HerTake: I Like You, But Not Enough for a Long Distance Visit

HerTake: I Like You, But Not Enough for a Long Distance Visit

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?

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Dear Nina,

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?

Signed,

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.

Good luck!

Nina

 

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**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.

20 comments

  1. Donna Trump says:

    I think you’ve given good advice here, Nina, as usual, but I feel that “I like you, but” has gotten off the graciousness hook a little too easily. The friend invited her to Christmas dinner, for goodness sake! And “I like you, but” accepted, when she was down and out. OK, that doesn’t mean “I like you, but” is forever indebted, but maybe she could be encouraged to pay it forward a little, if she can’t pay it back. What is she doing in her new town, now, to make a newcomer feel welcome? And can she offer support and friendship to a bewildered and lonely new arrival with the clear understanding her kindness may never be reciprocated?
    Donna Trump recently posted…Another Look at GritMy Profile

  2. Dakota says:

    Oooh, while I definitely have a lot of sympathy for a relationship where you’ve enjoyed that person’s company, but don’t feel like going out of your way to encourage it… I think I have a different take on this one. I’m often guilty of resisting get-togethers or making plans because I assume I’ll dislike whatever it is that’s going on… but you say you did enjoy her company and her family. She’s offering to come to you and make that effort… would it really be so bad to set aside time to visit with them for a couple of days? If your housing situation is such that you wouldn’t be able to host them (or only for a couple of days) then you could be upfront about that, and that might take care of the problem right there, depending on her finances. Best case scenario, things go really well and you enjoy yourself and it turns out better than you expect (I’m banking here on you’re not sure if you want to put in the effort or not). Worst case – they don’t go well, and both of you would be able to graciously step back from the friendship.

    Whatever you decide to do, though, I wish you the best of luck!
    Dakota recently posted…Straining to hold the Perfect CircleMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      I’m glad you commented with a different take! I know that I personally couldn’t handle a visit or a trip with someone I did not want to keep connecting with on that level, but I know that is definitely not the most generous way to look at the situation (or any situation). I’m often practical to a fault, and when I read that question I heard (or imagined) many years of the letter writer trying to get out of situations with Tracey. But you could be right, too, that Tracey might also feel the lack of chemistry and move on. OR, they could have a great time and go forward closer than before. Knowing my personality, I wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure of it.
      Nina recently posted…Friends, But Not Travel FriendsMy Profile

      • Dakota says:

        Nina, oh no! I totally hear you there! I do not like visits with people that I… don’t like. They are so unfun and stressful. I was only thinking that if she HAD enjoyed this woman’s company in the past, that just allowing a visit might resolve the situation one way or another. But I definitely wouldn’t suggest that if she truly found her old friend’s company challenging.
        Dakota recently posted…Twelve Days of Christmas DIY Bird Ornament Free Download & TutorialMy Profile

  3. Nina,

    I agree with your advice, although I actually wish I had more of a “hey, let them come” attitude. But that’s just not me. And the truth? I would cringe at the idea of a family I wasn’t deeply connected to flying to me for a visit.

    In fact, that would probably be too much pressure for me even if I WERE deeply connected.

    I’m a private person who has a lot of my plate, yet because I work from home I’m often perceived to have a lot of flexibility in my day. There’s always something (or ten things) vying for my time and I have trouble simply telling friends I can’t make it for regular lunch dates or coffee.

    If someone who was extremely kind to me wanted to come for an extended (or even a short) visit where my total attention (and potentially overnight hosting) was involved, I would be beside myself. I would feel guilty but also certain that I did NOT want to do that.

    So. The white lie it would be for me, hoping my “Tracey” would get the hint.

    Having said that, I do love that Donna suggested that “I like you, but” should be making an effort to pay Tracey’s generosity forward. In whatever way makes her comfortable, she should reach out to the new kid in town like someone did for her.
    julie gardner recently posted…CheesesMy Profile

  4. Tamara says:

    I love your answer. I had a weird situation come up in which a friend I didn’t know that well wanted to bring her toddler son to my house.. wait for it.. for a WEEK! Even my parents don’t come for a week and they’re my parents and will help around the house. I don’t have to actually work hard at hosting when they’re here.
    Anyway, it was weird. I had conflicting travel plans so I got out of it easily, but it would have been better to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
    Tamara recently posted…A Christmas Wish List With Sonicare.My Profile

  5. Sarah says:

    I agree with you (and I’m with Annie on this one with the 50-50 vs 90-10 effort). Aside from travel, I wonder how many of us, if we’re honest about it, are in friendships where we’re giving 90 (or 75 or whatever) and the other person is giving the remaining sliver of effort. Friendships are difficult to maintain as we’re all busy with our own things but, when you’re doing most of the work, is it worth it anymore? I digress. I sometimes wish I had a different, more open, attitude but I don’t. It’s not me. If I ever feel the need to change that, I will. But, for now, completely agree with you.
    Sarah recently posted…Reaching Into the WellMy Profile

  6. I believe everyone is so different in personality when it comes to this question. I am like Dakota- the more the merrier all the time anyone can come visit we have an open door. Part of our love language is hosting whoever wants to be here.

    But, then, we also put our house together with a guest area and moved to the beach. Also, I am the definition of an extrovert so I get a lot of energy from guests and social situations. Not everyone is that way, though. I love Nina’s advice that if it isn’t in your comfort zone if this doesn’t make sense to you, a little white lie is the best bet.

    Best of luck to you in whatever you decide!
    Allison Barrett Carter recently posted…How to Manage Christmas StressMy Profile

  7. Caryn says:

    What a tough situation. Nina, I completely agree with your response, particularly if the letter writer is certain she doesn’t want to continue with the friendship. I don’t believe we “owe” people for friendship, rather that people come into our lives at various times and for various reasons, but it does not mean we are meant to have a lifelong relationship with them. They of course deserve our kindness and compassion. I love the idea mentioned above of the letter writer paying it forward in her own way.

    And while I know it makes no difference, I kept wondering while reading the letter if “I like you, but” moved to a coveted place to visit — such as by a beach or even a big city (since Tracey is in a small town). Maybe they see it as an excuse not just to see their friends, but to travel to a place they have wanted to go or might be nice for a vacation. Again, not that it really matters, but maybe the letter writer could encourage them to come and stay in a hotel and do their own thing, and her family could just meet them for dinner one night 🙂 Easier said than done, I know!
    Caryn recently posted…What Does Your Writing Say About You?My Profile

  8. You know … I don’t want to sound judgmental, but I’m probably going to anyway. So here goes … because this issue happens to be very close to something I’m dealing with in my own family relationships right now.

    First, I get that having people to stay can be uncomfortable, disruptive, even intrusive. But … this friend clearly doesn’t know that she’s actually just an acquaintance. She doesn’t know that her friendship is no longer as desirable as it might have been in a small town where there weren’t too many friend options. And I find myself asking just what kind of user happily accepts friendship and kindness that’s offered when she needs it, and then walks away from the friend with a casual see-ya-on-Facebook? Presumably the OP managed to reciprocate when they lived in the same town and it was easy, but how is it possible, during the course of several years, not to make other friends and establish the desired distance in this friendship – unless your needs have changed while hers have not?

    My point is, either Tracey is completely insensitive and socially stupid and has spent several years not picking up on the fact that this newly departed friend actually doesn’t care that much for her … or she’s been sadly misled by someone who needed a friend then but now has access to more interesting resources.

    So my first response to the OP is, maybe you need to reassess your personal values as regards friendship, because to me it’s sounding rather as though you’re rather a lot like those other unfriendly women who rejected you.

    And my second response is, you actually do owe this woman something. You moved into a town populated by a bunch of women who were apparently too self-absorbed to open their hearts, homes and lives to speak to you – and she went against the popular trend and welcomed you in. And now she misses you and values you enough to buy a plane ticket in order to spend time with you. That’s a big deal, dammit! So either you owe her the truth – which would be something along the lines of “Sorry, you were really nice and I appreciate that and hey, I’m planning to pay it forward and all, but I actually don’t want a FRIENDSHIP friendship with you” – which will hurt, but I’d rather be hurt and disillusioned than lied to. OR you owe her an invitation to spend a few days, during which you put yourself out to make her feel welcome. When you issue the invitation you get to set the limit in terms of how long she stays, and you can plead other commitments to avoid having it run on longer.

    I’m a screaming introvert myself. I don’t make friends easily, and those I do allow close I love with a whole heart. I would hate to have someone I didn’t care for stay over. But you are planning to dish out a great big slice of hurt because it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient to make her welcome – and because apparently you’ve done a poor job of letting her know, in the past, how little you cared. Sorry, but there is no kind way to do this. You can do it slowly or you can do it fast, but unless she’s a complete idiot you’re going to hurt her.

    Or you can step outside your comfort zone … and who knows. You might find a new depth to the friendship that you never even knew existed.

  9. It feels awful to let someone down who has been kind. I had a situation like this arise when I moved out west, and someone from our last home felt left behind. Great advice, Nina. Wish I had known this back then!

  10. Gail F says:

    Nina, this is a good topic, but I KNOW I’m the one doing the imposing. This is how I handle it;. When people move away, I love to keep in contact on FB, it’ does something for me. I’ll let the person know we are coming to their city, staying in a hotel, and leave a few days that a visit will work. 9 times out of 10 they want a visit whether it’s an hour or all day. I leave it up to them.
    I love keeping in contact with people who have left. Then I can see how their town is from their perspective, if they will have me. It’s a nice way to spend any vacation, to re-meet someone who was once in your circle.
    I also have the flip problem with a friend from HS. She wants me to come to her city, or when she’s here she wants to stay with me. I always let her, but I can’t bring myself to go to her city. She’s got too much baggage for me at the moment for me to desire this.
    Keep on keeping it real woman.

  11. Gail F says:

    Nina, this is a good topic, but I KNOW I’m the one doing the imposing. This is how I handle it;. When people move away, I love to keep in contact on FB, it’ does something for me. I’ll let the person know we are coming to their city, staying in a hotel, and leave a few days that a visit will work. 9 times out of 10 they want a visit whether it’s an hour or all day. I leave it up to them.
    I love keeping in contact with people who have left. Then I can see how their town is from their perspective, if they will have me. It’s a nice way to spend any vacation, to re-meet someone who was once in your circle.
    I also have the flip problem with a friend from HS. She wants me to come to her city, or when she’s here she wants to stay with me. I always let her, but I can’t bring myself to go to her city. She’s got too much baggage for me at the moment for me to desire this.
    Keep on keeping it real woman.

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