The other night, I was invited by a friend for Shabbat dinner. In attendance was a person who was an insufferable dinner guest. They were way too loud the entire time and monopolized the conversation. Not only did this person talk over me and others, but when people posed questions just to me, this person still felt a need to jump in before I could say anything. My question is this: If my friend invites me again, is there a tactful way to say that they shouldn’t invite me and this person to the same meal?
The scenario you describe feels like something that, pre-pandemic, many of us could have suffered through silently, rolled our eyes and then gone home and moved on. Now, when spending time with people still feels both precious and precarious, it’s much harder to consider an unpleasant social interaction as a minor inconvenience and much more likely that such an experience feels like a serious intrusion on our wellbeing. So I hear you.
On the other hand, hosting Shabbat dinners likely still feels both precious and precarious, too, and I’m not sure I can tell you that you can intrude on your friend’s invitations in the way you’re suggesting. You can turn down future invitations, but I’m not sure you can make requests about who else attends.
Depending on your relationship with the host, you could potentially say something like, “Last time, I didn’t really get to talk to you, so I’d love to come, but I’d really appreciate if I could sit next time you this time,” or, “I’m not sure I’m up for a big gathering this week, so if you don’t mind telling me how many people will be there, I’d really appreciate it,” which will probably lead to hearing the specifics of who is coming.
However, if (and it’s a big if) you can find a way to imagine that the insufferable guest has spent the better part of the pandemic in isolation, or works from home and never talks to anyone all week or has otherwise suffered a lapse in social skills in the past couple years, consider giving them and the scene a second chance. If you can’t though, which is also understandable, “No, I’m sorry I can’t make it, but thank you for the invitation,” is also a solid way to avoid a repeat of this experience.