It can be a wonderful thing, that phone call that comes like a wish fulfilled, when you don’t have plans, you don’t feel like working and you are deep in the doldrums. Suddenly there is a friend’s voice saying, “I have tickets to a show tonight, are you by any chance free?” And voila! Your evening is transformed into something enjoyable and unforeseen.
Last minute invites--especially when they involve theatrical performances--are often things to be greatly appreciated. However, if you have a friend who only calls you at the last minute, you may not appreciate it so much. (“In about 45 minutes I’m going to see this movie I’ve been wanting to see, want to go with me?” Or “I’m sitting at this bar not far from you, why don’t you come out and join me?”) The people who are guilty of this kind of invite may call themselves free spirits, but is it really devil-may-care behavior or just devil-ish? Sometimes, the last minute invite is really what it sounds like, someone to whom you are a last minute consideration.
Now, I want to be clear; I know many people who live and die by the relaxed, never-know-what-I-am-going-to-be-doing-tomorrow social credo. There are also those rather enviable people I meet who are members of a small but solid “crew” of friends, so that they don’t have to bother to make plans; their social life, while it may be a bit predictable, just happens automatically--albeit with the same six or eight people.
However, I think most New Yorkers over a certain age (30) and under a certain age (75) are busy enough that keeping a calendar is essential; indeed most people I know are booked up at least several weeks in advance. They are juggling social lives with work commitments and family commitments, so if you really want to see them, you usually have to make plans with them way beforehand.
But there can be good reasons for a last minute invitation. It can mean you simply did not anticipate you were going to have this particular hour or two of leisure time. It can mean you just got tickets to something unexpectedly. It can mean that someone else cancelled you at the last minute.
Obviously there is a difference between a last minute invite to a movie and one to the opera. If a friend is going to take me to the Met because someone just dropped tenth row center orchestra tickets into his lap, he can call me as late as he wants and I’m delighted. But it doesn’t really matter what the last minute invite is for, as long as it is not this friend’s standard MO and as long as it is proffered the right way.
Always preface the last minute invite with “I’m sorry, I know it’s last minute.” If you have an extra ticket to something, it is always gratis for the other person. If the person is not available, you must say something like: “Oh, I figured you might not be free at the last minute. Let’s make another plan right now for when you are available.” This says to the person, I’m not just trying to fill my evening, I do really care about seeing you.”
Once in a while you’ll come across a person who feels somehow “entitled” and expects everyone to be at their beck and call. This person will call at the last minute to get together and, if you are NOT free, is often extremely annoyed. This attitude obviously adds injury to insult. There are also rare instances when someone may invite you at the last minute because they feel obligated for some reason; they want to get credit for inviting you, but they really don’t want you to come and they are actually hoping you won’t be free. (Beware of the party invitation that arrives in the morning on the day of the party.)
Of course, habitual last minute social planning can be a corollary of intimacy. With your best friends, there is never any problem with a spur of the moment plan, because if you are NOT free at the last minute, it’s no big deal, you will see the person again soon enough.
I know I tend to be a “martinet” about matters of social protocol; I do insist that we need to behave with as much courtesy to each other as we can. But when all is said and done, I would not want a life without the possibility of a last minute invite. It’s nice to know that your day can change in the blink of an iPhone.