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Why Are Playdates So Hard?

Photograph by Getty Images

There comes a time in every relationship when you can no longer passively ride the coattails of others, hoping they will carry you along with their enthusiasm and great ideas for getting together. At some point, you have to step up and offer up your own coattails. For me the time has come: I’ve got to embrace the role of social leader and allow others to join me for wonderful social engagements that I have planned.

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There’s only one small problem with this. I don’t want to be a social leader or someone who initiates “stuff to do with other people.” I’ve spent my first four plus years of mothering being a very good follower. When offered an invitation, I am ready with a, “Yes, what can I bring?” But being an initiator? Well, that’s another story. And for me so far, it’s a short one.

I think of myself as a friendly person. On all those personality tests I took in the corporate world, I scored in the 99% as an extrovert, and I’ve yet to meet anyone that I couldn’t carry on a conversation with, even the moms and dads at the park that are shunned by every other living creature.

I’m scared the people I invite will say no.

But when it comes time to be the social initiator, I balk. I clam up. In short, I refuse. I can’t keep myself from picturing the social engagement that I put together as the one that will go down in history as the least attended event ever attempted by a mother. And I’m not talking about organizing a neighborhood block party. I’m talking about a playdate with one other person.

I’m scared the people I invite will say no. Or, worse, they will say yes, and then I’ll have to clean my house and then bake something edible and be charming and witty, because it’s that first play date that sets the tone for the whole relationship. I like to check out her hosting style first—you know, see how hard she works when I am the guest and then return the favor when it’s my turn. If she bakes cookies, then I will; if she offers me water and a Nilla Wafer, then the pressure is off when it’s my turn to host.

But I don’t want to go first; I don’t want to set the tone.

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It is, however, time to get over myself. Both of my kids started new schools this year, and it’s time for me to reach out. I’ve waited almost three months for someone to throw me a life raft—that invitation that will start the social ball rolling—but it hasn’t come in. So, I’m forcing myself to stop thinking about all the things that could go wrong if I initiate a playdate. After all, if no one shows up, then at least I can eat the box of cookies by myself and keep waiting for that life raft to come and rescue me.

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