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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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How to decline invitation politely

Judith Martin, United Feature Syndicate

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My freshman daughter in high school, who is beautiful on the inside and outside, has received several offers to the homecoming dance at school. She said yes to the first offer although she knew another boy she liked (and we did, too) had attempted to contact her.

She said she didn’t realize the conversation with the first boy would end in an invitation, and she didn’t want to hurt him. We know this boy’s family and agree that it would be best to go on the date she has accepted. I am sure they will be OK.

This may happen in the future. Would you have advice on how to decline an invitation to the school dance, which I think is different than a regular date because everyone wants to go and talks about this one night?

If you say no to a potential date, does etiquette mean you should not go at all? My only advice was “don’t answer the phone three weeks before a dance and only call back who you want.” There are a lot of limitations with this advice. This is a situation where I think it is hard to juggle getting what you want with being kind.

Is 14 too old for her to say, “I have to ask my parents first”? This still doesn’t help enough because we wouldn’t want to hurt a boy’s feelings either, just to wait for another offer.

GENTLE READER: Your daughter is not too young to learn how to say no to someone who admires her. It will save you, as well as her, a lot of grief later.

And while Miss Manners commends your and her desire to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, you both need to recognize that not all hurt feelings can be avoided.

Hurting someone’s feelings by making it clear that the young lady is waiting for a better offer would indeed be bad. But everyone, even vulnerable young gentlemen in high school, has to learn to deal with whatever hurt is felt if an invitation is declined or a romantic impulse unrequited.

The chief way to avoid rudeness when declining is not to give any excuse. This is also a way to avoid easily detected falsehoods. She need only say, “You’re so nice to ask me, but I’m afraid I can’t.”

If the petitioner’s mother has not taught him the danger, as well as the rudeness, of asking why not, she should say merely, “I’m sorry, but I have other plans.” Even if the other plans are to wait for a more desirable young gentleman to ask.

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