Dear Social Grace,
I recently ran into a well-meaning former colleague who shared with me that his son, like mine, has special needs challenges. As our kids are about the same age, it was clear from the conversation that we've both been dealing with these issues for, well, a long time. Throughout our brief encounter, he repeatedly pressed for me to have lunch with him so he could give me his "valuable insights" on the subject. I did not convey any need for such insights, nor do I particularly want his. I was wondering if there is a graceful way to handle his repeated entreaties to have this "very instructive lunch".
I don't mind meeting the guy for a sandwich, but I don't want to dwell on on this topic. Is it completely gruntish of me to set parameters before I meet him?
Oooh, I loathe opinionated know-it-alls. Especially ones who don't respect boundaries.
No, in this case it's not Gruntish. What is Gruntish is this chap's repeated desire to impart his, um, wisdom to you about a highly personal and sensitive subject. My suspicion is that he is seeking just the opposite; he undoubtedly feels isolated under the circ's and is hoping to connect with someone in the same situation. But that's not your problem. You are more than entitled to retain your Grace status and avoid this uncomfortable conversation by simply saying:
"Fred, I'd be delighted to have lunch with you. You mentioned that you are eager to share your experiences about your son, but I tend to try to keep personal and business separate. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. I'd really like to hear about your new job. It's been awhile since we worked together, and I'm interested in your career path since we parted ways. Let's meet at Joe's Deli and we can catch up."
If you don't think he'll abide by that, then plead the pressures of work and tell him that your dance card is full in the foreseeable future.
Good luck and thanks for writing!