As a social human being in her mid-thirties, I’d venture to say that I’m not alone in my current state of drowning in invitations to weddings, baby showers, housewarming parties, and general “just-because!” girls’ weekends. In fact, I know I’m not alone; I’ve seen the surface of plenty of other people’s refrigerators covered in card stock and magnets to prove it. And for a number of reasons, including financial restraints, scheduling conflicts, and plain-old not wanting to, I’ve RSVP’d “no” to many a celebratory occasion for which the honor of my presence was requested. I often feel guilty about passing up these events, so I’m left wondering how to decline an invitation (for literally any reason) without feeling like a total A-hole.
And, furthermore, when you check the “with regrets” box of an RSVP card, is there any reason to explain why? Does doing so provide context the host will appreciate, or more so function as word vomit that will only liken you to them even less? Clearly in need of some help in the department of knowing how to decline an invitation like a pro, I wanted called upon the only people I can really trust on the matter: etiquette experts. Below, they share everything you (fine, I) need to know so I never have to regret sending in my “regrets” to party hosts.
Your “thanks, but no can do” is all you need to offer
As it turns out, there’s no need to explain why you aren’t going to an event. “There is never a time where you have to give an excuse,” etiquette and protocol consultant Lisa Orr tells me. “The only critical thing for the host to know is that you either will or won’t be attending. Once you start making excuses, it gives others the opportunity to determine if the excuses are valid or important enough to justify missing what you’re missing.”
“Once you start making excuses, it gives others the opportunity to determine if the excuses are valid or important enough to justify missing what you’re missing.” —Lisa Orr, etiquette consultant
Furthermore, it’s not necessarily anyone’s business to know every detail of your life. “It may not be physically or financially responsible or possible to RSVP as a yes,” adds etiquette expert Diane Gottsman.
But though you don’t have to explain your whereabouts, etiquette-wise, you might find it important to give an explanation for the purpose of maintaining a relationship (like if you feel terribly about not being able to make your BFF’s engagement party). “You may want to follow up with a call and explain why you are unable to attend so that they understand that the relationship is very important to you and how disappointed you are not to be able to attend,” Orr says of this situation.
So, you know how to decline an invitation, but how can you deal with guest guilt?
Whether or not you’ve decided to tell the host why you’re not coming to a given event, you may still feel guilty about the decision, especially if it’s for something related to someone you really care about and/or something you legitimately want to attend. First, try as best as you can to keep in mind that we all have many demands on our time and finances and thus can’t always do exactly what we want and what others expect of us.
“We need to give ourselves a big of a break and also give each other the benefit of the doubt that, if time and resources were unlimited, it would be fabulous to go to every party and buy everyone the most beautiful over-the-top gift,” Orr says. “But, that’s just not realistic.”
And if you ever RSVP affirmatively out of guilt or a feeling of obligation, Gottsman warns about the accompanying stress you may be in for. In fact, she says, the stress may “outweigh the regret you will experience by doing what you know to be in your best interest.”
You can and should feel confidant in your ability to say no and also understand that if your declined invitation puts a strain on your relationship, it’s not because you did something wrong. “It’s their issue, and not yours,” Orr says.
That said, there are no excuses for not being polite
“If you know you have to send regrets, it’s always best to send them immediately,” Orr says, adding that you should focus on how sad you are to miss the event. “If you can, schedule another opportunity to connect, even if it’s just for a coffee or a workout, so they know that this is about a scheduling conflict and that the relationship and spending time together is important to you.”
“Schedule another opportunity to connect, even if it’s just for a coffee or a workout, so they know that this is about a scheduling conflict and that the relationship and spending time together is important to you.” —Orr
And whatever it is you’re doing instead of attending the event in question—whether it’s going to a different wedding, or taking a work trip, or anything else—Gottsman suggests refraining from sharing it on social platforms, so as to avoid hurt feelings. (The effect may come across as you communicating that you’re having a “better” time where you are, she says.)
And lastly, the most important aspect of saying no without breaking any rules of etiquette is—as is the rule of thumb with pretty much everything in life—not to lie. “Unless you truly have a prior engagement, don’t make up a fake excuse and then go to a better opportunity,” Gottsman says. “It’s not worth the cost of getting caught and losing someone or hurting a relationship.”
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