Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 30 August 2018

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Q. I invited four younger colleagues, all in their mid to late thirties, to go for a meal at a rather special venue. I first invited A and B, who were sitting together at the time, then C and D, who were also sitting together. On the day, A and C arrived, expressing great enthusiasm and having dressed in their best; B and D simply did not turn up. When I mentioned it later, they breezily replied that they had had other plans. What I don’t understand is that when I gave the invitations out two people accepted and acted accordingly, while two agreed with near-identical wording, but failed to attend (meaning their replies were totally insincere). How do I know in future when someone’s ‘Yes I’d love to come’ means ‘I have no interest at all’? Alternatively, how can I word an unambiguous invitation that expects a truthful answer?

— J.W., Dulwich, London

A. It was not the wording that left your invitation open to ambiguity — the actions of your colleagues reflect the broader problem of general flakiness that is symptomatic of the digital age. In many circles, guests have come to expect regular reminders to attend right up until the last few hours. Any failure on the part of the host to chivvy them risks their assuming the event is either off or has become a more casual, optional affair. So many now confuse their digital lives, where they do exactly what they want whenever they want, with their real lives that they feel perfectly entitled to ‘bail’ on anything that doesn’t suit when the time rolls around. Even more confusingly, guests often press ‘Going’ when RSVP-ing to an event on Facebook even if they have no intention of attending — often just to show support and encourage the host. Meanwhile, as hosts become increasingly irritated, a new elite is emerging: the non-flakes, who are receiving all the best invitations. It’s kinder not to invite the flakes at all — they are happier staring at their screens.

Q. I refer to your correspondent who was embarrassed to learn there was a fellow guest in the next-door room who might have overheard her arguing with her husband. How should one go about telling someone in a neighbouring guest room that you can overhear everything they say — particularly when you have just heard them saying something that they would certainly not have wanted you to overhear?

— V.I., London W12

A. After their voices have petered out, you should close your door with a bang, play something loudly on your iPhone, then turn it off and knock on their door, apologising profusely for the noise that you have been making. Say ‘I’m so sorry — I assumed that the walls were really thick but I’ve just heard one of you clicking on a light so I realise they must be actually really thin. I won’t do it again.’