Auntie SparkNotes: How Do I Invite My Frenemy to Dinner Without Being Awkward?
So I just turned 16, and my mom wants to throw this big party to celebrate. I convinced her to tone it down to a nice dinner, but she wants to invite quite a few people. I have trouble coming up with more than five people, and I’m extremely socially awkward. Last year I had to get my friend to ask this new guy to my party. I don’t like face-to-face conversations, so it’s pretty hard to invite and follow up on those invites.
Anyways, a few of my friends haven’t replied to the invite and they’ve been putting it off for a long time. So I decided to invite two other people, in case the first two couldn’t make it. One of them was a girl that I knew sorta well, so that wasn’t really a problem. But the second is a guy that my relationship with is very contradictory and complicated. We fight all the time. He’s blocked me on his phone multiple times. We rarely talk. But if I had a crisis, I’d probably trust him the most. On Thursdays, when the rest of my normal friends are busy, he’s usually there to keep me company. So when I had to find another person to invite, I thought of him. But how do I break our "frenemy" code? I can’t just rock up to him and ask. I can’t text him inviting him. That would be on a whole new level of weird, bordering on creepy. I don’t have a crush on him or anything, but I just want to invite him in the most casual, subtle way possible.
Casual and subtle, eh? Well, okay. Let's imagine for a moment how that might play out in an actual conversation.
You: [muttered whispering] Hmm, there's one seat left at my birthday dinner.
Friend: Did you say something about a birthday dinner?
You: Oh, did I say that out loud?
You: Ha! Ha ha ha ha! Silly me.
You: Are you asking if you can come?
Friend: Come to what?
You: My birthday dinner.
Friend: I wasn't—
You: Not that I want you to come. I mean, I don't not want you to.
Friend: I have no idea what is going on right now. I don't even know when your birthday dinner is.
You: Saturday. 8pm. Olive Garden.
You: Well geez, if you're gonna sulk about it, then I guess you can come.
Friend: I didn't say—
You: DON'T YOU PLAY COY WITH ME YOU ASS-HAT
Random passerby: OH HEY. Can I come, too? I love unlimited breadsticks!
In other words, darling, there really is no casual, subtle way to extend an invitation like this to someone—not when the event in question is something as formal (as in, structured and requiring advance planning) as a dinner party where any no-shows make for a conspicuously empty seat. If you want to invite this guy to your party, there's no getting around the part where you have to, y'know, invite him. So as "casual" goes, the best you can really do is manipulate the conversation around to the fact that you're having a dinner, then throw out the invitation like it's an afterthought—e.g. "I've got room on the guest list if you want in"—with the caveat that this pretense of no-big-deal-ness is unlikely to fool anyone except the dumbest humans on earth.
But now we're getting ahead of ourselves. Because in fact, the question of how to casually invite your frenemy to dinner is almost totally tangential to the real problem here, which is actually more like a half dozen mini-problems all piled on top of each other, including:
-Your mom's insistence on throwing a party that's bigger than your social circle and/or your comfort level with crowds.
-Your own indiscriminate scrambling to fill seats at said party, with only secondary regard for whose butts you're putting in them.
-The fact that one of those butts belongs to this particular friend, who is totally unconnected to the rest of your social circle and with whom you have the world's most dysfunctional relationship. (Do you really want to eat cake next to someone you hardly ever talk to, except when you're fighting, which is basically all the time?)
Oh, and of course, there's also:
-Whatever is going on with you, personally, that has turned the simple act of issuing and following up on a handful of invitations into this incredibly convoluted ordeal.
Perhaps needless to say, this is a lot more Problem than Auntie can tackle in a single column—and one that's only barely connected to the question of who to put on the guest list for your sweet sixteen. But that's why I'm going to give you a little bit of advice to be implemented immediately, followed by a handful of questions to ponder on your own time.
First, the advice: starting now, your primary objective in party-throwing should be quality, not quantity. The number of people on your guest list should be based on the number of people you want to celebrate with, not the other way around— which is what you should tell your mom, more or less, if she pushes you to add more people. (Ex: "Mom, you're asking me to fill more seats at this dinner than I have friends to invite, and I don't want to start extending invitations to people I barely know just for the sake of having a bigger crowd. At this point, the best birthday gift you could give me is to let me have a more intimate party with people I actually want to celebrate with.")
And on that note, when your closest friends aren't responding to your invite, your next step should not be to start indiscriminately inviting a bunch of second-tier randos, let alone a frenemy with whom you have the world's most fraught relationship, to fill their potentially-empty seats. It's to call your friends and say, "Look, I don't mean to be pushy, but my birthday dinner is in 5 days and we need a head count. Are you coming or not?" Before you do anything else, you need to do that. And if approaching your own friends to follow up on a party invite is "hard" for you… well, that marks the start of part two.
Why is it hard? What is the specific fear or anxiety that makes it difficult for you to reach out to your friends with an invitation, and doubly difficult to follow up on one? More to the point, what outcome do you fear so much that you'd rather invite a frenemy with whom your relationship is so contentious that you can't even approach him normally, rather than re-approach someone you've already reached out to once?
And on that note, let's talk about that guy—who you rarely talk to, with whom you fight all the time, who's blocked you from contacting him multiple times, and to whom you can't make a basic friendly overture without being seen as creepy. He's your most trusted friend? How? Why?! What is it about this relationship and this fickle, hostile person that says "trust" to you, that your other friends don't offer? Are you, by any chance, equating the existence of drama with the existence of intimacy? Did you get the idea somewhere (like from multiple viewings of The Notebook, for instance) that a conflict-ridden relationship is somehow deeper and more legitimate than one in which you get along easily? Imagine for a moment that the person you can trust most in a crisis is a person you can rely on to return your calls, to show up for you, and to treat you with kindness and respect in a moment where you have nothing to offer in return: is that this guy? Or is it someone else?
To be clear, I have no idea what your answers to these questions are. I only know that digging into them is your first step in the direction of some much-needed self-knowledge that you can use to set realistic goals, make any necessary attitude adjustments, and have healthier relationships. You definitely have some work ahead of you. But if all goes well, before you do the work, you'll get to have an enjoyable birthday dinner with the people you actually want to celebrate with—and when it's time to sit down and think difficult thoughts, at least you'll be doing it on a stomach full of cake.
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