Things I’ve RSVP’d no to in the last 30 days: dinner and a Broadway show (tempting, truly! But I’m tired), impromptu Tuesday night drinks (Tuesday), my friend’s daughter’s play (these walls aren’t going to paint themselves!), a workout class followed by coffee (finally painting the walls I said I was painting last weekend), wine night with my friend and her baby (baby’s bedtime is later than mine), a Thursday night ugly sweater party (Thursday). And those are just the events I can remember without subjecting myself to the torture that is reliving the moments I told my chosen fam that it’s a no for me.
Honestly, this isn’t a new thing. I’ve been making excuses, canceling, or (most recently) throwing out “thanks, but I can’ts!” since I graduated college and permanently separated from my herd of never-not-together gal pals. It took me a while, but I eventually learned that I am a creature who needs solitude, snacks, and reality TV to feel alive enough to contribute to society.
And while some part of me definitely knew that back in my early twenties, I never actually realized that this was an acceptable thing to say out loud until…very recently. If you are also a person who frequently passes on plans—or aspires to—for whatever reason (a demanding job, a demanding family, chronic pain) but worries about never being invited again, I see you. I am you. And I think my recent revelation might help you too. Please join me on this journey.
“I’m the worst,” an origin story.
The year was 2013, FOMO was a feeling but not an actual word in the dictionary yet, and I was fresh out of college working a dream job (no, really!) that sucked the life out of me between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. I was also very broke. Low on energy and tequila budget, I started making a habit of “faking sick” when my amazing, fun, hilarious, 10/10 friends would send “wanna go out tonight?” texts.
It didn’t help that by 7 p.m. on any given Thursday or Friday night, I was either just thinking about leaving work, mid-commute dreaming about the boxed mac ‘n’ cheese awaiting me, or knee-deep in noodles and sweatpants (though, let it be known the pants were fully on).
Alas, I didn’t have the strength to just say, “Hey, I’m really tired and mildly dead inside. Can’t make it.” Instead, I’d make up colds, stomach things, or feelings of impending illness. Their “feel better!” responses were a relief, but something deep in my reptile brain said, Lol that was actually sarcasm and they’re never inviting you out again.
So it was time to add another strategy to my how-do-I-keep-my-friends-but-not-go-to-this-thing toolkit. Thus, the “I just need advance notice” technique was born. By my mid-20s, people started to notice that I didn’t always have the stamina to do life like I was in my mid-20s. So it got a little easier to admit that I’m just a “big” “planner” who likes to mentally prepare for a night out. We’d laugh, agree, and then the invite for next weekend would come. Sometimes I’d make it. But a lot of the time, I’d find a way to cancel that day so I could sit in the dark and recharge my lifeless brain with Housewives and maybe even do my laundry. While I did feel great come Sunday night, part of me still worried that these friends would soon put me on their why-bother list.
Behold, a pandemic priority shift.
As life happened, I acquired other excuses to decline things. I did dry January, planned a wedding over the course of 18 months (jackpot!), trained for a marathon—and then the pandemic hit. Virtual wine nights? Hell yeah! Zoom trivia? You bet your Lycra-covered ass! Turns out, having the party come to me was the way I was meant to socialize.
But when my people felt safe enough to start hanging IRL again, it wasn’t uncommon for someone who wasn’t me to flake out for a COVID scare or just because. I started to notice that no one was written off for it. And you couldn’t blame anyone for doing them: We were living through one of the most emotionally draining times in the history of our lives—were we really going to stop asking people to spend time with us because they needed a minute?
Before the pandemic, I didn’t expect my friends to understand that, even though I adore them, I couldn’t always prioritize hang time above downtime for my brain. So saying, “Can’t make it out tonight, but thanks!” felt more like, “I don’t really need this friendship; see ya never!” That’s why an excuse like running 15 miles or not drinking in January felt so much easier to explain than admitting that I just didn’t want to come out and play.
The pandemic and the entirety of 2020 (well, and 2021, and also 2022) changed a lot of us—including your girl. We started to consider whether our lives were sustainable and realized “taking a mental health day” is a legit reason to cancel just about everything and spend the day going through our mail wearing fuzzy socks.
The worst-case scenario that’s actually fine.
That said, the fear of being labeled “the one who’s always a no” is real—and sitting it out over and over can eventually keep you off of some guest lists. It’s true. But another thing I learned during These Times is that the people who love you for the adorable homebody you are won’t go anywhere. Sure, my friends who hit the clurb don’t call me on a Thursday to join in. But our Sunday brunch dates are just as fulfilling. (Though, I do fully intend to rock a bodycon in some strobe lights one of these days—with advanced notice!)
It’s not a perfect science, but over the last couple of years, I’ve found that responding to an invite by letting the loves of my life know that I’m truly, honestly so happy to be included helps us both feel better. Even if this day/time/week/year isn’t going to work, I’m letting them know that it’s not them, it’s my need to be a potato. And staying connected via White Lotus memes, weird voice memos, and other digital gestures of affection makes the times we can get together IRL feel less few and far between.
Listen, I do not have the cure for FOMO, and almost 10 years since my faking-sick-like-Karen-Smith days, I still feel guilty when I have to tell someone I love that I just can’t. But that angry gremlin living in my head is a little more satisfied by the noodles and downtime than it used to be, and I’m happy for them.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.