Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: email@example.com.
Dear Your Sorry Ass,
My wife and I love to entertain friends and family. We have about a dozen get-togethers of varying size at our apartment over the course of the year. We use Evite—a website that helps you send online invitations and manage RSVPs, which is extremely handy. But invariably, there are always about 40 percent of the invitees who never respond at all. For them, there is no “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe,” and because of the nature of Evite, you can see that they’ve read the invitation, so I know it’s not going to their spam folders. Could you recommend a way for me to intimidate my potential party guests into not ignoring my invitations? I want a fear that will last, so that they never transgress against my honorable house ever again. My rage must be channeled productively.
An Enraged Host
A thousand curses upon the impudent reprobates that would spurn your gestures of hospitality and goodwill! You have every right to take offense, and such a transgression is most certainly grounds for revenge. Unfortunately, retaliations—merited though they may be—might impede your future social life. If you develop a reputation as someone quick to the dueling pistols, more timid party-goers may be discouraged from attending your festivities. So at the risk of alienating Generally Quiet Carol Who Is Actually Really Fun After Four Cocktails, let’s consider other, less viscerally satisfying options. It’s best to set out here by attempting to deconstruct the social complexities of the contemporary event invitation.
First of all, there is the matter of Evite, a perfectly reasonable service for perfectly reasonable people. Now if you travel in circles of exclusively reasonable people, you have both my envy and my pity, since that sounds comfortingly reliable, yet also mind-numbingly boring. The truth is that most people’s response to an invitation is highly dependent on the medium of that invite, and this is critical to understanding the problem here.
According to my rigorous anthropological fieldwork, the response rates to invitations according to medium are ranked thusly:
1) Mail. The mailed invitation is obviously a demanding project, as it requires the address of the invitee, potentially costly materials, quite a bit of labor, and the utilization of the actual U.S. Postal Service—the noble yet unfairly besieged public courier system of our ambitious nation. But people have trouble ignoring a physical invitation, so even if they cannot make it or be bothered to mail back the RSVP, they generally feel obligated to call or email with an apologetic decline. You purchased a stamp goddammit, and the least a decent human being can do is take a minute out of their day to acknowledge the trouble you went to to include them.
However, it is exactly on account of the aforementioned onerousness that a mailed invitation is not always appropriate or pleasant. Such effort on the part of the host almost always ascribes a high degree of formality to the occasion, which may actually kill the vibe. Plus, who has the time to learn calligraphy or pick out stationery that best represents your essence? This leads us to the next option:
2) In Person. A face-to-face party solicitation has obvious advantages. You can articulate your need for an RSVP and pair it with a pleading expression. It’s also likely more memorable than any other form of communication. Of course, it’s not always likely that you’ll run into the person in time for the event, and people tend to get nervous and give a lot of soft yeses when they’re pressed for a commitment in a face-to-face setting. So there is also . . .
3) Phone Call. Also quite memorable, but it can be difficult to get ahold of people. Leaving a voicemail is essentially throwing a sound bite into the garbage, so if they don’t pick up, you move on to:
4) Text. Texting is the preferred form of communication of our age. It’s impersonal, yes, but it is precisely because of this impersonality that people are likely to respond to a text; their response requires very little effort or social interaction. It’s also easy for you to follow up with them later if they don’t respond immediately. I admit a generational bias here and understand that not everyone feels texting is appropriate for an event, but—and I cannot emphasize this enough— it is clearly the greatest linguistic advance in human history, and everyone needs to get on board.
5) Written on a Bathroom Wall. It’s true you can’t ensure the intended guests will see it, or that you won’t be inviting undesirables, but it’s better than email.
6) Email. Nearly everyone whose career is even semi-modernized is drowning in emails, and sending out yet another one is tantamount to handing someone a high-maintenance houseplant as a gift while they are drowning in the ocean. Also, social emails tend to inadvertently compartmentalize fun party time in a space generally reserved for work or family, so it’s highly likely that your email invitation is sandwiched between your friends’ moms’ chain emails about FEMA camps and reprimands from their bosses for overly liberal interpretations of “Casual Friday.”
It’s nothing personal, enraged host—it’s just that your wonderful invitation to a wonderful time is now buried in a pile of miserable interactions. The brain does many things to preserve its sanity, and selective memory is one of them. Your would-be guests are most likely looking at your invite at work and mentally filing it away to respond later. But when most people get home, they manage to turn off the part of their brain that toils o’er the inbox. And that’s why there is literally only one conviviality-themed communiqué more fraught than the email . . .
7) Facebook Invite. If you are sending me a Facebook invitation to an actual party, I can only assume either a) you are casting a very wide net to a very low-key gathering of strangers, b) you are very young, or c) you are very old. The only other possibility I can think of is that you’re pranking me, or perhaps this is some sort of online update of the offensive thing where people throw shoes at someone to show disrespect. Facebook invites are ugly flyers stuffed in your mailbox without your consent and the people who send them should either be pitied or chastised.
The truth is that as much as we’d all like to believe that technology will simplify and alleviate the stress and labor of our social lives, it turns out that the internet only adds ever-more-complex layers of nuance and neurosis atop our already amply jittery social anxieties. Should your friends respond to the damn Evite? Of course! But we are not rational creatures, an affliction that humankind has attempted to alleviate with some of our greatest achievements—art, psychoanalysis, Marxism, and (yes) texting.