Nice ways to simply say 'no'
A host offers you the signature cocktail he spent weeks perfecting. A three-layer, diet-destroying slice of cake is placed into your hands. A rented karaoke contraption looms for later.
Holiday party season is here and, with it, the pressure for proud hosts to be unique and guests gracious.
But what happens if a food or activity is out of your comfort zone? Maybe you're mortified at the thought of karaoke or you prefer to steer clear of charades. Perhaps beer is a temptation you can no longer afford or exotically sourced food something you're avoiding on behalf of your digestive tract.
Whether your reasons are health-related, addiction-related or simply despise-charades-related, how to gracefully decline without diluting festivities can be a conundrum.
"I think it's really a matter of the way you say no," said Dr. Louis Primavera, psychologist and co-author of "Taking Charge of Your Emotions: A Guide to Better Psychological Health and Well-Being."
Experts advise banishing guilt when you utter that two-letter word. But do find a polite, firm way to decline.
"If you express hesitation or provide excuses that are not honest, you risk making the conversation much bigger than it needs to be," said Annie Grace, author of "This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol: Find Freedom, Discover Happiness and Change Your Life."
Someone who has stopped drinking herself, Grace has had many conversations about saying no during a season peppered with booze and food options.
"I think it's just about being firm and trying to be as graceful as possible," Grace said.
Primavera added that, despite what it might feel like, people are probably not scoping out what you're doing or holding.
"It's really a matter of people's own self-consciousness," he said. "They think everyone's going to focus on them. There's a little child in us that doesn't want to be rejected."
Some might worry that hosts, whether a close friend or a spouse's boss, will be angry or disappointed. Or that fellow guests could have hurt feelings when you're not indulging as they are.
"What you'll find out pretty quickly," Primavera said, "is (that) nobody pays attention."
Ways to go
Here are more etiquette-approved strategies for your escape plan.
Have a reason.Prepare an excuse, perhaps a sentence, so you're ready to ward off follow-up questions. But think it through.
"Have a few go-to lines," said Amanda Foti, a dietitian with weight-management company Selvera. She suggests something like, "It looks great, but I just ate, and I'm not very hungry. Maybe later."
You can probably count on the host to forget about the "later" part, she added.
Grace said people in an online support group she's in have found cheeky ways to decline alcohol, saying things like, "I already drank my lifetime quota" or "Me not drinking is better for all of us."
However, for recovering alcoholics, a statement that you're not drinking can create a void for unspoken questions or assumptions.
"Give some good reasons to people who are close enough to you," Grace advised. "If you kind of brush them off or just make this an announcement, you leave it open to them to interpret it."
"To turn down a drink, people can say that alcohol doesn't agree with them or that they are allergic to alcohol," said Chris Pesce, a recovering alcoholic and marketing director for the app Sober Grid, which provides an online support community for people in recovery.
If your reasons are health-related, such as a pregnancy you don't want to disclose, it's easier to decline without feeling guilty. But discussions about health issues can quickly devolve into a too-much-information zone. Keep it simple and brief.
Be careful not to sound condescending.To maintain friendships, be sure any reasons you offer for declining don't implicate the person you're talking to.
"I think people get really easily offended, especially when you stop something for health reasons," Grace said.
For example, if you turn down a drink or appetizer by saying you want to be healthier, she noted, "There's kind of implicit judgment in that comment."
Grace learned this after citing an article that linked drinking and cancer.
"Of course, that turns down the whole party," she said.
Don't feel you have to keep defending yourself.And how does a decliner handle the dreaded "Why not?"
"This question has few responses that are comfortable for both parties," Grace said. At which point you need to repeat your original reason, refuse to cave in and understand that you've done your part to be gracious. When someone's really pressuring you, she added, "It's really a reflection of them, rather than you."
"You have a right to refuse it, if you do it in a polite manner," Primavera said.
If a host keeps goading you or you feel uncomfortable, a final option exists, Primavera pointed out.
"You have to think about being in charge of yourself," he said. "If they do push you, and they insist, maybe it's time to leave. We have to be willing to leave situations which are untenable for us."
Supply your own substitutions. One tactic practiced by many recovering alcoholics is to secure a club soda as soon as they arrive at the party.
"They always have a drink in their hand," Primavera said. "Then people are not forcing a drink on them."
If you want to keep your calories down, bring the option you want to snack on, Foti added. That stops hosts from feeling they need to find something for you to eat.
If you do sit out charades, find something else to do, such as joining another group's conversation or finding like-minded guests and launching one yourself.
Remember, you're an adult.Just because something is in front of you doesn't mean you have to partake. Remember that you have a choice, and your decision has nothing to do with the misguided perception of how guests need to behave.
Some people think, mistakenly, Primavera said, "'I should be a nice guest and I should comply.' But, in fact, most people don't make demands. There's a difference between a demand and a request."
Your best line of defense, whatever it is you're dodging, is to show how much fun you're having. Turning down wine or cheesecake or a spin with the karaoke machine isn't nearly as important to hosts and fellow guests as your laughter and conviviality.
"It's not going to matter as long as you say you had a great time," Primavera said. "That's all they care about."