Why we say yes to lunch, even if we don’t eat it

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.

Why we say Yes, when we mean No. Friendship edition.


  1. This post made me smile and nod in agreement- I don’t eat lunch either. Lunch is like the bane of my existence. I may eat something resembling part of a lunch around 2-3p but I would rather just graze at work all day. I joke about this with my friend who is always “lunching”. The thought of going somewhere and having a whole “thing” surrounding lunch doesn’t sound appetizing in the least.

    I could sit at Starbucks for an hour just chatting in a lunch typical hour but it really needs to be that casual for me to look forward to it.

    I think though, what you start to realize is that you don’t have to lunch or dinner to have friends enough that someone will wave you over at a school event or ask your kid for a play date. Or realize that the kind of people who would leave your kid(s) out because you’re not close are not the kind of people you want your kid(s) hanging with anyway.

    I’ve never had a clique and thought at different times that it would be nice to have a set group. But then in talking to my friend who has like two main groups that she’s really close with, that would never work for me. It sounds like a lot of obligation to me, where it’s fun for her.

    I prefer to have different friends for different things, none of them really friends with any of my other friends. There’s no drama, no fb pictures of being left out of the group. Because people never really leave fourth grade. In a group there is inevitably people talking about someone in the group- that’s just how women bond. Someone always feels insecure or left out. It’s just the nature of a clique.

    Do I sometimes feel like a clique would be easier- sure. It would be “guaranteed friends” – except that it really isn’t. Because like you said, there seems to always be a level of insecurity. There always seems to be a perceived leader in the group and the obvious insecure ones who feel the need to please or be close to the leader.

  2. I completely get this. When my daughter started school, I made a point of going to every event and saying yes to every invitation for drinks, etc. with other moms. It worked really well, and I formed an incredible bond with 12 amazing ladies. We go out for drinks every month, and I love having them in my life. Two years later, my son is about to start school. The idea of getting to know a new crop of parents and doing this all over again is daunting. I just don’t know if I have it in me. But, it doesn’t seem fair that I would have these friendships that lead to play dates and other fun invitations for my daughter and then not do the same for my son. I’m not sure how I will find the balance here. Maybe I should have been a little less social the first time around!

  3. I feel this way about all meals. I am athletic and would prefer to skip dinner and go for a hike, then maybe ice cream or coffee afterwards. Outside, to people watch and chat. But ALL of my friends want to eat and drink. And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE wine, but not every single night. It’s rude now to want to pay for your own bill (and I wouldn’t want to me that person anyway, for the most part) but if I do go out, I want to nibble on an app and have one good glass of wine, while they plow through 3 courses and 2 bottles. The check comes, and I may as well have gorged myself because I am paying for at least a 3rd of it.

  4. I love this kind of personal essay post — it reminds me of stuff you used to write when I started reading your blog 10 years ago! I say yes too much but (I think) it’s mostly because I really enjoy being social and laughing with my friends over wine. (My friend dates are mostly not during the middle of the day:) )

    I also wanted to say thanks for the post about your teacher. I am a former teacher now school administrator and teacher of ed leadership, and I find it disgusting when those in leadership positions try to squelch teacher’s creativity and strong relationships with students. A hug and a pat on the back — really??? Kudos to you for publicly support those who gave so much to you.

    1. Author

      Thanks Leah. Because I’m in a great routine right now, making writing a priority again, I anticipate a lot more personal posts to come. This type of introspective writing helps me stay in that space when I’m writing the next memoir (which is what I’m working on now).

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