Do you have any suggestions on how we should treat friends socially who are currently out of work? When we want to go out to dinner, I feel awkward inviting them, since they can’t afford to spend the money. In the same vein, does it put too much pressure on them, if we invite their kids to our son’s birthday party, as it means buying a gift?
First, I recommend you take a course in Friends 101. Not to diminish the importance of your questions, but the idea of true friends—assuming these people are true friends—goes well beyond what they can, or can’t afford to pay for, at the moment.
If they are truly friends, then, make it easy on both of you. Invite them over for dinner and lift the burden entirely. Hanging out is surely more important than eating out. If you really want to go out to dinner with them, offer to make it your treat and—here’s the “friendship” part—explain that your relationship is what matters and whether you pay, they pay, or you split it, is beside the point. Pride notwithstanding, your friends might just accept your generosity, honoring it as the gift it surely is.
Now, about that birthday invitation. Assuming your respective kids are friends as well, what message will it send if you don’t invite them to your son’s party? Not a good one. And now, you’re messing with the fragile relationship children have with one another. That’s going to be far harder to deal with than navigating grown-up dinner plans. Invite the children. Make it clear to the parents that any gift should be modest, not just for the sake of their pocketbook, but because how much we spend on gifts says very little about how much we value another human being.
Finally, in the spirit of taking a course on Friends 101, I did a little digging and would like to offer this definition of friendship for you to consider. Friendship is an in-depth relationship combining trust, support, communication, loyalty, understanding, empathy, and intimacy. Enough said.
We recently met a couple through a Newcomers-type group. They’re perfectly nice, but just not people we want to spend more time with. They have invited us to dinner twice and continue to ask us to do things. We have said no a couple times, citing “conflicts.” Is there a graceful way to say that we’re simply not interested in pursuing a relationship?
Let’s start with the basics: You are not obligated to spend time with anyone you don’t want to. Life is just too short for that. By virtue of your question, you obviously are sensitive to others’ feelings, even if you don’t know them very well. That is to your credit—and advantage—in establishing relationships that are meaningful to you.
On balance, you have two viable ways forward. The first one is to continue to decline invitations, until they’re no longer forthcoming. (The day will come.) The second option is for you to lay it on the line with your acquaintances the next time they invite you out. Tell them the hard truth in a soft way. And make it short and sweet. How, of course, is the question. While the words need to be yours, here’s a sample speech: Jim, it was nice meeting you, but we don’t really feel we have much in common as couples. That’s it. Don’t belabor the point.
Granted, “Jim” and his spouse may feel offended, or hurt, but then, they didn’t take the hint and, so, put themselves in this position.
If you follow course number two, I have one more suggestion: Once the deed is done, call someone who truly is your friend, someone you trust, and tell them what you did and why. The bond between you will reinforce the attributes you do value in your friends and the wisdom of your action.
Larry Ackerman is a leading authority on organizational and personal identity. He is the president and founder of The Identity Circle, a consulting firm that helps organizations perform better and individuals find the happiness they deserve. He is author of Identity Is Destiny and The Identity Code. Send questions for Larry to: email@example.com.