"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
October 18, 2013
Awkward Questions about Invitations
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

I am fairly new in my ward, and many people have invited me and my family to do things with them. I have made one friend in particular, and we get together frequently.

I am never sure, when I get an invitation to a play date, whether or not my friend has also been invited. Is there a way for me to find out if these events are open to everyone?

My bigger problem is that a lady in my ward always comes up to me when I am talking to my friend, and asks if I am going to such-and-such party, or says she heard how much fun I had at so-and-so’s house over the weekend. It makes me very uncomfortable because I have no way of knowing if my friend was also invited to these events. I don’t know what to say to this lady or to my friend.

Answer:

You seem to be worried that your friend will be hurt if she learns that you have been invited to something she has not. And that could be true. No one likes to feel left out.

At the same time, remember that friends, even close friends, don’t have to do everything together. It is not disloyal to a friend to spend time with someone else. In fact, many people prefer a little space. Your friend almost certainly has social engagements that do not involve you. She might have declined the same invitations you accepted.

Remember that the problem you need to deal with is the embarrassing questions from this other lady, not the mere fact that you are attending social events to which your friend was not invited.

So, to answer your first question, the easiest way to find out if an invitation is open to anyone is to ask. “That sounds fun — I’ll be there!” you might start. “Who else is coming?” If the invitation is for a particular group, your hostess will probably respond, “Oh, Katie and Ashley, and probably Jenny, if her twins are better by then. We usually like to get together once a week so the kids can play.”

If it is a general invitation for anyone and everyone, she will probably say so: “Well, everyone is welcome, but usually it’s just Callie and Jamie and me.”

If you are not sure, even after asking, whether the invitation is open to everyone, assume it is not. As you attend various events and ask if the people get together often, or who usually plans events, you will figure out how they are organized and whether you are free to invite additional people to them. And, of course, you can always invite people to an event you have planned.

Please note that you may only ask who is coming to an event after you have accepted the invitation. It is unseemly to ask your hostess who else she has invited and then decide if you want to go; it will look like you are only interested in coming if certain people are (or are not) there.

Also, you cannot ask your hostess if she has invited a particular person. Because if she hasn’t, you have just made your hostess admit to excluding someone, which (1) is awkward even if it’s not a breach of manners and (2) will put unfair pressure on her to change her guest list.

Now for the lady who asks nosy questions when she ought not.

This lady is what is known as a busybody. She likes to know everyone’s comings and goings, and she likes for people to know that she knows their comings and goings. I imagine it makes her feel connected or powerful. Or perhaps it makes her feel like she has more friends than she really does.

Whatever the reason, she is breaking a cardinal rule: It is rude to talk about invitations in the presence of people who have not received them. Unless you absolutely know a person has been invited to an event, you should not mention the event around him. Instead, you should talk about something else.

But let’s not be too hard on this busybody. It is kinder to think of her as merely clueless than actively malicious. Either way, you can’t change her behavior, and you can’t call her out for being rude (because that is the height of rudeness). All you can do is try to manage her behavior and mitigate its consequences. Here are three ideas for you to try.

Idea 1: When you see this busybody coming, say, “Excuse me for a sec,” to your friend and walk towards the drinking fountain or your child or some other destination. This might put you out of range of the busybody, thus solving your problem. If the busybody intercepts you anyway, you will be able to confront her questions on your own, away from anyone else.

This will only work once or twice on any given occasion. You can’t just keep walking away from your friend unless you have a good reason. But it’s worth a try.

Idea 2: Don’t answer the question. For example, if the busybody asks whether you are attending Colleen’s baby shower on Saturday, you might respond with, “Tiffany! How are you today? How is your foot? Have you been able to run on it this week?” Then you can launch into a discussion of her foot. She might circle back around to the baby shower invite, but she might not. So it’s worth a try.

Idea 3: Answer the question. But briefly. Your goal is to not be a font of information. If she asks you whether you liked the game night last week, say, “Sure,” or “Yes.” Then change the subject. Once the busybody moves on, you have three options with respect to your friend.

One, simply resume your conversation, pretending that neither you nor your friend were bothered by the busybody’s questions. If your friend is the kind of person who prefers to act unperturbed in public no matter what, choose this option. If she does not seem bothered, don’t prompt her to be otherwise.

Two, look as if you might want to say something critical but are not, out of plain good manners. You might take a slow breath, look at your friend good naturedly with raised eyebrows as if to say, “That was interesting!” and move on with your conversation.

Don’t be contemptuous or sarcastic. Don’t roll your eyes or insult the busybody. Insulting her is unkind and will only make your friend feel more uncomfortable because she will be forced either to agree — and now you’re gossiping — or disagree — which will be essentially calling you out even though the busybody was the rude one — and she may not want to do either.

Three, if your friend seems upset, turn to her and say quietly, “I’m sorry. That was really embarrassing. I don’t know why she said that.” This candor is okay — you can properly acknowledge the slight suffered by another person. If your friend is graceful and polite she will say something like, “Don’t worry about it,” or “That’s just Tiffany.” She will save any further discussion for a private time and place. And you will nod and accede to her point of view, and move to another subject.

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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