Remember, our conduct is influenced not by our experience but by our expectations.
-- George Bernard Shaw
I was 14 the first time I learned there was a party held by one of my friends to which I had not been invited. It was an end-of-the-year bash and, if the conversations in art class the following Monday were any indication, every person in my grade had been there. At first I was devastated. Then I felt ashamed, which quickly morphed into indignant anger. The last emotion, which pulled up a chair and sat with me for many weeks, was self-pity. Why wasn't I liked? How come all my other friends got to go but I was excluded? What's wrong with me? I'm a loser, that's what. An uninvited, unwanted, on-the-social-periphery loser . In elementary school, I placed valentines in the bag attached to each of my classmates' desks. Year after year, I relived my disappointment and sadness when I arrived home, excitedly dumped my bag on the floor, and counted, over and over again, as if by the fifteenth time I counted, the measly number of cards would have magically increased.
In high school, when I hosted parties, I invited everyone . It was the right thing to do, the nice thing to do. But there was an underlying reason for my unending hospitality -- my biggest fear was that people might not like me. If I overlooked anyone, it was possible he or she would resent me for the slight, and I could not handle being disliked as consequence for my carelessness.
After I graduated and got a job, I realized the world was much bigger than high school. It fast became apparent I would have to adapt to the reality of adult social interaction, beginning with one of the basic laws of humanity: The more people I meet, the less likely it is that everyone I know will like me, just as I will probably not like everyone I know. In order to compensate for the inevitable, I focused my attention on learning how to like myself, so as to soften the first blow of social rejection.
It was only after I had moved to L.A. and feverishly amassed a collection of friends so vast I could not fit them into my apartment at the same time that, after trying to squeeze them in anyway and having my place trashed as a result, I realized it had become impractical for me to invite everybody I knew to every party I threw. Most of us reach this point of maturity, when we become more selective about our time and the people to whom we choose to give it.
Despite this social growth spurt, it was not until recently (within the last year) that I have been able to withhold invitations without feeling guilty and to accept the fact that I was not invited to gatherings without becoming upset. Unfortunately, with overlapping groups of friends, some from which I have attempted to extricate myself due to the simple fact that I no longer like them, feelings are easily hurt -- especially among those who are as insecure, self-centered, and desperate to be liked as I once was.
Last year, when David and I were hosting monthly cheese parties, we invited only six to eight people at a time, mostly to save money on extra cheese and wine and to keep the atmosphere intimate and warm. After one such party, my friend Jen revealed to me during a phone conversation that a mutual friend of ours had asked her, "Why didn't Barb and David invite me to their cheese party?" Jen had answered with another question: "When was the last time you talked to Barb?"
"I'll tell you when," I snapped into the receiver. "Over six months ago!"
"That's my point," Jen said. "I also asked her, 'When was the last time you invited Barb and David over to your house?' And the answer was 'Never.' So why she expected to be invited and then got upset when she wasn't is beyond me."
Of all events that may lead to invitation distress, the wedding is the worst. Such momentous occasions are best when shared with loved ones, but the cost per head can get pretty high. So why are so many wedding invitations born of guilt and obligation? Said to be the most important day in a woman's life, a wedding is a giant, expensive party with an emotional core and the added drama that only family can bring.
Planning a wedding is stressful enough without having to worry about how the hundreds of people you know might react if not invited. I can still remember the arguments surrounding my sister's wedding.
Mom would shout, "What about Fran?" Okay, given, as the mother of the bride, forking over the dough, she gets to show off to whomever she pleases -- but Fran had never met my sister, and Mom had never socialized with her. Fran was a coworker Mom felt obligated to invite. If it were my "special day," I wouldn't want to spend even ten seconds talking to a random when the room is filled with people I actually care about.
During a recent party I did not attend, one guest, let's call him Mr. A, attacked another guest, Mr. B, because he was not invited to Mr. B's wedding. This information was relayed to me within minutes of the dramatic scene via cell phone and satellite uplinks as I sat sipping hot apricot tea at the Urban Grind (I love technology). After Mr. A screamed and yelled, Mr. B calmly posed the following question: "What is my last name?" The point of this question was to demonstrate that A and B were acquaintances, not friends, and that Mr. A was delusional to assume he should be invited to this intimate (and costly) gathering when he hardly knew the two men who would be saying their vows to each other.