Two longtime friends of mine, who don’t know each other well, now live near each other. Sometimes the three of us go out (this is the only time they spend together) but I feel like if I’m in town visiting one friend and don’t tell the other, I’m committing some sort of treason. Recently I planned a last-minute getaway to “Annie’s” and asked “Bridget” if she could join us for dinner. I could tell Bridget was something (upset? angry? hurt?). She said I disappointed her; I apologized for unknowingly doing so but said I couldn’t undo anything. Did I do something wrong?
Anonymous / Boston
Have a talk with Bridget. If you don’t, you’ll both wind up all bogged down with vines of unspoken expectations wrapping around your ankles. You don’t mention Annie having a problem with the situation, but a conversation there would probably be a good thing as well.
You should feel free to visit either friend without feeling obliged to spend an equal amount of time with the other — but hey, we’ve all been the Bridget here at one point or another. We’re a social species that’s very, very tuned in to the possibility of social rejection or exclusion. (A thought experiment: What if Bridget and Annie hit it off splendidly, and started spending a lot of time together — more than with you, as it sounds like you live at a distance. How would you feel?) We’re not always rational about that kind of thing.
Friends deal gently with each other’s irrationality. Bridget is already feeling insecure, so don’t assertively defend your right to freedom of movement — instead, focus on reaffirming the unique value of her friendship. Make those ties stronger and looser.
Reading is one of my foremost pleasures in life. It has always been my understanding that one does not interrupt another’s reading unless there is something vital to talk to them about. My sister does not understand this. (She’s not a child, we’re college-age.) I have tried to explain that the time alone is for me to recharge. Is it rude to interrupt someone when reading? How can I make my sister understand this?
M.M. / Boston
The bad news is that you can’t make her understand; the good news is that you don’t actually have to. Your sister can believe whatever she wants. You’re only after behavioral compliance. So, make her behavior unrewarding: Stop responding when she tries to engage you. Get noise-canceling headphones if you need to. Lock the door. Don’t engage in arguments about who is right or wrong.
It’s easy to get drawn into pointless arguments at your age, and I don’t mean that in a condescending way. As a child, you had to prove yourself to your parents and teachers to get what you wanted — little kids argue because that’s the only power they have — and then college teaches you to argue better. But often, it’s more effective to act than to argue.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.