This feels very seventh-grade
January 30, 2014 4:07 PM   Subscribe

A mutual friend is excluding my best friend from group events, and it's making me feel terrible.

I am in a group of mutual friends, and we are mostly women. We are all in our 30s and 40s. We all work together in a postdoctoral research group. Some of us are closer than others, but we are all friendly and get along and socialize outside of work.

There was a time when we all spent time together and it was always nice. We were all pretty close and I considered these women to be my good friends. However, in the past six months or so there have been situations where not everyone is invited to group events, like birthday parties or Superbowl parties or movie nights. Specifically, my best friend and roommate, Amy, is not being invited to some of these group events.

In some cases, I can say something like "Hey, can I bring Amy," and it's fine. In lots of other situations, the invitations are more formal and I can't really ask to bring someone along (for example, there was a party where formal invitations were sent out, or there have been group emails that don't include Amy). This has been going on for about six months. There was some turmoil in our research group which caused bad feelings, not specific to myself or to Amy, but we were peripherally involved based on decisions made by the group that allowed us to have some perks that other postdocs did not get. We did not brag about these perks - we tried to share them with people, in fact, but there was a lot of unhappiness.

This is mostly coming from one person in the group - Lisa. Everyone else invites everyone to all the group events. However, Lisa kind of "runs" the social circle here and she organizes most of these events.

Amy and I think that this person might be jealous of both of us, but Amy is more "weakly tied" to the social group than I am, so she is the one who is being excluded more often. I am also being excluded, but not as often as Amy is, even though there are certain people in the group who prefer Amy's company to mine (although Amy disagrees with this statement).

I feel like I am being put in a bad situation. It makes Amy feel bad when she is excluded from stuff. It makes me feel bad not to go because I enjoy going, but it makes me feel bad to go because I feel like I'm being complicit and allowing Lisa's crummy behavior. I think Lisa is being really immature, and that this whole thing has gotten out of hand.

I don't really like Lisa that much at this point, but I do like the group that surrounds her. I like being able to spend time with them and with Amy. I also like spending time with some of these people one-on-one or in small groups, but it's becoming difficult to get together in a small group without involving Lisa. For example, I'd like to have Lisa's roommate and another one of our friends over, but if I do not invite Lisa, there will be a problem. If I do invite Lisa, people will probably not come, because Amy will be here and Lisa won't want to come. Amy doesn't really like Lisa much at all anymore, but she is nice to her and is always happy to socialize with her when we are all together. She doesn't really have any major problems with Lisa, other than the way Lisa treats her.

I feel like some of Lisa's closer friends in the group could or should say something about how excluding Amy is rude and not OK. I know I'm not that person because Lisa and I aren't that close - I'm often invited by coincidence or just by being in the "right" place at the right time.

I have been spending time with other people and distancing myself from this group, but I do like going to these events from time to time, too. These group things are usually pretty fun, I have a good time, and after working a really long week it can be nice to get out and laugh and have a nice time as a group. Stuff like this doesn't come up often, because I've distanced myself a lot, but when it does I get very upset and anxious. I feel like I can't say anything, because Lisa will get upset. I can't go to events, because I'll be participating in excluding my best friend. I can't stay home, because that doesn't really seem fair - I want to go! They're fun, whether or not Amy is present.

So what should I do about this?
posted by sockermom to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Organize social events and invite whoever you choose, including Amy?
posted by Sublimity at 4:14 PM on January 30, 2014 [20 favorites]

You seem to be under the misapprehension that the invitees of a purely social event are a matter for people other than the organizer to decide.

It's not up to you to decide who Lisa invites. Nor is it for Lisa's friends to try to control her behavior.

Organize your own events. If you don't want to invite Lisa, don't. Or invite Amy and Lisa, and if Lisa doesn't want to come because Amy will be there, that's on her. I other people don't want to come because Amy will be there, that's on them. Let the chips fall where they may.
posted by grouse at 4:26 PM on January 30, 2014 [9 favorites]

Why is Amy not being invited?

Is she being specifically disinvited (as in "Don't tell Amy we're all doing X after work"), or are people just forgetting to include her?

I find that I often tend to forget people when I throw invite-only events like parties. It's usually not because I have any problem with Person X, I just suck at making a list of all my friends. And I throw casual get-togethers, so I assume that somebody will invite along anyone I forgot. I don't have any conflicts within my social circle to the point where anybody in our group would be Not Invited, and it's always fine with me if people bring whoever.

Amy is more "weakly tied" to the social group than I am

Knowing this, I'm almost certain that Amy is not being invited because her weaker ties allow people to forget to specifically include her, not because someone has a vendetta against her.

Keep in mind, too, with events where there has to be a specific guest list and printed invitations and the like, often there is a hard number of guests. If Amy is less close with the rest of the group, she may not rate an invite simply because only X number of people can come, and the host wanted to prioritize people she's close with.

I think it's irrational to expect an "only bring enough for the rest of the class" approach among 30/40-somethings. Lisa is not required to be friends with Amy, or to invite Amy along to things despite disliking her.

If I were Amy, I would not lose sleep over it and instead concentrate on the friendships that were actually important to me.
posted by Sara C. at 4:27 PM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel like some of Lisa's closer friends in the group could or should say something about how excluding Amy is rude and not OK.

In my experience, it is extremely rare that anyone will do this. Most people just don't want to rock the boat. If you protest, people will turn on you, since you are the one who is "starting drama." So, I don't think that waiting for someone to do this or trying to convince anyone to will get you very far.

I think the best solution is, as others have said above, for you and Amy to start organizing fun events. Yeah, it can be a pain and a time suck sometimes, but the tradeoff for letting someone else do it all the time is that if that person is controlling and weird, you have to deal with their weirdness.

I think one good thing to try is to compliment Lisa, out of her hearing, in ways that you know will get back to her. What was it about the perks that made her so upset, did she feel that her work was unappreciated? If so you could compliment her along those lines.
posted by cairdeas at 4:30 PM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you are reading too much into it. But even if you're not, Lisa is allowed to not like Amy for whatever reason. Or simply decide that Amy wouldn't get along with in a certain situation/group of people. (Though it doesn't sound like it, if you're all mutual friends.)

If you want to include Amy, throw your own events. Those take time and energy, in return the organizer gets to mostly control the events. That's the cost and the benefit. You don't get to expect others to throw parties the way you want them. And anyway, only 7th graders will actually care about everyone being friends with everyone. Adults generally recognize that some people just don't get along, even if they're all perfectly fine people. So throw your own parties, and invite everyone if you want.
posted by ethidda at 4:33 PM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I want to note that Amy and I used to invite people to things and events that we controlled, but Lisa started co-opting the events and organizing get-togethers at the same time, and people went to those instead. Lisa is very controlling and she likes to be the ringleader for group get-togethers.

If we do decide to hold group events, how can Amy and I do so in a way where it won't be co-opted by Lisa? I don't feel comfortable excluding Lisa (that's my whole problem with what Lisa is doing) so I want to invite her, but the chance of her co-opting the event and organizing something different at the same time, or of her complaining the whole time that we're not doing the event the "right way" is not zero - this has happened with us and with others in the group several times.
posted by sockermom at 4:37 PM on January 30, 2014

Also, I completely sympathize with why this bothers you. Adults with adult lives only have so much time to meet people and make friends, and we spend an incredible percentage of our lives working. I don't think it's childish at all of you or Amy.
posted by cairdeas at 4:37 PM on January 30, 2014 [9 favorites]

I don't feel comfortable excluding Lisa

Why the hell not? You don't like her, and it doesn't sound like she likes either of you. I suggest reading up on the Five Geek Social Fallacies (particularly 1 and 5) and shaking off the notion that everybody has to hang out together all the time.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:39 PM on January 30, 2014 [29 favorites]

How large are the events we're talking about?

Why not just invite a couple or three people to do a specific thing? You, Amy, and say two other members of the group. Make dinner plans. Go to a movie. Participate in an activity. Something that makes it less likely that you'll be blown off at the last minute when Lisa decides to throw a toga party.

When all your social time is in unorganized, nebulous, "let's hang out sometime" type situations, it's very easy for this dynamic to play out. When you make specific plans with particular individuals, there's a lot more social pressure not to cancel in favor of a more socially prestigious thing.
posted by Sara C. at 4:42 PM on January 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

We all work together in a postdoctoral research group.

You need to think carefully about if this situation could have any professional repercussions for you, and whether it's more important to you to maintain good relations with colleagues or to do things where Amy can feel included.

If I do invite Lisa, people will probably not come, because Amy will be here and Lisa won't want to come.

So if Lisa doesn't come, no one else will? Are you sure?

I feel like some of Lisa's closer friends in the group could or should say something about how excluding Amy is rude and not OK.

Hosting an event does not come with an obligation to invite everyone's best friends and roommates. If Amy is relying on you for all of her socializing, she might want to make more friends.

One possibility that occurs to me: If you and Amy have a relationship more along the lines of partners/spouses, if you are keeping it secret from others you can't expect others to treat her as your partner/spouse.
posted by yohko at 4:45 PM on January 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

If everyone is willing to play Lisa's game to the point where if you've organized a group event and Lisa responds by organizing one a the same time and everyone ditches yours, there's not a lot to do. I'd continue to ask people to group events, invite Amy and invite Lisa. If Lisa chooses not to go due to her weird grudge, fine. If she complains about an even not being done properly, ignore her rude behavior. No spotlight for Lisa.

I'd probably also see whether Amy was game to crash along with me when she's not invited, because fuck Junior High mean girl BS.
posted by quince at 4:46 PM on January 30, 2014

complaining the whole time that we're not doing the event the "right way"

Does Lisa have any skills besides hostessing that she is particularly proud of? Like if being an awesome host is one way for her to get attention and admiration, are there other things she can do in order to get that? For example, if she is an amazing ice skater, you could organize an ice skating night. That's just one random thought.
posted by cairdeas at 4:49 PM on January 30, 2014

This really sucks, but I fear there is no easy way out of it. Whatever binds these others to Lisa seems strong. You could start a campaign of one on one coffee dates (for example), but it might take a long time before your relationship can compete with the strength of Lisa's bond with them. Which is relevant since Lisa is apparently making it a competition.

Hmm. IS there an insider with the group status, willingness, and personal strength to successfully start saying "oh! I can't believe we forgot to invite Amy" and "we should invite Amy!" until it sinks in? If so, a one on one meeting or two with her might help (the first to feel out her perspective on the rift, and the second to more directly discuss how to repair it).
posted by salvia at 5:23 PM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Lisa sounds like she sucks. But the Lisas of the world only have as much power as people give them. You and Amy really should start organizing things. I'd start very small - like just you, Amy, and one or two other people. Even just a "Hey, I'm going to Starbucks, can I get you something?" Don't throw a huge party right off the bat and invite everyone but Lisa -- do a few things without Lisa that are smaller. If the center of gravity of the group can move off of Lisa things will be way better for everyone. I guarantee you, other people are annoyed by her too but are just scared to make the first move.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:32 PM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

It seems like a lot of this would go away if Lisa and Amy just started getting along more. Is there any way to encourage a rapprochement between Lisa? To help her _want_ to spend time with Amy? I know this seems improbable, and most people wouldn't even try, but if it _were_ possible it could do a lot of good. It would require cleverness beyond my own, though.
posted by amtho at 6:11 PM on January 30, 2014

I don't know if it would work, but perhaps inviting people over a spread out time period, rather than all at once, and making Lisa and those closest to her the last invited *might* help short circuit a derailment of your plans. This would be more likely to work with a casual event that you'd "intended to be small, but it just sort of snowballed"... even if you really intended it to end up larger all along.

Other than that: this is a prime example of why the 'public school' sort of socialization isn't healthy socialization. You and Amy will be much more likely to create real, lasting friendships once you branch out into social encounters with a more diverse group of people, not just your homogenized group from your postdoc.
posted by stormyteal at 7:37 PM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Start excluding Lisa from group emails.

Brutal but needed. She'll get the message.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:51 PM on January 30, 2014

Organise some events by yourself. Do this often enough, and make them fun enough, that people will come. If you organise one thing, and Lisa gets her spite on and organises something else at the same time that people go to, you have a sample of one. Organise three or five or ten things - Lisa can't block everyone from going to everything. And people will twig sooner or later. Of course, if people choose to go to Lisa's things, then that might be just because they want to. Maybe they like Lisa more, or prefer her company to that of yours or think she puts on a better spread, or something. That's their right. You can't really control what other people do.

Lisa gets to choose how she behaves and who she invites to a Thing. I don't think anyone has any business telling her she must invite Amy, especially if she doesn't get on with Amy for some reason. Lisa is not obligated to invite Amy just because other people want her there. It might be rude to exclude someone, but it's not necessarily wrong. It seems to me to be somewhat rude to try to pressure Lisa regarding the social engagements she's organising.

I think you should find a new group of friends. These ones aren't working out for you. Find some people who want to spend time with you. That's what friends are. People who want to spend time with you until someone or something better comes along aren't your friends. Since it seems that your only tie to this group is the Fun Thing, not an actual person, you shouldn't have much difficulty finding some other people to do Fun Thing with.

Trying to change group dynamics is hard enough when everyone concerned wants to do it. It also gets exponentially more difficult the more people there are in the group. It sucks, but forcing someone to accept someone they don't want to accept is a shitty thing to try to do. Friendship isn't the workplace, where you have to rub-and-wear with people because you're in close proximity and need the money. Friendship is something you choose for yourself, irrespective of how others feel about it. In your view, Lisa might be being childish, but in hers, she might be making a rational adult decision. One that she gets to make.
posted by Solomon at 12:25 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been Amy, and you know what, at some point you realize that either people dig you, or they don't.

I found happiness when my friends included me, and if the person who excluded me was there, I was cordial to her, but steered clear, because she didn't dig me.

Did it hurt my feelings when everyone was at a party I wasn't invited to? At first, yes, but then I called other friends, and made plans, or enjoyed a night in with old movies and magazines.

This is how the world works. Make your decisions based on what you actually WANT to do. If hanging with Amy sounds more fun than going out with the gang, DO that!

If Amy wants to mix and mingle with folks, she can arrange entertainments and invite the folks she wants to see. If Lisa schedules things opposite, then people will make their decisions, and that will be that.

Accepting the situation, as it is, is pretty much the only thing you and Amy and Lisa can do. Lisa's going to Lisa.

Amy can open her mouth and talk to Lisa, "Gosh, I know that you're the 'cruise director' for our group and it's really hurtful that you're purposely excluding me from activities." But frankly, I'd just find other people to hang out with.

As for you, yes, meeting with these other folks is fun, but who is your primary relationship with? If it's Amy, then you might want to split your time about 75/25, rather than 50/50. You'll miss out on group things more, but it's sort of a crack on Seneca. I'd rather be missed, than have them wonder why I'm there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:12 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's dumb and frustrating that people act childish and push others away. But life is too short to stress yourself out over petty nonsense.

So do your thing. Organize your own social events, invite whoever you want to invite, and let people make their own decisions about how they're going to act.

This is key: be cool as a cucumber. If Lisa wants to act childish and petty, that's on her. You can't change that, and reacting to it in a negative way often makes you look negative and dramatic. If you take the high road and decide that you're going to have fun regardless of the way people act, then chances are the people worth having in your life will gravitate toward you anyway.
posted by hootenatty at 9:24 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

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