Happy New Year to our HerStories Project community! We are pleased to announce that as of this month, Nina is now with us twice a month so keep those anonymous questions coming! I think many people will be able to relate to the particularly uncomfortable social dynamic she discusses in this week’s HerTake column:
My daughter-in-law posed this question and I could use your help with an answer.
My son and daughter-in-law, Josh and Mia, had a dinner group of sorts with two other couples. The six of them would almost always get together at Josh and Mia’s house because they didn’t have a babysitter for their two-year-old twins and the other couples had readily available child care.
Everyone got busy and about six months has passed since the last get together.
Couple A said to Josh and Mia, “Hey, we miss getting together for dinner. Let’s make plans to go out to some family friendly place with the kids.” No mention of Couple B.
So Mia’s question is this: Since dinner together had always been a thing with all three couples, should she ask Couple B to join them?
My response was no because:
1) This is a different scenario. Dinner out with the whole family rather than dinner at home with just couples.
2) Couple A initiated the plan so it would be up to them to reach out to Couple B if they wanted.
3) Trying to find a restaurant for three couples plus six kids would be tough!
I guess the question really comes down to something I’ve struggled with, too. How do you tactfully and gracefully make plans with friends who are part of a larger group without including everyone every time?
Dear Mia’s Mother-in-Law,
What a nice mother-in-law you are! I like that you discussed this with Mia and brought the issue for me to consider. Part of why I love this column is the timelessness of many of the questions. For example, Mia’s situation has little to do with the fact that she has twins or that the other couples have young kids, too. As you said, you deal with the same problem when making plans with friends. And believe me, I have spent more time than I care to admit fretting over leaving people out and being left out myself. I had to work hard (and continue working hard) to get over the latter to even begin addressing the former with a sense of logic and maturity.
There’s so much going on here! Let’s break it apart.
First, to address Mia and Josh’s specific scenario, I think your answer was good. You’re right that the dinner out is a different situation than the home group that had formed. Also, going out with six adults and six kids (toddlers) is rather pointless in my opinion. Sometimes in the interest of never hurting anyone’s feelings, many of us end up diluting our social outings to the point where we don’t have conversations beyond the surface. Sure, nobody gets left out that way, but does anyone have that great of a time?
I’m on the fence about your point that couple A as the initiators of this outing have the responsibility to reach out to couple B. If Josh and Mia are good enough friends with couple A, then it would not be strange for one of them to suggest adding couple B. But the bigger point is that it is absolutely acceptable for the four of them to make plans without couple B.
The reason I say I’m on the fence about Mia initiating the extra invite is that my husband and I used to be friends with a couple that could not seem to function without making sure that a certain other couple was included every time. It got really annoying and I stopped reaching out for plans. While I understand that my friend was sensitive about leaving out her other friend, I firmly believe it has to be okay for adults to strike a balance between “the more the merrier” and quality time.
Hold on Mia’s mother-in-law! I think what I just said there is the crux of what you’re asking in your well-stated question at the end. “How do you tactfully and gracefully make plans with friends who are part of a larger group without including everyone every time?”
MAKING THE CHOICE TO CONTROL CERTAIN FEELINGS
The key is this: You do it by being gracious and strong when your friends get together without you. You do it by admitting that there are situations when “the more the merrier” is not true at all. Sometimes more is just more bodies, more voices, and less true conversation, and that means realizing we can’t be a part of every plan just like we can’t include everyone else all the time.
Maybe this all sounds silly to someone who has never felt left out in her life, but I think a solid majority of us have felt that pang, even as adults, when we know that our friends are hanging out without us.
I’m going to speak for myself now because controlling my feelings is the exact tactic I employed a few years ago when I realized that I could not on one hand crave quality time with my friends yet expect others to include me no matter the situation. I know that when I have a few families over for dinner, it does not signify any lack of loyalty and genuine friendship with my other friends. When my husband and I go out with a few other couples, it does not mean we like our other friends any less. I have to grant the same benefit of the doubt to my friends when they make plans without me.
The reason this is emotional “work” is because I make the choice in these situations not to feel hurt if I am not included. Maybe I will feel that twinge of surprise and momentary self-consciousness when I realize a gathering has happened or is about to happen without me. But in the next breath I remember how when I’m in the planning mode, I am not intentionally leaving anybody out. I am actively making plans with friend A or friend B. Those plans have nothing to do with friend C, and if friend C found a way to make every social outing about her, well, I wouldn’t want to be friends with her anymore. Nobody wants to deal with friend C’s constant hurt feelings. Do not be friend C!
THE MORE THE MERRIER vs QUALITY TIME
It requires a maturity to recognize that some situations call for leaning towards “the more the merrier” and some call for quality time. Long term friendships depend on this maturity on both sides of the equation (as the inviters and the invitees) and the ability to not feel hurt all the time. There is certainly a time for including everyone. There are no rules here, just common sense.
As for how to make plans with some friends and not others with tact and grace, I have two words: NO SECRETS. I think it’s taken some years, but my friends and I are now good about doing things without including everyone. There was never a formal conversation about it, but I’ve seen the dynamics evolve over the years and it’s been refreshing for all of us (I assume). I’d say the best change I’ve noticed is that nobody is secretive. It’s not like you need to tell everyone what you’re doing all the time, but it feels crappy when a friend says with purposeful vagueness, “We’re going out with some friends,” and makes you feel like you’re too fragile to hear that it’s with people you both know. I’d say be matter-of-fact if the question of what’s happening this weekend comes up and continue to respond gracefully during the times you are on the receiving end of that news.
I do hope that helps rather than making things more complicated. Nobody ever accused me of under thinking these matters.
Readers, what has your experience been?
Nina will be answering another question later this month! She is also discussing questions from the column on live radio! If you’d like to hear her response to your question, fill out the anonymous question form here.
Our recent call for submissions has just closed; if you submitted an essay for Mothering Through the Darkness, our upcoming anthology on postpartum depression, expect to hear from us around March. We will keep you updated, and thanks for supporting this project!
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