DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I enjoy meeting new people, friends of friends and fellow attendees at various events. We are easygoing, genuinely interested in others and adventurous, so we receive many invitations to treks and events that we cannot attend, which we politely decline.
Usually, people get the picture pretty quickly and they turn into solid acquaintances whom we have great, albeit thin, relationships with. This is a good problem to have, and we feel good about these relationships.
However, this has put off a few of these acquaintances, once in a public and pointed diatribe about how we are terrible friends. I know this friend is not wrong, but clearly didn’t see our relationship the same way we did.
How do we set the expectations so that these dear people know we value them and like to run into them/meet up at events of common interest, but can’t possibly nurture a friendship with them?
As an event or gathering winds up, there are always conversations about repeating the adventure, or at least hanging out again soon. I don’t want to end on a sour note by declining friendships or dismissing the very real connections that have been made, but am at a loss for what to say to not build up the expectation that we should immediately pursue a deep friendship.
I feel that Facebook has exacerbated the problem. We don’t run a big-tent social life, inviting everyone to everything (we tried it a while back and it became unmanageable, as our friends barely got along and we weren’t able to have the deep friendships we need), so I get the feeling that when pictures of a dinner out or a camping weekend are posted, it appears that we are ignoring acquaintances.
Note that we don’t expect them to be perfect friends, we don’t make demands of acquaintances, and when any of them hit hard times we are there to help with moves, breakups and other important steps in their lives. If they ask if we can do something, we are clear with a yes or a no.
We feel great about the best friends we have (a dozen or so) and nurture them through nearly daily conversations and frequent adventures together. There are plenty of great models for friendships, but too few about how to be a good acquaintance.
GENTLE READER: Indeed, Facebook has done huge damage to the etiquette rule against flaunting social events in sight of people who were not invited.
Especially as your events are small, couldn’t you send the pictures only to the participants? Do you really need to tell the rest of the world what a good time you are having?
It is not that Miss Manners disagrees with your distinction between close friends and acquaintances. You would be vastly overextended if you did not set limitations. The polite way to do so is to say: “We seem to be ridiculously overcommitted these days, but do let’s keep in touch. We always enjoy running in to you.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Can my 15-year-old granddaughter wear a short cocktail dress to a black-tie wedding?
GENTLE READER: Can you stop her?
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