Expert Source: Andrea Bonior, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix: A Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing and Keeping Up with Your Friends (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011)
You’re invited to a party or another social occasion by a friend, a valued colleague or a family member and, well . . . you just don’t want to go. It’s not as if you’re going to be in Paris for a long weekend. You don’t have any particularly pressing plans. It’s just that you’d rather hang out with your family, chill with your partner or simply enjoy a commitment-free evening on your own. It shouldn’t be a big deal. But it may feel like one. You don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. You don’t want to say yes now only to abruptly cancel later. But you also don’t want to be written off as anti-social or a perpetual no-show. Psychologist Andrea Bonior suggests strategies for negotiating your own warring desires, for combining kindness with self-compassion, and for gracefully declining invitations with no explanation at all.
Barriers to Overcome
- Fear of offending: The worry that a friend will be hurt or even hold a grudge against you as the result of a refused invitation can be intense — “especially for people who are prone to feel guilty or to put other people’s needs first,” says Bonior.
- Fear of missing out: “Some people are afraid that if they take time for themselves or heed their own instincts,” says Bonior, “they’ll somehow let life pass them by, and they’ll miss some wonderful thing.”
- The temptation to fib: Making up a schedule conflict is one of the most tempting tactics for justifying a no, says Bonior. “This can trip you up later if, say, the inviter sees you at the grocery store minutes before the school soccer game you said you had to attend.”
- The temptation to cave: If you grit your teeth, say yes and attend an event when you really don’t want to, “you’re manufacturing a resentment — against the inviter and against yourself for being a pushover,” says Bonior. “That’s not fair to yourself or to the others at the event, since it’s probably going to strain your friendships.” It also puts you out of integrity with your own authentic desires.
Strategies for Success
- Give yourself permission: “We often forget we can set boundaries and put our mental health first,” says Bonior. “If you want or need downtime for yourself, take it. Think of that time as sacred.”
- Apologize and thank generously: “There are many ways to make your no warm and sympathetic,” Bonior says. “’Thanks so much for inviting me. I’m sorry that I can’t make it. Please let me know how the party went — and I’d love to see pictures.’” It’s less about what you say than how you say it, she notes. Project appreciation and connection, and trust that the other person will understand.
- Challenge your fears: Concerned that declining an invitation will anger the inviter or make you seem antisocial? Explore and challenge these automatic thoughts and feelings, advises Bonior, and ask yourself this: “Would I not like someone or write them off as a hermit just because they didn’t come to one of my parties?”
- Get personal: If at all possible, offer your regrets in person or by phone, advises Bonior. “If you just post them on Facebook, on Twitter or in a text,“ she says, “it can feel mechanical and perfunctory.” The exception: If you received a mass e-vite, electronic declines are perfectly acceptable.
Jon Spayde is the author of How to Believe: Teachers and Seekers Show the Way to a Modern, Life-Changing Faith (Random House, 2008).