"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
November 29, 2012
No Invitation
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

My very good friend is having a birthday party for her five-year-old son this week. I know about the party because she told me she was planning one. She has also discussed with me several details of the party. And her son has repeatedly told my son, who is the same age, that he and my other children are invited.

But even though we see these friends every day, we haven’t actually been invited to the party.

The party is later this week, and I’m not sure what to do. I don’t want to show up uninvited, but I don’t want to not show up if they are expecting us.

And if we are not invited, does that mean that we are not really friends?

Answer:

You know what? I think you should just ask her if you are invited to the party.

I am shocking myself with this advice, because generally, you should never ask someone if you are invited to his party. It’s just not done.

Parties cannot accommodate an infinite number of guests, and lines must be drawn somewhere when making a guest list. It would be very rude to ask someone if you are invited to a party you heard about through the grapevine. Or through eavesdropping.

If you have not been invited to a party, but you ask the party-thrower if you are invited, you put him in a very uncomfortable situation. He can say “yes” and disrupt both his plans and his guest list; say “no” by stammering something about a very small affair; or just stare in surprise and say nothing.

Therefore, the correct thing to do when you have not been invited to a party, is to pretend the party is not happening. Then, after the party, you pretend it did not happen. If the hosts and other guests are polite, they will do the same, never calling attention to the fact — be it on blogs, Facebook, or loud conversations at church — that they attended the event. If you have moral or other objections to the way the guest list was made, you are free to throw your own party with your own guest list.

In this case, however, several factors tipped me into the “just ask” direction.

First, you are very good friends. I am trusting that your assessment of your friendship is accurate. That you see each other socially and not just at church or school activities. That you have extended and accepted invitations to and from each other in the past. That you share that special friendship bond that leads you to talk about personal subjects not usually broached. That you seek out and enjoy each other’s company.

Let’s imagine that you never receive an invitation to the party and you don’t go. Would she tell you the next day that you were missed? And be horrified to learn that you didn’t think you were invited? And feel awful that you didn’t feel you could ask her about it? If she is that kind of friend, you should ask about the party.

Second, she has discussed the party with you. It would be hideously rude of her to discuss her party plans with or in front of you unless you were invited. Unless it was expressly a family-only party, or a party only for people who sang in her chorale, and she was up front about it. I think it is reasonable of you, absent experience to the contrary, to assume your good friend is not hideously rude.

Third, her son keeps telling your son he is invited. In itself, the oral invitation of a small child is not worth much. Small children are wont to invite random people to do all sorts of things: come to my house, have a bite of my sandwich, visit Florida with my family. That is why real invitations must come from or be obviously sanctioned by adults.

Still, his repeated oral invitations make it perfectly reasonable to ask because he, at least, is expecting you to be there.

These three factors, taken together, give you license to ask your friend if you are invited to the party.

When you ask, however, be sure to phrase it in a way that gives her lots of outs. “Carol,” you might say, “I have an awkward question, and you can say no and I will totally understand.”

“Oh! What is it?” she will reply.

You will continue, “Well, we had talked about Henry’s birthday party, and it seems like he is expecting us to come, but I wasn’t sure if we were actually invited.”

After that, you will have to play it by ear. She might just say, “Of course you are invited! It wouldn’t be the same without you. Please come at 7 on Thursday.”

But if it becomes clear that you are not invited, you will have to smooth things over because asking her about the party was, technically, your breach of manners. No matter how hurt your feelings, keep repeating things like, “We understand,” and “Please don’t worry about it — I just wanted to make sure we weren’t supposed to be somewhere!”

Are you still friends if you are not invited? I think the question would be, does this woman know what it means to be friends? Friends do not need to invite each other to every event they host. But planning a party for her son that excludes your son, who is the same age and who sees the birthday boy every day, seems either cruel or clueless. I can think of no viable excuse for it.

I’m betting you are invited. But if it turns out that you aren’t, I won’t feel a bit bad that your question made her uncomfortable. She deserves it for discussing the party in your presence! You are not allowed to feel satisfaction at making her feel bad. (That would be bad manners.) I, however, am.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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