From the Desk of Miss Sammanners.
Some of you may say that I have already written on this topic, to which I say, thank you dear readers for your precious attention. My previous post, however, may have taken an unfriendly tone in the name of levity. I might go so far as to accuse myself of hypocrisy for decrying rudeness while committing the very same. I thought I might redress the issue with more compassion and decorum (and absolutely no humor)!
The Ideal RSVP
Let me posit the idealized behavior before supporting it with historical context and arguments.
When a friend invites you to a party using not traditional letter-post, but the machine called, “Facebook,” and you are unable to go — stop, careful! Pause before the bold box imploring you to submit your regrets. Do click, “no” to inform the host of your lack of attendance (and your friend can know to labor over one less macaroon). Then, wait until after the event has passed* and send a private message to your host letting them know you much regretted missing their delightful soiree, that you are thinking of them and your friendship, and you would not have neglected their invitation for quite anything, save your prior engagement or sudden emergency.
*In cases for a much planned in advance event, for when you haven’t seen the host in a long time, or for a more intimate gathering where your presence will indubitably missed (as you are quite popular), it might be useful to offer your regrets (in private message, still!) before the event so that your friend can either attempt to convince you to change your mind, or gossip with, I mean inform, the other attendees about the reason for your absence.
Some “Historical” Context
Now, manners are really only a means of fostering the most amount of comfort for the most possible people. They work especially well when they are commonly understood and can be performed like a choreographed dance, and thus we oft memorize them. Our kindly parental units raised us to have the good manners to RSVP, since traditionally, an RSVP is a boon to the host who needs to know how large of an event to expect.
RSVP served another function: reminding a host that their friendship is valued with the supposed invitee. (Also, that the absent attendee still very much exists — don’t forget me!) Now, as shown in the idealized example above, both the qualities of headcount and social acknowledgment can be met without publicly announcing your regrets on the event page.
If this neat solution isn’t enough to persuade you, let me offer the stick rather than the carrot. Manners should not be superseded by common sense. Not to call anyone dense, but failure to heed my advice leads to many a consequence…
Example: “Sorry I can’t make it.”
Beware leaving this seemingly innocent note for the masses to read on the Facebook event page. You of course are modest about your social influence, but your host may become nervous that your absence will dissuade others from attending. Too many similar sentiments in a row, and the event can appear unpopular. Better to not draw attention to the fact that your delightful presence will be missing and only privately inform your host.
“Sorry, I have to take my cat Cynthia to the veterinarian that evening.”
This may be helpful information to include in your private message, as it implies to your friend that you are unfortunately stuck but would otherwise love to go. This amount of detail can backfire, however, when it causes your host to imagine a myriad of other arrangements that would allow for you to both heed your responsibility AND attend their event. It may leave your friend wondering why you didn’t care to expend the effort to imagine the same arrangements.
“Sorry, I’m going to this other party / event!
Forgive me, but I feel this one is quite obviously rude. Someone posting this message implies that they have more important and/or exciting things to do than spend time with the host, and they are doing this where everyone can see it. Does this not seem like a bit of a social snub?
“But this is the same weekend as a much larger event!”
What might someone posting this information hope to achieve? Do they think the host is not well informed enough on social engagements to already know this? Did they not pause to consider that the host already chose the best date possible for the event, and after weighing many factors, decided to accept the drop in attendance that competing with another event may cause? Perhaps the entire event should be rescheduled. Perhaps the host is clueless and daft. Perhaps the host forgot they must magically meet the needs of every attending guest, regardless of the usual scheduling trouble and their own chores.
Finally, perhaps a sort of conspiracy might cause this matter to stay in your mind. Facebook, dear friends, cares not about manners (except when profitable). Their only effort is to increase your interaction with their web domicile in any way, such that you spend more time on the site, such that they can ply you with advertisements. Facebook quite insistently presents you with a box to post your regrets, because eliciting such a response causes a cascade of notifications. The host is notified. People following the event page for updates may be notified. The event page is busier and busier and more enticing. The opportunities multiply to comment, like, love, wow, angry, sad, burp, fart, heave a sigh of existential dread…
Let not thine eye follow the conventional crook, and leap Facebook’s fences by refusing to keep to the box. Send a private message instead, and be free to graze greener pastures (of friendship and compassion). Yay manners!