How Do I Say ‘No’ To Unwanted Invitations?

I’m a woman who recently received a text out of the blue from someone–let’s call him A. A and I know each other loosely on a professional basis and share an interest in empowering our communities. Our conversation went something like this:

A: Would you like to have lunch?
Me: Yeah, it’d be great to touch base again. What are you doing in town?
A: I’m at a seminar. I just took photos with a bunch of millionaires.
Me: Okay, where do you want to meet for lunch?
A: Would you like to attend the seminar with me?
Me: No. Just lunch.
A: Okay. Can you meet me at the seminar location and we can head to lunch from there?

At which point I stopped texting and asked my Facebook Family: How do you graciously tell someone you don’t want to go to a pyramid scheme meeting? Or a recruitment meeting? Or a religious conversion meeting? Because I’m pretty that was the trap being laid out for me.

I am a worrier, and I don’t like hurting people’s feelings. But I have no interest in get-rich quick schemes and wasting my Saturdays. Am I just jumping to conclusions? And, if my hunch is right, how do I say NO?

– Worrier who doesn’t like to hurt feelings

Dear Worrier,

First: of course your hunch was right. You are 100% correct that he would have tried to rope you into a pyramid or get-rich-quick scheme.

And you don’t need my advice on how to say ‘no;’ you said no. Clearly. “No.Just lunch.”

The person who needs advice is the one who didn’t write to me. The one who would not take the clear, unambiguous no you gave him for an answer.

My advice to him would be this: when anyone says ‘no,’ that’s what they mean. When a woman says ‘no,’ she has fought against decades of conditioning that it is not nice to say no, or to risk hurting someone’s feelings, in order to say that ‘no.’ She really really really REALLY means it.Respect it.

Since he didn’t write to me for advice, I will tell you that you did exactly the right thing. When someone keeps pushing after you’ve said ‘no,’ they no longer deserve another moment of your time. You stopped texting. That was the best response.

You second-guessed yourself afterward because that’s what we do when someone acts irrationally, as your friend did by pushing and not taking an answer: so many of us, and I’m afraid women in particular, react to someone else being irrational by questioning our own judgment. That person must have acted like my ‘no’ didn’t matter because I was wrong! I misjudged him! I did something wrong!

But you didn’t do anything wrong. And, what’s more, even if your hunch had been wrong (which it wasn’t; he was totally going to say ‘while you’re here why don’t you step in for a minute,’ and hold your entire afternoon hostage), you STILL did nothing wrong.

Here’s the thing: invitations are not summonses. You owe no one your time, just because they ask for it. So even if he just wanted a ride to lunch (which he didn’t), you acted perfectly correctly.

Something has happened in our American society in which invitations have become court-ordered appearances. If we are invited to a party, an event, or a sales pitch (calling it a Tupperware or Candle ‘party’ does not actually make it a party) – we are expected to give a reason that we can’t go. And it’s perfectly polite, somehow, for the person throwing the sales pitch/shower/party/fundraiser to demand that you justify your reason, and question your reason, and pressure you to go.

None of this is okay. None of this is polite. Miss Manners, who is by definition infallible in questions of etiquette, says that no explanation is necessary when turning down an invitation of any sort. “I’m sorry, but I can’t make it,” with no other comment necessary, is perfectly polite.

I myself have had to be a broken record when responding negatively to invitations when the person inviting me kept changing the parameters to get me there: “No, I really can’t; it’s impossible. Sorry; I can’t attend. Sorry.”

Once, with a particularly pushy friend, I actually blurted out: “Because I don’t want to,” which was deliciously satisfying. Especially since the person had gotten so pushy I didn’t care if I hurt her feelings.

(Yes, readers – women do this to each other, too.)

And if the person still will not accept this ‘no,’ refusing to further engage like you did by failing to respond to any more texts, emails, calls, or FB messages is the perfect response. It says, loud and clear: “Nope! You don’t get to waste my time anymore.”

This letter originally appeared in on March 10, 2016.

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