While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On groups of friends who lean on an organizer-in-chief: As a fairly extroverted person who initiates about 75 percent of my own social activities with a wide and varied circle of friends (and as someone who has made the mistake in the past of punishing those who don’t reciprocate), I’d like to encourage people not to assume people who initiate less (or not at all) aren’t invested in the relationship. The question of who gets the ball rolling on a social encounter can be a complex calculus of personalities, geography, life stages/circumstances, ingrained habits, and/or where you fall in someone’s personal orbit of relationships at that moment.
Among the 50 or so people I value most, there are those who initiate about half the time, those who eagerly accept invitations but don’t tend to initiate, and those who reach out to me more often than I reach out to them. There are also a few who are flaky, far away, or simply so busy that we don’t stay in close touch, but I still enjoy them on the serendipitous occasions we end up connecting. All of these relationships have benefited from me learning not to interpret every action or inaction as a reflection on me and just meeting people where they are.
For what it’s worth, I’ve found the most peaceful approach to maintaining relationships is to expect little, be grateful for all that you receive from others, and calibrate your own generosity of time and effort to a level that feels right regardless of what other people are doing.
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As one of those friends who never initiates but eagerly accepts, I will speak for all of us: We don’t know what we would do without the initiators. Your leadership in friendship is much appreciated and does not go unnoticed.
On excessive gifts from large birthday parties: When my two children began to have birthday parties, I had real difficulty with the idea that they would be inundated with gifts. We had a house rule: IF one of my children elected to have a party, then we would request that donations be given to the charity of the child’s choice. (We provided a list with a lot of variety.) We would choose two presents — a “regular” birthday present and a “party” present to thank our child for the generosity of having a party to donate to a good cause. Guests brought only checks made out to the charity of my child’s choice.
If no party was wanted, then we would take our child to dinner and a movie with a friend.
My youngest child took great pride in being thanked personally by the head of the cardiology department when he went for a routine checkup. The joy he felt in being told that his donations were truly important to research that was helping children to survive serious problems could never be matched by any number of presents.
I can’t say enough about the empowering aspects of offering children the opportunity to do something important in their younger lives.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.