3 May 2023

The etiquette of the uninvited

Whether it’s the Coronation, a friend’s wedding or a big party, you can be sure that some people who confidently expected an invitation are going to be disappointed. We’ve all experienced the stab of dismay when we realise that we’re not on that all-important guest list. But, if you are the host, there are ways of mitigating some of the negativity, while aspiring guests can overcome feelings of resentment by taking positive action.

Advice for Hosts

We’ve all struggled with guest lists when organising social events. Often, we are simply defeated by limited capacity ­ – the size of the venue, or our per capita budget dictates that cuts must be made. On other occasions, the decision to exclude certain individuals is much more subtle and may well involve social engineering. You may be hesitant about inviting both halves of a recently divorced or separated couple, or you are aware that one of your proposed guests has had a major falling out with your partner or best friend. You may be wary of inviting an abrasive or contentious individual, who tends to get drunk and abusive and is a social disruptor. Or you have decided that your proposed party is not suitable for older friends and relatives.

Whatever the reason, you will need to grab the bull by the horns and let the person who is not invited know. It is far better to confront the situation openly than to let the news filter through and fester.

• Inform the person as directly as you can. This might mean sending an email, which is preferable to the brevity of a text. Or, better still, you could phone your friend and have a conversation. By far the best excuse is limited capacity – everyone understands how difficult juggling guest lists can be, and most people will be able to accept this. Keep your explanation short, and don’t allow yourself to be diverted into unnecessary detail. Express your heartfelt regret.

• If your reasons for not inviting someone are more complex and are associated with their character or relationships within your social circle, try and avoid getting drawn into a painful explanation. Fall back, if possible, on the numbers excuse.

• Suggest an alternative date – say you’re really sorry about the party but would love to meet up for lunch or a drink.

• If you have excluded a whole mini-social circle from your party (eg the mothers from the school run, or the friends you have made at yoga classes), you could suggest starting a WhatsApp group chat and see if you can arrange to all get together for a separate celebration.

•Remember, we all have inner and outer circles of friends. If you are not inviting someone from your inner circle, then you really will need to make an effort to ensure they do not feel rejected. You do not need to feel so concerned about potential invitees from the outer circle. 

Advice for Uninvited Guests

Realistically, we all know that at some point we’re not going to make the guest list, but this doesn’t stop us feeling excluded. The first important step is to recognise your non-invitation as a pragmatic decision, not a signal that you are a worthless and unlovable human being. Don’t give in to bile and bitterness and, whatever you do, ensure that you do not spend the day or evening in question feeling morose at home.

• If your friend has the courtesy to give you an explanation for your non-invitation, listen carefully and try to accept it graciously: “Don’t worry about it – I know how difficult it can be juggling limited numbers.” You can be sure that this will mean you rise in their estimation, as they have probably been worrying about how you will take the bad news.

• Talk to other friends, and if you’re feeling upset or disappointed, save your confidences for them. If they are good friends, they will reassure you and assuage your feelings of social rejection.

• Think carefully about the friend who has not invited you. If you have a sneaking suspicion that this may be because of your behaviour in the past, now is the time to confront it. Or you may be forced to admit to yourself that your friend is no longer part of your inner circle, that you have drifted apart and are semi-estranged, which explains why you have not received an invitation.

• Don’t bad-mouth the host or the event. If you allow yourself to feel resentful, vitriolic outbursts against the host may well find their ways back to his/her ears and might cost you a friendship. You may also be tempted to pour scorn on the event that you are not attending, basically signalling “I wouldn’t have wanted to go to it anyway.” This response looks childish and petulant and won’t do you any favours. You will be much more impressive if you are good-natured and cordial and ask your friends questions about how the party went.

• Don’t stay in sulking on the day of the event, seek out alternative entertainment. Arrange for a night out with a different friendship group or spend some time with your family or partner – this will reassure you that you’re not a social pariah and with any luck any thoughts about the event you are missing will soon evaporate amidst the general bonhomie.


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