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The question

We have lived in the same small community for 17 years. When we first got here I organized many social events; parties at our place, lunches and dinners out, etc. No one declined. Over the years I realize that very few reciprocal invitations have come our way and slowly I have stopped organizing events. Our social life has suffered. I mentioned this to some people and they’ve said they are just too busy. Living in a small town there are only so many social choices. What can I do to boost our social life?

The answer

I’m going to start by saying something horrible for which I hope you forgive me: Is it possible the people you are inviting to your home are finding you less than enchanting?

I don’t know either you or the people in your community you are attempting to befriend.

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But I do know this: The development and maintenance of friendships is a ticklish/fraught/difficult question.

For me it’s changed over time. I used to quote Polonius (I know: one of Shakespeare’s dumbest and most foolish characters, but oft-quoted, e.g. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”): “Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried, grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.”

I.E. stick with your old friends.

But lately I’m not so sure. Put it this way: Some people you’ve known a long time can disappoint, and others can surprise you by coming out of the proverbial woodwork and being true friends.

And it takes time and patience and discernment to figure out which are which.

Now, notice I speak of “friends” and not one’s “social life.” More and more lately, the concept of a “social life” (which, trust me, I once cared about a great deal) has come to seem to me (if I may bust out a couple of 64-dollar words) both chimerical and ephemeral.

In other words, not something to build any kind of foundation upon.

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Perhaps – and I’m sorry if I’m being presumptuous/making assumptions, but that’s a bit of what we advice columnists have to do: Read between the lines – that is where the true problem lies.

You are trying to create a “social life” when maybe the real way to go is to concern yourself with making friends.

This is a complex issue, one that one could easily write a book about, but the main bullet point for me is: spending one-on-one time with a person.

On the other hand, maybe your friends are truly busy. I’ve heard tell of such people. There was an interesting article in the Atlantic recently with the title: “Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore.” Subtitle: “Our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on American society.”

Gist: Everyone’s too busy to see their friends much any more. Personally I don’t buy a lot of it. Busy is fashionable, now. Busy is the new black. “Oh, I’m so busy, I’m just run ragged with work,” and blah-diddy-blah-blah but then you see (and hear about) these same oh-so-busy characters prancing around, having chardonnay-fuelled lunches and so on.

I know there are genuinely busy people out there. I was just reading about (full disclosure: in a far, far less lofty-minded publication than the Atlantic) Chip and Joanna Gaines, the hosts of a show called Fixer Upper, which I’m a little hooked on, for no reasons I could explain (except maybe under hypnosis).

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They’re running a whole empire: TV show, renovations, magazines. What aren’t they doing? And it appears (according to my low-brow, blurb-filled publication – sad but true, your friendly neighbourhood advice columnist is not immune to tabloid trash) that “busyness” is taking a toll on their marriage.

In any case, back to you: What are you supposed to do when faced with a wall of so-called busyness from your so-called friends?

As I say, I would begin with one-on-one encounters. Set a date for the far-off future, if need be. Metaphorically: “If we are riding around in hovercrafts and wearing silver lame jumpsuits I’d still like to have lunch with you.”

(Don’t order the Soylent Green!)

But if they continue to play the “I’m going to be busy until eternity” card maybe it’s time to look elsewhere. I know you say you live in a small community. Maybe it’s time to drive to the next one over. See if there are more congenial folk there.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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