Relationship Tips

People Keep Asking Me To Hang Out, But I Can’t—What Should I Do?

Photo: Getty Images/filadendron
With only 24 hours in a day, a long list of things to do, and only so much free time, hanging out with other people isn’t always something we have the energy to do. And, as cities throughout the country experience new waves of COVID-19, it's up to individuals to decide what social risks they're willing to take. If you're anything like me and have a very low risk tolerance, knowing how to say no to hanging out is a crucial skill to learn—not just for the well-being of others but also for your own.

"Identifying when to say 'no' is a courageous act of self care and a way to increase our own self-esteem, as well as the quality of our relationships." —psychotherapist Alexandra Leff, LCAT

"Identifying when to say 'no' is a courageous act of self care and a way to increase our own self-esteem, as well as the quality of our relationships," says psychotherapist Alexandra Leff, LCAT. "Although it can feel uncomfortable to put ourselves first, the alternative can lead to emotional consequences: feelings of resentment and anger, stress and anxiety, low self-worth, and burnout."

Below, find 10 expert-backed ways to say no to hanging out as well as health-related and moral reasons why someone might say no to hanging out and, lastly, how you can still be friends with someone even if you decline their invitation to spend time together.

10 ways to say no to hanging out with someone

According to Jules Hirst, etiquette expert and co-author of The Power of Civility, the key to using any of the statements below is threefold. Firstly, you want to be sure that your statement follows some iteration of this formula: something nice, followed by your reason for saying no, and ultimately ending by trying to schedule a follow up. Secondly, you want to uphold your boundary—which, in this case, is saying no to hanging out. Lastly, you never want to lie.

1. “I'm so glad you want to spend time with me, but I’ve had a long day. Can we shoot for another time?”

The first part of this statement reassures your friend that you value spending time with them, says Hirst. With the second sentence, you’re letting them know that you won’t be hanging out with them, which might sting a little, Hirst adds—but that’s easily offset by the fact that you’re asking your friend for another time to hang out with them.

2. “I really appreciate your invitation. I need to take time for myself for some R&R, though. Next time?”

Again, it’s important to say something that lets your loved one know that you appreciate them reaching out to hang out with you. With this statement, you’re also reminding the other person that you have self-care needs and take them seriously (as you should). And, of course, the last statement serves to tell the individual that while this time is a no, you are still very much interested in hanging out with them.

3. “It's so nice that you want to spend time together. I’m not feeling up to being around a crowd, but let’s find something for the two of us to do next week.”

If you get a lot of invitations to large parties, this is definitely a statement that you want to put in your notes app. With looming anxiety brought on by the COVID omicron variant, it’s completely acceptable to want to limit your time around large crowds whenever possible. Instead, Hirst suggests making it clear to your loved one that you want to hang out one-on-one when you try to schedule another time to hang out.

4. “Thank you for wanting to hang out with me! I have to run a few errands, but let’s connect soon.”

Errands take a lot of time and energy, especially if you have things you have to do back to back. Assuming that your friends are adults who know the undertaking that is running errands, they’ll understand why you said no to hanging out and are likely to want to connect with you after.

5. “That sounds like a lot of fun, but I have a previous engagement. When are you free next? I'd love to see you!”

It bears repeating that in order to use any of these statements, they must be true. “I think being honest is always good for not just camaraderie, but also for ourselves,” says Hirst, adding that being truthful saves people from feeling guilt or shame about having lied to a loved one.

6. "I'd love to see you and hang out, but tonight I'm needing some ‘me’ time. Let me know your schedule and we can set a date to hang out soon!”

While this suggestion from Leff sounds a lot like number two, the key difference is that you’re not specifying exactly what “me time” looks like. Considering that spending time alone can help you love yourself more, this is also a valid reason to say no to hanging out. With the last part, you’re again reinforcing that the relationship is valuable to you.

7. "Thanks for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I'm not feeling up for it, but I would love to see you next week instead.”

You don’t always have to give a concrete reason why you’re saying no to hanging out—especially if there isn’t one. Again, you want to be careful not to treat into the lying territory, so just keeping it vague and saying you’re not feeling up for it can save you from being untruthful to a loved one.

8. “Tonight's not good for me but thank you for inviting me! I hope to see you soon.”

“If you do,” says Leff. The entire reason you want to use these statements is to avoid hurting your loved ones’ feelings by way of saying no to hanging out. That said, it’s important not to lie to them. If you don’t, in fact, hope to see them soon, you might want to consider cutting out that last sentence.

9. “I've had a packed week/day, so tonight I'm just going to stay low-key. Let's plan for another night.”

Who among us hasn’t had a week that seemed never-ending? At the end of that type of week (or day!), you might just want to crawl into bed and watch TV until you fall asleep—which is completely valid. Your real friends will understand.

10. “That sounds super fun and thank you for thinking to include me but I already have plans for that time.”

This is one you want to keep in your back pocket when you actually do have plans. Experts agree that it’s unkind to lie to a loved one, so if you don’t actually have other plans, go for something else on this list.

5 health-related reasons it’s acceptable to say no to hanging out

1. Prioritizing your mental and emotional health

“[This is] important for overall functioning and life satisfaction,” says Leff, who adds that saying yes to hanging out even when you don’t have the energy (or want) to compromise our satisfaction with life as well as our general ability to function. This makes sense when you think about how tired you might be at the end of the week

2. Not listening to the needs of our mind and body costs us in the long run

According to Leff, “When we people-please or ignore our needs, it leads to feelings of distress, resentment, low self esteem, and strained relationships and performance.” Perhaps counterintuitively, your relationships will fare better when you spend time alone (aka to recharge and bring your best self to the next interaction).

3. You think not going is better than going

If you don't enjoy the place or activity you're being invited to, or perhaps one of the people who will be at that place or activity, attending might compromise your comfort level or values, says Leff. If that’s the case, it’s absolutely fine—and perhaps even better—to say no to hanging out.

“It’s okay to say no,” says Leff, especially if you don't feel the environment will positively contribute to your life. Whether that’s a family function or a large party that you’re not feeling up to, you’re the best metric for determining if something is worth your time or energy.

4. You want to save money

If you’re trying to get on top of your financial wellness game, you might want to go out less and cook at home more as a way of saving money.

“Focusing on creating and maintaining healthy habits may mean declining invitations from friends to hang out,” says Leff. As long as you’re being honest with yourself and with the person whose invitation you’re declining, you’ll be alright.

5. You’re not feeling 100% yourself

It’s possible that you caught a cold and aren’t feeling like your normal self. It’s also possible that you’re going through a small bout of sleep deprivation and need to rest. If either the case, this is definitely a healthy reason to reject someone when they ask you to hang out, says Leff: “If not going is better for your overall health, it's always okay to say no—ideally in a kind and friendly way that communicates your needs and also the care you have for the person.

5 morally acceptable reasons to reject someone when they ask to hang out

1. You don’t like the way you feel when you’re with that person

Leff says that a few ways to tell whether or not you like the way someone makes you feel in their presence, you can ask yourself if you feel safe, comfortable, and respected around that person.

If one or more of these aren’t true, it might not “feel appropriate to hang out with this person,” adds Leff. At the end of the day, you want to be proud of the way you feel and it’s up to you to put yourself in situations where that’s true.

2. Their behaviors aren't aligned with your values or morals

If this is the case, you might not want to follow up with the individual who asked you to hang out. For instance, if you find that someone is consistently making remarks about oppressed or marginalized groups, and you value uplifting those same groups, it’s morally acceptable to decline their invitation to hang out.

3. You feel drained when you are with them

This can be as a direct or indirect result of spending time with them, says Leff. Let’s say you noticed that hanging out with someone is, in fact, leaving you drained. The next time they ask you to hang out, you might remember that and feel less inclined to spend time with them.

You don't necessarily owe anyone an explanation for your "no." "No one should make you feel guilty for not wanting to do activities during this time," Hirst says.

4. When you spend time with them, you end up compromising yourself

In order to avoid people-pleasing, which can lead to regretting the hangout after, you want to truly ask yourself whether or not you’re compromising yourself if you agree to hang out with this person. For example, if you know that they’ll be upset with you if you decline their invitation to spend time together and you say yes to avoid this, you’re compromising at least some part of yourself.

5. You're genuinely not interested

Similar to the morally acceptable reason right before this, hanging out with someone even though you’re not actually interested in doing so actually serves to “the other person instead of yourself,” says Leff.

“We only have so many energy points in a given day, so it's important that we allocate them wisely to ensure our mental, physical, and emotional health,” Leff adds.

How to still be friends with someone even if you decline their invitation to spend time together

“Saying no to someone when they ask to hang out does not need to be the end of a friendship,” says Leff. “There are many reasons why you may not want to hang out with someone and practicing being honest, direct, and authentic in your communication is important to managing these relationships.

For instance, you might be extremely close friends who enjoy different places, types of people, or activities, adds Leff. None of that is enough to ruin a friendship so long as you’re nice, honest, and follow up with the other person to set up another time to hang out (if you want to, that is).

Hirst adds that you’ll still be able to maintain a friendship with the person whose invitation you rejected, because Hirst’s formula for rejection upholds your own boundaries while still respecting the other person and thanking them for wanting to hang out with you. If you use one of the 10 statements for saying no to hanging out with someone, you’ll have reassured your loved one that it’s not that you don’t want to spend time with them—it’s just that you need to take care of yourself first.

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