Close Connections: ‘I Just Don’t Want To …’
By Nancy Norman
As I get older I’ve noticed that I feel a pressure about how I use my time. I think a little longer before deciding what to put on my “to do” list. I hesitate more when asked to join in an activity.
The hardest thing is deciding about a personal invitation from someone I’ve spent time with in years past because “there was plenty of time.” Now, it feels different. This person is really nice, but she is hard for me to be around because she talks about mundane things that make me anxious to leave.
The thing is, I sound so arrogant to myself when I think that way. Why shouldn’t I just go to lunch with that person when she asks – for old time’s sake? Where do I get off thinking she’s boring? And how can I not spend time with her when there’s really no justifiable, concrete reason not to?
For those of us who have been taught to please others first, there are no easy answers.
My first thought is to lie: say I can’t go for some reason and keep offering excuses. But that feels bad as it’ll become obvious to the person that I’m avoiding her and she won’t know why. She’ll also realize I’m lying which doesn’t feel good.
If I don’t lie and say I just don’t want to, I dread the effect it might have on her: she might feel very hurt, even cry. That assumption can come from being reared by a person whose feelings were easily hurt and their self-image very fragile. And that may not be the reaction at all.
My friend Abbey told me she worked in therapy to gain the courage to tell a friend she didn’t want to go to lunch any more. It was really hard as her friend cried and Abbey felt guilty. She apologized for “hurting her feelings” and went on to say she needed to spend her time on some things she’d been neglecting. And that was true. Abbey needed to spend time figuring out what was really important in her life.
Prevention can help. Don’t cultivate acquaintances that aren’t really attractive in the first place. Don’t keep saying “yes” when you don’t want to go. Trust your instinct on whether this feels like a good match. Of course, that’s not always right. But it can prevent future dilemmas.
A friend of mine came up with an honest comment when she turned 60 and was asked to do something she didn’t want to do or be with someone she didn’t want to be with. She said, quite honestly, “I’m 60 now, and I won’t be doing that.” She says she’s never had a problem with people understanding.
Our time is very precious. And to seek comfortable and meaningful times is high on my list, so I want to keep being careful about how I respond to invitations. It’s even OK to not want to do something “for no reason.” Being kind and saying “no” can go together.
Nancy Norman is a licensed clinical social worker, musician with The Storys duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for “The Wichita Eagle.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.