Dear Harry and Louise:
My friend—let’s call her Nina—loves to be the center of attention. She is a great person: lively, funny, accomplished. She is often invited to birthday parties, baby showers, anniversary celebrations. People want her around. So why, WHY does she insist on making the gathering all about her? She will purposely show up late so that the action stops and she can regale us with how busy her day is and how it took so much effort to actually get to the event. She will demand that her gift be opened last (as she did at a recent baby shower), because she believes her gift is superior to the other gifts. Her latest gambit revolves around our mutual friend’s big 40th birthday party. Nina is pretending she has to be out of town and will unfortunately miss the event. Everyone is expressing how sad they are that she won’t be attending. But halfway through the party, voilà—Nina will walk through the door, and joy will overcome the room. What?!
I feel like a complete tool for sitting there while she lies about her plans and hears our buddies’ regrets, while giving me a wink and a nudge.
Should I cover for her? Should I take the birthday girl aside and clue her in to Nina’s plans? Should I just leave it alone?
Distressed in Dallas
• • •
You failed to mention my preferred option: Take it to Nina.
I fear she cannot be saved from herself. As a grown woman, she’s probably set in her ways of making herself the center of attention. We can get all clinical here and ascribe her neediness to her failure to make the cheerleading squad in high school, or some such teenage disaster, but that’s no help. To help Nina, and your 40-year-old friend, take the risk of telling Nina she’s being selfish in this particular case. Suggest she tell the truth that she will be able to show up at the party.
Perhaps Nina will understand that her surprise arrival will take the attention from her friend, and if she cares for her friend, she will end the charade. I would limit your critique to this one event and hope Nina has the self awareness to trim her self-centered act in other occasions.
Though I doubt it.
• • •
Nina may have a gregarious personality, she may have great style, she may even have an engaging sense of humor. But she has no grace. Grace is not something you can implant in her persona, but you can help steer her toward seeing what it looks like. Talk to her directly and assure her you’ll discuss this situation only with her, not with any of your mutual friends. The conversation could go something like this: Being invited anywhere involves being a gracious guest—not a perfect guest, but always a gracious one. This means being your full-of-life, entertaining self, while always remembering that the spotlight should be angled in the direction of your host or the person being celebrated. Yes, this conversation with Nina may at times sound patronizing, but you need to be as clear as possible with her since she’s obviously not getting it on her own. She’s endearing herself to no one using her current strategy.
If you see Nina beginning to get a bit teary-eyed, remind her you’re on her side and love her like a sister. Suggest that the two of you show up to the next event together. Your words will have an initial sting, but they will hopefully remain in her head and alter her behavior, in small ways at first, and perhaps big ways down the road. She may even give the host an extra hug and word of appreciation upon departure based on your conversation and her new appreciation of grace.
• • •
Really? Show up at the next event together to tone down Nina’s me-me-me schtick? That’s too close for anyone’s comfort, and borders on social engineering.
• • •
I’m more hopeful than Harry. Nina may be oblivious to the perception of others. The candor of this one conversation could begin to open her eyes a bit wider.
• • •
Hopeful? More like starry-eyed.