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July 24, 2022 8:15 AM   Subscribe

What is a polite way to tell people I'm entering my Emily Dickinson era?

I live in New York, in a vibrant neighborhood and an apartment I love, one that is easily accessible by subway. Unfortunately, over the past year, I've increasingly found the subway to be a stressful, exhausting experience. (So are buses and Ubers - this isn't a transportation question.) I'll take it when I need to - and I regularly ride it once a week to visit my nieces - but it's draining enough that basically, once I'm on it, that's my day. I love to walk, even in inclement weather, so I have a wide zone to take advantage of, and I can basically meet all of my needs within that radius. It's great!

A social situation I have found myself in, and need help navigating, is this. I will meet potential friends and dates who live outside of my walking zone. They'll suggest a hang. It's easy enough, the first time, to say something like, "Do you mind coming to me?" and people generally will, but I feel like it's under the assumption that next time I'll go to them; or, we'll agree to meet halfway, and I'll take the subway...but I won't like it. In my heart, I know that new relationships that require me to go outside my zone aren't sustainable. But what I usually do now is try once or twice, and then avoid making plans/say no a bunch of times, and then the relationships fizzle.

What I would really love is to find a way to say: I would love to be friends if you can regularly make it to my zone, and I will do my best to delight + entertain you once you're there; if you can't, no harm no foul, go with God. But I don't want to just ask people to come to me at the beginning under the totally reasonable assumption that I will eventually reciprocate; I also don't want to keep resentfully dragging myself to places I don't want to go because I can't figure out how to politely and honestly decline. If I didn't ride the subway, I could just say that, but I do ride it when I need to. But just saying "I don't like the subway," isn't enough, because nobody likes the subway! Saying "I like you, but not enough to take the subway," feels rude, and makes it seem personal to them, which it's not.

In Adrienne Rich's article about Emily Dickinson, "Vesuvius at Home," Rich talked about how people thought Emily was a weird hermit who never left her house, but in fact, "she carefully selected her society and controlled the disposal of her time." I want to be like that, but for my neighborhood. Thoughts?
posted by Merricat Blackwood to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "I would love to be friends if you can regularly make it to my zone, and I will do my best to delight + entertain you once you're there; if you can't, no harm no foul, go with God."

If I were becoming friends with someone and they said that, I would be grateful for the honesty. To me it would mean that you were someone I could trust to be clear about their boundaries and allow me to be as well.

I might not be able to commit to always visiting you, but I'd be happy to have the information upfront.
posted by mcduff at 8:20 AM on July 24, 2022 [34 favorites]

I think that's a great way to put it, "I would love to be friends if..."

I'm in your boat, more or less. I find excursions exhausting at this point in my life - though I'm perfectly happy to receive people. I imagine there are more than a few people who are the opposite - they love leaving the house and visiting others, but maybe don't love receiving people at home for some reason.

The people who most likely will be "true" friends won't mind. Relationships are full of give and take - if I knew up front that an interesting person had this particular requirement, I might not find it ideal but having it clearly stated and understood is IMO a huge win.

For myself, I'd done a pretty good job of fighting my Dickinson tendencies until the pandemic. Somewhere past the 1-year point I just was done...
posted by jzb at 8:36 AM on July 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

For dating, I have occasionally heard people say they're looking for someone who lives in the same neighborhood. I also think you could possibly meet friends at local events (volunteering at the local park, taking a local pottery class, whatever) who do already live in your neighborhood. Otherwise, it seems a bit unfair to ask, if the reason is just that you prefer not to spend the time/annoyance traveling. I don't mind riding the train that much, myself, but would feel a little put out if someone never reciprocated.
posted by pinochiette at 8:37 AM on July 24, 2022 [5 favorites]

There's no reason not to say exactly that, it's healthy to know your boundaries and maintain them!

But don't expect many people to want to be friends with you. "I want to hang out with you, but not badly enough to be slightly inconvenienced by an everyday annoying activity" is just not super appealing, except maybe to people who already know and love you. I certainly would not participate in that scheme.
posted by mccxxiii at 8:45 AM on July 24, 2022 [13 favorites]

Best answer: "I'd love to hang out! And I'd really love to be the one to host, if possible. I find that the subway stresses me out so much these days that I just can't enjoy activities afterwards. I promise to spoil you rotten when you come over. What do you think?"
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:01 AM on July 24, 2022 [26 favorites]

I agree that being up front about it is the way to go. There's nothing wrong with stating your boundaries. If I were to meet a new acquaintance, and they said that, I'd be grateful for their honesty and straightforwardness. Narrowing down the potential pool of friends and lovers to those who are willing to meet your needs from the outset is not necessarily a bad thing.

That said, my response to such a comment would be along the lines of "good to know, I'll let you know next time I'm in your neighbourhood and maybe we can meet up." There's a good chance the friendship would fizzle after that. I doubt I'm alone, and I think you would be giving up the opportunity to be friends with or date a lot of people. Most others probably don't love getting on the subway or using public transportation either, especially not In These Times, but they do it because it's part of the deal in reciprocal relationships. Some people would probably read your comments as saying that you are okay to be friends with them as long as they take on all the hassle and inconvenience, and would assume that will carry over to other parts of the relationship. They might be particularly offended if they find out that you do take the subway for other reasons, such as to visit your nieces as you mentioned. I'd also avoid any reference to "controlling the disposal of your time" a la Emily Dickinson, as that might be read as saying that you see yours as much more important than theirs.

If you are not okay with such limited options, it might be worth exploring what is behind your aversion to leaving your neighbourhood, and seeing if there is anything you can do to make things easier from that angle.
posted by rpfields at 9:05 AM on July 24, 2022 [16 favorites]

If you didn’t mind doing the legwork if the visit or if I loved a restaurant in your area I would be fine and even happy with the arrangement, I also find going out and getting places exhausting so I would understand your explanation/suggestion in exactly the way you described it and be happy to divide the labor that way.
posted by catspajammies at 9:07 AM on July 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I decline all invitations but organise a monthly thing for everyone I want to maintain friendships with outside of the two friends for whom I have actual energy. It's a "book club at a bar" and we are not reading shit that isn't a gin bottle label.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:18 AM on July 24, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Also, consider that if you aren’t going to their area that you might send little physical things to their area- like post cards, a little magnet you found that you thought they would like- that way you still enter their world, even if you don’t go there that much in person. I do this with my long distance friends and it would help show you don’t take them for granted.
posted by catspajammies at 9:27 AM on July 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When my bestie and I lived an hour's drive from each other and circumstances made it so it was usually necessary for me to come to her, she introduced me to the concept "You fly, I buy." Worked for us!
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:38 AM on July 24, 2022 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Some people would probably read your comments as saying that you are okay to be friends with them as long as they take on all the hassle and inconvenience, and would assume that will carry over to other parts of the relationship. They might be particularly offended if they find out that you do take the subway for other reasons, such as to visit your nieces as you mentioned.

This is a beautiful articulation of exactly what I'm hoping to avoid - I do value reciprocity in my relationships, but I find I can't reciprocate in this specific area, and I want to be clear about it up front. Therefore, the suggestions of ways I can demonstrate to people that I value their willingness to come to me are all very helpful. Thank you!
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 9:42 AM on July 24, 2022 [5 favorites]

I’d be more up for this if you presented it as “I can’t easily be more than walking distance from my home, so please understand that all my socializing has to be within that radius.” We’d see each other less often than if you could come to me, but I wouldn’t be salty about it.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:56 AM on July 24, 2022 [7 favorites]

"Saying "I like you, but not enough to take the subway," feels rude, and makes it seem personal to them, which it's not."

I would also maybe explore your thinking around this, because tbh there would be no way for me to hear you say that and NOT take it personally. You ARE capable of riding the subway, you do it sometimes to see certain people. But you aren't willing to do it in order to see certain OTHER people. There's no way that's not going to be taken personally, and if you tried to tell me that it wasn't personal I'd be even less likely to be sympathetic to your situation.
posted by mccxxiii at 9:59 AM on July 24, 2022 [9 favorites]

I think your preference is totally valid (and I have similar feelings myself, except in my case I am fine with the subway; my bane is driving).

I think the simple solution is to only make new friends within your walk radius. In contrast with some of the other commenters here, I don't think it is reasonable to create new friendships involving people always coming to you unless such an arrangement is actively sought or desired by the other party.
posted by splitpeasoup at 10:02 AM on July 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think it’s possible to have enduring friendships with people who don’t live within your area of travel, but I think you’ll need to seek out ways in which you can go the extra mile with respect to relationship maintenance. This will depend on the person, but keeping in reasonably regular contact via means other than in-person interaction seems key. In addition, I think you’ll need to make peace with the fact that you won’t see these friends as often as you would if you were willing to venture out of your walkable radius. That’s neither mere nor there. The relationship can be a very good one, but it will be different than it would be without that restriction. I have two friends of long standing that live in the same city as I but I don’t get to see very often for a variety of reasons. We’ve kept the friendship going via frequent chats on a three-person text thread that by now stretches back over a decade.
posted by slkinsey at 10:03 AM on July 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

What you've said already sounds fine, and good to be plainly stated. You could also say "I don't really leave my neighborhood, just so you know," or something like that. We all have limitations, and it's good to know them if they're going to impinge on the otherwise normal course of growth of a friendship.

I have had friendships with similar geographic or chronological strictures. More often due to limitations on a friend's health or spare time, but they've been there. Those relationships took extra work on my part to maintain and generally ended. I couldn't eternally be free from 2:17PM to 3:42PM every third Sunday, or go to the one bar they would frequent, or whatever, and I was not able to perpetuate a friendship where I was eternally doing extra logistical labor that I did not enjoy.

As someone else said upthread, I want to gently suggest that what you are seeking is a substantial ask In These Times. Your desire to be a good, reciprocating friend is clear, and communicating that sentiment will be important. Most people don't enjoy sitting on humid, stinking public transit for 20-60 minutes each way to visit a friend, and when that friend declines to travel because they want to be in an Emily Dickinson period, that is a very good thing to know early on.
posted by cupcakeninja at 10:05 AM on July 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Seconding catspajammies' comment: this clearly is not a situation everyone is going to be cool with, but as someone who hates planning outings more than commuting, I would be fine with this if you were willing to take on a proportionally greater share of the legwork for initiating hangouts/figuring out cool places in your neighborhood to go/hosting.

For the initial disclosure, I think some variation of "Yeah, I find transit unusually exhausting so I try to leave my neighborhood as little as possible and I pretty much only go out around here" gets the point across while keeping it pretty clearly a "you" thing.
posted by eponym at 10:12 AM on July 24, 2022 [7 favorites]

Honestly, I would probably travel to see you the first time and very likely thereafter just based on your personality, which I'm assuming is reflected in your choice of user name. Because someone calling themselves Merricat Blackwood is obviously going to be worth some effort. If you can make potential new friends' first visit a Blackwood-style blast (except don't offer them sugar) and then let them know you have A Thing About The Subway, then if they don't want to be friends, they're NOKD, anyway.

That plus DarlingBri's meet in the middle idea. It's not like you don't want a reciprocal friendship. It's that you have A Thing.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:30 AM on July 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

People constantly ask if I can come visit, and I amiably say I can't make it. I don't explain. They have decided I'm a bit of an unreasonable hermit, and they even say things like that to my face, and can be a bit rude about it, but I don't contradict them much and I don't explain. My reasons are different from yours, but I actually dno't have an obligation to give people the details.
posted by Peach at 10:40 AM on July 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

It sounds like perhaps you have an invisible disability that makes taking the subway, bus, Uber, etc. disproportionately difficult and exhausting for you (to the extent that once you're on it, that's your day). However, you love to walk, even in inclement weather, so you have a wide zone in a vibrant neighbourhood that you can take advantage of.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:52 AM on July 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don't think this is a huge ask (depending on how far out of their way your friends are going) and in any case it's better to make it explicit than let things fester or fizzle out due to poor communication. Key here is:

1) Making a point of acknowledging that this is an eccentricity and that you're not oblivious to the hassle this poses for other people. You can make a little joke about being a prima donna if you want to convey this.

2) Whether by paying, hosting, organizing, finding cool activities, or whatever, making it worth their while to come to you. I tend to hang out with people in a neighborhood bar close to my house. It can be a hassle for them to get here but this bar is known across town for being a great hangout spot so people don't usually mind.

3) Prioritizing people who live as close to you as possible.
posted by derrinyet at 10:52 AM on July 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

The people who most likely will be "true" friends won't mind.

Eh. People are allowed to have their own boundaries and preferences with respect to this kind of thing. They wouldn't be bad people if they decided not to follow up. But I agree that if this is a hard preference of yours, it's best to be clear about that up front. There's no way you can phrase it that won't sting some people, but it's better to do so than to "string people along," so to speak.
posted by praemunire at 10:54 AM on July 24, 2022 [7 favorites]

I just want to say that I LOVE people like you. I hate hosting, cleaning, and having guests in my area that I need to be the expert on the neighborhood for. I love going visiting and getting to leave when I decide to leave. I also think it's pretty common when a person has kids (all of whom may not want to go out) or a pool to become the default host of gatherings. I should think there are a good number of people out there who would be amenable to this arrangement. The one downside that I can see is the typical expectation that the visitor bring a gift or food item, which gets expensive and adds an errand to the outing. If you made it clear that my traveling IS the gift, then we're all good.
posted by xo at 11:44 AM on July 24, 2022 [11 favorites]

If you are fabulous company (and let's assume you are!) I would probably be willing to do this, but some material effort on your part to match the effort I was expending traveling to you would go a long way towards making me feel like things were more or less even. If you can afford it, can you treat to dinner or a round of fancy drinks when friends come to you? Or if you host at home, can you make something special?

On the intangible front, I'd also be more inclined to do this for a very emotionally intelligent friend, and you can probably increase your chances of success by putting a lot of effort into how you interact. Be yourself, of course, but make sure you're a good listener. Give gifts for birthdays. When you see something (a book, a movie, a tweet, whatever) that your friend might like, text them. Take on a little bit more of the emotional load of maintaining the friendship, without going so far that it starts to feel imbalanced. If your friends leave a hang with you feeling refreshed or lightened in some way, that's going to be an impetus to return.

As a last note, I wouldn't expect this to work very well with friends with kids unless you have a child-friendly attraction within walking distance.
posted by superfluousm at 12:01 PM on July 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

“Due to various eccentricities of my health, I’m only able to tolerate the subway about once a month and that’s unavoidably taken up by family obligations. I’m a fabulous host though, and will make every minute of your travel worth it. Do come let me buy you pastries at my local bakery.”

Or, more straightforwardly, you could just always do the inviting of such incredible enthusiasm about whatever wonderful thing you are inviting them to that it’s never an issue. “You absolutely must come and let me treat you to an afternoon at this gallery and lunch at this place! You will love it and I thought of you as soon as I walked in.”

I think people above who are saying this is unreasonable and rude, maybe that’s true? But we are ALL unreasonable about some things, and we are very much allowed to protect our mental and physical and emotional health in ways that other people don’t need to. Just because I can briefly pick up something hot if it’s absolutely necessary doesn’t mean that it’s unreasonable for me to be unwilling to continually take things out of a hot oven with my bare hands. Family is a different level of obligation and it’s ok for you to have things you are willing to do for your nieces and not others.
posted by Bottlecap at 12:02 PM on July 24, 2022 [6 favorites]

“Lately I find that when I travel far away from my house I get really exhausted, so as an experiment, I’m exploring not leaving my area for a few months to see how I feel. BUT, I would love to see you. If you don’t mind coming to my area, may I treat you to (meal / activity)?”

I wouldn’t mind this if a friend made this offer and treated me to stuff that was roughly equal in value to the effort / cost of my travel. And I’d be touched if they broke their own rule onnnce in a while, for like, my birthday party.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:01 PM on July 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Therefore, the suggestions of ways I can demonstrate to people that I value their willingness to come to me are all very helpful. Thank you!

I think people having given you some good scripts above but I just wanted to say as someone with a smallish apartment who doesn't like to host because I am awkward in my home with people I don't know super well (and don't really have entertaining space per se), I really like going to see other people and often we'll do something specific that is fun and, I guess you might say "Worth it." Like I'll go over and we'll see a movie at their place and they will make dinner. I travel, they feed me. Or I go to their place and we sit on their porch and have drinks. I travel, they have a nice place that isn't a place I have so it's fun to experience. Not everyone will be into this, and it's fine if people have their own boundaries, but being up front and even friendly about what your boundaries are, seems like a good way to get started.
posted by jessamyn at 1:29 PM on July 24, 2022 [8 favorites]

Are you able to ride a bike? I've had a bike in NYC for many years, but only really started using it regularly during the pandemic. It's become my favorite mode of exercise, and has greatly opened up the range of places I can get to from my house without using transit.

Of course I don't know if you have space to store a bike, or the money to buy one (or to join CitiBike, assuming there are any stations near you). And I don't know what the streets are like in your area, in terms of safe bikeability.

Another underrated non-subway mode of getting around: the bus system. If you haven't investigated it, I highly recommend it! It's easier to engage with than the subway, in many respects. No stairs or turnstiles, more frequent stops, less noise, you're aboveground the whole time, and you can easily see when the next bus will arrive using the MTA's Bustime site.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 4:48 PM on July 24, 2022

In addition to all the other considerations noted above, New York is an incredibly segregated city. If a new acquaintance told me they did not like to leave their walkable neighborhood, and that neighborhood was a wealthy, majority-white one, I would seriously wonder whether our moral and political compasses were closely aligned enough for friendship.
posted by MeadowlarkMaude at 8:51 AM on July 25, 2022

Response by poster: Well, I left this Ask unattended while I rode two hours round trip on the subway in 95 degree heat to meet a friend who lives in Queens in Manhattan for a 45-minute lunch. She was lovely, it was lovely, and it was also far, far too much.

I am grateful to everyone who answered with thoughtfulness and empathy, even if your answer boiled down to: I wouldn't be your friend if you did this. I am, to be honest, a long way from becoming a neighborhood hermit, if only because my terror of having other people think me selfish and inconsiderate continues to be one of the driving forces in my life, and one that I struggle with balancing alongside my own well being. But asking the question, and gauging my own response to the answers, was immensely illuminating.

The question of whether or not I have a disability that is driving this was sensitively put, and appreciated. The truth is, I don't know. I mean, I do know that I have serious mental health issues and trauma that shape and limit my life in all sorts of ways, but I've had those for a long time, and I never used to have a problem riding the subway. It's possible, even likely, that COVID has increased symptoms of something like agoraphobia, as well as extreme fatigue - but as many people pointed out, that's true of a lot of people. Who am I to say that my discomfort ought to take precedence over other people's? Maybe I'm just exaggerating! Maybe I'm just selfish! Maybe I'm just inconsiderate! Maybe I just want other people to inconvenience themselves on my behalf! Maybe I'm...racist?

These are the questions that get loud in my head every time I consider saying no to traveling, even as my exhaustion and lost time continues to creep upwards. I need to address this with my doctor and my therapist - and I will. I don't want to be limited to my neighborhood, and I don't think it's likely to ever get quite that bad, but I am afraid that things are not going to go back to the way they were, and I need to think through what would happen, and how I will live, if they get worse.

But if a handful of you fed the monster in my brain that gets loud every time I think about asking for what I need, many more of you helped me imagine someone who had the limitations I'm facing and is also thoughtful, generous, welcoming and warm; who knew how to make other people visiting her worth her time. Of course it's not reasonable to ask people only to come to your neighborhood- but Emily Dickinson wasn't a reasonable human, and probably some people enjoyed knowing her. This has given me a lot of ways to ask for what I need and strategies for genuinely making other people think feel it's worthwhile. I'm excited to use them the next time the situation arises.

Thank you! Let me know if you 'd like to come visit. ;)
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 9:42 AM on July 25, 2022 [12 favorites]

For me, I'd like it best if you were blunt about what you needed, and left it at that. Don't offer me bribes, just let me know what you need and I'll play it from there.

In the past I knew a person who was in a sort of similar situation to you, in that she had to be the host for reasons beyond her control, and she'd make all these extravagant offers and it kind of creeped me out. If I want to be your friend I will be your friend, I don't need to be offered things other than your company.

This is presuming I'd be taking the subway a reasonable distance; if I were taking a taxi or Uber or whatever, it would be nice if you offered to pay my way home.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:21 PM on July 25, 2022

I also don't like hosting and like going to different places, so if you were upfront and a good host, we'd have no issues. I'd come to you every time.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:34 AM on July 26, 2022

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