RSVP'ing in general is something that got drilled into my brain as a kid. My mom hated it when we'd throw a party, and people would decline to say if they were coming. Now invitations have moved online -- and as a society we seem to be having just as much of a problem honoring the "respond by" date as we did when we got invites via snail mail.
Granted, an email invitation is a little harder to take seriously and a little easier to blow off than if you had put your acceptance or decline in writing. Evites are not quite as formal, but treat them with respect, nevertheless. Sometimes people will include the day for when they need a response by, and if they do, by all means treat this date seriously. If they don't, response time can depend on when the event is scheduled for. If the date is further out, you have some time to decide, but if it's within the week, just hit reply and make your decision. I find this is the best way to go usually. Unless you think you have a conflict, just respond right away. Get it out of your mind, and you'll be doing the host/hostess a favor too.
Next you have to follow through on your RSVP. It sounds basic, but something about having an electronic reply makes people much less likely to actually show up if they say they're going to. They think they should say they'll be there "just in case," but if something else better comes up, they'll bail in a heartbeat. Not only is this rude to your hostess, it's just bad manners. If something legit does come up, it's ok to correspond by email and let the organizer know you won't be coming, but at least let them know.
Because so much of our lives occur online, it doesn't mean that old-fashioned niceties have to fly out the window. Sure, rules have relaxed, but -- especially when a lot of preparation has gone into something --sometimes rules are there for a reason.
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