DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I are longtime friends with another couple, with whom we frequently go out and travel. They are wonderful people and share many of our interests. The wife is a very social, active person and seems to have plans for every night of the week.
This couple will often invite us along to their many (usually expensive) activities, some of which we must, of course, decline. The problem is that they seem to consider every “no” a “yes” waiting to happen, to the point that they have accused us of canceling at the last minute, when we have simply reiterated our regrets.
If they do actually hear “no,” it becomes a constant interrogation up until the last minute. If we are honest, our reasons are criticized, and if we are vague, they will not stop questioning until we give an answer.
This problem is compounded by my husband, who considers it rude to decline an invitation at all, but particularly without giving a specific reason why we cannot attend.
GENTLE READER: Let us start with your husband. Miss Manners has frequently expounded on the rudeness of canceling invitations, once accepted. But there is no parallel ban on refusing an invitation in the first place.
And since no rudeness is being committed, there is no requirement to defend the refusal by citing reasons. It is, in fact, a bad idea, as the real reasons will, as you have discovered, initiate arguments about their validity.
Refuse politely, but firmly and without embarrassment. If the invitation is repeated, apologize and say you thought you were clear the first time in saying that you are definitely unable to attend. And when accused of canceling – which would indeed be rude – she suggests that you react with the shock that such an accusation deserves.