DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a problem with often being too nice. It often gives the impression that I'm interested in being friends with someone when I'm really not.
I have gone out of my way to be nice, helpful and friendly because I suffer from guilt when I'm not those things, plus I don't want to be considered a cold, rude, distant person -- I'm not when I do want someone as a friend. I guess I'm saying that I treat everyone the same, and that can have consequences.
My predicament now is that although I will shortly be both moving out of my apartment building and changing jobs (for other reasons), my little one-person fan club insists that we keep in touch and still be close friends and lunch companions. Do you have suggestions as to how to handle this without insulting her or making me feel guilty?
We really don't have anything in common; I don't enjoy her company, and neither of us really contributes to a lifelong close friendship, although you'd never know it. I've planned on not being the one to initiate contact and always having "something else" planned. But that seems like a transparent, rude brush-off. Yet isn't that better than the naked truth? I should add that the other woman has plenty of family and real friends, and so I wouldn't be abandoning her to the solitude I would enjoy.
GENTLE READER: Those who take advantage of the feelings of guilt, responsibility or simple good nature in others rely on a misunderstanding: Friendship is not an obligation but a pleasure, based on mutual understanding and good feelings, often expressed in reciprocal acts of kindness.
Miss Manners says this not to assure you that you have no obligation to others, but rather to clarify what that obligation is -- and is not. Assisting an elderly neighbor, as one example, is a good deed. Spending time with someone who bores you, and to whom you owe nothing, is neither a good deed, a requirement of good manners -- nor a sensible use of time. If you do not offer future invitations -- and answer those extended to you within a measured time -- the problem will resolve itself. It is known as drifting apart.