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I’m always amused by stories like this.

From casual get-togethers to catered affairs, the once-common act of replying to invitations has become an often lost and much lamented cause.

Parenting and bridal blogs seethe with tales of tracking down invitees like festive fugitives. Electronic invitation systems try to streamline head counting but sometimes just turn into a public display of ambivalence (Yes: 2. No: 15. Maybe: 147). Newspaper columns have bewailed the death of the R.S.V.P., and a popular gauge of generational shifts has declared that today’s college students don’t even know what the phrase means.

As the holiday party season swings into gear, it’s time to be merry, at least until you have to decide whether to make deviled eggs for four dozen or four.


While there don’t appear to be solid statistics on a decline of (who’d respond to a survey about not responding?), here’s a signpost: Last year’s Beloit College Mindset List included R.S.V.P. among cultural touchstones turned fossils from a freshman’s perspective.

The list, compiled anecdotally by Beloit English professor Tom McBride and retired college spokesman Ron Nief, proclaimed that the class of 2013 has “never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.,” though some students say otherwise.

R.S.V.P. rates have become enough of a sore point to engender op-ed grousing in newspapers including the New York Times, where novelist Rand Richards Cooper in March described trying to lasso responses for a book reading that entailed food service at a restaurant. He got some sympathy from online commenters, but “the overall sentiment was: ‘You’re just going to have to adjust your expectations,’ ” says Cooper, 50, who lives in Hartford, Conn.

I’m too young to be a Baby Boomer and too old to be one of Those Damn Kids, so I don’t know how applicable my experiences are to the generational spectrum. For what it’s worth, we got a very solid head count for our wedding in 1998, with only a few people needing to be prodded for a response; in most of those cases. More recent experiences – my 40th birthday party in 2006, and birthday parties for the girls – have been similar. Maybe we’re just lucky, I don’t know.

I will say this: When we use Evite, we don’t get more than a handful of “Maybe” responses. The biggest group is invariably those who have not yet responded. As a general rule, I count on the people who don’t respond to not attend, and that is almost always the case. I’m rather surprised that the article didn’t mention the fact that to a lot of people, “RSVP” seems to mean “only reply if the answer is Yes”, and that that seems to apply to many folks in the over-50 crowd, too. You can gnash your teeth and write heartfelt letters to Miss Manners about that if you want, but I think the better advice is to adjust your expectations as noted, and plan accordingly. If that doesn’t work out – if your guest list includes too many people whose attendance doesn’t correlate to their response or lack thereof – then the standard Miss Manners solution of adjusting your guest list for future events is still your best strategy.

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One Comment

  1. John says:

    I think not responding to an invitation to someone’s home is pretty much a mortal sin.

    That said, Evite stretches the boundary of invitation. First, if you are having a big bash, assume that 10% or so of the people will never even get their Evites, as they’ll be filtered as spam. Second, it offers “maybe” as a choice, suggesting that this is something people not raised by wolves should consider as an option. Finally, it gets used so much for “invitations” to things like fund-raisers and paid events that Evite is an inherently sketchy way to send real invitations.

    I have used something called Socializr, which is like Evite but less annoying, for large events; I steer clear of it for anything really personal though.

    But yeah, in general, those damn kids these days.