Check, please; and Help! I’m talking and I can’t shut up!
Dear Dr. Hurd,
We received a dinner invitation from some friends. How nice—except for one thing: They’re charging us for the dinner! The invitation stated what they were serving something relatively expensive (but their choice nonetheless), and that we were to pay “X” dollars each for the pleasure of eating it. We thought it was a joke, but it’s not, and we simply don’t know what to do. They’ve been to our home several times and at no point did we present them with a bill.
It’s a lose/lose: If we accept, we will be insulted to fork over money to eat at their house. If we don’t accept, then I guess they’ll think we’re cheap.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Let’s apply some logic here. Either it’s reasonable for your friends to charge you for a party, or it isn’t. One or the other must be true, but not both.
The definition of a party can vary. But details notwithstanding, a party is something that people do for and with friends. Friendship is not a business transaction. Business transactions are fine, but friends are invited to a dinner party in order to convey, “I value you as a person, and I like to spend time with you. I’m honoring you by serving you dinner in my home.” It’s not about business or raising money for a cause. It’s about enjoying one’s company.
It’s possible that your friends might not be able to afford what they’re serving. If that’s the case, it would be unreasonable to expect them to have an expensive dinner. And the point of being together is, after all, friendship—not a business transaction where you expect to get something in return.
If you agree with this reasoning, then the only conclusion is that they’re subverting the concept of friendship (and a party) by charging you. They are perfectly free to serve something less expensive. If they’re embarrassed by that, then it’s their error, not yours.
Obviously the idea of paying annoys you, so you already reached this conclusion before you emailed me. At a minimum, I would turn down the invitation. At a maximum, I’d tell them the reason why. The truth can hurt, but true friendships are nothing without the truth. In fact, phoniness defies the purpose of friendship and makes it nothing more than a charade.
Don’t start a fight that you don’t want to have, but at the same time, don’t enable your friends in a rather startling faux pas by accepting the invitation.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner and I have been fairly happy for over 20 years. But I believe she has a personality disorder that is taking its toll on me. In short, she talks too much about issues she knows little about, and prattles on about the most boring minutiae. She doesn’t know how to have an intimate talk in the here and now. She reiterates facts that anyone knows. When she has a story to tell, she provides useless details that seem to deliberately delay the point.
She is known for this at her work, too. She has few friends and I think this is the reason. I can’t stand it and I’m on the verge of calling it quits. Any advice would be welcomed.
Dr. Hurd replies,
First, let’s stop characterizing behaviors we don’t like as “personality disorders.” That excuses away a person’s free will and responsibility for his or her actions. The term suggests that something else is “making” the person act this way. If that were so, then you’d have no business complaining. When you love someone, you put up with something over which they have no control because…well, because you love them. But your partner’s behavior is something over which she does have control.
Let’s assume two things: (1) she doesn’t mean any harm, and (2) she doesn’t understand how much this annoys you. Ask her nicely if she’s aware of what she’s doing. Be nice, but be direct. I think you’re paralyzed by the mistaken assumption that she can’t help herself. But you have to assume that she can.
Some people believe their stories are interesting and entertaining. You said she doesn’t have many friends, but if she does know people who enjoy her extended dissertations, then give them the space to enjoy them. At the same time, however, ask her to please curb those behaviors around you. The point of talking is to hold the listener’s interest. If her listener (you) isn’t interested, then she should save it for those who are.
Be nice about it, but don’t hold in your resentment. That’s one of the reasons you’re “on the verge of calling it quits.” By the way, I find it puzzling that you’re ready to split up over this—especially after 20 years. What else is going on here? Maybe that’s something to explore in more detail with a counselor or a therapist.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and author. His office may be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to Dr Hurd.