The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Can I ask my friends to stop working during our visits? Carolyn Hax readers give advice.

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
6 min

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: I have a tightknit group of four girlfriends from college in D.C. In the two decades since college, two of us have landed in Colorado and work in the mental health and education fields, and the other two remained in D.C. and work in marketing/communications and Big Tech. I mention the regions of the U.S. and the career fields because I think we might be dealing with some cultural differences here, and I’m hoping for some help navigating them.

Often, during weekend visits to my home (or theirs) and girls’ getaway weekends (two to four days), the two D.C. friends spend several hours (or even a whole morning or afternoon) working. Typically, this work happens in common areas (living room or, more recently this summer, on the pool deck of an expensive vacation rental) and the need to work is announced matter-of-factly, and without advance notice or an invitation to plan around it.

It would be hard to overstate how much the presence of work (even someone else’s) poisons my sense of being on vacation, or how hurtful it is to me; I treasure our very limited time together. We have a (covid-risk-minimizing) getaway weekend coming up in a few weeks. I am really torn between making some kind of request in advance and just accepting that this is how my friends’ lives operate and adjusting my expectations.

— College Friend

College Friend: Have you ever asked your friends about the specifics of their jobs, specifically the average time they are expected to work each week, or the amount of vacation time they have?

The reason I ask is there’s a very good chance your friends are doing their best to meet their obligations to you as well as to their jobs. They may not get paid vacation, or may only get a few days. They may also be obliged to use their vacation days for annual family trips.

If you had to choose between seeing your friends (with work in tow) and giving up your treasured vacations together, which would make you the most happy? Give this some thought, and if you aren’t willing to forgo the vacations, I would recommend both talking with your friends to try to understand where they are coming from and adjusting your vacation expectations. If this has happened as frequently as it sounds, take along some books or plan some solo activities to fill up the time while they work. If you decide the vacations just aren’t worth it, be both honest and kind when you call them.

Most importantly, only you can decide how to feel in any given situation. If your vacations are being poisoned, look within for the answer as to why. Your friends can’t hurt you if you don’t allow them to.

— Sheridan

College Friend: I feel your pain! I’m an overprotective-of-my-personal-time person with some workaholic friends. Sometimes this is truly unavoidable — some jobs are incredibly demanding, and it’s worth it to your friends to stay in those roles for any number of reasons. And it may be that the only reason they’re able to make these trips is because they can still work.

The big difference for me is that my friends are upfront about when they need to work. So during your next visit planning, bring the issue up. Tell them you understand their need to work, but you really cherish the time you’re able to spend together. Ask them if they can let you know in advance when they’ll need to work so you can schedule something for yourself. Express also what vacation means to you in order to recharge/decompress, and how important it is to keep work from infringing on that space.

If they don’t really NEED to work, hopefully it’ll be the wake-up call they need to give themselves a breather. And if they really do need to work, knowing their planned schedule is a great opportunity for you to sleep in, get a massage or go do some vacation-y thing you enjoy that wouldn’t particularly interest them.

— Professional Relaxer

College Friend: I recently went on a much-anticipated girls’ trip with a group of friends flung all over the United States, and some of whom I rarely get to see. Hours before I got on the plane, my boss suddenly required me to do urgent and time-sensitive work on a project that only I was qualified to complete. The client could not wait, for actually very legitimate reasons. I had to spend one entire day (yes, sitting in the common area, where there was a desk) working from 7 a.m. on while my friends got to sleep in/lounge around/go sightseeing. I would have been absolutely devastated if one of my friends told me my having to work on our shared vacation “poisoned” hers. Instead, my friends were super understanding, supportive and felt bad for me. Trust me, your friend hates having to work while on vacation more than you hate her doing it. Please try not to make this all about you. Not everyone has the luxury to tell their boss “no” or completely escape the demands of their job (especially now, in covid work-from-home times where it seems upper management thinks you’re available to work 24/7).

— Been There

College Friend: I made the D.C.-to-Colorado leap, and yes, the cultural differences are real. You and I probably agree that those who are not setting/maintaining work boundaries are missing out, but ultimately that’s probably not a useful judgment. They know their professional pressures. You know this bugs you and seems unavoidable. Perhaps reach out now, acknowledge that they’ve often had to work in the past and ask if they think they’ll do the same this time so you can have some backup activities during that time ready to go. That way you can enjoy your time actually spent socializing without a cloud of quiet resentment or frustration coloring the experience. This happens to me too, and the way I think about it is: I wouldn’t trade my life and my balance for theirs, so no use wasting precious time begrudging them what is probably an un-fun way to spend a vacation.

— D.C. to Colorado Transplant

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.