Dear Etiquetteer:For personal reasons, I have avoided parties for the past six months, and have some anxiety about socializing again, made more acute by the number of invitations one receives during the holidays. I know that it’s not "Perfectly Proper," as you say, but as a rule, I’ve declined invitations under the assumption that, should I change my mind and feel more up to it, it’s better to change a "no" into a "yes" at the last minute rather than vice versa. Under what circumstances is it possible to accept an invitation to a holiday party if it is past the R.s.v.p. date for the gathering? What if no R.s.v.p. date is stated? What is the least amount of time required at a party to make a polite appearance? Can you recommend some anti-anxiety medications? (Alcohol, for personal reasons, is out of the question.) Dear Anxiously Homebound: If you would like to accept an invitation, the response date has already passed, and it is not actually the day of the party, you may call the host or hostess with the most profuse apologies imaginable for missing the response date and ask, ever so humbly, if it is still possible to attend. This does not apply to seated dinners, you understand, but to the "open house" kind of party. Of course, if you don’t see a response date on the invitation, then the hosts deserve what they get, but Etiquetteer still doesn’t think it’s Perfectly Proper to call on the day of the party to say that you’re coming. Now, let’s tackle your anxiety about staying at a party once you’re there. You can prepare your hosts for an early departure by telling them when you arrive that you aren’t able to stay long. Still, Etiquetteer considers half an hour the bare minimum to honor someone’s household with your presence and leave your hosts without their own anxiety that their hospitality was not enough to keep you longer. Please forgive Etiquetteer for presuming, but your parenthetical rejection of alcohol leads Etiquetteer to suspect that your retirement from Society might have to do with your debut in Sobriety. If so, permit Etiquetteer to drape a warm mantle of understanding about you. The holiday season can be particularly difficult for those recovering from alcoholism, what with all that eggnog, wassail, champagne, and the Deity of Your Choice only knows what else flowing around. (Indeed, Etiquetteer attended a holiday party last month where martinis of red (pomegranate) and green (Key lime) were served.) Temptation like this at parties understandably leads to anxiety for people "in recovery." Since Etiquetteer doesn’t even play a doctor on TV, Etiquetteer can’t fulfill your request for an anti-anxiety medication. But don’t forget that people wouldn’t be inviting you to their parties if they weren’t interested in you as a person and as a friend. Etiquetteer can advise you to block out temptation by focusing your complete attention on a friend or acquaintance at this party and joining in conversation. If someone offers you an alcoholic beverage, all you have to say is "No thank you." You don’t even have to add "I don’t drink" unless you feel they are being unduly persistent. And if the temptation to drink grows so strong that you don’t feel you can stay one more minute without taking a drink, then go you must, bidding your hosts farewell with Infinite Regret and not neglecting to send a Lovely Note the next day. Etiquetteer welcomes you back into Society with open arms and wishes you a carefree time as you find your comfort level with Society and Sobriety.
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