How To Say No To Social Gatherings That Don't Feel Safe Right Now

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While you might consider walking outside with a friend as you both wear face masks and keep six feet apart, the idea of mixing and mingling at a crowded backyard get-together might seem like a bit too much. The same goes for cramming around a table at a baby shower or even going to a friend's house for movie night. If you're still social distancing but are being lured towards parties, you'll probably want to find a way to decline invitations to events that feel unsafe and keep doing your thing at home.

Turning someone down can be difficult, though, especially when you're bored, and friends and family really want to see you. But it's still 100% OK to say no. "Simply allow yourself to have permission to listen to your intuition and take care of yourself," Stacey Brown, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. "It's not entirely clear whether it is safe to be venturing out at all right now despite a relaxation of the 'rules' and stay at home orders." If you'd feel more comfortable sheltering at home a while longer and missing a few parties, so be it.

Of course, these are trying times, and the invitation might strike you as completely bizarre — and maybe even a little bit out of touch. Why would you want to hang out in a large group? Why is your friend really choosing now, of all times, to beckon people out of their apartments? However, it may strike you, psychotherapist Grace Dowd, LCSW says being polite when you RSVP no is super important, especially if it's a relationship you'd like to maintain post-pandemic.

"We can do this by saying, 'I would love to see you; however, at the moment, I do not feel comfortable engaging with many people. I look forward to reconnecting when things feel safer,'" she tells Bustle. Or something along those lines. The idea is that you say thanks, express your desire to see them soon and turn down the invite without casting judgment or calling them out for being unsafe.

You can always remind people why social distancing is important — for example, telling your parents you can't visit just yet because you're prioritizing their health — but ultimately, you can't control what others do. You can, however, assume they're extending the invitation with the best of intentions, clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow says, as a way of keeping tension to a minimum.

If the host still won't take no for an answer, that's when you may want to offer a more thorough explanation. "Be specific about why you are not comfortable or ask questions to clarify your concerns," Klapow tells Bustle. Ask if people will be wearing masks, how many will be in attendance, if the event is inside or out. "If those questions are addressed adequately, you may have a change of mind," he says. "If they are not, then use those reasons to decline the invitation."

Again, there's a lot of misinformation out there regarding what's safe to do right now, and what isn't. As Klapow says, we're living in a time where "the social norms regarding COVID-19, social distancing, hygiene, and production are not strongly established." So, while we wait for it to feel safer to attend backyard parties and movie nights, feel free to turn down invitations for in-person events, and continue hanging out on Zoom.


Stacey Brown, LMHC, licensed mental health counselor

Grace Dowd, LCSW, psychotherapist

Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist