How To Duck Social Obligations With Class

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The holiday season is fully upon us. This means that by now you’ll have likely been bombarded with invites to seasonal parties and themed dinners and social get togethers. While it’s always good for the ol’ ego to be included in such things, this time of year brings with it a heavy feeling of social obligation to attend every single darn function. Sometimes, the idea of schlepping to some soiree in the frigid weather seems far less appealing than staying home, slipping into something warm and cozy, and binging your way through a TV series while finishing off whatever libations you happen to have in stock.

This is a perfectly natural inclination, but especially during the festive spell, you’re not really allowed to tell a potential host that you honestly can’t be assed to take two subways just so you can show your face at their house party and suffer through an underwhelming Key Food cheese plate. In these cases, you need a thorough cancellation plan. In the grand spirit of the season then, here’s how to turn down social invitations without completely ostracizing yourself from the community.


Cancel Early

The smartest way to get out of attending an event is to cancel at the earliest opportunity. If someone shoots out an email invite and you know you’re not going to be attending, hit the person back almost instantly, letting them know that regrettably you will not be able to make this particular date. Being the first guest to decline an invite is the most coveted position to be in. Sure, your host may be a little peeved, but once a flurry of acceptances come in and the party planning starts in earnest, your little old rebuff will be long forgotten.


Likewise, if you have a suspicion that you won’t be hitting up some ugly sweater party because, you know, those things are always too itchy to enjoy, don’t potter around and wait until the day of the event to cancel. Last minute rejections can really mess up a dutiful host’s plans: Maybe they’ve ordered a specific amount of egg nog or had to borrow a certain number of chairs to accommodate an expected number of guests. Be considerate in the timing of your refusal.

Also, if you’re looking at a very small gathering with maybe only two or three other people, canceling at the last moment is a real douche move. It can often put the entire soiree at risk, so don’t be that person.

The Best Excuses

Now that you’ve rustled up the courage to turn down your venerable host’s offer of entertainment, you’ll need to play smart about what sort of excuse you’re using.

  • The Wedding: The king excuse of all is that you have to go to a wedding. This will illicit lots of sympathy because, hey, everyone knows that going to weddings costs every guest time and money and travel, and it’s hard to recoup by over-imbibing on free liquor and a mashed potato bar (or whatever else is being pimped by the wedding industrial complex these days). Claim that it’s the wedding of a somewhat distant family member and no one will ever be any wiser. (Pro tip: To prevent worlds colliding, always keep your family and friend excuses separate.)
  • The Common Cold: Okay, it might seem lame at first to tell someone that you’re suffering from the sniffles and so won’t be able to make it out of bed and to their bash, but on the other hand everyone picks up a cold or a touch of the flu during the holiday season. It’s an excuse your host can relate to—rather than making up some exotic disease that just so happens to have taken refuge in your body—and you’ll score some points for appearing to be honest. There’s something almost virtuous about putting your stock in the old common cold excuse these days.
  • Traveling Woes: Most day to day travel is a chore, especially if you live in a city. Whether you’re dealing with traffic congestion, delayed trains or the menagerie on the subway, it’s safe to say that getting from Point A to Point B is rarely a treat. Life is not like an episode of Broad City where two people living in neighborhoods far, far away from one another effortlessly hang out all the time. To that end, it can be okay to give your host a heads up that simply getting to the party might be an issue. Combining this with a prior engagement can work well: “Hey, I can’t make it because I’m going to Some Made Up Exhibition that just so happens to be in A Very Far Out Neighborhood That They Know Is Hell To Get To this afternoon. But, hey, I’ll try and make it if the subway gods are smiling on me!”
  • Or, you know, be honest: In certain cases, you can also get away with being honest enough to simply say that you don’t enjoy the theme or focus of an event. If you hate board games and someone’s holding a Scrabble night, it’s okay to say that word nerdery is not for you. This get-out clause works well for most sports-based situations. I was recently offered a free ticket to see the US Men’s National Team play. I shuddered at the thought of being subjected to such a soul-destroying enterprise and relayed the sentiment. Snobbish soccer banter was exchanged and all was good.

Be Careful About Getting Caught

Claiming that you can’t attend one function because you’ve already committed to another is a classic excuse. It seems like a watertight way to avoid going to something, but it’s a move that requires great diligence. First up, get your dates correct. Often hosts will send out an invite and mess up the day or the date: If one invite shows a date of Saturday December 13th, that could actually mean the Saturday (actually the 12th) or the Sunday (the 13th). Always double check your dates, so as to avoid suspicion or having to conjure up last-minute excuses. You’ll want to show the same vigilance with times too. Saying you have a dinner engagement planned for something like 7pm might just prompt the inviter to say, “Oh, come along afterwards, the party will only just be getting started by then.”


Remember to also keep track of your fake obligations. Actually starting a Google Spreadsheet might be a step too far, but there’s a chance you will get asked about these fantasy functions in polite conversation. Get ready to channel your inner George Costanza and talk earnestly about an event or meal that never happened. Being blasé about it is a good way to deflect attention from the fact it’s made up—so say the food was “just okay” rather than start fumbling around for flowery words as you begin to describe a ramen burger that you’ve never even set eyes on.

Be warned that social media can also trip you up when you’re pulling off a double booked excuse. You might want to turn off location services on your phone so that any tweets or posts you send during the fictional event don’t reveal you to really be slouched on the couch at home. If you’ve delivered a blunt lie to your friends about why you can’t make it to their event, be wary of other people tagging you in photos somewhere else at the same time.


The Delivery

A quick note on the way in which you send your rejection. Back in ye olden days, everything was done by artfully executed handwritten notes. If you received an invite in the mail, you’d send back your acceptance or otherwise through the dependable folks at the postal service. To that end, it’s a solid rule to respond in the same medium you received the invite. This keeps everything on the same proverbial page and helps avoid communication slip-ups, which usually sound disingenuous.


A curt but friendly rejection is best, signed off by wishing the host a splendid time at the event; a long, rambling explanation just seems like you’re trying too hard to excuse yourself from the occasion. Be brief and to the point.

Offer To Make Up For What You’re Missing

Finally, there are a couple of situations where some additional rules of cancellation come into play. When it comes to any Important Ass Event—so think a function intended to mark a unique occasion, achievement or milestone in life that cannot be easily rescheduled or repeated on a whim—you’ll need to go the extra mile in making up for your absence. If you absolutely cannot attend a birthday party that ushers in a good friend or family member’s next decade, be classy and offer to take them out for a meal or drinks at some point in the near future. Also, make sure to send a card—that way they know you’ve put some thought into the occasion. When canceling, be sympathetic to the fact that big events can be a nerve-wrecking for the person who’s celebrating, especially if it feels like their friends don’t want to celebrate with them.


You Are Not Obligated To Brunch

On the other hand, there are some select invitations that you should never feel bad about turning down. These are often fanciful jaunts, overly-complicated situations or unnecessary get togethers that are going to cost you way too much money for any fun you’ll ever have. They’re often agreed to while tipsy—that group paintball expedition that’s more expensive than a short holiday! Some overpriced boat cruise with a dress code and open bar that you know will only really include watered-down house liquor!—and you can totally bail on them without feeling guilty.


Brunch rules as the most heinous of these cases. If someone invites you to any sort of a brunch situation, you have a moral right to flat-out turn it down. Going out to brunch, of course, is a rigamarole that largely involves waiting around to be served $20 eggs in some restaurant that briefly offered slightly interesting food three years ago but now panders to the tourists and the hipster hordes. It’s also a social meal where people love to take liberties with the check, so you’ll often end up subsidizing that one person who decides to order a bunch of extra sides and cocktails and then declares that the check should be split equally.

When faced with the dreaded brunch offer, ditch the usual excuse etiquette handbook and text at the last minute saying you’re simply too hungover from the night before and cannot function. They don’t need to know you were really at home on the couch enjoying some well deserved peace and serenity.


Phillip Mlynar lives in Queens, NYC. When not writing about rappers for Red Bull, NYLON, and the Village Voice, he muses on the feline form for Catster. His Twitterclaims he’s the world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats.

Image via Getty. Remixed by Tara Jacoby.

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