December 13, 2009

Mixing friends is never a good idea. Last week I was speaking to a friend on the phone when she casually mentioned she was having lunch with another mutual friend. "Why don't you join us?" she asked.

Without hesitating, I declined.

It felt like I would have been imposing. And friend number two - the unsuspecting friend who was planning on having lunch with friend number one - would have been surprised and possibly even annoyed with my unplanned presence. I didn't want to face that look. The 'Oh, I didn't know you were joining us" look.

I know this look well because I deploy it often.

I am not someone who adapts easily to unfamiliar situations. If I make plans to meet a friend it's usually because we haven't seen each other in a while. The agenda is set. Getting together with anyone these days in person is a major production. Planning the 2012 Olympics requires less co-coordinating. So by the time it's scheduled and rescheduled, often an entire season has passed. There's a lot to catch up on.

I never know what to do when that person then asks if someone else can join us. Chances are, it's someone I don't know - which completely changes the dynamic, and it's always at the last minute too. "I have a friend who's here visiting for the weekend, do you mind if she joins us?"

Yes. I do mind. But of course as soon as I say that, suddenly I'm the rude one.

No one would ever ask if it's okay to bring someone along to a business meeting or a job interview - that friend is okay being on their own for two hours then. Why aren't they okay on their own while we have dinner?

Another thing. When someone wants to bring someone new into the equation they always preface it with, "I really want you two to meet."

Meeting new people takes effort. That makes the dinner feel like work.

Plus, I never think it's that they want us to meet because we'll really like each other, but more that they've overbooked and don't know how to get out of it. Because if they really wanted us to meet, why not suggest this in the first place when we initially made the plan?

The addition of a new person is rarely a bonus. A few weeks ago a close friend invited her close friend, who I didn't know, to join us because this person was having a rough time. Can't say no to that.

This woman spent the entire evening talking about the boyfriend who just left her - in excruciating detail. Why do I need to know that? It was like sitting in on a total strangers therapy session and learning nothing.

Of course if we do get along, that presents other problems. For instance, what if the person you're introduced to is more interesting than your friend? Invariably that friend will feel left out when the next plan is made and they're not included.

I know there are people who are more easy-going about this. "I don't mind when someone else invites another person," Liza says, "Because at least I'm not the one responsible."

She'd rather be the one who is uncomfortable than the one who is responsible for making others uncomfortable. When it comes to mixing friends, I suppose those are the choices.