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She’s nice, but I don’t want to socialize with her. . .

QI bought draperies for my living room about a month ago from a saleswoman named Monica. She came to my house a couple of times to measure the windows and help me pick out material. We chatted a bit after both appointments and she seemed like a nice person.

Then last week, just two days after the drapes were installed, Monica called and invited me to go with her to the art museum to see a new exhibit. I declined, saying I was busy. She called again yesterday and invited me to a party that she and her husband are having next week. I told her I’d call her back and let her know. I like Monica—even though she does seem a little pushy. But I really don’t want to socialize with her. How should I handle this?

A:  I suggest looking at this problem from the perspective of levels of friendship. I have divided friendship into a hierarchy of four types, or levels, based on the degree of closeness and complexity:

  1. Acquaintances: folks we chat with now and then (neighbors)
  2. Mutual back-scratchers: those we trade services and favors with in a spirit of limited friendship (business colleagues)
  3. Activity sharers: friends we connect with only through an activity (tennis partners)
  4. Buddies/confidants: people with whom we share our thoughts and feelings (closest friends)

For some reason, Monica has assumed that the two of you have a third-level, activity-sharing, friendship. But you would place your relationship at level one—that is, Monica is a temporary acquaintance you met because of a business transaction.

Understandably, you feel uncomfortable about her invitations. Most folks find it disconcerting when a new acquaintance immediately makes assumptions based on a higher friendship level. It takes time to decide how close you want to get to someone new.

I recommend that when you call Monica, you say, “Thanks for inviting me, but I’m very busy with several projects and social commitments, and I can’t fit any new ones into my schedule.” 

Unless Monica is insensitive, that message should take care of the present invitation and head off any future ones.  Good luck with the phone call!

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.


Comment from barry
Time: September 11, 2007, 9:55 pm

Friendship levels make a lot of sense and are a great way to look at different friendship and aquaintances. I have found that this helps me understand why situations with different people have been effective if I dealt with them at the proper friendship level. I also understand better why some relationships have felt very awkward if one person is operating at a different friendship level than the other person.

Comment from Laura
Time: September 13, 2007, 11:40 am

I am a mother of 2 with ages under 8 and work full time. I have absolutely no free time for myself, and all of my time is for my children; therefore, my time is very valuable and I schedule my time accordingly for my family. I have been in uncomfortable situations before where one time a woman I sold a house to keeps suggesting we get together for lunch or coffee and I just cannot and really don’t want to be on that level of friendship with her but don’t want to hurt her feelings. I would like to keep it strickly business like. After reading this site, I now understand the different levels of friendships and now feel more comfortable and know what to say to her and others in the future without making them feel bad.

Comment from Janet
Time: September 16, 2007, 10:01 pm

Levels of friendship is an interesting subject as we are all aware of different levels and yet we operate within them without conceptualizing or labeling which type of relationship we are involved in.
I enjoyed reading the portion which dealt with a woman who gave extra personal attention and a feeling of specialness to each acquaintance and made each person feel that the relationship was more than it actually was. My daughter gives each person 120% of herself whether it is a neighbor, husband’s workmate or whomever. It frequently exhausts her because as a mother of three young children she can’t continue to reciprocate after she’s built the initial relationship. I think she’ll enjoy perusing your website as I have.

Comment from Alistair
Time: September 20, 2007, 5:13 am

It’s really hard to say no to people–if I could say no life would be easier. I do stuff for folks all the time that I don’t want to do. What’s the secret to saying no to people? I’m afraid they won’t like me anymore and so I do whatever they ask me to do.

Comment from Jean
Time: September 20, 2007, 6:15 am

I’m always surprised at people who push themselves on others. I never know how to handle the problem. This is helpful. Thanks.

Comment from Manny
Time: September 22, 2007, 4:31 pm

As a person who has moved to numerous cities for my profession, the friendship levels make perfect sense. It is unfortunate that frequent relocations force us to operate on an aquaintance level or perhaps a business level. It makes sense, that some of my deepest relationships coincide with the positions that were the longest in tenure.

Comment from Gerald G.
Time: September 23, 2007, 5:30 pm

The more you play with the same musicians the more trust you have. You become friends in the music.More comfortable with the situation. As a musician yourself, you know what I’m talking about. Same in life! The longer you know a person the more trust you have. You can speak your mind,the games are over.Great work Ron,looking forward to reading more,Thanks.

Comment from J.McB
Time: September 27, 2007, 12:56 pm

Interesting concept. The only thing that I could take issue with is the “insensitivity” that some may have with respect to “reading” friendship level clues.
In the example given, it is assumed that the last phone call would head off further invites from Monica because it tactfully establishes the friendship level that is expected.
If Monica is not hip to these cues, then the issue could/would have to be addressed more directly.
If the purpose of the last call is to head off further invites, why dance around the issue? Couldn’t the poster simply decline with out any explinations? What is there to explain? If pushed, simply say ” I’ll pass”.
An old adage that my Dad once told me is “better a little bit of pain now rather than a lot of pain later.
Just my .02…..your milage may vary.

Comment from Nancy
Time: September 28, 2007, 9:05 am

I think your advice regarding Monica was nice, but wishy-washy. Monica is probably not insensitive, perhaps simply clueless. The person who had the drapes installed said that after both visits she and Monica had chatted “a bit.” Did she speak with Monica for 8 minutes, 18 minutes, or 28 minutes? In all fairness to Monica, maybe the writer gave off signals that seemed to suggest a brewing friendship. At this point though, I suggest she simply respond that she’s flattered by the invitation, but has enough in her life right now and finds it awkward meeting Monica socially since they really don’t know each other and then say she’s sorry for the misunderstanding.

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