What to do about a friend who doesn't make time for me and other friends
November 2, 2012 1:00 PM   Subscribe

What is this kind of behavior? I have a friend who constantly turns down invitations to do anything because she says her life is so busy.

It's true, she is busy, as we all are. The thing that bothers me is that whenever she declines an invitation, she goes into great detail about what she's doing instead.

For instance, a response to an invitation to make plans for a group dinner was "You better do it before such and such date as I'm not going to be around after that and you won't see much of me until the new year. I'm also not available on any Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays."

When someone in our group of friends proposes something, her response is about where she will be instead, who she will be with and what she and the people she will be with are doing. The tone is cold and she makes things sound like an inconvenience to her. Her tone almost has a bragging quality to it; I say this because she is always the first person to respond.

She often becomes involved with new activities (and new people) in kind of an obsessive way. An example: Taking a class and then suddenly taking 3 classes and hanging around the people in those classes.

On the other hand, she tells me she misses me and wants to get together. We used to be much closer, but it's difficult to stay friends with someone who is constantly turning you down.

I'm just wondering if others have encountered this type of person and what you've done. Do I just stop including her in things or try to talk to her about it?
posted by spooky car to Human Relations (40 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Does she respond the same whether it's getting together in a group vs. one to one? I prefer meeting people one to one rather than in groups, and maybe she's the same way. And I'm also very busy like her and often turn down social invitations. So to me she sounds quite normal (except for the long detailing of excuses).
posted by Dansaman at 1:04 PM on November 2, 2012

It sounds like a self-esteem issue. She loads herself up with things to do that make her life more important in some ways. I know a lot of "Type A" people who do this, and it can be infuriating.
posted by xingcat at 1:07 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes. I had a friend that seemed to need to convince others that was just too busy, that her life way sooooo important. Yes, she was busy. But so were the people doing the inviting.
Maybe she was just too overwhelmed to do anything else, maybe it was her way of politely declining.
I told her to invite me out when she can see me. I haven't seen her much since.
posted by Neekee at 1:08 PM on November 2, 2012

She's making an excuse. She goes into detail because she wants the excuse to be plausible. She says she feels bad about be because she feels bad about making exudes.

A rule someone told me when I was young and has held true: No matter how busy someone is, if they care about you they'll find the time. If not, they don't care about you.

Spend time and energy on friends who reciprocate.
posted by Ookseer at 1:08 PM on November 2, 2012 [31 favorites]

This doesn't sound too unusual to me--at least you are getting a response and some definite information about when it would work for her to join you. It is tricky to assign motive to someone--you don't know what is motivating her so hard to say if she is bragging or just trying to give you detailed information to help with planning.

Better to figure out if you feel that it is worth spending time with her on her terms--i.e. do you enjoy your time together when you are able to sync schedules? If so, just keep inviting her and then enjoy her presence when she is able to attend. If you don't enjoy spending time with her, then yes, just stop sending her invites.
posted by agatha_magatha at 1:09 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

So your friend is less socially adept than average. Plenty of us are. No big whoop, there.

At the same time, some people are just busy. I have a friend who is always constantly busy, and as a consequence, we meet up in person about once or twice a year, even though we live about 5 miles away. It's just something you accept. Don't "talk to her about it." If she tells you she wants to get together, propose a couple times, and see if she responds or comes up with alternatives.

Generally, people do what they want to do. If she wanted to hang out with you and/or your group of friends, she would make it a priority to do so.
posted by deanc at 1:09 PM on November 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wonder if perhaps her tone doesn't translate well to email. Although what you quoted sounded cold to me, I wonder if it would sound the same to her. Maybe she thinks you really want her to attend and that, if that's the case, "You'd better do it before...." is meant a little differently. And she might be telling you what she's doing because she's excited about it and she still wants to be connected with you. She might think that saying she's busy sounds like a snub, so then she feels compelled to say why she's so busy. And she might not be great with social stuff. At this time of year, busy people start getting really busy, because they may have holiday stuff and then they need to accommodate other people's holiday stuff, plus all their regular stuff. So from now to mid January can be a really busy time for already busy people.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:11 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Specifically regarding turning down invitations:

When dealing with friends, I've always considered it appropriate to tell people where I'm going to be if I'm declining an invitation. For me, it feels rude to just say "oh, no thanks" and then changing the subject or staring blankly into space until they go away.
posted by griphus at 1:13 PM on November 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

A rule someone told me when I was young and has held true: No matter how busy someone is, if they care about you they'll find the time. If not, they don't care about you.

I disagree. One of my best friends behaves exactly like this and its just a mix of low self-esteem and being very introverted. It took me awhile to figure out how to maintain a friendship, but try inviting her to one on one events or just wait for her to get bored and reach out to you.
posted by mannequito at 1:13 PM on November 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

Sounds like a New Yorker to me (says this New Yorker).
posted by Pineapplicious at 1:14 PM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

One possibility to consider.....this is the excuse some people use as a sorta polite manner of brushing off.

Thing is, even super busy people come up with better, kinder, more specific excuses than that, because they know "I'm busy" comes off as a brush-off, especially when repeatedly used. So, in spite of protestations to the contrary, she may just be not that into hanging out.

OTOH, it may be that she lacks the social graces to realize how she's coming off, in which case any of the other replies could account for her behavior.

But if she's even minimally socially aware, I myself would be figuring she's lost interest in the relationship.
posted by Quisp Lover at 1:14 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I tend to over-explain when I'm overwhelmed, in part because writing it all out helps me get a handle on things. I also to go into great detail about my schedule when pinning stuff down with close friends, so they know what's going on.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:15 PM on November 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

She's making an excuse. She goes into detail because she wants the excuse to be plausible.

Alternatively, she genuinely is that busy and she's aware how often she's having to turn down invitations but she doesn't want you to think she's blowing you off.

I really don't see anything wrong with your example. She's letting you know her availability - if you don't plan it by x date or you plan it on days she's told you she isn't available then she wont be able to attend. If she'd just said, sure that sounds great and then you'd decided on a Friday, she wouldn't have been able to come.
posted by missmagenta at 1:16 PM on November 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

You better do it before such and such date as I'm not going to be around after that and you won't see much of me until the new year. I'm also not available on any Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays

This sounds like a perfectly reasonable response. She knows exactly what her schedule is, when the gaps are, and when she can do stuff and she's laying it all out so you don't have to go back and forth ten thousand times with "what about Monday the 23rd" "no remember I got that thing on Mondays" "what about Wednesday?" "no I got that other thing." A lot of times, when my friends and I are planning stuff, we all just dump a rough outline of our schedules in the email chain and take it from there. It makes things a lot easier than having to suss out each and every thing people are doing.
posted by griphus at 1:17 PM on November 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm just wondering if others have encountered this type of person and what you've done. Do I just stop including her in things or try to talk to her about it?

Invite her to stuff if you want her to come to it, and when/if she replies in that weird way, write it off as a personal quirk and let it go. Sometimes people just sort of grow apart and it sounds like she's someone with a craving for novelty.

You can say something like, "Hey, haven't seen you much! Come to this thing, we miss you," or whatever, but if you try to frame it as Having A Talk, she'll probably drift a bit further away because she'll start to think of spending time with you as an obligation.

It could be that she's anxious, it could be that she's making an excuse and as such is overexplaining, it could be that she feels overwhelmed with all the social stuff going on (even if she dug that grave herself) and is saying what she's saying as a minor way of venting about how full her dance card is.

A skill I've found useful to cultivate as I get older is to just let my relationships with people be what they are and fill whatever space they fill and not worry about it. Like I say, invite her to stuff if you want her to come, and sooner or later she probably will.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:19 PM on November 2, 2012 [12 favorites]

Stop trying to make plans and when she says you guys need to get together, tell her to come up with a time and date. If she resists this or pushes back on the responsibility, you can tell her that you've been trying in the past and she keeps begging off, so now it's her turn.
posted by rhizome at 1:24 PM on November 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Datapoint: I have a friend who does exactly that - turn down invitations to any activity, by anyone, yet inform us how busy she is, why that is, how long it will last (it always lasts a LOT longer, as in months longer). She gets obsessed with all of it and frames it as "I wish I wouldn't have to (work on whatever), but I must", while insisting she misses her friends.
She's diagnosed as bipolar, and her new obsessions appear in manic phases; then she drops them, is depressed for a while, then picks up something new.
posted by MinusCelsius at 1:24 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of my close friends pulled this for a period of time during college. She was legitimately extremely busy (arguably busier than the rest of us), but more than that she was really stressed and trying to hide how much she felt like she was missing out and losing her friends because of not being around so much. I think she made a big deal of going into detail about her other obligations to make extra sure that we wouldn't misinterpret her busy-ness and drift away or stop inviting her.

That said, the behavior only lasted for a year or so. If this is your friend's standard MO for years and years, I might say something and then start disengaging if the behavior doesn't improve.
posted by telegraph at 1:26 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's some great advice here already. I'm on the side of she's genuinely busy and just trying to be up front with you. I have been known to pull out my calendar book in front of friends and say "well I can't do anything for the next month but perhaps [weekend X]."

For me, it's generally easier to hang out one-on-one because of the massive coordination necessary and the time commitment group things are. I do much better with getter together with one person for drinks or lunch, because of course I want to see them, I'm just so damned busy doing all these other things that have to get done! So I suggest if you miss her and want to spend time with her, ask her to lunch with just you.

And even though I have to say no to people, I don't want them to stop inviting me! Maybe I'll only end up seeing them once or twice a year, and I feel bad saying no, but I really do want to see them!!
posted by DoubleLune at 1:29 PM on November 2, 2012

As someone with 5 kids, a very hard job, and a time-gobbling volunteer position (which is vital and where I am one of a small handful of people in my sphere who have the skills to do it)... I have to say that I turn down most outside invites as well. I am also aware that some people believe that I am just a stick in the mud. BS. It's also not true that I don't care about my friends and relatives - I simply care more about my family. I can't possibly accept the vast majority, and the remainder I don't accept because (a) people get petty and start to wonder why I accepted "that one" (but not theirs) and (b) I am simply too tired most of the time. Sometimes I find myself explaining as well.
posted by brownrd at 1:30 PM on November 2, 2012

My best friend is like this. It's a bit narcissistic IMO. But I love him, so I just roll my eyes and make him give me an available date rather than me trying to find a hole in his very busy schedule.
posted by cecic at 1:30 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

"You better do it before such and such date as I'm not going to be around after that and you won't see much of me until the new year. I'm also not available on any Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays."

"We'll let you know the date, hope you can make it!"

No drama, no attention, no hard feelings but no feeding the beast.
posted by headnsouth at 1:32 PM on November 2, 2012 [19 favorites]

Alternatively, she genuinely is that busy and she's aware how often she's having to turn down invitations but she doesn't want you to think she's blowing you off.

This. I have been know to do this -- a lot of my friends do -- but it's really a combination of laying out the situation so we can all efficiently schedule things, and also wanting people to know that I KNOW I can't make every social engagement and it's not that I am blowing them off, it's that I legit have other balls in the air.

I do not, however, start said emails with "you better." I don't know if she really does that, or if that is your interpretation of her communiques, though. "You better xyz" comes across kind of demanding, although a charitable interpretation of that is that she is actually kind of stressed about her schedule.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:42 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Personally, this kind of behavior was a symptom of my depression. I used to provide similar, overly-detailed excuses for bowing out of social engagements (but I rarely had other plans.)
posted by theraflu at 1:44 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Sounds like a New Yorker to me (says this New Yorker)"

I came here to say that too! My friends who live full-time in New York - and I mean in lower Manhattan, not in the more laid-back parts of Brooklyn - always do it this way. Actually they think this is the way it should be done. When planning stuff, they generally send out invitations about a month in advance and leave the exact date up in the air. After hearing back from everyone, they'll schedule the event on the date when the most people are able to make it. It's a kind of self-importance, but also really really common - pretty much a part of the culture.

I don't know about going into really obsessive and enumerating detail, though. Is she just a wordy, obsessive, enumerating person?
posted by subdee at 1:45 PM on November 2, 2012

There are so many explanations of why she might be acting this way, and I think the other MeFites have done a good job explaining some of them, but there is one I haven't seen here yet: invitation overload. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Evite, Emails, etc. its a lot easier to reach out to people and invite them to social events. And I think this had lead to us as a society becoming overloaded with invitations.

In addition, this could be symptomatic of different planning styles. Some people have their whole weekends planned out weeks in advanced, while other are more fly-by-the-seat-of-their pants. If she is the first time, she could be sending you a message, which is: I am interested in seeing you, but you gotta plan something with me early on.
posted by emilynoa at 1:46 PM on November 2, 2012

I totally am this person sometimes. It never occurs to me that I am bragging - I'm telling people where I will be because it would feel like I'm blowing someone off if I didn't tell them why I was declining. (Probably not true, but it feels rude!) And if I'm first to answer, it's because I'm used to being busy so I try to be on the ball by taking care of my emails right away and keeping my calendar up to date. If I'm oversharing, it's probably because I feel disconnected from people I haven't seen in a while and are trying to involve them in my life again.

As for never making time for friends, it may be that she's bad at managing her priorities, or her priorities are not social (or recreationally social, since you say she socializes around classes). I personally would keep inviting her, though I wouldn't feel bad leaving her off, either.
posted by beyond_pink at 2:04 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am like this, and also a former New Yorker. I'm easily bored, so I tend to go out and seek new things and I plan for that.

It actually drives me crazy when people are vague with their plans, so I always prioritize people who are able to plan ahead with a firm date and time (and particularly those friends who don't cancel at the last minute). However, if I can't make it, I would propose an alternate date and time--a specific one--if I was genuinely interested in seeing someone. Is your friend doing that?

If anything, I think this is a symptom of modern society because everyone is so busy. Everyone I know is busy like this. I've been trying to meet up with an acquaintance for a full month now, it never seems to work out.

I don't say, "You better..." though. That is quite rude, even for overscheduled New York types.
posted by so much modern time at 2:31 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Throwing stuff at the wall here, but some people are so extroverted that every minute of their free time is pre-scheduled with other people. That may be what's going on with your friend.

There's a lot of armchair analysis you could do about why this is the case, but the basic issue is that it may not be about you. It may just be about her need to constantly be around other people, which means she's always over scheduled. If you want to see her, set the date a month or two out.
posted by cnc at 2:43 PM on November 2, 2012

Sheesh, life's too short.

I'd invite her, via email, whenever there's a group gathering, but I wouldn't count on her. When she says, "We should get together." I'd respond, "Sure, let me know when you're free."

I wouldn't buy into the whole, "Why yes, your curing cancer is more important my my Fiona's Christening. I'd just say, "Sorry to miss you."

If she calls one night and says, "We never see each other anymore." I'd respond, "True, you're not as available as you used to be."

Don't take the bait, don't be mean, but don't count on her for anything.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:13 PM on November 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm with Ruthless Bunny: don't count on her for anything, don't invite her to anything crucial.

In my experience, people who go on about how busy they are-- and then don't go through their calendar to find a spot when they are NOT busy to do stuff with you-- don't really want to do stuff with you. If she wanted to, she'd do it, right? Whether or not the excuses are true, she's not putting her money where her mouth is. (Did she ever follow up on the "no MWF"'s thing, for example?)

Next time she whines, tell her, "Well, you're so busy, why don't YOU come up with a time where you're free so that we can get together?" Then see if she actually bothers to do so. If she doesn't, there's your answer.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:33 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a somewhat busy person, and I have a lot of busy friends. One friend in particular rarely comes to group things because she always has plans in advance. This works out fine because she's warm and gracious about it. However, a number of years ago I had a friend who reminds me of the person the OP describes - his ostenatious refusals started to really get my goat. I introspected a lot about this and came to the conclusion it was less about what was said and more about how it was said. I think I can handle any amount of rejection from a friend as long as there is a genuine expression of regret that they can't be there, and the reason (if given) seems to be more about an explanation that they are committed elsewhere, not an explanation of why they would choose the other far more interesting thing! I started writing an email to this guy with the intention of telling him how his responses were coming across, but I never sent it. We are no longer friends, and I think it's probably best that way.
posted by Cheese Monster at 5:24 PM on November 2, 2012

I guess it's more a question of how she says it - because I am in this situation a lot, as are my friends, and we do laugh about having to take out our diaries or check our Google Calendars before we can commit to things. I don't consider it something to brag about, although I do feel happy about having lots of things going on in my life.

The way you describe it it sounds like she's trying to boost her self-esteem by making you think you need to make extra effort for her company.

I'm just wondering if others have encountered this type of person and what you've done. Do I just stop including her in things or try to talk to her about it?

Not sure how you'd talk about it with her. I'd just go ahead and make the plan, and keep her in the loop and if she turns up, brilliant but if she doesn't, you just go ahead with whatever you were planning to do anyway.
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:08 PM on November 2, 2012

No matter what the deal is, I sense a lot of dismissiveness and even possibly some contempt in the way you describe her. You don't seem to think her activities are important, even though they're obviously important to her. She might sense this and be trying hard to justify herself in the hope of getting elusive approval/acceptance from your particular crowd.

I gotta say, if I knew people who seemed to think about me what you think about this friend (braggy, obsessed) I would probably overcompensate a little bit too. Or I'd just move on, because it's important that my friends be happy for me when I have exciting things going on in my life. And honestly, if you can't be happy for her and you feel like she kinda sucks, why try to be friends with her? Life is short.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:54 PM on November 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

Here's an important data point - when she responds to the invitation, does she "reply all" or reply just to you? If she replies to all, it's probably a narcissistic popularity thing - she wants everyone to know how important she is. I had a friend like this and it was really annoying because when you send a group invite, you want the first few responses to be affirmative in order to get the invite to the critical mass point where it takes on a life of its own, and her immediate "no" lamed my get-togethers somewhat. I solved the problem simply by only inviting her to events where everybody else had already RSVPed.

If she responds privately only to you, then popularity probably isn't the issue - she simply overestimates her importance in your mind. You can set her straight if it really bothers you, but I see very little to be gained from that.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:54 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am like this when I'm feeling defensive about how busy I am, especially in regards to whether I sense some resentment from the other person about me not being as available as they would like me to be. Have you given her signals you're displeased? Because she could be reacting to that. I tend to over explain my schedule in situations like that so that the offended party understands that I'm not blowing them off to watch Seinfeld reruns, but rather I have an attorney mtg or a high school reunion or whatnot. I also do this to people who invite me to things last minute and are annoyed if I can never make it. I suppose in order to point out that I'm usually booked solid a week or two in advance so if they want to see me they have to invite me earlier.
posted by egeanin at 12:40 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I do this. I don't want to impose by actually proposing a time - yes, I'm a pleaser at the best of times - but I do want to hang out, and I don't want to have to go back and forth arranging the time, so I let you know upfront when I can make it and I can't. That may be the case with your friend.

On my part, I agree with the previous answers saying that you seem to be a little bit dismissive of her possible motives, and you treat her as a problem to be handled. I'm not saying you should stop being friends or that you're evil, because different strokes yknow, but I'd feel very hurt if indeed, it was some kind of insecurity (as related above and in other answers) that was motivating me to act this way, and my friends just say "well then, you're off the list for anything important". Well, no matter what I'd be kind of hurt, so there's that.
posted by undue influence at 8:43 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been like this, especially the over-explaining about when I am actually available. For me, it comes from being in college and having a lot of friends who work full-time and have a lot more free time than me. I have this one friend specifically who never seems to get that if I have class on Thursday nights, I am not available those nights. Sometimes when you're really busy it starts to get infuriating when someone keeps rubbing it in your face that they aren't nearly as busy and overworked, through nearly passive aggressive seeming invitations. I would always explain to this friend, every time, what my schedule was, in hopes that he would get it.
posted by malapropist at 5:15 PM on November 3, 2012

I am like this too (sans the long explanations) so let me offer another perspective. Like many people from certain fields of work, my life is busier than that of people from fields with 9-5 jobs. Looking at them, I cannot understand how they have eternity to kill with get-togethers and what not. I have been with a friend who would repeatedly make plans. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is (1) she knows I am very busy (I told her), (2) before we are done with one event, she has the next one planned and (3) our concepts of how often to catch up with friends is extremely different and I feel that I am expected to adhere to her ideas of meeting every week or so when I just cannot manage it. The last point is the killer for me. I would just like her to back the hell off and give me a chance to get back to her and ask her for a change if she'd like to do something. Frankly, #3 is such a big contention for me that I had to actively stop seeing her for her to back off because the explanations that I did give were just not working.

If you are good friends, if you are really interested in being friends long-term, you have to realise that there is no one way and there is no right way to go about doing things. Instead of asking a question such as the one here, I suggest you treat her as a unique person who like X a lot and Y not so much when the opposite might be the "norm". You don't have to put up with manipulations at all but you do have to let people decide what they want to do with their time, just like money. Sometimes those decisions make zero sense to us but its their choice. If they want to be friends, they will get back to you. If not, you have your answer as well. But give people some space and let them be if you are a good friend.
posted by xm at 6:21 AM on November 5, 2012

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