Communicate Authentically to Find a Fierce Love Beyond Social Niceness
“How the heck do I communicate to an acquaintance that I’m willing to be friendly, but I have no desire to invite her to events or spend time with her? Isn’t that insincere? But if my only other option is to give her the silent treatment, then what choice do I have?
She’s the most pressing example, but I have this issue with lots of people. Sometimes it’s just because they’re boring, or depressing, grasping or insecure. But I feel cruel saying that. I don’t want to be cold.”
– Annoyed and Confused
Dear Annoyed and Confused,
This problem is more common than you think.
Most people have a friendly neighbor, co-worker, or teammate who never does anything bad enough to warrant speaking out. So we tolerate them, repressing our own desire to spend time with people we care about most.
It is possible that a good friendship emerges out of this dynamic, but more often than not we are wasting our time—and the clinger’s—by our unwillingness to speak our authentic feelings.
Newsflash: It’s Not About Them
This is important, because most people think they are doing that person a favor by operating within the social norms. But it isn’t about them—it is about you not wanting to feel cruel, not wanting to be cold, not wanting to be seen as the person who is rude or exclusionary. It likely triggers your own fears of being excluded, and so you twist the logic of “treat others as you want to be treated.”
Would You Rather Have A False Sense of Inclusion or Honest Feedback?
But how would you really want to be treated if you weren’t wanted? Would you want people to tiptoe around you, worried they are hurting your feelings, or would you want to them to be honest about how they actually feel around you, specific about the actions they don’t like?
Wouldn’t this information either (a) allow you to change your behavior to truly be included, in this group or another, or (b) help you find a group of people who enjoy spending time with you for who you are?
What To Do
I think you should just communicate exactly what you told me—that you are willing to be friendly but don’t want to invite her to events. That is sincere because it is what you feel. I imagine you want to treat her with the dignity and respect all humans deserve (hence the friendliness) but that there are a multitude of reasons that you don’t want her to be an everyday part of your life (which is quite reasonable).
In these cases the most important thing is to take responsibility for your own feelings and have the humility to be wrong about them. Think of a specific action that she does and a specific emotional response, and share that with as little judgement as possible.
You can use the following sentence structure: “When you ______, I feel/think/notice _____.” For example, “When you show up uninvited to events, I feel unsafe.”
Let Your Honest Feedback Be A Gift
Who else is willing to tell her what effect she has on people in an honest and direct way, without malice? The same is true of all the people you want to set boundaries with. Let your feedback be a gift.
Who wants to be boring? They either know it (that they’re boring/depressing/insecure), in which case your honesty gives them permission to be themselves instead of second-guessing some socialized response, or they don’t know it and will be glad to hear it. It’s like someone having food in their teeth or the fly open—it may a little embarrassing at first, but it is better to know than not.
It is not cold, but it can be incredibly challenging.
It challenges me to step into a self identity that is scary. To be a person who is not “nice” and won’t always be liked. But it is so much more aligned with what I want that I’m willing to die a little death every time I see myself retract from one of those opportunities, afraid of the consequences of what my speaking what’s true for me will do.
As a bonus, embracing this conflict instead of avoiding it will likely cause you to rise to higher capacities in yourself and open to a greater ability to love yourself and others. This new capacity includes a fierce love, a caring honesty, and demands that others rise up to higher potentials in themselves as well.
I hope you take this challenge and let it evolve you. Good luck.