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The Vine: January 15, 2014

Submitted by on January 15, 2014 – 1:33 PM21 Comments


For many years, I've hosted an annual party.

Some of my friends have been to every one, some only started coming in the past five years. We do an activity, so only one or maybe two conversations go on at any time. It's like a dinner party for 12-20 people. In recent years, we've made a bigger deal about the "history" of the party, how long it's been going on, etc.

Three years ago, "Betty" started behaving badly. She was rude to others, and just a buzzkill. I suspect that one or two people have stopped coming because they don't want to be around her. I don't want to invite her, either, but I don't want to hurt her feelings. If I don't invite her, she will know that I am having the party and excluded her. (I had the party twice when I was 9.5 months pregnant.)

When I see Betty at other times during the year, she is okay, so I don't think she is mentally ill.

What to do?


Dear V,

Do you really not want to hurt her feelings? Or is it more that you don't want to deal with hurting her feelings — have a discussion about it, have her get mad at you, that kind of thing? No judgments, been there, etc. What you really "want" is for her to move away so that it's irrelevant, and I hear you, but in the world we actually live in, you have to decide what's more important to you: a peaceful party, attended by those you theorize have stopped coming because of her, that you don't spend the entirety of either cringing at Betty or bracing yourself for her to act up; or avoiding Betty's wrath/woundedness.

You could justify inviting her — you didn't call her on her behavior at the time, you can't prove that other guests have found somewhere else to be because of her, and whatever bug lodged itself in her ass may have gone to Boca for the winter and it could turn out fine. But you could also leave her off the list and decide to jump off that bridge when you get to it…and you may never get to it. Sometimes people don't care nearly as much as we fear they might. Of course, other times it's that one person you assumed wouldn't notice one way or the other who's all, "WELL BUT HEY FUCK YOU THEN" and you're like, "…You, really?" and my point is that you really can't control it either way. She has the right to feel hurt, but you have the right to invite whomever you want to invite, and to believe that, in your home, you can expect better from your guests than Betty has shown she's capable of.

In case Betty confronts you about it, maybe you want to prepare a short response along the lines of "I didn't mean to make you feel left out — but frankly, based on your behavior the last few years, you didn't seem to want to be there." Again, she may not mention it, because she's reluctant to confront you her own self or because she really didn't notice — but whatever happens, you can handle it, and it's not going to escalate into such a big deal that it's worth settling for a less-than event. She acted a fool; this is the price.

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  • I'm intrigued about this "activity." Is it charades? Boggle? AN ORGY?

  • Georgia says:

    An orgy while 9.5 months pregnant sounds like a real feat!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Well, you know the old wives' tale about inducing labor: spicy foods and sex. Maybe it's a jalapeno pre-natal orgy.

  • MizShrew says:

    The other potential bonus is that there's a good chance she won't bring it up either, for the same reason the LW doesn't want to deal with the fall-out — to avoid the confrontation. So yeah, she might feel hurt, but that doesn't mean she's going to get in your face about it either. I mean, if she's the type to be rude at another person's party, then she might, but I think Sars is right. Even the stress of worrying about whether she'll make your party unpleasant isn't worth it.

  • holly says:

    I have a Thanksgiving dinner for Wayward Souls like that, I have been doing it for 21 years now (Yes, I have a party that can legally drink), and there have been a couple of times where there was someone that for one reason or another I wanted to disinvite.

    On one occasion it was someone who's conversation/behavior had grown increasingly rude and crude over the years. I actually talked to her about the fact that I did not feel that her behavior was appropriate for this party. (I also mentioned that we were starting to have more senior and child guests, so cut it out). To her credit, she fixed it. (And lamentably she passed away last year).

    On another occasion it was the SO of a regular attendee who had behaved so very badly and I had to tell the attendee that his SO was not welcome/invited. After years of coming, the regular attendee was very angry and stopped coming, and I still feel bad about it. But here is the thing, it was still the right thing to do. I still don't want that person in my home or around my children. I feel bad every time I send the invite, but I regret it not one whit during the party.

    And sometimes there are just people who have moved to the point in their lives where they don't fit, and I just don't email them the invite, and frankly they don't seem to notice or mind that they aren't invited.

    When something has gone on long enough to have a life of its own, you want it to be simple and magic, but your guests are people.

    If she is not like that other times of the year, I'm betting she is like my late friend. You can probably point out to her that she is being a bit of an ass and she will either tell you why it is happening, straighten out, or realize that she doesn't actually enjoy the party any more (thus she is being obnoxious).

    Good luck

  • Wehaf says:

    You could consider inviting her but letting her know her behavior has become a problem. This gives her a chance to address the issue, and if she doesn't, it makes not inviting her in the future very straightforward.

  • Clover says:

    It sounds like one of those social occasions with a sense of obligation on both sides because, you know, TRADITION.

    The letter writer's thinking, "I have to invite Betty because I've always invited her, even though she's turned into a buzzkill and I no longer want to invite her." And Betty's probably thinking, "Here comes the annual summons to the jalapeno prenatal orgy. I've always gone in the past, so I can't start saying no now, even though it's no longer really my kind of thing."

    I'll bet you anything if you don't invite her, she'll be relieved and will never even bring it up unless you do.

  • Jen S. 2.0 says:

    I had to un-invite a friend from a party, and it was awkward, but I survived. I had a friend who wasn't close to her own family, and I invited her to my family holiday dinners…saying at one point when we were super-close that she'd always have a place at our table.

    She was fine at first, but then she grew increasingly unstable, and her behavior in groups got downright outlandish. I actually backed her out of a couple of groups of friends. She was tolerable for a while one-on-one, but eventually I started backing away from her entirely. Well, she came to one more Christmas, and acted a royal fool. My mother told me on December 26th that she wasn't invited back, and to handle it. (Note: my mother and I both have mental-health backgrounds, my sister is quite socially awkward, and a little bit of kookiness is expected at our events. This wasn't that.)

    I chewed on it for a while (again, I wasn't close to her any more by that point), debating whether I could just fade away from her without saying anything, or whether I should tell her the absolute truth that her behavior was so inappropriate that she was alienating us all, or something in-between.

    Uncharacteristically, I eventually settled on giving her a piece of polite semi-fiction and THEN losing touch completely. I don't normally do petite cream-colored fibs if I can help it; I believe in telling as much of the truth as necessary (even if you don't need to tell 110% of the whole, unvarnished, brutal truth). But I felt in this case that I could say something semi-true that made us both semi-comfortable, and then not see her again. I think I said something like, "My mother's decided that the big holiday dinners are too much on her, and she's scaling way back. I wanted to let you know ahead of time so you could make other plans." (Borrowed from the phrase you use when forced to discuss a wedding to which the person you're speaking is not invited: "Well, we're keeping it small, and so unfortunately we can't invite everyone we'd love to invite." Small wedding = one small enough not to invite that person, even if 500 other people are invited.)

    She took it well, and I haven't talked to her since.

    All of that said, it seems to me in this case like you can just…not invite her. Your situation is different because you will still see her, but if she asks at some point, you say you had to scale things way down. This is true; you had to scale down enough to exclude her. If she probes further, I like the line above pointing out that she didn't seem to want to be there.

    It's awkward, but it must be done.

  • Cora says:

    Somehow, the Tomato Nation Prom and the Jalapeno Prenatal Orgy seem to go well together, as a series of vegetabley, romantic (…well) events. What could we add?

  • Lindsay says:

    As a side note: I'm curious about the protocol for a jalapeno prenatal orgy. Do you have to be pregnant to participate, or can anyone bring the peppers?

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Hell, apparently I've been trying to induce labor for years and I'm not even pregnant!

  • CJ says:

    Nothing to add but seriously I love you guys

  • Maria says:

    Maybe the party's recent emphasis on the "history" aspect has something to do with Betty's recent crappy behavior. This says to me she may be attending out of obligation. That's the most obvious thing, although there could be other reasons. Maybe somebody there has come to rub her the wrong way? Or her hearing isn't as good and it's too loud for her? Who knows, but clearly the party isn't bringing out the best in her if she is okay when you see her otherwise.

    I say don't invite her next time. Put it on her to confront you. If she confesses hurt feelings, then you can talk about your own hurt feelings regarding how she behaved the last few times. As the hostess, you're allowed to mix it up and invite somebody else, or even whittle it down to a more manageable size. But I'm guessing she'll be fine without the party. If you can enjoy her other times, then do that.

  • Jane says:

    @Jen S.–I adore the phrase "petite cream-colored fibs"!

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    I'm just wondering what "behaving badly" means.

    Also: don't invite Betty. If she's only acting this way at this party, that's just weird, and it's kind of ruining it for others. And if she asks, well… gentle but firm, right? I hope it works out. You should be having fun at your own party!

  • Kristin says:

    Cora says:
    Somehow, the Tomato Nation Prom and the Jalapeno Prenatal Orgy seem to go well together, as a series of vegetabley, romantic (…well) events. What could we add?

    I'm down with the Avocado Fellatio Invitational…too far? But we'd get guacamole!!

  • karen says:

    late to the party, but this has made me both hungry AND horny. Success!!

  • vb says:

    Original LW here:
    I'm afraid of Google and really don't want to hurt feelings. The activity is decorating food items. Betty comes to the party and plows through the items very quickly, as if her objective were quantity not quality. I'm the least talented, but I take much longer than her on each one.

    She also makes negative comments about the military, perhaps not knowing that one person has a son serving in Afghanistan. Regardless, I think it's common courtesy to understand that you might dislike the war, but should still support those who are serving.

    Finally, she would leave in such a manner that others would actually say, "Oh, do we need to go?" I almost never see her other than this party.

    I ended up not inviting her. One of our mutual friends commented, "Oh, Betty couldn't make it?" and I just nodded. I still feel guilty but am getting over it!

  • KM says:

    Sometimes people — especially really social people — see the withdrawal of social contact as a punishment. So, when those people feel like they want to see less of someone in their social circle — or to see less of someone in a certain context, or during group events — they feel like they have to turn it into a narrative about how the other person did something so awful that he or she deserves to be punished this way — i.e., so-and-so behaved very badly and not because of mental illness, so…

    In those cases, it sometimes helps to reframe the situation to be less like "Betty did something so terrible that now she deserves to be excluded" and more like "I find that I don't enjoy socializing with Betty as much as I used to (in the context of this particular party) and so I choose not to."

  • Elizabeth says:

    Regardless, I think it's common courtesy to understand that you might dislike the war, but should still support those who are serving.

    This is a political opinion, not common courtesy. There can certainly be a large element of courtesy in how and when one chooses to express one's political opinions, or not. But, for example, I don't "support the troops" (I respect them as people, not in their role as soldiers), and however wrong this opinion may be to you, I'm not rude just by holding it.

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