The problem: I have an acquaintance from high school who is trying to rekindle a friendship. We were never truly “friends.” I know she doesn’t have many true friends (we are now approaching 60) or a partner. Unfortunately, she is still socially awkward, has repeatedly canceled our plans, cried for advice but won’t take it, etc. She’s been phoning and texting trying to get together. I keep putting her off, hoping she will figure it out. How do I gracefully dump her once and for all?
Low road: Give her the book “Etiquette for Dummies.”
High road: There’s no graceful way to dump someone. There’s the unambiguous “I don’t want to be friends with you” (expertly exhibited on elementary school playgrounds), and ambiguous “ghosting,” in which you slowly disappear. The latter is tempting because it seems kinder. But, in this case, it isn’t working.
Your not-exactly-a-friend person is not good at picking up on social cues. I find it sad that she’s been struggling to connect for nearly six decades, which is less unusual than you might think. It’s not your responsibility to save her. But, could you meet her for a time-limited outing, such as a walk or coffee? See yourself less as a reluctant friend and more of a coach. Tell her you want to make sure she’s OK, since she’s canceled plans, which is hard for you since it means missing out on other activities you might have enjoyed. That’s social etiquette information she needs to hear. If you haven’t already, suggest she look into Meetup social groups, although she might reject that idea, too.
This is a tough one. I hope you give her one more chance. After that, I’d vote for ghosting over schoolyard candor.
Send questions about life’s little quandaries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Gail’s “High Road” columns at startribune.com/highroad.