circumstances. It is also something that involves social relationships and networks, which I can guarantee you my car lease doesn’t (because, despite what the dealership may think, I am not required to ever do business with them again)

  15. B*

    This is very, very common. It would be worse if they said you must be together for 1+ years or something along those lines. Not sure what the big brouhaha is all about. It’s still a work party where you still need to behave and act appropriately. Because, yes you are being judged by what is said and done.

    1. TL*

      I’m not sure if I’m interpreting this right, but living with someone you’re not married to is generally behaving and acting appropriately.

      Uncle Bob bringing an escort, not so much.

      1. Bobby Digital*

        TL, Uncle Bob is actually married to that escort. They were going to invite you to the wedding but, well, you know…

  16. Interviewer*

    Our company event is no longer “a swanky holiday party at trendy restaurant downtown” but rather a 3 pm gathering with desserts & cider in a conference room. And now I am guessing it’s because of questions like these.

  17. Anonymous*

    I’m an unmarried male and I’ve ceased going to company shindigs a while back, not because of the untoward shenanigans of other unmarried colleagues, but the opposite. Plied with a bit of alcohol, and some married colleagues let loose, invariably wanting to twerk me into submission or suggesting we find a corner for some slap and tickle…and that’s just the men. One was so sauced that he actually wrote what he wanted to do to me on a napkin. The office prankster found the napkin, pocketed it and upon return to the office, made photocopies and plastered the walls with them.

    A female colleague, likewise single but partnered, has been approached by two married men with whom we work stating that their respective wives find her and her boo attractive and are interested in a foursome.

    Trust me, the unmarried colleagues are not the problem.

    1. Windchime*

      I’m sorry, but I am giggling at the picture you paint of a male colleague trying to drunkenly twerk you into submission!

  18. Lamington*

    I will never forget my last year party when our VP asked me what I was waiting for to get married after he found out I have been dating my boyfriend for 6 years. Akward! Btw in that party even single were obliged to bring a plus 1. :/ Not fun for the +1 after they met and were interrogated by VP.

      1. Jamie*

        I totally want to see that. Fposte showing up socially with her date – Hugsy the bedtime penguin pal. (tm Friends)

      2. Lamington*

        Yes, our VP should work for the CIA. also he had a seat on ea h table to mingle. To make it worse it was mandatory and the only way to get out was pre-approved vacation.

    1. Lindsay J*

      This is the second post in the thread that mentions requiring people to bring a +1. I would be much more annoyed by that than I would by the situation in the OP.

  19. MrsG*

    The first law firm I worked at had a Christmas party which we were all the hosts of. We took coats, prepared food, and cleaned up afterward. The guests were judges, other attorneys, doctors, and other prominent figures in the community.

    No spouses or friends were permitted to come, even my boyfriend who worked at an opposing firm who was technically invited by our firm. We got to drink all the free booze we wanted to at least.

  20. Michele*

    Yes, your expectations are too high! Personally, I think it bothers you because you can’t go to the swanky, trendy restaurant downtown. My last company no spouses or SO’s were invited to any company parties.

    1. some1*

      This. I actually prefer employee-only Christmas parties during work time, too. When I’m single, I don’t feel pressured to bring a date/frowned upon for not being married; and when I’m seeing someone I don’t have to worry that my boyfriend won’t have fun.

      1. Charles*

        +1, no pun intended. LOL!! And it really isn’t anybody at your workplace business who your boyfriend is. If it is employee only, as they should be, then people don’t need to worry about whether their SO is enjoying it, they can concentrate on socialising with people they might not get much of a chance too, what the parties are for, or should be for.

  21. Mike C.*

    Just because a practice is considered “normal” or “traditional” does not, in and of itself, mean that the practice is optimal or the correct choice to make. Old traditions are changed or thrown out while new traditions are made all the time. We’re humans, we adapt to things. If a practice is valuable enough to keep it, we should be able to explain why.

    Additionally, making the claim that “this is where they chose to draw the line” is also not a good argument. It’s not even an argument, it’s a statement of what happened.

    It’s fine to believe the company made the correct decision, but you should explain why.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I totally agree that just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do things. But when something is traditional and commonplace, it doesn’t make sense to be taken back by encountering the practice. And the question here was whether the practice was odd.

      1. Joey*

        Just because its commonplace and traditional doesn’t make it any less offensive. There’s a laundry list of things that have been going on forever that I just can’t believe still occur. Besides discrimination that is now illegal I just can’t believe that people actually continue to make employment decisions based on looks, size, sexual orientation, and all other non-job related criteria. I know it happens all the time, but it doesn’t soften the more I encounter it.

        1. Elaine*

          I don’t think it is offensive at all. There is a real difference between legal/registered domestic partnerships and being a significant other without that distinction.

          Things I find offensive are much more serious that pointing out, correctly, that your relationship is not going to be taken as seriously by as many people if it’s not formalized.

          1. Bobby Digital*

            I guess…I would wonder what you mean by “real difference.” If you mean legally, fine.

            If you mean basically anything else, well, wow.

    2. Colette*

      I think it is a good argument.

      Should Beth be able to bring the partner she’s been with for 15 years?
      What about Sam, who has been dating Chris for 3 weeks?
      Amy, who has been in a long distance relationship for 2 years (although they’ve only met in person once)?

      Where’s the line?

      If you don’t want to start policing what relationships qualify to attend the party, either you have to let everyone bring a guest or draw a line. If you’re drawing a line, marriage is a reasonable place to draw it (with the exception for long term gay couples, of course).

      So where would you draw the line, assuming you wanted to invite partners who were important to employees but not casual dates?

      1. Mints*

        The suggested wording above “spouses and partners” lets people draw the line themselves. It doesn’t seem that complicated to me. You might have a few couples less serious than the intention, but assuming you work with adults who have good judgment, it should work out fine.

        1. Colette*

          It could – or you could have people saying “why don’t I get to bring a guest” and deciding on their own that they are going to bring a guest anyway.

          The company absolutely could decide they wanted to be flexible about this – but they don’t, and that is their prerogative.

      2. TL*

        I mean, people also get married after 2 weeks, or a month, get quickie divorces or have marriages that last no more than a couple or years.

        I get that marriage is the easiest line the company can draw, if they don’t trust their employees to understand the phrase “spouse or partner”, but I would find it just as awkward if Jim-Bob brought Bill, who he got married to last Thursday and has for all of three days, as meeting Sam and Chris, dating for 3 weeks.

        1. Colette*

          It’s true that someone could have recently married someone they really don’t know, but it’s not about making things comfortable for the others there – Carol could have been married to someone no one else can stand for the last 40 years – it’s about choosing where to draw the line, and that is absolutely up to the host.

          If you don’t agree with where they drew the line, you can politely explain that you don’t agree, or choose not to go, or even quit your job. I mean, I’d think you were ridiculous if you quit over it (when you otherwise liked your job), but that’s your choice.

  22. Zxyn*

    I just want to say that I don’t find the very idea of someone genuinely wanting to go to their partner’s office party so odd. My company–while it sucks–throws awesome parties and my boyfriend had a good time at the one he attended with me. Every company is different.

    1. KellyK*

      Same here. My husband’s company really knows how to throw a party, and we go to their summer barbecue every year and usually go to their Christmas party (when we don’t, it’s because it conflicts with mine).

  23. some1*

    “I’ll give you a longer answer too, but first I need to address the idea that this would be especially bad for a dateless or recently divorced manager who ended up chatting with the husband of her 23-year-old assistant. Because … it’s very unlikely that this is upsetting for them. Plenty of people are unmarried by choice, or at least perfectly content about it, and even those who aren’t are unlikely to get angsty over it from an office party. (In fact, many of them will be glad that they at least got out of dragging a date along to the event.) So the unmarried people will be just fine. (And I know you mean well here, but you want to be careful about not condescending to uncoupled people, and especially about not assuming that their feelings on their romantic status are tied to their age.)”

    Thank you for all of this! I wish I could forward it to about 20 people off the top of my head. It’s hard to be excluded from something because you don’t have a significant other because the host assumes you won’t want to be around just other couples.

    “We were both excited for me to meet all of his colorful coworkers, until he found out that only married employees are allowed to bring guests.”

    You could set up a happy hour or throw a party for your boyfriends’ co-workers at your home. Your boyfriend’s employer isn’t required to facilitate you getting to know his co-workers.

    “It seems like either everyone should be able to invite a guest or no one should, or, at the very least, it should be based somehow on professional status, not marital status.”

    What exactly do you mean by this? The executives should get to bring a guest of their choice, but the janitors should not? If you believe this, yes, you sound entitled.

    1. some1*

      ETA to my last point, the purpose of employee parties is to appreciate *everyone* in the org. So while you can’t have a hospital without doctors and nurses, it’s supposed to be the kind of event where everyone from admins, the IT people and the cafeteria workers are supposed to be recognized.

  24. Katie the Fed*

    A few thoughts, many of which have been addressed by others:

    – Thanks for pointing out the condescending tone, Alison. I picked it up as well and didn’t care for it. I’m happy as a clam on my own in social situations.

    – If you want all of the social and legal benefits of marriage, then get married. If you don’t want to get married, then understand there are things you won’t be able to do the same as married people. It’s a choice.

    – I like holiday parties :)

    1. The IT Manager*

      – If you want all of the social and legal benefits of marriage, then get married. If you don’t want to get married, then understand there are things you won’t be able to do the same as married people. It’s a choice.

      I want to plus one this point for heterosexual couples.

    2. fposte*

      I think there’s a little bit of “is it two faces or is it a vase?” with marriage in the U.S. right now. My gut reaction is on a par with yours, in that I don’t actually care whether a union is legally sanctioned or not, but it doesn’t make sense to me to say “We choose not to be legally sanctioned, and how dare you treat us as if we’re not legally sanctioned?”

      But I think the vase version is that marriage, especially for a lot of younger people, isn’t the definition of coupledom, it’s just one of many things people can do to identify their partnership. And if you’re raising kids together and on the mortgage together and visiting relatives together I can kind of get the “Seriously, that doesn’t matter without ten minutes with a registrar?” eyeroll.

      (However, if you are in the latter category, I implore you to make sure you’ve got legal paperwork in order on the other fronts that a marriage license would cover you on–wills, acknowledgment of parenthood, etc. Ironically, you’re likely to need a lot more paperwork because of avoiding that piece of paper.)

      1. Kou*

        “Ironically, you’re likely to need a lot more paperwork because of avoiding that piece of paper.”

        HAH, is this ever true. I have a big ol’ stack of paperwork involving my partner and mine’s ownership of this or that or the other, especially where the house is concerned. It is massive and it cost a lot of legal fees, ugh.

        We just decided to buy a house before spending big on a wedding. The courthouse thing is not so much of an option here, it is very much Not Done in his family’s culture and they are already uncomfortable enough with him going outside the lines for me in the first place. Elopement would blacksheep me forever– and they’re nice people, they just operate in another sphere where that is Not Ok. I’m a confrontational person at heart but if holding off a few years and throwing a big party will let me have inlaws that accept and take care of me, I’m freakin’ doing that.

    3. Jen in RO*

      I fully expect not to get the same rights as a married woman, but I just think it’s stupid in this particular context. Just make it +1 or employees only.

        1. Jen in RO*

          It will vary from country to country, buy I can’t inherit the apartment we live in, because my boyfriend is the one who bought it, and even if he wrote me into his will, his brothers could contest that and would probably win. I can’t make decisions for him if he’s in the hospital. I can’t benefit from the tax laws that only apply to married people.

          1. hamster*

            The law in romania is wtf anyway. When a one spouse dies, the surving one gets 25% of the house and the kid(s) the other 75% , divided between them. And to change that, you need a lot of lawyers so to be sure that the will contestation is unsuccessful. So yeah, not being married it’s even more difficult inheritance wise

    4. A cita*

      Well, marriage for heterosexual couples is not always a choice. There’s all sorts of benefits that single people miss out on because they aren’t married. I read a great article that did a quantitative research study on how much more expensive it is to be single (one example: I can’t contribute to an IRA if unemployed, but an unemployed spouse can receive contributions into their IRA by their employed spouse). I’d happily get married for the substantial legal benefits. Unfortunately, nobody wants to marry me. So, no, it’s not a choice. I’d like to see laws change so that single people could get some of those benefits, but that’s different argument for another day. :)

  25. Kou*

    I’m surprised at how many people have never heard of the big switch with families buying houses and having kids before they get married. There’s a lot of speculation as to why, with some guessing it’s because so many more younger people now grew up with divorced parents. It’s a major shift– If anyone is interested, here’s some numbers (because I like those)

    “On the one hand, we had nearly 40 percent of Americans tell us they think marriage is becoming obsolete. On the other hand, when you ask people who aren’t married, ‘Would you like to get married?’ they say yes”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think people haven’t heard of that switch! Rather, it’s the idea that marriage is no more than a legal agreement that’s at issue.

      1. Rana*

        I can sort of see the logic of the “marriage is only a legal agreement” position, however. When you’ve got a lot of people in long-term, committed relationships, doing things like raising children together, owning large assets like houses together, etc., and having the seriousness of those relationships validated by friends, family, their community, and even some churches, it’s a little hard to suggest that adding a bit of legal documentation transforms that relationship into something else more “real.”

        Rather than creating an intimate affiliation, these days a marriage license is more frequently a legal recognition of an existing affiliation. So if you’re defining marriage primarily (or solely) in terms of whether the involved parties signed a license, rather than in terms of the long-term emotional and financial commitments they’ve made to each other, then, yeah, it makes sense to view it as “no more than a legal agreement”.

        (And I say this as someone who has trouble understanding why the majority of people in such long-term relationships don’t sign up for the legal benefits, while at the same time considering their relationships as valid as our own, legally-sanctioned one.)

  26. PPK*

    I can see letters written no matter which the way the company does invites.

    “My husband’s company is having swanky holiday dinner party, but only employees are invited. What’s the deal? We go everywhere together. This is an insult to all spouses. What am I supposed to do when he goes to the party? Eat alone?


    “My husband’s company is having a swanky dinner party, but they’re letting all the employees bring a guest. Last year, someone brought their roommate. That shouldn’t even count. They’re wasting the company’s money.”

  27. nyxalinth*

    My mom was one of those people who didn’t get that these functions were just fun and games, and would get pissed at my dad when he had to be in attendance at them, and she couldn’t go. In fact, she would act bitterly offended that spouses weren’t invited, and he could never make her understand the whys. Her illness (Bipolar I, undiagnosed until she was in her late fifties) didn’t help matters. They would fight and then she’d give my dad AND me the cold silent treatment for days. Don’t ask why I was at fault!

    As an adult, I’ve only ever worked one place that did anything fancy like a big party or the like. I liked it, but I don’t think I’d like it all the time.

  28. Party Planner*

    As someone who plans the annual Christmas party, I would say that costs are the number one reason why we no longer have any “plus one” invites (spouses or partners).

    I wish staff would realize how expensive that “free” meal is every year, with rising food costs and rising expectations. I’m trying to feed XX amount of people for less than $25 per person (no alcohol and undoubtedly with loads of gluten-free, dietary request/specializations).

    Imagine it as a cheap wedding feast that you have to re-create. Every year. With cranky relatives, food hoarders (yes, I’ve had staff bring Tupperware containers to my event), and chronic complainers who still manage to RSVP and come every year.

    I live for the day when we make Christmas parties a choice – e.g. between a collective meal or a hands-on activity, like helping out Habitat for Humanity for a week.

    1. AB*

      “I wish staff would realize how expensive that “free” meal is every year, with rising food costs and rising expectations.”

      Well, my husband’s job throws an annual party that is only for employees, mine throws one where if you like you can bring someone, no questions asked. I think these are the best options. Using marriage as a cut off to me is unfair. What if everybody in the company was married? Then the firm would be OK with going through the expense of a free meal for all spouses? If you want to cut expenses, then make the party just for employees, and be done with it.

      (This is coming from someone who got married young enough that I never had to experience this sort of “discrimination”, but I’d find it annoying if some of my friends from work who have a long-term partner had to leave their partners at home just because they happen not to be married for one reason or another, while others were allowed to join the festivities.)

    2. Editor*

      If a company wants to have a sitdown holiday party, it should budget for it instead of griping about the cost. The event shouldn’t be a “cheap wedding” meal, although I am totally fine with a party without alcohol.

      To hold a less expensive holiday party, plan it for a time other than the holidays and make some caterer or restaurant happy to have business in the slow season. This strips out any religious overtones, too.

      Hurt about not being invited to holiday work parties? Look around for something else to do. The last three years I had holiday parties on weekends, the party was at the same time as whatever concert I wanted to attend that year. When the company switched to catered lunches for each shift on site, I had one less conflict in my December schedule.

  29. BCW*

    Wow. I would never have thought this threat would have so much discussion since it seems fairly legit to me. Here is a similar way I would look at it.

    Lets say you have a friend that is having a fairly small wedding. If they only give a +1 to married or engaged couples, I think thats in their right and most people would understand that. Now they would probably take it on a somewhat case by case basis, so if they had a family member who had been with a partner 20 years, they’d probably both be invited . But if they didn’t give me a +1, even though I had been dating my girlfriend for 6 months, I wouldn’t be mad, and if she got mad I’d tell her to get over it. There is a social norm built in that for various things (legal and social) being married gives more benefits because they are seen as 1 person.

    1. AGirlCalledFriday*

      I don’t really even see this as appropriate even for a wedding. I’ve been to a lot of weddings, and selecting which guests get a plus 1 and which do not can get extremely sticky. Especially as many people can’t keep everyone’s relationship statuses in mind and without fail someone’s cousin will get a plus one for her partner of 3 years and yet another cousin’s 4 year relationship won’t get one.

      I get that the company is trying to draw a line here and that’s fine – it’s a private, work-related affair. But the takeaway from this, I feel is that the face of marriage is changing from a social and legal institution to primarily a legal one. People are waiting longer and longer to get married and there are any number of financial issues from medical, home-related, and student loan related that prevent people from getting married until they are considerably older. I’m in my early 30s and in Chicago, and most of my friends are unmarried but are in relationships that span years. It’s one thing to say, well the majority of people see marriage as social. Even if that is the case now, it certainly won’t be in the future and it would be beneficial to recognize that.

      1. BCW*

        i’m curious in the wedding example i gave, what you think would be a more appropriate way. I mean, if someone wants to have a small wedding, do you think they should let everyone invite a guest, eseentially cutting the number of people that they want there in half so that someone’s sig other of 3 months isn’t offended?

        I agree that its a tough line to tow. I mean who is to say someone’s 1 year marriage trumps another person’s 5 year relationship. But if a line has to be drawn, I think that is a valid one. Its really something that I just don’t get. I’ve brought dates to holiday parties, gone solo, and been a date to other people’s. If my girlfriend was told she couldn’t bring me, I really can’t see myself caring one bit. I’d find something else to do with my friends while she hung out with her work people. Its not that big a deal.

        1. Jen in RO*

          I’m not AGirlCalledFriday, but yes, I would expect the list to be cut down until everyone and their +1 could fit in.
          (One more reason for me not to get married – organizing the wedding sucks!)

        2. Manda*

          Well, if you want to have a small wedding, you have to keep in mind that it might just not be feasible without cutting out people who should be invited. My brother and his fiancee are planning their wedding and they chose a place that my parents and I think is too small. We have a large family. They struggled to get the guest list down. She asked if any of our cousins are young enough to not bring a guest. No, they’re all adults. They could easily invite more people if they had just found a bigger place. It’s not just about wanting X number of people there. It’s about having to invite Y at the bare minimum and possibly as many as Z.

          1. BCW*

            This isn’t meant as an attack, so please to take it that way, but that way of looking at thing seems very entitled to me. If I wanted a wedding with 30 people there. Well, if its either have my close friends and family, or half of that so someone could bring someone they just met at a bar a few weeks ago, I think thats my right. Who are you to say that someone has to let you bring a date when they are providing you food and drinks?

            1. Manda*

              Well sure, you have the right to do whatever you want, but you still should keep in mind that you might offend someone who doesn’t make the cut. And unless all of those people are unmarried, it’s not half. If you’re planning a wedding that small, you’re probably close enough with those people to know who has a partner and who doesn’t. I’d probably be forgiving if it was really small, but then, I’m not close enough with anybody (aside from my brother) to make the top 30. In my brother’s case, it would be impossible to decide on 30 people without choosing aunts, uncles, and cousins who are equally as close as others who don’t get invited. We went over the guest list together and figured out who is close enough that they should get an invite and who they can get away with not inviting and it really does get sticky. They were trying to get the list down to 150 and they were stuck around 160. They could easily invite 200 people. I pointed out there’s going to be someone or other who doesn’t bring a guest and there’s always someone who can’t make it. There are a few out-of-town relatives who are unlikely to come, but they’re close enough that you can’t not invite them. I still think you have to be careful about choosing a completely arbitrary number of guests. As for providing the food and drinks, I don’t know what goes on elsewhere, but when I go to weddings, it’s normal to put money in the card as a gift and to cover the cost of your meal and booze.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Wedding gifts are not intended to cover the costs of entertaining you. That’s a horrible myth being perpetuated by god knows who.

                You’re giving a gift in honor of their marriage, not to cover the costs of your meal.

                If someone wants to populate their wedding with people close to them, and not dates they don’t know who aren’t in long-term serious relationships with their guests, that’s entirely reasonable. Guests who are put out by not being allowed to bring a virtual stranger to someone’s wedding — which is an incredibly intimate event — are confused about the purpose of attending. It’s not a night out. It’s a show of love and support for the couple being married.

                1. BCW*

                  Exactly, it seems people look at it as an expectation that they are invited, entertained, and can bring someone else so they enjoy it more. Its absurd. As you said, you are invited because they want YOU there because YOU mean something to them. Why do people think they are entitled to have someone who doesn’t even know the couple, and you may not even be that serious with, but will be in their wedding pictuers forever.

                2. Caffeine Queen*

                  I agree wholeheartedly. At our wedding, we wanted the people we were close to. Further, our venue and budget were small-yeah, that does actually matter, particularly because you shouldn’t spend money that you don’t have. Everyone told us they had a great time and we made sure to seat people with others they’d enjoy spending time with. We didn’t even invite a lot of our extended family-but that’s because we wanted people who knew us well, not people we would feel obligated to invite. Our parents and siblings were very understanding. They told us they were planning on throwing parties whenever we visited them, anyway and they liked that our wedding was small-meant they didn’t have to do a lot of entertaining!

                  I just don’t get it. If it was your friend’s birthday, you wouldn’t get upset if you couldn’t bring someone. Why do people feel that weddings entitle them? Also, why would anyone want to bring a random date to someone’s wedding? That’s usually only if your partner is serious and then they would likely be invited anyway.

    2. Manda*

      I disagree that not allowing +1s for some guests is something most people would understand. I think a lot of people would be put off by that. It’s pretty standard to allow any adult to bring a guest. I’m young and chronically single. That’s not changing anytime soon. But I would be insulted if I got invited to a wedding and couldn’t bring a guest just because I don’t have a boyfriend. It’s like, gee, thanks for reminding me I don’t have the option. I went alone to a wedding where I only knew the bride and groom once. I did not have a good time. I’ve got another one like that in a few months. I’m not really going to know anyone aside from the bride, plus a few acquaintances that I don’t exactly “know.” If I had a potential date and couldn’t bring him, and then had to sit there bored and alone all night, I’d be peeved. You might be alienating some of your guests by not allowing them to bring a date. And I agree with AGirlCalledFriday; it’s hard to keep track of who is in a relationship and who isn’t.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s actually NOT standard to automatically allow your guests to bring any +1.

        With small weddings, part of the point is often to keep it small and intimate, not just to save costs. I just had a small wedding myself, and we didn’t do random +1s. We invited spouses and would have invited long-term partners if there had been any, but we didn’t let people just bring dates for the sake of having a date. (My best friend came alone, in fact.)

        We wanted it to be all people who were close to us; that was the whole point of keeping it small. If someone had a problem with that, they could have declined the invitation, but I would have been surprised if that had happened.

        None of that is relevant to the OP, of course; just responding to the idea that +1’s are normal and expected; they’re not a requirement.

        1. Manda*

          Well, it’s been the standard as far as I’ve ever seen. But then I have a huge family and I’ve never actually seen what a small, intimate wedding looks like. I guess as long as you’re inviting relatives you don’t know that well, you might as well let them bring dates if they want.

          1. Caffeine Queen*

            I’ve never seen it as a standard thing, even with big families. Quite a few of my friends and I have very large extended families. Most of us had weddings that involved less than 200 people, so not even all our relatives were invited and, when the weddings started happening, I knew from the beginning not to expect to have a plus one (and was pleasantly surprised when I was allowed to bring one-which happened when my husband and I started dating). There are many reasons for it. And seriously, about the budget-would you really want a friend to go into debt for you? People go into huge amounts of debt over guilt and it’s just not worth it. If you really love someone, you’d understand that they might not want to pay for 100+ extra people if it meant endangering their financial situation.

            I certainly allowed last minute plus ones if I could tell a relationship was getting serious. But I wanted the people who were there for me at my wedding-not a bunch of random strangers.

      2. BCW*

        You know you have the option to not go right? I mean, I’ve been invited to weddings where I didn’t get a +1 and it never bothered me. In fact, it made it easier since I was single, that meant I didn’t feel obligated to bring along someone who knew no one there. It just seems wrong to tell someone that even though you are single, you MUST be allowed to bring a date.

        1. AGirlCalledFriday*

          Personally, I like the ‘spouses and partners’ term from above. For me, if you’ve been together at least a year it should warrant an invite, but that’s just me. In the case of small weddings, you can much more easily select who can and cannot bring dates as you presumably know your guest list much more intimately, and you also have the ‘Its a very small wedding’ to fall back on if someone complains. In cases of large weddings I don’t think that can be applied so easily.

          When I was young I was in a string of long term relationships and it did rankle when my boyfriend of 6 years wasn’t invited where my cousin’s husband of a few months was. I went anyway and had a great time. Since then I’ve been a serial dater I suppose, and wouldn’t dream of inviting random dudes to a family affair so I go on my own. I don’t think being a guest automatically entitles me to a guest. Then again, I’m somewhat social. I can imagine this being a sticky situation for those more introverted.

          1. Rana*

            Eh, for something like a wedding – rather than a more impersonal event like a company shindig – I sort of feel that if you don’t know your guests well enough to know all of their names – that is, both halves of a couple – you shouldn’t be inviting them. I’d be rather offended if someone invited my husband and his “partner or spouse” to their wedding, rather than inviting both of us together under our actual names.

            1. AGirlCalledFriday*

              I agree Rana. Yet I do attend lots of weddings where coworkers or friends made recently are invited and in these cases…

        2. Manda*

          Yeah, but that’s at the risk of upsetting a friend by having to explain I can’t make it because I’m not going to know anyone there.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Then why not simply go? Not every event requires knowing others there. You’re there to support your friend, not to be entertained. And that’s why your friend would be upset.

  30. Anonymous*

    Just to chime in, I think it’s kinda unusual and unfortunate. I worked for a non-profit and everyone got a plus-one to the holiday party. That event and the company picnic where often the only times you got to meet your coworkers’ significant others. Some people did go alone to the holiday party, which was not a problem. Occasionally people brought friends instead – my fiance had to bail last minute one year so I brought a friend.

    If your boyfriend’s company wants to keep costs down, which is understandable, I would think it more reasonable to just make it an “employees only” event.

  31. Employee*

    I agree if it is about keeping costs down then it should be employee only. I am curious what would happen if they had a legally gay married couple turn up. If this would rock the boat or be ok. Let’s be honest in this day and age not everyone believes in marriage or even wants to be married and some people cant’t get married. I do wonder how they know if you are “married” or not. How many of them are bringing their mistress or lover and not their wife…

    1. Jean*

      I would file “How many of them are bring their mistress or lover and not their wife [or husband]…” under TMI!

      This could also get quite sticky if innocent small-talk comments (e.g., “how did you meet your spouse?” or “your kids are so cute in those desktop photos!”) are met with a blank stare or a blunt denial from the +1 or the employee who brought the extracurricular partner.

      I don’t know if bringing an extracurricular partner is grounds for dismissal (probably not, unless the employer’s mission is specifically focused on promoting integrity within traditional marriage?) but it shows poor judgment.

      Please note I’m speaking only about cheating partners, not poly partners in a mutually agreed-on relationship.

  32. Charles*

    I would hate it if it was the culture to bring a plus one to my office christmas parties, I have two, one is company wide, that is company funded, and a divisional one where we have to pay for our own lunch. And they are both afternoon events. Well, the divisional one is not paid for, but I’ve never seen anybody bring someone who doesn’t work in our division, or not in our company. The company one if paid for, so really, they shouldn’t have to treat people’s significant other, I’m happy with that, I’m sure anybody who wants to bring their significant other will be told “NO”.

    Significant others at christmas parties is a bad idea, because what is happening, is if you bring along your significant other, you are mixing your work life with your personal life.

    Both parties at my office will have everyone sit down for lunch, and then afterwards some stay around for drinks informally, and that is when significant others, adult children, or friends, get invited. And lets just say, that those that do, things tend to go pear shaped after that.
    I have attended two company wide christmas parties, and there is one woman who invites her daughter and both years she has gone home with two different men. And the second one, is the boss, of the first. So so so so disgusting!!

    And besides, the company that the OP’s boyfriend works for, I would say it is very traditional, or, they don’t want to be treating people to a nice dinner, just because one of their staff brought them home from a bar last weekend, when in 2 weeks time they would have moved on from each other.

    Christmas parties where significant others are invited, are less about socialising between employees, and more about what your partner looks and acts like, and who is single.

  33. Lanya*

    “Am I just being a whiny millennial, expecting invites and pats on the back when they aren’t justified?”

    OP, I beg you, please don’t propagate this stereotype of our generation any further.

  34. Anon*

    I’ll freely admit that I’m the outlier on this one. I love going to my husband’s xmas party. It’s usually after xmas due to scheduling but it’s always at a really nice steak house with some awesome door prizes and open bar. He just switched companies and new company had last year’s party at our local NFL stadium.

    I work in academia and our xmas party is billed as “service awards” and since they won’t shut down all our sites only managers and folks close to the main facility get to attend. It sucks because everyone who attends that luncheon “gets to go home” while everyone who couldn’t make it is stuck at work for the rest of the day. I always go back to my office. I don’t think it’s right for me to go home just because I’m the boss and could swing the event in my schedule.

  35. Mena*

    This is your boyfriend’s perk and not your’s – often company holdiay parties are employees only to promote team building. This really isn’t about you so please stay out of it and encourage him to attend the party.

  36. Collarbone High*

    Just wanted to say thank you to AAM for the second paragraph of your answer. You and Hax are about the only advice columnists who consistently recognize and remind readers that some people *clutches pearls* are perfectly happy not being married, and that upon meeting the husband of an assistant, would think “Nice to have met him” and not “OH MY GOD a younger person is married and I AM NOT and I shall lock myself in my room for a fortnight, eating ice cream and yelling ‘Aack!’ “

  37. CKL116*

    I appreciated that too! And congrats on your recent wedding! THANK GOD YOU’RE MARRIED NOW WHEN ARE YOU HAVING A BABY

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author


      My nieces used to always harass me about having kids (but in an adorable way, not an annoying one), but just before the wedding the oldest one said to me, “I guess you’re too old now.”

      I told her that yes, yes I am.

  38. ACrew*

    Actually, I completely disagree about your etiquette statement. Etiquette actually dictates that a couple should be invited as a unit, not just married couples. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been together for 3 weeks, 3 years or 3 decades, marital status does not dictate a relationship. I have known people who are in a relationship for over 10 years and aren’t married. Their relationship is stronger than some people I know who are married.

    Plus ones are 100% different than inviting couples as a social unit. You must invite couples as a social unit in all situations (however, I would agree that the company has the final say in this – I am stating a general rule). Plus ones are typically given to people so that they can bring an additional guest in general. For instance, at a wedding, you would invite all couples as a social unit and then you may decide whether or not to extend plus ones to truly single guests.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not sure how you’re defining etiquette here, but no etiquette source that I know of says that about any other than long-term established couples.

      1. acrew*

        I think the thing that the etiquette gods like the post institute and miss manners are getting at with the relationship thing, is that a host should never judge the seriousness of their guests relationships. I know people who have been together for years who don’t consider their relationship to be serious, while on the other hand my sister met her husband, moved in with him in a month, and got married a month later. Most people don’t consider a month long relationship to be very serious, but they were already engaged at that point. Its up to no one but themselves to judge the seriousness of the relationship.
        You interchangeably used couples and plus ones. Its downright rude when I receive a wedding invitation addressed to acrew plus guest, when I have been with my boyfriend for three years, and we have been living together for two of those years. This is completely different than inviting us, the couple, as a social unit. Of course this is a work situation, and therefore up to the employer. However in normal societal functions such a a wedding, you honestly can’t expect guests to attend and respect your relationship when you aren’t respecting theirs because it doesn’t fit into whatever personal definition you have of a long established couple.

  39. Anonymissez*

    How about employees that get upset if they can’t bring their children/grandchildren? I’ve had that scenario many times. They think they are being cheated if someone can bring a spouse and they can’t bring a ten year old!!!!????

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