Absence and abstinence: highly detoxifying alternatives to a busy social life

Las reglas de etiqueta siempre me han causado gracia: son a la vez anacrónicas y útiles. Si alguien las siguiera con la precisión con la que están escritas, se convertiría en un vegetal social; es el error y la espontaneidad lo que nos da una característica personalidad a cada uno. Me encuentro con estas ocho normas de etiqueta para lograr, correctamente, la ausencia y abstinencia social.

Absence: a learnful course in the art of staying away from the hullaballoo. Recommended by Angelo Flaccavento.

The demands of a gentleman’s social life have become more and more intense. Events multiply at an alarming rate, while the necessity of being there turns into an increasingly excruciating, if not pointless, burden. Who really needs another dinner, aperitif, brunch, breakfast, opening, vernissage, disco party, pub gathering or everything else RSVP to prove that one is at the centre of what matters?

Absence and abstinence are therefore satisfying and highly detoxifying alternatives to the hassle of a busy social life. One simply doesn’t take part in any activity. That’s all there is to it. Which is not to say it’s easy to be absent. Staying away, as I’ve personally experienced, is in itself quite demanding and even a bit tricky to execute: the line that divides non-presence from rudeness is paper-thin. Carefulness and delicacy are absolutely mandatory in order not to fall into the trap of grumpiness. Absence, after all, should be synonymous with considered legeresse, not with bearishness. To avoid any fatal mistakes that would kill social life once and for good, here’s a short but effective etiquette.*

1. Be light. Don’t turn your dislike of social life into a statement. Absence is your own choice: it is personal, not political.

2. Never decline an invite right away: it is extremely discourteous. Be very forthcoming and accept with moderate joy. You will decline later or attend briefly if you feel like it. In that case, be very early, because only party monsters stay till the very end. If you decide not to attend—and this is preferable—make a call and give a foggy but convincing excuse. A no-show without an explanation is absolutely out of the question. Send flowers or a present with a brief note the following day.

3. Always keep in contact with your peers. A gracious call, a gentle e-mail, a cozy chat over coffee. Don’t forget anyone, and treat everyone with the same warmth and respect. A good network is essential to stay on the pulse of things while enjoying some peripheral distance.

4. Always answer the phone and reply to e-mails and letters. Only selfish divas don’t do that, and you are not one. If you cannot answer immediately, return the call or respond to the letter or e-mail as soon as you can. If the call turns into tedious chitchat, cut it shortly, elegantly. Never sound like a hypersensitive one who’s running away from the madding crowd.

5. Prefer listening to talking. Don’t fake interest: be genuinely interested in what other people are telling you. Don’t talk about yourself too much, and never, ever make yourself the center of attention.

6. Work on a boring dress style. Opting for restraint will make the transition from presence to absence a lot smoother : you can start disappearing in it right away.

7. Indulge in selfish isolation as much as you like, but don’t opt for total seclusion: you are not Garbo or Dietrich. Give some flashes of yourself to others—rarely, but be sure you give them.

8. If, in the long run, abstinence from social life cuts you off from the circle once and for good, do not get upset. Be Olympian and ignore social life altogether. After all, distance is what you were looking for.

*This etiquette does not apply to weddings, funerals, family gatherings and other, similar events. Sometimes, there is no option: you simply have to be there.

Mr Angelo Flaccavento lives in Sicily, Italy, and has a younger sister who looks just like him, apart from his meticulously groomed beard. Fantastic Man No 10.