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Response to "Left-out LW"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  November 11, 2011 11:26 AM

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Monday's question was from an LW who got conversationally stranded when her happy-hour companions started going on about a party to which she wasn't invited. Two themes emerged: 

1. The fact that everyone was discussing a party to which the LW wasn't invited 
2. The awkwardness of having a conversation go on around you to which you can't contribute. 

As far as Question 1 is concerned, it's a fact of social life that not everyone gets invited to everything that they might think they should be. My read is that the LW was not particularly bothered by the lack of invitation, that it was Question 2 that was bothering her more. 

Green-Mountain-Views wrote: 

In the old-fashioned society in which I was raised one would never refer to any event in the presence of any person who was not invited. Ever. We didn't even know when some people passed away if the funeral was private. Really. In contemporary society I think people feel it's quite OK to refer to events in front of others who are not invited. 

Thank you for that, GMV. I know that is the official etiquette (it still is) but you don't really know how people actually behaved by reading etiquette books. It seems that nowadays, it's impossible to keep a social event under wraps. Part of this has to do with technology -- what, you're going to keep all mention of your birthday party off Facebook forever? good luck -- and partly, I think, with people having multiple and overlapping social circles. 

Extrapolating from my own experience and the letters I get, people seem to be adjusting to this new world of knowing what you didn't get invited to fairly gracefully. We've all been hosts and had to make tough calls. And people really do agonize over those whom-to-invite decisions. (I wrote up some advice on how to create an invitation list here.) I very, very rarely get letters from people who feel insulted that they haven't been invited to something. When I do, it's usually a ridiculously over-the-top situation in which the host or celebrant is not inviting their own sister to their wedding or something. It's never a close-call situation.  

Question 2 can be stickier, and we've all been in those situations, as the left-out and the leaver. If you are the former, you stick it out for a bit, and then you make a bid to change the topic. MountMac gave good advice: 

I'd say if it goes on too long try jumping in during a lull with a "on a different note, do people know what is good on the menu/have any fun holiday plans, etc." If there is a chance to change the topic, do so, but make it about asking other people a question, that way the attention is not on your or making it look like you're super left out or pouting (which it doesn't sound like you were). Similarly you could ask an interesting question about the event (is the weather supposed to be good?), so again its not about you, just about trying to break up the conversation a little. Maybe try asking the birthday girl, "do you have any big presents your hoping for?" I know its a little silly of a question for an adult, but you get the point. I feel like deflecting to a different or even similar topic, but asking a new question can sort of break up the banter a bit and also help people to notice you. 

 This is also a good time to go to the restroom. By the time you've come back the topic may have changed. If not, you can interrupt it with an amusing review of the art on the bathroom walls. For example, I took this picture in the restroom of our favorite Greek restaurant. Sure, those kitties seem adorable on first glance, but peer into those crazyeyes! 


Worse than Michelle Bachmann on the cover of Newsweek

AntoniaB wrote: 

I have to say, I have on occasion got carried away with reminiscences and the suchlike, suddenly realizing I'd altogether been leaving someone twiddling her thumbs with nothing to contribute, so I do believe it's not malicious - it's getting caught in the moment. That being said, I've caught myself and apologized when it's happened. 

This is a good point. We are all the "bad guy" sometimes: the person talking too loudly on their cell phone, the late RSVP-er, the clueless driver. Becoming aware of my "bad guy" moments helps me be more forgiving toward others.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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