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Saying no to Invitations without Stress

We never outgrow peer pressure, do we? From a young age, many of us carry the obligation to satisfy our friends, co-workers, and even acquaintances by accepting invitations, favors, or a shoulder to cry on. If your disposition is to see to the needs of others, you’ve probably run into this predicament several times in the last few days. Whether the root is a slight mother-complex or an innate need to “fit in” somehow, you’ll be better off once you filter out the unnecessary obligations and focus your energy on those you can manage.

The number one rule? Don’t lead people on. It’s easy to nod and smile when someone mentions an event that’s far off, or casually implies they’d like to spend time with you. You want to make a friendly impression and keep interactions pleasant, so you agree to vague things like, “Let’s do coffee sometime this week!” But when later this week rolls around and you’re up to your neck in other obligations, you’re going to feel like you’re copping out when you can’t meet that co-workers expectation for coffee.

Sound familiar? Here’s a few tips on breaking the cycle.

Social invitations are simple. If you’re free and you’ll enjoy it, go. If you’re booked, stressed, not interested, or otherwise disinclined, say no. A polite, simple decline will do. “Sorry, all booked that weekend,” “No thanks, I’m not much of a bull fighting fan,” “Thank you, but I promised myself some down time.” Elaborating on your planned absence from an event will come across as an excuse, and giving a longer reply will probably stress you out too! You’ll feel like you’re on trial for being a hermit. Don’t feel that you have to justify yourself when you give a reply. Invitations like these were not meant to be mandatory. If you run into a situation where your friend or acquaintance is going to hold a grudge for the next five months because you couldn’t shoot pool with them on the weekend… you’re probably better off filtering them out of your social life anyhow.

Don’t let friends use you, and don’t be naive enough to think they’d never do such a thing. It’s unlikely they’d do it knowingly if they’re good friends, but it’s easy for them to turn to you repeatedly if they know you’re handy with a certain task or have connections in a certain network. Filter out the “invitations” to do work, favors, and projects with people who haven’t been doing the same for you, or seem to disappear when you’re in need. Likewise, just because someone who has been helpful to you in the past comes at you with a weekend bathroom re-modeling project, it doesn’t merit canceling your plans, even if they are far more pleasant. You’re probably a hard working model citizen who deserves every break you can get, am I right?

Friends won’t always be knocking on your door for a favor they may simply want to spend time with you, or have issues shopping without someone to share their opinions with. In this case, don’t feel guilty simply decline with care. Keep your word on previous engagements, but don’t drop everything and grab your purse when they show up looking for an escort to IKEA. This will only teach them that you’ll be a reliable resort whether or not they bother to check up on your plans in advance. Declining firmly but pleasantly will ideally inspire the other party to make plans far ahead of time, so you’re not cramming them in at the last second (or declining entirely).

You don’t want acquaintances to feel neglected, of course, so if you don’t have the time or interest to dedicate to their invitations, you might throw one their way next time you’re headed to a party or having a group date with friends. And obviously, agree to their invitations that compel you if you have time. That will let them know you’re enthused about their company, but not willing to make a habit of it. It will also clue them in on your interests, so their next invitation will be more relevant to you and less inspiring to toss in the garbage.

A meaningful ceremony or commemoration event should be given a higher consideration, but if you feel you’ve received an invitation out of pure civility rather than sentiment, you’re not out of line to reply with the “will not attend” box checked. Send a gift, wish the celebrated party well, and any lingering guilt will dissipate once you’re spending your weekend catching up on your own matters, with people who value your presence.

Finally, make it a rule to schedule in relaxation or personal time (which could be used to regroup mentally or clean your studio whatever you need to start the week on a clean page), and don’t break this obligation to yourself! You are by no means forced to say “yes” to anyone, unless you’re forcing yourself. Realize this detriment to your sanity, and catch yourself before you agree to that next invitation.