I need to tell you about my friend Jessica.* When I moved to PDX, friends mentioned that I should connect with Jess. My first Portland friend, she unselfishly and amazingly spent hours and hours helping me get my home in place when I got here. We enjoyed my first 4th of July here, watching the family down the street try to burn their house down with fireworks, while sipping beers and eating off my raspberry bushes.
Jess also lacks the ability to arrive anywhere on time. If she arrives at all. But it's so common for Jess to arrive late, sometimes many hours late — like, after the party has ended — that our group tends to have a running pool on when she’ll show up, if she does. A “yes” RSVP from Jess does not mean you’ll be seeing Jess.
Now, I hear you, and the question is, if it bothers me, why do I still invite Jess to events? The answer is, because we love her. We want to see her. When Jess is in your presence, she is a mirrorball of fantasticness. And because we all have things and this is Jessica’s. We love her, we love her style, spirit, and enthusiasm for life, but we fucking hate the lateness/no-show thing.
But I don’t think it's just my friend Jess. I’m noticing a “thing” and the thing is this: We’ve lost civility, and Facebook is just the excuse we use to avoid getting it back.
Trust, It's a Two-Way Street
When you extend an invitation to someone, whether a group or singularly, it requires an extension of trust. I trust that by opening myself, my home, my time, my energy, and probably my resources, that you will honor that trust and not leave me hanging. Let me know if you will be accepting the invitation. Yes, I will be attending. No, I cannot.
This “maybe” stuff? That’s bullshizzzzzzz.
“Maybe I will be able to attend, but I need to see if something better comes up.” “Maybe I will attend, but I refuse the responsibility to commit.” “Maybe I will attend, but I’m terrible at remembering these things and don’t want you to be disappointed if I forget to show up.” “Maybe I will attend, but I hate planning in advance, I like to go with the flow.”
When I hold dinner at my house, I look at the RSVPs: 5 yes, 3 no, 2 maybe. How many people am I cooking for? And I don’t mean for a serious sit-down dinner. I mean, I am throwing food in the crockpot and I want to know whether to make enough for five or seven. There’s a difference.
When I throw a baby shower, I need to know, how many baby onesies am I buying for us to decorate so everyone has one? Do I buy them for the “maybe” people?
When I invite people for dinner out, do I reserve a table big enough for your “maybe”? Because when I show up and need a table for four instead of six that’s reserved, you better believe we’re back in the queue.
So of course, there is the inconvenience to the host that a “maybe” incurs. And perhaps if it was that alone . . . but I suspect we can agree that’s not the case.
You and Me, Babe
A “maybe” also places a value on the host and their invitation. It says that it's not important enough to put the time aside, either positively or negatively. See, if they’re important enough, you’re going to put the time aside. That’s a “yes.” And the only reason you wouldn’t, is because you have another obligation, in which case, that’s a “no.” A maybe is, “We clearly don’t have a conflict as yet, but it's not important enough to block that time out now and rule out other forthcoming offers.”
When is a “maybe” appropriate? Perhaps a large, CASUAL happy hour gathering or party where your absence or attendance won’t affect anyone. If someone has bought out a restaurant for a party though, your wavering does indeed affect them.
This topic came up this weekend on, where else, Facebook, due to the BBC reporting on a family being issued a bill for no-showing to a child’s birthday that they’d RSVP’d for. At first, many comments defaulted to “grow up” and “insanity.” Of course, I agree, these are not suable, billable events. But the basis is one I understand. The kid wasn’t RSVPing, the adult parents were. There wasn’t an emergency, the kid was double-booked. Upon realizing the conflict, the parents did not shoot a text or email or phone call or such to the parents to say, “I’m sorry we made a mistake and can’t make it,” — they just no-showed. Unacceptable. Even with an apology, in my day, you’d have packed that kid to school the next day with a card to apologize with.
We’re busy people, with increasing demands on our lives, and plenty of absolutely unavoidable circumstances: a flat tire;, a sick kid, a sitter not showing up. Only a dick wouldn’t understand those circumstances and they are more easily understood when you just communicate to your host when it happens.
But not communicating and just not showing up? Say it with me:
I’m Bringing Civil Back
Which brings me back to Jess and the concept of showing up on time. For events, there’s something of a window of acceptability for showing up. That window starts about 15 minutes before the event (but no more… showing up too early is at least as annoying as showing up late) and ends about an hour into the event. For actual meals or anything with a departure time, that window is only 30 minutes. Smart hosts purposely don’t plan on anything happening until 30 to 45 minutes after the start time.
But after that window, it's a bunch of people waiting around for you. It's an empty, but set, place at the dinner table. It's a boat waiting for you at a dock. It's someone sitting at a bar, alone, wondering if they’re being stood up. And rarely do you want to make someone feel that way on purpose.
Since we can’t remove the “Maybe” option from our Facebook events (Zuckerberg, are you listening?), here are my recommendations, nay, polite requests for how to return the trust people give you when inviting you out.
- A “no” is 100 times better than a “maybe.” Don’t use a “maybe” to avoid hurting feelings by turning someone down. They’ll be far less offended than a no-show.
- If you are unsure that you can attend because you’re waiting to find out when Dad’s surgery is being scheduled or if your kid's team will make the playoffs, let the organizer know and ASK if it's okay to let them know a week in advance. A week. That’s it. Less than a week, reply “no” and forfeit the invitation.
- REPLY to invitations. Don’t leave people hanging. A big piece is communicating. “Thank you for the invite, I wish I could come, but I’ve got other plans that day,” is sufficient.
- If you can’t arrive within the window of acceptable lateness, RSVP “no.”
- If the unexpected happens on the way to or before the event so that being really late or no-showing is unavoidable (and I do mean unavoidable, not that something better came up), then immediately let the host know in an appropriate way: text, so you don’t interrupt them. Apologize, because it is appropriate.
- Set a reminder on your phone or calendar the morning of an event, and a few hours before so you aren’t reminded of it 59 minutes before the event and hit by the “mehhhhh . . . I’m just not feeling it right now” bug. And so you can get there on time.
- Teach your kids the same politeness. These rules apply to kids' events, but kids have more unplannables than adults. Plan on attrition for events you plan (10 percent), but if you miss a kids event, an apology is still applicable. Think of how the birthday kid feels when he got stood up by your offspring at his own party.
- As an event planner, communicate in the invite if “maybe” isn’t an okay answer, or when you need an RSVP by. “Need to make a reservation by 1/15, so please RSVP yes or no by then, or I’m assuming you can’t come!”
Yeah, yeah, I get it. I’m an old crone waving her fist to get the kids off my lawn. But really, am I really that out of touch? Can we all just become a little more responsible of our calendars?
* Not her real name.