Long story short, I never had friends, and didn't know how to make any.

I'm 2nd generation Indian, raised in the USA, if that's relevant.

Only recently I have few hi-bye friends from office (who came from India 15 years ago) because they seem interested in my artwork (which is themed from Indian subcontinent).

Other than that I either work, or stay home and take care of my elderly dad. And I'm hoping to go for higher education (just to improve myself and be productive).

However, I have an aunt who feels sorry for me, and she asks me to outings once in a while. There is upcoming parade in city where we live and few months she asked me if I wanted to attend. Of course I want to attend, but with people who value my company, not someone who feels sorry for me. Originally I said yes. Now I know she is going to ask again because parade is about 2 weeks away.

How to say no tactfully. And how to say it so that she never asks again.

  • 3
    Can I ask how you know that your aunt feels sorry for you? Does she explicitly state it when she invites you to things?
    – Em C
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 13:08
  • @emC She didn't state this, but I know she does. She knows my life history, i.e. difficulty making friends, learning disabilities, had abusive arranged marriage, and now I either work or stay home. Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 13:53

4 Answers 4


So you don't go out much, and your Aunt has invited you to an outing, and you think she only does it because she feels sorry for you.

Stop right there. You don't know that. She might be on her own and happy to have some company, or she might be going with a group of people, with the motto "the more the merrier", or she might want to get closer to a distant niece. So don't cancel anything, join her, and enjoy the day.

You say you never had friends and don't know how to make any, but I can tell you that insisting someone is only interested in you because they feel sorry is a sure way to not make friends.

Even if she did indeed invite you only because she feels sorry for you, so what? She did invite you. That's the thing that counts. So join her, and if it's an enjoyable day, then there are chances that the next time she invites you because she wants you there. You said you wanted to go. Guessing people's motivations is very often wrong. Assume the best, and you will get the best. Don't throw it back in her face. Don't look for reasons to avoid going out.

  • 1
    Also, I would add: you say that you want them to value your company, then let them know you. Let them see your value. Show it to them so they CAN truly value you.
    – lukuss
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 6:11

Based on your response to a comment in the first answer, you seem open to considering that your aunt's motive may be more that she likes you and wants to spend more time with you.

If that is the case, understand that going to this event with her does not obligate you to attend all or any other outings after this one. And also consider that perhaps she not only likes you, but maybe she has few friends herself and your going may help her.

There is quite a bit of evidence that helping someone else (even when it involves doing something that you really don't want to) makes you feel "better."

There's a wonderful essay in NPR's "This I Believe" that addresses this benefit. Don't focus on the title ("Always Go to the Funeral") but, instead, on what the author says about doing things that you really, REALLY don't want to.

  • She seems to have lot of friends. Plus she has two grown kids and five grandkids. Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 19:10
  • I nearly broke out crying when I read the article Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 19:17
  • They have a website with incredible essays going back as far as the 1950's.
    – LKW01915
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 19:35

(I see you've already accepted an (excellent!) answer, but I wanted to add a suggestion for declining should you need it in the future.)

The main thing to keep in mind is that your aunt thinks she is doing a nice thing for you, even if it doesn't feel that way to you. And based on your comments, it's quite possible she simply enjoys your company and wants to spend time with you - assume good will first!

If you are set on declining: To be tactful, it will help to acknowledge her good will and frame your conversation in a way that sounds like "it's not you, it's me". If there are other reasons you don't want to go, you could use those, but you don't necessarily need to explain. Finally, express your wishes for not being invited this way in the future. For example,

Dear Aunt, thank you for the invitation but I've changed my mind about going to the parade. How about I let you know when I find an interesting event to go to together?

This accomplishes:

  1. Declining this invitation
  2. Not accusing her - keeping the conversation positive
  3. Taking control of arranging future outings

Now, "tactful" and "direct" are often at odds, so it can help to be a little indirect to allow the other person to save face. You may need to repeat a few times, but after a few rounds of declining she should get the message.

If this doesn't suit your style or if she persists, you can try addressing the situation directly. However, since she has not actually told you why she invites you to things, talk about that first. Don't make assumptions, just ask why. Perhaps she will confirm your suspicion - but perhaps it is something else, like she misses you, or is lonely, or just happens to find a lot of events that she thinks you'd like. Once you know her motives, you can address the root issue and work from there.

Personal experience: I have gotten such invitations because I am very introverted and what you might call a "homebody". I am generally content with my social life but some people assume otherwise.

For example, my sister once asked me to dinner after we hadn't spent time together in a while. After I accepted she also invited a few of her friends, and at the dinner, in front of them, said she had invited me because "I figured you didn't have anything else to do!". I was rather hurt hearing that, and made excuses the next few times she invited me to things with her friends, in the manner that I described above.

(We eventually talked about why I didn't want to hang out with her friends, and among other things I made the mistake of directly saying that it felt like her invitations were out of pity. She felt attacked by that and the conversation did not go well - which is why I advise leading with a question instead.)

On the other hand, when the person has not been explicit about pitying you, and it's something you would otherwise like to attend, I encourage you to make the most of it! Another experience: I was recently on a business trip with coworkers I didn't know well, although they all knew each other. During a break, they were making plans to go out together for dinner in front of me, and kind of awkwardly tacked on "Oh... Em, do you want to go too?". I'm sure I wouldn't have been invited had I not been sitting near them, but I accepted anyways - it ended up being fun, and I have a couple of new office friends now :)


The easiest way to answer is like this:



Get to the subject

About the invitation to [thing],

Propose the issue

I feel that my company is not truly wanted and is only requested out of some sort of misguided pity.

Explain why it is an issue

While I appreciate your invitation, I am uncomfortable with coming while knowing the circumstances of my presence are as they are.

Draw a conclusion

As such I am sorry but I am not able to come to [thing],

Make it clear that this is also valid for future invitations

and this will also be the case with future such occasions as well.

Feel free to substitute any parts you wish since I made a point of giving a rough skeleton of what your answer should be so it can be adapted to most languages and cultures.

HOWEVER, before telling her something along these lines, be ABSOLUTELY sure that these are in fact her motives and she has no interest in spending time with you otherwise. Because if she actually want to also spend time with you, this will turn from a polite message to one hurtful low blow real fast.

  • 3
    Most important: last paragraph. OP says she has untrained social skills, and guessing other’s motives is an important skill. Acting on “inaccurate” interpretations of social situations will act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Plus, declining offers from other people because of interpreting their motives as undesireable will lead to exactly that: no friends.
    – michi
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 22:42
  • 6
    Indeed. First ask your aunt how she feels about this, tell her you wouldn't want to go with her if she's doing it just to please you, and tell her this has been bothering you. Have an open conversation about this. In short: this is an excellent answer to the wrong question. Acting according to this answer is likely to strain your relationship with your aunt for years to come. Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 0:01
  • You might want to give some tips on how to work this into a conversation. This is a good professional email, but you'd look like a robot saying this.
    – Clay07g
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 1:13

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