On My Own

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a friend who is a copycat. If I take a class she follows me.
Watercolors. African dance. Basket weaving. Choral singing. You name
it. Among my reasons for trying all these things is to satisfy the pent-
up longing I had during my working life to explore different hobbies.
Retirement has been a wonderful boon for my curiosity. But I am also
trying to expand my social circle and make new friends. Ever since my
husband died I have been lonely.

I’m not so much shopping for a new mate as looking for people to go with
me to concerts, theatre, and shows, a simple movie and dinner, perhaps even
on a weekend trip. People as in new friends with whom the conversation is not
a formulaic exchange of questions and answers. New people as in people who
don’t already have judgments and opinions about everything from my
hairstyle to the color of paint in my bathroom. How can I politely
discourage this friend from following me around town and still preserve
a polite friendship that still has some value. It’s a small town and I
cannot afford ill will.

On My Own

Dear On My Own:

There’s no substitute for honesty. A cup of coffee after a class or a
frank conversation the next time you and this friend have a date to do
something can be very simple. [Friend], I know you’re trying to
expand the things you are exploring, just like I have done. It’s fun and
I’ve really enjoyed taking some classes with you. But I’m also
interested in meeting new people in a context where I am forced to be
someone without an existing history. You and I have known each other
a long time. We know everything about one another, from our old
hairstyles to the colors of paint in every room in our house. Now I
want to try conversation with someone who doesn’t know anything
about me. That’s hard with old friends there too. Since [husband] died
I’ve been feeling like it’s time to figure out the new me. I promise to
keep you posted on my adventures. Can you respect that and choose
hobbies that don’t overlap with my schedule?
The trick is to be quiet after saying that. If your friend acts hurt,
reassure her of your value in your life, even if you are muttering about
her neediness in your internal monologue. If she is supportive, thank
her sincerely. If you don’t feel respected, then simply stop telling her
what you’re doing in the future.