Invitation not obligation: Bite-sized autonomy in action


October 28, 2014 by aggiesez

I lead a pretty busy life — and so do, generally, my friends, and my partners. I also tend to find no shortage of interesting, cool, worthwhile things to do with my time. Somewhere along the line I found myself issuing invitations with the concluding caveat: “invitation, not obligation.”

…abbreviated to: INO

As in, “Emily and I are taking a blues dancing class tonight at 7. Join us if you like, INO.”

Lately it occurs to me that this is no mere polite caveat, but a foundational application of autonomy: of my own self sufficiency, and of signaling respect for others’ choices and preferences.

A core reason I prefer solo polyamory is that I deeply dislike entitlement and taking people for granted. It’s bad enough when people assume they’re entitled to my time or attention; or when they don’t appreciate the time, attention, comfort, or affection I offer them. (Which is a big part of why I prefer not living with my intimate partners.) It’s far worse when I catch myself doing that to others. I’m definitely not perfect.

When I issue an invitation or offer tagged with INO, it’s a reminder to be conscious of others’ autonomy. To remove the implied pressure that someone “should” want to be with me, spend time with me.

Each time I write INO, I consider what it means. How would I handle “no thanks” for an answer? Is my invitation wholehearted, do I really hope that person will accept? Can I let go of any expectation of a response at all? Am I really issuing a nudge, not just an invitation — trying to get more of someone’s time or attention without simply asking for what I really want? Am I more interested in having a specific person’s company, or simply in having some company?

These questions can be uncomfortable. Sometimes I am indeed strongly attached to an outcome, hoping that my invitation will be accepted — not just with a “yes,” but with “HELL FUCKING YEAH!!!” Sometimes I’m just being polite, not really wanting or caring about the other person’s company. Sometimes I’m not owning up to what I really want to ask. Maybe I’m secretly totaling up their sum of responses, reading them as tea leaves that might portend the kind of connection they wish to foster with me (instead of just asking them about that). All part of being human.

Sometimes when I go through this process, I realize that INO alone won’t cut it for a specific invitation. For instance, if I really need an answer, I’ll say “Let me know by [date].” Or if it’s honestly important to me that this person attend, I’ll say: “No is a totally fine answer, but I’m really hoping you’ll say yes, because I’d especially love to share this with you” — which, yeah, probably does put some pressure on the person considering my invitation, but it’s better to be honest if that’s what I mean.

The point is, no matter how they respond, I’m reminding myself that what they want to do with their time is up to them, not up to me. Because I’d much rather that people spend time with me because they want to — not because they feel obliged or manipulated, or because I’ve become a default/placeholder companion to fill otherwise empty time.

INO gives me space to check myself. To consider why I’m issuing an invitation, and how to roll with any outcome. To consider what I really want to share, and why. To not just spend time with others out of habit or obligation. To care for myself, and give others space to care for themselves.

Best of all, INO makes space to take “yes” for an answer, unreservedly, and to enjoy the sharing that results.

Plus, it fits so nicely and neatly into a text message. Handy.



My sweetheart IO read this post and offered this feedback on how INO looks to someone receiving an invitation with that context. Posted here with his permission (because he’s currently not on his computer often):

So glad you shared the INO concept with others. I think it’s one of the most unique and creative approaches you have developed for yourself, and it’s also very useful for others.

I have really appreciated being on the receiving end of INO.  It has done wonders for helping me be aware of, and address, my own previously unspoken and unresolved wants and caveats regarding my ability to answer requests with integrity.

He said he may have more to add on this later, but he wanted to offer this perspective for now.

7 thoughts on “Invitation not obligation: Bite-sized autonomy in action

  1. Reblogged this on Safety Beyond Safewords and commented:
    Love this. Reminds me of Brene Brown’s “Choose discomfort over resentment”

  2. Oh, I like the notion of “Invitation, not obligation.” That’s a keeper 🙂

    xx Dee

  3. WeekBiweek says:

    My social instincts must be off, because I assume that any invitation that does not include terms like “mandatory,” “must attend,” “have to be there,” or “I really, really need you there,” are invitation and not obligation. I did not think it needed to be specified, but rather, that obligations were what needed to be specified.

    • aggiesez says:

      In a perfect world where everyone said exactly what they mean, all relevant context included, and where people didn’t feel they have to read between the lines to puzzle out the nuances of social interactions (including invitations), I’d agree with you.

      In my experience, a lot of people feel a subtle pressure at invites that aren’t specified as mandatory, strongly desired, need a response by X date, etc. That’s usually because people often do want to support/please their friends, lovers, partners, family members, community, etc. But they’re wary of overcommitting. Or they feel trepidation because they’re unsure what accepting or rejecting a given invitation might portend for how they relate to that person/community in the future. Lots of people really do worry about this stuff all the time — consciously or not.

      And even more commonly, people often issue an invitation to an event, activity, etc. having an ulterior agenda of deepening a relationship, making a connection, validating a relationships, getting social recognition for a relationship, etc. But it may seem easier or less scary to just issue an invitation and then interpret the response through the filter of that unspoken agenda. And when that unspoken agenda is subconscious, that just complicates things more. Much drama ensues.

      I’d prefer the perfect world of literal communication you described. But in my experience, the INO tag (once explained, which you can do in a sentence, and if used only where it’s sincere) really helps clarify the true context of an invitation, and helps remove a lot of mental/emotional uncertainty and pressure.

      YMMV, of course.

  4. […] either of us wants or needs something in our relationship, I expect that we’ll ask for it, using our words. “No,” or a counteroffer, is always an acceptable response — although this should be […]

  5. xkittnx says:

    Great blog post. I have been a lot about solo poly recently. The more I learn how people go about it, the more I enjoy it. I’ve been applying a lot of what I’ve learned to not only to self but the people I’m hanging out with. I’ll be attaching INO to most of my invitations from now on so that people do feel that they have a choice. Thank you for this.

  6. […] solo poly selfish, but I don’t see it that way. In a perfect world, people should not feel obligated to be available to others. I am fine on my own. It’s exactly what I want; however, it […]

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