At a recent party my spouse and I met a couple we liked immediately, even though they are 25 years our juniors. After, I e-mailed an invitation to dinner. Six days later, with apologies for the tardy reply (“crazy week”), they said yes to the following Saturday. But one day before, they e-mailed to say they couldn’t make it. Next Saturday was the same: They said yes, then cancelled, saying they had accidentally double-booked. The wife suggested we pick a day that “would be cast in stone.” At this point I felt I should back off. I sent a jokey e-mail saying maybe we should forget it, but if they were ever in our area (they moved from the United Kingdom to about an hour away from us, in rural Nova Scotia) they should pop by. We have not heard from them since. Did we screw up? Is this our introduction to ageism?
I’m not sure what’s going on. Ageism, rudeness, confusion – hard to tell.
I do know it’s painful to want to be friends with a person or couple who doesn’t/don’t necessarily return that interest.
To think to myself: “Oooh, there’s a really cool guy/girl/couple. I’d love to hang out with him/her/them.” Only to slowly perceive he/she/they may not find me, David Eddie, all that fascinating (hard to imagine, I know!).
L. Rust Hills, in his classic book How to Do Things Right (which covers with curmudgeonly glee everything from the proper way to eat an ice cream cone to the complexities of conducting an extramarital affair), explains this phenomenon with his “Social Cruel Rule #3”:
1. Uninteresting people invite you to their house; you do not invite them back.
2. You invite interesting people to your house; they do not invite you back.
It follows that “interesting people who don’t invite you back must know even more interesting people who don’t invite them back, and those people never get invited back by even more interesting people, and so on up the chain.” Going the other way, he says “the uninteresting people you don’t invite back must know even more uninteresting people they don’t invite back, and so on. Somewhere down there it must be very dull indeed, and the person at the bottom is forced to give up.”
I think there’s some truth to these statements, but I don’t think it’s necessarily so straightforward and hierarchical an arrangement.
I’m sure a lot of people will tell you to write these chumps off. They are, after all, being rather rude and disrespectful. (I don’t accept “busy” or “crazy week” as an excuse not to return e-mails.)
But I prefer to take an overview: This could possibly just be a series of goofy glitches you will all look back on in 20 years when you’re great friends and munching on lobsters and drinking champers as the sun sets over the Atlantic.
I feel like I’ve always been maximally honest in this column, but now I’m going to reveal something that is truly painful and embarrassing for me to admit in print – and which I’m aware probably makes me look pathetic – but what the hell:
When I meet interesting people who rebuff, or appear to be indifferent to, my friendly overtures, I continue to seek their friendship anyway.
Oh, yeah. I phone them. I e-mail them. I wear them down, coming at them with a “charm offensive” until they knuckle under, say “uncle,” and submit to the inevitable: becoming my friend.
This approach is based on a nexus of truths I consider to be self-evident: 1) people, even the most interesting, are generally passive and will eventually do your bidding if you pressure them long enough; 2) it’s fun having friends; 3) it’s hard making friends as an adult; 4) the company of interesting people is preferable to the company of boring people.
But listen, this isn’t advice per se. I’m not saying everyone should follow my (somewhat tragic) example. It depends how badly you want these people as friends, how badly you want friends at all, where your draw the line vis-à-vis manners, etc.
Bottom line: You have telephones, I presume, in rural Nova Scotia. Why not give these fascinating slightly boorish Brits a second chance? Ring them up, arrange a “carved in stone” date, and I tell you what: If they blow you off this time, you have my permission not only to give them the kiss-off but also a piece of your mind while you’re at it.
And if they do show up? Either you have a great time and decide it was worth all the glitches, or you realize that they’re bores and you were bamboozled by their oh-so-sophisticated-sounding accents (which happens: Brits get away with murder with those accents, if you ask me).
Either way, you win.
David Eddie is the author of Damage Control , the book
I’ve made a huge mistake
Have you created any damage that needs controlling? Send your dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org, and include your hometown and a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.