DEAR CAROLYN: We Americans are used to large restaurant portions. Often when dining out with friends, someone suggests an entree she wants to split, and since I suspect my friends all know I’d rather die than offend, I’m often feeling pressured to agree – even though I’d prefer my own choice. This also denies me the pleasure of a doggie bag to take home for another meal.
I finally stopped dining out with one friend as she would sulk through the meal because I didn’t want to share her perpetual plate of greasy nachos! How do I politely handle these bullying requests without hurting the friendship?
DEAR DINING OUT: Wait a minute. You don’t like saying no, therefore their requests are “bullying”?
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That’s a nifty sleight of hand, shifting the blame onto them for positions you chose to take. Not to mention really unfair.
The friend who pouts over nachos, OK — she has some issues. But normal people who, like you, can’t finish a normal restaurant portion are behaving well within the range of normal when they suggest sharing an entree.
That’s because there’s absolutely nothing abnormal, mean, wrong or impolite about just saying no. One suggested phrasing:
Seriously. But if it makes you feel better: “No, thanks — I’d like my own so I can have leftovers.”
Practice in front of the mirror if you have to.
Why go to such lengths? Because you’re plainly — admirably — worried about being polite, that’s why. And arguably the least polite thing you can do is wield an “I’d rather die than offend” excuse for not saying what you really mean, especially to people you call your friends. True courtesy is to let them know where you stand.
If you’re skeptical, look at where this path has brought you: You don’t like saying no, so you feel pressured when asked, so you blame your friends for asking, so you start seeing them as bullies instead of friends. How is that polite – or kind or generous – to them?
Or, I should say, how is that in any way nicer to them than just admitting you want your own food?
There’s another excellent reason to take this on in earnest: It’s not (just) about tomorrow’s lunch, it’s about learning to advocate for yourself. Ordering food among friends is just the kind of low-stakes venture that allows you to practice your no-saying skills. I urge you to use this opportunity.
Keep practicing in exactly these friendly scenarios until you’re comfortable saying what you want without fear your (real) friends will drop you over a doggie bag.
An ability to stand up for yourself is the skill you’ll want most when your life hits a serious snag, as all lives tend to do. So put in the work to develop it now, while the living is relatively easy and nacho etiquette is the thorniest issue you’ve got. Do this work as a profound kindness to yourself. Enlist a good therapist if there’s a deeper foundation to your fear of giving offense.
One caveat: Nudging your assertiveness to a healthier place could alter the chemistry of your friendships, even to the point of ending some. I’m not sure you want to stay friends with people, though, who see your being a pushover as the trait they value most.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.