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Getting Together with Friends is not a Spectator Sport

January 12, 2018 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

There are many times when being a spectator is a choice--watching the U.S. Open with a great view of Court 1 and surrounding visitors. Maybe, you'll catch a glimpse of one of the Williams' sisters or some other celebrity. Or how about attending a scintillating lecture on art you love to collect, listen to a lively U.S. Presidential debate or some glorious classical music. How lucky can you get? 

However, when you're out to dinner with friends and little of the conversation has to do with you--not even a morsel about what you're doing or how your family is, you may wonder why you bothered to show up. It’s not that you don’t want to listen to your friends. But…it’s also nice to participate, too. Let’s face it, you could have sent your doppelganger or an inflatable figure. In other words, you’re feeling discounted or ignored. 

Which gets us to the issue at hand: how should you deal with such slights? In many cases it's impossible to jump in and participate without seeming to want to hog the spotlight. If you're probably like the two of us in such a social setting, you sit back, listen and think "oh, well, it's only one night." Or maybe, you don't have such thick skin and find it troubling or even annoying that nobody thought to stop their conversation to say, "Well, let's change the subject since we haven't heard at all from Susie about her daughter. Hey, how is she doing in her new job?” 

What else could you do? You can try to insert humor: "Hello, I'm here too and would love to participate. Have you forgotten about me?" Or, you can remain silent, be mildly miserable and stew a bit. If that doesn't feel quite authentic, why not try the direct route and vent, "Gee, I'm feeling really left out." Too bold? Consider something milder, once you've slept on the matter for a night. Then, if one of your friends brings up the evening and says what fun it was, you can explain, "Not for me. Last night made me feel really uncomfortable. Did you realize you two talked about little that I could contribute to?" They didn't maliciously exclude you. And you know they are far from insensitive folks. 

The good news: You can do them a huge favor by explaining that everyone wants some time to be heard, and it’s a useful lesson for you as well. If you find yourself repeating the pattern with a friend and the third person never utters a peep, steer the conversation back to her or him. Now, how easy was that!




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