#974: “Social over-commitment: Am I a jerk if I can’t hang out with every nice new person I meet?”

Oh Captain! My Captain!

Hi there, and thanks for running such an awesome blog. I have a question about schedule management and how to (politely) avoid overcommitting myself.

I’m a pretty busy person – I work 4 days a week, but seem to fill my time around this without much effort! I always have a project on the go, I seem to generate quite a bit of life admin (finances, doctors appointments, keeping my house nice, etc.) and I try to stay healthy and alive (lots of sleep, cooking at home, exercise, etc.). I live in a big, buzzing city where there’s always something fun to do and good people to do it with, and I’m non-monogamous, so I have 2 partners I see weekly, plus some ‘comets’ who zoom in and out of my life at various intervals.

Right now, my schedule is mostly dashing from one thing to the next, always worrying about how I’m going to fit everything in, be a good partner/friend/family member/employee and take care of myself as well. I don’t like this – it’s fine on occasion, those days happen – but I mostly want to feel like I’m not letting people down or making people feel like I’m squeezing them in around the rest of my life.

I try not to overcommit, but find it hard to know how to say no to social invites/suggestions for hanging out when 1) the people inviting me are lovely and good company and 2) I don’t have a reason to say no. I’m not busy that day, I just don’t want to say yes to a party or hanging out 3 weeks in advance because I get to that week and find that my calendar is full, getting enough sleep will be a struggle, I won’t see partners/close friends and none of my mundane (but fairly important) self care will get done.

Is there a script for saying no without sounding like a dick? Especially when someone lovely contacts me saying ‘We should hang out more, how about a drink sometime?’ I’d love to say yes, I know we’ll have a good time hanging out, but I’d rather leave that time open for closer friends, partners, personal projects and even a little spontaneity! I don’t want to come across like an asshole who thinks they’re too busy and important to make new friends (and apologies if that’s how I’ve come across in this e-mail!) – I just want to save most of my energy for the people already in my life, who are very important to me. And a little for myself 🙂


Not A Dick, Just Busy
(She/her pronouns)

Dear Just Busy,

I like your question not least because it dovetails nicely with a recent discussion about socializing and inviting people and being invited (#971). Also in between the #thisfuckingguy and the #ihavesomethoughtsaboutmanagingyourreproductivechoices and the #bugsactualbugsohmygod discussions we need some #heytheseareprettygoodproblems threads. So, hello! Welcome!

What I’m reading in your question is a strong desire to enjoy everything your city and your life has to offer, a strong desire to make room for new and wonderful people, and also a need to arrange your schedule so that you can do this more sustainably. And then you need some scripts for declining invitations without being, as you put it, a dick.

The scripts are easy. First principle: Saying “no” to an invitation does not make you a jerk. “No” is not mean. It’s not rude. It’s not wrong. It’s actually the right thing to do if you don’t want to go or can’t make it. People might be disappointed that you can’t make it, but they will handle their disappointment. If you are declining a specific invitation but want to send the message that you’d like to go to something else, another time, try this:

  • “Thank you, that sounds wonderful, but I’m not free that night. Is this a regular event? Can we set something up for next time?”
  • “Thank you, that sounds like a great time, but I have to decline this time. But I’d love to see you – Would you like to meet up on (future alternate day) for (future alternate activity)?”
  • “Thank you for thinking of me, but I don’t play golf. Can I skip that part of the day and join all of you for Wonder Woman screening later?” 
  • “Thanks, I’d love to but this week is really over-scheduled. Can I check my calendar and find a better time? I’d love to hang out with you soon.”
  • The approximate note I wrote Mr. Awkward when he first contacted me on OkCupid: “I really like your profile and I think your pictures are very handsome! I would very much like to go on a date with you, but I am recovering from a gross chest cold. Can I get in touch when I’m less likely to cough on you?

As you rephrase and adapt these for your own uses, let’s talk about structure & steps. If you’d like to be invited again and/or make other plans:

  1. Thank them for the invitation.
  2. Do you need to give a reason*? Sometimes your family is in town and you can’t make any plans for that weekend. Sometimes you need a night off to wash the dog, but you don’t need to send the message “I’d rather be washing the dog than do whatever you invited me to.” Especially since you’re new at and nervous about saying “no thanks,” try being aware of this and practicing doing so without a big apology or over-justifying it.
  3. Express interest and enthusiasm in doing something else.
  4. Actually follow up and make those alternate plans. This is how you actually show that you want to spend time with this person.

Second Principle: It’s okay to prioritize certain people in your life. 

Wanting to spend time with close friends, romantic partners, and yourself doesn’t mean “you’re too busy and important to make new friends.” Or, it does, but it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. There are way, way, way more cool people in the world than I have the time and energy to invest in on a deep bilateral level. It’s okay to have a mix of romantic partners, very close friends/”chosen family,” actual family, situational friends (work friends, Mitzi who you love seeing at Improv Class but do not see otherwise), childhood friends, Facebook friends, friends who live far away, friendships based around sending each other rude .gifs and links to terrible songs, plus a whole host of “I liked talking to you that one time at that event and it’s nice to run into you again!”-people, fans of your creative work, people you vaguely know from Twitter, etc.It’s also okay to like someone a lot and know that you don’t have the bandwidth to get closer. See them when you can see them and enjoy that time. You can be sociable and kind without trying to Kindred Spirit up everyone you meet!

Third principle: If it’s important to you, schedule it.

You seem like a person with a lot of love in your heart, so let’s let’s talk about how to make room for your chosen few and yourself and for the adventure of lovely new people in your busy schedule. There are two very helpful tools or practices for time management and life management that friends have taught me about: “The Time Grid” and “Wife Night.”

The Time Grid is a pretty common and simple time-management tool – there are fancy planners built around it and a therapist or tutor might recommend it to help you keep track of how you spend your time. Some people use iCal or Google Calendar or other apps. I made this version shown below in a word processing program, which I think will be useful for you because it shows the whole week:

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 8.44.56 AM
Image description: A screencap of a blank table that shows the days of the week across the top and times of day from 7am to 11pm in the left column.

To use it, print out a couple of copies on a piece of paper. Use a pencil to block out the commitments that you know you have in a given week (work days and appointments and social commitments you’ve already scheduled). Also pencil in routine things, like the time you spend getting ready and commuting. I always suggest observing what’s happening before you try to change what’s happening, so if you do decide to use this tool, maybe just use it to track how you do spend your time for a couple of weeks. Fill it out without judging it or interrogating it for a couple of weeks and then compare and see what you found out.

  • Where are you spending your social units?
  • What are you forgetting to account for (solo time, exercise, reading, relaxing, the whole business of making and eating food)?
  • Is there something you wish you were doing with time that you’re not doing now? Where could you fit it in?

Once you have some data about how you do spend your time, and you’ve thought a little bit about how you want to use your time, use the grid (or app, or planner of your choice) as a planning tool. Like so:

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 10.27.09 AM
Image description: Same grid as above, filled out with a made-up sample schedule of different-colored blocks of time for work, leisure, social time. 

This is a made-up sample for discussion purposes, not a prescription for what anyone’s schedule should look like and certainly not what mine looks like. Some notes/questions:

If you live with your partner you’d see them every day, or maybe they’d sleep over or you’d sleep over more nights than just the one, but is there a dedicated “we hang out together during non-bed-hours” night in your schedule? I put one into the sample.

Are there regular social things you do – sports or choir or performing arts or class or hobby? I put two of those into the sample on weeknights.

There are some sample red-purple blocks called “Open Time.” Some weeks those might involve a lot of creative or personal project work. Some weeks those might involve a lot of housework, or sleep, or solo time, or more time with a partner & good TV, or kicking ass in a video game. Additionally, when you find those blocks in your schedule, you might carve one out as “Social-Catch-Up” time or “New People, New Experiences” time, as in, “Thanks for the invitation, that sounds great, but I’m not free. Can we do something soon? Thursdays are usually good nights for me to schedule something.

Which brings us to “Wife Night.

“Wife Night” is a semi-ironic take on Judy Brady’s classic feminist essay “I Want A Wife.” My friends B. and L. came up with it when they lived together as roommates and B. continued it when she lived alone. It is a night set aside every week to take care of routine home-and self-maintenance tasks i.e. act as your own “Wife” – In the 1950s fantasy sense of that word. You’re free to reject ironic gender-essentialism and name it anything you want to, but if you wish to institute it here’s what it could look like:

  • Pick one sacred night of the week and block it out for solitude and getting stuff done.
  • Put on some good music.
  • Turn off/tune out of your cell phone/the internet/emails/texts/interruptions except for scheduled short breaks.
  • Feed yourself something delicious and nutritious.
  • Plan the week: Meals, clothes, social stuff, money, errands, calls/emails that need returned, RSVPs. What has to be done?
  • Pay bills, check on your various financial affairs.
  • Do the “little stuff” that accumulates.What would be nice to get done but never actually gets done because you’re too busy? Sew a stray button on, put air in your bike tires, hang up that piece of art you keep meaning to hang up, clean and oil your leather boots, address & stamp your grandma’s birthday card for dropping in the mail tomorrow, etc. If you don’t get to all of the tasks this week, cool – add them to the list for future Wife Nights.
  • Water the plants.
  • Be nice to your body (whatever that means to you).
  • If you can manage it, put clean sheets on the bed, swap out dirty towels for clean ones, scoop out the litter box, and make sure you go to bed with no dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.
  • I’m pretty sure B. puts on pearls and wears a jaunty apron at least some of the time for Wife Night. She’s a designer by trade, so I’m equally sure she is sometimes using power tools and/or literally inventing a new kind of process or tool or device. As always, your mileage may vary.

Letter Writer, I hope this helps. Plot out your time so you know what your schedule looks like. Make space for the people closest to you. Leave a little wiggle room so you can connect with new people. Schedule solitude so you can take care of yourself. Answer invitations sincerely and without guilt for when you have to say no. Give yourself breathing room and lots of chances to get it right.

*Especially with parties and Facebook invites: The hosts need the information that you can’t attend more than they need a description of why you can’t attend on the event wall. Click the “not going” button and move on! If you need to tell the person “Ugh, I want to come to the premiere of your one-woman-show but I’m in a wedding that day. I’m so proud of you and I’ll be thinking of you, break a leg!” contact them privately.

147 thoughts on “#974: “Social over-commitment: Am I a jerk if I can’t hang out with every nice new person I meet?”

  1. I’m an overscheduler as well and tend to schedule myself to exhaustion (three volunteer things and a couple standing friend dates, plus a dog, take up most of my free time)- I have several periphery friends that I really like but I don’t prioritize. When they ask to make plans for something in the future, my answer is usually “I have some loose plans that weekend, can I follow up with you as it gets closer? I can get back to you once I confirm them”. That way, I’m giving myself an out if I feel exhausted by people (or get a better offer, which sounds awful, but happens) but not closing the door on them completely if I want to hang out.

    1. I’ve been on the receiving end of this a lot and want to throw out there that this can make it hard for the other person to make alternate plans with someone who has the time and inclination to hang out. I’m not saying that it’s a bad strategy to do every once in a while, or for events like parties where you’re sure other people are going to show up, but for anyone who is thinking about taking this up as a technique, maybe make sure that you’re not doing it too often to the same person? It can be especially hard on someone who is trying to build up a social circle and isn’t lucky enough to have the “too many friends, not enough time” problem.

  2. One corollary to “Express interest and enthusiasm in doing something else / Actually follow up” that has worked well for me: I find one-on-one interactions very intense, and I don’t always have the emotional capacity to do that for new people in my life, so having the alternate plans be coffee / a drink / a meal doesn’t always work for me. BUT I love to throw parties! So when I have new people in my life I want to make alternate plans with, sometimes the alternate plan is just inviting them to whatever shindig I’m throwing that month.

    This has the virtue of being low-pressure for both me and them: it’s cool if they don’t make it, and if they do make it, we can have a few shorter conversations in which I figure out whether or not this is someone I want to have a longer conversation with. This also helped me weed out someone who wasn’t a good fit for friendship — they only ever wanted to meet me one on one, and eventually we parted ways because it just wasn’t a good friend match. No shade on that person! We just weren’t friend-compatible.

    (Also, “Wife Night” is an amazing concept and I’m totally going to try that!)

    1. Holy crap this is brilliant. I love the idea of throwing parties but it stresses me out when All My Friends I Want To See can’t make it. So, duh, parties should be for something else! GENIUS.

    2. My housemate does this too. It used to be Sunday Roast every couple of weeks where he’d invite our mutual close friends and whoever else any of us wanted to see for coffee but never have the energy/time/chance to. It was great because we were guaranteed the bare minimum of us, our other housemate and our three close buddies, but if more people showed up that was great too. Kind of takes that one-on-one pressure off, and you can have multiple new people at each party so yay efficiency!

    3. I was going to suggest regular parties too. Besides the direct benefits, anyone who can’t accept ‘My life is crazy busy, so I like to make a slots where I can be sure to see all the lovely people I struggle to manage time with’ is someone who wants a different kind if friendship from the kind it’s possible for you to offer anyway. It might streamline things a bit!

  3. I have SO many amazing people that I have been fortunate enough to meet, and like 90% of them I see only on Facebook. (waves at at least one person who comments on this blog) The fact is there is just TOO much, and everyone understands that too much is a thing that happens. Awesome people orbit around awesome people and eventually there are too many awesome people to be friends with or see regularly. You have to take care of yourself. It’s OK.

    One thing that I would suggest if you feel like it is something you would enjoy is actually hosting some regular plans. Like maybe once a month, or once every quarter, you have a “drink all the booze left in your house” party or a “Bring meat and grill it on my grill” party or “Lets all go to this cool place and enjoy activity” party.

    This is nice because you can include your close friends and your less close friends and any comets that happen to be in town and cool people you just happened to meet. It can give you a chance to get to spend a little time with all these people, and also show that you are interested in getting to know them better. If they can’t make it, they can’t make it, but you tried! And sometimes that is what counts.

    I had a friend for a while who hosted parties on the regular and while they moved away, I still talk to some of the people that I met at those events! (One of them is my voice teacher now!)

    This is obviously a not for everyone option. I personally like organizing parties and planning events. Having control over the situation makes me feel less trapped into something I don’t feel like doing. (Though there have been times where I have been like “WHY DID I AGREE TO THIIIIIS” )

    One idea I loved was a “Cook book club” that I read about. They basically did regular meetings where everyone would make a recipe from the same cook book. And they all cooked and ate weird stuff that they never thought they would and took turns hosting. I would LOVE to do something like that, it sounds really fun and a great way to spend time with a larger group of people. (Chicago meetup idea?)

    1. I just looked up cook book club and I’m dying to try it–I just need to rustle up enough local (Seattle) friends who are up for semi-adventurous cooking and eating! Thank you for mentioning it.

  4. I find myself wondering if I wrote this letter in my sleep. LW, I am also a happily busy, 4-day working, lots of hobbies, lots of social connection kind of person (although I’m not currently dating anyone).

    I think the captain’s answer was really useful re: Saying ‘no’ doesn’t making you a jerk, and prioritizing certain people doesn’t make you a jerk. It doesn’t. I also think it’s reasonable and actually kind to tell people that certain things are just never going to make it to the top of your priority list. It’s not nice to say “_you’re_ not a priority to me,” or “_you’re_ never going to be that important to me,” but I think it’s okay to say other true things about your priorities. I’ve been on both sides of this and I think it works well:

    Scene 1: I recently had a see-them-at-class-only friend ask me to let them know if I’m ever in the neighbourhood because they’d like to get coffee or something, and while I do like this person fine, I’m not looking to add them to the rotation of people I take extra time to see. So what I said to them was, “that sounds like fun, and I’ll definitely let you know if I’m free, but honestly I’m not generally in this neighbourhood unless I’m here for Class so I’ll probably just see you there.”

    Scene 2: After having tea with a friend who lives in a big city an hour from my smaller city, that friend said to me, “It was really nice to see you and I’d love to see you again soon. The reality is that I never come to Small City, but any time you’re in Big City anyway and have some free time, let me know.” That felt like a really fair and kind expression of boundaries. It didn’t leave me waiting for a visit from her that would never come, and she made it clear that she knew that it meant we probably wouldn’t see very much of each other, but still expressed good will and interest.

    I think it’s kinder to tell people, “It’s not that I don’t like you, but here are the realistic odds of us actually hanging out” than to keep telling them “later! I promise another time!” when that time isn’t likely to come.

    1. OMG yes this exactly this. Though i have also had this go badly with people who can’t accept that i am being realistic about my available resources so they can know what to expect or not, and get super insulted. It all seems to come back to, does a person accept that everyone has the innate right to have their boundaries be wherever they are, even if that feels sad or disappointing or whatever, or do they not accept that and feel entitled and pissed.

    2. Scene 1 and your last paragraph: I just did this, this week and I was SO PROUD OF MYSELF for not being wishy-washy and Midwestern Conflict Avoidant. I had a interacted-once-briefly friend reach out to me to ask if I (1) wanted to meet up to do Thing We Met At again this year, and also if I’d like to do (2) Weekly Summer Thing with them. I said yes to Thing 1 because it was a thing I was likely to do anyway, and no to Thing 2 because it was too geographically inconvenient to do every week, at least for someone I wasn’t *seriously* interested in developing a deeper connection with.

  5. I am not offended if people say no. What is annoying is when people don’t respond at all or back out at the last minute. You are not a bad person for saying no as long as you give an answer and don’t leave people hanging (and “maybe” can be an answer). Often I just want someone to do something with, and if you can’t or don’t want to, I will find someone else!

    1. Yes, this. In spades. There is nothing worse when it comes to friendship than someone who leaves you hanging, at least IMHO. Unless it’s a “friend” who lies to you about something hurtful and then expects you to forget about it and just go on instead of apologizing.

    2. Or, if you aren’t sure if you can make a thing — you have something before that might or might not run long, or you just are feeling socialed out and want to give yourself the option of Not Socializing With Humans that day in case you need it — it’s often the kindest thing to be (unspecifically) upfront about that. “Can I play this by ear? I’d love to come, but I probably won’t know until that day if I can make it. So if you need a solid number, I’ll opt out and join the next thing, but if flexible numbers are okay, count me as a maybe.”

      And then they can say “Cool, we’ll see you if we see you!” or “I want to make a reservation, so I kind of need to know numbers by the 10th, sorry,” or whatever.

      It’s not the best thing to do all the time — unless that’s just genuinely always going to be your socializing style, in which case that’s totally fair but it’s still worth being upfront about it so people can be upfront in return about them needing to pre-plan — and it generally works better with a group gathering than a one-on-one thing. But once in a while, it can be really helpful for everyone to know what to expect for whether or not to expect you.

    3. Yeah, I had someone I wanted to date who was like that.

      After a year of perpetually being left hanging and having extreme anxiety that only got worse every time I asked, I just stopped asking. I’ve seen the guy once since then. Not even sure he noticed, to be perfectly honest. More than a year later, I’ve unfriended him on social media etc, because you just *aren’t* a friend if you live in the same city and you haven’t bothered to reach out in more than a year. And if you can’t plan for shit and/or if I’m just not in your huge list of priorities, then we don’t need to make any effort to be friends.

      I’d rather hear “no, I’m busy” or “no, that’s not my thing” or “no, realistically I just don’t have the time for this right now” than ……ssssssiiiiilence and then a “maybe?”

      Fuck silence and a maybe.

      Say no. Or say maybe, but your maybe actually has to mean *maybe*, not just “There’s no way, I can’t say no to people” or “I like the idea but it’s honestly never going to happen”.

  6. No advice for this letter writer but I wanted to say I LOVE the concept of having a “Wife Night.” As usual, dear Captain, you’ve thrown in something awesome not only for the letter writer but the rest of us as well. thanks!

  7. I feel this question a lot and I should maybe try the week grid again, but having everything scheduled out like this makes me feel suffocated. Even while I know routines are supportive, I FEEL like I want spontaneity (and the ability to adjust each day on the fly around anxiety levels and available spoons). I know in theory that thinking less about my schedule should give me more freedom, but I haven’t figured out how to soothe that part of my subconscious that feels panicky about being committed to Doing Stuff, even if it’s Stuff I myself decided to do.

    I also have a hard time sticking with a plan like this, meaning way more often than not, it’s date night but I didn’t get work done so I’m thinking about that, or I went to yoga class but couldn’t stop thinking about how I had to run that errand, or whatever. I keep toning down my commitments and saying “no” to things, but I really wonder if it’s less that I’m overcommitted and more that I’m not able to pick one thing to do and be fully present with that. Or that having to transition between different things is hard for me and makes me feel frazzled.

    I’m wondering if that’s familiar to anyone else, and if so, how do you convince your brain to want to do the right things at the times you’ve decided?

    1. I was recently having this conversation with boyfriend, who is very anti schedule/anti tracking/anti planning. Our lives are currently separate enough that it affects me very little, but it comes up around budgeting or when we compare approaches to non-work time. He says all the time that he doesn’t want to plan because he wants life to be spontaneous. My experience is (for me), the opposite of planning is stasis, not spontaneous change or adventure. It came up recently after he had a block of time and afterwards was feeling regret that he did not make progress/experience/do any of the things he had planned or dreamed of doing with the time. All that to say, would it help to consider after the fact rather than before, in your process of convincing yourself? After a day or a week, do you feel like you got to the things you wanted to do? Did you spend the time the way you wanted to or in a way that reflected your loves and goals and hopes and plans? If so maybe your system’s working for you and doesn’t need a change in structure. But if not, maybe engaging with whether you feel satisfied or well served is a way to make sticking to the thing you planned feel like an act of living your best life rather than something that squashes your freedom and joy? After an unstructured day did you feel liberated or like all your experiences were affected by remembering what else to manage or that errand you have to run while you’re at yoga? I keep a planner that has a built in monthly version of this (it’s called the Passion Planner, the name is the worst but the set up is the best) and it’s been such a good quick tool for me to just remember what I wanted to be doing this month and check it against what I actually did and why they didn’t line up and how I feel about that.

      1. That’s a good framing! I think part of what’s going on is that I need big chunks of unstructured time to feel recharged, but I do feel guilty for not doing Things. So there’s a tension between trying to figure out how much to let myself off the hook and how much to push myself. :/

        1. I feel you on this. I also need lots of unstructured time. Sometimes I just want to watch crap TV for a while. But then I will once again want to DO THINGS.

          One way I solve this for myself is to try to group up “Scheduled stuff” and “unscheduled stuff.” So I only go to Yoga or Dance directly after work. I do the same with my voice lessons. If I know I have an errand to run, I plan to run a BUNCH OF ERRANDS all at once. I tend to block off time on a day to catch up on work stuff, and do laundry or some other boring stuff for a few hours. But then after that I can do whatever I want.

          Also I find keeping track of the things I need to get done, and doign some advance planning frees up a lot of space in my brain. If I know I have a plan for when i will run an errand or when I will do things I don’t need to worry about it. It’s going to get done tomorrow.

          I also feel trapped by a paper schedule though. While I will put stuff that involves appointments with other people on my work calendar so I don’t forget them, everything else stays in my brain or in a “to do list” type app. Sometimes I will create reminders for things I think I will forget, but I don’t like to block time formally because it does make me feel trapped. (Even if I know I can perfectly well ignore it.)

          The thing I always remind myself about yoga or dance or any of my other extracurricular is that if I don’t feel like it, I can just not go. I am the adult I am the boss of me. Saying I’m going to go to the botanical gardens Sunday and then deciding I don’t want to because there is water coming out of my eyes from pollen is a choice I get to make. (As is taking a zyrtec and powering through.)

          I am the boss of my schedule, I can skip things that are overburdening me if I need to. I can prioritize my to do list however is comfortable and managable for me. I am the person who has to deal with the consequences too, so i know best what to do when.

          Not sure if any of this helps. But I hate feeling like I have no say at work so reminding myself that I have a say at home helps me.

          1. It may seem silly but I schedule spontaneity. Seriously. I’ll block out time on my calendar as “do nothing time” in which I DON’T schedule something and use it for whatever I want.

          2. Ditto to what S said – one thing I get out ot planning is that when I have unstructured time or free time I’ve got the sense of accomplishment about having done the things on the list or the schedule and it’s truly free time. It’s a bit like procrastinating at school or work for me – if I’m futzing around and the deadline is looming I can only feel so relaxed. If the thing is submitted, all my leisure time is really leisure time? But also I think people are pretty individual around guilt and free time tendencies so that’s probably not universal. For LW conceptualizing or planning time for closely held social commitments (including with yourself) might reduce the anticipatory stress of accepting invites from others in the near-distant future? Everyone/thing is taken care of (including self) and so it might feel like more freedom even though there’s the same amount of time.

        2. Yes I am like this too (UGH! frustrating!). I do what S says with the “scheduled stuff” and “unscheduled stuff”, and also I do what Commander Banana says with the scheduling time “unschedulued”, like, I need a whole day on my own so I block that in my calendar, and I know that that needs to include at least one meal, and being out of the house so I don’t just veg out at the computer/tv,

          To get more comfortable being where I am (as opposed to doing soemething but being anxious about something different) I have worked on this a lot. some things that helped:
          1. my yoga teachers have been really good about explicitly stating: “thank you for coming here, it’s a gift for yourself, let go of all other worries and concerns for the next hour.” stuff like that. I try to remember it throughout the class, just returning to it again & again if I keep forgetting. And then I can eventually start to do that with all other activities too. But lbr it took me a LONG TIME, like, months, and the trick is huge patience and love for yourself, and just returning to it. Tons of practice, like, months or years for me.
          2. I have a reminder phrase “every moment anew” (which is kind of wonky so change it for however it works for you) — it means that if I’m spinning in a certain anxious mode, I can take any individual moment and change to something different. I try to use this so I don’t lose a whole hour or a whole day to a stressful worry / rumination.
          3. Know what you like. Write written lists of what you KNOW makes you feel good, accomplished, relaxed, what helps you. And know that it is good and necessary for you to do those things, so that everything else in your life will go more smoothly. (My doctor told me to do some of those things so I consider that a literal doctor’s prescription, which, is somehow easier for me to accept than just doing it for myself?) Let these lists remind you of what actually helps you, and then force yourself to do them sometimes (even though a big part of your brain will tell you that you do not “want” to or you “can’t”.) And then while you are doing it, keep returning to noticing what it is that you love about those activities, in a real five-senses kind of way.
          4. “Enter as you wish to be” Havi Brooks at The Fluent Self* talks about the concept of figuring out how you *want* to feel when you start a new class, a new section of the day, a new task etc. How do you wish you would feel doing it? What could you do, to help make that feeling happen? Then do those things. 🙂 This is one of those things that sounds simple and like it wouldn’t work but turned out to be paradigm-shifting when I actually tried it.

          *an excellent resource with helpful concrete suggestions and Helpful Deep Thoughts for folks dealing with anxiety-levels, brain-weasels, etc

      2. My husband used to be like that with not wanting to make plans. Finally I said, we need to have a firm idea of what we’re going to do for a day at least the night before otherwise we will a) sleep late because we don’t have plans yet and don’t need to wake up, b) have to figure out what we want to do in which case we will not actually get to the thing until early afternoon at the latest, and c)most likely not get going with enough time to actually do the thing, get home at a reasonable time, or be able to enjoy it fully. I get your frustration.

        1. YES. Realizing how long it took me to figure out what i was going to do was mindblowing. I was like, geez, no WONDER I’m always late to everything!

    2. A few years ago I trained as an MBTI practitioner and that distinction is one of the big four used in MBTI. Obviously there are lots of criticisms of MBTI, and I’m not here to praise or defend it, but the dichotomy of “I feel safe and happy when stuff is scheduled/too much spontaneity stresses me” vs. “I like to keep stuff spontaneous / seeing everything scheduled makes me feel stifled and stressed out” is real enough that every group or team has found tons to say about it. So I’d say you’re definitely not alone!

      1. Thank you. I’ve seen some somewhat judgemental comments about how it’s not that hard to make and stick to commitments, and if you can’t do it, you’re RUDE.

        No. We’re just not compatible.

        1. I’ve internalized so much of that judgment over the years and I’m still struggling to untangle that. All the comments reframing it as a personality difference have been so validating and helpful!

    3. I feel you. For me, I experience this feeling of “pressure” from upcoming commitments that makes it hard to enjoy other things beforehand. Like, I can’t squeeze in an errand or a little game time or a book because WHAT IF I MAKE MYSELF LATE BECAUSE I LOST TRACK OF TIME. Just to pick one example.
      So I avoid making myself late, and more importantly, anxious thoughts ABOUT being late, by not planning a lot of scheduled stuff. If it’s meant to be FUN, it should not make me stress, is the reasoning here.

      Every week being solidly planned out like that would make me scream, tbh.

      I’ve found that a hard limit on the number and type of Strictly Scheduled activities is the best approach for me. One or two meetups and sport/hobby thing per week, maybe. at most.

      I also have lot of time blocks right after something else as vague “maybe social stuff can happen here” so I can tell myself “I’ll go to the thing, and if we go for a meal afterward then great. If we don’t, that’s an extra hour of free time”

      Less commitment, more mentally labelling things with multiple contigent uses?

    4. one thing that helps me is using a pencil and giving myself permission to erase things. It feels less like I’m beholden to my calendar if I allow myself the flexibility to easily move things around on it. If I’ve scheduled myself to go grocery shopping and I’d really rather just stay home and keep working on my knitting project, fine. I’ll do that. but I’ll still go to my calendar and erase the “goto grocery store” block off of it, write in “knitting” instead, and place that grocery store block somewhere else.

      It might be that I go to my calendar to erase “grocery store,” and see, “oh shit, I’m spending tomorrow with friend from out of town! if I don’t shop now, I’ll have to cut time with her short,” and decide I’ll just go to the store after all. but then I’m still making the spontaneous decision in the moment of whether or not to go to the store, I’m just doing it with the more complete information of what all the other stuff I need to get done is.

      1. Using a pencil for these kinds of things is something I only just started doing, and it is so, so much easier on me mentally to be able to erase something. I’ll use a pen for things that are immovable (bdays, work meetings, people coming in from out of town, etc.), but pencil for everything else, and it has helped so much. Esp. with vacation itinerary planning.

        John Mulaney may have said it best: in terms of instant relief, cancelling plans is like heroin.

    5. I am probably more into routines than you, but I do have some advice for using a week grid without feeling crushed by the number of things you HAVE to be doing (I scheduled self care alone time right now, I have exactly two hours to relax. Right now. Okay, hurry up and start relaxing!)

      I have two colors for my block grid calendar: real scheduled events and probably-block-some-time-off-for-this events. The latter reminds me to set aside time for things without having the same weight as scheduled places I have to be and things I have to do. I also block off ridiculous amounts of time for the second option so that I remember I should do chores some time on Sunday, but don’t feel like past-me is breathing down my neck forcing me to vacuum at exactly 3:15.

    6. I am a person who starts feeling suffocated/trapped when I have a schedule that is covering my time, even if/when some of the blocks say me-time, free-time or anything like that. I have a limited and changeable amount of energy, and a dread of coming up to a planned thing with no ability to follow through or without the will to do so. Powering through often leaves me drained and without having enjoyed the thing.

      I have very different reactions to routines/structures depending on whether they are… something I force on myself or something that comes out of how my life works, and sometimes it is very hard explaining to people why it can both be true that yes, I would be much better off having some particular structure and no, it would not work at all if I force myself into that structure, so I have to let it be unstructured for now.

      It got much worse after some serious struggle with exhaustion, but is slowly getting better again, partially because I’ve let routines and structures be something that grows slowly around me as I get ready to deal with some particular area of my life, and partially because I have given up on trying to take on more “structuring” of myself, “self-improvement” or “life-enhancing activities” than I actually feel ready and happy to try at a certain point.

      Yes, it does mean that it has taken me a long long time to get back to doing creative projects, keeping in touch with friends and so on, but it also means I no longer run myself into the wall several times a year. I just want so much more than I can manage, and my inspiration/ will/ determination/ perfectionism can run me ragged very easily if I start running with any or all of them.

      I have to respect that for me progress works like an automatic revolving door, that moving too quickly or out of time with those openings won’t help me get anywhere quicker, it will just shut the whole thing down for a time.

      So I guess what I wanted to say is… maybe it could work to start small, and where/when you are ready in a way that feels manageable? With small successes come greater confidence, and with a more… forgiving attitude towards progress and “improvement”, more spoons may be available when you’re not spending them on the very expensive project of trying to force yourself to do things you’re not really ready for. Many of my spoons used to be spent on mental/emotional turmoil, frustration and fear, and when I learnt how to… deal with that better, those spoons actually became availble for me to use on other stuff. Over time, it evolves.

      Unfortunately it’s just recently that I’ve reached the point where I can see that I’m getting ready to try planning more things and learning how to go through with them without hurting myself, so I have not really any tried advice on how to convince oneself to do the things one planned even when one doesn’t feel like it or is afraid of the spoon-cost. I just know that up until now it was more important for me to conserve and grow more spoons than it was to learn that.

    7. I’m the same – this would suffocate me, and drive my anxiety through the roof. I need to be able to allocate spoons on a day-to-day basis (go easy if I’m short, tackle tough stuff when I have spares).

      What I tend to do is to write a short diary entry in the morning what I plan to do that day, and log any important things I did, which gives me a chance see how I actually spent my day.

      It might also help to keep a list – physical or in your head – of things you might want to do. This won’t work for things you do with others, but ‘that’s a cool place to check out/park to visit’ means that if the sun shines, I have nothing urgent to do, and I feel like going out, I don’t have to then research where I might want to go. Instead, I can look at my list of cool places and pick one.

    8. I will never stop recommending the book Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Adult ADHD: Targeting Executive Dysfunction. (Heads up that it’s a clinical manual). It talks about this! It recommends starting by putting “free time” or “anything” or “downtime” on the schedule. A lot of people (especially if you are targeting your executive dysfunction) don’t actually have downtime – they/we tend to stew in a sea of possibilities and worries and maybes and perhapses, where we’re constantly shuffling and reshuffling the same ten priorities in our brains.

      One thing that I really loved about this book is that it discussed how ADHD/ADD clients are usually terrified of making both to-do lists and schedules, because often people with executive function problems, for whatever reason, don’t feel as much reward from getting things done but they feel a lot of anxiety about things that they need to do. And then they/we tend to make these elaborate, aspirational to-do lists and calendars where every single moment of every single day is chock-full, which sets you up for CLEAN ALL THE THINGS! style failure. So a schedule becomes another object reminding you of failures, instead of a helpful way to at least structure your dread so that you don’t feel it all the time.

      One way to approach this is to keep the schedule, and then update it as you don’t do things, as gently and non-judgmentally as possible. I wrote “go to the park” and I didn’t have the spoons. I was supposed to work from 8-5 but I went home sick with a migraine. That is FINE. That is okay! You cross out “work 8-5” and write down “went home with migraine”, and then you write “recover from migraine” until the next morning. There! You did exactly what you were supposed to do with the schedule: record how to use time. The entire point is to have the schedule, not to use it to beat yourself up with when all those 5:45 AM: GYM squares turn out to give way to “slept for 8 hours” squares.

    9. I moved cities within the past year for graduate school and have only recently fallen into a schedule regular enough to fit in a weekly calendar. I don’t use a planner. I do have a pretty strong sense of what any given day is going to look like. This happened after a year of getting to know a set of close friends, another set of good friends, and getting to a point in my school related obligations where I now know what I am likely to do on any given day. I have a few regularly scheduled events with friends, ie Wednesday night trivia and Friday dinner. Those don’t change, and I know that I’ll see (most of) each friend group at those events, so I can schedule the rest of my time around that. It’s flexible enough that I can plan other events any night of the week I want, and I don’t feel guilty or FOMO for missing one week of trivia because I know I’ll see them again next time. Bonus: Since a bunch of people are all together at trivia or dinner, new plans often emerge from these evenings. Double bonus: Trivia (or a similar event) is nebulous enough that a new friend is often welcome to join. And the rest of the week I can be as “spontaneous” as I want, even though that often means acting on plans I made during one of the aforementioned get togethers.

  8. No comment on the LW, who seems keen on not being a dick, so cheers to you, LW!

    But here’s my take on the other side, when the Friend is not as concerned about dickishness.

    I have a friend like this, (actually two, if we are being honest) and it is hard to be on the other side of it. She has two kids, a job she travels for (can’t do much about those two things) but also plays in two bands, has a serious boyfriend who is a big priority, and loves trivia night at a couple of local bars, and does two Salsa classes a week. Which she says are, “For me! So much of what I do is for everyone else!” Okay, fair.

    But I rarely saw her, no matter how open I was (“I can meet you for lunch, or BRING you lunch to your office. Just whatever as long as we can visit!”) Nope. Busy. We worked two blocks from each other in downtown City for 18 months. Never had time.

    And when I finally moved away from our city, in part because I never felt truly connected there… I didn’t see her for the full month I was staying in a hotel in her neighborhood before I left. Too busy, and ‘other things came up.’ Other things meaning, other things that were a better offer than hanging with an old friend before she moved away.

    Shrug. Just my personal experience, take it for what you will. Again, no knock on LW. Disregard if this comment is out of line.

    1. that really sucks, but i think it probably also says something about a mismatch in investment in the relationship? i can be supremely busy, but when people are VERY important to me i work some magic and make time, and when they are Only Sort of Important it can be ….years, if the stars don’t allign. it sucks to find out through actions when someone isn’t prioritizing you, but it can also be kind of freeing if you decide to reinveste your energy in people with whom there is better reciprocity ❤

    2. I have a friend whom is dear to me, but we live very different lifestyles. I have carer and work commitments that she doesn’t have as a single lady with a wealthy family, so I don’t have the time to do the freewheeling impulsive stuff she wants to do.

      I tried to create meet ups that work for us but they weren’t the friendship she wanted and I realised I could never have the time to give that she needed. She was always resentful and wanting to spend more time together. I would dread not being able to yes to her and she’d complain.

      In the end, she got upset and began to blank me. I wish I could tell her that it’s not personal, but she has taken it very much to heart. I have tried but she won’t listen.

      1. I so appreciate reading this! I had a somewhat similar dynamic in a not-quite-the-same situation, with a friend who was new in town and trying very hard to build her friend group, and had in all areas of her life Expectations that She Should Get What She Wants The Way She Wants. Her pace for how often we got together and her importance-in-full-scheme-of-life-things of our friendship were very different from mine, and as she got more demanding and resentful, i felt more pulled on and uncomfortable and guilted and icky, and wanted less and less to even do anything with her at all – no matter what i did it would be insufficient and she would not be satisfied and would want more right away.

        It came to a head when it didn’t work for me to change a plan as she’d requested and i was working on saying no without having to justify. “That isn’t going to work later that day and in that other place, so let’s look at next week” got “You can’t or you don’t want to?”. (I had committed to myself to spend the few hours before my therapy sessions focusing on how to use them instead of dashing in from Busyness and taking half the time to land there. Didn’t want to share that with her and should not have had to – though, if she hadn’t pushed but had accepted my boundary i might have done so later on.) Me:”I feel like you’re pushing on my boundaries and it does not make we want to draw closer to you.” Her: “I DID NOT BREACH YOUR BOUNDARIES!”. Me (to self): We’re done here.

        Months later she wrote me to say she missed me and asked if we could try to get back what we had. My gut reaction was a violent no, i was so relieved not to be pulled on constantly by demands i didn’t want to try to meet, i did not want to go back in there. Wrote a very gentle african violet of friendship response, and have been shunned extravagantly and hostilely in our shared community ever since – over 4 years.

        That experience really taught me how i do not do well with people (mainly women – yes, it’s a thing that started with my sister in childhood) who approach my friendship/time as a thing they are owed and i am going to be Letting Them Down and A Bad Person if i do not give all they feel entitled to, and if i get even a whiff of that vibe i just don’t want to go there. I try to be scrupulous about keeping my agreements and re-negotiating in good faith and with apology if i can’t, but no one’s entitled to my time and attention if i don’t want to and haven’t agreed to give it, and when they think they are i react badly.

        It’s also been a good (and, embarrassingly, sometimes needed) reminder to me to check myself for feeling and god forbid, acting, that way to others. Not everyone will like or want or have/make time for or prioritize me as much as i do them. When it does actually line up it’s kind of a rare gift, yay! When it doesn’t, i try to give them space and see if/what/how much they _do_ want with me, and do that (if i want to, or not if it doesn’t feel good at that level).

        1. Oh, the entitlement. I African Violeted a friend years ago who felt entitled to all of my time…all of my kids’ time…all of my resources…and even after I ended the friendship she persisted with calling and asking for favors, and then trying to back me into a corner when I said no. Personally, I have a huge problem with entitled people. It’s interesting that you’ve identified it as a “thing.”

          Some people are just not compatible as friends.

      2. I think the difference between my situation and yours is that, you tried. You offered alternatives that you thought would work for both of you. In my case, neither friend offered up much at all, so… there’s only so much I am going to do. It’s a two way street.

    3. It sounds like your friend could be a dick or…they just might not be good at telling you that they’re not interested in the level of friendship that you want? I’m not saying that doesn’t suck to be on the receiving end of, but people are allowed to not want to be friends with you, and that’s not really being a dick.

      1. sure, i can get down with this. i do think that continuously promising to get together or making plans and then bailing or saying that you really miss them! or want to do this fun thing! but never actually following through *is* a dick move. if you aren’t that interested in that level of friendship, cool. then back up, and stop agreeing to do things or making plans (even tentative ones, like, “let’s get coffee next weekend!” *follows up* jk) that don’t reflect that.

    4. Policychick, you sound like a lovely friend.

      I have a husband and two kids (ditched the job I traveled for) and more nights and weekends than not are blocked out for Kid-the-first’s general/overcoming ADD therapy, (autistic) kid-the-second’s ABA/developmental pediatrician/IEP meeting/follow-up-meeting-about-issue. My one thing “For Me!” is karate … and I only do that if there’s an adult class or open dojo when my kids are in.

      If I had a friend nearby offer to bring me lunch; no matter how distant a friend, I would say yes!

      I’m sorry that this happened to you. Right now lunch is one of the only times I can connect with other adults, and it’s lovely. Lunch out doesn’t have to be more than 90 minutes (and I can swing that by coming in early, or working through lunch on another day that week). I hope you are better connected where you are now.

    5. I feel you. I don’t think you’re out of line; I felt a twinge of the same thing when I read the letter. I’ve been the “tertiary character friend” in someone’s life before, and I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t “level up.” It took me a while to realize that if I wanted a BFF or close-as-siblings friends, I needed to start from scratch with someone else. And it’s a really painful realization because while it’s not romantic, it’s sort of like realizing your love is unrequited and there’s nothing you can do about it.

      I’ve been reading Rahul Kanakia’s “The War On Loneliness” recently, and it has been helping me put some of these things into perspective.

      1. Unrequited love, indeed. And being told, more or less directly, ‘you’re not important enough for me to make room in my schedule’ hurts more when the person is someone you have a connection with – you go to the same events, you spend a good amount of that talking and laughing, they seem to like you… but not enough to have a coffee with you.

        And as with romantic dates, moving on and finding people who *are* interested (they exist!) is the only way forward. Doesn’t quite remove the sting, but that’s life.

        1. Exactly 🙂

          I think there’s this idea that since friendship is non-exclusive (that is, people generally have more than one friend), then if someone rejects your overtures of friendship it’s because you specifically did something wrong or you are somehow off-putting. But, like this LW says, a lot of the people she can’t make time for are awesome, and would make lovely friends for other people. So, in that way, it’s a lot like romance.

  9. If you don’t want to schedule things far in advance but you’re generally interested/not already overwhelmed, a good script might be “Thanks for the invite but I’m not sure I’ll be available – when do you need to know by/can you check in with me closer to the date?”.

  10. I’m always way more likely to be annoyed by someone flaking than by someone saying “Sorry, can’t make it to [X occasion].” And by “flaking,” I mean, saying you’re going to be somewhere and then no-showing without communicating about it, because I totally grok that shit happens, sometimes even last-minute shit. For myself, if some last-minute crisis arises that I can’t make it to something I said I’d attend, I try to phone, text, send a Facebook message, some form of communication to let the host/organizer know that I’ve had a crisis (usually with me, the crisis is medical in nature, and I’ll just say, “I’m so sorry, but I’m not feeling well and I don’t want to spread the ick,” or something similar) and won’t be there.

    1. Yeah, I’m forced to “flake” due to medical issues periodically (chronic illness/disability with unpredictable flares), but my friends know that I *never* do this because “something better came along,” and that I’d be there if I could.

      I try to manage expectations by RSVP-ing as “Maybe” (and then clarifying on the day of), and I also do my best to make sure that my friends know that they are a priority to me — when I do have to cancel, I try to reschedule or otherwise make plans to see them soon.

      I’m going to be following these replies with interest — my limitations have more to do with health/energy than double-booking, but I do have to consider things like trying not to plan several events on consecutive days, because that doesn’t allow for recovery/downtime if I run myself into the ground.

      I’m a really socially-energized person and I *love* spending time with people dear to me, but I also need to conserve energy for self-care and other responsibilities.

      1. Yeah, I RSVP as “Maybe” a lot and then clarify later, and like I said, what I classify as “flaking” is no-showing without communicating at all. If you can’t make it to something but you let people know you can’t make it, that doesn’t qualify as “flaking” in my book. Communication makes all the difference in the world.

    2. My friend group in college had one person who *never* made it to stuff. He is such a lovely person with such a big heart that he, I think, just felt terrible saying no to invitations. He really would be so excited! about the plans! and wanted to go. But then there would be other things. Maybe he’d forget. And he’d generally end up at the most recent thing he was invited to, or at a gig or at work. Which is fine, if you don’t only communicate with your absence. We rather quickly learned to just not expect him to actually show up to anything.

      It would have been so much better if he just said, “Sorry, I can’t make it! But that sounds awesome and I hope you have a great time!”

      1. I dated a guy like that years ago. I’d say “Do you want to go to SuchandSuch this weekend?” and he’d say yes, and seem to go along, but then bail at the last minute. When I asked why he kept doing this, just before breaking up with him, he said “I thought you’d be mad at me if I said I didn’t want to do it.” But apparently I wouldn’t be frustrated and annoyed by him cancelling and leaving me in the lurch? It never occurred to him to simply say “No, that doesn’t work for me, maybe we can do something else at another time.”

        1. Drives me nuts when people say yes and don’t mean it. I have a friend who is allergic to the word “no”, will say yes, express enthusiasm, and then snake her way out of whatever it was. The snaking-her-way out is way more hurtful and annoying than saying no could ever be.

  11. Agreed, saying no is great! Especially if followed up by an invitation or request to schedule at another time. You absolutely don’t have to say why, and I have definitely used the, “Thanks for the invitation; I’m sorry but I’m unable to attend” which I learned here! It works and people don’t pry into why (and often the real reason is that I’d rather binge-watch Kimmy Schmidt that night).

    Captain, just last night I decided I wanted to do a “time audit” for myself to see where (if?) I can devote more time to anti-racist work, so thanks for the tool!

  12. So much what CA said! I used to always offer an excuse about why I couldn’t do something and in the last couple of years I’ve realized that just a simple, “No, but thanks for asking/thinking of me!” works really well. People still keep inviting me to things anyway. And sometimes I just want to stay home and cuddle with my cat; he’s a priority especially since his sister passed away recently and I started a new job with a long commute. Being home is very important. I mean, what’s the point of having a home if you are never in it?

    Same goes for your close relationships, although in that case it’s more that they won’t stay close relationships if you don’t see them very often. I’m an introvert and I have certain close friends who I am pretty much always up for hanging out with even when I’m feeling my most antisocial. Other friends take a lot more energy to be around so I don’t always want to spend time with them, I have to be in the right mood for it. Perhaps that is what you’re feeling as well? You can allow yourself to prioritize yourself and your needs over what other people think of you (and I guarantee they won’t think you’re a dick just because you can’t hang out with them sometimes).

  13. Hello, fellow non-monogamous careful scheduler here *waves* I love your “comets” description and will be adopting immediately.

    My blanket decline is, “Sorry, that doesn’t work for me.” It’s more than a no but keeps the reason private (could be that you’re not interested or not available or anything else). Add “…but keep me posted on future events!” or “…how about X instead?” as applicable, especially when it’s a connection you’d like to maintain.

    Continue to make your best choices without the narrative of how that reflects on your character, and keep on being your awesome self 🙂

  14. One of the hardest things to learn, I think, is that you can just say, “No, I can’t” or “thanks, but I can’t fit that into my schedule this week.” You don’t have to explain why your errands/me-time/major event is more important. You can, if you want to, if you think it’s important… But you don’t *have* to.

  15. I really like this response, but it seems to me that the LW simply doesn’t want to do step #4, and I’m wondering what people would suggest then.

    1. If you do like hanging out with this person, but just want to do so less often, step #4 is how you readjust the frequency: schedule something far enough in the future that your preferred interval between meeting is kept.

      If you don’t actually want to hang out with this person at all, simply omit step 4 and respond to all invitations with “Thanks but I can’t.” They’ll probably stop making the effort soon enough. (If someone does confront you, “I’m sorry, I just have too much going on in my life right now. I’ll let you know when that changes.” is an adequate explanation of what’s going on that doesn’t leave an opening to argue about your schedule. Anyone probing further is cornering you into telling them to their face that you don’t like them that much, and will have to deal with the emotional fallout of hearing that.)

  16. Yes, do not worry about having to say no. My husband and I plan at least 2 regular monthly events and several other random events during the year and we never mind if people say no. We of course would rather they say yes, but we understand that sometimes that date doesn’t work for whatever reason. Most important thing is that people get back to you. And yes, flaking at the last minute is the worst. Life happens, but at least shoot a quick text saying that something came up, can’t make it. We had someone flake on us for an event and with no communication. We were pretty bummed about that, would have been better if he’d said no in the first place or at least once he figured out he didn’t want to go, to just send a quick text.

    I will say if someone starts saying no most-all of the time, we do start thinking about replacing them as a regular in the group. Doesn’t mean we don’t still invite them (in our case, others might stop extending invites), but we don’t count on them and might actually have to adjust plans if they decided to come, but we’d still welcome them.

    I think it is great you are asking about this! And agree wholeheartedly with writing out a schedule and making sure to schedule down time and chore time and so on for yourself. You can always move it around in your schedule if a better offer appears, but at least it is there so you are thinking about making sure you have enough time for you in your schedule.

  17. Dear LW,

    I’m reading your letter as you don’t actually want more friends, but you don’t want nice people (whom you won’t be seeing socially) to think you’re mean.

    If I’m right, then your script is this:
    Sorry, I can’t.

    If I’m wrong, follow the good Captain’s advice. Especially number 4, and figuring out how you spend time with the grid.

    Good luck either way.

  18. I handle this by actually scheduling time for my important-but-not-a-scheduled-class-or-event things. I know I need time to unwind and destress after work before I’m going to be fit to socialize (otherwise I’m a grump), so every evening after work, that first hour is set aside for doing chores around the house and petting the cat and generally being the introvert that I am. So, I know if I get home from work around 5, then I know I have to plan any weekday evening events for after 6, and I need to be home by 10 so I get enough sleep). On Saturdays I can have specific plans in either the morning or the afternoon/evening, but not both–whichever one is open will be filled with things like a nap, a walk, running errands, last-minute coffee with a loved one, etc. On Sundays, I can make whatever plans I want as long as I’m home by 6 so I can do a load of laundry, prep meals for the next couple days, and generally get ready for the week ahead.

    Of course, these are more guidelines than rules, really. There are times where I break them, and there are times where my schedule is weird due to holidays or travel or whatever and they just don’t apply. But giving myself guidelines on time I actually need to set aside for myself and my regular things has gone a long way towards making sure those things actually happen.

    1. I like the flexibility and systems thinking of your planning; this seems like a very useful approach to adopt.

  19. I’m a chronic over-scheduler, who used to swing between being socially oversaturated, and socially stunting myself by never finding time for new people/experiences. Some things I learned to try over the years:

    I used to set aside a “Me” day for a full day every month. My personal rule were:
    – that it could be literally any 24 continuous hours at any point during the month
    – it always had to already be scheduled. as in, I could move it around to accomodate a new plan I wanted, but only if I found a new place to schedule it for.
    – i couldn’t schedule anything for this “me time” in advance.
    – i only did exactly what I wanted. my close friends came to understand, and even value, that i had a “me” day, so sometimes i would have really nice “can you give me a ride today?” “not unless it’s an emergency, it’s Me Day” “oh, yess! I’ll find another friend – enjoy the dayt!”

    I have become a low-key event thrower. I can be somewhat socially akward, I don’t exist in the center of any interest group communities or anything like that, so there isn’t a lot of “the whole gang always does X on Y day”. So I have a lot of periphery people I really like that don’t make it into my monthly social routines like lovers and best friends do, and who I never see at the recurring XYZ event. Some months I am too busy, but when I can, I try to schedule one event every month or so that is open to pretty much anyone who might want to see me. They are always at my house, and super low key, and geared around things I already enjoy – “I’ll buy pizzza and put on the Adventure Time, you bring the beer and snacks if you wanna.” If 2 people show up it’s an awesome time, and if 12 show up it’s still an awesome time. I almost never accept party invitiations because I don’t enjoy groups of strangers, but if I have to decline an event, it’s really great to say, “shoot, I can’t make it, but I’d love to see you at my X event next Y day”. Sometimes those people are *also* people who don’t like groups of strangers, and we may be destined to never hang, but often a lotta people who I only want to be “low doses” friends but still really like, end up coming through the parties and we have a really lovely time. Also, sometimes this pattern leads to new best friendships with people I end up liking *a lot* without requirng me to guess if they are worth the time investment up front and scheudling 1:1 coffees.

    Are your friends people who understand mental health/spoons/capitalism? I am not saying that snarkily, but in earnest. In my social circle “sorry, work has been exhausting me lately” or “I just need some time to take care of myself next week” are deeply understood, and well received. I am a teacher and that makes me insanely busy a lot. It also means that I can lean on that as an honest explanation of business without risking people thinking I am subtely rejecting them.

    I really really really agree with the Captain’s advice about saying no if you can’t but being clear you’re interested. One of my absolute best friends on this planet was someone who used to turn down every single invitiation I ever gave her, but was always super explicit a future invite was welcome. Because an invite cost me nothing, I kept inviting her. One year, she started coming to every event, then we started getitng coffees, and now we are Chosen Family. Turns out she had a major chronic health problem I had no idea about and it just was not the Right Year. Point being, people can crop again at any unexpected times, and some of them may become beautiful relationships later. If you really feel a connection but not time, it can be beautiful to say exactly that.

    Final thing – when I can’t get people to pin down to dates in advance, but I know roughly what I want to have happen, I count up how many time/social units I have in a week/weekend, and look at how many theoretical plans are already in the works, and how many I need by myself, and how many things I also may want to do, and prioritize. Even if I don’t have a schedule, I can know I can’t pick more than 12 units, which makes it easy to say “I think we may be able to get coffee this weekend” but not have a time, but still *really* mean it. It always keeps me from going a little crazy trying to tetris things when getting my friends to schedule can be like herding cats sometimes ^^

  20. I work full time from home, run a small Etsy business on the side, own a house that I have to maintain, and have a live-in partner who also works from our home. I also have ADD. I need periodic spells of absolute quiet alone time, in my own house, wherein I eat peanut butter crackers while lying on my back in the middle of the floor staring vaguely at the ceiling, in my underwear, and in complete silence and solitude, with no one talking to me whatsoever, while not having to do a damn thing atall.

    This starts to feel like an impossible pipe dream if I’m “on” for too many weeks or months in a row. I start to casually mention to my partner that if he doesn’t go spend a weekend camping or visiting relatives or find some activity that means 12-14 hours of elsewhere, I might have to axe murderer him a little bit. (I travel a lot for business, so he gets plenty of him-space.)

    I fight not to feel guilty and unloving about this, because women are socialized for sociability. The thing is that when I DO get my inviolable fortress of alone time, I have MORE interest and energy for being with other folks. It refills the well each time.

    So scheduling regular, inviolable days of unstructured you-time might paradoxically give you more spoons for being social. Or it might not! Either way, it’s a real need for some of us, and you should treat it like you’d treat a date with a person you really like to hang out with: something to feel good about.

    At any rate, you’re not a jerk.

    1. just coming through to second on the magic of inviolable days of unstructured time. i talked about mine a bit upthread, but i used to have a 24 hour blackout period every month for exactly this, and it was kind of life saving.

    2. Inviolable fortress of alone time! Thank you for that. It is incredibly hard to be a female-socialized person who lives with someone else and needs that time to happen somehow. I’m still working on asking for it without feeling like a total jerk.

    3. Yuuupppp seconding this (though mine is going out in nature for a full day alone, rather than home, but) Yes. My brain is … not as good at cope when I do not do this.

    4. > I need periodic spells of absolute quiet alone time, in my own house, wherein I eat peanut butter crackers while lying on my back in the middle of the floor staring vaguely at the ceiling, in my underwear, and in complete silence and solitude, with no one talking to me whatsoever, while not having to do a damn thing at all.

      I don’t have ADD, but I also need this.

    5. absolute quiet alone time, in my own house, wherein I eat peanut butter crackers while lying on my back in the middle of the floor staring vaguely at the ceiling, in my underwear, and in complete silence and solitude, with no one talking to me whatsoever, while not having to do a damn thing atall.

      That. Sounds. Amazing!

    6. “I need periodic spells of absolute quiet alone time, in my own house, wherein I eat peanut butter crackers while lying on my back in the middle of the floor staring vaguely at the ceiling, in my underwear, and in complete silence and solitude, with no one talking to me whatsoever, while not having to do a damn thing atall.”


      After an extraordinarily hectic month – I spent the last 2 nights in my tub soaking in room temp water with all the lights off, in complete silence for 2 hours each night. It was positively glorious.

      1. I listen to podcasts in the bathtub. With candles. Usually in the morning, funnily. When nobody else is home.

        It’s wonderful.

  21. My strategy for getting to know new people who seem cool without using up a lot of time: invite them to movie nights, game nights, parties, etc. that I host. This way, I get to hang out with a core group of close friends while also getting to know new people. I’ve found it works especially well with weekly or bi-weekly movie night (which my husband and I hold during the winter), because I can invite a lot of people and then whoever comes, comes.

    YMMV, of course: this works particularly well for me because I really like having friends over in my own home (much more than I like going out to do things, even though I also live in a city with tons of awesome stuff happening), and because my friend groups all overlap so it’s easy to combine people I met in one context with people I know from another. I know that’s not the case for everyone, and if you genuinely don’t want to spend time with less-close friends/new people, that’s ok too! I just wanted to throw it out there in case finding a way to combine close-friend-time and less-close-friend time is something that appeals to you.

    1. Between last week’s Work Social Circle post and this one, I’ve decided that hosting stuff on a regular basis is going to become a summer (and hopefully ongoing) priority.

  22. I had this epiphany that there would *always* be more interesting things to do and new friends to make than I’ll ever have the energy for. Scheduling in me time/wife nights is as important a commitment as anything else, without that I am not a decent employee, friend, partner. I have to plan in rest days in advance and be accountable to my partner to make sure I stick to it, so tempted am I to say yes to it all.

  23. Also, someone who doesn’t respect your time commitments to yourself and your health and well-being isn’t worth worrying about whether you’re being a jerk or not. I had a secondary partner that I laid the ground-rules with, that specified exactly where he was in relation to priorities and time spent with him due to my overly complicated schedule and time demands. He agreed to the ground-rules, then threw abusive temper tantrums and fits when I wouldn’t commit time to him because I didn’t have any extra to give him (between work, school, primary partner and just needing my own down time for mental health and wellness). It… was not good, and I gave in to his tantrums more than I care to admit before I finally broke it off. :/

    Your time is your own and you should prioritize it for yourself and not worry too much about other people since your well-being should be the most important thing.

  24. Once I started being OK with turning down invitations I realized how little it bothers people – SO LONG AS
    – I also reached out to them from time to time to keep in touch
    – I followed through on joining them for rescheduled events
    – I still extended courtesies like texting a Congratulations or mailing them a birthday card or other such appropriate things
    – I gave a timely response to an invite – – none of this waiting to respond until the last minute so I can choose the “best deal” for my evening
    People still want to be your friend if you have to say no from time to time. People that are your friends will understand if you’re going through a stressful time and need to cut back on social engagements. Rational friends will understand that you can have more than one friend and today is just not their turn to hang with you.

    When I started saying no, I found that I actually crave “me time” in order to be a healthy, sane person. Now I have no problem saying No, even if all I”m doing is loafing on the couch in my pajamas watching Golden Girls reruns.

    1. I wonder if part of the issue the LW is having, that I also have, is that it’s somehow very difficult psychologically / emotionally to make a commitment as far ahead of time as other people prefer. For instance, when she says, “I’m not busy that day, I just don’t want to say yes to a party or hanging out 3 weeks in advance because I get to that week and find that my calendar is full, getting enough sleep will be a struggle…”

      Which, I feel fairly strongly. I’m not sure why, but confirming an invite–even as close to the event as three or four days prior–makes me anxious every day leading up to it. On some level, I am so afraid of being seen as a flake on the chance that, the day of, I just don’t have any spoons and need to sleep, so I have to bail at the last minute. Or, worse, I had no spoons *yesterday*, which means today I legit need to do housework / work-work / run an errand for my grandma that I had intended to get done the previous day, and if I don’t do it today there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to do it tomorrow, so it might not get done.

      I could probably go into all the psychological whys I feel this way (internalized able-ism, having insecurities confirmed a few times in my teen years when friends dropped me because I couldn’t be counted on, etc), but at the end of the day, it’s so much easier now to have friends who all have the same attitude towards blocks of free time in our schedules: “Hey, I’m free today for five hours! I’ll text a bunch of people and see who wants to hang, and then everyone who *does* want to hang out, we’ll figure out what to do all together.”

      It’s not workable for every friendship and relationship, but this style is a huge relief to me. I think part of it is, having compatible socializing styles is pretty important, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it, so long as people with mis-matching styles don’t hurt each others’ feelings accidentally.

      1. Oh, this is me. Or, it was, until an acquaintance who was pushing for friendship (now my BFF and sister-friend) set a boundary and explained how hurtful it was to make invitations that were always met with “yes! I totally want to get together! But, well, I don’t know if I will be free, so, um…” I have spent decades trying to get better at this.

        I see folks below saying that it shouldn’t be hard to schedule something this far out, or that if the that week is unscheduled then why not make this commitment, but I think I get it. For me it’s not that something “better” socially will come up, but that I always feel a bit out of control, and there will likely be projects and commitments I am behind on (including self-care), and when that week comes there is a good chance I will feel like I can’t take time for socializing. But may be, just may be, that will be a slower week, and I can’t bear the thought that I am living a life where I don’t have any control over my schedule, so I don’t want to say no? Or I do, but feel guilty because there is nothing on my schedule?

        What I like about the Captain’s suggestion is that it sets out designated nights for this sort of thing (and for the other stuff too). As some others have addressed, the full-week schedule doesn’t work for me (mostly because I don’t have a job with time structure, and I have family demands that shift), but I do like the idea someone else floated if having units of socializing time. I have become a fan of planning my upcoming week on Sunday(ish), which allows me to claim some inviolable time. In your hypothetical, that would allow me to build my schedule partially around the commitment. (Or, as others are suggesting, to initially respond with a tentative confirmation, along the lines of “I have some commitments floating around that week but they are not firm; could I confirm with you by Sunday the xth?)

  25. Another reformed over-scheduler here. I had one or two social meltdowns that had me reassessing how valuable it was for me to keep going that fast. These days, I work from a general set of social guidelines that have been tweaked to fit my introverted proclivities and scheduling BS.

    1. A minimum of 3 nights a work week home straight after work. If it’s going to be less, one of those needs to be low-social self care thing (like a massage).
    2. Two non-concurrent homebody days during the month.
    3. Tit-for-tat scheduling protocol for my friends, with me being responsible for the scheduling reach out every other round.
    4. All meet-up type events are tentative.
    5. As someone who usually doesn’t plan things more than 2-weeks out, these are guidelines, not hard and fast rules.
    6. Anytime social time has been exceeded, the weekend solo time becomes more critical.
    7. Work day trips foul all the planning in the world up. Be like gumby.
    8. Book blocks of time. What’s done in those blocks of time doesn’t have to be known until the day before/day of.
    9. Weekends only have four total blocks of social time and errands will take up one of them.
    10. Don’t try to explain what’s happening with your schedule.

  26. when someone lovely contacts me saying ‘We should hang out more, how about a drink sometime?’ I’d love to say yes, I know we’ll have a good time hanging out, but I’d rather leave that time open for closer friends, partners, personal projects and even a little spontaneity! I don’t want to come across like an asshole who thinks they’re too busy and important to make new friends.

    How about inviting the new person to one of your meet-ups with the existing people? It would kill two birds with one stone and maybe the new person could make friends with some of your existing group as well.

    1. Yes, and/or once a month make a “new people, new places” night:

      -Try a new place (coffee house, bar, arcade, mini golf, improv show, storytelling show, lecture series, kickball game)
      -Make it an open invite and invite several people: “I’m trying the new Chai place in my neighborhood on Thursday night, will be there from 7-9 pm with a board game or two in tow, join me? RSVPs appreciated so I know how much table-space to hold, but last minute joiners are ok, and feel free to bring a friend. $10 should cover a drink and a snack.”
      -Invite one or two tried & true folks and the rest new people that you’ve been trying to squeeze in.
      -Smash the streams together and see what happens.
      -Do it as often as it’s fun for you.

  27. Wife Night is the best idea I’ve ever heard. And on the pearls-and-an-apron front, once upon a time I was planning to move out of my parents’ house for university and that was the summer my mom got double pneumonia. So, I took over making dinner. And grocery shopping. And driving my brothers to all their events. And cleaning the kitchen. All while tutoring for 4 hours a day plus travel time, taking a yoga class at the community college, and PACKING MY ENTIRE LIFE. I was also answering the phone all the time, so I took to greeting family and friends with “Hi, this is Cinder-[Angel] speaking!” When I moved and after my mom recovered, she bought me an apron from Etsy designed to look like Cinderella’s dress. That is my Cinder-[Angel] apron and I love it to pieces and if I ever do Wife Night (which I will), then I will wear that apron.

    1. Aww! I am so happy that this story ended with you being appreciated and rewarded for stepping up!

  28. This is a wonderful problem that I also have. Here are some things I do to make this work better:

    1. automate or hire out some of those mundane life upkeep tasks that take up your time. It sounds from your letter that financial constraints are not too burdensome for you, so this can free up some room in your schedule while giving up no activities you will miss. Ideas: hire a monthly house cleaner, decide if you care about all your chores and decide not to do some, get all socks of the same color/make it so you can wash all your laundry together in the same load/stop folding laundry, batch cook food for the month all at the same time… possibly with friends?
    2. more group activities. If you have 10 friends you’d like to see occasionally, have a big party and invite them all at the same time. I agree it doesn’t make sense to prioritize scheduling 10 coffee dates on 10 days, but you could easily host a tea party and invite a bunch of less-close friends you think would all get along
    3. pareto principle: make peace with letting some people in your life go. Personally I take a look at where my time is currently going and how much joy those interactions bring me, and the social commitments that make me feel stressed able scheduling instead of enthusiastic about _getting_ to do so many fun things are the social connections I consciously choose to put less effort into. For me this generally means just not doing steps 3 and 4 the Captain suggested for declining invitations. I have the bad habit of automatically trying to schedule people into my life without checking in with myself about whether I actually want to. Occasionally it will mean canceling recurring events that contribute more to your schedule than they do to your happiness. It feels really terrible, but you are actually allowed to choose your friends (and how you spend your time).

    Good luck with your happy problem. It feels stressful, but it will end up being wonderful, really.

  29. I love all of the advice so far, but I would like to present my experience of being on the other side of the “don’t really want to be friends, but don’t want to be a jerk so I’ll just invite them to come to my parties” equation for a view-from-the-other-side.

    I had a friend with whom I used to spend a ton of time. We used to dance at the same studios, and saw each other at classes, auditions, and performances for several years, and got together frequently after we both stopped. It was fine, she’s a lovely person, but we ended up moving into very different lives and social circles, and to opposite ends of the city, so didn’t have much time to get together.

    It got so she never wanted to get together, but I guess didn’t want to say so. So she’d invite me to her parties, but make snarky remarks if I came (about my haircut, tattoo, makeup, weight, job, etc.), and always be too busy to even talk with me for 5 minutes after I spent an hour driving to her place. And every time, when we got ready to leave her party, she’d do this whole very elaborate faux-emotional performance art thing about how much she wanted to get together, and how much she loved seeing me, and how much she missed us blah blah blah. Once, as soon as she started, I said (truthfully), “Great! I have the next 3 weeks off. Let me know when would be a good time!” and she actually flinched. I got to feel like Charlie Brown, and she was Lucy yanking the Football of Friendship away from me every time she coaxed me into trying to kick it again.

    For 10 solid years, it was always, “Oh, you live too far away! You should come here!” like the space-time continuum warped, and it took less time for me to drive to her house and back than it would take her to come to mine every so often. Only ever wanting to do things if – and only if – the other person comes to you is kinda selfish, honestly. Person A is expected to hop in a car and drive 45 minutes each way 10-20 times a year, but Person B won’t do it even once – ever – because they just can’t spare the time? She and her husband only came to my place 2 times in over a decade, and then it was once to drop off and then once to pick up their dog because they needed a dog sitter.

    Long story shortened (there’s more, including random angry emails accusing me of being a bad friend) as much as possible… At the end, this person’s husband tried to give me a heavy guilt trip when – after they moved 400+ miles away – I didn’t put the effort into keeping in touch. It wasn’t until I pointed out that she hadn’t contacted me once herself, although she was apparently giving him a “why doesn’t she want to be friends” sob story, that he stopped pushing.

    The point being, sometimes a performance-art level pretense of wanting to be friends isn’t a kindness. I wish the person who was doing that to me well in her journey in life. If the reality is “I just don’t have time for so-and-so” and you only invite them to mass-get-togethers or not at all, and you know you won’t make the effort to go to them once in a while, it can be kinder to just admit that friendships change, no harm no foul, and set them free. Which leaves me more time for the people who do want to be a part of my life, now that I don’t have to jump through her Faux-Friendship-Hoops of flaming Nope.

    A friendship doesn’t have to last forever for it to have been real, and valued. Sometimes both people can move on without a big fight or blowout or reason. And maybe you don’t have to put out the friendship welcome mat if your life is full enough for now.

    1. Ohhhh that was seriously heinous and manipulative of her. I’m so sorry. Agree completely about just acknowledge and let it go (or just let it go) being much better. (except, as i described above, i have been socially punished for trying to do that reasonable functional thing, too…. maybe there’s just no way to win with some people.)

      1. I’m sorry for what you went through, too. {{{{{{{Hugs}}}}}}}

        It was so strange. Every 4-6 months, she’d throw out the whole want-to-get-together net, and every time I’d swim right in. And then get thrown back overboard with a full body eye-roll and snide remark. Every time. Confusing.

        I finally decided that it wasn’t that she wanted to be friends, it’s that she needed me to want to be friends. I wasn’t the only one she did it to, I heard, so at least I didn’t have to take it personally.

        Anyway, for the LetterWriter: Throwing regular parties because you’re too busy to get together 1-on-1 wouldn’t work for me as a friendship-substitute exercise, in the long run. If you like throwing parties, carry on! But if you’d ONLY be doing it to make time for the people who you don’t really want to make time for, they will eventually notice. And if they always have to come to you, and you never have time to go to them, they will notice that too. And drop out of your life anyway. But I’m an introvert, anyway, so I may be an outlier.

        1. … just wanted to add that having “just invited to group parties” level friends doesn’t make you a bad or unkind person. And those guests deciding that that’s not the level of friendship they’re interested in continuing wouldn’t make the other person a bad or unkind person either.

          Sometimes deciding not to be pseudo-friends is ok, too, and not a judgement-call on the other person’s character, value or lovableness.

          1. Agree with all of your comments in this vein, AndyL. I want to add that I can handle being an only-gets-invited-to-group-things friend. Group things are great! Being invited to things is great! What I don’t like is when a dynamic develops in which I invest close-friend effort for tertiary friend treatment. I guess ultimately, everyone — those who gravitate towards a few close friendships and those who have many friendship tiers — have to decide what they have the spoons for.

        2. … and here I thought I was the only one with a “needed me to want to be friends” friend. They would regularly stand me up or make me wait for hours, and when I showed up on-time to their parties no-one else would be there and I would get drafted into cooking-elaborate-thing or cleaning-the-house.

          The first time I said I couldn’t make a party (I was not friends with all but a handful of the people they and their roomies invited) I got a guilt trip of “but we never connect!” with a side of “I love getting ready with you.”

          … I didn’t love it. I confess that I faded on them, but I wish that I’d had the courage/the situation allowed for an African Violet.

          1. >>> “But we never connect!”

            I used to get that line alllllll the time! It’s mind boggling how sincere they can sound when they say it.

            Good job on the fade-out. It seems off when you’re in the middle of doing it, but not everything rates a blow-out “we’re DONE 4-evah!” door slam. Even if it would be satisfying.

        3. > Every 4-6 months, she’d throw out the whole want-to-get-together net, and every time I’d swim right in

          I would have done the same. I’m sorry you had such a terrible friend, and I am glad she is no longer in your life.

          1. Thanks! ❤ ❤ ❤

            It wasn't so awful except when her DH and my DH would both start in trying to pressure me into giving it ONE MORE CHANCE. And then ONE MORE CHANCE. And then ONE MORE CHANCE. While she was doing zip, zero, bupkiss. Sigh.

            Not to demonize her, when she was still my friend she was a good one. But her moving 400+ miles away finally let me just pull the band-aid off and throw it out. Nice and clean, not even a scar.

    2. Urgh, Faux Friendship Hoops of Flaming Nope, indeed.

      I was also on the receiving end of the only-ever-group-invites dynamic, with a slightly healthier outcome, I guess? I had a friend-of-a-friend who would contact me to make plans, and only after I showed up would I realize she had invited 3-10 other people, too. After the third instance of this, I said to her, “Hey, I kind of thought this was going to be a one-on-one thing. Do you think we could do that sometime?” and she replied “I just have so many friends and so little time, I like to do mostly group stuff so I can see as many people as possible.” I admit I felt pretty rebuffed, but at least she was honest about it? We are still friends on Facebook, but that’s about it – I got the “I’m Too Busy To Hang Out Except On My Terms” memo loud and clear.

  30. I used to frequent a site that included stuff about organising your life and there was a lady there that said something that really stuck with me. Her planner was a paper one. And she had kids and lots of activities of various sorts, and she needed time to recharge.

    So eventually, she started writing “This week is full” across the top of weeks that had three week-night events scheduled in them already. If something truely earth shattering came up, of course she *could* go, but having that written across the top of the page really made her consider if she really had time to do something less urgent that someone else could do, like go pick up some chairs for her church barbecue or whatever it was.

    I would really like to be the sort of person who has people over regularly. My husband does, but that’s for gaming, so there is a structure around it. I’m just not orgsanised enough for it, unless I literally sit down and plot out several monthly events ahead of time, so we can get into a rhythm with it. I last did that when we had monthly stitching events and monthly massage events, but that was pre kid (he’s 8).


    1. > monthly massage events

      Hi, can we be friends, or even faux-friends who you only invite over to group massage events? kthxbye

      1. I have “karate friends” that I only see during the womens/mom’s class (across from our kids class) or at special seminar events I/we get a sitter for. They are no less friends for our interactions being limited by time and place. We all accept this; we have very different lives – but we like each other and I look forward to that hour of practice and conversation.

      2. Alas, the lovely lady for whom I accidentally created a travelling practice of massage regulars in NotHerCity has mostly moved to life coaching with a focus on clients with ADHD since then (massage was mostly a side thing and not her full-time job).

        Started when she offered to exchange a massage for tickets to a show. When I found that she didn’t mean to do it on a chair or the bed, she meant to bring her whole kit, I said “well hang on, does anyone else want one, while you are here and you have all that, and maybe you can make back the gas money too”. And she did, and then some, and we did it again next time she visited, and eventually it became a Thing every month, with 4-8 massages over the weekend and lots of cooking and chatting.

        I’d love to do it again, as it really was fun to do, but she doesn’t have the time and I don’t know any other massage therapists willing to hang out for the day/weekend. Also, we stopped when I had my son, and he’s 8 now, so he’d still probably get in the way. She’s excellent with kids but he loves essential oils and would want to be her assistant, I think.


  31. I hear you on the “I’m Too Busy To Hang Out Except On My Terms” memo!

    I could understand that – different lives! – and was ready to bow out without a scene, but then she’d hit me with angry emails for not trying harder, or her husband would call and scold me for not keeping in touch. They would make it really seem like she wanted to get together. So then I’d try again, and get repulsed again. And again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    I’m glad your friend was honest, and didn’t string you along. But I know that sting, too. {{{{{{{Hugs}}}}}}}, and I hope you found some other people to spend your valuable spare time with!

    1. These are great points.

      I think where it bugs me is when someone for whom I am clearly a “group activities only” friend makes a big show of “I missssssssssss you! We should hang out more!” There is a woman who was in my grad program who has never once had a conversation with me that she doesn’t interrupt to a) take a phone call b) check something on her cell phone or c) MAKE a phone call. These include conversations where she’d like me to do her a favor, initiated by her. But when I run into her she’s always effusively like “how ARE you, we should hang out!” and then she wants me to wait there and watch her phone antics. We should not hang out. We will not hang out. If I cared about hanging out with her or thought she was sincere, the phone stuff would really hurt my feelings, but now it’s just hilarious because I know it’s coming.

      And sometimes, yeah, I’m the person who has to send the message of hey, I like you, but my close friend/frequent hangout dance card is kinda full right now, so I understand if you gotta bail but I would be delighted to see you at group things? Can we keep a low level of affection and enjoyment going here? Can you see this as permission to stop trying so hard? It doesn’t always work but I like to try when I can.

      1. > These include conversations where she’d like me to do her a favor, initiated by her.

        Oh, gracious. I have a friend like that with whom things recently came to a head. It’s neither fun nor easy, is it?

      2. I’m totally cool with being the hang-out-at-parties-sometime friends. I kept going to the things I -was- invited to, and never made a fuss. (Except to myself at home, but only about having to get dressed up and driving an hour and a half round trip to chit chat with a bunch of strangers. Because everyone hates traffic.) I work in film and tv production, so I totally understand the “no time, but I wish you well and it’s always nice to wave as we pass by” thing.

        What felt insulting was the effusive act of “but I miss you soooooooooo much!”, followed by the angry emails or calls from the husband insisting I try harder. She didn’t call me back once, not one time, in an ENTIRE DECADE. She was unemployed. Her only really schedule was working out. So not making time for me, ever, was a big neon sign I was able to read perfectly well even without my glasses. “Not Interested”. Cool. No problem!

        The bi-annual fishing expedition to get me to sign back up for being ignored for another year of the Not-Friends-Friends Performance was the part I eventually found deeply insulting. I finally put my foot down and told her husband that, after a decade of no effort on her part, I had the right to stop the charade without any further explanation or discussion. But if she wanted anything different, she could call me herself rather than making him try to “repair the friendship” again.

        Since then, blissful silence.

      3. My step mother is Southern, older, a minister’s daughter and her first long marriage was to a minister. She is loud and effusive, remembers people’s names, their children’s names, and what they talked about last time they got together. She is involved in choirs and spirituality groups and more. When she runs into people – and this always happens, whereever we are – they’re so happy to see her, because they think she’s really that happy to see them. She hoots, and carries on, and sometimes they suggest getting together later. Then they leave, and she says, genuinely bewildered, “I don’t know why they think I want to have dinner with them (or whatever)?” She seems not to know that all her training to be a hostess all the damn time makes people think she really likes them and really wants to spend more time together. This was interesting for me to observe, and a revelation. I’ve looked at other people differently knowing this. Some people don’t know how to act like they like you well enough but don’t want to take it further. She’s busy, and doesn’t really have enough time for all the people she makes feel like she really likes them.

        Off topic, but whenever we go out with my local step sister (the only local step sib, fortunately, and the only step sib I like) and we run in to people, my step mother introduces her daughter and people always say,”Oh, visiting from California?” and my step sister says, “No, that’s B, I’m C, I live here.” And the other people say, “I didn’t know you had another daughter.” My local step sis is sober 30 years, in a great marriage, great career, her child is doing well and happy, tons of good therapy, so she just chooses to laugh at this point. Alcoholic, actress step sis from California is a lot like her mom and a big source of pride for her. Local step sis helps her aging parents, and travels with them, but doesn’t get bragged about. Or even mentioned, apparently.

        1. Whoops, the above post has my real name, can you change it to Sparky, or delete it if that’s difficult. Sorry, thanks!

  32. I like the Captain’s scripts for responses. I moved to a new town last year and have had to put a lot of effort into meeting new people. There is a woman in my field here who does some really big projects, some of which we’ve done together, and my husband and I had some good conversations with her and her husband at events. I asked her by Facebook message if she and her husband would like to do dinner sometime with us. She responded, “My husband and I are feeling burnt out, so we have decided to start saying ‘no’ to things. Unfortunately, I am going to have to say no to you.” I understand that’s the way she feels, and she probably thought that was the kind thing to say, but in reality it felt REALLY crappy to be told that. It made her “no” feel personal. I would have been perfectly fine with “We are busy and can’t commit to plans at this time” or “Thanks for the invitation, but no.” It made me feel bad to look at Facebook and see all the things they were saying “yes” to. (You can do a play with a 2-month rehearsal period, but not one dinner?)

    In contrast, here are some “no’s” that did not feel terrible:
    “I am leaving my job, and I would probably be a lousy dinner guest right now. But please, ask me again next month!”
    “We’ve got friends and family visiting over the next month. However, I am planning on going to X event tomorrow. Want to meet up there?”

    1. I understand how crappy that can feel.

      But, I feel like I have to put in– when you’ve been part of an organization that does an annual (or semi-annual) event like a 2 month play– it very often becomes “a thing you do”. Not necessarily “this social thing” that is more important than friends! but an obligation because you don’t want the organization to struggle to replace the parts you do.

      I helped with a local convention and it took me 2 years to quit. Because I needed to train my replacement and then they merged departments and the new-head needed experienced helpers.

      1. Or it might be a thing that you have done for years and want to keep doing, but you can’t add new things when you already have a yearly two month commitment to a play (or regular play commitments bc plays are your thing or whatever). In cases of burn out, in all likelihood, *all* new additions to a social schedule will be kiboshed.

    2. I agree that reply would feel bad to me. There’s nothing wrong with what she and her husband are doing. I guess putting it that way is just to much information? Like, she can’t hang, but needs you to know that her life life’s just TOO FULL for you. SO SORRY. Not a social crime or something, but definitely not an example script for the ages or for any time whatsoever.

    3. I wonder, though, I mean, both the examples you liked include offers to reschedule or follow up. But what if the person doesn’t want to follow up or reschedule, you know? Because they don’t want to, for whatever reason–social burnout, stress, or even something petty you really don’t want to know.

      I mean, I do realize that it’s more normal to simply politely turn down invitations a few times, and then the inviter will get the hint. But, some people do not always get this social cue, so I can sympathize with the desire to say, somehow, “No thank you, and also please don’t invite me to anything else.”

      1. Or there’s the scenario where the inviter learned to keep inviting people, in case the invitee has a chronic illness that makes them not able to attend anything, but still wants to be invited anyway.

  33. > I just don’t want to say yes to a party or hanging out 3 weeks in advance because I get to that week and find that my calendar is full, getting enough sleep will be a struggle

    There is nothing about scheduling 3 weeks out that means you have to fill that week. Just look at your calendar for 3 weeks in the future, and say yes or no based on what is there. If your 3-weeks-out week is already full, but whatever criteria for full that you use, you say “no, sorry, it sounds fantastic, but I can’t make it. That week is full.”

  34. “Wife Night” kind of sounds like “Adulting Night.” I am floored by the idea that it only needs to happen once a week. Most nights are Wife Night for me.

    1. Well, that stuff doesn’t only have to happen on that one night, but the idea of reserving one night to tend to your own garden is healthy in my opinion.

      1. It’s more that there is no way I could get it all done in just one night per week! That’s me, though, and not everyone is me. Bless your hearts, in the good way, you folks who for whom this would work.

    2. Hah, I’m with you, I wish it was wife night! For me (and my actual wife, thanks lesbianism), it’s wife day, and it’s Sunday. We get up around 9, leisurely read the paper while laundry runs, have sex, plan meals, I grocery shop while she has her first batch of true alone time, and then she cooks/meal preps while I’m at the gym for a two-hour workout. By that point it’s the whole day. And if we have to have an alternate obligation on Sunday, then we need warning so we can at least do laundry/sex/meal planning/food prep for the week on Saturday.

      Thanks, Cap, for reminding me how important this is. We declined a night-before-warning family birthday celebration invite because of all this, and while I felt ok about it then, i feel better about it now.

  35. Long time lurker, first time commenter. Whoa.

    I JUST got back from a therapy appointment talking about the other side of this kind of situation. Ha.

    Please, just try not to talk a big game about How Much They Matter to You. People can be perfectly lovely and, by no fault of their own, not be that big of a fixture in your life. There’s a word for people who are pretty cool but with whom who you have no serious intention of hanging out! They’re called acquaintances. Acquaintances are perfectly fine. You don’t have to be superbestfriends with everyone. Maybe it’s a Geek Social Fallacy sort of thing, can’t exclude! It’s well-intentioned, but it can get so messy in its own way.

    I have moderate social anxiety, and have skated by for yeaaaaars on being an extra / seat-filler / benchwarmer for a gang of tightly knit people who all hang out separately in various combinations, and then have time for me only at open group hangs. If I did not show up on their doorstep for the open-group-hang, I would never hear from anyone. No emails, no gchats, no text, no calls, no dropping by, no separate invites to movies or coffee, nada, ever.

    They’re just too busy, and *that would be okay if they owned up to it!* Instead, I get a lot of the “aww, we consider you superduper close friends, we really should do something sometime,” which is just… cognitive dissonance time. Don’t do that, okay? Don’t keep people on your backup team or whatever’s going on there.

    It’s like a half-strength version of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6RcJtdmiFM
    (“Best Friend” from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

    I do myself no favors keeping myself in this position, either, which is what I’m working on: looking for people who actually have time for me. There are so many cool/fun/whatever people on this earth. You don’t owe them your time just because they’re cool. You get to decide too. They’ll find somebody else. It’s OK.

    1. THIS THIS THIS X 1,000,000,000!

      Epic comment.

      Thank you,
      Another Socially Anxious Seat Filler

    2. Great comment, and in my 20’s I was in exactly this position. When I came to the realization that I was allowing myself to be a benchwarmer for a group of people, and that I could give myself permission to find people that I think are cool and that also think I am cool aaannnnddd are willing to prioritize time with me…my life got so much better.

      1. Thanks, it is really encouraging to hear that others have gotten out of that sort of rut!

  36. As someone with a lot of interests/projects etc, I’m also going to suggest that you review all of your activities, not just your friend-spaces. It sounds like you are maybe generally over-scheduled?
    – Can you decide your projects will get completed over a longer time period? It can be tempting to Finish The Shiny Thing ASAP but sometimes it’s better to set limits on the time it takes up.
    – Do you want to review which Fun Events you go to, and only go to the Funnest? Or prioritise variety – the one-off foreign film this week PLUS that new band like, but skip the next one in favour of the talk on Etruscan pottery and a night hanging with partners/friends/etc? Just because events are interesting does not mean you should try to Catch ‘Em All.
    – Is there a way to change up your routine so your life admin is taking up less space (automate bills or tracking finances? exercise at a different time of the day? paperwork in the waiting room?)

    And then also the suggestions about saying no, or hosting larger events, will also play a role.

  37. “I just don’t want to say yes to a party or hanging out 3 weeks in advance because I get to that week and find that my calendar is full,”

    If you say ‘yes’ to a party three weeks out and your calendar is full when you finally get to that week, one of the things that had better be filling up that week is the party you committed to 3 weeks ago!! It sounds like you are thinking you will say yes, but then NOT schedule it for yourself until you get to that week and find out if you have time for the party. That’s really not how scheduling and saying yes to things in advance works… IMO

    1. I have to agree that planning something three weeks ahead of time does not seem unreasonable. The reason they are asking ahead of time is so that guests have time to arrange their schedules around that event. If you do not want to go to the party, or do not consider it worth prioritizing, just say no.

      My ex used to do this thing where he refused to commit to plans because “what if something better comes up?” and it ENRAGED me. That is not how friendship works, imo. If someone I am friends with and want to see invites me to something, I put it on my calendar and plan around it. Now if I got stuck working a lot of over time that week or if I have the flu and need to back out, that’s one thing (and I always do the courtesy of letting my host know that I’m regrettably unable to come). However, the way I see it, if I decide I won’t go to the party because I chose to do a bunch of other more fun things that week and am now tired, then I am being rude.

    2. On the flip side, I have known people who would plan a party 3 – 5 weeks in advance just so you felt like you had to go, because they were maybe lonely or whatever.

  38. Dear LW, I used to be you! And eventually I learned the magic of prioritizing and now I am in a very comfortable groove scheduling-wise.

    You have an embarrassment of riches; your life is so full of good people that you need finer-grained metrics than “is this person not a jerk” when determining who to spend time with and what kind of time to spend with them. Through trial and error, I’ve found that these categories work for me:

    * Family and family-level people. This includes queerplatonic partners and close friends—the people I could talk to every day and not run out of things to talk about—and also includes me. I have one-on-one in-person or Skype dates with each of these people every one to three weeks (including the ones I live with, and including myself) and also have regularly scheduled family time with my co-parenting partners and child. I travel to visit the out-of-town people as often as I can.

    * Good friends. I have a friends-and-family Slack where a lot of them hang out. We do more or less quarterly “at home to visitors” days, nominally in celebration of birthdays, and invite these friends to swing by. If they’re local, I go to their birthday parties and their kids’ birthday parties, and we get together one-on-one a few times a year if we can manage it. (I just had a tea date with one of them and we agreed to get together the next time we’re both free on a weekend, which is probably in August.) If they’re not local, I make a point of seeing them when one of us is in the other’s location.

    * People in my extended shared-interests community. If they’re local, I see them at events. If they’re not, I’ll try to see them when they’re in town… but ideally when they’re in town I see them at events. Since having a kid I’ve dropped almost all those events from my schedule—I used to got to one or two weekday evening things a month, and now I do one four-day convention a year and that’s it—but I have an explicit plan to add them back in once the kid is older.

    * Distant acquaintances I chat with on social media or at conventions but don’t make any attempt to seek out.

    These days it’s rare for someone to shift from one category to another. That means it’s rare for me to make friends. I’m pretty fine with that. I used to get intense friend-FOMO but honestly the world is full of amazing people and no matter how many friends I have I will be missing out. So I accept that as the inevitable consequence of there being only 119 awake hours in the week, and I unabashedly rank and prioritize.

    Go ahead and make your interpersonal Maslow’s pyramid. You are not an infinite social resource. For that matter, you are not an infinite anything resource. It sounds like many things in your life are approached as “I can make this work if I just apply more LW to it” but at some point you run out of you. Scaling back is good and healthy. There will be some things that indeed do not work without a sufficient application of you. That’s okay. Not everything that theoretically could happen actually needs to happen.

    As a non-monogamous person, you know that the infinite number of possible partners turns into a finite number very quickly, because time and space and bodies and energy are finite. Well, it turns out you can also be full up on close friends and even less-close friends. And if you’re full up, you do the same thing when someone wants to be in your life but you don’t have room: gently turn them down and go about your day.

    If you are secretly terrified that not making ALL THE FRIENDS now means that someday you will be friendless and alone, remember that friendless and alone doesn’t happen to a person all at once. If at some point you look up and notice that your schedule is less full than you’d like it to be, I have full confidence in your ability to find ways to fill it. Until then, it really sounds like you do not have and are not likely to have that problem.

  39. OMG, I love that you posted this. I needed this so much. Thank you Captain, and thank you LW.

    And now I’m going to go and read all the comments in great detail, and bookmark it while I make my own weekly planner!

  40. I used to sometimes invite people to parties/large gatherings just as a way of ticking off my vague sense of social obligation to those people. Often I did it with people who were difficult but also lonely – I thought I was doing a Good Thing by giving them an opportunity to meet new people, but also buying myself a pass from the hard work of dealing with a difficult person one-to-one. And all I have to say about this strategy is: I never knew it could backfire in so many ways! Like the time the Difficult Person turned up horribly drunk and was rude to several of my friends. Or the time the Difficult Person missed the party/gathering entirely but pushed for one-on-one time afterwards when I was socially drained/asleep/doing something else. (That last thing has happened several times.) I think I’ve now finally learnt: this strategy doesn’t work. Yes, invite people you’d like to get to know better to a low-stakes bigger gathering. But do not invite people you already know are draining in the hope that you can tick off an obligation without having to do the hard work of interacting with them. The presence of lots of people will not somehow “dilute” how difficult they are. You still have to do the work of dealing with them, at the expense of seeing your real friends. Instead, do the work of admitting you don’t actually want to spend any time with them.

  41. I have (multiple) chronic health issues, and about 2 years ago moved back to Boston, where I had several long-term (from college) friends, plus a whole bunch of people I like and in a world where time and energy weren’t factors, would be glad to see more of.

    In reality, I have a policy of (besides full-time work and regular exercise) no more than one weeknight thing (more complicated than stopping at the pharmacy across the street from my apartment), one weekend day thing, and at least one (and it’s better if it’s two) weekends a month with no scheduled plans. (The weeknight thing covers doctors appointments, routine car stuff, etc. so it’s not all social time.)

    It means I don’t get to a lot of things. It means there’s friends I basically only see because they went “Why don’t you come for dinner once a month so we see you.” (they live a mile from me). It means there’s a lot of other friends I don’t see as often as I’d like. And because of the other implications of the health stuff, I tend to be “I have a less scheduled week, yay, I will enjoy that!” rather than trying to fill it.

    My actual close friends get that, and we work it out, and they know I rotate who I see so I see more people sometimes, if not as often as we’d like. (And we find some ways to bridge the gaps, often via the internet. Yay internet.)

    The people who push me about that? Tend to be the people I don’t want to spend as much time with (or only in specific settings), it turns out, because they’re pushy about other boundaries.

    1. In case I haven’t mentioned it, I am impressed by how well/sensibly you manage this.

      (The main practical difference between me living 3,000 miles from jenett and living less than a mile from her is that now, if she posts about an interesting restaurant, I might look up the menu, which I wouldn’t have from several states away.)

  42. I feel like “spontaneity” is usually a code word for when we want to do something interesting and exciting. Spontaneous seems like a synonym for that in our heads because we would like to have a friend text us out of the blue that they want to go to the Grand Canyon in half an hour, can we make it? It’s a daydream.

    But the reality is that exciting adventurous hijinks take a lot of planning and coordinating. They actually take less planning if you’re in the habit of arranging a specific type of event, especially with the same group of people. But really, the best you are likely to be able to do spontaneously is much more low-key, like if it’s hot out and you ask a friend or two if they want to get ice cream. It’s great when the stars align, but if you want spontaneous adventure, you have to plan for it.

    And you can do that! You can spontaneously decide to go on an adventure. Any time! But the actual adventure will be removed in time from the decision to plan it. And it will still take coordination with the group that you go with, and it will still take planning.

  43. I completely adore this entire post. I love the advice, the time grid, and the tips especially about ‘wife night’, which is a sacred practice I uphold under the name ‘me time’. But this post has put many of my idea and practices in a new light and given me a ton of new ideas on how to improve on my already established routine(s).

  44. I’m in a similar boat as you. I have two partners, and say you want to see both of them twice a week. That four of your days, which doesn’t leave much time for the other things. I often try to double up with a partner + close friends on a night. Or try to plan group outings with friends, so I can hang out and catch up with multiple people at once.

  45. Question Re: Facebook invites. Does anyone else have friends who respond “YES” to every.single.invite to be supportive whether or not they can actually attend? I find this positively maddening. I need an accurate headcount – not a self esteem boost!

  46. I’ve been addressing this issue for myself with Shabbat Sundays- I’m not Jewish, but I dated a very observant Jewish woman who didn’t drive/use electronics/etc from Fri eve to Sat eve. This seemed so sane-making that I wrote NOPE in big letters on Sundays in my calendar and started saying no to work and to social plans that would require me to drive my car or make small talk. I’m only two Sundays in, and am still figuring out my guidelines (and how not to panic when my jerkbrain starts calling me useless), but it seems to be helping a lot thus far. They are definitely Wife Days too, and I am excited about that terminology.

  47. I also struggle with being over scheduled. I think it’s clear from the comments that it’s a really common problem! Something that helped me reframe how I think about it was an episode of the podcast “Hidden Brain”, “The Scarcity Trap”. It’s about how not having enough of a resource affects your behavior. Most work is around a scarcity of money or food, but the podcast brought up some interesting parallels when you have a scarcity of time.

    One thing that stuck with me was Me Time: I regularly schedule 3 hours a week as “Me Time”. It’s on my google calendar, and I don’t schedule work, chores, or social commitments ahead of time. Sometimes that evening arrives, and I think, “yes, I do want to go out for drinks,” so I do, but mostly I knit and watch Netflix. Which is okay. I deserve commitment to myself just as much as I commit to my dearest friends. And if I know I have this evening to look forward too, I can better attend to work/family/friends/responsibilities the rest of the week.

    Kind of like Wife Night (which is awesome), but I don’t do chores either, unless I’m really feeling like it (unlikely).

    OP, I just want to share that I strongly sympathize, and to echo all the comments about who you are not a jerk for turning down invitations. The world is full of amazing people, and you don’t have to be friends with all of them. “My life is fantastically full” is a good enough reason to say, “I’m sorry, I’m busy then. Have fun!”

  48. I think part of what makes this kind of thing hard is that most of us are kind, conscientious people and we don’t want to hurt other people. And sometimes there’s this, I don’t know, this sense that if we just communicate well enough, everything will be fine and nobody will be hurt. We just have to find the magic words, the perfect script.

    But sometimes it’s the message that hurts, not the method of expressing it, and that may be unavoidable. I don’t think there’s any way to say “you seem nice enough but I don’t want to be your friend” to someone who very much does want to be friends with you that won’t hurt them at least some. Part of the problem is variation: I would much rather get the “Oh, I can’t, sorry!” a few times until I get the picture than have a blunt conversation about how you don’t actually like me that much–but clearly other people feel exactly the opposite. Some people find excuses face-saving and some find them deeply irritating. People don’t agree on this stuff.

    However… it’s also partly the fact that the meaning hurts. Nobody wants to be told “yeah, so, you like me more than I like you, sorry,” either platonically or romantically. But sometimes it has to be said. And sometimes it hurts.

    So the upshot of this, for the LW, is that it’s possible that however you deal with this–repeatedly turning down invitations, being up front about it, etc., etc.–that you will hurt someone’s feelings. And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s basically unavoidable and there is no magic combination of words that will express “I am not going to prioritize making you a friend” or “making us closer friends” or whatever that won’t sting. But you still have the right to do it, and doing it doesn’t make you a bad person at all.

  49. LW here!

    Firstly, massive thanks to CA for replying to this with such speed. I sent it Tuesday morning and spotted the post Tuesday afternoon (UK time), which was a lovely post-work surprise! Thank you for speaking so generously of me in your reply, you’ve addressed my worries very kindly. I am lucky to have the problems I do, and do my best not to forget that!

    A reminder that ‘no’ isn’t a dirty word has been very helpful, and I love the concept of Wife Nights – I’ve just had one this evening, and I plan to keep scheduling them in each week from now on.

    Thank you for all the time grid management advice – scheduling ‘open’ time especially, as I’m a keen scheduler, but in the habit of squeezing everything in rather than scheduling myself some breathing space which can be used as needed at the time.

    And the ‘that week is full’ advice – that’s a great way to approach it, as even if full means ‘I need a night to myself, and won’t get that if I make this plan’, the other person will get that full means ‘nothing personal, but I can’t make that’ without having to say I’m at XY or Z that night.

    Everyone’s thoughts about the question of just not wanting/being able to say yes (with no alternative plans possible at the time) have also been especially helpful.

    The comments from people who’ve struggled in friendships where the other party hasn’t been making an effort are also appreciated – thanks for stressing the importance of not stringing people along. I think being clear about what I can and cannot give, in terms of time and energy, will serve myself, my friends/partners and those acquaintances that I’m missing out on much better than trying to give too much, or avoiding the question entirely and leaving people feeling confused or manipulated.

    I’m certainly not looking on anyone with pity when they want to spend time with me but I don’t have that to offer them – they’re excellent people who have their own social circles and busy schedules, and it’s a compliment that they want my company. People who I just don’t want to spend time with – they’re easy, I can give that as a clear but polite message, mostly. It’s the people I really would love to get to know better that I struggle with! I just want to make sure I don’t over-commit and let everyone down, but without being unfriendly. I doubt anyone’s self-esteem rests on my yeses and no, but I still want to be generous to people who want to spend their time with me.

    Thanks all 🙂

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