Stephanie Sprenger

Author: Stephanie Sprenger

HerTake: Friends Who Cancel Too Often

In this month’s HerTake question, Nina answers a letter from a woman who says her friends often cancel plans or change the plans last minute. Is this an expected part of being an understanding friend or does this letter writer have especially rude friends in her life? Help our letter writer decide what to do!

Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

Dear Nina,

I’ve come across a problem recently in my social life that I’m stumped as how to solve. There have been a number of times when friends have either canceled plans that we’ve made or declared that they could actually only hang out for much shorter than originally planned because other plans came up. The problem I have is that I don’t know how to nicely explain to them that this is rude and makes me feel bad. Every time I have tried to go about this, I feel like I am coming off as the rude one for being upset, even though they’re the ones skipping out on our plans.

What is your advice?

Thanks!

Tired of the Cancellations

Dear Tired of the Cancellations,

I don’t blame you for being irritated! Now, whether you should take it personally is another issue, and what to do about it is a separate answer, too. I will get to it all.

Are these friends unreliable in other areas of their lives? Do they frequently cancel on others? Are they chronically late? (I mean more than a few minutes.) I’m asking because if they are unreliable in general, then it’s not something you should take personally. Not taking it personally, however, doesn’t mean you want to count on them as your closest friends. Because, yes, their unreliability sounds excessive and cancelling because something better came along is as rude as it gets.

Each person has to decide how much cancelling of plans she can tolerate in a friendship, and there’s no right answer. I can tolerate more than average because I have to cancel sometimes. I have four kids, and if I make a lunch date or any kind of meeting with a person during the school day, I will have to cancel if one of my kids has to stay home from school. In the past two weeks, for example, my kids took turns passing around a five-day virus. I had to cancel on the same friend twice. Each time I rescheduled on the spot to signal how much I want to see her. She knew not to take it personally, and I was grateful for her flexibility. Similarly, I have a handful of friends with whom I make dinner plans so far in advance that we have a mutual understanding making it easy and unemotional if one of us has to cancel because family came in town or a birthday or bar mitzvah invitation arrived that would be strange to skip for a dinner out with friends we can see another time. But if we cancelled on each other for “better” plans? No, that wouldn’t be cool.

Even with all that in mind about times I may have to cancel or my close friends have to cancel, we all try very hard to keep our plans because as you’ve experienced, too much cancelling sends the message that you don’t want to spend time with the person on the other end of that conversation. There’s a balance friends have to strike between flexibility (understanding that life serves up unexpected illnesses and other problems) and reliability (knowing you can count on your friends the majority of the time). I think a solid friendship exists in that sweet spot in the middle.

It sounds like your friends are asking for too much flexibility. That doesn’t mean a big confrontation is required or that the friendships need to end completely, but if you’re unable to communicate your legitimate frustration without them turning it around on you, then it may be time for a demotion for these ladies. Don’t make plans with them for a while and focus more on current acquaintances who could become better friends after spending more time together. Yes, you can talk to your chronically cancelling friends about how their behavior makes you feel, but you cannot force them to change.

Last point: a friend of mine who said this keeps happening to her teenage daughter encouraged her daughter to use the experience to shape the type of friend she wants to be to others. That’s great advice! I hope that helps, and perhaps other readers will have different ideas.

Nina

You can follow Nina on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

We’re always looking for new reader questions for Nina! If you have a difficult friendship situation that you’d like advice on, fill out our anonymous contact form.

 

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HerTake: Friend Connectors vs. Friend Hoarders

In this month’s HerTake question, Nina answers a letter from a woman who is tired of sharing her friends with a close friend who hoards her own friends and acquaintances. Are you a friend connector or a friend hoarder? Help our letter writer decide what to do!

Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

Dear Nina,

I often introduce my friends or acquaintances to each other because it me makes me happy to do so. I like helping my friends, and adding the joy of new friends or good work connections to their lives is easy to do so why wouldn’t I? People often say I’m a great connector and generous with my relationships, and I take both comments as big compliments.

I’m sure you know there’s a “however” coming next. I have a close friend, “Joanna,” who I’ve introduced to numerous friends over the past two decades, whether casually at a bigger event or more purposely such as inviting her family over for dinner at the same time as another family if I think they will all get along. Joanna, however, never introduces me to her friends and acquaintances. I know some by now after two decades of friendship, but that’s because of the big events of Joanna’s we’ve all attended (birthdays, etc.) as opposed to her doing anything to bring us together on purpose.

I can literally be at a fundraiser or some other event with Joanna and a person will come up to us that is new to me and Joanna will start talking to the person without taking the minute to even do a basic, “Oh, this is so and so who I know from my old job. And so and so, this is Connie an old friend of mine.” You get the idea. I’m not suggesting Joanna should arrange an intimate dinner every time she makes a new friend so that I can meet her, but she could include me every so often, or at the very least introduce me when I’m standing around while she and her friend/colleague/acquaintance are talking in my presence.

It would be impossible to count the social connections Joanna has made through me. What makes me feel worse (mostly I feel bad about my feelings about it all) is that Joanna is generally a good friend to me. I can trust her and she goes out of her way for me like offering to pick me up at the airport (and actually doing it) or lending me a dress for a vacation—stuff like that. I appreciate all that and more, but the friend hoarding really bothers me. I don’t know why she has to keep everyone so separate.

I’m not saying I want to end the friendship at all. I’m just wondering if I should stop inviting Joanna to do things with other friends of mine as I make new ones in the future. Why should I open my social world to her every time I meet someone new and yet she never feels compelled to do the same for me? I see my own words here and at almost 50 years old, I know I sound so petty. But I’m feeling stuck. I can’t stop dwelling on it, and I’m not sure what to do.

Thanks for any advice,

Connie (not my real name)

Dear Connie,

I relate to this question more than any other in the past two years. I’m not a perfect friend. I make mistakes as everyone does. But one aspect of friendship I excel at is making connections. Like you, I do not hoard my friends and it brings me pleasure to see people from otherwise random parts of my life forge a friendship of some kind.

I also related to the situation you described of standing around awkwardly in a conversation while I wait for a friend to introduce me. What is wrong with people? I often end up introducing myself. I am probably an extreme over-introducer because of how much I hate that moment of standing there twiddling my thumbs. I’ve introduced people who unbeknownst to me have been friendly for years or are even related. I simply don’t like the idea of two people standing near each other who have not been introduced. And that is true on a deeper level, too. If I know two people (even just online) who could hit it off socially or help each other in their professions, then I am uneasy until I’ve connected them whether it’s through a dinner at my house, a meal out, a simple email, or even a Tweet to both of them together in the case of my writer buddies.

But now I have to take a step back from my self-congratulation and ask you to do the same. The fact that you and I take the “connector” label as a compliment means we value the idea of connecting people to each other and we also value being connected to others. The thing is that not everyone prioritizes values the same way when it comes to relationships. Beyond the basics of kindness, decency, and trust, there really is not a right and wrong for how to be a good friend.

Let’s take the airport example. I’m not sure I have ever offered anyone a ride to or from the airport, and frankly if someone asked me for one I might even be a little annoyed. Why? I would never expect a ride at this point in our lives. Everyone is so busy and nobody else’s travel plans are my problem nor should my plans be my friends’ concern. I can barely get myself to and from the places I need to go let alone take on someone else’s transportation needs.

I have to give Joanna kudos. I consider myself a really good friend to a large handful of women in town, and yet it would honestly never occur to me to make that offer and even after reading about Joanna’s generosity of time I still wouldn’t. This may seem like a small gesture to examine, but it demonstrates a larger point about relationships. We all show our love for our friends in different ways, and ideally we all give each other the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps Joanna has been disappointed that when she mentions a trip coming up you don’t offer a ride. Wouldn’t it be nice if Joanna said to herself, “Connie has gone out of her way to introduce me to so many people and obviously loves me. I’m not going to hold the lack of airport pickups against her.” Hey, maybe she has said that to herself!

As for why Joanna keeps all of her friends separate, that is impossible to know. I’ve seen that pattern in some friends of mine, too. Perhaps Joanna has been burned before by bringing friends together who have better chemistry with each other than either has with her and then she gets left out. It happens! It has certainly happened to me, and I imagine it has to you as well if you’ve been a connector for your entire adult life. That fact hasn’t stopped me (or you), but I will say it takes significant internal confidence to rise above our natural tendencies to hoard relationships. Go us!

So now what? Should you keep sharing your friends? I say yes. I don’t believe in using someone else’s limits to dictate your own behavior. You do YOU. If making those connections is how you demonstrate your appreciation of your friends, then I wouldn’t stop for Joanna or anyone. I assume Joanna keeps offering you rides and her clothes even if neither gesture is something you would do for her. And I also assume that after two decades of friendship she has shown you other generous sides of herself. Focus on those good things and force yourself not expect to meet her other friends. That’s simply not something Joanna is good at or wants to share, but it doesn’t seem like it’s directed at you personally.

As a side note, Connie, your confidence about making new friends as an adult is so refreshing. You probably don’t realize how rare it is (at least in my inbox filled with anonymous questions) to have such a calm assuredness that you will continue to make new friends as life goes on. Good for you! And thanks for the question. You made me realize I have to let go of expecting the same amount of connection-making from others as well.

Nina

 

You can follow Nina on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

We’re always looking for new reader questions for Nina! If you have a difficult friendship situation that you’d like advice on, fill out our anonymous contact form.

 

 

 

**Have you read our latest book, So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood yet? Grab a copy here!

**Check out our self-paced  online writing courses here.

Working With The Friend Who Dumped You

In this month’s HerTake question, Nina answers a letter from a woman who was dropped by a very close friend who also happens to be the letter-writer’s boss.

Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

hertake

Dear Nina,

I considered “Liz” one of my closest friends. Last year, we spent almost every weekend together. We even took a vacation together the year before that. I know her family well and have been to her house various times. Recently, however, she has been avoiding me.

Initially, she started distancing herself by saying, “I’m busy.” Then the meetings reduced to once a month and eventually once every few months. Now, we hardly get together at all.

I still put in the same effort to ask if she is free and can meet. I see her enjoying and partying with other friends—some common to both of us. But even on those occasions, I haven’t been invited. I tried speaking to her as well via text messages asking if all is okay. She always answers with some form of “I’ve just been busy lately.”

One important point to note is that we are colleagues and she’s now my boss at work. We have always kept work relations separate and never let it come in between us so I can’t figure out what changed for her regarding our friendship. I’ve tried getting common friends to talk, but that’s weird as she is usually a closed up person emotionally. Was I just another friend to her until she could pick up another on the way?

It hurts to think about the way we are practically strangers now. Although I ask about her weekend plans and she replies with what she’s doing, she never asks mine. Despite saying that we should catch up and it’s been long, the reply is usually “yes, soon.” But the “soon” never comes.

How do you let go of someone who is so close to your heart and who you cannot avoid? Help.

Signed,
Working With The Friend Who Dumped Me

 

Dear Working With The Friend Who Dumped Me,

There are two things I know for sure from this letter.

#1. Liz does not want to be close. (I know you already figured this out from the details you provided.)
#2. You need to stop trying to return the relationship to the way things were before.

The one thing I do not know is WHY Liz decided to change the status of this friendship. But it doesn’t matter anyway as your quest to discover the answer will likely never yield the truth. I’m guessing if you were to confront Liz, she would give you a version of “it’s not you, it’s me.” If nothing obvious in your own behavior pattern comes to mind like flirting with her significant other or revealing private information she shared with you, then I would urge you to chalk up her change of interest to the chemistry between you two no longer working.

Listen, I’m not saying the mystery of it all is an easy pill to swallow. Every person who writes into this column about a friend who has walked out on the relationship wants to know what went wrong. It’s perfectly natural to want answers. But just because one person decided to end a friendship it does not mean the other person did something wrong or is an unworthy friend. Liz’s decision, while hurtful, probably makes sense to her for reasons you will never know or understand even if you did know.

The fact that you and Liz work together and that she’s your boss complicates matters. I suggest for both practical and emotional reasons you force yourself to reframe the relationship in your mind from “close friend” or even “friend” to “friendly colleague.” You cannot, as a colleague, sulk around the office and act hurt. You can, however, act in a friendly and dignified manner like you would with a colleague who has never been to your house or shared vacation time with you. This may require some acting on your part at first, but I believe eventually your bruised heart will heal in the process. I mean this sincerely. I know it hurts when someone unilaterally decides to end a friendship.

I’d like to give you one last piece of advice on what I mean by “dignified.” At this point, stop asking Liz to get together; stop texting to check in; and definitely stop asking about her weekend plans. I personally do not like when people ask me what I’m doing over the weekend. It’s seems like an invasion of privacy to ask for my precise plans. Asking Liz week after week what’s on her social calendar then feeling upset that her plans do not include you and that she doesn’t ask the same question back sounds to me like you’re inviting hurt feelings. The fact that Liz does not ask you back leads me to believe she would rather you not pose the question in the first place. At the end of a work week, you can simply say, “Have a great weekend.” I’m willing to bet she will wish the same to you, which will make the conversation more equal.

Speaking of equality, Liz may be your boss, but in the friendship department, we are going for equal footing here in the “friendly colleagues” goal. I know it’s not what you wanted initially from this relationship, but it seems all that Liz is willing to give. And forcing yourself to stop pursuing Liz as a close friend will free you to put time and effort into others in your life (or people you’ve yet to meet) who are open to everything you have to offer.

Best of luck and I’m sorry you’re going through this painful loss.

Nina

FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1You can follow Nina on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

We’re always looking for new reader questions for Nina! If you have a difficult friendship situation that you’d like advice on, fill out our anonymous contact form.

 

 

The HerStories Project Holiday Book Sale

The holidays are upon us, and we would love to offer our fantastic readers a great deal on book bundles! We think our most recent essay collection, So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood, is the perfect gift for the moms in your life—your sister, your best friend, maybe even yourself! With relatable, funny, poignant stories about motherhood from pregnancy through the empty nest, there is something in these pages for every mom.

motherhood-web1 (1)

So we want to make right now the best time for you to buy, and we’re offering a great deal! When you purchase a paperback copy of So Glad They Told Me, you can add on any of our first three books for just $5, and you’ll get free shipping!

Here’s a recap of our other books:

herstories-full

The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship (2014)

“This series of heartfelt essays, written by and for women, documents the common land mines that cause friendships to splinter and reaffirms the vital importance of these bonds.” – Irene Levine, PhD, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend

My-Other-Ex-final-3

My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends (2014)

“These pages beautifully capture the intensity and intimacy of female best-friendship, and, with the benefit of hindsight, lay bare the profound absence that so often follows a friendship’s mysterious end.” — Peyton Price, author of Suburban Haiku

MOTHERINGTHRUDARK

Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience (2015)

“Every one of these stories is about the descent into the depths, the belief that these mothers feel alone and at fault, and then their recovery. Each story has power on its own, but the essay collection as a whole really drives home to me how many women suffer, how similar their suffering is, and how it’s a tragedy that they think they are the only ones going through this and it is theirs alone to bear.” — journalist Lisa Belkin

And here’s what you’ll find within the pages of So Glad They Told Me:

“The personal essays in SO GLAD THEY TOLD ME offer hope, humor, and truth about parenting at all phases—from pregnancy, infancy, toddlerhood, all the way up through empty nest parenting, including topics such as special needs diagnoses, pregnancy loss, surviving colic, parenting a transgender child, and balancing work and family. I’m so glad they told me, and you will be too.” — from the book’s Foreword, Ann Imig Founder, Listen to Your Mother

“SO GLAD THEY TOLD ME is a must-read for any mother, new or not-so new. With beautiful, funny, smart essays, this is a treasure full of voice, guidance, and best of all, quiet support for all of us. Because despite all of the love that goes into it, what mother hasn’t felt alone in the midst of the wonders of this role? The more voices of support for one another, the better.”

— Amy JoyceEditor, The Washington Post’s On Parenting

Learn more about the book and our amazing contributors here. You can add on any of our three first books to your order of So Gladvisit our sales page to order your books today! You can also buy So Glad They Told Me on Kindle right here. Take advantage of two books for just $20– order here!

Happy holiday shopping! We hope you’ll treat yourself to one of the books– you deserve it!

Warmly,

Stephanie & Jessica

**Our newest online writing course began this week, and there is still time to sign up! We have a few spots still available, and with a nice slow start this first week, you won’t have missed a thing! This self-paced course is four weeks long (with a holiday break) and is unlike any class we’ve offered before.  Using Our Words to Change Our World is for anyone—professional writer, blogger, or not— who wants an opportunity to process our emotions after a difficult election, to understand better how to have an empathetic dialogue with those who may not agree with us, to practice self-care, and to learn from some incredible guest instructors about how to more effectively write opinion pieces. You can find out details and sign up here.

Mothering Through the Darkness: One Year Later

It’s been just over a year since we published Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience, an essay collection written by 35 women sharing their experiences with postpartum and post-adoption depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

Since its publication last November, the Singapore Committee for UN Women endorsed the book, and it was one of Foreword Review’s IndieFab Book of the Year Finalists. We still believe the essays in this collection have a powerful message to share. Journalist Lisa Belkin wrote of the anthology:

“Every one of these stories is about the descent into the depths, the belief that these mothers feel alone and at fault, and then their recovery. Each story has power on its own, but the essay collection as a whole really drives home to me how many women suffer, how similar their suffering is, and how it’s a tragedy that they think they are the only ones going through this and it is theirs alone to bear.”

Our incredible contributors continue to be powerful advocates for spreading their messages to their community: you are not alone, ask for help, you can get through it.

Recently, in my home state, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment launched an educational campaign to help women recognize the symptoms and get help. As part of Postpartum Support International, this organization shares resources for both mothers who are struggling as well as their family members and friends. It is a powerful campaign designed to spread awareness and make resources for seeking treatment more accessible to mothers.

This campaign reiterates the important message the contributors of Mothering Through the Darkness conveyed so powerfully:

800x800-moms2For women with pregnancy-related depression and anxiety, each day can be a struggle. Having a new baby is hard but we can help make it easier for you. You are not alone. You are not to blame. You can get help. www.postpartum.net/colorado #youarenotalone #Colorado #newmom #mentalhealth #PRD

One of the campaign’s most important messages is how to support a loved one experiencing postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders. They remind us: 

Pregnant and new mothers need empathy and support from loved ones. They may find it hard to be honest about their feelings and accept help in the beginning. Be patient and be available.

  • Encourage her to get help from a professional.
  • Help her find a support group and local resources.
  • Spend time listening without needing to offer solutions and advice.
  • Look after the baby or older children, or discuss other childcare options so she can have a break.
  • Take a simple action like cooking and cleaning without taking over these activities or expecting anything in return.
  • Encourage her to take care of herself by eating, resting, walking and limiting alcohol use.

If you are suffering, please remember that you are not alone, you are not to blame, and help is available to you. If you have a loved one who needs help, please reach out. You can find more information on the campaign, including resources for families, here.

For providers and others (bloggers, advocates) who want to spread awareness and provide resources, please use this fantastic toolkit. We encourage you to spread this message on social media, so please take advantage of the materials here!

And to the brave and gifted writers who shared their words with us in Mothering Through the Darkness, one year later, we are still so grateful for your words, so moved by your stories, and so honored to have worked with you on this deeply important project. Thank you so much.

~Stephanie & Jessica

**You can order a copy of Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience here.

**We recently announced our brand new online writing course, which will begin November 28th. Using Our Words to Change Our World is for anyone—professional writer, blogger, or not— who wants an opportunity to process our emotions after a difficult election, to understand better how to have an empathetic dialogue with those who may not agree with us, to practice self-care, and to learn from some incredible guest instructors about how to more effectively write opinion pieces. Please join us for a unique self-paced course unlike any we have ever offered– it will undoubtedly be a powerful experience within a supportive community. You can find out details and sign up here.

**You can purchase our most recent essay collection, So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood, right here. Like Mothering Through The Darkness, it aims to make motherhood less isolating and to shed light on those less-than-perfect moments and real life parenting challenges.motherhood-web1 (1)