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Today is the first installment of our new advice column by guest columnist Coco McCann. In her first column Coco tackles the anatomy of the RSVP, an old custom that is so rarely observed by guests that it has almost become a quaint idea.

Dear Coco,

My Mom says it’s rude not to reply to an RSVP invitation. But all of my friends are getting married and I’m invited to more weddings than I can count. I also get a lot of invitations for jewelry and basket parties that make me feel obligated to buy things I can’t afford. If I accepted every invitation, I wouldn’t have time for a life. Sometimes I can’t decide whether I want to attend, so I procrastinate until it’s too late to respond. Am I being rude? –Mixed up in Memphis

Dear Mixed up in Memphis,

Yes, my sweet, I am sorry if this comes as a slap, but it is rude to ignore an invitation of any kind for any reason. A request for an RSVP suggests that someone is making preparations of food or other accommodations that require a head count. RSVP is short for the French phrase “réspondez, s’il vous plaît” which means please favor this invitation with a response.

When you don’t respond you are blowing raspberries at the person who has invited you, whether you intend to or not. You’re saying that you don’t care how much money they waste holding out for you. You’re saying that your own time and freedom is more important than they are. In short, you’re saying you don’t care about the relationship at all. Probably not what you wanted to say, is it? I’m sure you are a lovely person, but don’t expect your host to let you off the hook the way I have.

Why are you confused about whether or not you want to attend? Either you want to or you don’t. If you have to hesitate longer than a day or two, it usually means you don’t. What’s wrong with saying so? Your host is much more likely to forgive you for not participating than for totally ignoring the invitation. Heaven only knows we can’t do everything we might like to and still meet all of our obligations. Most adults will not have a meltdown if you say no, unless there are other issues related to the quality of your relationship.

It’s true that the abundance of invitations we receive to parties where we are expected to buy something have created a murky new category for invitations. Are they social events or business opportunities (nothing wrong with that) masquerading as a party? It’s possible that these invites are to blame for the declining importance we give all others.

Nevertheless, the fact that the world buries us with opportunities to interact socially does not give us an excuse to behave like a Neanderthal. An invitation is an invitation, whether it’s a wedding party, a bridge party, or a candle party. If someone likes us well enough to open their home to us, we still owe them a response, the sooner the better. A late response is better than none at all, but you should offer a profuse apology for your tardiness.

One of the best social habits you can form is to treat all invitations like running a business. In this case, it’s the business of tending your life. You wouldn’t ignore the obligation of an invoice your business owed, would you? Of course not.

Here are four fun ways to improve your own “réspondez vous” performance.

Make yourself some virtual and physical spaces where you can prioritize important personal correspondence.

Make it more fun by setting aside a pretty writing corner in your office, bedroom, or kitchen where you can tend such things.

Make it part of your routine to check these files a few times a week to clear out any unfinished business.

If necessary, put reminders on your calendar to help you remember that you haven’t made a response yet.

If you have a question about sticky social situations, from office politics to modern etiquette, send your letters to coco@dressedherdaysvintage.com

For the most authoritative source on how to respond in social situations, consult the 18th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette: Manners for a New World. It reads like a bible for modern etiquette, covering everything from electronic communiation to job searches. This book should be part of every thoughtful person’s library. You’ll find the contents indexed to death for easy reference and it’s written in a approachable style–nothing like the “pinkies up” attitude you may remember from works by THE Emily Post. No finger wagging. Just common sense  with a modern spin from Emily Post’s promising descendants, her great great grandchildren! 

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.