In this column, professional speechwriter Chandler Dean provides partly satirical, partly genuine “How To” advice focused on a hyper-specific subcategory of speeches—from graduation speeches to wedding toasts to eulogies, and all the rhetorical occasions in between.

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Yay! You’ve been invited to a thing. But on the other hand: Shit! You’ve been invited to a thing. This is the eternal struggle: our desire to be included is in perpetual conflict with our desire to stay home and watch YouTube videos of guys going to every Rainforest Café in America. So here are a few tips about how to say no to a plan without saying goodbye to a friendship.

In a perfect world, try to be out of town when this event happens.

“Ahhhh, I’m out of town!” is by far the greatest excuse to miss anything. Implying that you would have attended a social event is basically just as good as actually attending that event. In fact, it might be even better, because then the host of this event is left to wonder what awesome and important things you could possibly be doing to justify being out of town. Now you’re an elusive jet setter instead of a deadbeat flake. So the next time you don’t want to spend an hour showing face at an acquaintance’s housewarming party, open up Google Flights and put your money where your anxiety is.

Respond promptly, or it will look like you’re stalling.

The last thing you want is for the inviter to think you have something to hide. So if you already have an excuse loaded up, send it as soon as you can. If you don’t know what you’ll be doing—or what you’ll claim to be doing—you can always say, “Sounds fun! Lemme check my calendar!” This implies that you’re the sort of person who is both popular and organized enough to keep a calendar. It will also buy you weeks, if not months, of time to come up with an excuse, because it seems to be universally accepted that this is how long it takes to check a calendar.

A vague excuse is better than a weak excuse.

Remember these four beautiful words: “I have a conflict.” When in doubt, that’s all you need to say. I’m a big believer in never lying in these scenarios—not even for ethical reasons, but for practical reasons. My imagination and memory are not good enough to construct and maintain the alternate reality that will keep me away from my cousin’s regular season T-ball game. If I lie, I have to be prepared, for the rest of my life, to tell fabricated stories about my other cousin’s playoff T-ball game that I made up on the spot.

But just because you don’t want to lie doesn’t mean you should tell the truth. If you’re not careful, the excuse you give for not going to a function might actually be more hurtful than your lack of attendance. I have never told someone that I couldn’t go to their birthday party because I had improv practice. That would be humiliating for all parties. But you better believe I’ve played a lot of zip-zap-zop at an “unavoidable prior obligation.”

If you want to keep getting invited, just say so!

Nobody ever says anything that they actually think to anyone anymore. In lieu of this, we are left to try to conjure up meaning from what little communication we do offer each other. When I say, “Can’t make it, sorry!” how many exclamation marks do I need to put after “sorry” to indicate that I don’t hate this person, even though this is the third hoedown of theirs in a row that I’ve declined to giddyup and attend?

Enough. When someone says no to hanging out with me, it saves me a whole lot of speculation and heartache if they tack on a quick “but let’s hang soon!”

Then again, you have to actually mean it. The phrase “let’s hang soon” has been appropriated by a dark underbelly of human society: people who do not actually want to hang soon. If you say, “We should grab coffee sometime!” and me reaching out to you to grab coffee would be a nightmare, know that nobody made you do that but you!

Don’t overdo it.

I know you’re reading a thousand-word essay about how to do this, but ultimately, you should be sending no more than like two sentences: the first to let them know you can’t make it, the second to express your regret and, if applicable, a desire to make it work some other time. Any more than that, and suddenly this chat about their event becomes about you. Remember: other people are not you, and therefore care 99.99 percent less about you than you.

The bigger the social obligation, the stronger your alibi must be.

Yes, the big, official-sounding, vague excuses work great most of the time—you’re out of town, you have a conflict, you’re all set. But like all other social rules, everything you know about how to decline an invitation goes out the window when it comes to a wedding.

As someone who values his privacy, I do believe, in theory, that nobody owes anyone an explanation about why they’re unavailable for any given outing. But as someone who got married, I know firsthand that your betrothed friends don’t give a shit about your privacy. They’ll wanna know exactly why you didn’t make it, and it had better be good, and they will remember whatever it was for the rest of their lives. (I specify their lives because they will kill you if it’s a bad excuse.)

Only a couple of events trump a wedding: a different wedding of someone you are unambiguously closer with or a funeral. But you may not have time to force a loved one to fall in love or into a manhole.

This is when you bring out the big one. The excuse that nobody loves to say, but the one that works every time: “I’ve been looking at flight and hotel prices, and I don’t think I can swing it.”

They will understand. If they don’t, it wasn’t a friendship worth keeping to begin with.

NOTE: This will not work if you are rich. In that scenario, there is absolutely nothing you can say that will convince someone you have a good reason to miss their wedding. But there is something you can send. And that would be one thousand dollars for their registry.