RSVPing To A 3rd Hand Invitation

by admin on June 12, 2014

I have an etiquette quandary that has been nagging at me for some time. I suspect I’m already in eHell for prevaricating and not addressing it sooner but better late than never right?

Background: I live in the UK (therefore bear cultural and social differences in mind here) and received a 3rd hand word-of-mouth invitation to an event being held by the Masons. Apparently it is a Masonic ‘Ladies gala/ball/dinner’. As I have not received a formal invitation I can’t tell you the exact details but my understanding is that periodically the Masons host these ladies nights that are more ‘relaxed’ in terms of whatever strict invite protocols they operate under. Again, I may be misinformed. This has come 3rd hand after all.

The invitation (or lack thereof): So my Father’s Aunt’s Husband (Uncle by marriage and hereafter referred to as ‘Uncle A’) is a Mason of whatever degree and his daughter recently married a lovely man, B (her second marriage). Now Uncle A, being a Mason, can recommend others to join the Masons and he previously recommended his daughter’s first husband and now he’s recommended second husband, B.

Sorry it gets a little complicated but bear with me, you need the background.

So Uncle A has recommended Second Cousin’s Husband, B to join the Masons. As such, now Uncle A AND Second Cousin’s Husband B can BOTH invite non-masons to this Ladies gala/ball/dinner thing.

Following some minor family strife that is now resolved, my Father and his Aunt have reconnected and as a family we once again enjoy a close relationship with Uncle A, Aunt D and their adult children. I am glad of this as I am especially fond of Aunt D and both Cousin E and her husband B are lovely and we really enjoy their company.

The situation: My parents received a word-of-mouth invitation from both Uncle A and Cousin B inviting them to this ladies ball/gala/dinner thing. I BELIEVE (and I may be wrong) that they have not received a written invitation but only a verbal one via telephone. During the conversation it was explicitly stated that both my Sister and her Husband and myself and my fiancé are also invited.

The Problem: It costs money. A lot of money. The event is being hosted in a hotel a couple of hours drive away from where we live. Now a daytime event would probably be fine because we’d travel there and back in the day but the expectation is that following the dinner we will socialise (meaning drinks and dancing) with Aunt and Uncle, Cousins E and B, then stay at the hotel and meet the family for breakfast the next day and spend the day together. As alcohol is involved it is not practical for us to drive up, attend the dinner, then leave.

The dinner itself also costs money. There is a cost per plate, plus the hotel, plus traveling expenses (and I’m sorry America but if you think fuel is pricey in the US you want to try filling up your tank in the UK – I’d give anything to pay what you pay for fuel!). On top of this we have pets we would have to arrange accommodation for. A cat and 4 Rabbits which need to be kept separate until they are old enough to be neutered. So in addition to the £100+ for the Room, the £50 per plate cost and the £60 worth of fuel it would cost to travel to this event plus boarding fees for the pets, attending this event would cost Fiancé and I in excess of £300. We’d probably have to hire some formal wear for Fiancé too as he doesn’t own formal evening dress.

Sorry it’s so long but are you still with me? So the quandary I face is this: We’ve been invited verbally to an event that we have to pay a LOT to attend. We can’t afford to attend this event. My parents and my sister and her husband will be attending but we simply don’t have the money with the work we’re doing on renovating our house. As we have not received a formal, written invitation and our invitation to this event was passed on via my mother who spoke with Uncle A and Aunt E, where do I stand on RSVPs? My feeling is that because the event is not free and attendance is subject to essentially ‘buying a ticket’, I am not obligated to RSVP. I have verbally expressed our regrets that we are unable to attend this event to both Uncle and Aunt as well as Cousin and B. As they are not the ‘hosts’ and are merely using their ability to invite non-Masons to a Masons event do I owe them a formal RSVP? 0603-14

The type of RSVP one should give correlates to the type of invitation one receives.   You cannot make a “formal RSVP” in response to an invitation you never received.   And I would be very leery of 3rd hand invitations to any function.    If the event is that special and important, the invitations would reflect that.     You were, however, verbally invited to more than just the dance/ball, namely socializing afterwards with the families, and you did just fine telling them by telephone that you cannot attend this particular event right now.

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy W June 12, 2014 at 5:00 am

I was reading all the stuff about the cost and expecting the letter to wind up with how the family was harassing the OP to attend!


Mya June 12, 2014 at 6:31 am

OP here:

Well… not so much ‘harassment’ as snarky comments from my judgemental sister…

My question was essentially driven by family politics – I don’t want to offend Uncle A and Aunt E by ‘snubbing’ their invite to the Masons ball/dinner/thing and given that it’s an exclusive ‘closed invite’ event, I wanted to make sure that I handled it appropriately.

It seems that I did, which is good.


Tracy W June 12, 2014 at 10:07 am

If you’re worried about how you come across refusing an invitation when you’re in the new relationship phrase, perhaps invite them to something close to you? Eg a theatre show, a local festival, historic home? Even if the aunt, uncle and cousin also can’t make it to visit you, it shows your willingness to keep in touch.


hakayama June 12, 2014 at 11:31 am

Hey… If Uncle A and Aunt E were that keen on YOU attending, and in swelling the ranks of participants with lovely young people, THEY would have been the ones footing the entire bill for you.
Since they did not, you do NOT need to explain reasons in detail. A mere “Sorry, cannot.” should suffice.
The snarky critics can stuff it. 😉


crebj June 12, 2014 at 6:00 am

I think you’re done.


MamaToreen June 12, 2014 at 6:26 am

This sounds like a fundraiser to me, even though it may not be open to the public


Murph June 12, 2014 at 6:40 am

Synopsis: I was invited to attend a gala through relatives and did not receive a formal, written invitation. Do I have to provide a formal, written RSVP? No. I’m not sure why the writer insisted that so much back story was necessary.


Steve June 12, 2014 at 11:45 am

Agreed. You simply respond to them that brung you, or tried to.

How would the Masons even know the OP is invited, unless the Illuminati told them?


Ruby June 13, 2014 at 7:55 am

I think 99% of the story could have been edited out.


kjr June 13, 2014 at 8:54 am

My thoughts exactly!


AvidReader June 12, 2014 at 6:48 am

If, as it seems, you issued your regrets to the source of the 3rd hand verbal invitation, I agree with the pp that you are finished. Admin has it right. The quality of the response is equal to the quality of the invitation. If you sense that there are family members who may pressure you, however lightly, to reverse your decision, have a line ready on the order of, “We issued our regrets, we are unable to attend.” If pressured for “why,” please don’t respond by supplying your (IMHO valid) reasons that they will then attempt to bat out of your way. Repeat your line. It is called the “broken record act” followed by a change of subject, “How’s the weather?”, “How ’bout them (insert name of sports team)?” (a particularly American line), “Did you see last night’s episode of (popular TV show)?”, “Have you seen (latest summer blockbuster movie) yet?”, “What do you think of (current world crisis du jour)?”.


clairedelune June 12, 2014 at 7:02 am

I don’t understand what the problem is…it sounds like the OP *has* RSVP’d, directly, to the people who issued the invitation (though they issued it indirectly). Does she think she’s expected to RSVP to the Masons themselves? I doubt the organization has any idea who was or wasn’t “invited” by members to buy tickets to their event. If someone asks me to, say, pay my own way to attend a concert with them, and I choose not to do it, it would not occur to me to call the venue and say “hi there, just so you’re aware, I’m not going to be buying a ticket to your concert.”


SS June 12, 2014 at 7:57 am

I thought the basic rule was that an RSVP should be tendered through the same medium as the invitation. Since the ‘invitation’ was verbal, you’ve already verbally returned the RSVP.


Shoegal June 12, 2014 at 8:04 am

I think the OP’s concern probably has to do with Uncle A, 2nd Cousin and her husband B. She likes them and is trying to make sure she does not offend them in any way. But this is a 3rd hand invitation and has more to do with raising money for the Masons and not the relationship. I’m sure there will be some socializing but how many other people did Uncle A and Husband B invite to this function? I really wouldn’t worry about it at all. I think the phone call was more than adequate.


Hanna June 12, 2014 at 8:30 am

I would never attend any formal type of event if I was invited 3rd hand or by word-of-mouth. If it is indeed a “formal” event, I would have gotten a proper invitation. If you’re not bothered to give me one, why would I be bothered to attend?


MM June 12, 2014 at 8:38 am

I think maybe the family member that invited you just wanted to invite you to a nice event. Then use that time to have a family “get together” to have fun and reconnect in person.

Don’t worry about declining. Just because you are invited to anything doesn’t mean that you have to attend every single event. Sometimes life is a “Pick and Choose” situation.


PJ June 12, 2014 at 8:48 am

Being invited word-of-mouth third-hand to an event for which you must pay sounds like you’re being asked to contribute to a fundraiser. A word-of-mouth RSVP, even if it just comes from OP’s father for the whole extended family is fine.

The implied invitation to stay the night and socialize the next day is, from my point of view, the legitimate social invitation. Since it came word-of-mouth third-hand, you can RSVP in kind. There’s nothing wrong with taking the extra step of emailing or phoning to say something like “I’m sorry I won’t be able to join you, I hope you have a lovely time. I’m looking forward to seeing you at XYZ event later this year…”


ohboy June 12, 2014 at 9:26 am

The whole back story is non essential, the etiquette issue here is simply regarding being invited to a dance, dinner, drinks afterwards and motel. We don’t need to know about the masons, who is married to who, what family strife was involved, or any of that back story.

You do not need to do anything else about RSVPs beyond what you’ve already done.

This is a simple problem with a simple solution, don’t get wrapped up into making it a family drama that’s unnecessary.


Miriam June 13, 2014 at 8:01 am

Agreed it’s a simple problem with a simple solution: invitation and response of ‘sorry, we can’t attend’ [no need to mention why], but I think PJ (above) is spot on with where the real query is – the implied invitation to stay overnight, breakfast with the extended family and then spend the day with them strengthening the recently repaired family bonds following “minor family strife”.

I think the OP is worried about damaging the close relationship that’s followed a rift, and would love to spend time with family she enjoys and (I’m guessing) that she doesn’t want the aunt and uncle to feel snubbed?

I think the Masonic “invitation” is the red herring. That’s just like an “invitation” to buy shares that drops in the letter box, and can be freely ignored.


Dee June 12, 2014 at 9:47 am

There was no invitation. Even if one can get past the whole third-party-thing, in this case there was no invitation so there was no requiring an RSVP. At the time the “offer” was made OP could simply have said “thanks for the heads-up” and left it at that. Her “RSVP” would occur at the time she purchases the tickets, or whatever else she needs to do to secure a paid spot at this event. She doesn’t buy a ticket = she’s not going. Done. As to the “offer” being third party, that distances this even further from the OP. In any event, I seriously doubt there were ANY invitations to this event, given that you cannot invite people to buy tickets. There might have been some notices of the event and there would very likely be tickets that one would receive at time of purchase to show at the door, but it is impossible to imagine the content of an “invitation” that demands you pay money to go. At any rate, if anyone takes OP to task for not attending then that is their problem and I would seriously question a relationship with people who would presume to spend my entertainment dollars for me.


NostalgicGal June 12, 2014 at 10:00 am

I think it’s been adequately covered. 300 pounds is about $505 USD and change at the time I’m writing this. Plus it was mentioned renting formalwear. That is a lot to drop for a dinner and social on a verbal invite… I think the OP did cover it adequately on the RVSP declining the invite.

Let the sister snark. She could pay for you if it’s so important for you and yours to be there for the social stuff. I’m sure there will be other opportunities later in the year to socialize as well.


kit June 12, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Actually, the renting formal wear is the one thing that got me surprised – surely it would make sense to have one good suit, as we are talking about grown-up people (as opposed to someone still growing fast enough to be able to use any suit only once)? Surely there will be other occasions in his life that ask for formal wear? Surely buying once (something classic, that will not be unfashionable next time) would be cheaper that renting each time?


NostalgicGal June 12, 2014 at 4:55 pm

That depends greatly. And as the OP said they are kind of strapped with a reno. I can understand they are in a transition in their own life and not everyone invests in or keeps a good outfit at all times… I’d say right now the only ‘good’ thing I have is a clergy robe… and I’m changing sizes from health and lifestyle changes, so no, I don’t want to go drop buckage on ‘formal good duds’ right now as I won’t be this size for much longer…


Wendy June 12, 2014 at 6:35 pm

That would depend he may have a suit perfectly suitable for weddings/funerals/other formal events but not suitable for a black tie event.


Jenn50 June 12, 2014 at 7:19 pm

My husband is 46 years old, and has only ever required anything beyond dress slacks and a nice button up shirt once, for our wedding. Depending on your lifestyle, buying a suit might be a needless extravagance compared to renting something once every decade or so. We receive few invitations to seriously formal events, and even fewer to ones we actually care to attend.


Tia June 13, 2014 at 1:47 am

Formal wear in the UK probably means a tuxedo for men and long dresses for women. I can’t imagine a lot of people have a lifestyle where they’d have those in the wardrobe.


Tracy W June 13, 2014 at 2:35 am

Lots of people change bodysize over time. And not everyone has masses of storage space.


Mya June 13, 2014 at 3:28 am

OP here:

He DOES have a suit. We invested in a beautiful one with a lovely waistcoat when my sister got married, but ‘Black tie’ dress code is ‘evening wear’ for men usually meaning a Tuxedo. I have an evening gown I can wear which is fine, but I don’t think the suit is suitable for formal evening wear. I have suggested he buy a Tux jacket, shirt and bow tie but Fiancée is violently opposed to any formal wear whatsoever (which surprises me because his late father used to wear formal wear to work and took pride in looking dapper).

I did say we’d ‘probably’ have to. It wasn’t definite but since we had no intention of going due to the costs, I haven’t delved too deeply into the dress code. all I know is it says ‘Black tie’ which suggests ‘Tux’ and if we were to attend, I wouldn’t want to embarrass Uncle A in front of his ‘chapter’ or however the masons do it.

I don’t think it’s a fundraiser, I think it is more aimed at encouraging people to join a declining society (declining in part due to their previously strict membership criteria). So we have two masons who are encouraged to invite ‘eligible’ people to these events. I don’t want to embarrass them in front of the rest of their ‘chapter’ as that will damage family relations and I don’t want that. That’s why I wrote all the back story. I probably should have been clearer.


NostalgicGal June 13, 2014 at 7:33 pm

This side of the pond there are not that many people that own a tux, most of the events that require one, they are rented (almost always for weddings, or for prom).

Yes, Black Tie is usually tux for men and formal long evening gown for the women. Depending on the event that could even include white gloves and top hat for the gent, and opera gloves for the ladies with tiara. Doesn’t sound quite that formal, but.


Stefanie June 12, 2014 at 10:03 am


Moral of the story is that you don’t have to RSVP to an event to which you are not directly invited, only to the third party who invited you.


Cat June 12, 2014 at 10:35 am

It was nice of them to mention this to you, but the fact that it is a great deal of money and you have tied your finances into remodeling your home, it’s just not feasible for you to attend this event. That explanation should satisfy any hurt feelings.
If you have already explained that you are unable to accept the invitation, you have done all that you are required to do.


Ashley June 12, 2014 at 10:59 am

That was a lot of backstory for what is actually a very short simple question.

You were invited by word of mouth and if you told whoever invited you that you couldn’t attend, this story is over with.


CJCarville June 13, 2014 at 8:09 am

Totally agree. I was surprised the story wasn’t edited down.

And the LW honestly not know how to respond to a pretty loose invitation in the first place?


kingsrings June 12, 2014 at 12:09 pm

I would be concerned about receiving a second or third hand RSVP for any event. How do I know for sure that I was really invited? I wouldn’t want to spring any unexpected surprises on the hosts, who may not have planned on my attendance and thus not made the proper plans. Some people are clueless and thoughtless and think nothing of just inviting whomever to said event.


Cathy June 12, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Can’t afford it? Don’t go.

Weren’t formally invited? Don’t go.

Don’t know what to do? Don’t do anything. You weren’t formally invited and it would be a huge hassle, so tell whatever family member is bugging you to go to back off.

Not complicated. If you want to see your family members, invite them over for dinner.


nk June 12, 2014 at 4:00 pm

The whole essay of backstory seems unnecessary. You were invited by word of mouth, so you can RSVP by word of mouth, which you did. End of story.


Angela June 13, 2014 at 8:13 am

You weren’t formally invited, you can’t really afford it, it would be a logistical hassle and you clearly don’t want to go. I’m not sure I see a real problem here.


Enna June 13, 2014 at 8:22 am

I don’t think the back story is unnecessary – it shows how it was a 3rd hand invitation and if Uncle A wanted OP to go he should have made the invitation himself. There is a difference say being invited though the family where other family members will be and being expected to go to an event where you will only know one person there.

All the OP has to say is he/she can’t make it as it’s not pratical at this point. And relations should not be giving snarky comments.


Kendra June 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I agree, the backstory is what makes the difference between a formal event put on by a host and a formal event put on by a Service Organization. The “rules” are different for each. It sounds like the Masons Lodge that uncle belongs to is having a membership event, so formal invitations aren’t issued and members are encouraged to “invite” as many family members as they can and “3rd hand” invitations are just as valid as “1st hand” invitations. This is different from something like a wedding where you wouldn’t trust a “3rd hand” invitation to be valid.

OP: from your question, it sounds that you (like many PPs) are confusing a Service Organization event with a “formal” event like a wedding. They are two different animals. Many of the previous posters are correct, the only person you really need to RSVP to is Aunt and Uncle so they can turn in their numbers to their lodge, and verbal is perfectly correct. So, in that sense, you have RSVPd. As to your sister……family can be difficult….My advice when she brings it up, is to say something along the lines of “I’ve already spoken with Uncle and Aunt and they understand.” then bean dip. It isn’t your sister’s business why you are or are not going and taking the ball out of her court (politely with spine) is the best way to handle it.
Hope this helps.


NostalgicGal June 13, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Totally agree, Kendra has nailed it.


Schnickelfritz June 14, 2014 at 10:14 am

Kendra, you summarized the entire essay in one simple paragraph! Your summary was much easier to follow. The essay was way too long. And all the Uncle A, B, C is so annoying! Just assign a simple name, or no name. All the detail and run around, was not necessary.


Schnickelfritz June 14, 2014 at 10:15 am

The back story was way too long. Kendra describes it, below your entry, in one simple paragraph. And, it really wasn’t that interesting in the first place.


JackieJormpJomp June 13, 2014 at 9:04 pm

I think, OP, that you are confusing a “dressy” event with a “formal” event. This is essentially a fundraiser and membership drive for a private club–that’s why people can pretty much invite whomever they’d like. Tuxedos or not, you’re hardly obliged to attend this thing.


CaroC June 15, 2014 at 9:19 am

I don’t think the Masons ever do a ‘membership drive’, membership is done on a strictly invitation only basis, you are free to decline but you can’t invite yourself!

This will be an open event for the club members to invite whomever they wish rather than a standard club event which would be effectively closed.

If it’s anything like similar club events that I’ve been invited to, you are informally invited, if you say yes then a formal invitation (i.e. a physical paper invitation card, almost an admission ticket) will be provided for you to gain entrance to the event. A verbal decline is fine.


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