Prepare thine hair shirt as penance: Lizzie Post, the great-great granddaughter of the most correctly etiquetted person in the history of the world has decreed that "We are worse at RSVP-ing than we have ever been," and this critical mass of incompetence is ruining everything.

The Charge

No one can be bothered to RSVP anymore. We're all so "busy" and also unsure if we really want to "attend" anything anymore because there might be something better to do or perhaps we just don't feel like we want to go out that night and definitely aren't sure how we'll feel "day of." While manners have been on the decline for decades, we've entered into peak uncertainty on the future event front.

Advertisement

This has been evident for a while but it's gotten very bad of late. Very bad.

Ellen Byron of the WSJ writes:

Advertisement

As many brides, event planners, chefs and dinner-party hosts can attest, getting responses to invitations is harder than it used to be. Even the calmest of organizers say they are increasingly frazzled over the bad manners of guests who don't comply with the request to "répondez s'il vous plaît." Tardy responses or none at all create a ripple effect of party problems, including last-minute haranguing by the host, overwhelmed party spaces and food shortages.

What Happens When You Don't RSVP

Everything from the mild bumming out of planners to utter chaos, with a healthy dose of overzealous overcompensation.

Byron tells the story of luggage-insurers Blue Ribbon Bags who are now forcing a lowly staffer to track down and speak with all 3,300 travel agents who have not RSVP'd for the client holiday party this year because they REFUSE to be fooled again.

Sponsored

"We are going to do everything we can to avoid what happened last year," says Blue Ribbon Bags President Daniel Levine. Some 96 unexpected guests appeared, overwhelming the sit-down dinner planned for 250 people. About 60 guests spent the meal in the hallway, and half of them didn't get served.

"After that, I personally vowed that I would RSVP to every single invitation I got, and I did," says Mr. Levine. "It's the most annoying thing in the world when someone doesn't respond."

There are def more annoying things, Mr. Levine.

What This Is Really About

Money. Resources. Reputation. And rightly so. When a person throws an event to entertain you, that person must use actual money to provide enough food, drink and entertainment to not risk looking like a complete jackal. It's their reputation on the line, and by not having enough lobster sliders, they risk angering guests, destroying morale and looking like a Bad Party Thrower. This is the grown up version of not getting picked for dodgeball or finding out you were voted Homecoming Queen as a joke. Seriously, have you ever forgotten a poorly provided-for get-together? Exactly.

Why Are We Like This?

In short, because we can be. The world is our oyster and we are assholes.

Advertisement

"We want to be able to decide that morning if we want to go that night—we have forgotten how to simply commit," Lizzie Post told the WSJ.

Yes to the first part—I want to decide that morning if I want to go that night. My favorite thing about being an adult is having the freedom to not do optional things I wasn't sure if I wanted to do or not and I would prefer to be able to change my mind literally right before.

But there's a price for this laziness. Recently I wanted to see a brand new band's show here in Los Angeles the weekend of Thanksgiving, and I was all, "It's a dead weekend" and "no one will go" and "I don't have to buy a ticket online." I showed up and the show was sold out.

Advertisement

As for the second part of Post's argument—have we really forgotten how to commit, or are we not simply embracing the convenience of never having to deal with people in real life if we don't want?

It's pretty simple: Doing optional stuff should be fun, because often the obligations are annoying. Certainly some events and parties are exciting to attend, offer the promise of genuine good times, or at least decent music and booze or the potential of them being fun once you get there. But plenty are nothing but sheer torturous obligation. Small talk with bad small talkers, or worse, no talk with no one at all.

And if you're on the fence about showing up somewhere because the event is inconvenient or meh, you will likely weigh the degree to which you feel truly obligated and do some quick moral math, in which one end of the equation is the relief in the form of your couch and the least effort possible, and the other is the event in question, which will require decidedly more.

Advertisement

Advertisement

The internet's Realness Barrier™ has allowed us to feel more engaged with people than ever but without ever having to really be on the hook. It's that wiggle room that gives many of us the out we've always wanted, particularly when everyone always seems to be hosting a thing you have to go to. Take it, WSJ:

Party planners say another factor is the deluge of events now on offer. So many invitations clogging inboxes and mailboxes can make the "pleasure of a reply" request seem overwhelming. Friends mark personal milestones with increasing frequency, more companies use social events to promote themselves and anti-bully programs encourage parents to invite the whole class to children's birthday parties.

An event planner quoted named Bronson van Wyck says basically the combination of more invites and shorter-term planning are a perfect storm of no RSVPs. For big catered events like weddings and holiday parties, the bottom line is that they have to eat the costs when no-RSVP'ers show up anyway, because running out of food is not an option.

Even with careful planning, scrambling can still be required. At a wedding this summer, Mr. van Wyck says he expected 456 people, but 33 additional guests arrived unexpectedly. During the half-hour ceremony and 60 minutes of cocktails that followed, Mr. van Wyck and his team raced to add tables, grabbing those used by the kitchen staff, and cut tablecloths from bolts of fabric.

"These guests had bought plane tickets, reserved hotel rooms and rented cars but just didn't think to tell the host they were coming," says Mr. van Wyck. "And they had received at least five emails asking for confirmation. It's unbelievable."

But as usual, assholes won't budge: both the ones who refused to RSVP after five confirmation emails, and the ones who throw an event so serious that they feel it necessary to send five confirmation emails to track down their RSVPs.

Advertisement

So it's the event planners who must accommodate the trend by phasing out sit-down dinners and doing more elegant buffets. Or by getting sneakier. One event planner didn't like the subpar RSVP response he got to a free fashion show, so he printed up $50 tickets and stamped VIP COMP on them and gave them out to people who seemed interested. He got 600 people to show up rather than the expected 250.

That seems closer to the point. after all, begging for RSVPs waters down your value. When your party seems like a fun place to be, people will show up. The whole point is to act like you're throwing a fun party and you want people to show up and have fun too. And one must try and participate, no? And RSVP, while we're at it. It's just polite.

Art by Tara Jacoby.