Dear Carolyn: My family recently celebrated our son’s birthday. We had a number of guests respond “yes” to our invitation who not only didn’t show, but also didn’t even have the decency to contact us to let us know. It’s been a week since the party.
This left us with far too much cake, food, money spent and time wasted wondering if/when these people would show and what happened, instead of being settled and enjoying the party with the guests who did attend.
We will be seeing these non-attendees in the future, and I’m not sure how to behave. I would have preferred a definite “no” and planned accordingly.
My spouse and I have discussed not inviting those who didn’t contact us to future parties, but I worry this may happen again regardless, as it has become far too easy to click “going” on an invite whether or not one actually shows up.
Carolyn says: You’re right, and I’m sorry you’re right. Judging from my own and readers’ experiences, party manners aren’t just in decline. They’re in flaming, disintegrating free fall into a bottomless pit of mud and extra cake. People go and don’t RSVP, people RSVP and don’t go, people ask to bring other guests, people bring other guests without asking.
I do not have any answers for you that don’t involve some form of surrender to this rude world order, so I have only bad answers, which I try not to give on purpose, but here goes:
Lower your expectations. Be mentally prepared for a guest yield of 25 percent or 125 percent.
Entertain as casually as you can get away with while not becoming rude yourself.
Don’t take no-shows and extra-shows personally. It is happening to everyone, unless you are exploitable — as in, so connected that people see you as an opportunity they won’t let themselves miss.
When you want to entertain more formally, shorten your guest list to people you trust to show up. Invest in them beyond entertaining.
Get clever with your menus so leftovers aren’t wasted; serve things you can prepare in batches, or freeze for later, or donate, or otherwise repurpose.
To readers mentally composing responses to me about how terrible these suggestions are, I agree. Terrible. And I have more.
If you use some form of e-invitation, employ every reminder offered.
If you think e-invitations are the problem, then don’t use them — or go belt-and-suspenders and use both e- and in-person or on-paper.
When you see people out and about beforehand, say, “See you Saturday!” Unless they’re standing next to someone you didn’t invite. Or your party is Sunday.
When you see people out and about after they just no-showed you, stick to a cheerful, “We missed you Saturday.” I anticipate roughly an 80 percent expression-of-horror-because-you-utterly-fell-off-their-radar rate.
I used zero science in that prediction, but still: Inhale, exhale, release “didn’t even have the decency” judgments. You’re not wrong; any disregard for the generosity of one’s host is indecent — but it’s too big a cultural change for that to make universal practical sense.
Is a mass breakdown in attention span a matter of intent? I could argue “yes” — but you’ll like your world better if you choose “no.”
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org.