Throughout most of my twenties, I hated going out to social events—especially ones that were held at someone’s home. I’m not talking about college frat party-type gatherings, but ones with adults who had grown up and moved on, progressed in their careers, started families, and all that.
For a long time, I thought I hated it because I felt I was bad at meeting new people, but the more I thought about it, I realized it was because I had never been taught the “proper etiquette” for mature social gatherings. When you don’t know what the “right behavior” is for a given situation, it’s easy to feel out of place and stress about it.
Turns out, most people don’t actually care about “social etiquette” that much; it’s not as big a deal these days as it used to be. However, there are some social gathering mistakes that can damage your relationships if you aren’t careful. Here’s what you should avoid doing:
1. Ignoring or Forgetting RSVPs
Hosting a party or event is not easy, and one reason why it’s so difficult is because people don’t respect the importance of RSVPs. If you receive an RSVP, the host has done you a favor by locking in a date and letting you what it is ahead of time—the least you can do is respond so they know whether you’re attending or not. It’s a small gesture on your part, but it can make a big difference for the one who’s organizing the gathering.
2. Keeping People on Read for Too Long
SMS text messages don’t have read receipts, but most messenger apps do. Telegram? WhatsApp? iMessage? They all have indications for when a message has been seen, and frankly it’s rude when you see a message and don’t reply in a timely manner. This is called “leaving someone on read” and they’ll hate you for it.
Obviously, this only applies when the last thing they said carries an expectation of a reply. It’s OK to leave a “Good night!” or “All right, see you soon” on read; it’s not OK to read a question and not answer it, or disappear in the middle of an ongoing conversation without a quick “I’ll let you know in a bit.” Nobody likes being ignored.
3. No Heads-Up When You’re Running Late
I’m punctual to a fault, but even I show up late at times when the unexpected crosses paths with me. But even when the cause of your lateness is beyond your control, you can always let other parties know that you’re going to be late. Again, a small gesture with big payoffs.
Going to pick someone up but ran into heavy traffic? Shoot them a message (when it’s safe to do so). Heading to a dinner party but had to wait for your babysitter? Let someone know. Even if you’re only going to be over time by 5 or 10 minutes, it’s the polite thing to do.
4. Bringing Extra Guests Unannounced
If you’ve been invited to someone’s home, never bring unannounced guests unless the host explicitly made it clear that that’s the kind of event they’re hosting. Even in more casual settings, like when you’re meeting up with friends for lunch or just chilling at the local cafe, you should at least give a heads-up that you’re bringing someone along. Some people really don’t like to be surprised by unexpected guests, so depending on the situation, it may even be better to excuse yourself from the gathering altogether.
5. Abandoning the Guests You Brought
If you bring a guest anywhere, you have an unspoken social obligation to make sure they’re having a good time—or, at the very least, do what you can so they aren’t having a bad time. That means introducing them to people and even sticking by them throughout the event if they aren’t comfortable meeting new acquaintances on their own. There’s a special level of hell reserved for “friends” who bring guests and leave them to fend for themselves.
6. Going to Parties Empty-Handed
This isn’t something to stress over for casual outings. But if you’ve been invited to a dinner party, or if you’re visiting someone’s home for the first time, it’s a good idea to gift the host with something—even if it’s small and insignificant. Ideas of what you can bring: a bottle of wine, a pack of beer, desserts to share that evening, or if you want to get fancy, a gift basket!
7. Staying Glued to Your Phone
A social gathering is meant to be a social occasion. You’re all there in person, and the interactions are meant to be face-to-face. One of the rudest things you can do—which happens to be an epidemic in the age of social media—is play with your phone while a conversation is ongoing. Doesn’t matter if you’re checking email, Facebook, Instagram, texting with your mom, or whatever. Is it urgent? Then excuse yourself, handle it, and come back. Don’t sit there and bury your face in front of everyone.
8. Pressuring Others to Do Anything
Here’s the thing: not only is peer pressure very real, most people don’t even realize they’re participating in it. This is one of my own personal flaws and it’s so hard to catch in the moment; it just happens as part of normal conversation. I’m not just talking about the “big things” like drinking or smoking weed, but also goading someone into staying around a bit later or pressuring them to come out to a future event elsewhere. Nobody likes being coerced into anything. Once an answer is given, take it at face value.
9. Talking Over Others
Doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or girl—no one has the right to speak over anyone else in conversation, whether in a serious one-on-one chat or a casual group shooting the breeze together. Let people finish their thoughts! (The only exception is when you’re faced with someone who drones on and on and leaves no space for anyone else to speak. Then you can politely interrupt when they’ve completed a thought.)
10. Leaving Without Saying Bye to the Host
Hosting a party or event isn’t easy. At the very least, the host has sacrificed some of their personal privacy and opened up their home to you. Whether they’ve been a good host or not, the polite thing to do is thank them for their hospitality and wish them well before you depart. It’s a small and effortless gesture, but an important one. Dipping out without saying anything to the host can leave a negative impression that sticks for a long time.