If You Don’t Want to Go, Say No

After thoughts

Most social obligations would be best left in the Before Times.

By Jessica Grose

When I was in my early 20s, my friends started calling me “The Bailer.” I was infamous for making plans and then canceling the day before. Even at the time, I knew this was irritating and ungenerous behavior. But I made the plans with the best intentions: I love my friends! I want to see their faces! That spoken-word event in a dank, low-ceilinged bar sounded like fun when you told me about it three weeks ago!

About 24 hours before many social outings, I would start to feel sweaty and inert. After a long day’s work at an office, I would often feel drained from human contact and all I would want to do is buy an enormous burrito at the spot near my apartment, get home, take off my pants and eat it in privacy while watching reality television. After a few years of disappointing my friends last minute, I learned that it’s much kinder and less stressful for everyone involved to be honest with myself — and my friends — about what I would actually show up for.

I began to evaluate what I really enjoyed doing and what I valued about interactions with friends. I did not like standing for prolonged periods of time, for almost any reason. I did not like waiting in line for food. I did not like anything that included the word “networking.” I did like getting drinks or dinner in a place where we could really talk, or lounging in someone’s living room, or going to a party if there were going to be lots of people I knew there and ample seating room.

Having children at 30 was a great excuse for being the hermit I naturally am, and it also helped clarify my socializing needs even further. I was both more tired but also more starved for grown-up conversation. I opted for even more socializing in small groups without my daughters, and when I was with them, I experienced the joy of raucous dinner parties with a separate kids’ table. I learned the valuable skill of continuing conversations through multiple interruptions.

During the pandemic I added a few more types of socializing to my repertoire, including outdoor walk-and-talks, like I’m some jerk in an Aaron Sorkin TV show. Though some pandemic behavior comes easily to me, because I do hate leaving my house, this year of enforced isolation has been depressing, and even a shut-in like me has been missing human contact with people I am not related to.

That does not mean I will come to your spoken word performance in the future. I am still short on time on this mortal coil, and I imagine I will return to my previous socialization preferences.

While obviously there are some obligations you show up to because you love and honor your friends and family even if you don’t want to attend, I invite you to figure out what you actually like about seeing people in the “After.” Especially now that people are making plans with frenzied abandon, saying yes to all manners of activities without a second thought because they are so starved for socializing. Yes to that group sound bath! Yes to the wine-cooler tasting! Yes to the early morning rave! Oh honey, no. No. No.

Be honest with yourself. If you like the energy of a big crowd, say no to that intimate coffee and parry with a trip to a concert. If you hate going out, invite people to come over.

Tell people the real reasons you’re saying no for things you say no to. This has two benefits: it will give you deeper intimacy with friends who will know you for the true crank you really are. And it will mean that they stop inviting you to things that you really don’t like to do. My friends no longer call me The Bailer, because now I always show up.

Jessica Grose is the NYT Parenting columnist and a reporter. She is working on a book called “All Powerful and Totally Useless: The Creation of the Ideal American Mother.”

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