Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yes, you have to invite someone along even when the answer is always "no".

For the longest time, after moving to Michigan I would become pretty upset about not being invited to outings.  My new friends would routinely discuss going out and doing this and that, and then simply leave.  At first I thought I was just being over-sensitive.  Since I was much younger than my siblings, I would routinely be left behind by them on account of being "too young" or cramping their style.  So, naturally I assumed my discomfort and hurt feelings were from some sort of unresolved abandonment issue left over from being told, "No, you can't bike to Detroit Lakes with us on your tricycle."

I attempted to muster all my newly acquired Michigan-inspired confrontationalism and ask why I was not being invited, but before I was successful, one of my friends asked me, "Why don't you come with us when we go out?"


It was then when I realized that in Michigan, at least among that peer group, talking loudly about going somewhere in a person's presence was the same as inviting her somewhere.  All these months, all I had to do was say, "Is it alright if I come along?" or express interest in the activity.  My aversion to committing the faux pas of inviting myself was so strong, that I dared not speak.

So, what is the polite thing to do?  I tend to think that if you are discussing a fun activity that you should proactively invite everyone in ear-shot to come along, even if you are quite certain they will say no.  It simply reaffirms that you want to spend time with them.  If any one of them doesn't want to come along, she can simply say, "I'm not up to it" or "Not tonight, maybe some other time" or "I'd love to hang out, but wrestling pigs in green gelatin is not my thing."  What she should not do is make up an excuse not to go, such as washing her hair or a previous engagement with a Russian dignitary and a bottle of Jack.

If she really wants to go, she shouldn't be like me either.  Instead of saying nothing, she might at least express interest in the activity or simply ask to come.  However, in doing this, she must be willing to accept "no" as an answer or if the answer is not an immediate "yes" withdraw the request before awkwardness sets in.  She should convince herself that her company is like a fine hop-riddled beer, 80% dark chocolate, or a deep tissue massage - splendid in moderation but a little too over-whelming in excess.

So, what do you do if she asks to come along and you don't want her to?  It never feels good to be left out, unless the night ends in being vomited on, stripped searched and jailed (and even then sometimes the lack of commiseration with friends is a downer - especially if you call her to bail you out.)  This can be a delicate situation.

Consider grinning and baring it.  Perhaps it won't be so bad.  If all else fails, you can frame her for the petty misdemeanors.  You just have to be prepared to make bail instead of the other way around.

Consider giving the person a hint.  This hint is generally in the form of explaining how what you have been raving about for the last half an hour is actually not going to be any fun.  Be careful with this.  Even though you are attempting to be nice, if you out-and-out lie she is not just going to feel bad for being left out but feel bad for being lied to.  If you claim there is no room in the car, and she says she'll drive, then you tell her she won't have any fun, then she says she will, then you tell her that you're allergic to her sweater, and she says she'll just take it off, it's going to get obvious at some point.  She will then be left, all alone, to concoct all manner of paranoid delusions as to why she is so odious as to be dis-invited - Do I smell?  Do I laugh too loud?  Do I talk too much?  Do I talk too little?  Are they just stuck-up?  Do they think I'm stuck up?  Do they have something against nine-fingered, blue-haired, ultra-contra-anarcho-syndicalists?

If there is a serious reason why you don't want her to come along, privately and candidly explain.  "I'm sorry, but when we go out [activity] you tend to [incredibly obnoxious thing].  That's difficult for me because then I have to [unreasonable thing].  Perhaps some other time we can [activity we actually enjoy doing together], okay?"

Alternately, you can explain, "I want to feel free to be physically intimate with my date when we go out, and I will not feel that way with my seven year old sister anywhere near us.  I realize you don't understand now, but you will.  You will be very happy that when you are my age, I am not inviting myself to your dates."

I didn't, I do and I was.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 20, 2012

We're good at this because nature wants to kill us.

Having grown up out in the country, in Minnesota, between two very small towns, my social graces (such as they are) were formed in relative isolation.

The painful lack of confrontation - stoicism - and essential social passiveness of my upbringing, I thought for many years, was normal.  Then I moved around.  I slowly realized that the way that I go about things is really really weird.

I tried to make sense of why Minnesotans did the things they did.  Why did we act the way we acted?  I have come to the conclusion that, as most everything about Minnesota, it is about the climate.

I can just imagine what it was like back in the day, way back in the old country.  When the great outdoors is trying to kill you, I suspect it would be in your best interest not to be kicked out.  When a traveler comes to your door half-frozen, I suspect it would be more difficult to turn that person away.  When you routinely need to stay indoors with your family with literally no way out, I suppose it makes sense not to let things upset you so much.

We're just a different sort.

So, after much thought on the topic, I decided to begin a blog about social interactions with the understanding that I am the product of rural Minnesota niceties.  If social graces are natural to you, do not read this blog.  However, if you have ever struggled, please stay a while.  I have struggled enough, and have had to think about it often enough, that I may be able to be of some help.  I would also love to read your thoughts.

Thanks so much.