The Friendship Doctor

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When a friendly lunch leaves a sour taste

You've grown apart and have different interests and values.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

A few years ago, I started meeting a couple of old friends for lunch every month or two. Well, the longer we do it, the less I enjoy it. We are far apart politically and they both have a lot of strongly held, strongly expressed opinions that I don't agree with. I don't care to debate these things over lunch--that just adds stress to an already stressful situation--but biting my tongue is getting tiresome too.

Actually, I don't want to debate some of these things because I don't know, for example, what is wrong with American schools, and I don't think they do either. One of them--like me--doesn't have any children or any connection at all with the school system, so as far as I'm concerned, she's basing her opinion on next to nothing. What's more, we tend to cover the same "what's wrong with America" ground over and over, at every lunch. I think I'm reaching a point where I feel oppositional to anything they say just because they have pushed my buttons so many times.

Basically, these two women are just annoying to me. I don't hate them and don't want to hurt their feelings, but I find myself dreading these lunches and resenting even the two hours every few months that I put into them. I tried being too busy for a while, but they just scheduled around my schedule.

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The way I see it, my choices are:

• Nut up and keep doing what I'm doing--the lunches are infrequent so it's not that big a deal.

• Start objecting when they spout baseless opinions even if it causes tension.

• Tell them I'll go as long as we find topics other than "what's wrong with America."

Do you have any other ideas? Maybe a way I can reframe the situation so that they are less irritating to me?

Signed,

Betsy

ANSWER

Dear Betsy,

The first thing that comes to mind is that you have little in common with these once-friends now and don't particularly respect them. You didn't mention whether they were old school chums or co-workers but at one time you probably had some situational connection or reason for being friends with them that no longer exists.

Typically, when someone reconnects with an old friend getting reacquainted involves 1) talking about the past and your shared history and 2) catching up with each other's current lives. I presume that you're several lunches past this phase and wondering, "Is that all there is?"

So my question is what, if anything, feels good to you about these lunches now? While it may not be a big deal, having an unpleasant lunch every month or two that leaves you feeling irritated seems to be a noxious waste of time.

Of course, tell them you don't want to talk about education but my suspicion is that if you try to redirect the discussion these women will find some other topic that annoys you. You've grown apart and have different interests and values. These are your options as I see them:

• Are you willing to possibly risk losing their friendship by dropping out of the lunch bunch? If so, make up a white lie. For example: I don't really like to take time from my workday for lunches; it disrupts the flow.

• Another possibility would be to see one or both of them one-on-one, which might be more palatable that lunching with the "group." Perhaps, they feed off each other and you would enjoy the company of one or both of them individually.

• Or as you said, you could just swallow hard, make plans for the next lunch date, and bring along a pack of Tums.

I'll be interested to hear about what you decide.

Best,

Irene

 

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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