A listener writes: Each year, a friend invites me and my husband to his New Year's party. This year, we're expecting his invitation but haven't been contacted yet. Meanwhile, another friend, who also knows my first friend, invited us to her New Year's celebration. I prefer to attend the usual party that I'm assuming we'll be invited to, but don't want to hurt feelings when sending regrets to the one I was, technically, invited to first. How do I decline without explaining where I expect to be going?
First things first. Even though you'll run the risk of seeming like you're inviting yourself, contact the host of the annual party to find out if it's happening. Once you know for sure, you can decline the other invitation.
The first line of defense for this classic dilemma is to say, "I already have plans but thank you for inviting us and we hope you have a great time." If she presses to find out what you're doing instead, tell her the truth about your plans. If she becomes upset because of not being invited to the mutual friend's event, explain that you're not sure why that is but you hope that everyone can get together after the holidays.
There shouldn't be hard feelings from not being invited to an event, but that's just not the reality. No one wants to feel excluded which is why we need to be careful when sharing information about what we're doing.
If you have an etiquette question for us, send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org