Don't Be Rude

When Guests Outstay Their Welcome

If your guests are walking all over you, it may be that you look suspiciously like a doormat.

Dear Maggie,

Here’s the situation. Every year, we have a very popular local festival, and some unwanted houseguests delightfully invited themselves to stay. Nice. Luckily, we weaseled our way out of them staying. (We’d gone through this with them before, and I was livid at the end of it all.) We decided to have a brunch instead, and invited them—so we didn’t feel like total creeps. They came and invited two people we didn’t know, and didn’t know were coming!

They were nice enough to stop at the store and get some items to prepare; however, our ‘brunch’ lasted until 9:30 p.m. They helped themselves to all of our alcohol—I mean cleared it out. They never asked whether they could have things, or offered to help clean up, and then they were like, ‘What’s for dinner?’

I wanted to choke all of them. I did my best to defuse the situation by not talking, laying down on the couch for a nap, and so on. After doing everything except asking them to leave, one of the ‘strangers’ was like, ‘Well, I know we’ve overstayed our welcome.’ Before he could finish his sentence, me and my guy said, ‘Yeah we have a long day tomorrow…’

Do you have any advice on these types of situations? Or are we the dorks who should learn to go with the flow?

Margaret says…

Go with what flow, exactly? The ‘allow strangers into my house who make a mess and drink all my booze’ flow? That flow sucks.

It was decent of you to refrain from choking anyone. But where was that restraint when these people were first pressuring you to offer an invitation? Saying ‘no’ is hardly rude, and in this case it would have qualified as self-defense.

You’ve been through this with them before and knew they weren’t much on social graces. They have somehow developed the mistaken impression that they’re closer friends than they are. It’s time you stopped fostering that impression.

You and your guy had the right idea in mentioning that you had a long day coming up. Unfortunately, you waited for one of your guests to prompt you. Had you taken the initiative and moved that phrase up by, say, five hours or so, you’d have a clear conscience and a full liquor cabinet.

You could also have replied:

  • ‘‘What’s for dinner?’ Hahahahahaha. Oh, you crack me up. Though, it is getting late. It was great seeing you again. I’ll just get your things.’
  • ‘Oh! Look at the time. We promised John’s mother [best friend, minister, piano teacher] we’d stop by for coffee this evening. I’ll just get your things.’
  • ‘Goodness, we’ve kept you long enough. We have cleaning up to do, and I have a lot of work to get to this evening. Oh, no! Please don’t worry about helping! It was such a pleasure to see you. I’ll just get your things.’

As you may surmise, the last bit is key. Yes, you are throwing them out, but you are doing so in a helpful manner. In this situation, your physical language will be equally important to your message: As you utter any of these phrases, you’ll want to rise from your chair and—armed with a businesslike smile—head swiftly toward the door.

If you want to preserve the friendship, but would like to establish some boundaries, start meeting them places where you have the option to leave of your own accord—coffee shops and bars are good for their easy escapes. You might want to avoid restaurants, because with this crowd you’ll end up covering the bill. Of course, it may be tough at first; they’re used to coming over to your place for free food and entertainment. The key to saying no is in being vague yet consistent, as such:

  • ‘We’re so busy this year. I’m afraid we don’t really have the energy for guests. Oh, I know you won’t be any trouble, but we’re just too overbooked. I’m sorry. We just can’t. Maybe we could go out for dessert somewhere.’
  • ‘You’ll be in town? Great! Why don’t we meet you somewhere for coffee? Oh, you’d like to stop by? That’s not really possible. We’re so busy, and the house is a wreck. I know you don’t mind a mess, but we do. Why don’t we meet you somewhere?’

The more you’re pressured, the busier you get. If they push on an invitation, express regret that you won’t be able to see them while they’re in town.

Learning to say no gracefully is a lot less trouble than entertaining unwanted guests. If you’re too uncomfortable to say it next time, at least remember to hide the bourbon.