Social Obligations

Not every invitation is greeted with great expectations. When—and how—can you bow out?

“If I go to one more bridal party, I’ll go broke,” sighs Connie, a bridesmaid four times over in a single year. “When you add up the cost of the dresses, shoes and all the parties and presents, each wedding costs about $500! By my fourth invitation, I couldn’t afford to say yes. But I did. I felt obligated.”

Maybe your dreaded invite isn’t to a wedding, but a baby shower, engagement party, graduation or get-together. You’re expected to attend but you don’t want to. You’re short on cash. You don’t know the other guests. Or you just crave a Saturday to yourself. For days you vacillate and put off RSVPing. What’s the right thing to do?

“Baby and bridal showers, weddings, engagement and anniversary parties, christenings—these are important rites of passage for women,” explains Judith Sills, author of Excess Baggage: Getting Out of Your Own Way (Viking). “We feel obligated to attend them because that’s our job! Traditionally, women’s roles have been to create and maintain the social support network.”

As keepers of the social rites, Sills feels women should attend most social functions. “We’ve gone too far in the direction of ‘me, me, me’ and social connections are breaking down,” she laments. “Saying yes to an invitation is a demonstration of your support and love.” Also, if you do decide to attend, you just may end up having fun.

There are times, however, when it’s okay to miss social functions. Just say no if:

  • You don’t care about maintaining a relationship with the person. She may be an acquaintance or a friend you no longer feel close to.
  • You can’t handle it emotionally. Lisa, 31, has been trying for the past three years to become pregnant. She gets a serious case of the blues around babies. “Baby showers are too emotional for me to handle right now,” she says.

When you do turn down an invitation, be polite and straightforward. “Say, ‘I’d love to go, but I’m not able to,’” advises Sills. If appropriate, send a small gift to the hostess or new mom or bride. Finally, be prepared for the consequences of your actions. If you don’t have the time to go to Sue’s shower, she may not find the time to come to yours.