When Kerri Garbis invites friends or relatives to a party, she does not want to spend the next month e-mailing, texting, and calling to see whether they’ll do her the favor of accepting her hospitality.
“I don’t like being the RSVP police,” said Garbis, president of Ovation Communication , in Littleton.
And yet, in an age when many invitees simply can’t be bothered to even click “reply” — 30 percent of people who show up at parties haven’t RSVP’d, according to a recent survey by the entertaining-focused website The Salonniere — Garbis is forced into the vigilant role, or feels she is.
“I just hosted a baby shower for a friend,” she said. “I sent out 50 invitations.”
Despite an automated e-mail reminder and personal phone calls, with mere days to go before the June event, a dozen people still hadn’t revealed their plans.
“It was panic time — I had to let the restaurant know how many were coming,” Garbis said. “But you get a reputation for being rigid.”
With the summer entertaining season in full swing, and the fall social swirl looming, all around town, hosts — or would-be hosts — are in a state of what might be called RSVP rage.
“I wasn’t raised by Emily Post or anything,” said Jonas Bromberg, a clinical health psychologist from West Roxbury, “but RSVPing just seems like a basic courtesy.”
Bromberg is the longtime host of two parties, one pre-Thanksgiving, the other in the summer, and has pals who in a quarter of a century of guesthood have never managed to respond. “It doesn’t boil over into our friendship,” he said, “but I get the sense they don’t see anything wrong with it.”
Statistics proving that Americans are ruder in this particular way than we were in some past Golden Age of politeness are hard to come by. But etiquette experts and cultural observers say anecdotal evidence indicates that the RSVP rate is dropping.
Jodi R.R. Smith, a North Shore etiquette consultant, said that when she opened Mannersmith in 1996, the lack of responses was an “ongoing but minor annoyance.”
Today, she noted, it’s become such an issue that “hosts must now add buffer days into their RSVP dates to allow themselves the time to hunt down invited guests for responses.”
As for why, many say that the rise in online invitations, which theoretically should ease the problem, is instead contributing to it.
“They’re so easy to send that they’re disconnected from human beings,” said Amy Alkon , author of “Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say the F-Word.” “It’s like the automotive bubble. We don’t identify other drivers as people. It’s the same thing with invitations.
“People don’t realize that the e-invitations often allow the host to see that the invitation has been looked at,” she added, “and that nothing has been done.”
The proliferation of online invitations, she noted, has worsened people’s behavior surrounding paper invites. “People get irritated that they have to take real-life physical action: find a pen, write something, put it in the envelope, remember to mail it.”
But maybe the larger issue isn’t the ease of responding — but the desire to put it off. David Ryan Polgar , a Connecticut-based digital lifestyle expert, says that in 2014, people are often holding out for a better offer.
“Our smartphones and constant connectivity have created a situation where we have oodles of options and an extremely easy way to change our plans,” he wrote in an e-mail. “This has spelled disaster for actually committing in advance. It creates havoc for party planners, but it is certainly becoming the new normal.”
Many people are so inundated with solicitations — requests to take customer satisfaction surveys, act-now free-shipping offers, meeting reminders, Groupon come-ons, and CVS coupons — that even personal appeals can begin to feel like spam.
That feeling is unintentionally reinforced by Evite itself, which on its website lists “top 5 tips for getting guests to RSVP” — which both tacitly acknowledges the problem and approaches it as if guests were potential customers rather than friends or family.
“Emphasize the deadline,” Evite recommends. “Include a reminder of ‘why’ their response is crucial.” “Use timing to your advantage. Send your invitations out on a weekday evening when most people are home from work and checking their personal e-mails.”
Yes, that’s right, hosts are now reduced to strategies traditionally employed by e-mail marketers and job seekers. Position wanted: host.
Evite doesn’t divulge RSVP rates, but the company’s editorial director, Marilyn Oliveira, did offer an interesting insight: Despite widespread hostility toward Evite’s “maybe” reply option, the company considers it a polite option. “ ‘Maybe’ says you have to check your schedule,” she said. “It implies the person wants to come.”
Lauren Beckham Falcone , a WROR-FM on-air personality, sees it differently. “ ‘Maybe’ says, ‘if nothing better comes up,’ that’s what ‘maybe’ says. If someone asked you to the prom, and you said ‘maybe,’ that would be completely unacceptable. It’s yes or no. Not maybe. ‘Maybe’ doesn’t even pay you the courtesy of a no.
“’Maybe,’ ” she added, “is the ‘meh’ of the response world.”
RSVP rage has yet to be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, but the issue has reached the Supreme Court. Earlier this summer, Staci Zaretsky, an editor at the legal site Above the Law, wrote about what happened when she invited Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — whom she admires but has never met — to her July wedding.
“I didn’t think Justice Ginsburg would have the time to RSVP,” Zaretsky wrote. But the justice did in fact respond (she politely declined). As Zaretsky took the opportunity to point out, it was an action that many friends had yet to take.
“P.S.,” she wrote on the website. “A Supreme Court justice took the time to respond to our wedding invitation, and yet we still have 50+ outstanding RSVPs. I hope you have a really good excuse for keeping us waiting, friends.”
Meanwhile, the question must be asked: What — if anything — goes through a nonresponder’s mind?
With her chronic RSVP-free behavior, and related feelings of guilt, Monique Beganski, from Littleton, a mother of three teenagers and a 9-year-old, can probably speak for the cohort.
“I get the invite, but I’m unwilling to commit,” she began. “I need to make sure it works for everyone.”
Fair enough. But then, by her own admission, time slips by; she sort of forgets about the party until it’s almost happening. At that point — if she wants to go — she’ll call.
“I’m always having to apologize,” she said. “I create more angst for myself in the long run than if I had just made a decision.”
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