my friend doesn’t understand that I can’t meet her for lunch when I’m at work

A reader writes:

I have a friend (a nurse) who has a unique schedule — many night shifts, days off during the week, etc. As someone who works a 9-5 job, I’m quite busy during many of the times my friend is free. In the past, I’ve had a more flexible schedule that allowed me to work from home, take longer lunches, and run more errands during the day. My friend and I usually met for leisurely lunches once or twice a week. Now, I’ve taken on more responsibility and stay in the office more, eating quicker lunches or bringing my lunch to enjoy at my office.

I’ve explained my new role and responsibilities to my friend in the clearest terms: “I can’t take long lunch breaks anymore” or “If we go to lunch, we have to be quick – I only have 30 minutes” or “I’m running to eat a quick bite but must be back before 1.” It’s mildly frustrating to me that my friend still calls during the day to chat and asks me to lunch at least twice a week. On times that I have been free for a quick lunch, she still suggests sit down restaurants or ponders the menu, telling our server to check back in a few minutes. This is after I tell her that I have to prep for an important meeting and MUST be back before a certain time.

Because this happened so frequently, I’ve started ignoring her calls, lying about being in lunch meetings, and simply told her “Sorry, can’t!” But, now I feel like a bad friend. It’s not a big problem in the grand scheme, but I just wish my friend better understood my work environment!

PS: I want to reiterate that I’ve had clear discussions with my friend about not being able to do lunch. She says that she understands and it sucks that my schedule is more strict, but then she calls the next day asking if I’m free. It’s just weird!

It is indeed weird. I think you have two options:

1. Stop going to lunch with her and don’t pick up her calls when you’re at work. You’ve started doing this, but I don’t think you need to get out of the lunch invitations with a lie about being in a meeting. You can say directly, “I’d love to, but I don’t have a long enough lunch break.”

2. Ask her directly what this is all about. Depending on what your friendship is like, I might say, “Hey, I know we’ve talked about how I can’t go to sit-down restaurants at lunch or take more than 20 minutes to eat, and that I can’t chat on the phone when I’m at work. When you keep inviting me to do these things, I get confused about whether I didn’t explain myself well or if something else is going on.” You might get more insight from that conversation — and it’ll be awfully hard for her to still continue this afterwards. But whether or not this makes sense depends on the dynamic you have with her.

One other thought: It sounds like you’ve continued meeting her for lunch when you have time for a quick meal — but it might be worth stopping that altogether, even if your schedule allows it that day. First, you know from experience that a “quick lunch” will probably take longer than you want it to, and second, by agreeing sometimes, you’re training her that if she keeps asking, sometimes you’ll say yes. Consistently saying “I can’t go to lunch anymore” might get the point across in a way that varying the message isn’t.

(Also, make sure that you’re suggesting other things to do with her when you’re not at work. If you start turning down all her invitations and not taking her calls during the day, you want to be sure that you’re reaching out to her in other ways, so that she knows you still want to hang out with her … just not during work hours.)

{ 109 comments… read them below }

  1. COT*

    I wonder if your friend just misses you, or if she gets lonely/bored because she’s often home when other people are busy, and vice versa. Sometimes those rotating schedules make it tougher for people to stay connected with friends who work more traditional hours. If your hangouts have been impromptu in the past, maybe it would help to schedule dinners/activities instead. That way she can look forward to your next date rather than worrying that you are too busy to see her now.

    1. Ali*

      I can relate to this! I work non-traditional hours (not in healthcare) and even though one of my days off is a more optimal day, I can never find time to hang out with my friends. They are all always busy when I am free or don’t seem to desire to leave the house…I hear every excuse in the book, but all these “friends” seem to have time for other people in their lives. I don’t feel close to anyone as a result. Perhaps maybe that’s what OP’s friend is feeling?

      1. Ethyl*

        Man, that sounds really rough, Ali! Have you tried talking to your friends frankly? Say (or text or email) something like “I really miss our [insert activities here] times! Are you available on [give a concrete date and time]?” Then, if they make excuses, give them another chance to reschedule — if it’s still a no-go, back off for a while and maybe think about cultivating relationships with people who might have similar schedules as well as similar expectations from friendships (easier said than done I realize!).

        For you and the OP, I’d also suggest reading up on attachment styles — when someone is clingy, backing off can often make them anxious and even MORE clingy. It’s a normal reaction but can feel really frustrating to the person feeling smothered!

        I’ve been having really good results with the frank admission that I miss my friends *coupled with* specific plan suggestions. A lot of my busy friends feel overwhelmed by a suggestion to “hang out sometime,” I think.

        Good luck, I’m so sorry you’re feeling isolated, Ali.

        1. Ali*

          Thank you so much! Forgot to add this for anyone who reads my post and thinks I don’t understand office norms. Maybe that’s true because I haven’t worked in an office for a few years. I have been working at home for over three (will be four in May). But I realize certain people do have truly busy jobs and can’t take leisurely lunches. My mom is a nurse, but with daytime hours, and even she can’t be gone long for the few times she meets us. So…I am not excusing the OP’s friend’s behavior…just relating it to my own feelings!

      2. Marmite*

        Yup, I work bizarre hours (at the moment 3 weeks of crazy hours 7 days a week, followed by 1 week off, followed by 1 week of 10-4 four days a week) and it is hard to find time to meet up with friends. Especially as I have a kid I also want to spend time with. Luckily for me two of my closest friends are a morning television producer and an A&E doctor so they also work nutso hours (and as a mega bonus they like hanging out with my kid too).

        I can see this would be difficult for OP’s friend to adjust to if OP has previously been the only one of her friends that IS available during the day to hang out. Alison’s last paragraph about making an effort to make other plans with the friend seems key to me. Even if that might mean arranging something that’s not super convenient for OP – like meeting up for breakfast.

    2. Stephanie*

      I can (kind of) relate since I’m job searching at the moment. She probably feels isolated if most of her friends (including you) work first-shift. I know I always feel really isolated and get excited if someone can meet for lunch and that sometimes that will run a bit on the long side.

      Also, she may just not be familiar with office environments. This is less of an issue now, but friends of mine who were still in school (i.e., went straight from undergrad to grad school) didn’t always grasp office environments and that I couldn’t always take a two-hour lunch.

      1. Ali*

        This is exactly how I feel. When a friend agrees to meet with me, I feel like I can hardly wait for the day! I can see how some people might think it’s too pushy or whatever, but I feel cooped up for so long that I am genuinely excited for their company.

        1. Stephanie*

          Yes, exactly! I worry about coming across as pushy, too. A friend had a layover and was worried he wouldn’t have enough time to meet. I was like “Nooooo, we can eat lunch in the terminal even!”

        2. Marmite*

          When my kiddo was a tiny toddler and I was fairly new to both single parenthood and stay at home motherhood I could NOT WAIT to see people whenever I arranged something with friends. The OMG I am going to be LEAVING THE HOUSE and TALKING TO OTHER GROWN HUMANS!! excitement was just ridiculous!

          1. Rana*

            Yes! I’ve long had this feeling – I’m a person willing (and previously able) to make substantial accommodations in order to see a friend, who’s had to learn that many people don’t think this way – they assume that since something would be difficult for them to do, I wouldn’t want to do it, and don’t give me the option.

            I now have an infant to care for, and so have to be a lot more cognizant of the logistics and timing of meeting people, but the thought of SEEING MY FRIENDS! OUTSIDE THE HOUSE! OMG!!! outweighs the possible inconveniences. It’s just convincing other people of that, which is tricky…

            1. fposte*

              Rana! I’ve been thinking of you, and if you came back before, I certainly missed it. Congratulations and welcome back! Is the Ranalet adorable and fun and are you doing well?

              Um…not a threadjack because I’m modeling communication? I dunno.

              1. Rana*

                Aw, thanks for asking! I’ve missed you and the AAM crowd too! I’ve not been commenting around here much, because there are so many posts now, and I can’t get on everyday, and there’s not much point if it’s five (or more) days old…

                But yes! The wee Ranalet (hee!) is a great baby. She’s very mellow and self-contained; her only flaw is that she can’t go very long without eating at this age. So the longest stretch of unbroken sleep I’ve had for two months is about 3 hours; I’m subsisting on strings of naps punctuated by feedings, basically. The big surprise is that I’m surprisingly okay with this; I’m a person who was used to getting 9 hours of sleep before her arrival.

                (She says, yawning…)

        3. Windchime*

          This is how I felt when I was stuck at home with my non-weight-bearing foot and unable to drive. I was planning to hitch a ride into the office on during that day and was so excited to not have to work at home. When my ride fell through, I had a major, tearful meltdown because I was so lonely and tired of working at home. So I get it!

    3. Bea W*

      My thoughts exactly. It’s tough when you are the one person who has a different schedule from most people and one that is different from your friends. This is why I want to emphasize Alison’s last paragraph. If this friendship is important to the OP, she needs to make other time for it. It’s no different from a romantic relationship. If you don’t put the effort into it, it’s not going to last. Actively make other plans.

      If she’s used to the routine of chatting during the day, it can be a hard habit to transition out of, and she may not fully grasp that difference between the OPs situation then and now, especially since she works for the same company. When the OP tells her friend she is too busy to chat during the day but then picks up calls at work, it sends a mixed message. I think the OP needs to be not only tell her friend she can’t take calls work but also act in line with that by not taking calls at work.

      I also want to caution to OP to take a real lunch break for herself regularly, the full 30 minutes. Going full steam ahead day after day after day with half-arsed “working lunches” contributes to burn out and from my experience isn’t very good for one’s health or nutrition. I understand it can be hard to do, but eating well and taking breaks helps maintain a high level of productivity. This is something I struggle with myself. I feel much better when I can get away from my desk for 30 minutes, focus on eating a good meal and taking a mental break.

  2. Pnonymous*

    As someone who works weekend overnights regularly, I struggle to find time to socialize with my friends. Breakfast or lunch are my only opportunities to see people as in asleep in the afternoons and evenings. Most of my friends have a traditional “day” schedule so if I don’t reach ouch and make plans, I would never see any of my friends.

    However I also have a bad habit of occasionally lashing out at friends or family members who keep forgetting about my schedule and call me or expect me to do something in the afternoon/evening when I’ve told them I’m asleep. I may have texted them at 2 am just to get back at them…

    1. Stephanie*

      If you have an iPhone, Do Not Disturb is awesome for this. You can even set up a scheduled DND time and it allows for emergency calls.

      1. kristinyc*

        I second “Do Not Disturb” – you’ll still receive texts/push notifications, but your phone won’t make noises between whatever hours you specify. You can even set certain people who will always get through if you’re worried about emergencies with family members.

      2. Lindsay J*

        +1. There are also apps like this for Android. Searching for “White List” or “Call Blocker” or “Do Not Disturb” should bring up quite a few options.

        I still haven’t found one I love to recommend, though.

        1. Mander*

          I use one called Timeriffic that seems to work pretty well. You can also set things like dimming the screen, changing the ring volume, only allowing notifications for certain applications, etc. between certain times.

      3. Bea W*

        I do this at night, and any time I need a nap on those rare days I have time for a nap. Before cell phones, I would just turn the ringer off at night or unplug the phone. There was always that one friend who would call at odd hours.

    2. Marmite*

      Sorry, but I will never understand why people keep their phones on while they are sleeping and then get upset when it wakes them!

      1. A Dispatcher*

        Wouldn’t you be upset if someone called you at 3 am? I doubt you’d consider unplugging the land line every night on the off chance someone may call and wake you up… When your cell phone is your only phone (as it is for many, many households these days), it’s impractical and possibly dangerous to turn it off because of a possible annoyance.

        In addition, I keep my phone on and near me because I get called in for last minute/emergency overtime a lot and need to be available. Also, I do like/need to be available for calls from places like doctor’s offices with traditional hours.

        I don’t mind the phone waking me up in general for stuff like the above or from people who don’t know I work overnights; I do mind when friends or family who know my hours call me at my equivalent of 3 am for something silly. It’s the behavior and lack of consideration that annoys me, not necessarily the phone waking me up.

        1. Vicki*

          Actually, we do “unplug” the landline. We turn off the ringers at night.

          My parents turned off the ringer at night 40 years ago.

          1. Bea W*

            That’s what I did. I had one friend who didn’t get that calling after midnight was not okay. It was either the phone or me.

            1. Bea W*

              And yes it was annoying and inconsiderate, which is exactly why I turned off the phone. You can’t control the actions of other people. In a case where you want to be available to some people and not others during the day, modern phones allow you to selectively block/route calls to voicemail so that you get only the calls you want.

      2. Windchime*

        Same here, Marmite. I turn my sounds off at night; if someone calls, I will be none the wiser. I don’t want text and email notifications going off all night either, so I just turn all the sounds off. (I don’t have an iPhone; that’s how we do it in Droid-land).

        1. Judy*

          My Android phone has smartactions, I have it set up to not ring between 10pm and 6am EXCEPT for certain phone numbers. So I’d get a call from my husband, mom, his mom, my sister and his sister, but no one else. I also turn off wifi and 4G, which means I use less than 2% battery overnight.

          1. Simonthegrey*

            Came here to say this. My parents and my husband’s parents could reach me, but everything else is silenced. Including my sister, after one too many drunk texts at 4 am when she was on the exceptions list.

      3. Pnonymous*

        I keep my phone on vibrate so it doesn’t wake me up. I just meant I wake up to missed calls and voicemails asking me to call them back.

    3. Mints*

      Smart actions! I don’t know which phones don’t/have this, but its amazing! (maybe search for copy apps)
      You can set quiet times, both automatic (if your schedule is semi regular) or widget buttons. You can put everything on silent for a period of time, with “VIP” options in case you will always want to answer if it’s certain callers. Or you can do like six hours totally silent, then three hours on vibrate or something.
      Literally 24 hours a day I have smart actions (silent at work, vibrate on commute, loud +wifi at home, emergency only during sleep)

      1. Judy*

        Yes, as I said above, really useful for making it so you don’t get bothered unnecessarily. When you have people 10 time zones away from you with your cell number, it’s nice to silent it.

        Plus it really saves on battery life.

      2. JustMe*

        I have an older Android phone, and I’m a big fan of Profile Scheduler. I am similar in that I have automatic settings by time and day of the week. My schedule is pretty consistent, so the only time I ever have to make a setting change on my phone is in the movies or meeting a friend–and even then it’s still the push of a button!

      1. Ash #1*

        There are times when I am reading Dear Abby or Ask Amy (my faves) and I read letters where I say to myself, “They should’ve asked Alison this instead!”

        Not that my lovely advice ladies can’t handle it, but Alison is the work problem queen around these parts. ;)

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          I’m getting that way with Prudie.

          LOVE Prudie, but she should route the work stuff over here.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The woman who did my makeup for my wedding has also done Prudie’s makeup. I was pretty excited about the advice columnist connection when I found out.

        2. Jessa*

          I am so glad that I am not alone in thinking this. Sometimes I want to answer with a link to Alison. But I’m unsure of the advice columnist etiquette regarding doing that.

  3. RNF*

    I work from home, and my friend is currently not working — she calls during the day, wants to go to lunch often, and I have just had to stop responding during business hours.

    I felt really bad, but lunches would stretch to 2 hours sometimes and she’d call multiple times a day, and while I can do that occassionally, I can’t do it every day or more than once a week. I tried explaining, and finally had to be really blunt about it.

    But I had to — otherwise, she’d call to “chat” during the day and want to talk for an hour. I think it was just that she was lonely and bored. I second COT’s suggestion that you set a date specifically when you can allot a longer lunch (even if only an hour) every couple of weeks. That helped for me, at least.

    1. PM*

      THANK YOU. I write from home. And people simply. do. not. compute. that I do, in fact, have a real job. Yes, I set my own hours. And yes, my deadlines are months apart. But that doesn’t mean I can just do whatever I want, whenever I want.

      I have to keep a routine. And if I’m super-inspired, the smart thing for me to do is to keep working. Not to “take a break” to take a phone call, go to lunch, babysit your kid, or go to your house to wait for the cable guy to show up.

    2. Windchime*

      My mom calls my work-at-home day my “day off”. As in, “Oh, I forgot that you were off today.”. No, Mom, I’m not off….I’m working at home.

      1. PM*

        I think part of the problem is that people think, “Oh, well, you can drop whatever you’re doing and pick it up later.” And there are two problems with that 1) With creative work, no sometimes you won’t be able to pick it up later and do exactly the same quality of work because you’re not “in the zone” and 2) Sure, I can pick it up later, if I want to stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning to catch up on the day’s work that I missed, which I don’t. I like to sleep like a normal person.

        1. Lindrine*

          +100. My work is creative project based too. Which sometimes leads to getting inspired while wandering around stores grocery shopping.

          1. Ali*

            I work from home too and sometimes run into this with my family. They think working from home is so fun and I have the perfect job, and my mom especially thinks she can call and ask me to do chores any time of the day. Yeah, except I have a shift time where I’m expected to be largely available and my job has a lot of responsibility depending on the day and time of year. Yes I work for a good company but it’s still work!

            1. Andrea*

              I work from home (freelance). I set my own hours to some extent (though sometimes it isn’t really up to me). I don’t always know in advance when I’m going to have free time, but I can pretty much count on having Monday mornings and Friday afternoons to myself, for example, in addition to weekends, of course. Then again, sometimes I am up late on Wednesdays or Thursdays, working on a rush assignment that just came to me after dinner. So it’s a trade-off. Sometimes, I have free time during the day, and I can work in my garden, run errands, go to lunch. Sometimes I can’t because I am working. I take breaks throughout the day, just like any other working person, but since I work from home, I can fold laundry, vacuum, walk my dog, start dinner, run down the street to the drugstore or to the library on a quick 20-minute break. My friends, neighbors, and family (except my husband, who lives with me and knows the truth) all seem to think that I never work. They make snarky comments: “Oh sure, your house is clean and organized, because you’re home all day!”, and “Must be nice to shop/get a haircut/run errands during the day!” and “I’d cook more, too, if I had time during the day to do it.” Of course, they’re not sitting up with me at 1 a.m. while I’m still plugging away in my office. It can be really frustrating dealing with that misconception, though. But hey, I love my job, and I love being at home, and I love not having to commute or wear business casual, and I do indeed think it is nice to do those other things during the day when most people are at work…so I guess it’s really just a minor annoyance, after all.

    3. hanna*

      Yes, this! I also work from home and struggle with fending off invitations and requests. Friends expect me to fill the awkward time slots in their schedule. Nothing to do at 10 AM or 2 PM? Why not call Hanna?

      I find it so hard to set boundaries working from home. I am willing to meet friends at specific times for specific activities i.e. a morning walk at 7. They counter with coffee at 10.

      I’m now saying ‘no,’ but it took me a year to realize how badly these encounters affect my productivity.

  4. TL*

    Yeah, she’s probably just not seeing you enough outside of work and it’s hard to schedule for her. I know when I start reaching out to my friends at weird times it’s because it’s often the only time I can see them – generally it follows a new boyfriend/girlfriend, though, not a new job. (Though I don’t bother people at work, as a rule.)

    I would stop responding to the calls during the work day but respond afterwards with something like, “Hey, I was busy but I’d love to catch dinner or go see “Frozen” this weekend.”

    (and then sing about snowmen. :) )

  5. Colette*

    I agree with Alison’s suggestions, but if you do decide to keep meeting her for lunch, tell the server that you’re in a hurry. In other words, “I’ll have X, and I need to leave at 12:45.”

    It’s easier to do that if you’re out with a group, but letting them know you’re in a hurry will both remind your friend that you’re on a deadline and make sure you’re not waiting for the bill.

    1. iseeshiny*

      Yes, and if she suggests a sit down restaurant, don’t be afraid to say, “Sorry, I don’t have time for that. Let’s go to Chipotle instead.” (Or some similar restaurant where you can’t take too terribly long to decide on your meal and also pay ahead of time so you’re not stuck waiting for the check.)

      1. Laufey*

        A good thing about fast-casual restaurants in this situation is that you pay upfront – if your friend takes longer to eat, you’ve already paid, so you can always scoot out if you have to.

        Also, have you tried meeting for breakfast? I don’t know if it would work better for your schedules, but I know I often forget that there’s a time to meet people other than lunch and dinner.

        1. LucyVP*

          I was going to suggest Breakfast as well. I actually really enjoy having breakfast with a friend before work.

        2. TL*

          Because mornings are evil and should be abolished. :)

          If you’re a morning person, though, after seriously reconsidering your life choices, you should definitely see if breakfast is an option!

    2. Gene*

      And then you need to actually LEAVE at 12:45. Failure to do so will just train her that you aren’t serious when you say you are limited on time.

  6. Cruciatus*

    It reminds me of something one of my friends is going through right now. She and a friend now work at the same place (after actually meeting in their former workplace) and the friend wrote her a handwritten letter saying she was hanging out too much with me (we hang out once a month, tops! Usually we maybe see one another every other month) My friend’s other friend sees her every day at work but doesn’t think it’s enough “quality time” like I get (5+ hours every 7 or 8 Saturdays!) And this is a woman in her 40s! The whole thing is just…bizarre. If the woman in this story wasn’t a nurse I might have suspected it of being my friend’s (overbearing) friend!

  7. Sarah*

    I’ve had similar struggles with my mother. What I finally realized was that she had never worked in an office setting. So really, her frame of reference for what went on in my life in the office was mostly from television & her own imagination.

    We started to have some frank conversations about what my job actually entailed (ie – it wasn’t a never-ending coffee break). And that helped her respect my work & my time more.

    Also, maybe just eating at a fast-casual restaurant where meals are generally quicker & you can just literally leave when you need to would help.

    1. RJ*

      This doesn’t address the OP’s problem, but to Sarah’s last point, when we’re limited on time for lunch, we’ll often call our orders in ahead of time too so they’ll be ready when we arrive.

      1. KellyK*

        Yeah, I do that a lot too. Ordering ahead, hitting a buffet or a fast-service place, and going outside of the lunch rush are all good things for squeezing a lunch out into a reasonable lunch break.

        1. Jennifer*

          I was thinking that the LW can try the following: tell her friend to go to a fast food restaurant or other place where they can pick up food ahead of time. Friend goes and gets the food and brings it to LW’s office area (this is assuming LW pays her back later) and they have some kind of outside picnic for 20 minutes before LW goes back to work.

          (I say outside, assuming there’s no indoor place nearby for them to lunch. And maybe this is more feasible come spring.) But if the LW didn’t have to worry about driving back and forth and ordering from a waiter and waiting for a meal, she could have “more time” to spend with the friend instead of stressing about getting back to work.

  8. SrmJ*

    Man. So many letters make me go ‘WTF are they thinking to themselves when they do x?’ I really wish we could ask them. In a genuinely curious way, not a confrontational way. “Why do you keep asking your friend to long lunches despite her repeatedly telling you she can only take 20/30 minutes, and despite you telling her you understand that?”

  9. Zelos*

    I wonder if this is a case of Ask. vs. Guess culture going on.

    To summarize (full text is on Metafilter, I believe): Ask people are okay with asking questions (and receiving questions) with no expectations or assumptions: you are free to turn down the request with absolutely no hard feelings. The question is taken at face value, and they don’t put any hidden assumptions into the question (whether they are the ones asking or receiving the question).

    Guess folks usually put out feelers and gauge the mood and rarely puts in a request unless they are reasonably sure the answer will be yes. Being a Guess person requires for you to know your environment/background/cultural expectations really, really well. If a Guess person receives a question out of nowhere, they feel put on the spot (especially if the answer will be no), because the person should’ve known better than to ask.

    Askers and Guessers tend to clash due to their differing styles of communication. It also differs too: I am much more Guess when it comes to family, but much more Ask when it comes to friends (due to differing viewpoints on politics and religion when it comes to my family).

    Anyway, I’m thinking maybe OP is more of a Guess and her friend is an Ask. Friend feels free asking (because she is bored and lonely?) and doesn’t hold it against OP when the OP says “no” again and again. In her mind, “if she can’t do it, no hard feelings, I’m just asking.” Whereas the OP is like “this is an imposition, you’re putting me on the spot by asking, this is making me uncomfortable.”

    Something to think about?

    1. fposte*

      I’m glad you brought that up–I’ve been intrigued by that conversation and thinking it’s relevant to a lot of AAM discussion. (Some people are reframing it as Ask vs. Offer, too, because “Guess” ends up sounding a little pejorative.)

      SrmJ upthread talks about wondering what some people are thinking, and I actually think it’s kind of interesting to contemplate in light of this. Maybe it’s “I miss my friend so much and I know she’s busy, and I’m so grateful that sometimes she can actually come out for lunch! I don’t want to stop asking her even when she’s busy because she might then feel like I don’t want to lunch with her again, and I really do. I’m so glad she’s willing to tell me when she’s not available so I know when she comes she’s really ready to socialize!”

    2. SrmJ*

      Interesting idea! Makes sense to me. In this particular situation, in sounded to me like the LW was clear that she could not take lunches longer than 20/30 minutes. If she was that clear, that it’s not flexible at all, then her friend continuing to ask would be like someone repeatedly asking their peanut-allergic friend if they can have peanut butter yet. Still no-can-dosville, baby.

    3. KellyK*

      That is interesting. I tend to be more Ask than Guess, personally, though I do feel like once you get a *general* no, you stop asking unless the situation dramatically changes. (That is, I take, “Sorry, don’t have time today,” at face value unless it’s the only answer I ever get, but I also take, “I can’t take long lunch breaks anymore,” at face value too.)

      1. Zelos*

        That might be owing to

        a) the friend thinks she’s much more expedient than she really is (we’ve all known the people who say “I’ll leave at 3!” and are still looking for socks and pants at 3:20).

        b) OP is reinforcing the notion she can come out sometimes (even on her very limited schedule, which I’m assuming is ongoing and consistent) since she has been meeting her friend, if much less frequently.

        Or a mix of the above.

        So yes, I think a gentle but firm talk is necessary, but if the friend really is an Asker, saying a blanket “no” isn’t enough when your actions show otherwise.

        By the way, OP, I’m not blaming you for this–I hope it doesn’t sound that way. It’s just that people have different communication styles and scheduling preferences, and hopefully this is just one of those times instead of your friend being intentionally inconsiderate.

    4. Ellie H.*

      I learn SO MUCH from this blog. I am absolutely a “Guess” and I feel terribly guilty turning down social engagements or similar things. I feel like if I am asked to do something it must be the case (according to the laws of the universe??) that I am “supposed” to do it.

  10. KellyK*

    I think one thing you need to decide is whether you *want* to eat lunch with her when you have time (which might require being more insistent about going to a fast-service place or ordering ahead). Depending on her, and depending on your work and your own stress level, that might be workable, or it might be more stress than it’s worth. (Like if she complains about not going to a sit-down place, or gets put out if you’re ready to leave after you eat, rather than chatting forever.)

    If you don’t want to at all, then just say you can’t. You’re too busy to get away and you brought/ordered lunch.

    If you do want to eat with her as long as it fits into your schedule, then I’d be proactive about making a lunch date in advance and setting it up accordingly. Ask *her* a few days ahead if she wants to meet at Chipotle, or the Chinese buffet, or whatever, on a day that doesn’t look horribly busy. You can do the same thing when she calls too, but sometimes it’s easier to plan ahead. And it shows that you’re making an effort relationship-wise.

    I do find it odd that a *nurse* of all professions doesn’t understand the need to eat quick and get back to work. That’s a career where even getting your allotted 30 minutes is often a fantasy, let alone leaving the building and taking an hour. Or, maybe because you’re *not* clocking in and out and taking care of patients, she doesn’t realize that your time *does* have demands on it.

    1. Jessa*

      But that might be the issue. I get the opinion that the nurse is eating lunch with OP on the off days not on the scheduled days. My friend works 7 on 7 off, so she’s got a week where there’s NO work and a completely open schedule. Some people work very split shifts where they work some and are off for 4 hours and work more. So there’s a huge time gap in there where they can kick back, put their feet up (metaphorically) and take their time eating.

      Because when they’re working, it’s like what happened to my friend, an ER PA came over a few days ago and said “Hey you’re really dehydrated looking do you realise that?” And she’d been working so crazy that no, she hadn’t realised she had nothing to drink most of the shift.

    2. Zed*

      I agree.

      OP, you say, “On times that I have been free for a quick lunch, she still suggests sit down restaurants or ponders the menu, telling our server to check back in a few minutes.” I think it’s possible that you need to take more responsibility for these lunches. Don’t agree to a sit down restaurant if you have time. Or, if you do, politely tell the server that you’d like your order put in even though your friend hasn’t given hers yet. Ask for a to-go box when your food is brought to the table. Take cash so you can leave it and skedaddle when your time is up.

      If she asks you to lunch, say, “I’d love to, but I don’t have much time. How about we meet at Qdoba at 11?” If she suggests a sit-down restaurant, say, “I really don’t have time to squeeze in a sit-down meal, but I could kill for a Five Guys burger.” Or even, “It’s so nice out. Would you be able to stop at Subway on your way over and we can eat in the park/cafeteria/whatever and catch up? I’ll pay you back.”

      If she says no to whatever you have suggested and you really can’t do a more leisurely lunch like she has planned, say, “Oh, well, I’ll have to catch you next time, then!”

  11. Denise C*

    I have a similar thing going on with my husband’s family. Not a single person in my husband’s family has a traditional 9-5 job. Two of them sell stuff on eBay and the rest run their own businesses and have no managers to report to. Every one of them expects me to be able to rearrange my schedule with a minute’s notice to participate in some get-together, simply because all of rest of them are able to. This has been going on for years. I’ve already been through the phase of telling them, I need advance notice if you want me to arrange for time off of work. Anymore, they just don’t include me in anything since it’s just “trouble” to try to do so. You may want to try to communicate how a traditional 9-5 job works to your friend a little better than apparently I did, or you’ll find yourself in this same boat with her after some time.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I had the hardest time when my mother-in-law retired. She would previously come to visit at pre-arranged, predictable times of years, tied to holidays. Short burst visits I could prep for within my work schedule (’cause I’m not Donna Reed and my house isn’t ready for stay over company unless I prep for it.)

      She retired and then I’d get the phone calls, I’m going to come next week or the phone call, ‘hey, we’re going to come up for Christmas three days early this year”


      I had to say no so many different ways. You can’t tell me five days before Christmas that I have only two days left to prepare, surprise. Please go back to work where you are the one apologizing to me that you have to leave so early because you work in the liquor business and this is your busiest time of year.


      1. Gene*

        “Hi! Our plane just landed and we’re headed to the shuttle. See you in an hour!”

        I quit stressing about how things are in my house. I’d remove the pile of Squishables ( ) from the futon and clean up what cat hair I could. If you don’t like the way my house looks, there’s a hotel a mile away. SWMBO might not feel that way, but her family has never visited, and I don’t expect them to ever do so. My family feels the same way I do, so it all works out.

        1. Colette*

          I’m pretty much of the opinion that of my house isn’t clean enough for you, I will gladly point you to the cleaning supplies. Having said that, I’d still be perturbed at a guest inviting the self over on short notice. I’m not just sitting around waiting for unexpected company.

          1. Lindsay J*

            Yes, this is my new rule for my car. If you don’t like how messy my car is, you can find a different way to get where ever you’re going instead.

            I’m doing you a favor by giving you a ride and I’m not going to put up with being criticized when I’m trying to be nice.

        2. tcookson*

          Ha! My husband and I once answered a knock at the door to find my grandma and sister, who had just pulled a cross-state pop-in (from six hours away) and had arrived for a two-day visit! Good thing we didn’t have plans to be anywhere else!

          1. Jessa*

            Yeh, if you do that to me, it’s okay fine, take care of yourself today cause I have plans, and no the house is not clean because well, no warning, don’t like it, clean it yourself.

            I have serious OCD tendencies and do not do “SURPRISE!!!” or we’re changing the PLAN, very well at all. Tell me you’re coming Monday, fine if it’s 8 am or 6pm, I don’t care. Tell me you’re coming at 8am Monday and if you’re not there by 8:30 I’m going to be all over you, after having stressed for 30 minutes because by Gods 8:00 is 8:00 dammit.

            Surprise me and you run the risk of interfering with a PLAN. I don’t change plans easily. So you’re either going to enjoy the plan or fend for yourself.

  12. KM*

    I agree that the most effective thing to do is probably to have a really direct conversation about it, and set up other times to hang out. Be clear that this is an ongoing situation, and say something like, “When you call me and ask me to go to lunch, I have to say no, and then I feel guilty for disappointing you” or “When I say that I only have half an hour to eat and you suggest going to a sit-down restaurant, I feel like you’re not listening to me” or other statements that convey whey it’s bothering you for this to happen.

    Obviously, I can’t get a read on a whole friendship from just this message, but I’ll throw this out there too — the OP might want to consider whether or not this is a person s/he likes spending time with. I’ve had experiences in the past where I felt resentful toward someone for constantly (from my POV) forcing me to hang out with them, or pinging me for attention, and I eventually realised that the problem was less the behaviour and more that I felt burdened by “having to” hang out with someone I wasn’t all that invested in. Not saying that’s what’s happening here — just suggesting it as something to consider.

  13. Chrissi*

    A few years ago my job responsibilities were added to copiously and I also began to try and work more conscientiously and efficiently at the same time (personal goal of mine). A friend and I that work at the same place, but in different divisions had been going out to lunch 2 or 3 times a week with one of those lunches usually being a long lunch of 1.5 hours. When my job and personal work ethic changed it took quite a while until she truly understood that I couldn’t take those kind of breaks anymore and she finally stopped asking as often. I think it was because, to her, I was doing the same job I’d always done, which I think to your friend it probably also appears that way. Also, I wasn’t very forthright about not being able to do it. I would always answer “Not today”, or, like you, “Ok, but it needs to be quick”, and I think she just thought that I could do it some days but not others. I also think that she knew that if she pushed I would give in and give her some of the time she wanted (because she knows me way too well). Eventually I said “No” consistently enough that the requests started to wane. One thing that helped with that was saying “No, not today, but do you want to…” and I would usually ask if she wanted to get dinner that weekend or go shopping that weekend or any of the things we used to do at lunch.

    I think you either need to be patient and consistent and let the requests die down on their own, or you need to be very direct like Allison said. Either way, acknowledge that it might take a while for her to adjust her way of thinking to the new status quo.

  14. some1*

    “by agreeing sometimes, you’re training her that if she keeps asking, sometimes you’ll say yes.”


  15. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I think your actions have to match your words. All it takes is ONE lunch to convince your friend that she can have many lunches with you.
    No has to mean NO, not “go ahead keep doing this.” Reference the previous conversations about your new schedule. Since this has been going on for a bit then it might take a bit to change things. But each time she calls say to her “Remember that conversation we had…”
    Personally, when I only have a half hour to eat, I do not want to go anywhere and definitely do not want to have to wait for people to show up and order food, etc. A lot of times I take soup or salads to work and it takes me almost the full 30 minutes to eat my food. I have no clue how other people do this. To have a friend doing this would be stressful for me.
    I think you should tell her you want to change your get-together to your days off.

    One other thing: I see you being concerned about her feelings on the matter but I am not so sure she is having the same level of concern about yours. Generally, I think of people’s jobs as a no fly zone- if they say they are busy with work during their work day then so be it.

  16. Diane*

    Why not have a standing long sit-down lunch with her once or twice a month (every other Tuesday), and quickie 20-minute grab-and-go lunches other weeks? She’ll still get leisurely time with you, but you’ll be able to contain and plan your workday around it.

  17. Ruffingit*

    Good advice from Alison and I would add a couple of things:

    1. Once you’ve talked frankly with your friend, can you set up a standing lunch/dinner date once a week or whatever time frame works for you? That way, you can still see your friend, but it’s a set date so you don’t have to worry about her calling randomly to ask.

    2. If you go to lunch and she lingers over the menu or tells the server to come back, you can say “I’m sorry, but I can’t stay. Server, please take my order now.” Then, leave when you said you needed to leave even if your friend is still eating. If you haven’t been doing those things and instead staying past the time you said you need to leave, you’ve trained her that you’re not serious and you can in fact stretch out your time with her if you really want to. If that isn’t the case, stop acting like it is. Leave when you need to leave.

  18. batmom*

    If you have a favourite take-out order (like sushi or a Chipotle special) would it be possible to ask your friend to pick up lunch and then bring it to you? Then you could find somewhere to sit and have a quick visit and when time’s up you can scuttle off to your office. No orders or bills to wait for.

  19. life's a beach*

    Next time she wants to do lunch, ask her to pick something up and meet you at your work or perhaps a nearby park (weather permitting). If you have a scheduled lunch time then she has to respect that and plan accordingly. If not, then you will be able to spend more time with her instead of rushing.

  20. Anonymous*

    Its really hard to be friends with someone when your schedules are opposites. Maybe if she’s got a weekday off you could go for dinner?

  21. mel*

    I sympathize… :/

    I have a friend who is fun to visit, but likes to leave passive aggressive vague facebook comments about nobody visiting. I’d love to, but I’m working during the day! I’ve reached out and offered to meet up on the weekend several times, but she always leaves town at the last minute, even when we had a standing date scheduled!

    I’m totally ok with not seeing friends very often, it happens. It’s the one-sided complaints and passive aggressiveness that annoys me. Equal effort, people!

    1. Ruffingit*

      Totally agreed. I know people who complain about “So and so hasn’t called me in forever” or “I haven’t heard from so and so..” And my question is always “And the last time you called them was when?” Seriously, if you haven’t heard from someone and you want to, then pick up the phone or send an email.

      1. LV*

        See, as a Guess person *and* someone who has yet to stop being an insecure 15-year-old at heart, my thinking would run like this:

        I haven’t heard from Mary in weeks –> I should call Mary and ask if she wants to hang out –> but wait, if Mary wanted to hang out with me, she would have called me –> therefore the fact that she hasn’t called me in weeks means that she doesn’t want to see me –> if I call her she’ll just say yes out of politeness and secretly hate me for imposing on her –> I can’t call her or I’ll ruin the friendship.

        I know it’s silly and irrational, but sometimes I can’t help it!

        1. Ruffingit*

          I get it, I think we all go through bouts of thinking like that. What I’ve done to deal with it though is say to myself “I want to hear from Mary so I will call her. If she says yes out of politeness or whatever, then that’s on her.” Hard to do, I know, but it’s made a world of difference for me to stop putting my insecurity on others and even on myself. It’s sort of like what is said on this blog often “never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity” (paraphrasing there). Same thing here: Don’t assume Mary doesn’t want to hear from you and will only be polite and forever suffer with your presence if you call. That is a huge leap that makes no sense absent other facts. Instead, shift your thinking to “Mary has likely been busy just like me. I’m calling her.”

          1. Thanks!*

            I appreciated LV’s comments – I am very much like that and am glad to hear someone else is too. I have a friend who is a self-described “space cadet” about issuing invitations; I spent a whole day stressing because no one in his family called to specifically invite me to an event that a couple weeks earlier they had vaguely suggested I attend. When I mentioned it to my friend later, he said “We saved you a seat!” (Yet no one called to ask where I was.)

  22. Sandrine*

    My Dad has been like that lately.

    He works nights. I work 8am/3pm shifts. He does not see why I am not available to chat and even recently “vaguebooked” about it. He doesn’t even realize that I may, from time to time, be available to talk, but wowzers did I feel the guilt tripping on that one.

    Had to tell him I did not like it. Looks like he got it so far (that, and a 30 years old kid should never end up her 53 years old dad’s support system but that story is for another day o.o) .

  23. Lindsay J*

    A few thoughts:

    1. If she works night shift she probably feels socially isolated – I know I did when I worked night shift for a long time. You are just getting ready for work when all your friends are coming home and getting ready to go out. Even on your days off, you are accustomed to your schedule so you wind up sleeping through most of the day. It’s hard to even go out to stores or get doctor’s appointments or your hair done.

    Now with DVRs it’s better but when I first started working nights I missed out on things my friends were referencing because I didn’t see whatever the prime time tv show they all watched.

    It’s difficult, and ultimately the social isolation is the one real reason why I don’t work nights anymore. If you’re one of the few people she’s managed to keep in touch with she may be more intense about seeing you than she otherwise might be because she’s so desperate for any social touch-point.

    2. An inconsistent reward pattern is the best way to keep her asking you to go out for lunch. If the answer is no every time she will stop quickly. If the answer was yes every time and then goes to being no every time the behavior will extinguish quickly. With an inconsistent reward pattern she will keep on asking because there’s always the chance that *this* time might be the time that you say yes, and she’ll keep on asking you much longer than had the answer been yes or no every time. This is the same reason people get hooked on slot machines, etc.

    3. I like the suggestion above of having a standing lunch date. Find a time once every couple of weeks or once a month when you can have lunch. Set it up so it is more difficult for her to stall or make you late – have her pick up food, or order in, and sit in the lunch room or picnic outside. This way you can leave if you need to, she feels less like you’re rushing through the lunch, and if she knows you are going to have lunch together every other Wednesday or whatever she might be less likely to call and bother you other days.

  24. Savannah*

    I find friends and family members who don’t or no longer work 40 hours a week due to retirement or choice to be quite pushy, too, and frankly, inconsiderate about the demands of work. It’s as if they completely forget what it’s like to work full-time. I still want to see them regularly, but I can’t meet up as often as they want. I feel badly about it and guess that they are lonely. I think when you make yourself clear about what you can and cannot do and they ignore that, it is inconsiderate.

  25. Anonymous*

    Friendships require time. Pure and simple. If you do not have the time, end the friendship. It sounds like you are trying to maintain a friendship with someone you do not have time to be a friend to. Let her go. It’s humane. And it’s your decision based on your new schedule. She’ll find someone who does have time. There’s nothing complicated to this. Don’t think about it. Don’t mull it over and around. You simplo do not have time for a relationship with her. Pure and simple

  26. Marie*

    Sometimes communication gets a bit twisted between “friends”. Unless you are upfront and straight forward with her and let her know exactly what is going on then how can one expect her to act in a way that is accommodating to your schedule.

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