The Invite and the Art of Saying No, the Southern Way

When all other excuses fail, you have plans.

In 1994, Oprah Winfrey wrote this note, promptly displaying it on her desk. "Never again will I do anything for anyone that I do not feel directly from my heart. I will not attend a meeting, make a phone call, write a letter, sponsor or participate in any activity in which every fiber of my being does not resound yes. I will act with the intent to be true to myself."

While Oprah gets invited to everything from Hollywood awards shows to royal weddings, she can pretty much pick and choose what she wants to do…after all, she is Oprah. For the rest of us, weddings, baby showers, and cocktail parties are often mandatory. And if you are Southern, where manners, etiquette, and guilt are embedded in your DNA, the ability to say no is even more difficult.

When it comes to parties, I find there are two types of people in this world, those who will go to the opening of an envelope and those who will do and say anything to stay home. Blame it on the pandemic, as people are either antsy to get out of the house or discovered lounging in leggings and binging Netflix isn't so bad after all. Unless the Rolling Stones are scheduled to play in the backyard or the Clooneys extended an invite to their Lake Como villa, most people are opting to stay home.

Now that many of us are becoming social again, it's time to revisit the art of saying yes or no.

Vintage Woman on Phone in Black and White Photo
Getty/George Marks.

When You Simply Must Say Yes

First, a primer on saying yes when there is no way on God's green earth you can miss an important event. Rule of thumb, if it's a close friend, family member, or boss, grin and bear it as there is no way out. It is always best to respond immediately (using the same method as invited via a phone call or invitation and response card). And check to see if it's a phone book party of 250, as you will not be missed (unless you are supplying the cocktails). If suddenly your husband's co-worker at the office exposed you to the virus, then voilà, there is your excuse (just know that it's a very popular one). On the flip side, your BFF will totally understand if you need to skip an event which brings us to…

The Art of Saying No

Let's face it, most of us are overworked, overscheduled, overwhelmed, and in constant need of self-preservation. Time, energy, and self-care are precious commodities and should not be wasted. Get over the guilt, the need to please, disappointing others, and give yourself permission to say no. "Sorry, I already have plans" is the truth as that could include Marie Kondo-ing the closet or ordering take-out and reading a good book. Here are a few acceptable etiquette-approved responses that are short, sweet, and simple:

"That sounds so lovely, but I have plans."

"I would love to come but have a previous appointment."

"Thank you so much for thinking of me but unfortunately, I am unable to attend."

"I don't have the extra time right now for socializing, so keep me in mind for the future."

"I would love to go, but I have a golden rule of staying home on Sunday nights."

Excuses, Excuses

And while it's difficult to say, "No, I am not interested in attending the trunk show of your first cousin once removed," the fact you don't want to go should be reason enough. In the event you simply must elaborate, consider a few classics besides the standard migraine, pet ER visit, inclement weather, MIA babysitter, friends in town, or lack of an available Uber excuses:

"I am keeping a neighbor's dog, and he has horrible separation anxiety."

"I am catching a 4:45 a.m. flight, and I haven't packed or printed out my boarding pass."

"I am on a deadline and just pulled an all-nighter." (Note: this works best for writers).

"I have an existential crisis."

"I have been on constant Zoom calls all day and cannot form a sentence."

"I grabbed a can of spray paint instead of dry shampoo, and my hair looks like a zebra."

"My college football team is playing Little Sisters of the Poor on SEC-TV, and they might actually win a game."

"I squirted toothpaste in my eye and cannot see."

"Oh, was it tonight? I must have had the wrong date on the calendar."

"My facelift didn't take, and one cheek is higher than the other."

"Mercury is in retrograde, and I cannot leave the house."

As for me, I am taking a page from Oprah and saving my resounding yes for that soiree at George and Amal's (that would be the Clooney's). Until then, it's time to see what's next in my queue on Netflix.

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