No thanks, that doesn't sound particularly interesting and I don't like you enough to take time away from reading people's Facebook status updates
I have a question: What is the best way to turn down an offer or invite for something you don't want to do?
Until about two years ago, I always thought if you could potentially squeeze something into your day you should. Even if it inevitably led to misunderstandings and sprints down subway stairs and headaches and panic over being late. I thought when someone said, "Can you go to the movies Saturday?" that, unless you'd be in another country or giving birth or at a wedding or funeral during that exact time the movie was showing--unless you literally could not go--the answer was yes, you could and therefore you would.
I figured out finally that wasn't always true, that you were allowed to not want to do something. But then I ran into trouble over what exactly to say when that happened. We're all taught to give polite excuses, along the lines of "I'd love to but I have a lot of work to do tonight" or "That sounds great but I have out of town guests."
The excuse can be adorned with all kinds of peppy and misleading phrases: Next time. Too bad I didn't know about it sooner. If there's any way I can get out of x I will. Let me try to make it work; I'll let you know if something changes.
The more specific and testable the better -- I'm meeting Kristin. It's my dad's birthday. I have after- work drinks. Those kinds of reasons leave the inviter feeling disappointed, but not dejected. Even a vague excuse can sometimes do the trick: "I don't think I can squeeze it in" is often acceptable, without reference to what would potentially get squooshed. It's assumed to be something legit like work or dentist appointments and not simply reading In Touch magazine and ordering Chinese food.
What all these excuses have in common is the suggestion that you would if you could. Saying yes might be your first choice, but you don't feel that you have a choice. All the polite excuses, even vague ones, imply that you're not allowed to make your own decisions about how you spend your time. So is the best approach to say that since your free time is limited you'd rather do something else with the person? (Unless you'd rather not see that person at all, in which case it becomes a much bigger problem.) Recently my friend Ivan said he doesn't want to keep saying "I didn't call because I've been so busy with work" or "Sorry I haven't called you back, there's been a lot going on" but just, "I didn't call because I didn't call." [He also pointed out that people don't need a reason that makes sense for why you didn't do something, but any reason at all, even something totally unrelated, like your girlfriends' best friend is moving to Paris. "Oh! Okay, now I get it."]
So -- recently I began to try for more clarity, fewer excuses, more "ownership" over decisions. But I've been so clumsy about it. I liked something my friend H. said to me a few months ago: "I won't be joining you." It works for short-term plans. But I tried it today in regards to a trip overseas and it sounded ridiculous. Like a computer.
"Would you like to go to Italy with us?"
"I won't be joining you."
Alex has a friend who used to say, in response to anything that involved opening his wallet, "Guy, I don't have the money." Alex would point out that he'd just spent $80 on a Metallica concert and they were only talking about getting a $3 beer. The friend now obligingly offers a revise: "I don't have the money for that."
Recently H. asked me about going to a Shonen Knife concert. I responded that I appreciated the invite and would like to see her soon but, "That's not something I would prioritize doing."
Again, robotic. Laughable. My friend H. understood what I meant but said she thought it could across as rude. She suggested saying something about not wanting to pay that much to see that particular band. It's better than saying you can't afford something, which in most cases, for most people I know, isn't true, but either way I usually feel references to how much something costs sound critical. I guess we all have our own idiosyncrasies about what feels right and what doesn't when we're being turned down.
Then again any excuse at all leaves an opening for a comeback. But -- you had time to call back your sister. But -- the birthday party won't last all night and we can meet after. But -- I can lend you the money. I don't know who said this, but my friend at work used to quote it all the time, usually in reference to coming back mildly buzzed from a 3-hour lunch: "Never explain, never apologize."
Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Can you give me examples of clear, straight-forward, self-actualized answers that come across well, in word or in print or both?
Can we, like tired 2-year-olds, look someone point blank in the eye when he or she asks if we'd like to go to the park and unapologetically tell them we don't want to?
Instead of giving excuses, can we simply be excused?