Margaret’s mother Bea was an elegant, classy lady who left her family many wise lessons before she died three years ago. Barbara was the lucky recipient of some of the advice by way of her working with Margaret for so many years. One nugget she shared has remained deeply engrained in both our brains: always to err on the side of being inclusive rather than exclusive, when possible. “Invite the extra person or people or couples. Don’t leave anyone out on purpose,” she’d say. “It can be so hurtful.” The ironic part of this lesson is that she rarely entertained at home but knew the right thing to do. Margaret felt that at some point her mother’s feelings must have been hurt when she was left off a guest list or two.
It’s horrible to be left out or standing on the outside looking in. It reminds us of the 1937 movie, Stella Dallas starring Barbara Stanwick. There’s a scene when her daughter is getting married and she is not invited. The camera pans in on Stanwick standing outside in the rain watching the ceremony through a window.
Barbara’s beau, who hails from south of the Mason-Dixon line, has mastered some Southern mores and shared similar advice when she’s asked or organized a dinner or gathering of friends or family. “Do the right thing and include so-and-so,” he’ll say, even if Barbara hadn’t thought to do so. “Everyone likes to be invited,” he’ll add. That advice certainly pertains to our own feelings. We like to be asked, included, thought of, even if we can’t make every social gathering.
In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we know it’s not always possible or easy to do the right thing. We forget. We rush. We make excuses for not including someone: “Oh, she’s learning bridge, taking classes and would never have time to meet us.” Woah! Don’t assume. Just ask. It’s insulting to be excluded.
We try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, so to speak, and think how they might feel if they were to hear we are having lunch with their best friend after she introduced us and the two of us hit it off so splendidly at their home. If you’re going to plan a lunch with their best friend, proper etiquette dictates that you invite the person who introduced you at least the first time. Second and third times? Well, maybe, yes, too, we should but we also might be excused if we decide we won’t. If that’s the case, at least let the person who introduced you to the new friend know that the two of you are getting together. Ask if she minds. We are, after all, adults—at least most of the time, and know we can’t be invited to everything. Right? Yes, and sometimes no.
If you’re having a large gathering and money is tight, it might be easier to have everyone pay their own way and invite a crowd. Young people do this all the time. Let’s say you’re gathering all your sorority sisters in your area at a restaurant where everyone is responsible for their own bill. Perhaps you have a potluck supper. You would be kind to invite everyone rather than just your besties. You can afford to be generous when everyone is bringing something. Leaving out a few would cause hurt feelings.
Then there are the tougher scenarios. One, you just can’t fit another person or couple around your dining room table or invite everyone you want to your daughter or son’s wedding or any special celebration. Or, you may want to discuss a certain matter with one friend or couple and not invite several, even though they all know one another and get along. Just be aware of the consequences when someone hears they were left out.
In these cases, it’s prudent to be prepared with your response if word does get out and someone objects. Case in point. You’re having a tete-a-tete meal with a friend with whom you want to discuss your very difficult boss. If questioned by someone who says, “Why didn’t you include me?” be transparent. You might say, “I’m sorry we didn’t include you that evening, but I needed to have a heart-to-heart about a difficult situation I’m dealing with. Of course, if it were purely social, we’d have included you.” Or, if it’s about not including someone at the wedding and you’re in charge of the guest list, again be honest. “We’re limited by the size of the venue (or our budget), and I’m sure you understand, or I hope so.”
However, sometimes, it’s better to take the bull by the horns, and tell a close friend in advance not to expect an invite to preserve the friendship. “My kids have really limited who we can have besides family and their friends, and we’re only allowed to invite our friends who’ve met and really know them. We hope you’ll get to meet them at some time at our home.” By the way, we think forewarned is always best rather than after the fact.
Along with these same acts of kindness, we advocate not posting any gatherings or invites that exclude people in any possible way on Facebook or other social media. That’s akin to putting up a billboard and announcing over a loudspeaker: “Look at my life and what I’m doing! And you’re not part of it!” An option is to share any announcements and pics in private messages or emails. It’s a lesson that anyone on Facebook at least might consider.
We all make gaffes and inadvertently leave folks out from time to time. It happened to Margaret when she threw a big birthday bash for her late husband’s 60th birthday. Someone she accidently left off the guest list said to her after the party, “Why didn’t you invite me?” She tried to minimize his hurt with a simple, “I am so sorry. It was a complete oversight. I’ll be sure to include you next time.” And be sure you do!