Q: My friend and her husband travel all the time. They’ve been married for two years, don’t have any kids, (and won’t be having any) he has a very flexible job, and she has a lot of school breaks as a teacher. I meet her once a week for a drink while my daughter is at karate. My husband and I are both writers and every week this friend makes a comment about how we “never” travel. It’s getting to the point where I don’t even want to see her anymore because I know she’s going to judge me about this. Sigh. And it’s such a stupid thing, right? Why does she even care?
A: Oof, death by a thousand little comments. The image of the globe-trotting life contribute heavily to FOMO because how could it not? We’re sitting here, chained to our desks, watching other people literally explore the world we can’t. Travel is about adventure and experience, we are told, which is supposed to enrich you and make you a wiser, more interesting person, even if it’s at the expense of the people struggling to live where you’re visiting. (For more on that, read Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place). There’s also the issue of how much flying on planes increases your carbon footprint, or how much waste hotels produce. In other words, travel may be great only for the traveler, while it’s a morally complicated, economy-controlling and environmentally hazardous practice for the rest. I say this not to denigrate travelers or argue for an end to tourism, (I love to travel!) but to counter the popular narrative that visiting other places makes you a better person. Maybe it does make you a more interesting person if you have good stories to tell at parties that you can deliver well, instead of just repeating the same anecdotes endlessly, but it doesn’t make you good. So right off the bat, we can reject the narrative this friend is trying to get you to buy into.
Next, you gotta wonder why your friend feels the need to make belittling comparisons about your rate of travel. Maybe the travel narrative has proven false for her. Maybe these jaunts aren’t making her feel as alive and enriched as she wishes. Maybe she is insecure about something in her own life, like her status in a child-free couple, causing her behave competitively with you. Or maybe she’s really just that oblivious.
Whatever the real reason, she is making you feel judged, and judged unfairly on top of that, to the degree that you’re considering cancelling your weekly friend date with her. Is this the only comment she’s made that gets under your skin? How often do you find yourself feeling angry or put-down because of this friend? If your interactions makes you feel bad about yourself regularly, then I agree you should reconsider how much time you spend with her and maybe read a book during your daughter's class instead. Life is too short to spend time with people you don’t like.
Whatever you decide about the fate of this friendship, a graceful pivot is an easy way to deal with the situation in the moment. If you do keep hanging out with this seasoned trip-taker, next time she makes a comment about your rate of travel, just say, “Yeah, we really wish we could get away more. I envy you!” — which is the truth! — then redirect the conversation to another, safer topic like a movie just saw or a new bar you’d like to take her to next time you hang out. The Art of Changing the Subject was invented for just this reason, so don’t shy away from using it; there’s no reason you have to endure a line of questioning that makes you uncomfortable. This is dinner, not an interrogation. And if this friend is trying to get your goat, your graceful, nonplussed response will prove her efforts fruitless.