4 Dec 2023

The Social Whirl

The first weeks of December are amongst the most sociable of the year and you may well be the recipient of several invitations. The old saying about London buses – “you wait ages for one then three come at once” – comes to mind; you may feel you are living in a social desert in November, but then find yourself juggling a swathe of commitments in December.

How to Handle Invitations

When it comes to replying to invitations, remember these simple rules:

•Don’t prevaricate
Some people find it hard to commit themselves to anything well in advance, perhaps resisting the feeling that their life is mapped out and there is no room for spontaneity. Override these tendencies and reply promptly – your hesitation to commit will be causing hosts, who may well be crunching numbers and negotiating with caterers, inconvenience.

•Reply in writing
Depending on the formality of the invitation, ‘writing’ may well mean by text or email. The main thing is to send a reply in written form because that allows the host, who is having to administer the guest list, to retrieve your reply if needed.

•Don’t over-elaborate
Replies in the affirmative are straightforward. Refusing invitations is more complex. Very formal invitations have set forms of words, invariably expressed in the third person – “xxxxxxxx regrets she is unable to attend” – and there is no expectation that any excuse or reason will be given. (The only exception is if the invitation is from the King, in which case it is a command, not an invitation, and reasons for non-attendance should always be given – usually illness, as a prior engagement is not considered an adequate reason for non-attendance).

When you are refusing less formal invitations, don’t protest too much. It is quite acceptable to just state that you are unable to come: “Thank you very much for your invitation to drinks on the 15th. I’m very sorry, but I won’t be able to come/attend/join you.” This reply, which leans towards the more formal, is suitable for acquaintances or people you don’t know very well.

If you’re replying to someone you’re close to, they probably deserve a fuller, more tactful explanation. Don’t embroider the simple truth or go into tedious detail. Some simple replies might be:

I’m so sorry I won’t be able to come next Friday, I’m afraid I’m already committed” (don’t specify “I’m going to another party”, which is needlessly explicit).

I’m so sorry we can’t come to your party on Saturday – we’re going down to Cornwall on that day” (you’ve simply got another arrangement).

Apologies, but we won’t be able to come to your Christmas drinks this year. Unfortunately, it clashes with parents’ evening at Joel’s school” (you’ve got to do something else, which is not a social event, but is an important priority).

•Don’t lie
If you’re accepting what you consider to be a more enticing invitation, and that is your real reason for refusing, then it is a bad idea to come up with a respectable sounding excuse, like “I’ve got to visit my mother in hospital” or “I’m taking the children to a Christmas show”. In this age of social media, when everyone is tracking other people and gossiping about them online, you may very well be found out, and the rejected host will feel justifiably annoyed. Just opt for the bland “I’m already committed” excuse and you will be exonerated. – everyone understands that, when invitations come thick and fast, some people will have already accepted another invitation.

•Don’t change your mind
This is a big no no. If you have previously refused an invitation and then ‘magically’ discover that you’re available (or have, in fact, changed your mind about going to the event), telling your hosts that you are now deigning to attend may have an undesirable effect. They would be forgiven for guessing that a better offer has evaporated, making you willing to accept second best, and may well feel insulted. Of course, there will be unforeseeable circumstances that do make it acceptable to change your mind about a previously rejected invitation but, if that is the case, you will need to offer a full and honest explanation.

If you have previously accepted an invitation and then get what you perceive to be a better offer, resulting in a late “I can’t come after all” message, you are committing a serious social blunder. Withdrawing an acceptance is seen as bad form and is likely to leave your hosts feeling badly used ­– especially if word gets out about your alternative arrangement.

•Think carefully before you reply
Because changing your mind is bad form and might upset your hosts, it is important to consider a number of factors before accepting or refusing an invitation. Are you free? Could you be free if you rearrange something less important? Would accepting the invitation mean letting someone down? Would declining the invitation cause upset?

•Consider your stamina
It’s easy to overdo the socialising at this time of year, and it’s important to pace yourself. Accepting invitations for several consecutive nights might seem like a daunting prospect when it’s nearer the date and you’re beginning to suffer from social exhaustion. When you receive an invitation it’s a good idea to look at your social diary and just think for a moment about how practical your plans really are. If you take on too much, you might arrive at Christmas itself in flagging and depleted spirits.

•Don’t make the host do all the work
It’s hard enough organising a party, let alone having to spend time before the event chasing up rogue invitees, who have not sent RSVPs and are resolutely elusive. You should be aware that this behaviour does not confirm how extremely popular and in demand you are, it is just extremely rude. Don’t put a host in this position, which can feel humiliating; make up your mind and reply promptly.

•Be discreet
It is sometimes the case that hosts have been discriminating about guest lists, or opted for a small gathering which has meant leaving out some people in your social circle. The safest policy, when you receive an invitation, is not to announce it to all and sundry as you may well be alerting people who have not been invited to their social exclusion. If you know the host well, the easiest thing is just to ask if xxxxxx will be coming (and make no comment if they haven’t been invited). Alternatively, you can just keep schtum and enjoy being surprised on the night.


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