Yeah, Sure, “Let’s Have Coffee”

Dear Helena,
How do you avoid having dinner with someone who always asks you, posts to your Facebook page about it, and doesn’t seem to take your vagueness as a hint? I am actually in the midst of this right now with someone. I don’t know him well, but I managed to discuss local Korean food with him at a party, and now he keeps asking when we’re going to go try it together. I don’t want to get to that level of acquaintance with him. How do I avoid?
—Too Many Friends, Not Enough Time

Dear Too Many Friends,
I sympathize. These days, what with people failing to RSVP, canceling at the last minute, and suffering from reminder-itis, it’s hard enough to make plans to see your actual friends. There’s no time for Chowhounding expeditions with some random person you met at a party.

But when someone extends an open-ended invitation, you’re trapped. The only polite response is to accept; refusing is tantamount to explicitly saying: “I don’t want to be your friend—now, or at any point in the future.” If you know at the moment of accepting the invite that you have no intention of following through, you should respond with the Noncommittal Commitment. Adopt an offhand tone (“Yeah … sure”), and if asked for your email or phone number say, “You can find me on Facebook.” This might seem rude, but if you accept the invite with a show of enthusiasm, you’re leading the person on and setting him up for disappointment.

Many people find themselves not just accepting unwanted invites, but offering them up as well, to avoid seeming chilly to someone’s face. “Anyway, we’ll get a drink soon” seems like a natural way to end a conversation—especially if you’re drunk at the time.

A friend of mine calls these “glass plans,” meaning plans that are easily broken. But most people pick up when you mean it and when you don’t.

“You know when someone is interested in seeing you again or not … there’s a vibe, energy,” says Brian Abrams, a writer whose official title is dreidel hustler at Heeb magazine. “You don’t have to be a Jedi to read body language.”

Unfortunately, not everybody can. You responded to your Facebook stalker with the Noncommittal Commitment, but he didn’t get the message. Now you should put up the Wall of Silence. This may sound brutal, but when a person doesn’t hear from you, he’s free to make up his own self-serving explanation for why that is. He can tell himself it’s because you’re flaky or going through a divorce.

If you run into him at another party and he asks whether you got his messages, just say, “Oh, I totally meant to reply. Sorry, things have been crazy.” Hopefully your wannabe friend won’t say, as one woman once did to me, “Why didn’t you respond to my emails inviting you for coffee? Do you not like me?” Time for another white lie.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena. You can also follow her on Twitter and fan her Table Manners column on Facebook.