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Social Codes that Have Withstood the Test of Time

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

Invitations, appreciation, and other social codes have evolved because people still need the connection, especially around the holidays.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, February is a good month to look at some social codes that have withstood the test of time. Especially if you have a date-date, a date with friends, Valentine’s Day, or a date by yourself binge watching something great.

What social codes have been followed for years, and why did they last? Let’s take a look at some that could help us with our upcoming holiday plans.


If we want to be with other people–to meet for coffee, for dinner, to attend your engagement party or your wedding–we extend an invitation. The simple act of asking someone, or extending an invitation, will always be the polite way to request someone’s presence. Never just a nudge and point!

Invitations have been around for what seems like forever, but they have also changed drastically over time. The age of technology brought with it so many new mediums to issue an invitation, from a phone call to a text message to an “e-vite.”

That said, the message hasn’t changed. There is a wrong way to issue an invitation. Here’s an example: “Hey _____, I’ll be at ABC Bar around 7:00pm. If you’re free, you could come hang! No worries either way.”

Especially for Valentine's Day, don’t do that. Let someone know you want to spend time with them! Always be clear, concise and confident when issuing an invitation.

I remember, with horror, when I discovered I was a tag-along for a Valentine’s Dinner date. I was attending an out-of-town conference with a colleague, which happened to fall on February 14.

Coincidentally, my colleague’s girlfriend lived nearby and, unbeknownst to me, he had invited her for a Valentine’s dinner. He and I were also scheduled to have dinner that evening to work–I was a bit amazed at his level of dedication to our project, given the holiday and proximity of his girlfriend.

As my colleague and I got in the rental car that evening, he requested to make a stop before dinner–the girlfriend’s house! She was all decked-out in a gorgeous red dress and red heart earrings, complete with a look I’ll never forget! I sank into the car seat.

When we arrived at the restaurant, my colleague asked for a table for three–on Valentine’s Day! Every other table that night was for two, and the staff scrambled to put a table together for us. I have never felt so out of place, wearing my dark business suit and sitting with this couple.

Lessons learned: sometimes you need to clarify the invitation, and establish some boundaries!

By the way, the colleague picked up the tab, and his relationship with his girlfriend did not last. Shocking, I know.

Dress Codes

While many dress codes have not withstood the test of time, thank goodness, others have. While dress codes have changed over time, knowing what attire is expected and adhering to it has not.

Let’s say you have been invited for a Valentine’s Day dinner and you are not sure what to wear. The obvious choice is something red, but you certainly do not have to go that route. The best advice is to research the location, find out if there is a dress code or not, and plan accordingly. Hopefully you won't find yourself on Valentine’s Day with a surprise third guest, especially one who is dressed in a completely different dress code, much like I did!

Something else that hasn’t changed is dressing to feel confident, comfortable and express yourself. So, if your research tells you a “business casual” style, do not show up in a pair of shorts and flip-flops. Research and learn what the different dress codes dictate.

Table Manners

How many table settings have you been seated at that had finger bowls, asparagus servers and silver candelabras? My bet is not many, if any! There are many social codes that are not nearly as common today, and while our dining tables have become more casual over time, the most basic manners remain.

In 1745, a fourteen year old George Washington wrote a book called The Rules of Civility, where he lists rules and social codes, many of which have withstood the test of time. Among them are, paraphrased, keep your elbows off the table, be attentive when others speak, don’t pick your teeth at the table, don’t blow on your soup to cool it, don’t slurp your drink. And of course, the classic,

“Put not another bit into your Mouth till the former be Swallowed let not your Morsels be too big for the jowls.”

We all know someone who could benefit from a little table manner refresher–if anyone needs a copy of the book, please let me know!


Finally, one of my favorites social codes that will never go out of style; being appreciative for receiving a gift, an invitation or an act of kindness. Being grateful when others are kind to us is fundamental to our being, as a member of the human race. We need to acknowledge our appreciation and there are various ways to do that; thank you notes in the mail, or even e-thank you’s, texts and phone calls. The social code of appreciation will always be part of a civil society’s DNA.

I hope these few time-withstanding social codes will help you have a more successful and enjoyable Valentine’s Day than the one I spent with my colleague and his girlfriend. I’d love to know what other codes you can think of that have stood the test of time.


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