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My small group of friends regularly meets once a year to catch up and hang out. We have a long history together and are geographically scattered these days so it's a big deal to get together like this. In the past we've occasionally had other friends join in the gathering and it's always a little awkward because they end up feeling left out. So we generally keep it to just the core group + significant others.

Here's the problem: shortly before the previous gathering my friend Bob broke up with his long-time significant other Alice. We still invited Alice because everyone felt weird about excluding her all of a sudden and it was... okay. Again, just a little awkward because she ended up being left out a bit. But now it's time to plan the next gathering and the Alice question is coming up again.

I'm in charge of hosting these events, so I really like to keep them small and focus on the core group. I don't want Alice to end up invited by default, and I'm worried that if I just don't invite her but she just mentions the annual gathering to one of us they'll extend her an invitation.

I still want to be friends with Alice, I just don't want her at this event. How do I deal with this?

Other complications/details

  • I'm pretty antisocial. I don't like big parties and being forced to be around people I don't want around. This is a multi-day gathering with little privacy and lots of together time
  • Alice is also pretty antisocial and doesn't have many close friends. But she's been coming to these events for years. I'm pretty sure she would come if invited.
  • Bob has moved on and is dating, their chemistry is not a concern here
  • Alice has a new boyfriend. I'm pretty sure she would want him to come if she does, and I especially don't want such a person to come since he has even less of a connection with the core group
  • 4
    Are you sure she actually cares/remembers your traditions? Perhaps she only ends up there because she keeps getting invited? – Sidar Nov 29 '17 at 4:15
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    Have you talked to your friends about this, and if so, what have they said? To what extent do they share your feelings on this issue? – HDE 226868 Nov 29 '17 at 4:19
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There are a few nuanced things here.

1. Is it up to you to make the decision for the group?

You're trying to prevent others from inviting Alice if they want to; based on your own personal desire to keep the group small.

This is cause for friction between you and your friends, regardless of Alice.

You mention that you're now hosting, and are therefore inclined to not invite Alice, but there is a massive difference between a hosted party, and a recurring meetup of friends that takes place in each other's home. The difference is that in the second case, the participants generally don't defer to a host, but rather choose to meet up as equals (in terms of event planning).

Are your friends deferring to you because you are the host? Do you defer to them when they are the host?

I think this is the first thing you need to address. There's no objective answer, it very much depends on your friend circle, and possibly your local culture.

If you are not assumed to be in charge of the party (as the host), then you don't get to tell your friends to not invite Alice. They can invite her if they want to (an IPS approach suggests that the friend would ask everyone else first, but this may be skipped due to Alice's earlier invitations).

If you are assumed to be in charge of the party (as the host), then you are free to not invite Alice (though your friends may disagree with your decision). Your friends should also check in with you before extending an invitation with Alice. In the end, you have the final say; but remember that the others may dislike your decision and you can't control their reaction to it.

2. Is Alice a friend? Or was she always a +1?

This makes a huge difference. In most friend circles, partners of friends are generally invited by default; but their invitation hinges on being the partner of a friend. This means that when they break up with the friend, that they are no longer included.

However, it's perfectly possible that Alice started off as a +1, but grew closer to your friends and is now deemed a full-fledged member of your circle of friends.
Several of my close friends started off as a +1, and it'd be horribly rude for me to always consider them "inferior" to a "true" friend. At some point, they migrate from a +1 to a direct friend.

I can't answer this for you. If others in your friend circle consider Alice a direct friend, then they may not like you excluding Alice.
If, however, your friend circle unanimously considers Alice as a +1, then people should generally agree that Alice is not required at the party.

3. Is there precedent in your friend circle about inviting others?

Is it allowed? Is it frowned upon? This is specific to your group of friends.

As an example, one couple in my circle of friends (who generally host the party) have no issues with us inviting others (within reason), but do object if they are expecting to eat dinner with us (because that changes the food planning).
Everyone in our friend circle agrees with that rule. If there is an impact on the food prep, the host gets to make the call. If there is no impact on food prep (e.g. someone who makes a brief appearance but doesn't stay), then they're always welcome.

You need to answer this, I can't answer it for you. But if your friend circle has established precedent for inviting others; then you'll generally be expected to follow the precedent.

To summarize

Here's the order of operations, as I see it:

  1. If you are the host, and in charge of the party, then it's your call. However, with great power comes great responsibility: if you push to exclude Alice while others would like her to be present, that can end up causing friction between you and your friends. Exercise your prerogative as the host with caution. As the host, I would still generally defer to the group, and not try to make the decision for them.

  2. If you are not the host, then it's not up to you to make a group decision. The group should decide. Talk to them, see what they're thinking. Try to bring up the topic without immediately stating your intention to exclude her. Gauge your friends' reaction first. That way, you prevent coming across as a negative influence on what is supposed to be a positive social experience. If the group is hesitant and not clearly leaning one way or the other, you can offer your doubts about adding another person onto the multi-day party. You'll only really get pushback if anyone has concrete objections (i.e. they really want Alice to be present). At that point, you have to respond based on that friend's objections; I can't answer that for you.

  3. If the group decides to invite her, so be it. The group has spoken.

  4. If the group decides to not invite her; then anyone who afterwards decides they want to invite Alice anyway will have to get the group's consent. As a bonus, this takes the leg work out of your hands, assuming that the group has e.g. a group chat and doesn't just use you as their communication channel.

  5. If the group decides to invite her, you still have the option of flat out refusing to let Alice in your house. However, this is not an IPS approach, and it will likely damage your friendships much more than when you had simply allowed Alice to join the party. If you push this, I'm expecting a pyrrhic victory.

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  • Thanks, this is great advice. I think the outcome I'm most worried about is if the group decides not to invite her and then she asks about the event. If I tell the truth about what we decided, I can't imagine that turning out well. – Max Dec 1 '17 at 15:02
  • @Max: In all fairness, you are not responsible for the group's decision. If the group decides to exclude her, then the group should decide how to handle it. Telling her that it was a group decision would then actually be the fairest approach (assuming she presses you for an answer), since the alternative would be to pin it on one person (or a few people). If she presses you for an answer and you refuse to give one (out of a sense of avoiding awkwardness), then it's liable to end up hurting her more. And if you'd rather lie, that's not really on-topic for an IPS approach, in my opinion. – Flater Dec 1 '17 at 15:12
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    A little postmortem: the sentiment among my group was indifference/not wanting to invite Alice, so I did not extend an invitation. I hung out with her later and the question of the gathering didn't even come up... so crisis averted. – Max Dec 28 '17 at 20:49
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You say that you are a group of friends with a shared history. If there is something that all the attendees have in common (this shared history, whatever that might be) then that is the reason for the invite. You should not feel bad only including people that fit that criteria.

To back this up: I have a fairly wide circle of friends. Sometimes everybody gets together; other times it may be just sub-section. There is usually some criteria that determines who gets invited. For example, maybe all the parents get together to take their kids to the park; or just the parents with kids in a certain age bracket. I personally do not get offended if I don't get invited when the criteria is obvious and I don't fit it. If the ex-girlfriend in question is still your friend then just see her at another event, not this one. Or whoever she normally keeps in touch with from your group can do that. If she really isn't a friend to anyone in the 364 days between your annual gatherings then I don't know why you are worrying anyway.

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