My old high-school friends won't go away

They keep trying to track me down. Don't they see that I've moved on?


Cary Tennis
September 13, 2010 4:20AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

This may seem a bit trivial, but the issue keeps popping up for many of my friends and none of us know what to do! When is it OK to stop attending "life events" (weddings, baby showers, etc.) of high school friends that you are no longer close with? My late-20s girlfriends and I are struggling to be polite, but realistic.

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We had a group of 12 friends in high school (six boys, six girls), that started to gradually disintegrate during senior year and the following summer. By the time college finished we were maybe seeing each other once or twice a year (at a local bar the night before Thanksgiving with every other random person from our high school, and a smaller dinner around the December holidays). I stayed close with two girls and the other three girls remained close, no hard feelings anywhere, just natural progression. About two years after college graduation the first girl gets married: bridal shower, bachelorette party, wedding, etc. She being one of the girls I was not particularly close with, and I having a lifestyle that constantly keeps me traveling, I was only able to attend the bridal shower, for which I gave a reasonable gift. I sent a very modest wedding present about six months after the wedding. The next year another girl that I am not close with gets married. At this point I see this girl maybe once every other year! I recently had gone back to school (therefore am very broke) and although I was invited to all wedding events, I did not attend any nor did I send any gifts.

Now, two years later, the first girl is having a child. She contacted me via Facebook message to ask me for my address and phone number (although she clearly needs my e-mail address, too, if she is contacting me through Facebook). It seems clear to me that if you have none of my contact information, we are, in fact, NOT in contact and therefore not very close. Nevertheless, I spent two weeks ignoring the message only to have her post on my wall a request for said information. I don't want to be rude as I have no ill will toward her, but it is clear to me that we are no longer friends and as a student I am in no position to be spending money on her or her unborn child. What am I supposed to do, short of deleting my Facebook profile and going completely off the grid? What is the etiquette in these situations?

Sincerely,

Not So Friendly

Dear Not So Friendly,

Well, look, we've all got problems, and our big problems look little to other people. So I understand how this problem that might seem simple to some people is driving you nuts. So don't feel bad, please, if I say that the answer is really simple.

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Let me help you out by breaking it down logically.

An invitation is just a question. That's all it is. It's not an obligation. Your only obligation is to answer the question. The answer is yes or no. Sure, there are endless variations on how you say it, but it's not that hard to be polite. You either say you'll be happy to be there or say you regret that you won't be able to make it. Just respondez s'il vous plait, before it's too late.

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I'm no expert on etiquette (or "netiquette," a term that seems to be dying quietly and deservedly) but I suggest you give this person a break. She's probably thinking it's just the nice thing to do, to include people.

Personally, I would never go to anything billed as a "life event." It sounds like it might entail defibrillation. I've never liked the term "baby shower" either. When I first heard that term, I thought water was involved. (Get that baby out of here! You'll get shampoo in her eyes.)

May I say something else that's on my mind? Maybe terms like "life event" arose out of a desire to be inclusive and not offend anybody, but I like words like "Kwanzaa" and "Easter" and "Passover" and "Ramadan" because they're rich words, full of resonance. The phrase "life event" has had all the cultural and ethnic juice and grime squeezed out of it till all that's left is a colorless, odorless liquid of data.

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I like to embrace the specifics of my culture and also embrace the specifics of other people's cultures. The best way to do that seems to be to call our things what we call them and let other people call their things what they call them. Then we do stuff together. We play games we don't know the rules of. We put on blindfolds and dance funny dances (well, sorry, maybe they're funny to us but sacred to somebody else, and that's how we get into trouble, no?). But that makes everybody melt together in a big pot. Isn't that how it works? Or have I missed something?

Anyway ...

Be bold. Just respond. If you can't make it, say you can't make it. No big deal.

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Cary Tennis

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