For a long time, if you looked at the buckets of my life—health, wealth, romantic love, career, personal space, family and friendships, parenting, volunteerism, and spirituality—friendships ranked pretty high. That is, if you examined how I divvied up my time on a daily basis, you’d first assume that I was a personal chef responsible for planning, not executing meals. But then, you’d notice that whenever I was invited somewhere, my RSVP was “oui oui.” Literally. Say it aloud. Doesn’t sound like much of an “I” does it? My priority was on “we,” on the friends I was eager to make and keep. No matter what else I’d wanted to accomplish for myself—to write a book proposal, to lose weight, to declutter my home—I’d put it all off if someone invited me to lunch.
Let’s be clear. I do not each lunch. I never eat lunch. When I’m by myself, I start a day with heavy cream coffee, smoked salmon rolled up with a lump of scallion cream cheese. Later if I’m hungry, I wash some berries and maybe grab for a slice of protein and a half an avocado. But this type of snacking doesn’t happen at noon, not at 1pm. No. It happens around 3pm, typically when the kids return from school. We snack together. But I don’t lunch like it’s a verb. I just don’t.
So, it’s not like I can say, “Well, I’d eat lunch anyway, so why not do it with someone?” And, if I’m honest, joy and pleasure weren’t my motivation for accepting lunch plans. Go on, say it. We all know what’s coming. I said yes for fear of missing out. The fear factor. There it is. For fear of no longer receiving an invitation, for fear of no longer being wanted, for fear of anyone thinking that I don’t want to bond with them. I said yes to plans because I wanted faces I could find during a PTA meeting, people who’d move over to make room for me, people who’d cross a room specifically to say hello to me. People who’d invite my kids to their kids’ parties because of our friendship.
I was also terrified that people would invite others, not us, say, to a dinner come the weekend. That we’d get excluded. Others close to us would be invited, and when we asked what they were up to that weekend, to gauge if we could get together, they wouldn’t quite know how to tell us that they were going to dinner with all the people I’d considered friends. “Well, it was just something that came up at lunch the other day.” If I said no to lunch, then, as it happens, I’d also be saying no to dinner.
Mind you this hasn’t happened, but it could. And I’d likely feel like utter shit if I was excluded, even if it was an oversight. If it wasn’t at all personal, after all, if we learn to live life taking nothing personally, think about how happy we’d be! I try to do just that. But still, it would bother me. More than that, I’d be bothered by the fact that I was bothered!
We all want to be liked. I want to be thought of as someone who adds value, someone who contributes to lively memories, someone warm and fun, as someone you may not invite to your deserted stranded island scenario, but who you’d at least invite to your dinner table.
If you don’t bond, you’re a wanderer. You have no one to sit with and aren’t sure where your eyes should go in a room full of people at a school assembly. Everyone is kissing hello, crossing a room to greet someone, making plans for play dates and dinners and probably lunches. Fcuk if I know. It’s like walking into a bar before your friends have arrived. You tell yourself to smile and stay open, but then you resort to your phone. Sad little indoor girl.
When you looked at how I was spending my time, lunching, it was clear that I was hungry, not for food, but for acceptance and a sense of belonging. I wanted to be liked. I still do, but my priorities have shifted because with all those years of yes to lunch, I feel no more secure in my friendships. Secure is the key word there because again, fear, not joy, is at play here.
See, if you’ve been invited but declined to attend the dinner, it doesn’t hurt when you see they’ve posted a photo of their night on Facebook. But if when you see that photo it’s the first you’re learning of these plans which didn’t include you, it hurts deeply. You can actually feel it in your lungs, a collapse into a pit of pain, the tip of an inverted triangle, pointing right at the core of your pain.
Now I mostly say no to lunch, not as a way of distancing myself, of claiming that I don’t give a shit, but as a way to get shit done. I can’t stop my whole day up with a lunch! When I don’t even eat lunch. Instead, I stick to the plan that brings me the most sense of satisfaction: sitting in the QUIET OR WE’LL CUT YOU room at the library, writing things like this. However, should someone invite me to cocktail hour, by God, I’d be there in two quick shakes of a martini.