Miss Conduct

Advice: How to gracefully get out of seeing a friend’s show

An actor dislikes going to shows, even when friends are in them.

Q. I’m an actor, but I don’t like going to plays. It feels like work, as I can’t shut the critical part of my brain off. I don’t expect my friends to attend my work. Most of my actor friends are not of that mind-set. I’m currently getting the silent treatment from a friend I care for very much because I told her I’d try to attend her show but I have a lot going on. Is that the actor social contract? We all see each other’s shows no matter what? I want to hide.

T.S. / Los Angeles

A. On some level, aren’t we all actors who don’t like going to plays? We are parents who don’t enjoy PTA. Scientists who cringe at conferences. Churchgoers who flee coffee hour.

Every social role we take on — actor, mother, physicist, Lutheran — has some core that drew us to it. That gives us the high of competence, self-expression, connecting with another person, touching the great mystery of life, whatever. This is what feels essential.


And then there’s all the other stuff. Other people’s kids and pet projects and weird theories. Committees and associations. The obligatory socializing introverts hate. The paperwork and logistics that make extroverts itch. The stuff that feels extraneous and hairy.

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But here’s the thing: You can’t act alone, on a dark stage with no audience. That’s not a play. Our social roles take place in a social context. And when we choose to take on a role, we take on some responsibility for maintaining the infrastructure that supports other artists and parents and scientists and worshipers.

So, yes, you do have to go to some plays. Set a goal that seems doable — two a month? Think of it as part of your job, sort of like an office Christmas party.

But you don’t have to go to all the plays (or bake sales or poster sessions or prayer retreats). There’s a difference between being a good community member and having no life outside that community. Reasonable people understand this. If you’re feeling this much pressure to see friends’ shows, you might be in an unhealthy clique. For your particular friend, try to have a real conversation about the issue, and how you can best support each other personally and professionally.

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

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