I have many friends who have gone through the Alcohol Anonymous (AA) program, and I admire them greatly for how they have turned their lives around and live into their new commitments every day. But I have to admit, as I sit here planning my next dinner party, in which my famous sangria will be prominently featured, I am hesitant to include two friends who are recovering alcoholics. I worry that they’ll be uncomfortable. I worry they’ll make the other guests self-conscious. I worry they simply won’t fit in.
Ooops! Did I really think that? What a hypocrite I am!
Recently, Maybe Baby Liz wrote on this site (“Locked Out of the Mommy Clubhouse,” July 5) about her first experience of being left out of a dinner party because she is the lone childfree friend among all the mommies. Your comments attested to what I know, that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many of us have shared our painful experiences of being excluded from social gatherings (and even family get-togethers) because we are childfree. While I am commiserating, I’m also starting to face myself in the mirror. Have I excluded pregnant friends because I just couldn’t bear to be around them while dealing with my own loss? Have I excluded parents of young children because I just couldn’t take another night of listening to them talk about schools and sports programs and teething issues, a discussion I can’t participate in?
I know there aren’t easy answers. I know we can’t deny our own pain, and it also isn’t right to force ourselves to sit through a long evening that causes us to go home and drown our sorrows in a pint of chocolate-fudge-ripple ice cream. I also know that even when we make the effort to include our mommy friends, oftentimes we’re the ones who end up being excluded from the conversation around us. Believe me, I’ve been there.
But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. That doesn’t mean we don’t still make the efforts to reach out and support our friends no matter where they are on their life paths—or where those paths are headed.
The bottom line for me is I care about my friends and I want to spend time with them. I will be upfront with them about the sangria, I will make sure they know there will also be booze-free options available, and then I’ll let them decide if they want to come. If not, I’ll suggest we get together another time, maybe for brunch with really great coffee.
Because this is what friends do. We commiserate, we support, we show compassion. We reach out and embrace each other and we try to build bridges of understanding. It can start with us.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with her decision to be childfree.