Have you ever gotten yourself into a pickle where you’ve been invited to do something that is inconvenient, or unappealing, or too expensive, or too complicated? Or maybe it’s with a crowd you don’t particularly care for, or you just don’t want to do it because you…just don’t.
This has happened to me a couple of times recently and it always leaves me feeling horrible.
Will you judge me if I admit that I sometimes reach for a white lie: “I can’t make it that day,” or “I can’t find a sitter” or “Shoot, I have plans”? Then I sit in guilt and worry about the next time I’m invited to do something similar, when I will either find myself beholden to attend or in desperate search of a different excuse.
Other times, I give myself a little Shonda Rhimes pep talk: “How bad can it be? Just say yes! Be open! Try something!” Unfortunately, this usually ends badly for me, if I’m being honest: if I’ve resorted to a private pep talk of this ilk, the day of the event comes and I’m in a slumpy mood because I’m keying myself up to do something I don’t want to, and I’m grasping for an exit clause. I always find myself thinking that while I appreciate the “year of yes” mentality, I also feel that learning to say no is an equally important exercise, as I am in turn conserving energy for the things that matter to me most.
Sometimes, I think about something my elegant, well-mannered grandmother once told me about such situations: “You should be polite, but you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Just say, ‘No, thank you.’ End of story. They shouldn’t have the audacity to ask why.” This is far easier said than done; I’m prone to over-explaining everything and would need to bite my tongue and wince in pain to prevent myself from offering some kind of half-baked excuse, as it feels somehow cruel to respond to an invitation with a cool “No, thank you,” though I’m sure my grandmother pulled it off with aplomb. (I also think that we live in a different day and age, as I am convinced that someone would ask me: “But why not?” rather than gracefully accepting the decline without inquiry.)
Recently, I asked my mother for her opinion on the topic. As I had expected and admittedly dreaded, she urged me to tell the truth: “If you make up an excuse, she’ll invite you again and you’ll be up a creek without a paddle. There’s always a decorous way to explain the situation.” Oy. She was quick to advise me to offer alternatives that might work (“coffee instead of lunch?”) and to extend kindnesses (“so thoughtful of you to think of me”), but she was also insistent that I be truthful: “I cannot come because I have limited time with a nanny and I need to use that time to work,” “I’m honestly not a huge fan of that kind of movie,” “I’d love to see you, but I’m not especially comfortable with that group of friends,” etc. For context, my mom has season passes to the Kennedy Center’s ballet programs, and she often invites her girlfriends, her sisters-in-law, her daughters to attend with her. (Otherwise, my dad will sleep through them.) She has one very dear girlfriend who straight up told her: “It’s so nice of you to invite me, but I just don’t care for ballet.” My mom accepted it and moved on without a second thought: “I’d rather treat someone who enjoys it!” (She and her friend now spend their friend dates at fancy restaurants and spas instead.)
It’s a tough pill to swallow–but I know in my heart of hearts that she’s right. I still gravitate toward the ease and convenience of a white lie from time to time, but I feel this brand of honesty is somehow part and parcel of being a true woman.
What are your thoughts on saying “no” to an invitation?
+It dawned on me that there is a big discrepancy between the ethos in this post and the one on breaking up with friends, where I come to the conclusion that a quiet and gradual dissolution — rather than a direct, head-to-head conversation — is an OK path to forge. I feel there’s an obvious distinction between the two, in that in the latter, I have made a decision that someone is not a good or healthy fit for me and my life, and I have the right to quietly move on from a personal wellness standpoint. But maybe I’m wrong here? Is that too inconsistent?
+I love the contrast ribbing trim on this striped breton tee.
+This darling clutch is on sale! I’m dying over it. Do I need it?!?!
+Mango is running a great sale and this is currently in my shopping basket.
+These are adorable in the pink — and marked WAAAAAAY down.
+This would be super chic for an expecting mother — I’d style it more Charlotte York, though, with pointed toe flats and huge pearl earrings. It looks to be roomy especially with the back pleating!