RSVP woes

MV P’s & Q’s: RSVP woes.

Art by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to

Perhaps because of the time of year, we’ve received several questions on a related theme, so I’m going to go hold forth on it all in one fell swoop, which can be summarized thus:

Social invitations and their responses, or lack thereof

The Vineyard social scene, described by some as an extreme sport, began in earnest this past weekend, and with a brief June respite, will keep gaining momentum until Labor Day. People sometimes find their in-boxes, mailboxes, and sandboxes overflowing with cocktail-party/cookout/art opening/etc. invitations.

Many of these invitations request RSVPs. Many of the recipients do not RSVP. Many of the inviters take umbrage at the nonresponders. Many of the nonresponders feel their nonresponding should not be umbraged at.

There are often deep psychological reasons that people take either of these positions, almost always related to self-esteem. A therapist I know told me that people who get bent out of shape when you don’t R to their RSVP may be struggling with childhood memories of neglect, which are triggered by further neglect (often making them equally sensitive to not receiving thank-you notes or not being included in gatherings). A friend who struggles with RSVP block says she tends not to RSVP because deep down, she thinks the invitations she receives were sent to her by mistake.

All of which boils down to: Everyone’s got baggage. Try not to take other people’s baggage personally … but do try to be considerate of other people’s baggage. Resist the urge to think of somebody else as a high-maintenance narcissist or an inconsiderate jerk if they’re not on the same page as you regarding RSVP etiquette.

(Note: it is entirely possible that they are, in fact, a high-maintenance narcissist or an inconsiderate jerk, but you will be a happier person if you don’t focus on that.)

Besides all this nicey-nice social etiquette relativism, however … I have to say: RSVPs serve a practical purpose, and there are logistical consequences for other people if you ignore them. So the RSVP-averse types need to get over their particular issue here, and just respond.

This doesn’t apply globally. It does not apply to a mass invite via social media or computer-generated email lists, or flyers posted at Mocha Mott’s, in which half the Island gets invited to a concert or a fundraiser. I’m referring to invitations that are sent directly to you for more personal gatherings, in a way that makes it obvious your response will impact the host’s preparations. If it’s a catered gig, the host needs an approximate headcount for the caterers. If it’s in somebody’s home, they need to know how many people to expect because, you know, it’s their house, and depending on the size of the party, that will determine how much surface area needs to be cleared — which in the summer, with kids and pets and toys and house guests and beach towels and bottles of kombucha scobies and CSA shares and recent yard-sale finds underfoot — can vary widely.

In short, if a real human being is counting on an RSVP from you for practical reasons, then regardless of your baggage or theirs, as a purely practical ingredient in social intercourse, respond. You can respond with no. You can respond with, “I’m planning to come, but that’s my due date, so don’t take it personally if I don’t show up.” You can respond with “I am psychologically incapable of committing one way or another to this request.” But if you possibly, possibly can: Respond.

That’s my take.