The question

It has been several years since we’ve taken a special vacation with all four of our children. Now they are adults, and two of four have significant others. We are planning a once-in-a-lifetime experiential trip and want to go with just the six of us, i.e. no boyfriends or girlfriends. I should mention that one pair have been living together for three years. How do we “not invite” their partners without hurting their already sensitive feelings?

The answer

Oh, boy, I’m afraid I’m going to have to hurt your sensitive feelings when I say the following:

I think you yourself may need to grow up and realize your “children” are in fact adults now, and therefore grown-up rules apply. You can’t not invite their partners to whatever function may be afoot.

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It’s just plain rude. Think of this family vacation as if it were a wedding. You simply can’t say: “We want you to come but not your partner/spouse/cohabitant/husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/whatever.”

It is quite simply against the rules of polite society.

Before going any further, allow me to say that I understand having difficulty adjusting to the new reality of your “children” entering adulthood and all that it entails.

I am having that difficulty, too – right now. I have not one, but two, offspring preparing to (at least temporarily) stretch their wings and fly out of the nest as soon as this fall.

And I’m not sure how well I will handle that transition. I keep picturing them as the little boys they once were, climbing all over me.

(We used to play a game called “wrestle and fight,” wherein I would be on all fours on the bed, they would jump up and down on me and I would attempt to squish anyone that got under me. Now that they are all over six feet tall, I don’t think that would end well for me.)

But as I say, once we are talking about adults, and it appears that we are, if you invite someone you also have to invite the partner/spouse/cohabitant/husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/whatever (and, often, even children, sorry to say).

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Exception: all-female or all-dude-type events. There are such things as “girls' night out” and “boys’ nights out,” and I respect those, as they are sacrosanct.

(Personally, I’m always trying to slip my wife into guys’ nights out because I feel like she is basically a dude encased in a woman’s body, and would enjoy the “vacation from information” quality of our encounters – we kibitz and communicate mostly in jokes, movie quotes and insults – but it’s a little controversial that I attempt this.)

But that – unisex social encounters – is not what we’re talking about here.

In any other circumstance, you can’t not invite the loved ones of the one you love, at the risk of friction, rifts, steaming, stewing and feuds.

Codicil/asterisk: That doesn’t mean you have to pay for everyone. In fact, since we’re talking about treating everyone like adults, let us observe it is a significant rite of passage into adulthood when you actually have to pay for the stuff you do.

To put it more succinctly – if they want to be treated like adults, they can cough up (cash) like adults.

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In fact, here’s a fun and instructive exercise, if only for the look on their faces: Sit them down, and say something to the effect of: “We’re planning this trip and we’d love to have you come. And your partner/spouse (etc.) as well.”

Then – perhaps even whipping out a calculator as a prop/audiovisual support: “Now, I want to tell you [cost of activity] divided by [amount of participants] equals approximately [X amount.] So we’re hoping you can chip in [X amount]? Would that be cash, debit, credit, bitcoin or online e-fund transfer?”

If they squawk or balk or outright refuse – well, then, the whole dynamic changes. Then, you can dictate who will come and who will not. “Who pays the piper calls the tune,” as the saying goes. At that point, saying, “Well, it’s too pricey for us if we have to pay for all your partners,” is fair game.

If they don’t like it, well, too bad. I can’t see what grandiose soliloquies they could possibly utter that would justify wanting to be treated like adults on the one hand, and on the other, not.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.