HerTake

  • 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

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    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

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  • Imbalance in Friendships

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    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

  • Sharing Common Friends With an Ex-Friend

    UPDATE (2019): FIND NINA AND HER COLUMN AT HER NEW FRIENDSHIP ADVICE SITE

     

    Today’s question for Nina is about dealing with a friendship breakup when the two parties have many friends in common. What is your advice for a reader about how to share friends with an ex?

    Nina is always accepting anonymous questions so keep them coming!

    Dear Nina,

    Jocelyn and I recently split for good. We were part of a much larger online and real-life friendship group, but the two of us were particularly close. The specifics of our breakup are not pertinent. I also wanted to mention that I’d be willing to try again with our friendship, but she’s not.

    Here’s the reason I’m writing: I now feel awkward with the rest of our mutual friends. Jocelyn and I have not been together in the group since we split up, and I’m afraid that no one knows we’re no longer friends. (I haven’t told anyone.) However, I’m also afraid that if they do know it’s because Jocelyn told them, and I don’t know what she said about me.

    How do I get beyond this and just feel comfortable with all my other friends whether or not she’s there, or if I fear she’s talking beyond my back? Should I be up front with our other friends that our friendship is over, or should I just never mention it?

    Signed,
    Worried About Post-Breakup Fallout

    Dear Worried About the Post-Breakup Fallout,

    The first and most helpful piece of advice I can give you for this particular situation of how to share friends with an ex is one that will come to play often in your life, and it’s probably harder to implement than anything else I will say here today: You must accept that you cannot control every person’s opinion of you.

    That fact goes beyond controlling other people’s behavior, which is also true. No, you cannot dictate what Jocelyn says about you, or to whom (her behavior). You can only work on how much you worry about others’ perception of you based on what she says or based on their simple knowledge that the two of you are no longer friends.

    There are two ways to let go of that worry:

    Do not say anything unkind about your ex-friend.

    Keep treating your friends well, and if the subject of Jocelyn comes up, I think it’s fine to say, “We haven’t spoken in a while.” If someone asks you directly whether the two of you are no longer friends, I’d say, “Unfortunately we’re not, but I hope you understand that I don’t want to get into the details.” This way you’re being honest, but you’re also showing that you’re not going to bring the group into the issue between the two of you. This is the part you can control. You get to dictate how you act and not getting people to take sides is the classy route to take.

    Self-Talk

    The other way not to worry what others think about you (once you know your behavior is in check) is to engage in some self talk. I will often tell myself that exact message: “I cannot control what anyone thinks.” Say it to yourself before you go out with these friends. Remind yourself a few times while you’re together. It often takes an actual effort to force your mind to think in a more positive way. This new way of thinking will not happen magically; you have to teach yourself to alter your thoughts.

    Now let’s talk about the reality of what happens when two friends have a falling out, but they still share common friends. If we’re dealing with adults here, I’d like to think that most of the friends in the wider circle would feel bad for both of you that things did not work out. Any decent person (and they’re your friends so I’m assuming they’re decent) would not revel in the pain you and Jocelyn are feeling. Perhaps they’re even hoping that the two of you will work things out one day.

    Is the Friendship Really Over?

    There’s one final issue to address: I wonder if things with Jocelyn are truly finished, or if there’s a chance to turn this breakup around. Could you write her a letter (not an email, a letter) reiterating your willingness to take responsibility for your part of the falling out and to forgive her as well? I would tell her that you have no expectations in the near future, but that if she were ever open to it, you would be interested in a friendship in the future.

    Once you’ve put your feelings in writing (a powerful act), you can feel confident that you’ve done your part to rectify your mistakes and forgive Jocelyn for her mistakes. I say this because right after college my best friend and I “broke up” and about a year later I wrote her a long letter. It took her a few years to respond, but we became even closer than we were in college, and now she’s been an important person in my life for the past 10 years. To tell you the truth, the breakup made us even closer than we might have been. My point? I wouldn’t write Jocelyn off forever.

    Good luck to you! And I’m sorry you’re dealing with the pain of ending a friendship and the dilemma of how to share friends with an ex-friend. I know it isn’t easy.

    Nina

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  • Turning An Acquaintance Into a Friend

    Today’s question for Nina comes from a blogger struggling to take an online friendship offline. Here’s what she’s really asking: What’s the secret to turning an acquaintance into a friend?

     

    Nina is always accepting anonymous questions so keep them coming!

    Dear Nina,

    Another blogger (let’s call her Anna) and I follow each other on Twitter and Instagram and on each other’s blogs. Although I comment far more on Anna’s blog than she does on mine, I get the sense through our writing that we have a lot in common. I especially get this sense when Anna periodically initiates a quick comment to me on Twitter or Instagram. In those cases she’s obviously proactively gone out of her way to reach out, even if slightly. I was doing this a lot myself in her direction initially, but I got the feeling that I was being overbearing, so I dialed back.

    Anna and I happen to live less than 25 minutes apart, and I’d like to get together. I see her publicly comment to other folks on social media (who live much farther away) that she’d love to meet up some day, and in some cases she has done so with bloggers in our geographic vicinity. She’s never suggested anything like meeting up with me though. I’m afraid that if I suggest a quick coffee or something, I might rock the apple cart or seem like I’m stalking her and the pleasant acquaintanceship we have now will vanish, which I don’t want either. I’m so terrible at reading signals in real life, so via the internet is even harder! Advice?

    Thanks!

    Trying to Take the Next Step

     

    Dear Trying to Take the Next Step,

    This is an excellent question and it really has nothing to do with the internet or blogging though the online relationship adds an extra layer of easy, quick intimacy and therefore confusion. More than the online issue, however, I want to focus on the idea of turning an acquaintance into a friend.

    I suspect that many of us have experienced what you’re describing. I have certainly felt that pang of rejection that comes from watching someone who seems like good friend potential connecting with others, but showing no interest whatsoever in me. It’s the kind of situation that can leave one wondering, What’s wrong with me? Why not me?

    Why do some acquaintanceships deepen and some stay on the surface forever? There’s no exact answer to that question because any of the following or a combination is possible: chemistry, timing, or simply one’s friend plate being too full at the moment.

    You’re correct that some of this takes an awareness of signals. I think you’re better at reading them than you realize. The fact that you dialed back from commenting so frequently on Anna’s social media happenings when you noticed a major imbalance tells me you’re paying attention to cues. I would never endorse a tit-for-tat approach to online or offline relationships. However, when your gut tells you that you’re consistently putting in far more effort, it makes sense to spend some of your reading and commenting time elsewhere. That goes for offline relationships, too!

    IF YOU WANT TO HANG OUT WITH ANNA, YOU HAVE TO ASK.

     There is truly only one way to know if Anna is open to getting together: You have to ask. It’s entirely possible that these other bloggers who have been out with Anna are the ones doing the asking. Maybe Anna is particularly magnetic and people tend to seek her out. It doesn’t mean she won’t have room for you, but it is more likely that you will have to take the initiative.

    And when I say, ask, I mean specifically state what you’re hoping for and provide some options. I say that because when an acquaintance says, “We should really get together!” I hear, “blah blah blah.” On the contrary, when I hear, “Send me a Tuesday or Thursday that you’re free for coffee,” I hear, “I want to be your friend.”

    A REAL LIFE EXAMPLE OF TURNING AN ACQUAINTANCE INTO A FRIEND

    Beth became my good friend after she blatantly pointed out (in an email) that we have tons of friends in common and she couldn’t see any reason why the two of us did not have a friendship of our own. She added that she always enjoys talking to me when we run into each other and that she would love to see me on purpose. Then she offered some lunch dates. I found Beth’s honesty and directness utterly refreshing. I responded with, “You’re right. Let’s do this.” We met for lunch several times without any of our common friends in tow. We exercised together every so often the next year, and had play dates with our kids at some point after that. Now I can’t remember a time when Beth was not a trusted friend, but it probably would not have moved out of the acquaintance phase had she not reached out and had I not reached right back.

    IF ANNA DOES NOT REACH BACK

    The reaching back is where things can get murky, and I know this is what you’re fearing.   After you ask Anna if she’s free for coffee or lunch and offer specific dates, you might get something back like, “Would love to! Things are so crazy right now. Let’s touch base after spring break.”

    Before you allow yourself to fall down any kind of shame pit, let’s give Anna the benefit of the doubt. She may truly be too busy to commit to a date right now and prefer not to schedule out too far knowing that she could have to cancel. I would try one more time after spring break in a case like this, but if at that point you can’t get her to commit, it’s time to move on with no hard feelings.

    Here’s where you will have to keep reminding yourself that any lack of interest on Anna’s part is likely not personal and truly just about the factors we already discussed, namely, timing and the friend plate being too full. I brought up chemistry before, but I think it’s worth mentioning that even good chemistry is not always enough to overcome the anxiety over spreading oneself too thin.

    If Anna does not reach back, you should not feel bad about yourself (she hardly knows you), nor should you worry that the pleasant online relationship you have will change. That piece is in your hands. As long as you don’t act wounded over the situation or entitled to her time, I don’t see any reason why the good rapport you two shared would change.

    BOTTOM LINE

    A good acquaintance, either online or offline, is not as special as a good friend, nevertheless, she can still be a value-add to your life. As far as I’m concerned, this can be a win-win situation.

    Good luck!

    Nina

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  • The More the Merrier Versus Quality Time

    Happy New Year to our HerStories Project community! We are pleased to announce that as of this month, Nina is now with us twice a month so keep those anonymous questions coming! I think many people will be able to relate to the particularly uncomfortable social dynamic she discusses in this week’s HerTake column:

    HerTakenoavatar

     Hi Nina,

    My daughter-in-law posed this question and I could use your help with an answer.

    My son and daughter-in-law, Josh and Mia, had a dinner group of sorts with two other couples. The six of them would almost always get together at Josh and Mia’s house because they didn’t have a babysitter for their two-year-old twins and the other couples had readily available child care.

    Everyone got busy and about six months has passed since the last get together.

    Couple A said to Josh and Mia, “Hey, we miss getting together for dinner. Let’s make plans to go out to some family friendly place with the kids.” No mention of Couple B.

    So Mia’s question is this: Since dinner together had always been a thing with all three couples, should she ask Couple B to join them?

    My response was no because:

    1) This is a different scenario. Dinner out with the whole family rather than dinner at home with just couples.
    2) Couple A initiated the plan so it would be up to them to reach out to Couple B if they wanted.
    3) Trying to find a restaurant for three couples plus six kids would be tough!

    I guess the question really comes down to something I’ve struggled with, too. How do you tactfully and gracefully make plans with friends who are part of a larger group without including everyone every time?

    Sincerely,

    Mia’s Mother-in-Law

    Dear Mia’s Mother-in-Law,

     What a nice mother-in-law you are! I like that you discussed this with Mia and brought the issue for me to consider. Part of why I love this column is the timelessness of many of the questions. For example, Mia’s situation has little to do with the fact that she has twins or that the other couples have young kids, too. As you said, you deal with the same problem when making plans with friends. And believe me, I have spent more time than I care to admit fretting over leaving people out and being left out myself. I had to work hard (and continue working hard) to get over the latter to even begin addressing the former with a sense of logic and maturity.

    There’s so much going on here! Let’s break it apart.

    First, to address Mia and Josh’s specific scenario, I think your answer was good. You’re right that the dinner out is a different situation than the home group that had formed. Also, going out with six adults and six kids (toddlers) is rather pointless in my opinion. Sometimes in the interest of never hurting anyone’s feelings, many of us end up diluting our social outings to the point where we don’t have conversations beyond the surface. Sure, nobody gets left out that way, but does anyone have that great of a time?

    I’m on the fence about your point that couple A as the initiators of this outing have the responsibility to reach out to couple B. If Josh and Mia are good enough friends with couple A, then it would not be strange for one of them to suggest adding couple B. But the bigger point is that it is absolutely acceptable for the four of them to make plans without couple B.

    The reason I say I’m on the fence about Mia initiating the extra invite is that my husband and I used to be friends with a couple that could not seem to function without making sure that a certain other couple was included every time. It got really annoying and I stopped reaching out for plans. While I understand that my friend was sensitive about leaving out her other friend, I firmly believe it has to be okay for adults to strike a balance between “the more the merrier” and quality time.

    Hold on Mia’s mother-in-law! I think what I just said there is the crux of what you’re asking in your well-stated question at the end. “How do you tactfully and gracefully make plans with friends who are part of a larger group without including everyone every time?”

     MAKING THE CHOICE TO CONTROL CERTAIN FEELINGS

    The key is this: You do it by being gracious and strong when your friends get together without you. You do it by admitting that there are situations when “the more the merrier” is not true at all. Sometimes more is just more bodies, more voices, and less true conversation, and that means realizing we can’t be a part of every plan just like we can’t include everyone else all the time.

    Maybe this all sounds silly to someone who has never felt left out in her life, but I think a solid majority of us have felt that pang, even as adults, when we know that our friends are hanging out without us.

    I’m going to speak for myself now because controlling my feelings is the exact tactic I employed a few years ago when I realized that I could not on one hand crave quality time with my friends yet expect others to include me no matter the situation. I know that when I have a few families over for dinner, it does not signify any lack of loyalty and genuine friendship with my other friends. When my husband and I go out with a few other couples, it does not mean we like our other friends any less. I have to grant the same benefit of the doubt to my friends when they make plans without me.

    The reason this is emotional “work” is because I make the choice in these situations not to feel hurt if I am not included. Maybe I will feel that twinge of surprise and momentary self-consciousness when I realize a gathering has happened or is about to happen without me. But in the next breath I remember how when I’m in the planning mode, I am not intentionally leaving anybody out. I am actively making plans with friend A or friend B. Those plans have nothing to do with friend C, and if friend C found a way to make every social outing about her, well, I wouldn’t want to be friends with her anymore. Nobody wants to deal with friend C’s constant hurt feelings. Do not be friend C!

    THE MORE THE MERRIER vs QUALITY TIME

    It requires a maturity to recognize that some situations call for leaning towards “the more the merrier” and some call for quality time. Long term friendships depend on this maturity on both sides of the equation (as the inviters and the invitees) and the ability to not feel hurt all the time. There is certainly a time for including everyone. There are no rules here, just common sense.

    As for how to make plans with some friends and not others with tact and grace, I have two words: NO SECRETS. I think it’s taken some years, but my friends and I are now good about doing things without including everyone. There was never a formal conversation about it, but I’ve seen the dynamics evolve over the years and it’s been refreshing for all of us (I assume). I’d say the best change I’ve noticed is that nobody is secretive. It’s not like you need to tell everyone what you’re doing all the time, but it feels crappy when a friend says with purposeful vagueness, “We’re going out with some friends,” and makes you feel like you’re too fragile to hear that it’s with people you both know. I’d say be matter-of-fact if the question of what’s happening this weekend comes up and continue to respond gracefully during the times you are on the receiving end of that news.

    I do hope that helps rather than making things more complicated. Nobody ever accused me of under thinking these matters.

    Readers, what has your experience been?

     

    FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1Nina will be answering another question later this month! She is also discussing questions from the column on live radio! If you’d like to hear her response to your question, fill out the anonymous question form here.

     

     

    Our recent call for submissions has just closed; if you submitted an essay for Mothering Through the Darkness, our upcoming anthology on postpartum depression, expect to hear from us around March. We will keep you updated, and thanks for supporting this project!

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