Dear Carolyn: Our two friends who we have been relatively close with for years have two small children. We have attended their baby showers, brought food over after baby was born, and have gone to their children’s birthday parties once. We continue to get invited to their kids’ parties, but I have to be honest, I HATE going.
I don’t really like going to any child’s birthday party. However, these are kind of the worst. They invite SO many people, and most people who attend are in a friend-group that we are not part of. We end up talking to no one, except our friends briefly.
I find it odd in general how often we as adults are invited to children’s birthday parties. I don’t recall ever having non-family adults at my parties growing up, and if we had kids I guess maybe it would make more sense to me. I like children related to me, but I’m not really a “kid” person. My husband thinks we should still go because they are our friends, but, is it OK to continue to decline the invites until they stop? Am I a jerk friend?
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You are not a jerk friend if you say no to a party you don’t want to attend.
You are at risk of … taking on jerk-friend qualities, let’s say, if you concoct a bunch of ways to shift blame onto the hosts for somehow making you not want to attend their party. Or even better – blaming society for foisting on such innocents like you the institution of the adult invitation to a child’s party that your parents’ generation was much too sensible to impose. Or something.
Own your decision. You don’t enjoy these. “We send our regrets, but thanks for the invitation. Wish the peanut a happy birthday from us.”
Maybe I’m just getting old and uncrabby, but I’m feeling more sympathy for party-throwers these days, not less. We humans need to gather. Institutions don’t pull us in as they used to. It takes work to host, and guests are less well-versed than ever in the etiquette of being a guest.
If you don’t want the proffered food, then, fine, but I think we’d all do well to resist biting the hand.
Dear Carolyn: This may be an odd question but I am wondering if you have any tips for how to wind up a conversation. I struggle, and tend to restate what was already said or say concluding-sounding things repeatedly. I think it is because I feel a bit socially awkward. But, I can tell my conversation companion is trying to figure out how to put an end to it, too.
So, why do we do this and how do I stop doing it? I am tired of the awkwardness it creates.
It’s not odd at all. Endings can feel rude or even unkind, in an “OK, I’m done with you now” kind of way.
But the awkwardness of your current exit dance is to your advantage here: You can see the solution not as introducing awkwardness to a conversation, but instead as replacing the old awkwardness with a different one. An abrupt “Oops, I’ve got to run” may feel exactly as weird as circling each other with restatements and re-conclusions, but at least it’s a weird that sets you free.
Once you embrace this as basically a lateral move on any faux pas charts, you can polish up your exits by having some not-untrue, not-impolite segues always at the ready.
Out to drinks or dinner, or over someone’s house: “I’m tapping out, I’ve got an early day”; or, “Time’s up for me.”
In a work transaction: “OK then, is there anything else?”
After a chance encounter: “I’ve got to run.”
At a party: “Excuse me, I need a refill”; “Oh, I need to catch Whatsername before she goes.” Or ask for help: “Where’s the restroom?” If they don’t know, excuse yourself to look.
In fact, nature can call whenever we need it to.
Or just: “So great to talk/catch up/see you.”
If sincere, you can always add, “Let’s make plans (again) soon.”
All of this covers the how, but you asked about the more complicated why. That’s where confidence comes in.
First there’s the confidence that you won’t be judged harshly the moment you turn your back – or that you will be judged but you’ll survive it socially, because, who cares what people think. Insecurity is powerful, but overruling it gets easier with practice as you successfully end conversations and live to converse again.
Next there’s the confidence that it’s OK for you to decide the conversation is over solely because you want it to be. This part is about agency, and it gets easier with conviction: The more you believe that conversing and listening are an expression of self, versus a compulsory service to others, then the better – the more reflexive – you’ll get at knowing when to say “when.”
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