fb-pixel Skip to main content

She wants to get together, but I don’t have time for new friends

Plus, what an opened baby gift reveals about mother-child relationships.

I recently met another woman at a job-related event who I had a fair amount in common with — we have similar life challenges, share similar interests — and she suggested we keep in touch and get coffee sometime. We exchanged contact info, but I feel guilty because even though I liked her, I don’t really have time for another friend, awful as that sounds. I’m managing to my limit with current family, social, work, health, etc., obligations. How to handle this?

E.R. /Cambridge

It sounds like you’re more wrapped around the axle about the idea of being “too busy for a new friend” than you are about any situation that’s likely to come about. Which says good things about you! Let’s see if I can’t ease your kind conscience.


Academics who study social networks often categorize relationships as “strong” or “weak” ties. Strong ties are romantic partners, close friends, and family, the people who when you are at their house, you get your own water. This is the group you don’t feel you can add to. Weak ties are friendly acquaintances who, according to said academics, can bring a whole lot of value to your life in terms of new information and opportunities and viewpoints.

I prefer the term “cameo friends,” because “weak ties” sounds like exactly the kind of exclusionary attitude that bothers you. To play a cameo role is still a delightful and meaningful thing. That fellow fan you see once a year at the con, the old classmate you message with sporadically, the former neighbor you meet for coffee when she comes into town every few months to get her hair done — you’re cameos in each other’s lives, and that’s OK. Don’t feel that if you can’t offer someone a leading part, you shouldn’t offer them anything at all.


When I was pregnant, my mom would receive gifts from her friends for my baby. She would open the gifts in front of them and give me the opened gift. Should she have let me open the gifts, or was opening them in front of her friends so she could share the enjoyment of said gift the proper timing?

Anonymous / Waban

She should have let you open the presents, because they were for you. It doesn’t matter who knows the giver better; what matters is who the intended recipient is. That was you — well, technically, your baby, but you get to open them because your child isn’t physically capable of doing so. This is pretty much the only reason a parent should open a gift intended for their child.

Maybe your mother’s behavior here was an out-of-character idiosyncrasy, or some unquestioned tradition from her own childhood. Or maybe she’s always had a tendency to control or make things about herself, and this is what made you notice. Especially now that you’ve got a child of your own, maybe tug on that ribbon a little and see what opens up.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.