Looking for a polite way to phrase a request, part two.
September 21, 2020 1:16 PM   Subscribe

What is says on the tin, cousin edition.

My cousin has a birthday coming up. On this birthday I am expected (Reasons) to spend most of the day on an outing with her, along with some other people. My cousin has also requested I cook her dinner. Thing is, I do not really want to spend the whole day on this outing. I am happy just to cook her birthday dinner. I would like to tell my cousin that I do not wish to attend this outing, but my cousin is highly sensitive. Direct requests on my part in the past, about things that seem straightforward and simple to me, have led to tears and hurt feelings. Some of it is communication style, some of it is emotional - she places a high value on everyone attending her birthday celebrations. (As an introvert, I don't have the same feelings about my own birthday, so I can't relate.) I know it is important to her, but I do not want to spend an entire day feeling resentful. Complicating the matter is that certain family members expect me to attend this outing and will also be upset if I decline. It may be selfish of me not to want to go, I recognize that, but there it is. I am looking for as graceful a way to phrase my refusal as possible. I can't just be "busy" with something else - again, Reasons. I need a direct way to communicate about this, while minimizing the risk of hurt feelings. I understand that in the end she is in charge of her own feelings, but I want to avoid clumsy communication, if at all possible.
posted by Crystal Fox to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
You can try placing the issue on yourself, "I wish I could spend the whole day with you - but I know I will get overwhelmed and exhausted if I try and I don't want to ruin it for anyone else."

Follow up by asking about what went on when you were not there and mourning that you missed it out loud to your cousin.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:20 PM on September 21 [7 favorites]


"Thank you so much for the invitation, but that won't be possible. I can be at your house by [time] to start dinner. I'm so looking forward to celebrating with you!"
posted by Lawn Beaver at 1:30 PM on September 21 [5 favorites]


It sounds like picking a big and impressive birthday dinner that will take hours to make would not work, since you rule out excuses. And does this also rule out not feeling well on the day of/the day before (or maybe it costs money and not going would be inconsiderate).

I would lead with "You know you mean the world to me and I want to make sure your birthday is as special as possible. But I'm so sorry to tell you that I'm not going to be able to come on the outing. I wish I could be there to celebrate with you, but I know that I don't have the energy in me for the whole day, and I wouldn't be able to celebrate with you the way I want to. I'm going to concentrate instead on making sure your birthday meal is absolutely the best, and I hope you have a wonderful time and I'll see you afterward."

And then she might get mad. If what she wants is you there, miserable or not, then she's not getting what she wants, and she might be ungracious about it. But you do your best and you just deal with the fallout. I'm sorry you're dealing with this.
posted by gideonfrog at 1:30 PM on September 21 [9 favorites]


I would advocate for being as honest as you can:

"I know how important it is for you for everyone to celebrate your birthday with you, but it's just overwhelming for me to be engaged for the whole day. I would love to cook dinner for you and catch up with what you did during your big day. Looking forward to it!"
posted by Betelgeuse at 1:32 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]


This is one of those situations where you can't have what you want and all the wordsmithing in the world isn't going to change it. You can not go on this outing or you can not hurt your cousin's feelings but it's one or the other. Decide which is more important to you -- and I'm not in any way suggesting that coddling the feelings of a grown-ass adult who needs everyone to come to her birthday party is the right choice -- and own that choice.

If you decide to go, be prepared to actually throw yourself into enjoying it as much as possible. If you decide not to go, at best you can be kind in how you hurt her feelings, but her feelings being hurt is her choice here, not yours.

I think Betelgeuse has a reasonably good script for how to least hurt her feelings, but there's a good chance it still won't work.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:46 PM on September 21 [7 favorites]


You can not do the thing that you want to do without hurting feelings if you are honest. You do not want to stuff down your feelings like you do every year this year. You are already doing a big thing (cooking a dinner) and that is already a commitment.

Some of this will be coaching yourself

- I am not a bad person for not wanting to do the thing
- I am already doing a lot
- cousin is sensitive and I can be mindful of that
- other family members taking her side is a version of concern trolling and is not my responsibility

At this point you can decide if it's better to be less-than-honest and have everyone be able to walk away with something (COVID reasons, other plans reasons, dinner fussiness reasons, "it's not you it's me" reasons, slightly embarassing "I need to be closer to a bathroom" reasons that people won't ask about) or be honest but very polite and caring and then figuring any of this other stuff is really some level of emotional manipulation that is not your responsibility.

I would take gideonfrog's script and maybe even combine it with a "Let's do something later, just you and I" thing. I am also someone who likes to make a big deal about birthdays, but I think it's worth really establishing some normative behaviors. I have friends who are introverts and who don't want to do a whole thing with a lot of people. I love them and care about them and why would I want to do the thing that makes them unhappy. I don't know why your cousin thinks it's okay to force you to do a thing that will make you unhappy but I think it's one of

- they don't know it makes you unhappy, in which case you should tell them
- they don't care about your feelings in which case you should care less about theirs.
posted by jessamyn at 1:51 PM on September 21 [7 favorites]


As an introvert, I don't have the same feelings about my own birthday, so I can't relate.

Is that coming through at all, in the form of dismissiveness? Because if it is, that might be an issue. Like, you're allowed to have your own feelings about your own birthday, as is your cousin when it comes to hers. You can opt out while respecting her preferences to celebrate her birthday as she wishes. The scripts above are good at conveying that because they focus on how the day will overwhelm you, rather than risking making it about how you perceive the appropriateness of how your cousin wants to celebrate.

FWIW, I say this as another introvert who doesn't do stuff for my birthday.
posted by blerghamot at 1:58 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]


Could you just blame it on Covid? So you're happy to make dinner and drop it off at her place but don't feel comfortable with attending social gatherings right now.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:00 PM on September 21 [5 favorites]


What you are doing is setting boundaries for yourself. While this is important for your mental health and wellness, sometimes friends and family members find boundaries to be frustrating or insensitive - even if your reasoning is kind and loving.

I used to be the kind of person who never missed a single family event. As I got older, however, I needed to start shifting the focus to my husband, kiddo, and managing my own anxiety around my health. Honestly, there were some really tough years in there; my family had certain expectations around my involvement and a change in my behavior felt like a rejection at times, I think.

Therapy has really helped me to understand that it’s okay to take care of myself and my own little family: those things must come first, even if they initially cause disappointment to others. I am my very best self for my larger family unit when I have strong, clear boundaries around self-care.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 2:06 PM on September 21 [3 favorites]


If it's an energy/spoons issue, maybe something like: "I can go on the outing, or I can cook and attend the dinner, but I won't have the energy for both." And then let her make the choice. That is, assuming that both of those options would be sufficiently satisfactory for you.
posted by heatherlogan at 2:41 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]


so part of the problem is that if you phrase it in terms of you having limited energy, she's likely to hear it as "you suck my energy." Yes of course it's a reasonable limit to set, but you're not asking for what's reasonable, you're asking how to refuse while lightly deflecting her drama, like a combination Jedi knight/butterfly. Right?

Maybe phrase it like "oh, you're going to have so much fun. But for me, I've just been not myself lately what with one thing and another. I'm struggling, to be honest. I can't really multitask these days and stuff takes me longer than usual. So because I want to make the dinner for you be perfect, so I'm going to spend my day executing on that. It means I won't be able to do the Day stuff, so I'll need you to give me the full rundown when you get home for the awesome dinner I'll be making you."
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:54 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]


You can't control how she feels or how she expresses those feelings. You just can't. There are lots of great suggestions here on how to word this with kindness and love. I might suggest, "Hey, cousin, I love you a whole bunch and I'm excited to celebrate your birthday dinner with you. I won't be able to attend your outing, however. I know how much it means to have folks there, but it just won't be possible for me to attend both the outing and dinner. I hope you have a fantastic time, and I'm super excited about dinner."

But you have to accept that this might hurt her feelings, and that's okay -- you are allowed to prioritize your need to have less time in challenging social situations, and she is allowed to be hurt that you don't want to do exactly what she wants. Sometimes even mature adults get a bit pouty about our birthdays; it's not a great look, but well, there you go. That's life.

Don't frame it as a request or item for discussion. Try to be neutral and not get into an extended conversation. I suppose you could elaborate, but I don't think it would go well. "I'm sorry this is hurtful but it just won't be possible for me to attend the outing" can be a mantra. And if she keeps pushing it or recruits other family members... well, then just end those conversations or walk away.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:43 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]


Is that coming through at all, in the form of dismissiveness?

Please don't be dismissive! Just say it's me, not you.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 4:26 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]


Does this ever turn out well? Everytime I've been this resentful of someone's demands, behavior, or expectations I've ended up blowing up at them and ending the relationship. And honestly, good riddance. And even though it leads to a lot of guilt and drama, ultimately everyone in the circle moves on? The people who don't mind her drama will also not mind yours. Or they tolerate her drama and will understand that you can't handle it?

Bake her a cake, bake her sheet pan dinners, send flowers to her house, make dinner for her the night before, but just stay home.

I think if you skip the outing and just show up with dinner she will be ungracious and dramatic because thats kind of how she is.
posted by perdhapley at 2:51 AM on September 22


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