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How to Put the Kibosh on a Friendship That Seems Doomed

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I'm in several professional organizations with a woman who is a very good person but drives me a little bonkers. She has asked me to meet her for dinner several times, but I have always begged off. This week, she caught me at a weak moment and I said yes.

I have no problem spending an evening with her but don't want to encourage a one-on-one friendship. How can I avoid hurting her feelings and still maintain a relationship as colleagues rather than friends?

Sincerely,
Rhianna

ANSWER

Dear Rhianna,

First, give her (and yourself) a chance. Even though this doesn't appear to be a case of love at first sight, there may be more to this woman than you are giving her credit for at a distance. Although you say it was a moment of weakness, something made you say yes.

Until you see how the one-on-one evolves (perhaps, by the time you've finished the entrée), keep the discussion on a professional footing. Don't talk too much about personal matters as opposed to business; your professional tie is what brought you together so that will seem perfectly appropriate and natural. You may find out that she's more interested in networking or partnering as opposed to making you a new friend.

By the time you're up to coffee, if she is still grating on your nerves and makes overtures to get together for dinner again, be sure to let her know how busy and overextended you are with existing work obligations, family and friends. Since she is in your profession, you're likely to run in the same circles so you want to be tactful. Tell her how glad you are that you both took the time to have dinner together, finally, and that you look forward to the next time you see her at XYZ organization.

It's always good to have an exit strategy when you enter an uncertain situation. Hope this one works for you.

Best,
Irene

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and her book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend will be published by Overlook Press on September 20, 2009. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog.

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