Much to his wife’s chagrin, Peyton Williams, a business development and growth strategist in Texas, loves saying “no” to social invites.
Still, he absolutely hates not having a good reason to decline. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, he had a built-in excuse that worked swimmingly: “Sorry, still trying to keep my distance from folks because of COVID.” That excuse kept him safe and happily at home come Friday and Saturday night.
Those days of using the pandemic as an excuse not to go somewhere are coming to a close. Now, Williams is scrambling for a new excuse.
“I’m remodeling the bathroom right now to avoid going to a gender reveal party,” he said. “My wife and I are fully vaccinated so we’d be fairly safe, but I avoid gender reveal parties as a matter of principle, anyway.”
If you can’t use “it’s a pandemic!” as an excuse, “you can always have a few side projects going on,” Williams said, only semi-joking.
As people continue to get vaccinated and cities open up further, Williams’ experiences are relatable to many. People feel resistant to going “back to normal” generally, but that’s especially true when it comes to returning to jam-packed social schedules, said Laura L. Young, a psychotherapist in New York City.
“In the pandemic, most of us, at least initially, had a challenging time not going out at will, not socializing and not seeing people in person, whether it be friends at an event or at work,” she said.
Humans are highly adaptable, though. We got used to Netflix, Postmates and nothing much else fairly quickly. Sixteen months into the pandemic, some of us have adapted a little too well to the homebody life.
“We’ve gotten so used to working from home, staying at home, binge-watching good TV and learning to be with ourselves and our families that we’re not quite sure how much we want to return to our social lives,” Young said.
Young reminds people there’s no rush to get back out there or overexert yourself socially. And if you’d rather be couch-bound come the weekend, there’s ways to bow out of an invitation gracefully.
Below, Young and other therapists offer their best advice for turning down a social invite once your COVID excuse has outlived its usefulness.
Take a page from the Dutch and just be honest and direct: Sorry, but you can’t make it.
To make broad, sweeping, only slightly stereotypical statements, Americans tend to beat around the bush when it comes to making their intentions known.
You might get invited somewhere and text back, “I am just getting back to a hybrid work week and I am not sure how I will feel, so can we play it by ear?’” even though you know you’re not going to go.
Other cultures would play it differently, Young said.
“I am fortunate to have lived in other countries and have a clientele that are international and can say the majority of Americans are quite indirect in their communication style because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings,” Young said.
That’s not likely to happen, though. Consider taking a page from the famously direct Dutch and streamline your approach: Just say you can’t go and avoid going into overwrought detail.
If you were Dutch, Young said, you might say, ”‘No thanks, we’re staying in.’ Done. Finished without apology.’”
OK, but you’re not Dutch and you’re still struggling. You may want to try relying on the same strategies you used pre-COVID.
Think about what you did before the pandemic, said Rebecca Leslie, a psychologist in Atlanta. If you’re generally socially disinclined, introverted or just plain picky about the events you attend, you likely had a whole fleet of well-worn excuses you pulled out in times like this.
“If what you used in the past worked for you, then you can go back to that,” Leslie said. “It is completely normal to feel rusty, though. See if you can think of specific times you declined something successfully while maintaining the friendship and what you did.”
Be careful, though. “I’m so sorry, I have to pick up my uncle from the airport!” only works so many times.
Trust that your friend understands that you have your reasons, even if they’re unspoken.
When you say “I would love to but I can’t make it,” trust that your friend respects the reasons behind that and also respects your boundaries, said Liz Higgins, therapist and relationship coach in Dallas.
“The more important our relationships are to us, the more critical it is to act out of authenticity, trusting that people get that we have healthy boundaries that need to be accepted sometimes,” she said. “We simply need to say no to things that we’re not up for.”
Schedule a smaller get-together if you’re not feeling big groups right now.
If this person is a true friend and you feel overwhelmed by big get-togethers, then tell them the truth that big groups aren’t what you’re drawn to at the moment, Young said.
“They may be relieved that you have the courage to acknowledge that,” she said.
Leslie agreed and suggested throwing out a smaller, maybe one-on-one alternative to the event.
“For example, you can say, ‘I would love to hang out, though. Want to have a movie night at my place some time soon?’ Doing this conveys you still want to hang out with them. You convey you want to spend time with them and it’s truly about you not them,” she said.
On the fence about attending? Consider going for a shorter amount of time.
If the social invitation is something you could see yourself potentially enjoying and you really like the friend, ask yourself: Could you stretch to go to the event for 30 minutes or an hour? A quick visit means you’re socializing while also honoring your current needs for space and time to yourself.
“We need to be mindful not to disconnect completely from our friends right now,” Young said. “None of us, yet, know with any certitude, if we might come out of social distancing with a bit of depression but continuing to decline social invitations could hint at that.”
Also, be assured that whatever you’re currently experiencing with regard to hesitancy attending socializing, you are definitely not alone.
“Even if the people around you are not sharing their stories, rest assured, much of the world is in your camp,” Young said. “The pandemic took awhile for all of us to take in and realize what was going on. Provide patience and kindness to yourself — there is no ‘social’ clock ticking.”
If you never want to go and it’s something you used to enjoy, consider talking to someone.
Young brings up a good point about withdrawal from social activity being a common sign of depression. If you never want to go out, therapy ― remote or otherwise ― can help mitigate any negative feelings you’re experiencing around venturing back into the world. Therapy can be somewhat costly, even if you have insurance, but here are a few suggestions for cutting costs.