19 Dec 2022

Respecting the RSVP

These four letters pack a big punch. They represent a perfectly reasonable request from the host for guests to reply to invitations and make a simple commitment to attending or not attending the event.

The clue is in the word ‘commitment’. Nobody is forcing you to behave like an over-stretched and frantic social butterfly. Indeed, at this time of year especially, many of us may feel a bit inundated socially, and may well be considering turning down invitations. That is the guest’s prerogative, but it is important to note that, once a RSVP has been sent accepting an invitation, a commitment has been made, and it is important to honour it.

It is very easy, especially as the nights close in and the weather gets colder, to experience a last-minute aversion to the notion of going out to a party. But if you have already sent an RSVP accepting the invitation, you really are honour-bound to attend if possible. Last-minute cancellations are very distressing for hosts, who rely on RSVPs to manage expectations about social events. Once the bulk of their invitees have replied, they can make sure that the amount of food and drink they have ordered is commensurate with the projected number of guests and it is deeply discouraging to see their calculations about drink and food imploding, not to mention their anticipation of a party’s success.

If you’ve decided to drop out at the last minute, how are you proposing to convey this news? You should have the gumption to call up your hosts and explain why you’re not attending – and note, “I can’t be bothered” is not an acceptable excuse.

Increasingly, people are much more likely to shield themselves behind the ‘anonymity’ of texts and convey cancellations by text or WhatsApp. Either of these methods will feel perfunctory or careless to the host. A last-minute cancellation on a WhatsApp group chat, where other members of the group are also supposedly attending the party, may have the effect of bringing the whole house of cards down. Once one group member has cancelled, others may feel less compulsion to attend themselves, and may also cancel in turn ­ – a chain reaction that is highly insulting to the host.

At any event, there will be certain guests that the host feels are vital to the success of the party, and they will be relieved and delighted when they receive notice that they have accepted the invitation. Last-minute cancellations from these guests will be especially galling. Conversely, if you feel you are a very unimportant footnote at a very big event, then you could plausibly argue that your absence will not inconvenience or disappoint anybody.

Everyone accepts that there are certain good reasons for dropping out of a party at very short notice – a sudden illness, a family emergency, a babysitting crisis etc. Even a disappointed host will accept that these are all reasonable excuses and will be more than ready to commiserate with the guest who has been forced to cancel.

Feeling apathetic, socially burnt-out or lazy are not similarly valid reasons. While you may genuinely be feeling all these things, it is irrefutable that you have brought this on yourself, and that you are basically suffering from a bad case of diary mismanagement – you should never have accepted the invitation in the first place, and you should recognise that, despite your miscalculation, you must adhere to your commitment.

You might feel daunted by the prospect of a social gathering at which you know only the host, but you will almost certainly have a better time than you expect. More importantly, you have already received the invitation, weighted up the pros and cons, and accepted, so you are really not in a position to let a last-minute attack of social anxiety change your mind.

Bear in mind that if you make a habit of dropping out at the eleventh hour you will soon get a reputation for being a flake, remembered more for being unreliable than for any social contribution you make.


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