Guest Post

  • A Review and Giveaway of Dumped: Women Unfriending Women

    During the final weeks leading to the publication of My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends, I learned about another soon-to-be published anthology about friendship breakups, Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women. The editor, Nina Gaby, reached out to us, and since then, we’ve been waiting anxiously for its release! We’re also pleased that Nina is one of our essay contributors to Mothering Through the Darkness, to be released, also by She Writes Press, in November.

    We’re honored to have writer Allie Smith review the anthology for us! We think fans of My Other Ex will love this book….

    Have you ever been dumped by a friend? Leave a comment below and enter our giveaway to win a copy of Dumped

     

    Dumped book cover

    I am a girl’s girl. I love and cherish my girlfriends and cannot imagine my life without them. I’m fortunate to have an abundance of friends, some of whom I’ve known since childhood, and others whom I’ve only met in the last few years. Although I have lost a few friends over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever been dumped. I considered the possibility that perhaps this was a matter of interpretation, but I don’t think so. As opposed to losing a friendship through gradual erosion, being dumped is an event. The women in this book were most certainly dumped by their friends, and often times it was thoughtless and cruel.

    Similar to the Her Stories Project’s anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends, this book is a collection of essays written by women from all walks of life who have stories to tell about losing friends. The authors are raw and candid and, above all else, brave.

    The book is divided into five sections. In the first section, “When the Herd Turns,” the themes are about the hurt experienced when you feel like you don’t belong – when you feel like an outsider. In the essay “Off the Line,” Julie VanDeKreke was the new girl in school. Having once been the new girl, I easily identified with the nervousness she experienced when walking down the hallway on her first day. I’m still friends with the girl I met on my first day at my new school. I was lucky, VanDeKreke was not. She was a target on day one, lured into a false sense of belonging by two girls who pretended to want to be her friends, only to cruelly dump her weeks later, for no reason. Then they proceeded to torment her for weeks by incessantly calling her house and harassing her. VanDeKreke’s single father urged her to stand up to the girls and solve the problem, which she ultimately did – in grand fashion. I whooped at her solution, but still felt the pain of her isolation.

    The next two sections of the book are about friendships that fell apart when the authors were older. Some of these essays were really sad, because even in the years when we’re supposed to be “above it all,” some women still behave as though they’re mean girls in high school. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed this in my own life as well. Some of the stories appalled me, because of the manner in which the dumpers executed their final blow. One woman wrote a note saying she could no longer be friends, without any explanation other than, “It’s too hard.” That’s that, end of story. One “friend” had an emotional affair with her friend’s husband. One charmer sold out her friend by revealing personal information on Twitter. That particular drama involved Alexandria Goddard, the crime blogger who brought national attention to a rape case involving high school football players in Steubenville, OH. Residents of the town and fans of the team didn’t take well to all the negative backlash this garnered for their football players, and cared little about the rights of the victim. Goddard’s friend took it upon herself to let the angry masses know where Goddard lived. With a friend like that, who needs enemies?

    The last two sections, “Women Remember” and “Making Sense of It,” take a more reflective tone. In some instances, those who were dumped were better off, although I’m sure it was hard to see while grieving the loss of friendship. Other writers realized after the demise of their relationships, that they could’ve been a better friend, as in the case of “Since I Don’t Have You,” by Jacquelyn Mitchard. The loss of a close friend caused Mitchard to evaluate all the relationships in her life. As a result, she changed the way she tended those relationships. She’s now more proud of being a friend than of having friends. She wrote, “Friendship for me is made from a tapestry of personalities, each of who shares a part of all I care about.” That line gave me chills.

    Hands down, the most heartbreaking story is written by Ann Hood, whose life-long friend inexplicably disappeared after Hood’s five year old daughter, Grace, tragically died of strep. The friend made an appearance at the funeral – and that was it. Then years later, she quietly made a donation to a scholarship fund that was started in Grace’s name. She never personally offered her condolences and ceased being Hood’s friend. I cannot even fathom how someone walks away at a moment like that. Hood concluded with, “Her silence was loud, it breaks my heart.” Mine too.

    This collection is not a light read, by any means, but it is an easy one. Every single contributor is gifted and eloquent with her narrative. I think, even if you haven’t been dumped, you’ll learn from this book. You will learn what not to do. You will learn that actions have consequences, consequences that can hurt for a life time. Treasure your friends. Treat them well. And if the time comes when you feel you can no longer be someone’s friend, bow out with grace and dignity. And for goodness sake, tell your friend why you’re done, even if only in a letter. Just please promise you’ll give your friend more than, “It’s just too hard.”

    Allie Smith is a wife, mother of four, and freelance writer living in the suburbs of Atlanta. She’s a columnist for My Forsyth Magazine, a book reviewer for Chick Lit Plus, and a contributor to The Family Legacy Center. She blogs about parenting, autism, travel, and books at The Latchkey Mom.

    Can you relate to these essays? Have you been discarded by a friend? Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of the book!

  • Is It Okay To Want Opposite Sex Friendships?

    Is it okay to want opposite sex friendships while in a relationship? Today’s question comes from a married woman who misses having close friendships with men.

    opposite sex friendships

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

    Dear Nina,

    I have many wonderful friendships with women right now, friendships that are deep and intense and born from commonalities such as motherhood and life as a writer. These friendships provide essential sustenance for me, they fuel me through my days, my weeks. They are a constant presence; they shape much of who I am at the moment.

    I have very few opposite sex friendships—basically none. When I was younger, my best friend in high school was a boy. I had a great friend in graduate school, who was male as well. I am fully capable, in other words, of Platonic relationships with members of the opposite sex. The issue, it seems, is that as I have gotten older, as I have become more confident—and more set—in my ways, as my family situation has changed, my requirements for friendship have changed accordingly—though, to be fair, I’ve never been a big fan of casual interaction. I know the kinds of conversations I like to have. I know the degree of loyalty and intimacy and emotional intelligence I find necessary. And I don’t really have any men in my life who fit the mold.

    I’m not making a universal claim about the differences between men and women, though I do think there is something to the Mars/Venus divide. But if I were being perfectly honest, since having kids, my view of men has dimmed. I see all of my local friends’ husbands through their eyes (and this is the most logical pool of options), and often the picture is not especially pretty, which isn’t surprising given the strain of young kids on a marriage. I suspect I would benefit from having a male friend or two, to shake up my perspective, but how does one go about that appropriately at this point in her life, especially as I don’t work outside of the home? Are opposite sex friendships worth pursuing for their own sake?

    Thanks,

    Missing Good Male Friends

    Dear Missing Good Male Friends,

    I was ready to answer your question with a question: Is something lacking in your female friendships? But then I reread what you said at the beginning about your current friends: “These friendships provide essential sustenance for me, they fuel me through my days, my weeks. They are a constant presence; they shape much of who I am at the moment.” You also described these friendships as “deep and intense.”

    Is there perhaps something you miss about the more casual nature of opposite sex friendships? This is not to say that friendships with men cannot also be deep and intense, but speaking in generalities, I wonder if you remember your friendships with men being refreshingly less intense and a welcome complement to your more complicated female relationships. Maybe you could use a few less intense female friendships in your life? I’ve often extolled the virtues of what I call the “close acquaintance” because there is something nice about friendships that are less intimate to round out the ones where we get more but more is expected of us in return.

    Is It Just Nostalgia?

    I also wonder (and maybe I’m projecting) if part of what you miss about the Platonic friendships you mentioned is the specific and special time of your life–high school, college, and graduate school–as opposed to the maleness of those friends. The older I get, I miss college (never high school). Although I think of my college years fondly and they should make me smile, I also feel sad when I picture the campus, the dorm, and my friends (both male and female). I am so far from that time, and I will never experience anything quite like those four years. I’m nostalgic for the campus atmosphere, and I have regrets about not doing more in those four years, not seeing more, not trying different kinds of classes, traveling more, and not enjoying more of the freedom available to my single, childless self at the time. But like I said, maybe I’m projecting.

    There’s no great answer if some of what I said about this nostalgia for that time of life is true. We can’t go back, and the idea of pursuing an opposite sex friendship simply because you miss those kinds of friendships strikes me as way too risky.

    So I’ve answered your final question in a way that might disappoint you. You asked, “Is a friendship with a man worth pursuing for its own sake?” I wish I could say something more encouraging and free-spirited, but the truth is that I don’t think the benefits outweigh the risks. You also asked, “How does one go about that appropriately at this point in her life, especially as I don’t work outside of the home?” I can’t think of a way. I’m sorry, but I can’t.

    You provided two examples of men with whom you enjoyed completely Platonic relationships. I agree that it’s possible to have friendships with men where there is not one iota of sexual chemistry or anything remotely inappropriate under the surface. However, it’s also true that many romances started with that kernel of friendship, and that is where the risk becomes a real concern. We can’t ignore the fact that non-Platonic feelings could develop and that’s where the benefits versus the risks has to be considered very seriously.

    What If Your Spouse Wanted Opposite Sex Friendships?

    I can’t help but think how I would feel if my husband decided to pursue a friendship with a woman that did not include me as part of the equation. To put it bluntly, I would be devastated. We have couple friends and I consider several of those men my friends, and he feels the same way about the women. However, if he pursued any of those opposite sex friendships on his own, or worse, found a new female friend who had no connection to me, I would definitely be worried about my marriage. And then I might throw some plates against the wall.

    I want you to know that as a fellow writer who works from home or a coffee shop, I understand what you’re saying about having little contact with men and missing those types of opposite sex friendships. I wish I had a more uplifting answer for you than this very long version of “Sorry, but that ship has sailed.” Perhaps some of the readers will disagree with me. I’ll leave the floor open for others to give their two cents.

    Thank you for sending this question as I know you’re not alone.

    Nina

    Nina BadzinNina 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.

     

     

  • HerStories Voices: How Do the Dead Drink Tea?

    Alison Lee of Writing, Wishing is a blogging and writing dynamo. She’s a valuable member of our HerStories community, as a contributor to My Other Ex and as a coordinator of our blog tours for that book. Most recently, BonBon Break is lucky enough to claim Alison as an editor. Today Alison writes movingly about a powerful family influence: her grandmother.

    HerStories (3)

    “I want to die.”

    My grandmother said those words to me, my sister, my mother, my father — anyone who would listen, every single day for a period of time which seemed like forever, but it was probably for the few months she was laid up after a stroke. She would call us several times a day, say those four words, and we would mouth well-practiced lines, assuring her that she was very much loved, and no one wanted her to die, least of all herself.

    She assured me that yes, yes she did. What good was life, confined to a wheelchair, unable to go to the bathroom on her own, the last shreds of dignity gone? The cycle of life is cruel. To be old and frail, is cruel.

    She did not die then. She recovered from the stroke, only to break her hip not long after. The death she spoke of so often, in those days of my teenage years, would creep in on us slowly and painfully.


    “Slow down, Grandma!”

    “I think you should hurry up. You and your sister.”

    She always walked quickly, as if her destination and purpose pulled her against her will.  My younger sister and I spent weekends at Grandma’s, where at the crack of dawn, we would wake excitedly because it was market day on Saturday. I loved everything about that huge maze of a place, with perpetually wet floors. The smell that came before the sea of colors. All my senses would be ablaze as I soaked in the freshness of vegetables just pulled from the ground, the sweet stickiness of Malaysian cakes, made with rich coconut milk and rice flour.

    I remember the metallic smell of blood from the poultry section, where we watched with horrified interest, chickens as they were slaughtered.

    Grandma would begin her route, never to deviate, mind you, through the market. The vegetable section was our first stop. Cabbage, spinach, green beans, spring onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, yam, and lotus root (delicious in soups). Of the dozens of vendors, Grandma had her favorites. The bargaining was fascinating, the conclusion always the same. Grandma only paid the prices she wanted to.

    Moving onto the fruit section, Grandma picked the loveliest oranges, always handing my sister and me one each, for us to savor later. Or it could be a distraction from her next stop — for chicken.

    We would peer down from half a floor up to the slaughter section. There was no ceremony in the death of these creatures. They were simply pulled out, held up, and their throats expertly sliced. Sickened as I felt in my stomach, I never turned away a good chicken dish at dinner.

    I became a vegetarian when I was 21.


    “Why do you do that, Grandma?”, as I watched her clean the urn full of what looked like ash mixed with dirt, with stubs of incense sticks embedded deeply.

    “To keep things clean and neat. It’s a sign of respect to your ancestors, those who came before you.”

    My grandmother’s ancestral altar was never a thing of fascination for me. For as long as I could remember, it was always there, prominently placed in a space at the back of the open living area, facing the entrance. At least six feet high and red, it was not just a piece of furniture; it was a physical reflection of my grandmother’s culture (Chinese) and religion (Taoism). It was a thing not to be touched (unless you were cleaning it), but a place to show your respect to the dead, with offerings of fruit and hot Chinese tea.

    I always wondered how the dead could drink tea.


    “You better make plans to come home. It won’t be long now.”

    I was not surprised to receive my father’s call. His mother had been dying for a long time. She seemed ready to meet her husband, long dead at the young age of 45. How do you live without the love of your life for 40 years?

    I was 27 and living in the big city, two hours from home. I had to stay late at the office that day, frantically finishing up work so I could drive home the next day to see my grandmother. My dying grandmother.

    She died that evening, after her youngest son made it to her bedside.

    I did not get to say goodbye in person.

    During the traditional Chinese three day wake, I did not shed a tear. Her dying was expected. She had been bedridden for years, her once robust body, shriveled to a mere 80 pounds. She had gone blind a few years ago, and her mind slowly went with her. She remembered her youth vividly, but could not recall the names of her 30 grandchildren. When I would visit, sitting by her beside and holding her hand, so papery thin, she would run through the names of all her granddaughters, while I silently wept.

    I wish I had visited her more often.

    The dam broke when they nailed her coffin shut, just before the procession to her final resting place. They may as well have driven that nail into my heart. My beloved grandmother was really gone.

    The days of going to the market with her had become just childhood memories. Those angst-filled phone calls of doom (“I want to die”) were reduced to anecdotes, oft repeated for a laugh. However, in that moment when the last nail went into her coffin, they were not just memories and anecdotes. They were tangible reminders that this woman loved me. She was the cornerstone in my young life, a life in which I felt invisible around my own mother.


    One of the only photographs I have of my grandmother, pictured here with my sister, me, and my cousin (I am perched above her left shoulder).

    Rarely a day goes by that I don’t think about Grandma. I miss her of course, but mostly, I regret that I didn’t know her better. I took her love greedily, and in my own childlike way, I loved her back. I never asked why she married my grandfather, a man I never knew, his youthful face enshrined in a large frame at her house. It was a marriage born of matchmaking, my aunt told me. Grandmother was only 18 when she became a bride.

    I never asked her about the two daughters she lost, I only knew that she had lost them.

    I never asked her how she coped with losing her husband when she was only in her 40’s, alone with eight children, the youngest only a few years old. Her oldest son was halfway across the world, pursuing his university education. She did not tell him immediately after his father died, worried she would distract him from his studies. He made the US his home country, years later. Did he regret missing his father’s funeral? Was he ever angry at Grandma for making that decision for him?

    I never asked her what it was like, living in occupied Malaya*, back in the 1940’s. My father told us that sometimes, all they ate was rice soaked in dribbles of soy sauce, for flavor. How did she make money? Who supported them? How did the children get to school and back?

    I only knew her as my grandmother, a gentle quiet woman, who only raised her voice when she really meant business. A woman who bargained with vegetable vendors like it was her job, enjoying every minute. I knew her quirks (ironing her underwear) as well as any child who spent the majority of her childhood at her home, would. I knew her entire repertoire of Chinese dishes, and they were all delicious. I never met anyone else who could reproduce the dishes of my childhood, although my mother gave it a good go. I knew that as much as she enjoyed the huge celebratory party her children threw for her 70th birthday, she was slightly uncomfortable with all the attention. I can see that in the family photo we took, probably the only time all of us were in one place at the same time. I knew that she hated relying on other people, when her health problems took away first, her physical abilities, then her mental acuity.

    I did not know how much her death would blow such a big hole in my life. For 100 days after her death, I wore black. It was not a conscious decision — I was in my 20’s and black was my go-to-color. After realizing I had worn the same color for two weeks, it seemed like the most natural thing to do to honor her memory.

    I have a lot of bright, happy yellow in my life now, because at 38, I am honoring her life. I enjoy a good back and forth on prices with market vendors. I give a nod of respect to any bright red ancestral altars I see in public places. I scour her old photo albums, looking for more hints into a life I am itching to learn more about. I ask my aunt and parents endless questions, probing their memories about the woman I only know as Mah Mah (Cantonese for paternal grandmother).

    I do not, however, iron my underwear.

    I honor her life with the stories I will tell my four children about the great grandmother they will never meet, but who lives on in me.

    I am no longer a vegetarian. Mah Mah would approve.

    *Before Malaysia gained independence from the British in 1957, it was known as Malaya.

    Alison Lee bioAlison Lee is a former PR and marketing professional turned work-at-home mother. After a 10-year career in various PR agencies, and of the world’s biggest sports brands, Alison traded in product launches and world travel, for sippy cups, diapers, and breastfeeding. Alison shares stories of motherhood on her blog, Writing, Wishing. She is one of 35 essayists in the anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends. In 2012, she founded Little Love Media, a social media consultancy. Alison lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with her husband and four children (two boys and boy/ girl twins).

  • HerTake Advice Column: Too Close, Too Quickly

    Today’s question comes from a woman who regrets letting a friendship get too close too quickly and now must find a way to establish better boundaries. Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form . You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

    HerTakenoavatar

    Dear Nina,

    Last June a woman named “Vivian” moved into my building. She’s a teacher with lots of credentials (her statement), my age, and we have some similar interests. I nose-dived right into a friendship with her assuming we had a lot in common. I invited her to events, introduced her to my friends and no doubt gave the impression that I wanted to be friends.

    Several months passed  before I realized that we weren’t at all a good match and I started to dislike being around her. She had quite a few difficult situations (not getting the job she wanted, having her car die), but persevered despite these setbacks. The problem is that she blames everyone else for her difficulties and never takes responsibility. Since she has no one else to talk to, she uses me to vent. I mostly feel awful after these talks. Yet I realize she is alone in a new city and has no other support.

    For those and other reasons, I do not want to be friends, but also don’t want to hurt her feelings. She knocks on my door or phones almost every day. I feel harrassed and have spoken to her about my need for better boundaries, but she does not get it. I find myself turning off all my lights so she will not know I am home and I don’t answer my phone or go to the door. This feels cowardly.

    What can I do to find peace and not make her life any more difficult in the process?

    Thanks,

    Suffering From Friendship Regret

     

    Dear Suffering From Friendship Regret,

    First, I want you to know that clicking with Vivian in those early weeks makes perfect sense. In fact, research explains why diving into a friendship with her felt natural. I think it’s helpful to know about that research so that in the future you can be aware of the factors that can make us feel an instant connection with others while still staying aware of the need to take things slowly. I have definitely taken friendships too quickly, and it is much easier to let a friendship grow over time than to reset it once certain expectations are in place.

    According to Ori and Rom Brafman, authors of the book Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage with People, Work, and Everything We Do, there are five accelerators that make us feel connected to someone, at least at the outset.

    The first way we click is through some similarity, or at least a perceived similarity. Even the most surface commonalities like the same name can make us like the next person more. The second accelerator is vulnerability. While Vivian’s ability to open up to you eventually became a burden, it probably made you feel closer to her at first.

    The third accelerator came to mind immediately when I read your question, and that is proximity. You can’t get more convenient than the same building. The Brafmans found in their research that just living in the same city was not enough of an accelerator. When they measured proximity, they reported in feet–as in cubicles, dorm rooms, and neighborhoods. When a friend is right there, we tend to excuse other less than stellar qualities, and I believe that happened in this case.

    The fourth accelerator is resonance, which the Brafmans describe as being in tune with others and demonstrating empathy. I could see why Vivian felt this from you since you were sensitive to her status as a newcomer. And the fifth one is called safe place. That one refers to experiencing an adversity at the same time or a positive shared experience like a group vacation. Even living in the same building and dealing with the winter together when it’s easier to stay inside would create a certain closeness in a new friendship.

    I brought up the Brafmans’ work to help explain why you and Vivian had many good reasons to be instant friends. Hopefully knowing about these accelerators also serves as a warning to take things slowly the next time. We don’t need all five accelerators in place to feel that chemistry, and chemistry is a tricky element in a relationship that can cloud our better judgement. Same goes for romantic partners!

    You said that Vivian has no other support, but if she’s new to town that will change in time. You’ve been very generous by including her in events and introducing her to your friends, but there’s no reason that you have to be the sole confidant for her. Isn’t it also possible that Vivian has started making other friends during these months that you’ve been avoiding her? Either way, since you want her to stop knocking on your door every day, it’s time to take some action. You can’t be hiding out in your apartment!

    Taking action will have to strike a balance between getting the job done (resetting the relationship to one that is more neighbor/acquaintance than close friend) and not hurting Vivian’s feelings. In past answers for this column I have discussed fading back from a friendship, which is usually less painful to the next person. But in cases like this where your attempts to fade back have not worked, I’m afraid that you’ll have to extract yourself from the relationship. However, I would liken this “extraction” to the use of smoke grenades, not live fire.

    Look for an opportunity to take a true time commitment from your life and make it slightly bigger than it is. Perhaps you’re swamped with work? Perhaps you’re spending extra time with an older relative in need?

    I’m not suggesting that you create some kind of elaborate lie, rather, I use something “true enough” as your excuse to spare Vivian’s feelings. Do not turn off your lights. Do not sneak around. You can still be friendly and enjoy having a neighbor you appreciate for more than a passing hello, but be consistent in your new boundaries.

    The reason I do not suggest being extremely direct in this case is because you’re trying to reset the relationship, not teach Vivian how to have more reasonable expectations from her friends. Maybe Vivian will meet some friends who like her just as she is, and just because the instant chemistry with you did not pan out as the friendship progressed, that does not mean that her style will not work for the next person. In most cases it’s not appropriate to “teach” another adult how to act. And the truth is, you do bear some of the responsibility for giving Vivian the signal that you were as interested in this new friendship as she was.

    Please know I say all of this without judgment as I have succumbed to that seductive chemistry several times in my life only to regret the “instant closeness” I helped foster with my over-enthusiasm. The sooner you get comfortable answering your door and having a quick, friendly conversation before explaining that you have to get back to whatever project you’re working on (or whatever excuse you decide to use), the sooner you will feel a sense of calm again.

    Good luck!

    Nina

    Readers: Do you have other ideas for “Suffering From Friendship Regret?” Please let her know in the comments.

    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.

  • 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!

     

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  • 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

     

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    So Glad They Told Me