The slow fade didn’t work.
April 1, 2024 10:31 PM   Subscribe

How do I politely say, “now that I have a kid, my friendship with you is not a priority?”

This person is someone I was good friends with in high school and reconnected with in the last couple years (20 years later). We started doing a group activity together regularly, as well as texting. She has been through circumstances and I have been supportive, but the outcome of that is I think she considers me to be a closer friend than I consider her. She’s a little exhausting, but because of our history I was willing to expend the time and energy to be there for her while she was going through things.

Then, I had a baby! It’s the best experience of my life. But, I’m also running on a lot less energy than I used to have, and managing my free time has become a bigger priority.

For several months now, when she asks to hang out, I suggest we do it at the priority group activity that I still do regularly, but she wants one on one time. I have started taking longer to respond to her texts, reply ambiguously to attempts to make plans, and repeatedly try to reroute her to the group activity where I would be fine with hanging out with her. She isn’t getting the picture.

When I try to figure out how to phrase my feelings delicately, it still feels harsh. The simple truth is that my friendship with her fit in my life before the baby and does not fit now. When I have time and energy, there are other people that it is much more important that I focus on.

Gentle Mefites: how would you say this to someone?
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Human Relations (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There is literally no way you can say this. However: is there any way that you can invite her to be a ride-along as you have baby time? This is how I did this. Usually it lets the other person do the slow fade as they do not usually want to come along with you as you perform the baby time. Bonus: you may be surprised as they are actually down with the baby time! Really this is just how you find how you can have post-baby friends.
posted by corb at 10:49 PM on April 1 [46 favorites]

It seems you’re still interacting with all her messages. What happens if you ignore her messages and if she asks at group activity you mumble something about busy, baby, lack of sleep and redirect to activity related topic?

She may not like that but imagine her asking a question here about her friend, the new parent, not having time for her like they used to, except for shared group activity. She‘d be told that new parents tend to have limited bandwidth, to go with the flow for now and that some friendships don’t survive significant life changes like that.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:56 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

Can you decrease the ambiguity of your responses? Not everyone uses the same language and signals to communicate things like this. If you haven't, trying things like "sorry, I don't have much time and energy right now. Looking forward to seeing you at [group activity]!". If someone doesn't pick up on attempts at subtle signals, I find it's best to try unsubtle signals rather than keep trying different types of subtlety. If she feels offended, that's unreasonable and I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by lookoutbelow at 11:40 PM on April 1 [35 favorites]

What has worked best for me over the years, in both the cases - when I am the one who doesn't want to keep in touch or it's the other person not wanting to keep in touch with me, are:

- clearly stating just that; in a polite but not vague words; some on the lines of matter of fact and a bit of remorse (and that has come naturally to me; because no matter what losing a connection is just that - loss)
- and/or ignoring/deprioritising their/my communications (sad but often this helps and works)
posted by amar at 11:47 PM on April 1

I try, as deliberately childless a woman-seeming person in my late thirties, to always make it easy for my friends with kids to include them. Yes, the kids can come to brunch, yes, we can go to the farmers market and give the kids new fruits to sample, yes, thank you for letting me hang out next to your kid while we are both in costume on Halloween, etc. I talk about it clearly and say straightforward stuff like “if you can get a sitter for the kid I would love to do (cool grownup thing at night time) but if you can’t, I could come to you and help you cook dinner, or we could do (child friendly daytime activity).” My policy is that I will not change diapers and I will not be alone with the kid until they are fully potty trained and I can have a conversation with them, but I really don’t mind it when kids cause plans to change or make things difficult.

Has this person you are looking to cut ties with said anything about spending time with you and your kid together? They might not be into holding and squishing babies, but as a person who does not understand the appeal of human babies, like, at all, I’m still happy to spend time with a friend who is doing the holding and squishing. Having an extra pair of hands while juggling baby stuff while out and about is also super helpful.

I’ve also had friends who have kids and suddenly drop off the map for a couple years, and it sucks. Now that these people and their kids are a bit older, I’ve asked them about it. Turns out they felt like it would have been rude and awful of them to demand that I spend time with their kids when I didn’t have kids of my own? Society is bizarre.

Like, I get wanting to keep your social life simple when dealing with parenthood and whatever else. If this person sucks and you don’t like them (and it sounds like you don’t) be truthful with yourself about that. If it’s the kid making you feel like you can’t have friends, make sure everyone involved is clear on what’s up so you can get more support. And if it’s important to you that this person likes your kid and they get back to your invitation to spend time with the both of you with like “ew babies? Gross no thanks put that thing away come get drinkies with meeee” then yeah, block and ignore.
posted by Mizu at 12:12 AM on April 2 [36 favorites]

Yeah, I'd either say 'I can't do stuff alone but come over and hang out with me and the baby', or 'I'm so exhausted these days and having trouble keeping up with all the day to day stuff, so I'm having to cut back on social life for a while'. Or both.
posted by trig at 12:41 AM on April 2 [28 favorites]

I think you’re so worried about hurting her feelings with the truth that you might be missing a simpler path: tell her directly you don’t have time, without going into detail. Some people really need things to be direct, and it’s a kindness to speak their language.

“Hey friend, my schedule has changed a lot with baby. I really value our friendship, so I wanted to let you know that I don’t have time to spend with you outside of (group activity). I’m glad to see you there, though! I know this is a big change for us.”

This is the friend version of “It’s not you; it’s me.” Except it sounds like it’s partly her, which is why you are stumbling. But you don’t need to tell her that or justify why you’re spending other time with other people.

Be direct but without a lot of detail.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:02 AM on April 2 [42 favorites]

Are you 100% sure you don't want to keep this friendship? As a parent, I find it amazing to have single friends who are willing to do all the stuff my other friends who are parents can't do -- come over for takeout, go to the park with me and the kid, go to museums with me and said kid on short notice. Babies are amazing but it can be really lonely and having childfree friends willing to do normal baby day stuff with without dragging their own kids along has been hugely helpful for me.
posted by caoimhe at 3:44 AM on April 2 [22 favorites]

It’s not a kindness to drag them along thinking they have a friendship when they don’t. Be honest and let her know that having a kid has shifted your priorities and now you’ll only be available during group activity and stick to it. Don’t give vague responses of “maybe some other time.” You don’t mean it so don’t give her hope.

“Since having a baby a lot has changed in my life. I look forward to seeing you at group activity but I don’t have time for texts and individual hang outs with you any more.”
posted by raccoon409 at 3:54 AM on April 2 [8 favorites]

Between motherhood, limited outside child care, and disability, I simply don't have the energy or time for those one on one, on the town, friend hangs that I used to.

And it's pretty common for childfree friends to be kind of oblivious to that. It's like you've moved to another country, but you're in the same town.

It's a kindness to be clear. I simply said that my circumstances have changed a lot, here's how to work with me.

Try something like:

"Come on over and drink coffee with me while the baby is babying, maybe we can load baby into a stroller and go for a walk. Otherwise, my baby-free time is going to be at the Group Activity, see you there!"

Now that my kid is five, things are more manageable.

Everyone, parents and childfree, comes on over in an amorphous friend-blob to sit on the porch and hang while the kids play nearby with bubbles and sidewalk chalk.
posted by champers at 4:34 AM on April 2 [7 favorites]

People on the internet are always telling each other to draw these explicit boundaries and have uncomfortable conversations like this. I've always regretted doing that! At this moment in your life you don't see much value in this friendship, but life is long and you will not always be in the storm of motherhood. Why expressly sever the relationship and all the future possibilities because she is a bit much?

In your shoes I would, guilt free, mute the conversation with her and continue being how you normally are at the group sessions. If she asks about it I would tell her your prioritising your family at the moment but happy that you can make the group stuff.

The benefit of this approach is that, in six months or five years or whatever, when your circumstances and feeling change, you can get back in touch with her and you won't have this Awkward Conversation to overcome.
posted by Chausette at 4:53 AM on April 2 [53 favorites]

As a person with no desire for kids, you better just tell me.

Because from my perspective, we're still friends, you just have less time for me right now, which makes sense and I am okay with. But one day your kid is going to be older and need you less, and I'm still here being your friend. Won't that be nice for us both. Is my perspective.

My closest friend with a small child, she knows I don't like small child energy. She invites me to family stuff anyway, and I go sometimes, and it's all good. I've told her that where I see myself fitting in best to her kid's life is when her kid is a tween and hates her for some silly tween related reason or other she can hop on the Kedzie bus south for a few miles and "run away" to my house to blow off steam. Friend thinks this is both very funny and a great long term plan. In the meantime, we text.

If you don't like this lady, be more clear about that so she can go spend her literally years long energy on someone who actually likes her. If you don't value the friendship enough to be able to see a time when you might not be doing baby stuff 24 hours a day, that's your right I guess.
posted by phunniemee at 5:01 AM on April 2 [32 favorites]

I've lived as a third party through about five years of this dynamic (my roommate = your friend, my brother's wife = you). What I can tell you about my situation is that if you can't be nice (even "nicely distant") and start to do clumsy and obvious things to slight the friend in hopes she takes the hint, there's a chance this leaves her more confused and insistent on having that one-on-one time than it would if you were just blunt about it.

If you don't want her around, don't do tiny shitty things and exclude her purposefully where she would have previously been welcomed. That behavior caused my roommate - and by extension me, who now has a fairly broken relationship with the sis-in-law - to really loathe her in the end. Be nice or be direct. Don't be passive aggressive.
posted by GamblingBlues at 5:11 AM on April 2 [7 favorites]

I've had plenty of friends drop off the face of the earth in the immediate aftermath of a new baby, then re-emerge a few years later being like "I am ready to hang out again!" This may be you! Unless she really isn't someone you want to keep as a friend anyway, I wouldn't cut ties with her wholesale.
posted by unicorn chaser at 5:56 AM on April 2 [7 favorites]

Please don’t use language like “prioritizing family”, that’s just…well it’s off-putting jargon. Say that you are “overwhelmed and struggling right now” because you are. And you can only manage to make time for this one activity that you both enjoy. And not all childless women dislike babies/toddlers so maybe she would want to be included in eg, walks with baby in stroller. But if you find her personality exhausting, maybe don’t offer that.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:01 AM on April 2 [9 favorites]

Is it possible to just say you don't have energy for 1:1s while you have a young child, without making it about not wanting 1:1s with her personally? Something like, you only have the energy for one social outing per time period, so you want to see as many people as you can at once. That seems to be the truth of the situation, and maybe a less hurtful way of framing the truth.
posted by space snail at 6:49 AM on April 2 [5 favorites]

I’m not sure why you would want to decisively throw an entire friendship away just because you’re going through a big shift right now. There are seasons of friendship and this is one of them. It gets so much harder to make new friends as you get older, and impossible to make old friends, you know? Maybe you need to dial it back for the next few years but surely you could explain that to her in a kind way and invite her to do baby stuff with you?
posted by HotToddy at 6:50 AM on April 2 [15 favorites]

I am a late-30s childless woman, and I've had a lot of friends have kids in the last few years. I infer from your description that you've had this baby pretty recently - if so, your friend is being a bit dense, since it's fairly common knowledge that the first few months or so are very time/energy consuming. I didn't expect to see my friends at all in the first few months after having a baby.

Anyway, I agree with people suggesting scripts like "Hey, I wish I could hang out one-on-one, but since having the baby I've had a lot less time and energy, but I hope to see you at [group activity]!" And yes, feel free to invite her over while you take care of the baby - if she can't handle the regular interruptions, that's on her.
posted by coffeecat at 6:51 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]

You don't really have to say "prioritizing family," you can just kind of perform prioritizing family. I had a college and apres college friend who got married, moved away, got pregnant, and then went into a weird baby hole for a few years. Her child had the great misfortune to be born at the height of the scrapbooking trend, so there was all this acid-free paper everywhere in the house for a while. I rode this out and gamely feigned interest in the seventy-five pictures of the baby per day each lovingly mounted on the very thick very expensive tastefully color-coordinated paper in the many many leatherbound scrapbooks until she got over it and reassigned the scrapbooking parts of her brain to other pursuits and reverted to being insanely fun to be around.

Then, you know, we lived our lives. I watched the kid grow up and my friend and I get older and go through our various stuff, and we stayed good friends the while. I visited on Halloween a bunch of times because she's up in Massachusetts and there is no better Halloween destination. We'd go thrifting for costumes and then trick-or-treat together. It was a blast. The kid was a blast. He's in college now, which means that two years ago I had the painful realization that we'll never trick-or-treat together again... So my friend, who has been girding up for this for years, is about to die from empty-nest grief now that it's actually happening, and I'm all, "Doot-dee-doo, tra-la, life's a breeze- Wait! Oh no! This can't happen, what about Halloween?!?" I think it's maybe helpful to have oblivious childless people frolicking around like big dumb puppies while you're going through these emotionally traumatizing parenthood phases?

Or maybe not, but anyway, from the childless person's perspective, it's really fun to have friends with kids if they don't just wall off with other parents and instead keep things open and allow you to be a hanger-on. Plus, if you kick too many of your childless friends to the curb, you become a Mom who hangs out exclusively with other Moms, and that has its drawbacks. My Massachusetts friend had no local friends who weren't Moms. The boredom was breaking her brain and she couldn't stand it and had to take extreme measures, like she deliberately forced herself out of the house nights to do stand-up comedy, just to unMom herself and hang out with notMoms and talk about things that notMoms like.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:14 AM on April 2 [16 favorites]

"Hi friend, unfortunately I'm finding now that I have a baby, my time and energy are really much lower than they have been previously. I can commit to hanging out with you at group activity, but I'm afraid that anything more than that is just something I'm not capable of."
posted by biblioPHL at 7:22 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]

It's so unkind to harbor resentment against someone for not being able to read your mind. Not to mention unreasonable. You should be saying things like, "I'm sorry, I'm busy I can't talk right now" and "I'm sorry, I'm busy, I can't meet up." Be direct about your unavailability. It's not that hard! Would you rather DUMP a friend entirely than gin up the courage to decline their invitations? Please don't do that. Learn to say no instead of throwing people and friendships in the trash.

Also: maybe stop making weird global judgments about a person's relative worth in your life based on how busy you are at the moment. If this person was valuable to you before the baby, they are still valuable now. Nothing about your new baby or your new schedule changes their intrinsic worth as a friend to you. You can be too busy to hang out with your friends for a few years, but that does not mean these people have somehow lost their relevance or worth in your life! Object permanence is an essential life skill. Please understand that it's possible to put friendships on hold while you are being consumed by new parenthood (or illness, or grief, or a new business venture, etc) - you don't have to devalue human beings just because they don't fit in your schedule this week/month/year.
posted by MiraK at 7:53 AM on April 2 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses! Quick note- I’m a dad, not a mom, not really relevant to the question though.
She would hang out with me and baby (she has three older kids of her own), but I guess the issue I wasn’t clear about is that I find her a bit exhausting, and I didn’t want to spend unstructured time with her knowing that I’d probably need to recover from it after.

But, noted- I shouldn’t throw her away just because I am temporarily not in the mood for her. I will maybe try a baby hangout with her, because maybe it will be different than what it was like being friends with her before. After that I can continue with the focus on the group activity.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 7:53 AM on April 2 [8 favorites]

I think, per your update, that maybe structuring the time would help with the problem. Use her for free labor to help with the baby and structure the time.

"Man, I'd love to hang out with you, but I'm so overwhelmed with the baby. Do you want to come over while I do baby laundry?" Then give them half the pile of fifteen million onesies and little flannel washcloths to fold. When she starts getting extra exhausting, pick up more clothes and leave the room to put more clothes in the washer.

"Oh man, what a great idea. I'm too exhausted for a regular hangout, but maybe you could come over and help me tire out the baby so she will sleep?" Then have her stand several feet away and let the baby crawl back and forth between you until the baby gets tired.
posted by corb at 7:59 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]

> I find her a bit exhausting, and ... I’d probably need to recover from [spending time with her]

There is a very big difference between asking "How can I tell my friend I am too busy to hang out and I am prioritizing my family?" vs. "How can I tell this person I deeply dislike that I am not their friend?"

If the latter is your true Ask, then I think the answers here are going to be very different. I'd say you need to stop responding to this person's texts. Accept that they will be hurt. Accept that they may be angry with you. If you get an angry call, say, "Sorry, I'm busy, I can't talk." You need to fade out on them by ending your responsiveness. This is tough, and I wish you courage and good luck. Please don't keep responding, because it gives them false hope and leads them on. Ideally we should never pretend to be someone's friend when we dislike them.
posted by MiraK at 7:59 AM on April 2 [7 favorites]

Parent here. There is no polite way to say this because it is an impolite thought.

It's reasonable to say your time is scarcer than before, or even that there are points of lack of understanding between parents and non parents. But saying you don't need this friendship is a rather stronger statement.

My life raising a child has taught me that as parents we need friendships and community more than ever, including the community of childless people, though too many parents tend to forget this in the short term rush of parenting young kids.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:05 AM on April 2 [9 favorites]

There is a very big difference between asking "How can I tell my friend I am too busy to hang out and I am prioritizing my family?" vs. "How can I tell this person I deeply dislike that I am not their friend?"

This is what I was coming here to say. Because with the former, there are solutions (and I would really encourage you to consider the fact that baby phase doubtless feels completely overwhelming now, but is not permanent, and while I really try hard to accommodate my friends with kids, I'm not sure I'd be open to restarting a friendship with someone who straight-up dropped me for five years or more); with the latter, you need to just...stop engaging. Which will be hurtful to them, but in the end less crazymaking.
posted by praemunire at 8:13 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: At risk of thread sitting, just wanted to add- I’m not isolated, I’m spending time with my closer friends who are priorities to me. I don’t hate this
friend or want to insult her, I just have 10% of the free social time that I used to, and she doesn’t fit after I get my actual closest circle in there.
Some of the responses here are a bit more intense than I was expecting, but the point is taken that I can probably be a bit more generous than I was thinking when I posed my question.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:37 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]

Maybe you need to get clarity within yourself about what the problem really is: is it that you lack time, or is it that you dislike your friend? It seems like you're trying to convince yourself it's the former when it is the latter.

Honestly, if you're thinking of someone in terms of how exhausting they are and how you need time to recover after spending time with them, you dislike them. And that's okay. It's not "harsh" to dislike someone. It happens. Nobody likes *everybody*. And your friend will absolutely survive without your reluctant, half-hearted "friendship". You can fade out of her life and she will be better off for it.

What's "harsh" and insulting imo is to lead someone on, to pretend to be their friend out of pity or whatever, when in truth you dislike them. That kind of pretense fucks with people's minds.

Not knocking you for any of this, btw, an Ask like this can be very useful for exactly this purpose - to gain clarity about your own truths and to give you a nudge into facing up to those truths.
posted by MiraK at 8:48 AM on April 2 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I think the main point for you to take away here is that there's no magic spell or algorithmically perfect script for delivering the message "I am done with this friendship" gently or kindly. Sometimes it is necessary to end a friendship, and doing so doesn't make you a bad person, but there's no one weird trick to guarantee a certain emotional response on the other end. So it's worth making sure you're definitely at the end of the road before you pull that lever.
posted by superfluousm at 8:56 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]

I have friends I find tiring and need down time after hanging out. I like hanging out with them, just not when I don't have energy.

I find hiking tiring and need time to recover. I still like it, but not when I don't have energy or time to recover.

Finding something tiring isn't the same as disliking it. Yes, it would be rude to tell someone I find them tiring compared to others. But OP isn't suggesting doing that.

I think the best approach is to use some amount of bluntness that makes clear that she need not continue to ask you to hang out right now (for both of your sakes, as it's no fun being rejected repeatedly or having to reject someone repeatedly), but not unkindness, and not close off the potential of future hangouts.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:00 AM on April 2 [14 favorites]

"I'm really off devices right now and gonna have to get back to you about one-on-one hangs when Bobby is a little older, but I'm glad we will still see each other at activity." Then read and answer her texts about once a month, like LinkedIn. Create some more mental categories for yourself, she sounds like a "friendly acquaintance" more than a friend.
posted by Iteki at 9:29 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]

Honestly, if you're thinking of someone in terms of how exhausting they are and how you need time to recover after spending time with them, you dislike them

A few comments have said variations of this, but that's not been my experience. There are lots of people - and activities - that I love, like, or enjoy in small or medium quantities but can also get exhausted by. That's not dislike, that's just the way I am! (Think about how extroverts can need a chance to recover after spending time with almost anyone.) Being in a stage of life where you have less spare energy doesn't mean you have to drastically cut out more intense people or things, just cut back and mention the truth, which is limited energy and time.
posted by trig at 9:30 AM on April 2 [9 favorites]

Accounting for your updates, I would go with BlueDaisy's response edited to be a little less warm:

“Hey friend, my schedule has changed a lot with kiddo in the picture. I am only available to hang out during [group activity]. I'll let you know if that changes. I look forward to seeing you there."

I chose these changes to make it clear that it's not just about being in the baby stage, and it sets an expectation that if the rules of engagement are going to change, you will be the one to change them. If she keeps reaching out, you can reiterate that you already said you'd let her know, and if she really doesn't stop, you have set the stage to tell her she's crossing a line by pushing for time with you when you've been clear about your availability. That's the power of taking the ball into your court.

To me, there is nothing rude or mean in that message. Also, if you don't look forward to seeing her there, you can remove it and it's still not rude or mean.
posted by amycup at 9:33 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]

Are you feeling awkward or guilty because you sense she values you more than you value her, or at least that the friendship is disproportionate? It's truly okay that you have other folks you prioritize. Sometimes when we don't establish clear boundaries, we resent folks who overstep them, even in cases where they have no idea they are doing that. The sad irony is that you both likely feel bad in the current situation. Communicating directly (I like amycup's revision) is a kindness to you both, even though it feels harder.

Also, as a sidenote: you mention she's a mom of older kids. Do you know that the biggest baby fans in the world are moms of older kids? If you're up for it, I'd ask her to join you during baby time or on a walk with baby, something you know you want to do anyway, as folks have suggested. She might want to gush over baby as much as see you.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:10 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]

Tough one. You seem to have already made up your mind that this person is exhausting and you don't want to be around them. Seems like the new baby (congrats) is a perfect excuse to do what you really want.

If I am wrong, then my solution would be to schedule video chats with the person instead of physical hang outs which can take more time. Schedule video chats during baby's down/nap time.

Good luck with this and the new child.
posted by terrapin at 10:12 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]

She isn’t getting the picture.

she’s trying to be the one friend who doesn’t stop making the effort to maintain a one-on-one friendship with an exhausted new parent. everyone has heard the bitter complaints of new parents who fall out of their old social circles without wanting to because they aren’t capable of being ‘fun’ for several years. she thinks she is doing a good and selfless thing by persisting. perhaps she even thinks she is sticking by you through your own “circumstances” to repay you for sticking by her through hers. since she’s a parent herself she’s probably doing whatever she wished people would do for her when her kids were young.

if you don’t want to tell her your real feelings, why not appeal to her sympathies on that basis. tell her you are exhausted and you have no choice but to be a bad friend for a while because it’s the only way you can be a good parent. tell her you worry about offending your unchilded friends because they might take it personally, but you know you can rely on her for understanding because she went through it all not so long ago herself, tell her you know she gets it. flattery is the nicest way of manipulating someone.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:56 AM on April 2 [31 favorites]

I really feel you because as soon as I got kids, I had so little time for the people I was actually yearning to see. I couldn't for the life of me spare any for the people I was merely fine with. And most of the socialising time went to families with kids because guess what? The kids can entertain each other, rather than you entertaining both your kid and your guest (who both have quite different, often conflicting ideas of a good time with you).

A friend who is slightly draining but otherwise a good friend can be completely, unmanageably exhausting when what you actually need is a bff who fills up your batteries. Because caring for your kid, much as you love it, has already drained it all out of you.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:26 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]

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