The More the Merrier Versus Quality Time

The More the Merrier Versus Quality Time

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:

HerTakenoavatar

 Hi Nina,

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?

Sincerely,

Mia’s Mother-in-Law

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?

 

FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1Nina 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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31 comments

  1. Dana says:

    I love this question and the fact that it was posed by Mia’s mother-in-law (if only all MIL’s could be so condcientious and genuinely helpful!).

    Nina, I think your response is pretty genius. I agree with you and feel sure, Mia and josh could ask after the other couple but there is no need to force an all or nothing interaction. I love your wise suggestion that we grown ups take the high road with honesty and graciousness on both sides of the equation.

    My six year old daughter actually had this problem last year. We could never get a play date with one girl without the girl’s best friend coming too, which definitely took away from the bonding that occurs in a one on one play date. It was extra hard for my daughter bc the other two were especially tight, making her feel like a third wheel. When I tried to broach this with the moms they didn’t get it.

    Thanks for this awesome column! Hurray for twice a month 🙂
    Dana recently posted…EndingsMy Profile

  2. Nina, this is perfect. Quality time vs the more the merrier – an issue in every relationship throughout our lives. I tend to be “an includer”, not wanting to hurt people’s feelings. It never occurred to me, until you pointed it out, that actively making plans with one person isn’t the same as intentionally leaving someone else out. Openness and truth are the keys. Honesty is ALWAYS the best policy.
    Mo at Mocadeaux recently posted…Wine Crafts And Other Wine NewsMy Profile

  3. Tamara says:

    I love the MIL! Although she must live local or wouldn’t she babysit for Josh and Mia’s children so they wouldn’t always have to host?
    These scenarios happen more than I’d expect in adulthood.

    I really wanted to submit to the anthology but I didn’t have any postpartum depression at all. It was more of a story of mothering through darkness when my kids were older. I can’t wait to read the book.
    Tamara recently posted…Go Ahead, Ask Me Anything.My Profile

  4. Rivki Silver says:

    “Do not be friend C!” Great advice as usual, Nina. I appreciate the part about being honest. I would definitely be the one to be vague and withhold information in an attempt to avoid hurt feelings, but I see now that it could actually *lead* to hurt feelings (or at least feelings of awkwardness). Also, we are all adults now, and yes, should be able to deal with these situations maturely. Thanks!
    Rivki Silver recently posted…Why Orthodoxy?My Profile

  5. Dana says:

    I think your answer was perfect, Nina. I have been in a very similar situation – three families have been friends for 16 years. We almost always get together as a trio, but sometimes it’s nice to spend time with just one couple at a time. We’ve done it, and I’m sure the other two have done it without us as well, and that’s fine with me.
    Dana recently posted…Fake it till you make it: My January Love ListMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      I’ve also found that as families get bigger, what used to brunch with a few couples and a few kids, for example, turns into a huge party. I know my family alone adds 6 to the group and I would not expect to be included all the time. The same goes for just adults. While each couple does not add a lot in terms of numbers, it makes the table bigger and harder for everyone to really catch up.
      Nina recently posted…Making Plans That Leave Out Some FriendsMy Profile

  6. Pam says:

    This is such a toughie! It really does follow you all through your life… I won’t say much more as I feel anything you say on the the internet, you might as well write it in a postcard addressed to The Entire World. I agree, we all need to remember it’s not always about us. By the same token, if you’re consistently getting left out, you might reconsider whether you want to be in the group at all.
    Pam recently posted…The Seven Best Things I Discovered on the Web in 2014My Profile

  7. Katie says:

    I am 100% a more the merrier person. I’m also a home body, so I would never consider going out to dinner with as a group of 6, just seems easier/cheaper/more fun to be at someone’s house. When I’m pulled in this situation, I ask couple/person A if they want to invite more people, and would suggest couple B. If couple A doesn’t want to invite more, than I would hope they would host, or in the case of 4 people going out I’d be okay.
    Katie recently posted…Confessions of a Closet HoarderMy Profile

  8. Another thoughtful answer, Nina! Funny how it ties back to that topic of control again, huh? In the end, we do the best we can not to hurt feelings and to give friends quality time, but we can’t control how others will react to our choices. Sometimes we have to choose what we think is best and let go of how others will handle it, dealing with their issues if/when/how they happen.
    Annie Neugebauer recently posted…Celebrating 2015 with Color, Organization, and JoyMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Annie, it really does seem to come back to that common theme of control and not being able to control how others feel about us. Your worded it all so succinctly that i may have to quote you directly in another post!
      Nina recently posted…New Year, New ProblemsMy Profile

  9. nina says:

    I really like your approach, Nina. I wouldn’t force the issue of inviting the third couple either. Of course, my experience is limited: my husband and I don’t really have couple friends that hang out with one another. Instead, for instance, I’ll invite a friend and her husband over for dinner. But it’s not like I’m friends with the husband, or my husband is friends with my friend or her husband.
    nina recently posted…How to Prepare Your Child for College (Because It’s Not Too Early)My Profile

  10. Great topic — one we can all relate to, and something I experienced over the holidays, to a degree (always wondering, “Do I invite the whole crew of neighbor/friends to Thanksgiving, or just those closest?”). But your response speaks to something else as well — the whole notion of relationship maturity, which I think is also wrapped into personal maturity. For example (me, personally): I know I’ve gotten bent out of shape when our best couples friends tell us how they’ve done x, y, and z with our also-other mutual friends. It took me two weeks of nursing wounds from something our best friends did during our Thanksgiving dinner (involving our mutual friends) that was very hurtful. But I made a conscious decision to work MY way through it and try to see it from their perspective. In the end, it was about me evaluating how much I valued our couples’ friends friendship vs. letting our relationship be affected by their questionable actions. I worked hard to “let go” and realized that the mutual friends (who are older and only here periodically) are simply BETTER friends with our best friends than they are with us. They simply have more in common. I realized that we don’t all need to do things together. That takes friendship maturity but also, I think, personal maturity and is something I might not have been capable of years earlier. Admittedly, though, the part that I am still trying to reconcile is the way our best friends truly do push us aside when this couple comes back into town (i.e. specific events they’re involved in, which they’ve asked us to support in the past, they ask the other couple to do and don’t even invite us. It’s like we’re the stable, stand-by and the only-in-town-5xs-per-year couple is the shiny new toy). And maybe that’s all there is to it, frankly.
    Melissa Crytzer Fry recently posted…Silent SnapshotsMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Melissa, I totally get why that would feel crappy. I’m glad you’re not ending your friendship with the in-town couple over it, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not somehow “noted” in your mind. It would take superhuman maturity to always let things roll of your back. I like your approach of YOU working through it as it’s the only piece you can really control. I too have responded way better to situations now than I would have two years ago or more. It’s so much easier this way—not taking things too personally. I have a distinct memory of crying–CRYING–about 10 years ago after not being invited to a brunch. Even then I knew I was being oversensitive about one brunch, but once the tears were really flowing (rare for me as I don’t cry often) I knew it was about something deeper, which turned out to be acknowledging that I had a big hole in my friendship life at that time.

      I sort of got off on a tangent there! Anyway, thanks for sharing your situation here!
      Nina recently posted…New Year, New ProblemsMy Profile

  11. This topic really spans all age groups. My parents (retirees) were telling me that they’re dealing with this very issue in their circle of friends. I responded that they should not have to include everyone all the time, and I’m glad to hear that you felt the same!

    In addition to “no secrets” being a ground rule, I would also say that “no gossiping” should be another. There shouldn’t be anything said about the friends who are absent that couldn’t be said to their faces.

    I especially love your point about being gracious when you’ve been excluded from a gathering. We have a fear of missing out that drives our hurt feelings.

    Terrific advice, Nina.
    Jackie Cangro recently posted…The One With the Shopping BagMy Profile

  12. Shary says:

    Definitely a universal question and as usual, a thoughtful answer. I agree 100% that the first thing to do is not to be “friend C” by letting go of the idea that we have to be included every time. I’m a little unsure about how the total honesty part works, though.

    When I was a little girl, my mother taught me not to tell people about parties or events I wasn’t inviting them to attend. “I’m having a birthday party on Saturday, but you’re not invited,” just seems mean. I’m sure there’s a more graceful way to communicate the message, but I’d rather not. I don’t go to great lengths to keep things secret, but I do prefer to be discreet when I invite just one couple rather than our entire group of friends. Perhaps I’m stuck in kindergarten etiquette and need to grow up a bit. Any specific advice about those conversations?

    • Nina says:

      Hi Shary!
      A party and a night out with just one other couple is for sure a different situation. You and your mom are right. Technically, I do think it’s best not to discuss plans. But it really cannot be avoided sometimes when people directly ask. Even for just the night out . . . I personally do not go around announcing my plans. If a friend and I are speaking say and she says, “What are you up to this weekend?” I have no problem saying, “We’re going to such and such restaurant with the Smiths.” I always feel weird being vague and leaving out the names because if that friend ends up talking to the other couple or seeing us out, it will feel like I purposely didn’t mention it. I guess having been on the receiving end of such vagueness, I really don’t like it. For a party . . . that would be harder. I don’t have a blanket answer; I guess it’s situation by situation.

      HOWEVER, I will say that I RARELY ask people what they are doing on any given night and sort of hope that will discourage people from asking me as well. Because I agree, those conversations are really not ideal no matter how you slice it. So when getting off the phone on a Friday I am 95% more likely to say, “Have a great weekend” and not “What are your plans?” In fact, it’s one of my least favorite questions to hear and I always have an icky feeling of dread when someone asks. Once in a while I say it on accident to someone else, and I immediately regret it.

      Overall, I think discreet is a great go-to with some ability to just spit it and say what you’re up to when really pressed.

      So great to hear from you here, Shary!
      Nina recently posted…New Year, New ProblemsMy Profile

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