DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband has retired, but I continue to work remotely during the pandemic. I spend at least half of my workday in video meetings. Over the past few months, my colleagues and I have reached some agreement on how to use video tools productively: Assign a facilitator, have a clearly defined agenda and keep meetings as short as possible.
Over the holidays, my husband’s family embraced virtual reunion-style “parties.” I’ve sat through two, both miserable affairs. Now these family members are eagerly planning the next set of parties, and even talking about making them frequent events after the pandemic is over.
I have many complaints, not the least of which is that most of these people are strangers to me, and nearly so to my husband. Family parties weren’t a feature of our pre-pandemic life, and these family members rarely, if ever, saw each other in the real world, except at weddings and funerals.
Furthermore, there are too many people involved for an online conversation. The screen is cluttered with tiny boxes, some with as many as three or four people stuffed on a sofa in front of their computer. Unlike a real-life party, where people can slip into side conversations, attendees are forced to listen to the most dominant voices. Those who married into the family are generally sidelined.
Meanwhile, at least one participant struggles with technical challenges. Many minutes are spent explaining to dear Aunt Helen how to unmute, telling Uncle Bob that we can’t see his head, or asking a cousin to move the yapping puppy farther from the microphone.
Although scheduled for an hour, each party ran on for two hours. Given the difference in time zones, some participants were eating meals on screen, while others were sipping cocktails and some simply sat without refreshments. The “host” at each party insisted that their role was simply to set up the video meetings and let us make our own fun.
It was not fun.
My husband agrees that these events are long, tedious and poorly organized, but claims that it would be rude to decline: We have no viable excuse, especially with online scheduling tools that allow the person setting up the call to check availability in advance. I disagree, saying we can decline in a way of which even Miss Manners would approve.
Is it possible to decline these invitations? And how would you advise those who host these events to make them at least bearable, if not actually fun?
GENTLE READER: Oh, dear. Miss Manners has been complaining that modern socializing is all about honoring oneself and getting presents, rather than just getting together for the fun of it. And here is a new form designed for pure fellowship, and yet, as you report, it is not fun.
But she has always firmly maintained that excuses are not necessary when declining invitations -- indeed, they often lead to unpleasant entanglements -- only expressions of regret. This is still true during the pandemic. Many have more complicated lives now.
But as these are relatives, you might want to make an occasional brief appearance to say hello. It would also be a chance to inquire who in the family understands how to do break-out rooms, so that people who have rarely met can get to know others through personal conversation.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)