The Real Reason People Don't RSVP to Party Invites, According to Experts

Plus, etiquette tips for declining an invitation with grace (and on time).

Speech bubble with rsvp message
Photo: Goir/Getty Images

Do you have a friend who always waits until the last second to RSVP to your events, or a friend you have to nag incessantly before finally getting an answer? Or maybe you're the one who can't bring yourself to respond—but why? It's a common habit that's hard to kick, but also a frustrating phenomenon for the host.

Tina Gilbertson, a psychotherapist and author of Constructive Wallowing, and Jodi R.R. Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette and author of From Clueless to Class Act book series, dig into all the etiquette rules surrounding party invitations—whether you're sending the invite or opening it.

Why Some People Never RSVP on Time (or Ever)

According to Gilbertson, there's more going on behind the scenes here than pure laziness or forgetfulness: Some people aren't really wired to RSVP. While this shouldn't be an excuse, it is an interesting explanation. They may have real trouble making decisions or commitments. They could also be trying to avoid conflict by failing to RSVP, because for them it might be easier to ignore an invite than to actively decline it. "It's a misguided attempt to protect the person from hearing the word 'no,'" Gilbertson says. While knowing this helps give some context and may help you empathize with them, it's still pretty frustrating to be a host with a few guests who refuse to let you know their plans.

The Right Way to RSVP "No"

Based on the above, it's probably clear the solution is not to ghost the host. Reply whether or not you can attend, but if you do have to decline, less is more. Smith advises providing a limited amount of information as to why you can't come. A simple, "I'm so sorry, I can't make it. Very sad to miss, but hope it's a great party/event!" is enough.

RSVPing on time is particularly important for formal parties, like a wedding, where your response doesn't just mean you'll miss the experience—your presence or absence will actually dictate other factors, like catering, rental, and other details.

RSVPing in the Digital Age

In the world of the internet, there's another invitation to take into account: evites. With this technology, the host can see if you're sitting on an invitation. As a host, you shouldn't obsessively check the invite, says Smith, but as a guest, you should respond as soon as you know your plans. Smith suggests hiding the guest list if you think people will wait around to see who else is responding to the party.

When Is It OK to Start Following Up?

There's no need to start nagging people before the RSVP deadline is up; but once you've hit the respond-by date, it's okay to reach out with a nice phone call or email saying you're simply checking in to see if they received the invite, you'd love to have them, but completely understand if they can't make it.

If you've spread the word via social media, like with a private Facebook event, it's smart to post something to the group as the date nears, saying, "Looking forward to seeing everyone this weekend! If you haven't already, please let me know whether or not you can make it within the next couple of days, so I know how much wine and cheese to get!" If your get-together is more casual, and the non-RSVPer in question isn't particularly a VIP, consider letting the ghosted invite go.

Have an etiquette question of your own? Ask our Modern Manners expert!

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