The party had sounded fun when my friend first heard about it. She'd been flattered and surprised to be invited to celebrate the engagement of a young Virginia couple with whom she was friendly.
"Of course! I'd love to come!" she replied enthusiastically, and put the date on her calendar.
There was going to be a barbecue, and a bluegrass band, and though the venue was a bit of a drive and she didn't know the hosts very well, the party seemed like something to anticipate with pleasure.
Now here it was, a few days before the event and she felt only trepidation. She hadn't thought through how odd it might feel to celebrate a life-cycle event with relative strangers. She dreaded walking into a party filled with people she didn't know. Also, it meant Saturday afternoon traffic on Route 66, a thing of terror to residents of D.C. She had to get out of it. But how?
"Dear Sarah and Jim, she began typing, "It turns out that I may not be able to ..."
She paused. It was such an obvious lie. "It turns out that I may not be able to," is a weasel phrase, and everyone knows it. She deleted the line and tried again.
"It turns out that the kids have some activities that make it impossible for me ..."
She broke off. The kids didn't have conflicting activities, or none at least that would interfere with her attending the party. The event had been on her calendar for ages, after all. She had consciously planned around it.
"So sorry, but I've been under the weather and ..."
Ugh, she thought, this is awful. Each approach seemed phonier than the one before. The trouble was not simply that she was unsure how to extricate herself from a social engagement. It was not even that she felt ashamed, as well she should, for bailing on a commitment she had freely made. As she explained to me later (when she agreed to let me write about it), the really unpleasant thing was that every fib revealed to her a different, unflattering facet of her own character.
In the evasive phrase, she saw manifest her lifelong fear of conflict, which tended to show itself as sneakiness and manipulativeness. Blaming her failure to attend on her family was another unattractive trait; the cowardice of using a human shield. Pretending to be sick was pure dishonesty; she'd never felt perkier in her life.
"Dear Sarah and Jim, it was nice of you to invite me to your party. Unfortunately, I am too shallow and spineless to come, even though I said I would. I'm scared of parties filled with strangers, I hate weekend traffic, and I don't like either of you enough to make the effort. Yours truthfully ... "
She deleted that one, fast, for fear that she might accidentally press "send."
Maybe she was going about this the wrong way. Maybe she should simply not show up. Would the happy couple even notice? She decided that that would be super-extra-turbo-charged rude, plus she'd still need an alibi afterwards.
A cold little thought flitted across through her mind. Maybe, her conscience said, she should go to the party for the simple reason that she said she would. But in the end conscience was no match for cowardice. She shook her head and started typing.
"Dear Sarah and Jim, sorry about the late notice, but I'm afraid I won't ..."
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at email@example.com.