The Chillax Conundrum

Dear Helena,

I have a lot of friends, I play Ultimate Frisbee every Saturday, and I’m also in a band. Every once in a while, I need time to stay home, catch up on chores, and recharge. But when a friend wants to hang out on a night I’ve scheduled for myself, I can never bring myself to say, “Sorry, I can’t come over for dinner, I plan to finish my library book in the bath.” So I end up hanging out with the person and resenting it. Is there a polite way to decline an invitation from someone you care about when the reason is you just want to chill by yourself? —Bubble Bath and Chardonnay

Dear Bubble Bath and Chardonnay,

There’s nothing wrong with turning a friend down to be alone and recharge your battery. The question is how much information to give, and whether to lie or not. Saying something like “I have a family emergency” or “I have prior dinner plans” seems like a fail-safe way to get what you want. But it’s too risky.

Now that people are constantly broadcasting what they’re doing via Twitter, Facebook, and so on, you could be caught in a white lie. It’s pretty embarrassing if you say you’re completely slammed at work and then after a few glasses of Chardonnay post a Facebook update that says: “Susan is chillaxin’.” Plus, your friend might try, in good faith, to find a way to fit in to your plans. For instance, if you say you have a prior dinner engagement and your friend suggests an apéritif.

I asked readers of the Kitchn what they thought about this week’s topic. Angorian put it thus: “If you don’t provide a reason, there’s nothing to discuss and you don’t need to defend your choice.” Tiamat_the_Red suggests the vague, “I’m sorry, I have other plans that evening.” Rucy says: “No one needs to know what else I’m doing, my private time is my own, thankyouverymuch!”

I disagree. If you refuse a close friend’s invite to dinner, you owe him or her a little more explanation. Tell the truth, and your friend is more likely to accept it. For instance: “I’ve been crazy busy this week and I need a little time to myself.” It helps if you have a simple code phrase that your friends all understand. One woman I know says, “I have a date with myself,” when she needs to curl up on her couch. I’ve heard it before, and I just accept it as part of who she is.

When you refuse, don’t dither. “Um, I’m just kind of into staying home tonight” makes it seem like you’re not that psyched about hanging out alone, and you would go out if the right invitation came along. And sound upbeat; otherwise the friend might think you need somebody to pull you out of a funk.

Be aware that some people may still argue with you, or show that they feel rejected or a little hurt, especially if they’re extroverts who don’t understand the need for alone time. Be firm but loving. Thank them for their offer. Refer to the next time you’ll hang out, in an enthusiastic fashion: “See you at John’s barbecue on Saturday!”

Finally, don’t share your evening’s agenda: “I’m going to give myself a home pedicure while I watch Entourage.” It’s one thing to turn down dinner with your friend because you need to drink deep from the well of solitude, but quite another to do so because you need to file your nails.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.