When a friend’s expectations are far beyond what you would do for that person, how do you get out of the situation without hurting someone’s feelings? In this month’s letter, a long distance friend wants to come for a visit, but the letter writer feels that anything involving an airplane is beyond the boundaries of the friendship. What would you do?
A few years ago I moved to a small town where I didn’t know anyone. It was a very difficult situation especially since I was overtly ignored or excluded by most women in town because of my newcomer status. But there was one woman (I’ll call her Tracey.) who was not only friendly but also very welcoming, even inviting us over for Christmas dinner. She and I continued to socialize mostly with our children and families and I enjoyed chatting with her.
When my husband and I moved our family again, I said goodbye to Tracey and made sure to get her contact information for the occasional catch up. But on one of her first check-ins, she asked about making plans to come visit with her family. I was surprised because I didn’t think we had made it to visiting status, especially when it involves an airplane ride. And I certainly have no desire to ever go back to that town again!
I feel guilty when I hear from Tracey and feel like I need to invest more in the relationship like she has, but I’m not sure I want to. I feel terrible! What do I do?
I like you, but not enough for a long distance visit!
Dear I like you,
I chose your letter because it describes the trickiest of friendship conundrums: How can we let someone down or even change the status of a friendship while still demonstrating kindness?
Your situation would be a simpler if Tracey had been a mediocre friend. I realize you two did not have an extremely deep connection, but the way she welcomed you to town when most others did not certainly puts her in a special status. Special status aside, I understand that an indefinite long-distance friendship takes a dedication that requires a deeper emotional base, and an equal effort, too. Friendships do not have to be 50-50 in effort, but 90-10 won’t work.
My point is that I understand why you feel torn up about what to do. You don’t want to hurt Tracey’s feelings, but meeting her in the middle on effort and enthusiasm would require you to become a performer. I gather that you would prefer to have the type of long-distance friendship that manifests itself in friendly and genuine emails and mutual Facebook appreciation rather than visits back and forth or meeting in a neutral city in the middle. There is nothing wrong with you or “mean” about you for preferring the latter. If the chemistry for a deeper kind of friendship is not there, then it is not there. There’s no point in even analyzing why. Sometimes people do not click beyond a surface level no matter how much kindness has been bestowed.
Still, because of Tracey’s track record of thoughtfulness and inclusivity, you want to be extra gentle in your approach to conveying that a visit is not going to work for you. The way I see it, you have two options: #1. Be direct, which requires saying that you think a visit feels out of bounds. Or #2. Be indirect and therefore spare Tracey’s feelings.
I wish I had a good idea for how to handle this situation with absolute honesty and integrity, but to spare Tracey’s feelings, you will probably have to say some things that are not 100% true. Yes, I’m giving you permission to craft a white lie. I’m guessing from your letter that there is a spouse/partner and a kid or two in your household. Could you or your spouse have too many “up in the air” work commitments this year to say for sure when a visit would make sense? That’s just one idea, but you get where I’m coming from, I hope. Don’t make up something wildly untrue. You’re trying to state that it’s too hard to pin down a time, while hopefully getting the message across that if it were important enough to you, then you would find a weekend and just make it work.
It’s not what you will say that will get the message across, it’s what you’re not saying. By not committing to a date, I can’t see how Tracey won’t figure out that this long-distance friendship is going to be less intense than perhaps she had hoped. And that’s okay. I imagine you were a good friend to her, too, while you lived in the same town and you don’t owe her lifelong friendship. All you owe her is that you treat her with as much kindness as possible.
**Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience released last month, and was recently endorsed by the Singapore Committee for UN Women! You can buy a paperback or e-book here.