Social Dynamics and Party Invitations

I’m in need of some relatively unbiased opinions, and people here are smart. First, some background.

I belong to a relatively large and somewhat tightly associated social circle, united largely by a common hobby. Depending on exactly where you draw the boundaries, there are probably between 80 and 100 people in this group within a relatively close geographical area.

It’s sort of the custom among this group to have large inclusive parties where everyone in the group is invited. Even those who aren’t explicitly invited end up sort of invited by default, and everyone deals if extra people happen to show up.

This past weekend my partner and I had a party. Intentionally, we wanted to have a smallish gathering of about 15-20 people. So we sent out invitations (email), trying to pick a cut set of people which wouldn’t sever any particularly important social bonds.

Party happened, it went well, people had a good time.

Then Monday morning rolled around. As it turns out, one of the people who didn’t get invited was very offended. Her stated reason for offense was that her two housemates were invited and she wasn’t. In her mind this was a deliberate exclusion, and evidence that things are Wrong between us in some way.

(The situation is complicated by the fact that instead of talking to us about this problem, the person went to someone else, who chose to broadcast this into a large public debate. But that’s a separate ill.)

So here’s the point I’m stuck on. The person is looking for, I believe, an apology coupled with an excuse. That is, a story along the lines of “oh, we thought you’d be busy”, or “that was just an oversight - of course we meant to invite you”, or “we were mostly going to be playing Mah-jongg, and we know you don’t like to play”. We could do this and probably move on with our lives.

But what I would like to say instead is more complex. What I would like to express is the notion that this person has no right to be offended. Furthermore, even inquiring into why one wasn’t invited is rude, in my opinion. It seems to me that society works best if guests - invited or not - do not pry open the lid and try to determine the algorithm used for determining who gets invited and who doesn’t. Maybe we invited only people with diabetes. Maybe we invited only people we suspect of having webbed feet, so we could embarrass them on the slip-and-slide. Maybe we only invited people with children whom we haven’t seen in a while. Or maybe we invited the eighteen people we like best in the whole world, and you’re only our 23rd best friend.

This, however, seems to be such a radical departure from the social norm in this group that I fear to take a public stand. What I’d like to figure out is whether this is normal in the world at large. Am I off base, and if so, how far? If I try to take a stand on this issue, and assuming the group is more-or-less representative of society at large, should I expect rallying support or social ostricization? Is there any high ground here, or is it all case-by-case and each social group decides for itself?

If it helps any, this groups is by and large pretty geeky. The Geek Social Fallacy #5 seems like it’s applicable here.

Thanks for any insights - even if it’s just to tell me that I’m being clueless.

My suggestions:

  • Apologise to this person for unintentionally hurting their feelings (without qualifying that by saying they have no right to be offended). After all, you did hurt their feelings unintentionally.
  • Explain that you could only invite a limited number, and that others in the geek circle weren’t invited either.
  • If possible, single this person out for somethiung nice in the not too distant future.
  • Don’t make a public display of this, because that will just go on to cause more hurt.

What you say here is technically true, and you are well within your rights to invite whomever you choose.

BUT. I think that it’s understandable that she’s upset. Assuming there are only three people living in her house, and she was the one not invited, it does smack of deliberate exclusion. These three people live in the same space, and are thus aware of each other’s social lives and schedules, even if only vaguely – and they’re also liable to talk to one another about what they did last night and that sort of thing as idle chatter. You looked at those three people and, intentionally or not, sent the message that you preferred the company of two of them over the company of the third. Not only that, but that you’d rather hang out with two of them and not hang out with the third. My feelings would be hurt under those circumstances, too.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this WAS a deliberate exclusion.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if I was the 3rd and only uninvited housemate, I’d probably be a bit offended. I’m not sure if I’d broadcast it publicly, but if one of the invited guests asked me why I wasn’t there, I’d probably have to make some sort of snide comment about not being invited. Its your party and you can invite whoever you want, but I think you dropped the ball by inviting only 2 out of 3 members of the same house. For that third member, I’m sure its not a lot of fun to watch your invited housemates get ready, and leave you sitting alone watching TV. Then they come back and either talk about how fun it was, or deliberately try not to talk about it because you may get hurt feelings.

I’d say something like “I’m sorry you’re offended we didn’t invite you, but we were trying to keep it a small gathering of only our very closest friends. It was a bit insensitive of me to invite your roomies and not you, and for that I apologize.”

That’s an apology (and I do believe you owe one in this case), but not an excuse.

I’ve been put in similar situations myself, and they’re never pleasant to deal with. I’m always very conscious about who I invite and I try to make sure none of the uninvited people get offended. Sometimes this means inviting people you don’t necessarily want there. But to me, that’s better than the drama that comes later.

Thank you all for the comments, truly.

I think I’m not comfortable putting things that way. I guess when I see the phrase “deliberate exclusion”, I imagine a process of making a big list of people, then going through with a marker and deliberately removing some of them for one reason or another. (“Hah - this person has no fashion sense. Ho - this person gave us a crummy Christmas gift.”) Whereas the process we used was more like starting with a couple of people and then growing outward, including others until our limit was reached. I think the fault here was then in not completing social clusters - like group houses - where all but one person was already on the list.

We’d never invite one half of a couple, for example, but we didn’t think to include roommate clusters in that category.

In fact, it didn’t even occur to me that the two people we did invite lived in the same house. One was invited because they were the SO of someone else who was already “in”, and the other was invited just because we thought he’d be particularly interested in the activities we were doing. It wasn’t until Monday that I even realized that we’d hit 2/3 of a particular social group.

I do agree that an apology for unintentional offense should be forthcoming. In part I guess I’m trying to figure out how to keep this from happening again. It may just be a case of determining which social groups need to be “completed” when doing invitations. Couples and families - yes. Roommates - ok. Gaming groups, craft circles, barbershop quartets - maybe. People living in the same close geographic area - not sure. Close friends - I don’t know. Again, maybe there’s no hard and fast rules here.

Thanks again for the insights.

I think that Miss Manners agrees with you. It is nobody’s business how you decided to invite people, and people who examine guest lists looking for slights are borrowing trouble.

I would go to her directly tell her that you heard that she thought there was something wrong between you, and that you wanted to assure her that it wasn’t so. She wasn’t invited because you were only having a limited number of people over, and you just couldn’t invite everyone, and there was certainly no malice on your part in not inviting her (or Joe, or Andrea, or the many, many other people you might have invited) . If she presses, and wants to know why you left her off the guest list, I’d just keep repeating that you couldn’t afford and/or comfortably accomodate more than 20 people, so you had to draw the line somewhere, and that you like her and were not angry with her, and if at any time in the future you find that you have a problem with her, you will be sure to discuss it directly with her, rather than (pointed look) playing silly junior high games about it.

OTOH, I don’t think you should take a “public stand.” As you note, it was wrong to drag this into the public arena, and you don’t want to perpetuate that by engaging in the debate. If anyone asks you about it personally, give your stock response: the guest list was limited due to practical considerations; you didn’t deliberately exclude her, you simply couldn’t invite everyone who might have enjoyed the party, much as you might have liked to. Don’t get sucked into a gigantic group-wide drama-fest, because there’s no winning. Some people are going to think (incorrectly, IMHO) that you were in the wrong, no matter what defense you offer. The best way to resolve this is to get it hashed out with her as soon as possible. If you can make peace with her, and this doesn’t satisfy the Mob, then there was probably no way to placate them, anyway.

It would be extremely nice, but not necessary by any means, to invite her to some other small gathering as soon as you can, or, if you’re close enough, to ask if she’d like to come over for dinner or go out for a movie or whatever, just to drive home the point that you weren’t pissed off at her.

Thanks, by the way, for the link to the Geek Fallacies! Very insightful.

Of course it is completely understandable and natural for her to be hurt/offended/confused that she wasn’t invited and her two roommates were. I think for you to say she has “no right” to be offended is very insensitive. I do think she deserves some sort of apology/explanation - that is, if you want to keep her as a friend. If someone did this to me with no explanation, I wouldn’t continue associationg with them.

Also, if I were invited to a party, and a roommate who is part of the same circle was left out, I would inquire to the host as to whether it was an oversight… then I would probably not go to the party. I think that would be insensitive to the excluded roommate.

I have to strongly disagree with the last sentiment: you have no authority to tell who deserves to be offended for not being invited.

That said, I do think that an apology would be very, very appropriate—not because you’ve done anything wrong, but because the person was terribly betrayed by the dick whom she confided in. You don’t need to apologize, but you should apologize because it would be a magnanimous and generous thing to do. Etiquette (sp?) is about not making people feel uncomfortable, it’s not about following rules (or good spelling…).

Seriously, have you never said anything bad or felt hurt by someone in your social circle? It’s normal and healthy (IMO). Mr. LoudMouth could use a beat down…