Inviting Yourself To Social Events
A couple of people have emailed me to ask if, or when, it's okay to invite themselves to something.
The answer is 'it depends'. Sometimes it's totally fine, at other times it's more inappropriate. What I think is important though is that sometimes it is okay to invite yourself to things, and knowing that may let you have a better social life. I'll go into more detail below, but this is really one of those areas where you have to use your own judgment. Every situation is different. There aren't any hard and fast rules.
General arguments for and against people inviting themselves to events
A lot of people have an opinion on whether it's okay for someone to invite themselves to an event or not.
Reasons for people inviting themselves
- There are just times where people won't explicitly invite you to something, but will be happy if you came. It could be for any number of reasons. Maybe they forgot to tell you, or assumed the invitation was obvious, even if it was unspoken, or they just missed adding your name to a mass email or Facebook message that was sent out.
- Sometimes even if inviting yourself to something isn't technically the slickest way to end up at the event, it's still worth it to you to go. You may even be fine with being seen as a fifth wheel, if it means you get to go somewhere you really wanted to attend.
Reasons against people inviting themselves
- Many people just consider it rude, clueless, or presumptuous. They think if someone hasn't been invited to something, they shouldn't force the issue.
- It can put the person organizing an event in an awkward position to be asked by someone if they can be invited. What if they didn't want that person to come, or wanted to keep the get together small? If put on the spot, they may feel too uncomfortable saying no.
- The organizer may also be inconvenienced by someone who invites themselves. If someone invites themselves over they may have to entertain a guest when they'd rather be doing something else. They may have to deal with a tag along dragging down their group.
- Even if it's occasionally fine, it isn't something anyone should make a habit of doing, or take it for granted as a way to hang out with people.
What's tricky about all of this is how much it depends on a mix of factors. In some circumstances it may be totally fine to invite yourself to an event where on paper it would seem like a stupid idea. Or just the opposite could happen, and it may be a bad move to invite yourself to an event where that kind of thing is commonly okay.
Situations where it's generally okay to invite yourself
The more open, "drop in", and casual an event is, the more likely it's okay if you invite yourself along, or just say you're going to show up. Examples:
- If a loose, friendly group of people regularly go out for lunch at work, or meet for drinks afterward, it's probably fine to come along one day. In this situation there's probably an unofficial standing offer where anyone who's interested can show up. It'd be too much trouble to formally ask everyone each time. The group just assumes everyone understands the unwritten open invitation. Of course, people who don't pick up on that assumption may unintentionally feel excluded.
- Similarly, if a bunch of friends meet every weekend to take part in some group activity, there may be an unspoken invitation that anyone who's interested in the same thing is welcome to come along and join in. Like say some friends go mountain biking every weekend. It would be a hassle to ask everyone they meet, "Hey, we mountain bike. Here's when we do it. Want to come?", but if you let them know you're interested too, they'd be more than happy if you came.
- In some social circles, the friends will get together, but they won't always shoot out invites to every last person each time. It's more expected that everyone will keep up with what's going on, and take the initiative to get involved if they're interested.
- If someone in your social circle is throwing a party that seems pretty open to anyone, it's probably okay to ask if you can come. Or if you know a friend who's going, to just go with them and show up. The person organizing the party may even have assumed the open nature was so obvious they didn't have to officially invite you.
- If a bunch of people are meeting at a bar at a certain time, it's usually fine to say you may be there as well. It's a public place. They can't exactly forbid you from going.
- If a bunch of friends are seeing some kind of movie or show, where it doesn't really matter how many people come along or not, and the attitude is often the more the merrier, it's probably okay to ask if you can join.
Situations where it's probably not the best idea to invite yourself
I read around before writing this article, to see what other people had to say on the subject. For many of the situations below, it was generally agreed you shouldn't invite yourself along:
- Inviting yourself over to people's houses is frowned upon. It imposes too much on the person who lives there. Maybe if you were really good friends with someone and didn't do it too much it would be fine, but otherwise try to avoid it. Though I have a feeling this may not be universal across all cultures.
- Anything that takes preparation on the part of the host or organizer, or even costs them money, is iffy. For example if someone is hosting a small dinner party, you probably shouldn't ask if you could attend at the last minute.
- Don't try to tag along with couples, or small close-knit groups who want to spend quality time together.
- If the event involves just your one friend, and a handful of their friends you don't really know.
- I wouldn't invite myself along if I found out a bunch of friends were planning a road trip together, or going camping. It's one thing to show up at a party, it's another to insert yourself into a four-day excursion.
- If an event just seems exclusive and like the organizers want to keep it small, then don't try to invite yourself.
- In general, if a group seems genuinely cliquey, then think twice about inviting yourself along to something they're doing. Sometimes it is hard to tell though. A group of friends may be totally open to new people joining them, but are so close with each other they unintentionally give off an air of being exclusive.
The people organizing the event
A big factor in whether inviting yourself may be acceptable are the traits of the person pulling the social outing together, and the other people who are attending:
- Do they seem loose and easygoing about these kinds of social rules, or are they more proper and formal?
- Do they seem like friendly types who are happy with more people around, or are they more choosy about who they want to associate with?
How to ask to be invited to something
There's no real trick to asking if you can come along to something. I would suggest you ask in a casual, friendly, "no pressure" tone though. You don't want to seem desperate, more like you think it sounds interesting and may drop by, but if you can't come it's no big deal, and it wouldn't mortally offend you or anything. Ideally you've got lots of other stuff going on in your social life, so you have this attitude naturally.
In that happy, low key tone, you could say something like:
- "Is it cool if I come along?"
- (Hearing about a movie a bunch of friends are seeing) "Sounds fun. Mind if I come along?"
- (Hearing about a party an acquaintance is throwing) "Sounds like fun. Is it cool if I go to that? No worries if you want to keep it low key."
- (Hearing some people may meet a club this weekend) "Oh okay. Maybe I'll drop by later."
- (The classic indirect way) "Oh, that sounds like it'll be fun..." (and hope they get the hint and formally invite you. But if not, let it slide.)
How well do you get along with the people?
A broader issue in whether inviting yourself is okay is how much will people like your company once you're there? If you're a nice, fun, interesting person, who gets along well with everyone who's coming to that outing, or with people in general, then nobody's really going to protest if you appear. On the other hand, if you tend to be a little more of a dead weight kind of person, or are actively off-putting in some way, then everyone's less likely to appreciate you trying to horn in on their plans. If you can improve the overall social impression you make, you'll give yourself more leeway to invite yourself to things.
I think that's what's really at the heart of it a lot of the time when people ask if it's okay to invite themselves somewhere. They're really wondering, "Do these people like me and want me around?" For example, they're semi-close to a group of friends who they want to spend more time with, but they're usually not formally asked to join them. They wonder if they should take charge and ask if they can come along, but they're also worried that the group doesn't actually want them there. Maybe in the past they've spent time with these people, but have felt ignored or left out, or like they were quiet and boring.
What do these people really think of you? It's another scenario without anything close to a quick, clear answer. I discuss it more in this article, about when you're not sure if people are really interested in being friends with you or not.