A very close friend of mine is starting to drive a bunch of us crazy, and we’re not sure we’re being irrational and bitchy about it. Our friend, J____, is a single mom with a job and does not have a ton of money for babysitters. Nevertheless, for the past 8 years, (since she became a mom) she always seems to find a babysitter to go on dates (usually about once a week) — but never to hang out with us gals. Now, we know it’s normal for gals to blow of gal friends for romance. And we know it’s super important to her to find a beaux. And she’s operating under some constraints that none of us can imagine. Still, it’s always on us to come visit her in her home if we want to see her. Not a problem 8 years ago when we were all in the same neighborhood. But it grows more inconvenient as we grow up and move out the suburbs and away from each other. Meanwhile, she feels lonely and sad when we can’t find the time – and will tell us so.
So – when might it be reasonable, if ever, to call J out on this? When/how can we ask her to get a babysitter just for us? Note – all of us have, fairly regularly, served as (free) babysitters for her so that she can go on dates.
Or is this just too bitchy and insensitive to even bring up?
Worth a Babysitter?
Dear Worth A Babysitter,
It’s great that you’ve all stayed connected all this time, and it’s great that you realized that taking the show to J____ and babysitting her child were key in helping her stay a part of your group all this time.
I think there are four ways you can approach all of this that don’t make you, ahem, “bitchy and insensitive. Those ways are:
1) Plan as much as possible in advance and invite her to everything you want her to be at. Then let her make her own decision about whether she can make it, realizing that sometimes the answer will be “Sorry, can’t this time.” Go and have your good time without her, invite her next time, and for every two or three “out by us” events you plan, plan one in her neck of the woods. Don’t make a big deal about how “we’ll miss youuuuuuuuuuuu” or “It’s not the same without youuuuuuuuuu” when she can’t come. You will, and it won’t, but stick with “We’d really like you to make it if you can, we understand if you can’t, let us know!”
2) Since there’s a group of you and one of her, could you pool some money into a babysitting fund for some of your times together? You don’t have to make a big deal out of doing that or even let her know that you did it, and you don’t have to do it every single time, but when you’re planning something you really want her to be a part of, try giving her some advance notice and a sincere “I’d really like you to come to my birthday dinner, and I’ll happily pay for a babysitter if that will help you make it.” $10/person is one less drink for y’all, and maybe all the difference in the world for her. Also, you say you’ve all taken turns babysitting so she can go on dates. Have any you ever made the offer to do that so she can go out with y’all? “I’ll watch the Lego Movie again with the 8-year old, bring me back some of those dates wrapped in bacon.”
3) Use “I”, not “we” when and if you talk to her about this. Even if it’s true that you’ve all decided that you’d like her to make more of an effort to come to where you are, if you do talk to her about it, speak for yourself. “I love you, friend, and I want us to stay connected. You know I’m happy to babysit and come to you sometimes, but you’ve never even seen my house, and that hurts my feelings a little bit. What will it take to get you out here? Can we make a plan to meet near you half the time and near me half the time?” It’s tempting to appeal to the authority of the group vs. your own feelings, but that always backfires. It doesn’t make the case better and it makes the person automatically defensive. If she’s the only single person, if she’s the only parent, if she’s the only person who didn’t, ahem, ‘grow up’ and move to the suburbs, if she feels judged and left out by you sometimes, invoking the “we” in this case is going to bring all of the fault lines in your friendship roaring to the surface like an episode of Totally Real, Definitely Not Staged Wealthy Married Ladies Who Competitively Hang Out Together In A City And Ugly Cry On Glamorous Outfits.
I feel like she tells you when she’s lonely or sad that you can’t come to the city, but none of you has necessarily directly expressed that you wish she would come to see you more, so she’s sort of sighing and you’re all sort of rolling your eyes at her, like, “can’t she see what the problem is?” The problem is not getting figured out by itself, she’s not going to intuit how annoyed you are. Next time she says she’s sad, you have an opening to say “I’m sad too. I haven’t known quite how to bring it up, since I know what you go through in finding & paying babysitters, and I want to figure this out without putting more pressure on you. The main thing is, I want to see you more, too, but I’m also limited in how often I can come to you. What do you think would help? Can we make a standing monthly Friend Date, and do half near me and half near you?”
4) Give it time. When something has built up for a bit of time, the way this conflict has in your friend group, remind yourself that while you’ve been annoyed about this for a while, but she only just found out how much. The clock restarts when you tell her it’s a problem. She may have dates already on the calendar that she doesn’t want to cancel, she may have to do a bit of juggling with schedule and funds to make things happen. If it’s still unbalanced in 3-6 months, speak up again, or accept that this friendship is drifting for a bit.
Don’t even mention her dates or her priorities about babysitting money. There’s no need to pass judgment on how she spends her time or her money. Ask your friend, sincerely, if she will meet you halfway on this, do what you can to make it possible for her, and see what happens.