Getting Credit for Asking

Back home in Seattle, I was the happy hour coordinator for a while. Every week I would send an email to the whole company, saying to meet me at a certain happy hour in town, everybody is invited, bring whoever you want; it’s just happy hour. I would always try to make the email entertaining by including a cute cat photo and an outlandish claim about a colleague; a little something for people to look forward to.

At first, it was weird. Seattle people are not used to open, standing invitations to happy hour. People would pull me aside and ask me discreetly who was invited; they’d RSVP (it’s on open invitation), or apologize profusely for not being able to make it. What I found most striking was that people were so thankful for me to writing this email every week with an open invitation and a cute cat photo. More than once, someone found a quiet moment to pull me aside and thank me for “what I was doing for the community.” For my part, I just wanted to go to happy hour. But not once did someone complain about me spamming their email.

It made me realize that people love to be invited to stuff. Even if they can’t make it, they still want the invitation.

So I do this thing now, where I invite people to join me in what I’m doing. It doesn’t matter if they live too far away, or if I know they have kids to pick up, or if I know that they don’t like sushi or superhero movies or karaoke; it doesn’t matter, I just invite them.  I invite people I don’t necessarily like. I invite people whom I know for a fact do not like me.

The worst that can happen is that they say yes, and I’ll have company for a little bit. I’ve been surprised several times by unlikely colleagues at happy hour. I’ve gone to foot massages with whole academic departments. Of course, karaoke nights are vastly improved by random unlikely participants who show up just because they were invited. Earlier this year, a coworker asked me what I was doing for February break; I said, “I’m going to Seattle, you’re welcome to join me.”  To my surprise my coworker accepted, and we ended up hanging out together in Seattle for a few days; I don’t regret it even slightly.

Of course, the most likely scenario is that people decline the invitation. They live too far; they have to pick up the kids, they don’t like sushi or karaoke or superhero movies. They can’t make it. But my theory has been that they still enjoy getting invited. They can’t make it, but I still get credit for asking.

There are, of course, people who get stressed out by the recklessness of my invitations, who feel bad about declining. Or sometimes they are annoyed that they have to make an excuse because they really don’t want to spend time with me. Look, I get it, I’m not always a picnic. But if someone has to resent me, let them resent me for asking them along to see a movie that I, myself, want to see anyway. They can say no. In fact, most of the time, I’m fully expecting them to say no; I still get credit for asking.

Lately I’ve been explicit about “getting credit for asking,” especially if they seem overly remorseful or if they go into too much detail about the reasons for the decline. “Oh well,” I say, ” at least I get credit for asking,” and hopefully my interlocutor gets the message that it’s not that big of a deal.

I was thinking about it the other day, and realized I might over-invite people due to my own insecurity about not getting invited.  A few posts ago, I stated the rule, “If I wasn’t invited, it’s none of my business.” When I posted that it wasn’t because it’s a rule that I always follow; it’s a rule I wish I could follow. It’s me trying to tell myself to not be sensitive about not getting invited.  I wish I could block out the sting of being left out of the fun. I wrote it to remind myself.

For the most part, I think spend most of my adulthood made of teflon, and I don’t worry about feeling left out; that stuff rolls off of me. But once in a blue moon, I feel less like teflon and more like an exposed nerve, and on those days I just wish people would invite me.

The worst that could happen is that I’d say yes.

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