Stephanie Sprenger

  • Staying Friendly Without Becoming Friends

    Today’s question is from a woman who is asking how to stay cordial with someone you see often without committing to a friendship. Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

    HerTakenoavatar

     Dear Nina,

    My family and I moved to our new town in September, and very quickly I met a woman through the PTA who kindly invited me and my daughter over for a play date. We had a few more play dates after that, but by November it became apparent that our daughters were not a match. A month or so later I realized we weren’t either.

    We remained friendly and even texted a bit here and there, keeping things very surface and casual. I joined the yearbook committee and we worked closely on that project, but we didn’t arrange any more play dates for the girls. Our last one was in the winter for a mom and daughter holiday party at her house (with many other children from school).

    My daughter turned seven at the end of April and we discussed her birthday guest list, which had to be on the smaller side due to the venue. I asked about my acquaintance’s daughter. I felt like we should invite her because of the holiday party. My daughter considered it, but ultimately said no, because they aren’t really friends.

    I felt a bit torn, wanting to invite her out of guilt, but I didn’t. Then I wondered, do I tell her ahead of time to give her a head’s up? I asked my husband, but he said to let it go.

    Now I wonder if I was wrong to not disclose it ahead of time, and I wonder if I should possibly try to explain things now, after the fact. I initially wanted to be up front with her (despite my anxiety about confrontations!) and maybe even joke lightly about the fact that it’s okay that our girls aren’t BFFs, but I didn’t.

    Now I wonder if that was a mistake. What would you think should be my next step, if any?

    Final background on my acquaintance: she is kind of gossipy and I’ve heard her speak quite a bit about other moms in unfavorable ways. I suspect she is doing the same to me. I’d like to remain on cordial even friendly terms because our girls will be in school together for many years and we will be in contact via the PTA, but not because I foresee a genuine friendship.

     

    Signed,

    Wondering If I Made The Right Call

     

    Dear Wondering If I Made The Right Call,

    While your question is seemingly about whether it was okay to leave this woman’s daughter off the invite list, I think the bigger question asks how to stay on friendly terms with someone you see often without committing to a friendship. Of course I love dissecting every aspect of a friendship dilemma, so I will cover both the direct and the indirect matters at hand.

    Let’s start with the birthday party. I’ve discussed birthday parties in this column before so without going into too much detail, I will restate my general policy. Go big or go very small. Once you start considering a position in the middle, things get sticky.

    The definition of “small” depends on how many kids are in your kid’s grade. If your daughter’s grade has 40 girls, then it’s okay to invite 10. But if there are 20 girls in the grade, inviting 10 would for sure make the other girls feel left out. I think you get the idea, and only you know the numbers so only you can answer the question about not inviting everybody.

    Your real question was about not inviting this particular woman’s daughter. Is it okay that this woman invited your daughter to her kid’s party and you did not reciprocate? In an Emily Post world, the answer might be no. But practically speaking, I think you did the right thing considering the girls truly have no chemistry, you have no chemistry with the mom, and you truly do not intend to further the relationships between any of you. Somebody had to draw the line somewhere, and it’s always better to nip things in the bud quickly as opposed to letting a relationship drag on further than what feels natural for either person.

    Consider this: perhaps the other mom is relieved you made that call so that she can take your daughter off the list next year. Life is too short to make all of our decisions based on obligation alone. Yes, there are plenty of cases where we have to do things we don’t want to do and spend time with people we don’t want to spend time with. It’s called being an adult, and it’s also called having an extended family. With friends, however, we do have choices.

    Did you make the right call by not explaining your reasoning to the other mom? YES. I don’t blame you for the desire to smooth over the situation by explaining the small party venue and that the girls do not seem to click and how that’s okay and yadda yadda yadda. I understand because I suffer from Over-Explainer Syndrome. (I made that term up, but the suffering is real.) If I just explain my point of view, my reasoning goes, then person X will not feel offended.

    Sometimes it’s true that an explanation helps, but it’s also true that people make up their minds about you no matter what you say after the fact. In all cases, it’s really better (as your husband wisely advised) to let it go and give her the benefit of the doubt that she, like you, gets that you can all stay on friendly terms without actually being friends outside of school activities.

    So what about the next step? This is not terribly exciting, but I’m suggesting more of what you’re already doing. You can be chatty with her and helpful as a fellow member of the PTA and as a fellow parent of a kid in the same school and same grade. (Just like she was helpful to you when you were new to town.) I understand your reservation about being close to her because of the way you’ve heard her talk about others. But on the flip side, it’s (sadly) a rare bird who not only says, “I’d love to have you and your daughter over,” but who follows through with an honest-to-goodness legit invitation. Most people say all the right things to new people but fail to open their homes and their lives. (Trust me, I have questions sitting in my inbox expressing those exact issues.)

    My point is not that you should make a friendship work. On the contrary, I’m just reminding you that nobody is all good or all bad so as far as an acquaintanceship goes with this woman, come at it from a place of gratitude for how she welcomed you rather than a place of fear about how she might discuss you with others. You won’t be able to control the latter anyway.

    My biggest tip for staying friendly without committing to a friendship is this: Never say things you don’t mean such as, “We should have lunch.” Keep your intentions in mind and you two should be able to continue operating in concentric social circles.

    By the way, it’s exciting that you’re at the end of the first school year in a new town. I bet it only gets easier from here.

    Best of luck,

    Nina

     

     

    FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1Nina is a contributing writer for Tcjewfolk.com, Kveller.com, and Great New Books. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, and have been syndicated in The Times of Israel as well as Jewish newspapers across the country. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. Contact her on Twitter @ninabadzin and on her blog.

     

     

     

     

     

  • Superficial Friendships: How to Change Shallow Friendships

    UPDATE (2019): Find Nina and her advice column at HER NEW FRIENDSHIP ADVICE SITE

     

    Today’s question is from an introverted woman who is unsatisfied with her superficial friendships. She feels she lacks deep friendships in her life, despite many acquaintances and social activities. What should she do when she feels like she only has shallow relationships?

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

    shallow friendships

    Dear Nina,

    During the years after college, I drifted away from most of my friends from that time. Since then I’ve worked in several places, pursued hobbies, had a child, and met other moms. After separating from my child’s father, I’ve put work into a new social life. I keep in touch with my colleagues, and I’m active in my religious community. I really love those activities, and I don’t do them just to meet people.

    Still, I hardly have any close friends. I have nice acquaintances, and my social life is interesting as long as I show up. As soon as I don’t, due to holidays, work, whatever, it easily happens that I don’t talk to anyone for a week or more.

    I know that a deep friendship is something rare, and that relationships develop slowly, especially at an age close to 50. Also, I like doing things on my own, I don’t need company all the time. Still I’m getting slightly desperate, because I seem unable to get beyond other people’s C-list. (A term I learned from this column!) It seems that other moms at school quickly become close. For example, other families from the group we joined for a canoeing trip exchanged phone numbers. For the record, I did exchange contact information with a nice family. We planned to meet, but it didn’t work out. After that, I wrote two e-mails, got no answer, and that was it. That’s pretty much how it goes all the time.

    Is something wrong with me? Probably not. I’m an introvert, sometimes I seem unfriendly at first sight. Still, I’m not anti-social. I’m able to establish contact. I can both talk and listen, I’m fun (if I may say so myself!), and people like me in general. Still, when I reach out a little more, I find there are limits. I get nervous when my kid suggests we invite people for New Year’s Eve or other occasions. On days like that I literally can’t invite anyone – everybody already has plans. I’ve almost stopped planning birthday parties for myself, although I love to do this. I’m just infinitely tired of people’s explanations about why they can’t come. When I need someone to look after the flowers during holidays, or when I’m sick and could use some help, things get complicated. (To be fair, I have to say that so far I’ve always found someone. It mostly felt awkward though and very different from when I was younger and my friends and I could call one another any time.)

    In your column and elsewhere so many people complain about imbalance in relationships, loneliness, and breaking up with a best friend. Sometimes I ask myself: Where do all those people live? I only seem to meet people who are perfectly happy and completely uninterested in new friends.

    I’m grateful for the many fulfilling things and friendly people in my life. Still there are feelings of loneliness and of losing courage to try for deeper and less shallow friendships. I’d be very grateful to hear your opinion and your readers’ opinions,

    Too Many Shallow Friendships

     

    Dear Too Many Shallow Friendships,

    To quote Winston Churchill, never, never, never give up. I believe those words apply strongly here. I could end the advice on that point, however, there are some details to attend to as well.

    Let’s get something straight. The social life you’ve created should bring you significant pride. You’re right that it takes time and energy to make close, deep friendships. But it also takes time, energy, and skill to keep up with acquaintances and to stay involved in hobbies and other activities outside of work and home, especially after a separation.

    In the short run, it’s easier to stay home and binge watch Game of Thrones on Netflix and enjoy that introverted side of your personality. I want to applaud you for getting out there to achieve your desired goal of making A-list friends. In fact, I believe making close friends is not too different from dating for a significant other. The only difference is that in the case of close friends, maybe you’ll end up with two or three instead of one particular life partner. (That said, even just one close friend is great.) I do want to say that I disagree with your statement that deep friendships are rare. I’d say they’re special, but not rare. There’s a difference.

    Don’t Make Assumptions

    With only your letter to draw on, I’m guessing that you’re making major assumptions about other people’s lives that are exacerbating your feelings of inadequacy in the friendship department. I also wonder if you have an unrealistic view of what a close friendship looks like and are therefore chasing something that does not exist. You might be closer to your goal than you think!

    You said, “I have nice acquaintances, and my social life is interesting as long as I show up. As soon as I don’t, due to holidays, work, whatever, it easily happens that I don’t talk to anyone for a week or more.”

    This is a perfect example of you feeling inadequate over something that is true for most people. The only person I speak to on the phone regularly is my sister-in-law, and I have a good amount of close, deep friendships with women both in and out of town. Even when it comes to my close friends in town, we can easily go weeks or a month or more without speaking on the phone or seeing each other in person. I know this is true for my friends and their other friends, too. If you focus on quantity of time over quality, I think you’ll always feel like you have shallow friendships. The depth of a friendship cannot be measured in minutes together or minutes on the phone.

    The Only One With Superficial Friendships?

    You then said, “It seems to me that other moms at school quickly become close.” How do you know that the banter you’re witnessing in the hallway or pickup line at school is anything more than very friendly acquaintances happy to see each other? Even if what you’re seeing is an example good friends interacting, it does not mean that these people would call each other to water the plants or to help when someone in the household is sick. (We’ll come back to flowers and sick calls later.)

    You also said, “Other families from the group we joined for a canoeing trip exchanged phone numbers.” Again, how could you possibly know that their attempts to make plans ended any differently than yours with that one family? Or maybe they got together once or twice then never again. You cannot presume to know what happened after the numbers were exchanged. I wouldn’t take it personally that it didn’t work out to get together with that one family. Most people suck at follow through with new people. It’s a bummer and it’s frustrating, but it’s not personal. They don’t even know you!

    Your situation is likely better than you think. You even pointed out that while it was hard to find someone to help you with the flowers or the few times you’ve needed extra hands around, you did find friends to come over eventually.

    When To Ask For Help

    While we’re on the topic of watering flowers, I think it’s worth mentioning that when it comes to things like watering flowers or bringing in the garbage cans, I’m not likely to ask a friend unless she lives next door or across the street. If I didn’t want to ask a neighbor for that favor, I would pay a high school kid in the neighborhood a few bucks a day to do the chore while we’re gone. I do think it’s healthy to be careful and reasonable about how much you expect from your friends.

    As you said of some of your friends, “As soon as I reach out to them a little more, I find there are limits.” That is true and very normal. There are always limits because friends are not family. Friends may be “like family” in the best case scenarios, but they are not family. There are limits to what you can expect from other people who also have kids, or jobs, or homes they’re maintaining.

    I think you have to differentiate between asking for help in times of real need and asking for help with the flowers. I would drop anything to drive a friend to chemo or help in an emergency. Helping water the plants for anyone other than a neighbor? I would have no problem saying I have too much going on that week. I don’t think that makes me a bad friend.

    Too Many Shallow Friendships, you said many true and important statements in your letter that you simply have to allow yourself to believe with conviction. Yes, it takes time to make close and less superficial friends. Yes, you have to keep trying. Yes, you have to both talk and listen. (Remember you want to listen twice as much as you talk. I have to constantly remind myself to be quiet. You may be usurping more time on your topics than you realize.)

    Your Superficial Friends Don’t Have Perfect Lives Either

    Now I’m going to be the one to make a big assumption. Of all the details you provided in your letter, the following comment is probably the biggest issue standing between your satisfaction with your friendships and not. “I only seem to meet people who are perfectly happy.”

    Losing Courage, that is simply not possible. There is not one person who gets a pass on periods of unhappiness. The people we love get sick. They die. We get sick. We suffer from mental illness or live with someone who does. We feel lonely. We feel unsuccessful, unattractive, and unloveable. We cannot afford necessities. We cannot afford luxuries and suffer from envy or forget the difference between necessities and luxuries. We cannot have children. Our children drive us crazy. We are in unhappy marriages. We are desperate to get married.

    The possibilities for unhappiness are endless. The happiest among us focus on the better pieces of our lives, but that does not mean we do not suffer or have problems. Either you are living in an exceptional place (not likely) or you are painting the people you come across with a wide brush of sparkly sheen.

    The Ground Rules

    Now, some ground rules as you continue “dating” for a few closer friends while still enjoying and appreciating your acquaintances.

    • As we discussed, twice as much listening as talking. Twice as much!
    • Be open-minded. Join new groups. Look outside of work, your kid’s school, and your religious community if those three areas are not working.
    • Don’t try too hard. If the chemistry is not there, keep looking. Plenty of fish in the sea as they say.
    • Act worthy of those deep friendships you desire because you are worthy. Get those questionable assumptions out of the way, and I think it will put you back on the right road.

    My final piece of advice: If you truly feel that you are unable to connect beyond the surface or that all of your continued efforts are not yielding good results (fewer shallow friendships), I encourage you to ask someone who knows you well to tell you honestly how you are coming off with other people. Perhaps a sibling-in-law, a cousin, a coworker, or someone who has known you for years who will not be afraid to tell you the truth. You have to assure this person that you will not turn on him or her if you don’t like what you hear.

    Thank you for trusting me with your question. Readers, what did I miss? Have you been in this situation of feeling like you have too many shallow friendships? Please add your thoughts in the comments.

    Good luck,

    Nina

     

     

    FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1Nina is a contributing writer for Tcjewfolk.com, Kveller.com, and Great New Books. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, and have been syndicated in The Times of Israel as well as Jewish newspapers across the country. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. Contact her on Twitter @ninabadzin and on her blog.

     

  • HerTake: When a Close Friend Does Not Support Your Passion

    Today’s question is from a writer and blogger wondering how to handle a close friend who is dismissive of her work. It may seem like this question and answer is specific to one profession, but it’s really for all people who feel that a close friend or family member is disinterested or even hostile towards an important piece of their lives.

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

    HerTakenoavatar

     Dear Nina,

    I recently started writing and trying to get my work published in various online and print magazines and newspapers. I’ve had some early success with credible publications–what I call my “small wins.” I’ve wanted to write (outside my previous day job) for years, so this is a huge deal for me.

    One of my good friends in town hasn’t been very supportive of my writing. She never asks how it is going, or gives me positive feedback on my work. Any time I have a “small win,” she avoids mentioning it. If someone else brings up my writing in a social situation, she either ignores the conversation, is dismissive, or gives a cursory “oh, yeah?”

    On the other hand, since I started writing, I’ve made some amazing online friends, all of whom are supportive and happy for my success. It’s like we share in each other’s accomplishments and happiness, and genuinely support each other. How can it be that people I have never met, except online, encourage and support me, while a great friend of many years, living down the street, does not?

    I’m not sure if my friend is upset that she isn’t writing herself, as I know she would like to be. My husband keeps telling me this is about her and her own insecurities, and not about me. Whether that is true or not, it still stings. I’m not sure what to do about it. Do I tell her how I’m feeling, and that her lack of support has been upsetting to me? Or do I leave it alone, and simply carry on with my writing?

    Sincerely,

    At a Loss for Words

    Dear At a Loss for Words,

    Through my experience as a writer and from years of talking about this type of issue with other writers, I’ve found that family and friends will react in one of five ways to your work.

    1. THEY WILL BE ENTHUSIASTIC

    These are the friends who read your work regularly. They send you occasional texts and emails saying, “Really liked this one,” and they may even be supportive on Facebook as well. To keep these friends, you must never, ever assume they have read anything. You are to be surprised and delighted by anyone who has taken the time to read your work.

    I’m going to say right now that to expect enthusiasm from anyone in your life, even your spouse, your sister, or your mother, is asking a lot. It’s rare that anyone can keep up with all the work we writers produce. So when you find these people, make sure to come from a place of deep gratitude and appreciation. There is so much out there to read, and if they read your work in any capacity (weekly, monthly, occasionally), then that is extraordinarily generous. Ask them about their jobs and their families constantly because you owe them tons of enthusiasm in return.

    1. THEY WILL BE NEUTRALLY INDIFFERENT

    These are the family and friends who know you’re a writer and have seen your work here and there. They ask you about it sometimes, but if they don’t, it’s not for any specific reason just like you might not know the gritty details of their jobs. They are neither excited nor threatened by the topics you cover. I suspect that most family and friends fall in this category, and that is not a bad thing. Ultimately to succeed in this business, your audience has to expand beyond family and close friends anyway. Remember, the family and friends who read your work regularly get your surprise and delight every time!

    1. THEY WILL BE CONFUSED

    These folks say things like “I just don’t understand the internet or blogs.” This reaction is genuine and not meant to be hurtful, but starts to feel like passive-aggressive criticism when it goes on for years.

    1. THEY WILL BE DISINTERESTED

    The family and friends in this category do not read your work and they do not ask you about it even if you ask about their jobs or passions. It’s worth mentioning that they may also be the types who are not good at asking questions in a conversation. That is why disinterest can feel personal, but it truly could be a matter of poor social skills.

    It’s important to remember that not everybody likes to read, not everybody likes to read online, and nobody will be as interested in our writing as we are. That said, do I think it’s irritating if you’re always asking about someone’s life and she never asks about yours even if she’s not particularly fond of essays or whatever else you write? Yes. It’s especially rude and awkward if you’re supposedly good friends. People do not have to actually read your work to ask about how things are going. It’s called good manners.

    1. THEY WILL BE DISAPPROVING

    These are the people who read your work and see your activity online, but do not like what you are saying and doing. They may openly let you know, or they may choose to act disinterested to avoid letting you know directly. No matter how the message gets across, being on the other end of disapproval never feels good.

    So, what about your friend?

    It’s hard to know whether your friend falls into “neutrally indifferent” of your work, “disinterested” or “disapproving.” But now I’m going to tell you the hardest truth. You have to force yourself to forget about winning this friend’s interest, support, and approval.

    I want you to learn from my mistakes. Until recently I spent far too much time worried about the few people in my life who fall into the disinterested and disapproving categories. I was also too attached to the enthusiastic ones. The peace of mind of not needing so much approval from those giving it and from those withholding it would have been better for my relationships, my confidence, and my writing.

    I also want to say that I think we can get overly fixated on changing the mindset of a particular person. You have to ask yourself why this one friend’s lack of support is bothering you so much. Do her doubts mirror your own? Is her refusal to acknowledge your success holding you back from settling into the writing identity?

    Bottom line: You do not have to end this friendship, but you have to stop hoping she will like your work or even acknowledge it. I think your husband is right that her inability to show any interest in what you’re doing (even as a friend if not a reader) is her issue to face and not yours.

    You asked: “How can it be that people I have never met, except online, encourage and support me, while a great friend of many years, living down the street, does not?

    The enthusiasm of fellow writers, even those we’ve never met in person, is impossible to match because we’re members of the same team. We understand the challenges of getting work accepted for publication and the harder challenge of getting eyes on that work.

    You also asked: “Do I tell her how I’m feeling, and that her lack of support has been upsetting to me? Or do I leave it alone, and simply carry on with my writing?”

    If your friend continues to act as if this important piece of your life does not exist, it’s only logical that you will want to spend less time with her. It’s not like you’re a drug dealer asking for her approval. While I believe it’s unreasonable to expect your friends to read your work, it is reasonable to expect them to acknowledge its place in your life, even if just in casual conversation. If you miss the time you used to spend with your friend, or if she misses you and asks what’s going on, I think it’s only fair to tell her that you want to be able to talk about your writing just as she is able to talk about what matters to her.

    Fellow writers, what advice do you have? Should this week’s letter writer confront her friend or let it go? What would YOU do?

     

     

    FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1Nina is a contributing writer for Tcjewfolk.com, Kveller.com, and Great New Books. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, and have been syndicated in The Times of Israel as well as Jewish newspapers across the country. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. Contact her on Twitter @ninabadzin and on her blog.

     

     

     

    Our newest writing class, Mother, Writer, begins in just a few weeks! Find out details and enroll here— spaces are still available!

    -Mother.Writer-

  • Announcing the HerStories Project Writing Contest Winners… and a Book Cover Reveal!

    MOTHERINGTHRUDARK
    Presenting our book cover!

     

     

    More than six months ago, we put out a call for submissions for our next book, Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience, to be published by She Writes Press in November 2015. We also announced that we would be sponsoring a writing contest, associated with the book, to be judged by a panel of several of our favorite writers, women who also experienced postpartum struggles of their own: novelist Julia Fierro (author of one of the most anticipated novels of last year, Cutting Teeth), journalist and author Lisa Belkin, author Kate Hopper, author Katrina Alcorn (author of Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink), writer and clinical psychologist Dr. Jessica Zucker, and blogger and writer Lindsey Mead.

    We knew we would receive powerful stories of women’s experiences with postpartum depression and other mental health struggles. But we were completely unprepared for how many beautiful essays we would receive (more than 200) and by the inspiration and pain in these stories. We were, in a word, overwhelmed.

    And we knew our judges had their work cut out for them. We assembled a selection of finalist essays. We heard right away from the judges about how difficult it was to choose just a few essays because they were all so brave, so important, and so powerful.

    We are so thrilled to announce our first-prize winner, Maggie Smith, for her essay “Here Comes the Sun.” Here’s what our judge Julia Fierro had to say about Maggie’s essay:

    I love the simplicity of the language here, which, along with the matter-of-fact tone and episodic structure, inspires trust in the reader. I believed the honesty here. But the details are anything but simple–they are unique to the narrator and her experience (the figurative language- the apples!) and that made me feel as if I was allowed access into the intimate world of her love and pain and loss and joy.

    Here is an excerpt from Maggie’s beautiful essay:

    I can’t find the notebook.

    My husband threw it away, or I threw it away, or it threw itself away.

    With my son I wrote everything down: every feeding, what time he started, what time he finished, when he burped, when he spit up, what the spit up looked like, when he peed, when he pooped, what the poop looked like, when he cried, what his cry sounded like, when he slept, what position he slept in, when he woke.

    If I wrote everything down, I would see The Pattern. The Pattern That Would Make Him Happy. The Pattern That Would Make Him Sleep.

    The Pattern That Would Fix Him.

    The Pattern That Would Fix Me.

    Maggie is an accomplished poet, but, amazingly, this is her first personal essay. Maggie Smith’s second book of poems, The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (Tupelo Press, April 2015) was selected by Kimiko Hahn as the winner of the Dorset Prize. She is also the author of Lamp of the Body (Red Hen Press, 2005), winner of the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award, and three prizewinning chapbooks, the latest of which is Disasterology (Dream Horse Press, forthcoming 2015). A 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in poetry, Maggie has also received four Individual Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council and fellowships from the Sustainable Arts Foundation and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She lives with her husband and two children in Bexley, Ohio, where she works as a freelance writer and editor. You can find her at her website, on Twitter @maggiesmithpoet, and on Facebook.

    Maggie Smith_photo by Studio127 Photography

     

    Our second place essay is “Life With No Room” by Celeste McLean.

    Celeste Noelani McLean is the woman behind RunningNekkid, where she explores the intersection of grief, mental health, and her Pacific Islander ancestry. Her writing has been featured on Blog Her and has appeared in SisterWives Speak and Stigma Fighters. She left her island paradise home over twenty years ago and has been trying to figure out how to get back ever since. She currently lives in Seattle with her husband Ian, where they raise two children, grieve one, and make each other very, very happy. You can find her at her blog http://www.RunningNekkid.com or on Twitter @runningnekkid.

    celeste

    Dr. Jessica Zucker said this about Celeste’s essay:

    This essay left me speechless from the very beginning. Poignant, poetic, earnest, soft. She does an exemplary job of taking us through her journey wrapping around and all the while gleaning cogent and complicated insights. Truly remarkable.

    Here is a passage from “Life with No Room”:

    I nurse the baby in front of my therapist and we talk about my second son, the one who died. About how much my new baby looks like him, and how much I want him back. I want both of my babies. But I also want none of my babies. I am tired of babies. Bone tired. I want to be dead.I want to be dead, and I admit to this in a way, and it is so embarrassing to admit this. But also, it is a relief. I have spoken these words and I have not died. I do not want to die any more than I wanted to die in that moment before I said it. And, miraculously, nobody came to take away my children. I want to be dead, but I also do not want to be dead. I want all of my babies and I want none of them.

    I am afraid of the baby waking. I am afraid of the baby not waking.

    Our third-place winner is Jen Simon, for her essay, “It Got Better, But It Took a Long Time To Get Good.” Julia Fierro describes her piece:

    I think the “arc” of the story shows the infinite varieties in even just a few years of a mother’s life. How things can go from “terrible” to “okay” to good” to “bad” to “great.” And how a mother can feel both love and regret simultaneously. I love that the essay allows the narrator to have some perspective, which gives the reader a hint of the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

    Jen Simon is a Huffington Post blogger and a Babble contributor. A freelance writer, her work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Elephant Journal, Your Tango, The Frisky, Kveller, Nerve, Women’s Health Online, and more. Mothering Through The Darkness is her fourth anthology, her second with the HerStories Project. Jen stays home with her sons – a toddler and a sleep-challenged 5 year old.

    You can see more of her work at JenSimonWriter.com. Follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jensimonwriter and on Twitter @NoSleepInBklyn.

    jensimon

    Here is an excerpt from Jen’s powerful essay:

    I’m not sure what to do with him, so I do all the things I think I’m supposed to do. I dress him as a miniature version of my friends in jeans and hoodies and socks that look like Vans. We go to playgrounds where I push him on swings. We go to baby music classes and sing silly songs. We go to baby gym classes where I grab him, kiss him all over until his laugh, his unmistakable all-consuming belly laugh, fills the room and the other moms and nannies give us approving smiles. Do you see me? I think, Am I doing this right? I tell myself I’ll just fake it until it feels right, but it never does.

    I recently stopped nursing, my broken body no  longer producing milk, so I buy organic formula and feed it to my son in BPA, Phalate-free bottles. All of his food and my cleaning supplies boast that they are “organic” or “natural”or “green.” Maybe if I can do all the “right” things for him, I can start feeling the right way about him. But the truth is I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about him because I don’t have feelings for anything. And no belly laughs or Plum Organic pouch or tambourine sing-a-long can fix that.

    Every day, I kiss his smiling face while actively regretting having him. It is horrifying. I am simultaneously empty and brimming over with hate and anger. Every day is filled with these disparities.

    Thank you so much to every woman who submitted her story and to the judges who offered up their valuable time and insights. Stay tuned for the announcement of the rest of the contributors to the book later in the month….

     Did you hear the news that My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends has been chosen as a Finalist for INDIEFAB Book of the Year?

    Have you joined our community of women writers on Facebook?

  • Bucking a Trend: Birthday Parties and More

    HerTakenoavatar

    This week’s HerTake question is seemingly about birthday parties, but it’s really about so much more.

    Nina is always accepting anonymous questions so keep them coming!

     

    Dear Nina,

    I’m planning a birthday party for my almost 3-year-old son. I started to make a list and if we invite entire families (which others in my community have done), we are looking at around 100 people.

    What is the etiquette for who to include? My son is in preschool, however, my husband and I are closer with some parents. Is it okay to invite only some of the kids in the class? Do we need to invite entire families? If we invite one child is it assumed that siblings are included? Do we need to invite friends of ours if they do not have kids our child’s age? We don’t want to offend anyone, and while we realize not everyone will come, the list seems excessive for a child’s birthday party.

    Thanks!

    Carly

     

    Dear Carly,

    I chose your question because while on the surface it’s about the details of a birthday party, it’s really about so much more. It’s about creating your own path, a more reasonable, and yes, less excessive path, even in a situation where others in your community and in your kid’s class (the majority even?) have made a different choice. Your question is about knowing that you might offend some people and making that choice anyway, not because you are wrong, but because people are too easily offended to be quite honest. Your question is about bucking a trend and about serving as an example for others in your community who would like to do the same, but are not brave enough to even ask questions such as “What are we doing here?” And “Why do we go to such lengths to make sure nobody will be upset with us?”

    I speak from experience. As a mom with kids ages 10, 8, 5, and 3, I have hosted every kind of party imaginable from the big ones at Pump it Up and Build-a-Bear (talk about excess) to the medium-sized ones with just the girls or just the boys, to the type with only a few kids invited.

    Full disclosure: I have regretted the big parties both for the expense, for the message it gives to my kids that everyone should expect to be invited to everything, and because of the reality that my kids have usually been miserable at their own large parties. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the same thing happen to other people’s kids. I once heard a child say of her American Girl Doll party (at the store’s fabulous restaurant), “This was the worst party ever.” After my daughter’s party at Pump it Up a few years ago she said, “It didn’t feel like my birthday.” More often than not the child in the center of all that chaos, the one for whom this excess is happening, is having some kind of meltdown. With that many people, the birthday kid does not know who to play with!

    Now it’s time to address the specific questions for your son’s birthday. No, you do not need to invite the whole class. Take advantage of this moment when the kids in the class, including your son, do not know the difference. Keep the list to the kids your son talks about, maybe 5 kids at most. Explicitly say on the invite (or email or evite) that you are hoping one parent stays. My 3-year-old had 3 kids at his “party” this year. He loved it and so did I.

    Also, siblings are not included. If this means a particular child cannot attend because the parent does not have arrangements for the other children, then that is totally okay. You as the party planner will graciously understand that not everyone can come. And I insist on assuming (because I like to assume the best) that the invitees will also understand that nobody should be expected to throw a 3-year-old (or any child) a party with 30-60 guests or even 20 guests. You can let siblings come, and I would make that decision on a case by case basis. I’m just saying not to include them on the invitation.

    Keeping the party small also means you will probably need to keep your own friends off the list, too. They will not be offended when you explain that you are having a very small party with just a few friends from your son’s class. If they are offended by that, you’re in store for a world of drama in the coming years with these particular friends. I’m serious. The older I get I have found that the least desirable trait in a friend is one who is too easily offended. The ability to give others the benefit of the doubt (and therefore be less offended) is skill that most of us (I include myself) need to work on often.

    I want to make an important point: It is not wrong to have a big party for your son. It is certainly not wrong to invite the whole class. Plenty of people do it and will continue to do so. It is simply not necessary, is all. I’m trying to establish that there is another way even if big parties are the norm in your community.

    Personally, I am always relieved, not offended, when I hear that a family has moved from inviting the whole class to hosting a small party with a few friends. My older two kids have been aware of not getting invited to some of these very small parties. Were they a little sad? Yes. But listen, they were only upset at first. And it’s okay for a kid to experience feelings, to not be protected from sadness at all times. I talked through the situation in each case, and it was a great opportunity to remind my kids that it is simply not possible to be included in every single thing their friends do. We talked about financial realities as well. And I pointed out that when they have small parties it certainly does not mean they dislike the other kids and how it’s no different when someone else plans a small event.

    I want to end with some tips for planning small parties. You have a few more years to worry about some of these details, but maybe this will help readers with slightly older kids.

    5 TIPS FOR PLANNING SMALL BIRTHDAY PARTIES

    1. Invite just the girls or just the boys.
    1. Do not under any circumstances give out invitations or thank you notes at school.
    1. Small means small. If you’re not going to invite all of the boys or all of the girls in a class, then keep it to 3-4 kids.
    1. Tell the parents of the kids who are coming that you only invited a few children and to please encourage their kids not to talk about it at school.
    1. Although I want my and all kids to learn that not everyone can be invited to everything, they still need to learn to be sensitive to others’ feelings. Remind your child that if you hear there’s been talk about the party at school that you will cancel the party. But you have to follow through!

    Good luck, Carly! Bucking a trend is not easy. Please report back (you can use the anonymous form) and let me know what happens.

    All the best,

    Nina

    Ask (1)  If you have an anonymous question for Nina, use this form!

     

    We still have a few spots available in our upcoming session of the Publish Your Personal Essay online writing course, beginning March 30th! Space is limited, so reserve your spot now! Find out more about our writing classes here. If you missed the first essay in our new HerStories Voices column, you can read “Dancing at the Edge of the Spotlight” here!

    Have you signed up to receive our email newsletter? You can do so in the sidebar; we’d love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter, too!

  • Imbalance in Friendships

    Ask (1)

    Today’s question for Nina is about recognizing a one-sided friendship and deciding whether to restore the balance or move on.

    Nina is always accepting anonymous questions so keep them coming!

     

    Dear Nina,

    My oldest friend and I email back and forth at least five times a day. We know everything that goes on in each other’s lives. He (Michael) lives in the same city, and he’s very active socially. He hosts many dinner parties with his partner, but my husband and I have never been invited. I have even expressed to Michael how lonely I feel sometimes with no extended family in town, but still—no invite. My kids have never even been to his house.

    I’m wondering if Michael and I are true friends after all, or if we just have an email relationship. We invite Michael and his partner to our place for parties, but they rarely show up, and they make all sorts of lame excuses like being too tired to come over.

    I don’t want to spend energy on someone who considers me a C-list friend when I consider him my best friend. Should I just walk away from this imbalanced relationship?

    Thanks for any advice,

    Tired of the C-list Status

     

    Dear Tired of the C-list Status,

    Based solely on the information you gave me, I agree that this friendship sounds more like a virtual one, than a face-to-face one. And yes, on first glance it seems imbalanced. If you had not shared the detail of the emailing back and forth five times a day, I would immediately lean towards you walking away from what appears to be a situation where you are giving 100% and Michael is trying to fade out of your life.

    However, and this is a big however, those emails are not meaningless. Staying connected, even through email, takes time and effort on Michael’s part. He could easily take longer to answer those emails if he wanted to send the vibe that he’s not interested in communicating with you and staying updated on your life. Are you best friends? Perhaps that label is too generous, but that doesn’t mean the friendship is worthless for either of you. Perhaps you just need to reframe how Michael fits into your life so that your feelings are not hurt. You’ve known each other a long time and that counts, too.

    I cannot know for sure why Michael and his partner do not invite you over or accept your invitations, but a few guesses come to mind. Just at this advice column alone I receive many versions of a question asking what to do when you don’t like someone’s spouse. Is it possible that Michael does not like your husband or that his partner is not totally comfortable with you, your husband, or both of you? Is it possible that they don’t want to hang out with your kids? Since you mentioned inviting Michael and his partner to parties, I also wonder if they don’t care for your friends.

    Even if the answer to every one of those theories is YES, I don’t think it has to be a deal-breaker for the friendship. You and Michael can have a friendship that’s separate from his partner and your family. Again, if Michael did not answer your emails or stay in touch so closely on a daily basis, I would say that the imbalance in invites is cause to let the friendship go, but I can’t in good faith suggest ending a friendship with so much history and daily value in your life.

    As far as I can tell, you have some options for what to do next.

    1. Talk to Michael (or email him) and mention that you’d like to see him in person every so often. Maybe ask him to let you know what works for lunch or coffee. It sounds to me like you’ve been focusing too much on group events so make sure to mention the one-on-one idea and see what happens. If he continues to avoid seeing you in person, I think it’s acceptable to ask him about it at that point.
    2. I suggest redefining your friendship. Putting a different label on the friendship is just for you and does not require a discussion with Michael. Instead of “best friend,” think: “old friend” and “close friend.” Those are both valuable types of relationships to have in your life, but they come with a different set of expectations than “best.”
    3. Stay focused on the joy Michael brings to your life instead of the areas where you feel he falls short. (That’s a good for all relationships.) No friend is perfect. It sounds like you would really miss his presence in your life so let go of the idea that he’s going to be the dinner party friend and allow yourself to feel good about the other ways he’s there for you.

    I bet others reading this have been in similar relationships where there’s an imbalance in effort. (I know I have!) Each situation is different, but I would love to hear how others have handled it or what others would suggest to “Tired of the C-list Status.”

    All the best,

    Nina

     

    Have you checked out our upcoming writing classes? We have some exciting ones coming up, including a second session of Publish Your Personal Essay starting March 30th! And in case you missed our most recent call for submissions last week, check it out here!

    So Glad They Told Me