How Not to Be an A-hole When…

… Your Family Member Doesn’t Quite Grasp the Concept of the RSVP

What is the best way to address a family member who is terrible about RSVP’ing to events?

This is for sure a pet peeve of mine. I think that Facebook events have made it easier for people to just tune them out. I know that I tend to say I’m ‘interested’ in the larger events.

But with events thrown by friends and family? Fuck that. If someone invites me to something, the asshole thing to do is ignore them; the bare minimum thing to do is respond yes or no as soon as I’m able. Some seem to forget that it’s disrespectful to ignore a friend or loved one*. Even if it’s that same type of obliviousness I’ve talked about before, it’s still thoughtless.

People have to plan for most events; sometimes those events involve limited space, so if someone can’t attend, maybe the host can invite someone else. Events also involve food, and beverages, all of which cost money and involve a measure of planning, so looking at a sea of “interested” on Facebook, or the sound of silence from a formal invite (email or mail) is infuriating to me.

I also know that my culture – I’m the atheist version of a WASP – hasn’t generally been of the ‘the more the merrier’ variety. We expect that if someone is invited, they will say yes or no, and if they say yes, they will show up. But I also recognize that some cultures view an invite very differently, and that’s okay.

However, since you asked the question, I’m going to assume that you and I come from cultures that are more similar than not in this respect.

That said, there are a few different ways to interpret the issue you’re having, so I’m going to try to address them all.

They Don’t RSVP To You
Everyone has shit going on in their lives, but do you not have literally 15 seconds to navigate to the invite and click “not going?” Are you so busy that you cannot click on the link in the email? Is there Herculean effort involved in returning the postage-paid postcard with a check box marked?

Bullshit. Everyone** has that time; it’s just a matter of prioritizing it, and if someone chooses not to prioritize 10-15 seconds, I start to wonder what’s up.

So, what do you do with the family member who thinks that they are beyond participating in society? Well, first, I suggest including an “RSVP by” date on invites. If they don’t respond by that date, email them to say:

“I saw you didn’t respond to the invite to our party – I’m so sorry you can’t make it! Hope to see you at the next one.”

That might trigger a response of “oh yes, we want to come, so sorry we forgot,” or the response might be silence. It’s an extra step for you, but it might be worth it.

If, after trying that a couple of times, nothing changes, then I suggest just stop inviting them to events. If they ask why they weren’t included in a party or some other get together,it is definitely not an asshole move to simply say:

“since I never heard from you, I took that to mean you weren’t interested in these events. Which is fine!”

I suggest invoking this option sparingly; someone forgetting once or even twice shouldn’t be blackballed from events, and who knows what is going on in their lives. However, as I said in a previous post, friendships do require at least a bare minimum of work to maintain, and RSPVing is literally the bare minimum.

They Don’t RSVP to Others
Maybe your wife’s mother is hosting an event and she’s included your side of the family as well. And perhaps that side of the family includes people who are RSVP-challenged. You might be concerned that this will reflect poorly on you. It shouldn’t, but some people don’t recognize that just being related to someone doesn’t mean we are responsible for them.

It’s entirely possibly that these relatives are playing the ‘will something better come along’ game, and they don’t want to be stuck. To which I’d like to say, generally speaking: if you are going to consider any event as something you’re “stuck” at, and there’s no obligation for you to go, just don’t go. No one wants you around if you don’t want to be there.

Regardless of their reasons for not responding, however, I think it is important to be as honest as you can about why you care. Perhaps this extended family member isn’t concerned about their relationship with your mother-in-law, but you certainly are. With that in mind, I suggest taking your relative aside and offering some words about why this matters. You could try:

“Look, Lucy, I get that maybe spending Mother’s Day with Steph’s mom isn’t what you were looking for, and that’s fine! You don’t have to go – an invitation is not an obligation to attend. But it is an obligation to respond, and the longer you wait, the harder it is for her mother to plan. And that isn’t fair to her or to Steph.”

If they still don’t get it, there’s unfortunately not much more for you to do. Other than perhaps suggesting that your mother-in-law also include an RSVP by date on her invitations.

They Say Yes But Don’t Show
All of these situations bug the me, but this one pisses me off because it wastes my time, money, and mental space. Things come up, but if you say you are coming to an event, you should go. Stop saying yes if you find yourself no-showing a lot.

If this is the case with your family member, assess how close you are to them. If they are extended-extended family, consider just letting it go. Assume that even when they say yes they won’t show up, but set aside a little extra food / alcohol. If they show, you’re prepared, but if they don’t, you aren’t that put out.

If, however, this is someone who you see yourself wanting to invite to events a lot, or someone you can’t just stop inviting, I suggest having a conversation at a neutral time. Don’t wait until the day after the event they just bailed on; say something now in anticipation of your next event. Here’s what I suggest:

“Hey, you know I always love to see you, right? That’s why I invite you to our annual Memorial Day BBQ / game night. But here’s the thing – the past three years you’ve said you would come but then didn’t show up. I know things come up, but that screws with me a little. I end up with too much food, or games that don’t have enough players. It might not seem like that big of a deal, but it’s bugging me and I wanted to let you know.”

It’s possible their response will be “yeah, sorry, things come up.” At which point I have to clasp my hands over my ears to keep the steam from escaping. But I suggest keeping in mind that if they have small children, even getting out the door can be a challenge. But that still doesn’t excuse the lack of a last-minute-cancellation text or email. If they still don’t see a problem, then there’s not much I can think of to say. Just put them on the (hopefully short) “bails on big events” group and move on.

They Say No But Do Show – Or They Want to Bring A Guest Who Wasn’t Invited
I once helped plan a bridal shower for a friend. It involved renting out space in a lovely restaurant that served afternoon tea. The space fit a certain amount of people, and nearly everyone was able to attend. I purchased favors, ordered the food, secured decorations. Then, about five days before the event, someone who was invited emailed the guest of honor (not me, the one throwing it) and asked to bring her partner along.

Huh? What? Who does that? Granted, she was attempting to RSVP, so I guess bonus points for that. But still – no. It’s not okay to just bring someone extra along (yes, I know, Cher had a good point in Clueless, but not everyone works that way). 

If this is a regular occurrence, again, it sucks, but the solution is to have a conversation. If they can’t respect your reasons for why you invited who you did (assuming your reasons weren’t based in some sort of bigotry), then that is their problem, not yours. If they want to throw a party and invite literally all the people, then they should go for it! But it’s your event, and you get to say who is welcome and who isn’t.

So …
People can be perfectly wonderful and lovely in all ways except they are utter flakes when it comes to things like responding to invitations. Yes, I find it frustrating and disrespectful of my time and our relationship, but in reality this isn’t going to be what makes or breaks us. It might be a sign that our relationship isn’t as close as I thought, of that they just need a lot of extra prompting in this area, or that something deeper is going on with them at home, or that we come from different cultural backgrounds and should maybe talk about what that means in our friendship.
*This doesn’t apply to harmful or abusive people, obviously.

**Yes, I realize that some people have mental health issues that prevent them from performing even basic tasks. I’m not talking about them. Obviously.

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2 Comments

  1. Copper

    April 14, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    How can you know for sure that someone flaking doesn’t have mental health issues? They might not feel comfortable telling you or anyone about it. I’ve heard of people with depression so bad that they felt suicidal for a decade, but nobody ever knew because that person wasn’t ready to come out of the closet about their issue.

    1. Ashley Kelmore

      April 17, 2017 at 9:19 pm

      I don’t think you ever can. I suppose you could go through life assuming that every time a friend flaked on you it meant that they had a mental health issues and weren’t just acting in a flaky manner, but that seems unfair to people with mental health issues.

      That said, only you know your friends and their specific circumstances. If you have a reason to think that perhaps someone you care about has mental health issues that are impacting their ability to function in society, I encourage you to look into ways you can be there as a support for them.

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