How to Socialize With Couples Who Can’t Stand Each Other

Welcome to the buffer zone

Illustration: Fred Harper

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Dana and I have come to the conclusion we have one great flaw as a couple. When it comes to meeting friends for dinner, we are invariably a half hour late.

We do care very much about good manners, are hopefully considerate and empathetic and always try and go above and beyond in social situations. That said, not everyone is perfect, and between running a client service business and three growing children, we just cannot seem to get out the door on time, no matter how hard we try. There is always a crise de la nuit—a child with a minor scrape in hysterics, a dog locked in the pantry, a late breaking business call from abroad, an older relative who is need of a prescription filled. Needless to say, we do eventually arrive, but most definitely on “Kirshen-time.”


It was a frigid December eve, the kind of night when coatroom girls are swallowed up in furs and Burberry cashmere scarves, when we were due at an 8-o’clock dinner at one of our usual watering holes off Sixth Avenue. As the suburban drove downtown in bumper-to-bumper traffic (of course), I brought up the issue of our constant tardiness.

“We’re only 20 or 30 minutes late,” Dana said. “Can’t these couples just enjoy having a drink together?” she countered. “I think we are actually doing them a favor by allowing them to catch up and have some quality time.” She opened her Chanel compact to finish her maquillage. “Perhaps, they should be thanking us.”

“Not every couple enjoys having their dinner served at 9 and have ongoing conversation until 2 a.m.,” I said.

She shrugged. “Well, I married you, and you’re on Madrid time! That’s their problem.”

We, of course, arrived at the restaurant at exactly 8:30 p.m. The driver opened the car door with Dana urging, “Run, before we get into any more trouble,” adding as I got out, “Don’t wait for me—I’m in heels.” I walked briskly to our table. Madam et Monsieur X were sitting in silence, looking somewhat miserable.

“What took you so long?” Monsieur X complained.

“We are so sorry.” I gave one of the myriad of excuses, which are true but nevertheless, sound made up.

“I hope you got my text and went ahead and ordered drinks and appetizers.” Dana kissed her friend as she finally arrived at the table.

“No, we wanted to wait for you,” he said with a glare.

“It’s okay, we just sat here…and waited,” Madame X lamented. Finally, after settling in over cocktails, appetizers and polite conversation, the girls excused themselves to go to the loo. (Why is it that men never go in pairs?)

“Listen, Richard, I’m giving you a heads up. This tardiness situation is getting out of hand. It’s just unconscionable!” he grumbled.

“I realize we are a half hour late and apologize, but don’t you think you may be overreacting just a tad?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Overreacting! I had to sit here and listen to her complaints for 30 minutes. Don’t you understand, the secret to a good marriage is diluting couple time in groups. She talks to the girls about shopping, vacations and the kids, and we talk about sports, money and other girls. We cannot have dinner again alone as a foursome, if I’m put in this alone situation. We’ll just have to invite another miserable couple along who will show up on time. I need a buffer,” he explained.

“I am truly sorry.” I tried to put myself in his Gucci loafers.

Dana later relayed that she had also gotten an earful from Madame X about having to listen to him complain about her overspending, the credit card bills when she knew Dana was just taking a longer time with her mascara (not entirely untrue, but one of the kids did have an allergic reaction and needed Benadryl just as we were walking out the door).

“Listen, I love you both, and you are both very entertaining,” he offered, “but you have to remember,” he whispered loudly, “the buffer.”

“What did you say? Buffer, what?” Madame X looked at him dead on.

“I said buffet. The food is so good I wish they had a buffet so I could try everything, okay, Sherlock?”


It’s not untrue that there are couples that adore and enjoy each other to the exclusion of others, but there are also many no longer in the honeymoon phase that spend little or no alone time with each other and are just fine with it. They have fully functional marriages, though each prefers communal and group activities—vacations, holidays and meals that serve to dilute, buffer or anesthetize their marital reality. Add real money to the equation and paid friends often appear on the scene as a diversion at dinner or on vacation for amusement—husbands often paired with trainers and wives their designers. Now it goes without saying that there are indeed many couples who have managed a healthy balance of one-on-one time with both friends and paid friends. Yet, the buffer works for those couples who prefer to spend as little time together as possible and think life is better that way. Or come to think of it, a better way of life.


“Okay, everyone, do we want to do boy-girl, boy-girl or girls at one end of the table and the men at the other?” Candy Stryper, who was organizing the seating at a popular uptown eatery, posed the question to the group. Without answering or explanation, all the women immediately gravitated to one end of the table, leaving the men to find their own seats.

“What do you girls talk about at that end of the table?” I asked, stirring the pot, which could be one of my other great failings.

One of the ladies hanging a Chanel bag on the back of her chair admonished me: “Never you mind. Girl things. Go back to boy things.”

“Don’t you think it’s odd that the men and women never sit together in groups at these dinners?” I asked the men.

“No, let them have their hen party. I don’t want to hear about nannies, schools, ACTs, tutors, plastic surgery or the shows in Paris. I want to talk about meaningful man things.” He downed a 1942 tequila.

“Like world events?” I asked.

“No, like which guy has a mistress and what she’s doing to him.”

“Wait, did I hear the word mistress?” A wife at the table had what I call “sex sonar,” her head swiveling, like in the Exorcist, looking over at her husband, trying to catch him in the act.

“I didn’t say mistress. I said mixology. They have a great mixologist here. You girls only have one thing on the brain: divorce.”

“Speaking of divorce, did you hear so and so hired so and so [high priced and lethal divorce attorney to the UES]?” One wife mentioned.

“How did she get the funds to do that?” another woman asked.

“Listen up, men!” Candy broadcast. “She was so incensed at the husband’s bad behavior that she went to the top of the divorce lawyer food chain, and now the cheater will be screwed. Bye, bye, golf club and boat!” She waved a fake goodbye to our end of the table.

“You see, that’s why we need to be sitting at this end because they are all conspiring,” Mr. Stryper said.

“I know a guy who says he will now only have dinner with his wife in groups or with his tennis pro.”


“Because he said he needs dilution, or as he calls it,” I said, “a buffer!


Just when I thought New York and the Hamptons had cornered the market in buffering I found myself at a dinner at Renatos in Palm Beach with an entirely different sort of group. That being Palm Beach locals, who are on the circuit and have a more sporty and old-money approach to buffering, not to mention the lime green pants and loafers sans socks.

“Many people in this town are obsessed with fundraisers, parties and events. It occupies many of the wives leaving the husbands to their own devices,” P(a)olo explained, sipping a sauvignon.

“So would you say this constant stream of events act as a…buffer,” I egged on, “between married couples?”

“Yes, I like that term. It is a buffer,” Heir-ry said, downing a Sea breeze.

“It takes a great deal of time and effort to convince people you’re actually raising money for a good cause when many of the wives really care about their gowns and jewels and seeing their names on an invitation,” another meaningful local, who preferred anonymity, observed.

“I don’t view it as buffering as much as I view it as acceptance about what she likes versus what I like. Meaning, I’ll show up in a monkey suit for her fundraiser at the Breakers if she lets me surf or play golf,” Heir-ry said.

“But how much time do you actually spend with your wives alone? I asked.

“As much time as I need to“ P(a)olo shrugged.

“Which is?”
“Hmm . . .” They all mused. “Less time than you probably spend in New York due to the weather and outdoor activities.”

“That’s right. I’m on the boat when she’s playing tennis, and I’m playing golf when she had a board meeting or luncheon,” Heir-ry agreed.

“You’re like two yachts passing in the night,” I offered.

“You’ve got it.” He clinked his Sea Breeze with mine.

“Well, Sunday morning, we go to the market together to buy all the produce,” P(a)olo added.

“That’s nice. And then?”

“We talk about the kids, the weekly schedule and upcoming events and dinners. And then the housekeeper cooks breakfast. I take the boys to sports, and she takes the girls to their lessons and shopping. Then we go the club in the afternoon or for dinner. She sees her friends, and I see mine. It’s the perfect amount of time together.

“I think country clubs were actually designed with that in mind. Take my club in Greenwich. You have the male and female locker rooms, card rooms, steam rooms. Everything is segregated, come to think of it so the men spend all the time with the men playing golf and working out and the women can drink rose by the pool. Then we all meet for a quick dinner with another family where the wives talk with the wives and the men talk with the men. It’s a very civilized form of, what did you call it…buffering?”

“I have a different point of view” Heir-ry said. “I really think they want us around but really don’t want us around, if you get my drift.” He gave the waiter a hand signal for another cocktail.

“Can you expand on that thought?”

“I think the charity events and the golf and everything in between do actually act as a buffer. But a very comfortable and enjoyable buffer. Like the sweet filling in an Oreo”

“Very poetic!”

“And if that wasn’t happening?” I probed.

“We’d be at each other’s throats,” Heir-ry explained and signaled the waiter. “Another Sea Breeze, sir. Thank you.”


The last few weeks I have been in major travel mode: Miami, Los Angeles, Italy.

Despite the complimentary cheese and crackers and vino in the Airport Lounge, business travel can create some logistical stress at home when one is on the road. That said, it reminds me of the title of old Dan Hicks song, “How can I miss you, when you won’t go away.”
At the tail end of my European jaunt, I found myself at the Four Seasons Hotel in Milan and called Dana to give her my flight information, after a full week away at our Bona Furtuna client’s remarkable and ancient olive oil estate in Sicily.

Ciao, bella,” I said looking out the window to the formal courtyard garden, admiring the symmetrical plantings and trompe l’oeil.

“How is Milan?” she asked.

“Rainy, cold and foggy, but I had a marvelous lunch of risotto and a cheese plate at Salumaio di Montenapoleone, and I am about to do a bit of shopping for you and the kids.”

“Please, you do not have to get me anything,”

“Of course, I do. I want to thank you for holding down the fort while I was away.”

“Well, we all can’t wait for you to return, even Monte (our new dog) misses you.

“Oh, give him a kiss for me.” I thought of the adorable little fur bundle who was now part of La Famiglia. I miss you all so much too!” I said.

“What time do you get in tomorrow?” Dana asked.

“4:30 JFK,” I said”

“Fine, I’ll cook. We can have a family dinner.”

“That would be great.” I sighed in relief at the thought of a home-cooked meal and eating in. Despite how great the food was in Italy, I missed my family and wanted to spend some alone time with them.

“I was planning on inviting the so and so’s and the so and so’s and their kids,”

Dana said.

“What?” I said. “Are you kidding me?”

“Just joking.” Dana laughed. “You know I would never do that to you.”

“Sunday night dinner is just what the doctor ordered, and best of all, we’ll be on time since we don’t have to leave the house.”

“Well, you never know. Someone might get waylaid going from the second floor to the first,” Dana said. “That’s what happens when you’re on Kirshen-time.”

How to Socialize With Couples Who Can’t Stand Each Other