How do I tell a friend I don’t want to go to an event with her?
October 28, 2019 9:11 PM   Subscribe

I have a relatively new friend who wants to hang out A Lot. I’m a certified introvert, and while I’m happy to hang out, I have a lot of friends that I want and need to make time for. Which brings me to tomorrow night. There’s a performance I’d like to go to. I would like to go alone and chat with whoever I run into. I would not like to go with anyone. How do I tell my friend who has expressed interest in going with me?

I had expressed interest in going the last time we hung out, and she jumped in with wanting to go with me. Even though she had previously seen this performer and wasn’t enthused. I don’t really enjoy seeing acts with someone who is “meh” about being there, and the nature of the performance makes this an activity I’d rather do solo anyway. She reached out yesterday asking if I still want to go, and I haven’t responded yet. (I just don’t think I can say “Yes, but not with you.”)

This friend has really taken to seeing me every single Tuesday, and that’s just not workable for me. I would like to scale back to monthly and have my other Tuesdays free to see other people. This friend is recently out of a small liberal arts college, and it seems that she is trying to recreate that ultra close, always on, enmeshed kind of friendship and friends group. The rest of us are a decade (or several) out of college, and neither want nor can sustain that level of contact or always talking about heavy things. I like her a lot and enjoy her company, but this is way more than I have to give to any relationship.

I’m including all that because I feel like she’ll take it very hard if I am not careful. I’d love to maintain this friendship, but with more breathing space. I would especially like to go to this performance and have whatever reactions I’m going to have at my own pace without being interrogated about it or having to coordinate. Unfortunately, the space is 100% standing room, so I can’t just find a seat between two already reserved ones. I just want to go have my feels in peace. Halp?
posted by stoneweaver to Human Relations (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"Hey friend, I really enjoy spending time with you and would love to go to a show with you! Part of my self-care is to do activities on my own sometimes, and I would like to immerse myself in tomorrow's performance alone since I haven't done that in a while. Maybe we can catch up in a week or two over [insert activity]?"

People are more open out their self-care needs or practices these days. Focusing the attention on your needs, rather than making it about her, will hopefully reduce the likelihood or depth of hurt she feels.
posted by mayurasana at 9:39 PM on October 28, 2019 [36 favorites]

I would just keep it simple like yeah "I want to go but just as an alone thing this time. I like to space out with this band." And just leave it at that so it doesn't sound too thought-through. "I want to go alone" isn't nearly as much of a bummer as "I'm going with someone else and specifically not with you." Anyway the only way to ease out of this friendship level is to start turning her down so you might as well start here.
posted by bleep at 9:51 PM on October 28, 2019 [13 favorites]

"I've decided that I want to go solo to this event, but I would love to get together with you on X date! How are things going with you otherwise?"

You can't control how she feels about your boundary, so just be polite. You aren't doing anything wrong by not meeting all of her socialisation needs and you don't need her permission to go alone. There is no need to feel guilty or caretake this fellow adult beyond ordinary courtesy.
posted by windykites at 10:03 PM on October 28, 2019 [14 favorites]

“Hey friend. I actually haven’t decided yet. I really want to see Performer, but I’m also feeling pretty wiped. I think I’m just going to play it by ear and see how I feel tomorrow night. Maybe I’ll see you there if we both end up going!”


“Hey friend. I haven’t decided yet. I think I’m just going to see how I feel tomorrow night. Why don’t you and I do [thing] on [insert appropriately distanced date here] instead? It would be easier to catch up that way than at [performance] anyway.”
posted by tan_coul at 10:22 PM on October 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

The idea that you owe this person a compensatory social engagement later for not going with the performance with them seems to me like the wrong road to go down. Friends should be people you want to be with, not people you just feel obligated to be with. It just seems like it is going to lead to a bad dynamic, where you will end up "owing" them your time, resenting them but being reluctant to friend-dump them because you don't want them to feel bad, and having made yourself responsible for how they feel. Maybe this is catastrophizing the situation, though, based on it reminding me of people in my life who have ended up being time/energy/attention vampires. If you really do want to see them later, and want to make specific plans, fine, but I don't think you should say so purely to soften the mini-rejection.
posted by thelonius at 11:20 PM on October 28, 2019 [10 favorites]

The hardest thing about being an introvert is owning it. Don't lie, don't fudge.
Hey. Thanks for being keen to see BogNog with me but I want to go on my own. I'm an introvert, if you hadn't guessed, and that means I often need to do things alone. It's not that I don't like spending time with you - I do! I think you're great! I especially like it when we go to the little chicken farm to pet the baby eggs. But I'm really the kind of person who needs to spend a lot of time doing stuff by myself. Otherwise I just kinda wilt. Thanks for being so understanding. Do you want to pet eggs a fortnight from Thursday?
Tell people who you are, tell them what you want from them, tell them what you have to give them, and be proactive in forging/maintaining interpersonal bonds - at your own pace. Be as generous as possible, be kind whenever feasible, and most of all - be true to yourself.
posted by Thella at 11:41 PM on October 28, 2019 [33 favorites]

Some good advice above. Just for the future, can you clarify how this event came up in discussion with your friend? Because I’m thinking if she brought it up this is going to hurt less than if you brought it up and then later said you wanted to go alone.
posted by EatMyHat at 12:06 AM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

"Hey, sorry, but I prefer to go to this sort of thing by myself. Let's catch up next time, OK?"

I think the less explaining you do, the better. Justifying yourself not only makes it sound like your feelings are up for negotiation, but sabotages your own negotiating position by implying that such justification is necessary. I think we introverts tend to catastrophize about the consequences of our social mishaps, imagining that people will treat any refusal as a betrayal or a permanent rejection, but most people aren't that psycho and will understand if you want to just be your own person. Maybe your friend will be disappointed, but eventually she'll learn that adults can't just hang out all the time, and then she'll be more pleasant and less exhausting company.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 12:35 AM on October 29, 2019 [10 favorites]

There is no really good way to tell someone that you want to go to a public event where you want to chat with people but you don't want to go with her or chat with her. There's just not. You can go to this event solo if you want to, you're entitled to do that -- but you can't realistically expect her not to feel hurt while you do it, and it's not some indication that she's socially awkward if she does feel hurt by that. Calling it a boundary doesn't mean other people are going to like being on the wrong side of it.

You can tell her you're an introvert and like to do things alone but if she shows up at this event anyway and sees you happily chatting away with other people, it's going to look like a lie and not a very nice one -- though it will probably solve the problem of what to do about the friend who wants to spend too much time with you.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:02 AM on October 29, 2019 [11 favorites]

I learned a magical phrase for dealing with people like that far too late in life. It's "if [fill in the blanks] and I'm looking for company, I'll keep you in mind."

All three parts are key. You're not saying for sure whether you are doing the thing or not. You also leave open the possibility that you might do the thing and not be looking for company. And finally, you're not promising to contact them, you're just noting that you've registered their interest. (You can "keep them in mind" as you decide not to contact them.)

If I was in your shoes, I'd tell this friend that you haven't firmed up your plans for the event yet, but if you decide that you're going, and you're looking for company, you'll keep her in mind.

Re the Tuesdays, just say you can't make it if you don't feel like going, and, if you want to keep the friendship, propose another time in a couple of weeks. (You can space these meetings out further as you go.) No need for big explanations that will encourage her to debate or propose other times. If she persists, you can say you've got a lot on the go these days, but if your schedule eases up and you're looking for company before your scheduled meetup time, you will keep her in mind.
posted by rpfields at 7:11 AM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Look, I'm an extrovert and there are some events I just prefer to experience solo. It's okay. She might be a little put out, but just cheerfully stick to your guns and reinforce that this is just a preference that some people (including you) have sometimes. Don't get into conditions like her enthusiasm or lack thereof for the event; it's nothing to do with her.
posted by desuetude at 7:17 AM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've been the friend in question, and I'd be cautious about over explaining this. The more you type the more it seems like a Big Deal, and the more there is to overthink. If I was in her place, a simple message would make me feel better. "Hey Pal, I need some me time, I'm gonna head to the event and fly solo. If you come feel free to say hi, I'll be drifting from person to person anyway. I'll catch up with you later, cheers!"
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:37 AM on October 29, 2019 [11 favorites]

Going to an event with the intent of "chatting" doesn't sound like an introvert thing to me, so I think if you start giving a long explanation, it is going to sound like more of a brush-off than you intend. Unless that is the message you want to send, keep it simple. "I've decided to go alone this time" and if you genuinely might want this person's company in the future, "we can go together next time."
posted by betweenthebars at 7:56 AM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

I learned a magical phrase for dealing with people like that far too late in life. It's "if [fill in the blanks] and I'm looking for company, I'll keep you in mind . . . You can "keep them in mind" as you decide not to contact them."

If I'm understanding this correctly, I'd ask you not to do this. You've already decided you don't want to go with her. You owe it to her to be honest about that so she can make her own plans to go with another friend or do something else without hoping you'll decide to go with her. There's absolutely nothing wrong with telling her that this is the kind of thing you'd prefer to go to alone or that you just need some time by yourself. In this circumstance, you can be both honest and kind.
posted by FencingGal at 7:58 AM on October 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

"actually, with this kind of performance, I always go by myself. I get more into the music that way. Hope we can hang out another time."

It's important to tell her the truth, otherwise when she sees you there she'll either be hurt that you ditched her or assume you're going to hang out now that you've met. And there's nothing wrong with the truth! It's simple and it's not about her.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:43 AM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

"I’m just feeling overwhelmed right now and I want to go be anonymous in a crowd."

If you’re concerned she’ll be too put off by this then making plans for a specific event at a later date would take the edge off. But honestly? You are who you are and this is how you want to do things. Better to be upfront so she understands in the future.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:03 AM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm usually your friend. To be honest, I don't think there is anything you can say that wouldn't read as, "I don't like you and I don't want to be your friend." The reality is that, a lot of the excuses people have suggested are exactly what people have said to me when what they really mean is that they'd prefer they'd never hang out with me again, but they don't want to be mean. Though when I was right out of college, I hadn't figured this out (which was it's own issue), so you might have better luck with your friend.

The best way to preserve this friendship IMO is to put in the effort and planning to hang out the next time you do. This will confirm that you were being honest previously and that you do actually want to be friends, and that you weren't just being polite.
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 9:22 AM on October 29, 2019 [7 favorites]

I just want to co-sign chernoffhoeffding's answer above. In my experience when people repeatedly say no to hanging out I take it as a sign (correct or not) that they don't like me and don't want to hang out with me, unless they go on to suggest alternative options for us to hang out. Not necessarily in the same breath but soonish afterwards.

When I've been in your position, the difference between declining a particular invitation and wanting to tactfully phase out a person has been exactly that. If I like them and want to maintain the relationship, I offer an alternative option ("I can't do Tuesday, but I could do the following Wednesday?") and if I am not invested in the friendship I don't offer the alternative.
posted by unicorn chaser at 9:41 AM on October 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

The nature of the performance makes this an activity I’d rather do solo. Maybe I'll see you there.
Scaling back your interactions is likely to make this person feel bad. The truth is that you like them enough for occasional Tuesdays but not lots of Tuesdays. Start informing TuesdayFriend that you often like to be alone and do stuff solo. Just keep delivering the accurate message with no judgement about them, just information about you. I'm kind of solitary at home, and when I go out, I like to be able to interact with people or not, depending on how I feel.
posted by theora55 at 10:02 AM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you all! To be clear - it was important to me to send a truthful and kind message, because I agree that getting the brush off with an excuse isn’t a good foundation for a lasting friendship. I find it super difficult to set boundaries with people I enjoy, and often end up burning myself out. I let her know that I was feeling overwhelmed and needed some me time, and would be happy to see her and chat a bit if she ended up going.

Again - thank you all for helping me be direct with my needs while preserving this friendship. And now I get to go be wholly present tonight without guilt.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:38 AM on October 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

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