The holidays are here. Yay! I love the holidays, because I love sweaters, and and indoor trees, and I absolutely LOVE being invited to parties. I don’t always love going to parties, because that entails leaving behind the me-shaped cavity in my couch and brushing my hair, but boy, I love knowing I have the option of a having party to maybe blow off.
Which is why this recent interaction was so deflating:
“Are you going to So-and-So’s party on Saturday?” a friend asked me over coffee.
“So-and-So’s having a party?”
My friend’s eyes widened, her jaw dropped and then sealed itself back very tightly, as if she were trying to squeeze the question back into her mouth, or attempting to collapse in on herself like a dying star, crushing her cells inward until she overheated and exploded into a supernova, leaving behind a black hole that would hopefully engulf us both, freeing us from the waking hell of this moment.
“Oh God. I’m sorry. It was Bcc’d, I just assumed … I’m sure they just forgot.”
The next day, I got an email from So-and-So saying, hey, they were having a party on Saturday, and had I already been invited?
The party was nice, and I brushed my hair, and had a good time, and I was glad I had been invited, even though it was clearly only after my friend ran to So-and-So screaming about the terrible mistake she’d made. But I still felt like that whole situation could have been avoided had the host used regular old carbon copy. Then, my friend could have scanned the invitees and realized, “Ah, Madeleine is not listed among us. I must therefore conclude that she is unpopular, and I will behave accordingly.”
What’s more, when I am invited to things and I’m Bcc’d, I can’t help but feel a little offended. I wonder if the host doesn’t trust me with other people’s contact information. Are they inviting someone famous and they don’t want me to know? Come on. If I knew I was on an email list with someone famous, I wouldn’t tell anyone. (Unless their email were something funny like Wolf.Blitzfirstname.lastname@example.org, or they still used AOL, in which case I would tell a few people.)
A non-blind invite list is useful for a number of reasons. You can see whether your enemy has also been invited, or someone you hooked up with, or someone you want to hook up with, and dress accordingly (for revenge; for revenge; for future revenge). You can coordinate with some of the other guests to see if they’d like to meet up beforehand and go to the party together, so you don’t have to walk in alone and do that thing where you sort of hover around the edges of conversations, waiting for an opportunity to jump in (“Funny that you mention CNN. I was on an email chain with a certain bearded anchor once and…”). Plus, seeing the length of the guest list gives you a better idea of whether this is a party you can pop in and out of, or something that involves a seating chart and calligraphy place cards.
But this view of invitations is new, explains Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert, and the founder of the Swann School of Protocol. “We are in a place of information overload, where we expect to have as much information about things as possible,” Swann notes. In the olden days, if you received an invitation in the mail, or by messenger, or by carrier pigeon, there would no button to press to find out who else would be in attendance. Anxious or not, you had no choice but to lace up your bodice and hope for the best.
“From traditional etiquette, it shouldn’t be necessary for you to know everybody who’s been invited to accept an invitation or not,” agrees Daniel Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute, and Emily Post’s great-great-grandson. “There’s even a very tricky courtesy where you’re not supposed to ask a host who else is coming as part of your reply to an invitation — it’s viewed as a conditional reply. It should really be your relationship with the host that determines your response.” Plus, he points out that Bcc’ing prevents you from getting trapped in a never-ending reply-all thread.
That all being said, Swann acknowledges that the holidays mean “our guest lists tend to be a little bit larger.” If you do receive a Bcc’d holiday invitation, she says, and know you and the host share a mutual acquaintance whom you despise, “It is perfectly fine to ask if maybe a nemesis is going to be there.”
All of that makes sense. And indeed, anyone who replies to an invitation with, “Hmm, who else is gonna be there?” should never be invited to anything ever again, including but not limited to happy hours, family reunions, their own funeral. But how does one avoid uncomfortable interactions like the one my friend and I had? Well, according to Swann and Post Senning, one doesn’t, necessarily. We just need to reframe how we think about invitations.
“Oftentimes I tell people ‘Don’t be offended if you’re not invited to something,’” says Post Senning. “All kinds of decisions are made about guest lists that don’t have to do with how much someone likes you or not, or would enjoy your company. People just can’t invite everyone, for all kinds of reasons. I like to encourage people to not take it personally if they’re not invited.”
As someone who takes everything that happens to me or within 20 feet of me extremely personally, this advice won’t work, but maybe it will help you. If you are invited to a party, Swann adds that unless your host has explicitly said otherwise, it is not on you to protect the guest list like it needs a security clearance. “That’s their job,” she explains. “Don’t take on that burden of trying to keep their guest list private.”
In other words, spend this holiday party season in blissful invitation ignorance. As Swann concluded: “Honey, go to the party, enjoy yourself, take your hostess gift along with you, and whoever shows up shows up, and go from there.”
Probably best to dress for revenge though, just to be safe.