I was invited to a Christmas party by a couple I don’t know very well. I’m single, and the invitation didn’t say, “bring a date,” so I am worried that I’ll show up and not know anyone except the hosts. It wouldn’t be right to just show up with someone, I know, but is it okay to call the hostess and ask if I can bring a date?
Hoping for a “+1”
It’s not okay to call and ask for a ‘+1.’ Because if the answer you get is “no,” you’ve put yourself and the hostess into an awkward spot. (And you’ve put yourself into a position where it will be very hard not to sound like a three-year-old. Her: “I’m sorry, but no.” You: “Oh, yeah? Then I’m not coming!”) The way to avoid that awkwardness and still have a shot at a “+1” is to do a little recon…that is, to see if you can find out why you might not be allowed to bring a date without actually having to ask the question.
Before you do anything, decide whether or not you’d be willing to go solo. You’ll need to have that answer ready, because you are indeed going to call the hostess, and you’re going to have a script prepared ahead of time that will make the conversation comfortable for both of you, and will fit any response you get from her. Ready? Here goes:
“Hi…I got your lovely invitation, and I’m so flattered you’d include me. I didn’t want to hold you up, but I had already made plans with a friend for that night, and I’m not sure yet if I can change them. Would it be an inconvenience if I let you know in a few days?”
See the beauty of that? You’re not putting this woman on the spot. You’re complimenting her, thanking her…and giving her the opportunity to respond without feeling challenged. The thing is, you don’t know if this is a cars-parked-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see house party, or a sit-down dinner for eight. If it’s the former, chances are pretty good the hostess will say, “Bring your friend!” (Problem solved; don’t forget to tip your local advice columnist.)
If it’s the latter, though, and this couple has invited you to something much more intimate, you’ll likely get the chance to find that out before you let your fear of being in a big group and knowing no one prompt you to decline. If your question causes the hostess to say some version of, “I’m so sorry, but it’s just a little dinner party, and our table only seats so many,” then you can accept on the spot, or you can punt. My advice, being a great fan of the conversations to be had at small dinner parties, is to say, “Now I’m really flattered…I’ll definitely wriggle out of my plans. Count me in.” If you’re still unsure, try this: “I totally understand, and I’ll let you know within the next day or so, if that’s okay.”
There’s really only one other response your hostess can have, and that’s an answer that comes in an information vacuum. If your gambit about already having plans with a friend elicits an, “Oh, no problem…let me know what you decide,” then you’ll have to keep the charade up long enough to call back with your ultimate answer. That seems complicated, I know, but it still beats putting someone who was kind enough to invite you to their party on the spot.
Actually, there’s one other response that you might be met with, which is that the lack of a ‘+1′ was intentional. As you wrote in your letter, you’re single…and the holidays often bring out the matchmaker in people. So be ready for that, too. If you’re open to meeting new people, a small dinner party is really kind of ideal, so say yes. And then say thank you: as a woman who wrote in a few weeks ago about the ugly side of online dating will tell you, friends who will fix you up are worth their weight in gold. Or, you know, mistletoe.
Philip Van Munching is a New York Times bestselling author of advice books, and was a finalist last year in the Good Morning America nationwide “advice guru” search. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.