Much of etiquette is a gray zone, and certain faux pas are easy to make even when you’re well intentioned and relatively well bred. Is it okay to shake hands after sitting down or ignore an RSVP? No, but people do it, and we don’t make too big a deal out of it, because most of us are unrefined brutes who don’t know any better.
That said, what’s Town & Country’s excuse? The bougie socialite rag has a list of the most common etiquette mistakes people make on their own website, and while “wearing diamonds before 6 p.m.” makes the list, nowhere is the fact that uninviting someone to an event after they’ve already accepted your invitation is well, about as gauche as showing off your rocks at brunch.
Yet that’s what the magazine did to Monica Lewinsky. They invited the former Bill Clinton mistress and now bullying activist to their annual philanthropic summit, and then, once they found out Bill Clinton accepted his invite, took it back. Classy move.
Lewinsky didn’t call them out directly, but Huffington Post quickly ID’d Town & Country as the offenders in question. T&C then apologized:
As they probably say in Arkansas: that dog don’t hunt. While it’s understandable that Clinton and Lewinsky would likely not prefer to be in the same room as each other, what’s not understandable is how this happened in the first place, when it seems entirely preventable.
Are we really to believe that former presidents don’t receive guests lists in advance? Are we to believe no one with guest list oversight at T&C realized both Lewinsky and Clinton were being invited to what they promoted as an invite-only shindig for “activists, game-changers, and leaders across the field of philanthropy, education, healthcare, and gun control”? Clinton was invited to intro the panelists for March for Our Lives, led by Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school student Emma Gonzales and others, CNN reported, and Lewinsky was ostensibly invited for her activism.
It’s not just an unforgivable gaffe because it essentially re-victimizes Lewinsky, who, it’s safe to say, has already endured enough shame, mockery and blame for having an affair with Clinton, and his ensuing impeachment (enough to beg off to Europe for a decade). It’s not just tone-deaf because they did it in the midst of the #MeToo movement whose goal is, if nothing else, to give a platform to women’s voices and expose the terrible dynamics that fuel such abuses of power by powerful men. But it’s also just bad manners from a publication who ironically earns its keep by reinforcing these very etiquette distinctions, along stringent class lines no less.
In other words, these are precisely the well-heeled motherfuckers who would know better than any of us that there really is no good way to snatch back that invite.
While the lion’s share of invite etiquette is typically devoted to who to invite in the first place, or how to deal with not being invited at all, uninviting is a particularly taboo practice that comes up far less even among plebes, because that’s how tacky it is. You mostly see it in weddings, known for fostering a particular kind of controlling insanity on the part of its planners.
Regardless, the rule is pretty simple: There’s really no good way to rescind a party invite, unless you’re ready and perhaps even trying to burn the bridge. For this reason, you should have a really good reason to do it, and being a cheapskate isn’t one of them. It usually comes up when there’s been some kind of terrible falling out. It should not be because you’re essentially wait-listing your event and knowingly inviting people you wouldn’t want to be in a room together, and simply crossing your fingers that one or both of them is a no-show.
Here’s how that plays out in the etiquette world:
Corporate Events, Weddings, Family Get-Togethers, Birthdays
According to a Miss Manners column on the subject of throwing a corporate event and realizing you’re five guests over, she explains that “there is no polite way to rescind a proffered invitation.” Her only suggestion is that, if the five people happened to be also working the event, it could be suggested that their work was no longer needed. But if it was pitched as fun, or they were not employees, she writes, “you would do better to locate five more chairs.”
Weddings are not so different. Writing at Brides.com, Jaimie Mackey notes that, “Generally, rescinding an invitation to your wedding is in poor form, because, like gifts, an accepted invitation isn’t something you can really take back.”
But if you really, really must, because otherwise the event would be a disaster, you should heed the following advice, Mackey says: Do it quickly, make it clear they are not welcome so there’s no confusion, try to do it in person or at least on the phone rather than in a text or email, and accept the fact that this may be the end of the relationship — forever.
And the same rule generally applies with a family get-together. In one instance in an online forum, the host says she told her stepsister she could bring her boyfriend to a get-together, but once the rest of the family found out, they became livid, informing the host that the boyfriend treats the stepsister badly, has beat her, and often leaves her stranded. The advice here, from commenters, is divided: You can nix him from the event, but tell her the truth, up front and right away. Or, suck it up: You already invited them and shouldn’t “play the family drama game.”
One other common scenario is that someone you don’t want to attend — a roommate or coworker — has gotten word of your event and invited themselves to your party, and you need to know how to tell them they are not welcome, but without poisoning the relationship because you see them every day or often. That’s the case in this Yelp forum, where someone asks how to gracefully uninvite a roommate they don’t like who invited themselves to a birthday dinner.
Since “gracefully” here, as the advice-seeker puts it, means telling them to “fuck off without telling them to fuck off,” most commenters advise on straight-up lying. “Say that you guys over booked and forgot that the reservation was full before he was added to the list,” one person suggests.
Still, the person was worried they might show up anyway, which is why being direct, in some form or fashion, is necessary. “You could also just say, ‘Hey we’re downsizing,’” another commenter suggests. “’We don’t want as many people and you didn’t make the cut.’ It still might burn a little but it’s semi honest and doesn’t leave an opening for him to still come.”
The Accidental Invite
Finally, there’s the oops invite, which often comes up with mass invites like those on Facebook where you clicked through to the wrong person. Most advice explains how you can remove them from an online invite, banking on the fact that if they no longer get the invitation or notification about it, they’ll stop thinking they should come. Of course, if they saw the invite and planned on going, they may still come anyway.
If you’re still convinced uninviting someone is the only way to go, understand that the risk may be far greater than to just your relationship with the person you don’t want there. You may be willing to take that risk, but are you willing to take the risk to your reputation when people find out you’re the sort of person who rescinds an invite?
Deservedly, Town & Country is getting eviscerated on social media for not just the etiquette gaffe, but also it’s tacit approval as Clinton over Lewinsky as the bigger get and greater agent of social change. Bill Clinton may still and forever be far more powerful than Lewinsky, but, it turns out, she has friends in high places, too.
They should take note: Ironically, when one of your biggest critics is a guy who is best known for writing movies about stunted man-children who won’t grow up, you know you’re no longer in a position to be giving anyone etiquette advice.