spare the pal, spoil the trip
December 13, 2010 7:33 PM   Subscribe

What should my friend do about an unwanted third wheel threatening the BFF dynamic of her first-ever backpacking trip abroad?

Posting for a friend. I gave the best advice I could, but it's a very thorny situation; even as someone who has had experienced my share of travel drama on close-quarters trips, including third-wheel fallout, I'm sure some of you can help her better than me.

"Hey all! Here's the lowdown. HS graduation is coming up, and one of my closest friends, A, and I have been planning for 3 years to go on a 3-week backpacking trip through Greece, Italy and France this summer. We're so excited about it - the two of us have gone on tons of super-fun shorter trips in the past, and this is like our epic last hurrah as traveling partners-in-crime before we each head out for separate colleges.

A few months ago, our mutual friend J expressed an interest in coming with us to Europe. A and I exchanged awkward glances - did we want a third person along? - but at the time, it didn't seem like J would be able to save enough money by summertime anyway, so to avoid making J feel excluded for no good reason, we nonexcitedly agreed that anyone who could raise the money was welcome. A regretful move, because...

J recently acquired a free roundtrip plane ticket to Europe and is now fully intending to come with us. And A and I are suddenly feeling trapped. We're concerned about the loss of autonomy and potential for bad dynamics (i.e. ganging up, one feeling left out, etc.) that comes with a group of 3 versus just 2; personally, I rock at being socially defective, and I know a group of 3 in this situation would make me feel constantly uneasy and sometimes dejected. (Note: finding a 4th person doesn't look like a possibility at this point.)

Then there's the matter of J herself. Having no experience traveling with her, neither of us knows what it would be like; in contrast, A and I have built a mutual trust when it comes to traveling, and our trips are so enjoyably conflict-free it's scary. Past that, it's me being socially defective again: even though J is an incredibly sweet, lovable friend who's only a tiny bit condescending towards me (heh), being around J inexplicably tends to make me feel bad about myself and unable to be myself, enough so that I feel it would severely affect the experience I had on the trip. J is a little closer to A than me, but A still empathizes with me on this, bless her. Overall, we both have so much invested in this trip that the fact that we're not excited about J coming with us is making us worried, enough so that we want to talk to J and somehow make it just us again.

Unfortunately, the thought of permanently hurting J is sending us both down massive guilt spirals. Worse, we're clueless as to what we can say to J that won't cause tears/hatred/explosions/a huge rift in our social circle. Neither of us can afford to lose her as a friend; we'd rather suck it up, be decent people and welcome her on this trip than face that.

For now, though, we're still trying to be bad people. So assuming J reacts reasonably (which I know is a big assuming), is there any way for us to phrase or frame this that would have a low-to-zero probability of causing a friendship fallout? Who should do the talking? Any diplomatic tips, faux-scripts, or even magic solutions would be so much appreciated. Thank you 1000 times over, everyone!"
posted by changeling to Human Relations (50 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If I were J, and you had told me I could come if I could afford it, and then I had gotten a ticket making it feasible, and then you uninvited me -- no matter how tactfully -- this would be very likely to cause a friendship fallout. Deciding not to be friends with either of you anymore strikes me as a perfectly reasonable reaction.

Why can't either of you afford to lose her as a friend? If you're casual acquaintances, who cares? And if you're good friends, but the thought of her joining you for a couple weeks of backpacking around Europe is this distressing, then why are you friends?
posted by J. Wilson at 7:42 PM on December 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Speaking as someone who has seen perfectly planned trips fall apart in ways that I never could have anticipated, I would advise you to welcome the element of chaos into your plans. Things can go wrong in the plan that you make, and it would all be your fault, because you planned the life out of it. Or you could welcome the challenge that a third person brings, recognize that something will go wrong on your epic trip, and be open to the fact that life will surprise you.
posted by pickypicky at 7:42 PM on December 13, 2010 [12 favorites]

Two considerations:

1) There is likely no way that you will be able to uninvite J without hurting her feelings and likely ending your friendship with her. Sorry, but if you didn't want her to come, the time to say that was when she first asked if she could come. Now, she's invited, so you'll be breaking some pretty strong social norms if you tell her she can't come.

2) You're about to graduate from high school. Unless you are highly unusual and everyone you know plans to stay in town and work or go to college locally, your social circle is breaking up anyway. In all likelihood, you will not see, speak to, or care about in any way other than a nostalgic fondness most of these people ten years from now. So if your biggest concern is about breaking up your social circle, realize how insignificant that will seem to you a very short time from now.

Honestly, I'd probably uninvite her. But then, I'm kind of a bitch, so I might not be the best example to follow in terms of etiquette and preserving friendships.
posted by decathecting at 7:44 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't know of any way to "solve" this problem without hurt feelings or a grudge.

A family member and a buddy of mine were put in almost this exact same situation for trips across the US and Europe, respectively. I can say that in both cases there was a certain amount of cliqueyness that happened between the core two (which caused a mild case of ganging up on the odd man out), but also that both situations turned out to be pretty OK, all things considered. Yes, it would have been nice to not have the 3rd person tag along, and yes, it did cause annoyance, but neither of the trips were severely damaged by the 3rd wheel trip-mate.

So, worst case scenario and J comes along--it will probably be fine.

In both of my cases, though, the parties were all dudes, which I think scales back a lot of the internal drama. Stereotypically speaking. YMMV.
posted by phunniemee at 7:46 PM on December 13, 2010

You already invited her to join you on the trip. I think pickypicky has the right idea- embrace this as the beginning of a grand adventure. You never know, adding J to the mix could really make the trip fabulous. Or it could make the trip lousy in a way that will bond you and A for years to come. Or it'll make no difference at all. Any way you look at it, I think it'll turn out OK.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:51 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're still in high school, why don't you find some way to blame it on your parents? Not terribly "mature," I know, but it could succeed in both getting J out of the trip and saving face. This would take the onus off of you and places it on some distant adults, and might cause less havoc in your social circle -- if your folks are willing to play along and back you up, that is. Pretend they're contributing to the cost of the trip (maybe they are), and they're not comfortable with this change for some reason. Maybe you didn't ask their permission before "inviting" J. Maybe they trust you to travel so far away with A because you've done it before, but don't want you introducing an unknown element for the first time when you'll be so far from home. Maybe you can come up with some other fairly plausible reason that can be blamed on parental controllingness rather than you just not wanting J around.

If your folks won't back you up on this (and you'd probably want to enlist both your parents and A's), then this option won't work. But it might be worth a shot.
posted by amelioration at 7:52 PM on December 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

It looks like you are extremely averse to social awkwardness, which is why you told J they could come in the first place. Now that they've followed through, you should too. Think of it as an exercise in staying true to your word.

Or sit down with them in private and tell them you don't want them to go on the trip. Just respectfully and honestly express your feelings. Why live with all these lies and torment, just to avoid awkwardness? It's life, it happens, all the time. Be true to yourself and express what you feel. Think of it as an exercise in being true to yourself and others. A little belated perhaps, but better late than never.

Or continue the lie and use deception to trick J out of going. There are plenty of lies you can come up with. It's a convenient solution that takes no soul searching. Think of it as an exercise in creativity. And memory, as you will need to maintain the lie for perhaps years to come in an attempt to avoid the most horrible of all experiences, the awkward situation.
posted by parallax7d at 7:55 PM on December 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

I had to do something like this in college, where A & J & I had all planned on something together, but when it came down to it, it was clear that including J would cause a lot of problems and would end with everyone being unhappy. We agreed we had to say something but A was too chicken to do it, so I ended up having to talk to J about it and "disinviting" her. I was as nice as possible. She cried. It was horrible. I cried afterwards. (But after the immediate fall-out we did all become friends again; J realized that I was right that the situation wouldn't have been healthy for the three of us and we would have had a really negative dynamic, despite the pain of having to "break up" the initial plan. She also found an alternative plan that suited her a lot better, that was important. Interestingly, A & I have drifted apart and don't really talk these days (15 years later); J just sent me a Christmas card!)

In retrospect, I feel good about being honest (though as nice as possible) about this, despite it being really hard. BUT, key difference, the change was good for J as well as for A & I. It might be quite a bit harder when it's more "selfishly" about you and A. But ... if you're spending a lot on this trip, and it's your last-hurrah BFF trip, AND you're all going off different directions after high school, it may be worthwhile to be honest and suck it up about the fallout.

It may also be worthwhile to be three adults getting along, however, if that's a possibility.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:00 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ordinarily I'd tend to agree with you, parallax7d. But in this case, I really don't. For a 17 year old to be sat down by their friends and "respectfully and honestly" told why they aren't wanted would be exceptionally painful and would create a lifelong hurtful memory of being ganged up on, and told they were undesirable, in a way that it wouldn't in an adult. It would be a rare teenager who could either gracefully deliver or gracefully receive the message put across in the OP. Plausible deniability is far kinder at that stage of life, in my humble opinion.
posted by amelioration at 8:02 PM on December 13, 2010 [12 favorites]

I don't know what your previous traveling experience is, but being together 24 hours a day for 3 weeks in foreign places will stress any friendship at times, even if the people are the bestest of BFFs. I've been in this position before and having a third made all the difference. With two people you run out of options if you get tired or upset with the other for some reason. Having a third is like a release valve for all the stress. My advice is to just go with it.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:05 PM on December 13, 2010 [21 favorites]

I think Rhomboid has a great point. Three people allows for many more combinations of together / alone and might well make for a better time (while taking pressure off your relationship with your best friend). You told her she was welcome and she bought a ticket - there's no way to tell her she's uninvited without being shitty. Not to say it's not still on the table - but it would be a terrible thing to do, and there seem to be a lot of upsides to her coming along. Whatever it is about her that makes you feel "inferior" will surely fall away - there's no better way to really get to know someone than to travel with them.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:12 PM on December 13, 2010

You explicitly told J that if she could afford the trip, she could come with you. Now you know to be more assertive next time ("This trip is just the two of us--maybe another time?"), but as it stands for this trip you explicitly invited J to join you and A. There's no way to take that back without hurting her feelings.

I think you have two options:

1. Talk to J ASAP knowing you're about to hurt her feelings and ruin her travel plans; hope against hope that she can get a refund or a replacement ticket later.

2. Determine that you will approach the trip with A and J with the best possible attitude; be direct with J if during the trip she says or does things that annoy you or stress you out.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:21 PM on December 13, 2010

I agree with Rhomboid, pickypicky, and moxiedoll. Having three people takes the pressure off of you and your BFF and off of your perfect planning, defusing the whole thing to be what it is. To help, bond with her one-on-one ahead of time. Searching for a fourth still seems like a good idea, but even if you don't find a fourth now, you can also join up with other pairs or groups at hostels.

That's my real advice, but if you haven't already discussed the itinerary, is it possible that you have different ideas of a fun trip? Hiking vs. cafes, country vs. city, Greece vs. Scandinavia, Eastern Europe vs. Western... It may be that you could split off into two pairs for part of the time, giving you some time alone with your BFF.
posted by salvia at 8:23 PM on December 13, 2010

I would just like to point out that taking J along is not necessarily a way to avoid friendship fallout. I will tell you something that happened to me in college: my two best friends and I, who had been a tight-knit unit since about week two of our freshman year, decided to go to Mexico for spring break. We asked our other friends if they wanted to come along, and a couple of them signed up. Which was all fine, until a week into the vacation one of those other friends had the sudden realization that me and my two best friends actually WERE best friends, and she was just along for the ride. We had thought that had been obvious for years, and that she knew she was a welcome member of our group of friends, but not in the "inner circle". For her, it was an unpleasant revelation, because you see a lot more of how various relationships stack up against each other when you're together 24/7 than you do at school. So if J could possibly be thinking she's coming along as your other best friend, it might actually be kinder to her to let her know otherwise sooner, rather than having her spend all her money and travel thousands of miles to figure it out the hard way. I'm sure you'd be nice to her if she went, but nice is pretty obviously different from a close BFF bond, and J will see it as clearly as you feel it.
posted by unsub at 8:24 PM on December 13, 2010

In high school, threesomes (of the non-sexual sort) were completely atrocious. As an adult, they are fine. You can try being an adult.

If I had, at 17 or 18, heard that a friend of mine had uninvited someone on a trip for reasons as minor as these, that person would no longer be a friend; if, even now, I found out that someone did it and didn't regret it, I would not trust them as a close friend. Inviting someone and then, after they get a ticket, uninviting them is an amazingly shitty and nasty and just plain cruel thing to do. This isn't a thorny situation, there is one very clear right thing to do as an adult, and one very nasty and childish thing to do. (We all do nasty and childish things, of course, even adults, but you're asking for advice here.)

If you insist on uninviting this friend, you owe her the cost of one round trip plane ticket to Europe. She could have used those tickets for something else, had she known this is a "last BFF hurrah" kind of trip.

A reasonable response for J would be to cut you out of her social circle, and to tell at least one good friend why, which would most likely be shared with the rest of your group in the end. Another reasonable response would be for her to ask you to refund the cost of the flight, or buy her another, or pay for the change fees so she can go on a different trip.

I am actually holding back on what I think of this plan. Not wishing it could work out -- that's entirely reasonable, to hope that somehow all the problems disappear and J doesn't come and everyone is happy. But actually having any intention of doing anything but acting like you are happy to have J along is unreasonable and unkind. In 10 years, what kind of person do you want to be?

Now that you are going as a group of three, you need to figure out what parts of your plan are absolutely unchangeable and what parts aren't, so when you discuss your plans with J you can say things like "We've been planning that part for 3 years, we really want to X" or "Sure, we can Y instead of Z". There will be some Z's that can be changed. Also, it is totally okay to split up when you are travelling together, and meet up again for dinner.
posted by jeather at 8:25 PM on December 13, 2010 [13 favorites]

You made your bed, and now you have to lie in it. You invited J even though you knew you didn't want her along. Now you have to either suck it up and make the best of it, or you have to deliberately hurt J's feelings by uninviting her.

Sorry, that's just how it is. Welcome to adulthood!

The upside, though, is that very few high school friendships last the first year or so of college. So chances are in six months you'll barely remember J exists.
posted by Sara C. at 8:28 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make plans to hang out with both A and J. When you guys get together, you and A can talk to J about everything you guys planned for the trip, and make sure J realizes that you guys already have this all planned out for months in detail and there is no room for suggestions from J. This is passive aggressive, in a way, but think about it: If J likes your plans, and agrees with you about everything - where to go, how much hiking vs relaxation to do, what time to wake up, cost of places to eat, etc - then J might not be so bad to travel with. If J doesn't like your plans and J suggests changes to it but you guys won't budge since you've spent a lot of time planning this (you should say exactly that in that case! NOW is the time for honesty with J), chances are J will rethink going on this trip.

It sounds like you and A are better friends anyway, so even if J goes, the 2-vs-1 dynamic will probably work out in your favor anyway, so don't worry about it too much if J goes. Besides, you'll have a 3rd person to take pictures of you and A everywhere you go! It would be kind of crappy to un-invite J now.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:41 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: update from my friend: "Thanks so much for the answers so far, everyone! Great points all around and A and I have a lot to consider. I just want clarify - J didn't buy the ticket (voucher?) and its dates, destination etc. are not determined yet. I'm actually not sure of the specifics - I've heard everything through A - but I think her dad won it and is giving it to her, or something, and it doesn't need to be to Europe. As it is she could hypothetically use it for another trip."
posted by changeling at 8:52 PM on December 13, 2010

ok, but, to your friend - you can't UNINVITE people to things you've invited them to. Doing so is the mean girl behavior of a sixth grader - so, if you want to be a decent adult, it's off the table. And it might make things more fun! Unlike most of the responders on this thread, I'm still (in my 30s) close friends with my high school friends... and the fact that you feel a bit uncomfortable / lesser / etc. with this girl doesn't mean that she isn't exactly as human as you are. It's grown up lesson #1, really - she's exactly the same as you, and has exactly the same feelings and same portion of weaknesses as you do - and I hope you learn all about it, on your awesome trip!
posted by moxiedoll at 9:03 PM on December 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

It doesn't matter how she got the ticket or that it won't be a lost ticket. She loves you guys and wants to be with you and be included and go on a fun trip. I know how tempting it is to go ahead with your fantasized-about trip, but it would be really, really wrong.

For now, though, we're still trying to be bad people.

Stop that! Seriously, you're almost out of high school. Time to leave the middle school behavior behind.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:17 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I went through Europe with a bunch of people I didn't plan on going through Europe with. Granted, it was because we went with a tour group and the only person I knew is now my wife.

Having other people that weren't going to marry me was great. I would have had a lot of fun with just my finace, but we did things that we normally wouldn't have done because of the other people.

"You" invited this friend. Just let her go. You don't have to spend every waking moment together. Just make sure she knows that you've been planning this trip together and there's a good chance you two will want to do things she won't and that she won't stop that. Do some things together, don't leave her stranded anywhere, and you'll be good.
posted by theichibun at 9:19 PM on December 13, 2010

Maybe I'm a crappy person, but I don't think you should have to go on this trip with J if you don't want to. You say you don't feel like you can be yourself around J, so why should you be made to feel bad on this trip that you've been looking forward to for so long?

I'd tell J that you and A have been planning this trip for a long time and think it'd be better if it was the just the two of you.

Granted, J's well within her rights to be angry, cut off contact with you, and whatever else. But you might be able to help her save face by using amelioration's advice and blaming it on the parents. That's the closest you're going to get to a magic solution, anyway.

Of course, there's a good chance, like others said above, that bringing J along could make the trip even more interesting.
posted by malapropist at 9:37 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Normally I'd say don't go on a trip with someone when you don't want to BUT J already bought her ticket. It probably cost her a lot of money and chances are it's not refundable. Sorry, you're stuck with her- to uninvite her now would be just plain rude. My advice, as others have mentioned, is to look at it as an adventure and hope for the best- maybe she'll be a great addition who is easy to get along with and good at reading train schedules in Greek.

As general travel advice, just because the 2 or 3 of you go on a trip together doesn't mean you have to do everything together all of the time- that's just a recipe for frustration. Say J wants to go to a particular museum, but A and I would rather check out the botanical gardens, definitely split up! You may even end up spending a couple of days apart for separate side trips.
posted by emd3737 at 9:51 PM on December 13, 2010

Good grief. Go, all three of you, and have a blast. You're making much more out of this sentimental "epic last hurrah" than is appropriate. Instead of viewing it as the poignant last time as the two of you, view it as the exciting first time as the three of you or you and anyone else but A. You've got a lot of life to live yet (though it does sound you've wrung quite a bit out of things so far) and you'll honestly look back on this years to come and wonder why it was all such a big deal.

It's Europe. The signal attraction is ... Europe. Sure, it's great to have an affinity with your traveling partner, but you're making it sound like a marriage or something. For a honeymoon or an affair, who you spend your trip abroad with matters. For backpacking abroad, how you pack your rucksack matters.

And please, please, be open to suggestions from J and treat her as an equal partner, somebody with a different perspective, rather than some sort of fly in the ointment.

* Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. -- Mark Twain

* Few men enjoy prolonged travel; it disrupts all habit and endlessly jolts each prejudice. But I was striving to have no prejudices and few habits. -- Marguerite Yourcenar (Memoirs of Hadrian)
posted by dhartung at 10:00 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Man, normally I'd say just burn the bridge and do your own thing, but the fact is, this person is excited and building it up and it's something they're looking forward to and what you're saying is that you want to ruin her after-graduation-big-trip plans because you kinda don't really like her along? That's borderline cruel, if you think about it the other way around.

I dated a girl who had every single one of her very close friends basically take a trip without her. It was a slightly different situation, but you haven't seen someone hurt in the very specific way that she did when she realized people she thought were close friends with her just abandoned her, intentionally.

It may not be quite that situation here, but this isn't just throwing away a friendship. This is seriously potentially making a devastating dent in this girl's memory of her graduation and ruining plans with someone by forcibly flaking out on them. If A and J came to you and said, "listen, we talked things over, and we think that it'd be best for the two of us to go alone. We know you've been planning this, but we think it'd be a great experience for our friendship," you'd be devastated. Your relationship with A may be stronger and different than J, but the potential for serious hurt should not be understated.

Be excited, treat it as something fun, and remember that you can always go on another trip. Is it worth what only MAY be unfun to hurt someone like that? Are they completely awful? Or do you just think they might not have your groove down?

I've traveled with two other guy friends, both with and without the other and we get along famously, but the third person dynamic is absolutely fantastic. And I mean, serious travel: we did a 19 day trip/transatlantic cruise that would've been harsh if we all didn't have that other person to hang with in the meantime.

Just consider the pros and cons and if it's going to be that bad, make the decision you need to make. But don't kid yourself that it won't be a totally awful experience, in all likelihood.
posted by disillusioned at 10:01 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I say dive into the three person trip. Not having ever travelled with her is not a huge concern, IMO. So many things can go wrong, no matter how well you know your travel partner. Might as well embrace the unknown and keep an open mind.

The first time I traveled overseas, to Europe, I had the whole thing planned out with my best friend from university. She ditched me midtrip and abandoned my 19 year old clueless self in Milan. Turns out, it was one of the best experiences I could have had once I was on my own. So embrace the randomness of life and relationships, and make the best of it!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 10:17 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another option is to split the trip in two- travel with J for a week or so, then do the rest of the trip with just your best friend.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:44 PM on December 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you're going to travel across Europe and have a blast, you'd be better off starting the trip with an attitude of flexibility and welcoming friendly fellow-travelers. And three can actually be easier than 2 or 4, because really, everyone needs some time alone.

I just want clarify - J didn't buy the ticket (voucher?) and its dates, destination etc. are not determined yet. I'm actually not sure of the specifics - I've heard everything through A - but I think her dad won it and is giving it to her, or something, and it doesn't need to be to Europe. As it is she could hypothetically use it for another trip."

Okay, look, you have a chance to bypass like a whole year's worth of lessons in leaving high school dynamics behind. Lesson number 1: You know damn well that you took the weaselly way out the first time, don't add insult to injury with lame justifications for double-crossing this girl.
posted by desuetude at 10:52 PM on December 13, 2010 [14 favorites]

Okay, look, you have a chance to bypass like a whole year's worth of lessons in leaving high school dynamics behind. Lesson number 1: You know damn well that you took the weaselly way out the first time, don't add insult to injury with lame justifications for double-crossing this girl.

This. Just be a person, let her know that you made a bad choice when you didn't want to hurt her feelings before, and this really was supposed to be just a two-person trip that you'd been planning for a long time. Do let her know that it isn't about her, but also let her know you realize this sucks for her, and that you're sorry, and that you know she's going to judge you poorly for lying to her up front (as she should.)
posted by davejay at 11:38 PM on December 13, 2010

I just want to chime in and say that I too have seen many "perfect friendships" self-destruct on trips to Europe. Don't know why, but it happens. I've seen many pairs of people who were once best buds ready to strangle each other by the end of the trip (if they hadn't already ditched one another) even though their friendship was tested (and remained intact) several times before, on previous trips elsewhere.

I'd say you might be overestimating how well you'll get along with your BFF and underestimating how well you'll get along with the third wheel.

If you choose not to take "third wheel", I'd take it a step further and mentally prepare yourself for at least a minor breakdown between you and the best friend at some point. Like, it's gonna happen because you guys are human beings...

Good luck!
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:38 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

What will make you feel better in 20 years? Letting J come along, perhaps having some good times with her, perhaps having some bad times because of her... or knowing that you ruined her post-high-school plans?

As a jaded 42 year old, if I was you, I'd let her come along. (It's better to regret the things you did than regret the things you didn't do.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 11:40 PM on December 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

OP, you're making this far too complicated. You invited someone to go on a trip with you. Full stop. If you didn't want her to come, you should not have invited her. It would have been really easy to do so with a minimum of discomfort at the time. You just had to say that you guys had been planning the trip for 3 years and had already worked everything out around that concept. But you didn't do that. You told her she could come. To uninvite her now would be the worst sort of juvenile nonsense.

Look at it as your first big lesson of adulthood; don't bullshit someone over something big in order to spare yourself minor embarrassment. It could bite you in the ass.

Really, you pretty much have to suck it up at this point. And for god's sake never, ever, under any circumstances once you are all on the trip mention anything having to do with not actually wanting her to come. For any reason.
posted by Justinian at 11:44 PM on December 13, 2010 [8 favorites]

I can very much relate to this, as I've gone on a lot of extended international trips with my best friend, and we've had explicit conversations about which other people it would be okay to invite and for how long...but there is no way that you can invite someone to come with you, then change your mind once they get their ticket. That is incredibly awful and immature behavior, and would label you two in my mind forever as the "bitchy, mean girls," if I were J. If you and A managed to get through your European trip without feeling guilty, I'd be surprised, if you are at all decent human beings.

I disagree that J should get equal say in the activities that have already been planned, though, as she did ask to accompany a trip that she knew was already planned out. But make sure she still gets to pick a few activities without everyone grumbling at her.

However, I'd make sure J realizes how much money besides the airfare the trip will cost. Lodging, meals, admissions, etc are all pretty pricey in Europe. It could be she'll only be able to save up enough for one or two weeks, and thus you and A will still get some BFF time without hurting anyone's feelings.
posted by wending my way at 12:12 AM on December 14, 2010

Past that, it's me being socially defective again: even though J is an incredibly sweet, lovable friend who's only a tiny bit condescending towards me (heh), being around J inexplicably tends to make me feel bad about myself and unable to be myself, enough so that I feel it would severely affect the experience I had on the trip.

Okay, this is something you can do something about. Next time J acts condescending, call her out. Even if it's just "a tiny bit." Don't do it in a mean way - she probably doesn't have any idea she's doing it. Just explain to her how it makes you feel. You almost definitely shouldn't disinvite J, but you've got plenty of time to work on how you feel around her.
posted by trig at 12:56 AM on December 14, 2010

What will make you feel better in 20 years? Letting J come along, perhaps having some good times with her, perhaps having some bad times because of her... or knowing that you ruined her post-high-school plans?

As a jaded 42 year old, if I was you, I'd let her come along. (It's better to regret the things you did than regret the things you didn't do.)

Yes, this. I have probably had annoying people come along with me a hundred times on road trips, etc., and I don't remember it. Yet, I would remember it if I ruined a friendship to exclude someone from a trip. (I know you say you won't do it if it will ruin the friendship, so this might be irrelevant.) I don't think you can do this without her figuring it out and being really hurt, and you feeling really bad about it.
posted by salvia at 1:09 AM on December 14, 2010

Instead of worrying that your relationship (or lack of) with this girl will spoil your trip, how about taking the opportunity to learn and practice the skills you'll need as an adult to get along with people, to enforce your own boundaries and so on.

What you can do, is tell J that you'd welcome her company for X and Y part of the trip, but that you and your friend have been planning to Z together for so long that you'd like to make it just the two of you. You can also warn her that you like to spend plenty of time on your own, so you won't be able to hang out 24/7 and she'll need to be able to entertain herself.

After that, make an effort to actually make her welcome. Offer outright to spend time with her on the trip: "Let's all go out tomorrow afternoon to the museum. Shall we meet here at 2pm? Great!" Then spend the morning doing whatever you like, meet at 2pm and for a couple of hours do your best to chat with her, make small talk, be friendly and so on. See if you can make friends with other people you meet, so that all members in your group (not just J) have more opportunities for different people to spend time with.

You can use your trip to practice the very useful life skill of saying Yes and No at the same time, as in "You should absolutely go and look at the Herring Quarter! I need some time to myself so I won't come along. Tell me all about it when you get back!"

There are various tricks for disarming condescending people, for example:

1. "Thanks!"
2. "Yes, I noticed we ( have different styles of clothing). What would you have (worn?)? ... Oh, that's nice!
3. "J, knock it off"
4. deliberate silence to the point where it becomes embarrassing.

Plus, just remember that people often do this because of their own lack of confidence.
posted by emilyw at 2:32 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's not really a drama-free, non-hurtful way to uninvite J. Even if you found a way that seemed perfectly legit on paper, J is likely to catch on, or at least suspect, the real reason. (Point to consider: J might be a little snotty as a defense mechanism because of situations exactly like this. If you get excluded a lot, it's easy to develop a prickly social attitude in an attempt dismiss people before they dismiss you. This isn't your fault or your problem to solve - J's behavior is on J and you're not obligated to be friends - but it's worth keeping in mind.)

I recommend that you reframe this as a chance for you and A to strengthen your friendship with J. If you guys go into it with the assumption that she'll mess up your trip and cause you grief, you'll be reminded of that every time you see her, which will be about every fifteen seconds. You'll resent her pretty quickly, and she'll pick up on that and feel lousy, and things will get sour fast. If you keep "having J along could be great!" at the forefront of your mental list of possibilities, it'll be more likely to happen.

At the very least, if things don't go great, you could consider this an exercise in diplomacy and patience. Which isn't quite as fun as an international adventure between two best friends, but still a good thing to do.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:41 AM on December 14, 2010

You invited her, she found a way to come, you now want to uninvite her. The fact that she hasn't bought her plane ticket yet is irrelevant. Look, in addition to the fact that there's no way to uninvite her without destroying your friendship, uninviting her is just cruel. A few comments mention this, but not most (possibly because it's not directly part of the question) -- how can you even consider doing something so hurtful and awful to your friend?
posted by J. Wilson at 5:03 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the best thing you can do, if she comes along, is to set up an evening before the trip with munchies (and maybe pictures from your past trips?) and set up some ground rules.

You and your BFF don't need any ground rules because you've established them on your many many trips. But you need some clear way to help your other friend picture what she can expect of you and what you expect of her. In a "this is how we do things" kind of way.

If you're planning to party late and wake up late, say so. If you like to do thngs alone for a day or two and then join up in the evening, say so. If you're spontaneous about finding a place to stay, and don't want to plan too much, say so.
Let your other friend also express what she wants, and discuss this.

This is no guarantee that there won't be problems with her expectations, but it will help.

As for her belittling behaviour towards you, you are going to have to make a decision for yourself: "If she does X, I will call her out. If she does it three times, we are parting ways and she can finish the trip on her own" or something of that sort. This will help you not feel trapped with her until the bitter end.
posted by Omnomnom at 5:39 AM on December 14, 2010

I planned a trip with L, and mentioned it to K (they did not know each other). K, who had recently underwent some major personal trauma and was in town visiting me, having bought me an expensive ticket to an event, asked me if she could come too. I said it was ok, thinking she wouldn't, and then she did. I was irritated; I enjoy K better in smaller doses, and that week she was in town visiting me I was stressed out because she wanted to spend all her time with me and I need my alone time like whoa. She is richer and better at planning ahead than I am, which means our traveling styles don't mesh well, and because she is rich she got to extend the trip because of course she could afford to, which made me jealous. L was gracious about this even though she wanted to spend time with me, alone.

And then... L had a medical emergency and we had to get off the plane and she went to the hospital and a day later it was only me and K who got on that plane. And K drove me nuts for all the reasons I predicted, and we ended up shrieking at each other at 4am in the hostel to the annoyance of the Swedes we were rooming with.

And... L and I are still discussing planning a trip together. K and I are cool. I recently went to visit K (who does not live near me), and she really just does drive me crazy in large doses, but I love talking on the phone with her and we hang out when she comes through my town.

Take that story how you will but I do value both L and K, I probably will not ever get a chance to travel with K again for a variety of scheduling/life reasons, and as someone who loves to travel I can't even pretend that was the worst thing that ever happened to me on a trip (oh my god, it can be so much worse).
posted by jenlovesponies at 6:01 AM on December 14, 2010

You invited her, she found a way to come, you now want to uninvite her. The fact that she hasn't bought her plane ticket yet is irrelevant. Look, in addition to the fact that there's no way to uninvite her without destroying your friendship, uninviting her is just cruel. A few comments mention this, but not most (possibly because it's not directly part of the question) -- how can you even consider doing something so hurtful and awful to your friend?

This, a thousand times. You invited her on a Big Deal Trip. She's excited about it. Uninviting her now would be incredibly mean - it's the kind of thing people do sometimes in high school without thinking about it and then regret for the rest of their lives. I'm serious. You're very young now, so I don't blame you for your attitude here. But, put in stark terms, what you're proposing is to really badly hurt someone you consider a friend just so you can maximize your enjoyment of a vacation. Think about that, and think about what it would say about you if you made that choice. Now is exactly the time in your life when you start deciding what kind of person you want to be.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:25 AM on December 14, 2010

You are soooooo worried about this other girl "ruining" your trip because of a very rigid idea of how your trip should/will be.

Guess what? It won't be what you think it is. So just put all your expectations out of your mind right now. Assume that all your carefully-wrought plans are out of the window. Because if you go into this with such specific and high expectations, you will be miserable when life intercedes and it turns out to not fit your mental image.

And that - the unexpected nature - of the trip is part of what makes backpacking across Europe so great!

Also, what will you do when you go to a hostel and run into other backpackers your age, who want to hang out...or egads! ask if they can travel along with you for a leg of your journey? Will you squirm and say "ok" and then be miserable the rest of the trip because it's not part of the "plans"?

I think you need to suck it up and let this girl - whom you said is a lovely person - come along. To uninvite her is childish and cruel and is NOT a good start on the road to adulthood.
posted by Windigo at 7:00 AM on December 14, 2010

I think showbiz_liz has a great solution. Since the third wheel hasn't made her arrangements yet, set it up so the two initial planners have a good couple of weeks to travel together, and make their plans to meet #3 at her plane when she arrives and continue the trip as a threesome for a week or so. (And I know this is your friend but I'm going to address it like it's you because I'm tired of convoluting.) Tell her straight out that you've been planning the trip as just the two of you for so long, you want to have that experience as well as getting to explore with all three of you, and this way you have both opportunities and no one misses out.
posted by lemniskate at 7:24 AM on December 14, 2010

All of the answers after mine, especially those about how cruel it is to this girl to specifically ruin her graduation plans and her memories of her high school friendships, have convinced me to change my mind. So, don't uninvite her unless you want to be an even bigger bitch than I normally am.
posted by decathecting at 7:36 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your friend and A waffled by telling J she could come on the trip when they didn't want her to, and now they plan to make up for it by being cruel and telling her they lied when they said she could come.

It's time for them to grow up and live with their mistake; if they're lucky they will learn from it. If they're really lucky, the three of them will have a wonderful trip.
posted by Dolley at 8:46 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would let her go with the caveat that "we WILL be going our separate ways at some points during the trip." That way you keep your word but have an easy out if she gets too annoying.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:14 AM on December 14, 2010

I was uninvited from a trip once. A couple of friends and I were making plans to go to a concert in another province. One of the friends booked the concert tickets and when I asked how much I owed her, she said "Oh. Yeah. We've been meaning to tell you. We could only buy four tickets and we told so-and-so we'd get them a couple of tickets too. Sorry." I was gutted. In a heartbeat, I went from thinking "OMGIhaveneverbeensoexcitedinmylife!" to "I'm a fucking loser and people don't want me around."

It turned out that the person they'd bought the extra tickets for didn't need one of them and they came back to me and said "Hey, there's a ticket available - wanna come?" but the damage was done. If you do decide to boot her from the trip, I hope that J doesn't feel as badly as I did because it's ten years later and that memory still feels like a punch in the guts.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:27 AM on December 14, 2010

How would you feel if you were in J's position? How would you want to be treated? (Probably, you would rather have been told you weren't welcome from the get-go, but it's too late for that.)

This post brought up memeories for me. Early in college, I had plans to rent an apartment for the summer with some girls I barely knew at the time. I remember calling the girl who was my contact and getting an increasingly squishy feeling until she finally admitted there wasn't room for me. Now, it turned out that, while I was away at college, she was dating my boyfriend back home. That may have had everything to do with my getting cut out. All these years later, I have zero resentment about her taking over the guy. That stuff happens. But I don't think very much of her at all, precisely because of how she handled the thing with the apartment and because I don't think she's changed much. Not quite your situation but I do think she agreed to the initial arrangement figuring she was going to get out of it somehow.

Hopefully, as you go along in life, you won't keep saying yes to stuff when you don't really mean it and so you won't get in this position again. It really does suck. At this point I think you just have to do what you can do.
posted by BibiRose at 11:04 AM on December 14, 2010

Response by poster: This comment is from me, not my friend; I want to share it with the group, instead of just sending it to her. I was more on the side of her taking the trip she wants to take -- but you guys have absolutely swayed me, and made me examine my own decade of travel with better lenses.

I've backpacked a ton -- maybe 8 to 10 major backpacking trips abroad. And when I really look back at all my trips, the first one doesn't seem any more important than the second, or the sixth. I've had every sort of travel dynamic, and though certain parts and partners were more difficult and aggravating than others, those were just small scraps of a lifetime travel tapestry, which is 99% beautiful chaos and memorable magic. Even the most potentially awful third-wheel situations I've had -- me + a set of twins; me + my BFF + a terrible traveler; me + my BFF + her bossy older sister -- were no less than 95% amazing. Sure, there were arguments and crankiness, but more often with my BFF, or my boyfriend/now-husband.

I do get where my friend is coming from, and I think some people have been a tad harsh; she's probably the sweetest, most insightful and intelligent 17-year-old I've ever met. I think when you're facing that first big trip, it seems like such a larger-than-life landmark -- especially when you're 17/18 and it's the biggest expenditure you've ever undertaken -- you can't imagine looking back at it as anything less. Like some of you said, it's a very adult thing to force-reassess that; to let go of years of planning, all expectations, and embrace travel chaos. I think we see that more clearly because we have experience looking back at the way memories and experiences stack up and blend together.

So, Friend, I'm now with those who encourage including J. And definitely not in a way that makes it clear she's tacked-on; she's probably sensing already she's that person, but obviously wants to go badly enough to overlook it. I think the key will be
1) sitting down several times and discussing plans & travel attitudes, including what you each want the most out of this trip and what really drives you bonkers, and promising to communicate above all else,
2) remaining flexible, which is the key to backpacking anyway,
3) adjusting your psychology toward the trip, from Landmark Hurrah to First of Many Trips + Embracing the Unexpected, and
4) calling J out when she's being condescending; she might not even realize she's doing it, but if it makes you feel bad, it's not okay.

Lastly -- there's still time to try to seek out a fourth travel partner, especially one who's closer to J. But it shouldn't be a dealbreaker. I think your trip is going to be amazing no matter what, and you'll likely come out of this with a second best friend. You don't know how close you get to someone on a trip abroad until months later, when you realize nobody in the world "gets" your memories like your travel companions.
posted by changeling at 12:36 PM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: from my friend, who will soon be among our youngest mefites :)

"So many responses, wow! I got the chance to think through them all during the school day. Mefi is amazing - and I absolutely can't thank Changeling for setting this up (and for her amazing thoughts just now). :)

Everyone's answers were so valid with great points. Thanks so much, guys, for sharing your stories, thoughts, and advice. In particular I wanted to thank Rhomboid, PhoBWanKenobi, dhartung, exquistive_deluxe, malibustacey, and Metroid Baby among others for pointing out what fun+traveling really means, why A and I should be excited, and especially how having another person could be a plus for various reasons. These points got me thinking about stuff - like how J really is a sweet, lovable friend with better good-travel-partner potential than anyone else in our circle who could have wanted to come with us. And how there've been plenty of instances in the past where I really did enjoy her company, just maybe not in the settings I've been seeing her in these past few months: all-business club meetings; stilted hallway encounters; big groups. During study hall I tried to project what it would be like for all three of us to travel together, assuming things were going smoothly and I had a little more confidence in myself by the summer. And then I actually started getting kinda excited thinking about the cute things J would say and how we could have fun as a threesome. I even tracked J down in the hallway and talked to her for a few minutes with the aim of being as open and friendly as possible, and it was good and reminded me of how close we used to be last year.

I think... I think I had this idea that a trip would just A and me would be pure magic, and putting another person in the equation would take away the magic. Part of me still believes that a little bit. Three will definitely be a lot different from two, and not always in a good way. But another part of me has definitely been influenced by these great answers, and now I have a whole new positive thought process to go on. Chaos is life. I feel like I will be able to get a whole new level of excited for THIS trip, and if it goes well (and the more I think about it, why won't it?) it will definitely set a great precedent for my future decision-making.

Overall, I just can't wait to head off for Europe and start a whole lifetime of travel... while strengthening my friendship with two great girls along the way. Thanks again, everyone! :)"
posted by changeling at 1:24 PM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

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