Skip to content
Things To Do
Link copied to clipboard

How to say no to a wedding, birthday party, or other social event right now

Not everyone has decided to cancel or postpone their wedding, birthday party, or baby shower, and for reasons vast and wide. Here's how to decline, and still stay friends.

How to say no to a wedding invite right now, or any other event invite you don't feel comfortable going to.
How to say no to a wedding invite right now, or any other event invite you don't feel comfortable going to.Read moreCynthia Greer

Most major events in Philadelphia have been canceled through February 2021. But there are still plenty of celebrations going down.

Not everyone has decided to cancel or postpone their wedding, birthday party, or baby shower, and for reasons vast and wide. Some are financial — refunds couldn’t be negotiated with vendors, for example — and others are personal, with the host having confidence in the ability to throw a safe celebration or a higher risk tolerance.

Regardless, if you receive an invitation, you have a choice to make: to go or not to go? Many events will look significantly different right now, especially those that aren’t hosted in a private home. Smaller guest lists, masks, and socially distanced tables are all commonplace. But no matter the setup, it’s a pandemic. Everyone’s situation is different, and there are countless reasons why you might opt out.

Here’s how to decline an invitation if you don’t feel comfortable attending.

» READ MORE: Do everything better: Our guide to helping you live better during the pandemic

It’s OK to say no — even if it’s not because of COVID-19.

Life happens, as they say. And life is complex. Pandemic or not, there will always be circumstances that make it difficult to attend events. If you need to decline an invitation, it’s OK — you can always say no, says Jacquelyn Youst, etiquette coach and president of Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol.

“The decision to attend any function is personal,” says Youst. “But you want to decline graciously — that’s all that’s required of you.”

It doesn’t matter why you’re declining. Being polite will help the future of your relationship with the person on the other end.

“After the dirt settles, there’s less likely to be hurt feelings,” says Youst. “And in the end, you’ll feel better when you know you’ve done the best you possibly can in these circumstances.”

Be assertive, but not judgey

So what should you say? Clicking the “no” button on an e-vite isn’t going to cut it for those sent by your best friend or sibling. But you should keep your response direct and decisive, says Sara Murray, owner of wedding and event planning company Confetti & Co.

“It can be as simple as saying, ‘I so appreciate and respect that you’re still throwing a party that would bring so much joy during a time like this, but it’s not a good fit for us,‘ ” says Murray.

Don’t offer your response up for debate. And skip the maybe middle zone. While maybe might seem less harsh than no, wavering can give false hope, and complicate the planning process.

Being assertive, however, doesn’t mean being aggressive. Now is not the time to preach to others if their opinions differ from yours. Instead, try your best to show support.

“People who’ve made this decision [to have an event] have thought about it. They want to go through with it, and will try to make it safe for their guests,” says Murray. “Judging them isn’t going to help anyone.”

» READ MORE: How to summer in Philly: Our 2020 summer guide

Elaborate explanations aren’t necessary

You’re not at fault for wanting to protect yourself and others; there’s no need to include a lengthy explanation with your RSVP.

“Be honest, but you don’t have to go into a ‘My mom is staying with us and she has a health condition,‘ ” says Murray.

Even more important: Skip the false excuses.

“It’s easy to make up a story to help alleviate the awkwardness of declining, but that can make things worse,” says Youst.

An easy example, Youst points out, is a dinner invitation, where you lie about another commitment rather than just sharing that you feel uncomfortable. What’s to stop the host from just changing the date? As always, honesty is the best policy.

Video > phone > text

It doesn’t matter how many emojis you use — texting can come across as abrupt or rude, even if it wasn’t your intention.

One thing that you never get through text or e-mails is tone of voice,” says clinical psychologist Deb Derrickson Kossmann. “Ideally you’d use FaceTime so that you can see facial expressions.”

Don’t wait until the last minute

You might be dreading the conversation, but don’t wait until the day before to RSVP. This is especially important for a wedding or other large event.

“You’re just extending the problem,” says Youst. “Tell them as soon as possible so that they can make other arrangements.”

For smaller occasions, like a birthday party, it’s OK to answer with a maybe — as long as you have the conversation well in advance, and you’re actually considering going.

“Give them a definitive date that you’ll let them know by, and be cognizant of them having to plan around you,” says Murray.

Still send the gift

When you send a gift, you’re acknowledging the event and that you want to celebrate with them,” says Youst.

Show your support in other ways, too. Ask if you can help in the planning process. And be sure to check if there are ways to join the event virtually. If not, take the initiative on future plans.

“Let them know that as soon as this is over, you’d love to take them out for drinks or a very special dinner — something that feels celebratory,” says Murray.

» READ MORE: Got a question for one of our reporters? Ask us through Curious Philly.

Hard feelings? Try not to take it personally

If your friend is upset or angry with you, avoid returning those emotions.

“It’s an emotionally charged time and everyone just wants to forge ahead and feel good in their decision. It may feel like an attack, when you’re just saying, ‘This is what feels safe to me,‘ ” says Murray.

Give the person on the other side as much support as you can. Accept their decision, and let them know you’re happy for them.

“At the end of the day, you have to go into this knowing you’re making a choice for yourself, it’s not selfish, and this is a time that no one could’ve predicted. And you need to be OK with moving forward,” says Murray.

If necessary, give your friend some time to cool off, but don’t let too much pass before trying to reconnect.

“We’re all struggling with how to stay connected in our social relationships, and we’re all having to be thoughtful of what that looks like,” says Kossmann. “We have to recognize it’s not going to be the same. It may be awkward, it might not feel as nice. But everyone is dealing with this, and we have to have compassion for one another.”

  1. Jacquelyn Youst is an etiquette coach and president of Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol.

  2. Sara Murray is the owner of wedding and event planning company Confetti & Co.

  3. Deb Derrickson Kossmann is a clinical psychologist.