Monday, December 04, 2006

Excuses, Excuses

A couple days ago I was walking into the cafeteria with a friend, when we ran into a mutual friend I hadn't seen in a few weeks. I asked him if he and his girlfriend (who was also there) wanted to join us for lunch, and he said that he was meeting some people and wouldn't be able to. That was fine, and my friend and I got our food and sat down. We ended up a few tables away from the guy and his girlfriend, who were eating and studying alone. I wanted to catch up with them, but didn't want to interrupt their work, so we ate our lunch and left without saying anything to them.

Though I obviously don't know the whole situation, I was mildly annoyed that my friend wasn't just honest about why he didn't want to eat with us. It would've been totally acceptable for him to simply say "I've got a ton of work to do, could we grab lunch together next week?" Either way, I wasn't offended, but it did make me think about how one should handle this kind of thing.

It seems like people often feel like the reason why they can't do something isn't legitimate enough, so they invent an excuse that someone can't argue with. I know I do it all the time, even with people I really like; I have a paper to write, a meeting to attend, I already made plans with another person, etc. In reality, I usually would just rather hit the gym so I can unwind from my day, call my Mom, or watch the Dancing With The Stars finale. It's nothing personal, I just don't feel like hanging out at the time.

Unfortunately, these little white lies can often come back to hurt you. For instance, if you say you're too ill to do something and run into your friend at another party that night, you're going to have an awkward situation on your hands. It's easy to lose someone's trust this way.

So what do you do if you're in this situation? Well, it depends on who is inviting you to do something. With a close friend or family member, you should be able to say, "I'm just not really in the mood for doing anything today, but how does Saturday work?" without the other person feeling offended or annoyed. You can also always try to find some middle ground, like stopping off at a party for a short time. The person will appreciate that you at least made an effort.

With anyone you like and hope to see again, it's important that you do tell them that you would like to do this thing with them another time, and suggest a date when you can do it. If you continually put off people, they'll think you don't like them and will be hurt.

If you want to see the person again but don't want to do what they suggested, you should tell them nicely and suggest something else to do ("I'm not really a party person, but if you'd like to get dinner sometime, that would be great").

But of course there are times when someone you really don't like keeps inviting you to do things. This is a tricky situation, assuming you don't want to hurt the person's feelings. You can hope they take the hint by always having an excuse for why you can't go, or you can ignore their invitations. Or you can just suck it up see them every once and a while. I think that unless this person is completely dreadful, you should try to see them occasionally, making sure to carefully orchestrate the situation so that you're doing something you like. You should also make sure you have an excuse for getting out of the situation within a reasonable amount of time ("I'm sorry, I can only stay for a half hour, I've got some work to do").

Overall, if you're going to make an excuse for why you can't do something, try to keep it as close to the truth as possible. You can also initially make a vague excuse ("I've got a lot of stuff to do tonight", even if that stuff means giving yourself a pedicure and cleaning out your fish tank) and hope that they don't press for specifics. Most importantly, if you are forced to lie, make sure that they won't be able to see you doing something very different from what you said you'd be doing (such as the partying when you say you're sick example).

And if you're in a situation like I was, where it's obvious that someone just doesn't want to do something right then, try to be understanding and not bully them. I hate it when people say things like, "Are you totally sure you can't come? What is it exactly that you're doing? You can't stop by right after that?". This puts someone in a very uncomfortable situation. If it seems like someone is lying, let it slide.

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