DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there a polite way to sever a business relationship that has an aspect of friendship to it?
For the last two years, I have been paying a woman to give me once-a-week private riding lessons. We hit it off nicely when we first met, as we have several things in common besides horses. But now, for two reasons, I'd like to "move on."
The first reason is that I feel I've gone just about as far as I can go under her instruction, and I would like to employ a more demanding and precise instructor.
The second reason is touchier. Although we get along well, not only does this woman like to talk, she likes to talk about her personal problems, endlessly and in great detail. And she has plenty of problems to choose from: myriad health concerns, a crumbling marriage, troubled teen-age kids, and fights with other clients, to name a few.
At first, I didn't mind chatting while getting the horse ready, or cooling down after the lesson, but the lessons have now turned into near-marathon monologues on her part, with me making as few comments as possible. I view my lesson as the sole time in my week when I can put my problems aside and concentrate on the horse. Apparently she's come to view it as a time for her to unload.
I don't think it'd be right to just "disappear." I do like the woman, and if I just went elsewhere, she'd eventually find out through the grapevine. Also, I know that she's lost at least two other clients due to her excess personal gab. Am I doing her a disservice by not telling her the truth? (I dread doing this, because I know how upset she gets over any criticism, real or perceived.)
I thought of using two instructors at once (not uncommon), but frankly, I've come to dread her lessons rather than anticipate them. Suggesting we get together for a drink and a chat isn't very feasible, as she lives nearly an hour away, I have small children, etc.
I'm sure other readers have had similar problems with hairdressers, house cleaners, and so on, and could use some advice on how to extricate oneself as painlessly as possible.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners has never believed that the heart-to-heart talk was the answer to everything, and would hardly recommend attempting one with someone known to nurse grievances and to do all the talking.
Besides, what outcome do you expect? She may promise to keep quiet, which would probably only postpone the problem and fails to address your need for more rigorous instruction. More likely from your description, she is going to be hurt and you will either find yourself trying to comfort her by staying on, or switching from being the confidant for her grievances to being a featured meanie in her outpourings to others.
You are not obliged to give a reason for switching your patronage from one business person to another, and should do so only when you think it is likely to be more helpful than you expect it to be here. To avoid this, start out saying instead what you have enjoyed and appreciated and then thank her but announce that it is time for you to move on. If asked why, thank her again but reply, "Oh, it's just time."