Q. This is going to sound petty, but I really can’t stand the mother of my daughter’s best friend. My daughter is only 5, so it’s pretty much a given that playdates involve the parents, too. We have a certain necessary level of communication, but lately she’s been texting me about getting together for drinks or dinner, and it’s awkward. She’s a complainer, and every conversation we have is excruciating. Her daughter is sweet and I don’t want this to jeopardize our kids’ friendship, but I don’t want to have this person in my life as a friend. Help!
David: You don’t sound petty. You also don’t have a crisis, though. You’re making this more stressful than it needs to be.
First, reframe the situation. You are under no obligation to see this person or communicate with this person outside of making arrangements for your children or participating in school or childcare events. Think of it like dealing with a co-worker you don’t like: If you have a whiny marketing manager or a tyrannical site foreman, you have to deal with them as they are in that context, but you don’t have to meet them for dinner. The same is true here.
Obviously, you don’t want to have a bad relationship, so be on your best behavior. Do the things you’d tell your daughter to do when you drag her to an event where she doesn’t want to be: Be courteous, be patient, and try to make the best of it. If you’re stuck in conversation you don’t enjoy, change the topic. If she doesn’t relent, excuse yourself to the bathroom and come back with an opinion on a news item. No luck? Well, your daughter is at an age where dropoff playdates are more the norm, so you don’t have many more of these to endure. If you have a partner, lean on them to chaperone the next one. “In joy and sorrow,” right?
Now, about those texts. You can easily make this situation worse. Avoid that. Don’t pretend like you want to hang out but just can’t make the time right now. Don’t create fake schedule conflicts, which suggests you’d hang out another time. All you’re doing is postponing the awkwardness and making it worse by building up expectations. You don’t owe explanations. Write some version of “no thanks” and say you’ll catch up the next time your daughters get together. If she presses, just reply about how stretched you are and that you’re just not able to make the time. Don’t get specific.
Eventually, she’ll give up, or your daughters will find new friends (they’re 5, it’ll probably happen). If you have to go silent and she thinks you’re a jerk, then really, so what? You don’t like this person. Don’t squander your life trying to please the wrong people.
Kara: Right on, David. Life is too short to trade texts or dinners with people you dislike. And one of the pleasures of being a grown-up is choosing exactly whom to befriend. Making friends as an adult can be awkward and first date-y and hard, but it’s also liberating to know that you needn’t befriend every new person who crosses your path like a nervous college freshman at orientation day.
Fortunately, adulthood generally and parenthood especially affords multiple face-saving excuses for not hanging out with draining people. We’re all running in a million directions. The adult world is rife with extraneous obligations. Hooray! While the ideal of “being busy” can be our downfall in many ways, you need to make this fact of American life work for you here.
I believe that white lies are your best course of action. Simply say you’re busy. Repeatedly. She’ll eventually get the message. I’m cringing a bit as I type this, because on one hand, I do feel sorry for this woman. Adult-friend-making is strange enough as it is, and it’s really brave to put yourself on the line. This woman is trying, and she deserves empathy and respect. That said, you’re under no directive to befriend someone you don’t like, just for the sake of being nice or, worse, out of pity.
Meanwhile, please encourage the friendship between your kids. Play up how much you value that relationship. Praise her child as much as possible, so mom doesn’t take it personally. Say you’ll look forward to seeing her at pick-ups and drop-offs. Don’t let your feelings affect your child’s perceptions of her friend. And also realize that, yes, life might force the two of you into a few social situations here and there. That’s part of adult life, too, and it’s why God made white wine.
And take heart: Your kids are only 5. The friendship might just run its course. Relationships at this stage are so fluid and often based on proximity. Your white lies might become unnecessary sooner than you think.
By the way, David — you still have a standing invite to come over with your wife and kids for dinner before summer’s over. You’re not too busy, right?
David Mogolov is a dad, a comedian, and a playwright behind the parenting comedy “Parenting Your Human.” Kara Baskin is a mom, a journalist, and author of “Size Matters: The Hard Facts About Male Sexuality That Every Woman Should Know.”
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You are under no obligation to see or communicate with this person outside of making arrangements for your children or participating in school or childcare events.