Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Every year on my birthday, my husband and I do something simple like going to a museum and dinner.
I have a friend who is in a long-distance relationship, and I’m not a fan of her boyfriend. She announced that my birthday is when her boyfriend will be visiting next and she wants to double date. She ended the conversation with “Let me know what we’re doing” and has brought it up multiple times since.
I want my low-key birthday with my husband, but this is the only day they have free, and she is very excited to celebrate together.
You’ve talked before about how as adults we need to calm down about our birthdays. Do I just suck it up and spend the day with the glass bowl?
Reluctant Birthday Girl
DEAR RELUCTANT: I’ve also talked before about how we get to decide how we use our own time. When she “announced … she wants to double date” on your birthday, you had every right to say, “I’m sorry, I already have plans — but when he’s in town next, we’re in.” Saying no isn’t rude.
You can still say it, even though having stalled this long will make it more awkward than it needed to be. Just say, “I should have said this upfront — we have longstanding plans on my birthday. I’m sorry to disappoint you — but please do let me know next time your boyfriend is in town.”
There are usually several principles that can be applied to any given situation. The one you rest on is the one that honors your integrity best. There’s nothing wrong with planning the birthday you want. There’s also nothing wrong with setting aside your preference to indulge a friend.
It becomes something wrong when you make a choice because you think you’re supposed to, but don’t actually believe in it, and then just go miserably through the motions, thereby serving no one.
And, ah, happy birthday!
RE: BIRTHDAY PLANS: I agree that she has every right to spend the day as she wishes, but she should be mindful that the friend is very likely to see it as a snub if she passes up a rare opportunity in order to go out with the husband she sees every day.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: The friend has principles to choose from, too. My fave: Don’t look for reasons to take offense. And another one: Don’t assume your viewpoint (“She sees Husband every day!”) applies to everyone.
If I choose to stay home versus going out, that doesn’t mean “I chose my dingy old living room over seeing you” — it means I chose to stay home over going out.
Plus, Birthday Person is responsible for her feelings, not her friend’s; the friend invited herself.
HI, CAROLYN: How do you bring yourself to forgive someone when you want to, but can’t? My partner recently made an insensitive comment that hurt me. Think: “Well, if that’s how you feel, we could always split and I’ll marry someone else.” I know for a fact — from the context and the spirit — this was meant to be a joke. A stupid and bad one, but a joke nonetheless.
My partner immediately apologized. Intellectually, I accept the apology. But now almost two weeks later, I find myself still hurt and shaken by this comment. My partner knows this, but is getting understandably frustrated that there’s nothing else that can be done.
My partner feels terrible about the comment. I feel terrible that I still feel hurt, but I just do. What’s the way forward?
DEAR STUNG: When the “what” doesn’t suffice, try the “why.” Why did this joke hit so hard? Tone, timing, context, unwelcome proximity to truth, [blank]?
While you dig into this — please do, in earnest — express gratitude often for your partner’s patience. Acknowledging limbo can ease the torment it brings.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.