My spouse has a friend who we both like a lot and love to hang out with her and her boyfriend, who is also very kind, but not as close as the friend. None of us have kids, we are all in our early 30s. We see each other as couples maybe once or twice per year, although we live in the same city. We've had some really enjoyable "couple dates", and I, being a regular guy with relatively good interpersonal skills, would say that this could become a good friendship. There is just one thing that strikes me as awkward and I don't know what it means and how to handle it:

Every time we meet and then say Good Bye, our befriended couple says, very sincerely, that we should hang out more often and that we should go on a vacation together. So far so good, my spouse and I would really like that. But when we inquire later on about a new date or specifically ask about going on a vacation, there are excuses such as "we are sick" (we've heard that one at least a dozen times), and no reply at all regarding the vacation.

It's important to note that all four participants have been born and raised in Germany. Germany has a very low-context and direct culture. Usually, when we say something, we mean it. It wouldn't strike me as awkward if the other couple was from an english-speaking culture, as this ritual appears to be more common there. There is, of course, a chance that one of them is really sick that often, but my statistical gut feeling tells me that this is unlikely. ;-)

How can I interpret their behaviour(s)? Is it just "being nice" and not really caring about us? How should we respond?

Edit for clarity: I would usually consider this as a nice way of saying "no", but there are other occurrences. For example, after we announced that we want to move to a city close by, we're being told, "No, please don't move away! We can't hang out anymore that easily!" -- This is not the usual "nice-no" one usually has to deal with. Why say something like that if there's no interest in hanging out anymore?

  • @e-sushi Yes, this is a bit of a translation problem. I would certainly consider them "Bekannte" (Acquintances). And I would agree that this is a way of telling us "no" nicely. I would not ask this question if everything else wouldn't look like that we're "en route to a friendship". – Eekhoorn May 17 '18 at 9:51
  • Do you think they'd be more likely to go for the holiday idea if you all met up more than twice a year? A lot can change in six months, maybe financial issues or other obligations come up... Or maybe they simply forgot. – user8671 May 17 '18 at 9:55
  • @Kozaky the holiday idea came from them (specifically, the woman) and was repeated on several occasions, also when my girlfriend was with her alone. – Eekhoorn May 17 '18 at 10:13
  • 4
    @Eekhoorn: Germany has a very low-context and direct culture. Usually, when we say something, we mean it - Are you from northern Germany? Having lived in different parts of the country, I can tell you this is a little bit of an over-generalization. Is the befriended couple from another part of Germany? – user6109 May 17 '18 at 10:55

How can I interpret their behaviour(s)?

From the German cultural standards I know, they're acting very weird (in particular asking you to not move "away").

My interpretation is that they're bad at time management and forecasting their own emotions: They would like to do something with you - but only when they're in the mood on that day and when it's convenient for them. Otherwise they'll cancel. Also, they seem to put the onus of making arrangements and proposing dates on you. (Yeah, that's not very considerate but not uncommon...)

You can try various things:

  • Shift the effort of making arrangements back to them:

    Them: We should really meet more often!

    You: That sounds nice! Let us know when you're planning something, we're happy to join!

    Be friendly but make it clear that you expect them to negotiate a date, select an activity, etc.. Maybe they don't like what you propose or the times you propose, so let them propose something they like. Then wait what happens.

  • Ask them what's going on. When you're hanging out, bring up the topic in a friendly manner;

    You've suggested hanging out more often but when we ask about dates you seem very busy. What's up with that? Is there a way we can make finding a date easier?

    May or may not yield results, depending what the real reasons for their evasiveness is and how aware they are about it.

  • Accept that you're the organiser in this relationship and keep investing if hanging out with them is worth it. Keep proposing multiple dates until they accept one. With some people it just takes longer to get a slot in their busy schedule.

  • Let the relationship fade out. In particular if the other options come to nothing, downgrade your effort and just wait what they do.

  • Marked as answer, although I don't think there's a single answer to it and the other answers are also appropriate. I do like your suggestions on how to proceed. – Eekhoorn May 20 '18 at 8:06

I think there are several elements to this.

  • It's a general trend in that age today - you are settled in and its hard to get moving. It was easier in your 20's to get up an do something. There's even comedy about this phenomenon (also the sudden sickness): See German comedian: Sebastion Puffpaff

  • Is's a form of courtesy. Translate we should hang out more often as we really like you and we had a good time if it is said in a farewell ritual. This may be due to a different upbringing, as not all Germans are as straightforward.

  • It's heartfelt at that moment, but in a more sober moment, they'd rather do something else.

There are basically three ways to deal with this (can also be combined):

  1. Lower your expectations. They are Acquaintances and you can spend a nice time together every now and then. That's it, not more to expect. Just disregard any such comments and let them come to you when they ever really want to increase contact.

  2. Be assertive. For example, when they mention seeing each other more often don't say: Oh yea, that would be nice! say: Oh yea, let's set a date right now. When they cancel later on because they are sick, ask for an alternate date when the'll have recovered.

  3. Invite them to spontaneous, non-binding activities more often. Like: Hey, we are just in town this evening - would you like to join us for some some drinks?

While 1 is a guaranteed success, this may not be the friends your are looking for. 2 & 3 puts pressure on them, so you also risk your friendship deteriorating. You'll quickly see how your response rate turns out. If it leads to you seeing each other more often, fine. If not, you have at least a clear answer: They a not real friends and they don't want to be!

  • I'd say that #3 is a fairly low amount of pressure. It seems to me that this is the safest way to ascertain whether they would really like to travel with you but for some reason they can't organise it - "let's plan one more evening together" is the step nr1 to get to "let's plan a trip" :) – LinuxBlanket May 20 '18 at 1:51

Being typical Germans, they say "we should…" to be polite — but the fact your follow-up attempts to deepen the friendly relationship always turn out negative means they don't want to rub a "no" into your face.

TL;DR: they are "nette Bekannte" (nice acquaintances), but by no means "echte Freunde" (real friends).

How you should react depends on your own expectations:

  • Either you keep it as-is and play along while not expecting anything (which might leave you with an "I'm dishonest" feeling, which is why I personally dislike playing along by also faking it), or
  • you confront them by directly but friendly asking them about it to clarify things in an open and honest way (which, from my personal experience, might be too much for them and you'll be risking to lose an acquaintance or two as a result).

Differently worded: you can either play along and also "fake it", or you can try to clarify while risking to "break it". Personally, I'ld go for "honest, even if it breaks it" scenario as I detest faking the level of a friendship/relationship — but that's just me. Only you can say which option suits you best. After all, you'll have to live with the outcome of one of those two scenarios.

EDIT (after Q was edited)

This is not the usual "nice-no" one usually has to deal with. Why say something like that if there's no interest in hanging out anymore?

Maybe you're expecting too much, or maybe your gut feeling is suspicious for a good reason… Which is why would directly ask them in a friendly way ("to clear your confusion" so to say).

There's nothing better than an honest exchange to clarify things… even when that inhibits the danger of getting disappointed. See, there might exist good reasons for them to act like they do which they may be reluctant to talk about (eg: we want to, but we don't have the money/time/whatever).

Close acquantances like you describe them to be, should be able to understand your "confusion about the situation" and realize that sometimes, one needs to explain things.

If all works well, both couples will have a better understanding of each other. If it doesn't, at least you know you're hoping for more than they're willing to give (which would render their behaviour into the "soft no" I mentioned earlier on).

  • Thank you for your response, I clarified my question a bit. It's out of question that they are "nette Bekannte". However, the "friendship status" was not my question. ;) – Eekhoorn May 17 '18 at 10:06

What are the circumstances that lead to your current once/twice yearly meetings? Is it something annual by nature, like a holiday/birthday/anniversary, or are they just times the other couple happens to be free? If it's the latter you could try to replicate these circumstances for more frequent activities together, like something as simple as coming over for dinner at your house.

You also mentioned that you're closer to the girl and less so to her boyfriend. Do you hang out with her more often individually and it's just difficult to make plans with the two as a couple? Maybe the guys is just more introverted by nature, and having to interact with 3 other people is a big event for him.

The vacation thing to me has always seemed difficult to plan since there are so many factors involved (work schedules of 4 different people, seasons, actually having to plan a vacation). I may be mistaken but it sounds like the kind of thing that a lot of people like to suggest, but don't really have the intention to follow through with it. Planning a vacation for 1 couple is already hard enough, let alone adding more people. I personally have a friend who has very enthusiastically mentioned going on a cruise with me, but it's been 3 years and neither of us has taken action towards this. A vacation is also often a fairly large financial burden, so they could just not be in a good enough financial position for one, but don't want to say that's the reason they keep cancelling. Or they don't feel close enough with you yet for a vacation, but they feel like that's a normal thing to suggest.

Overall, I'd start with inviting them to more low-commitment activities first. Regularly inviting them for dinner, going out to a show together, etc. Other answers have good suggestions about letting them set a date, or setting the next date before you leave. It seems like they have a genuine interest in maintaining your friendship, but are perhaps afraid of commitment or bad at planning.

*Disclaimer: I am 21 year old in the US, so one of the English-speaking cultures you mentioned may interpret this differently. I don't think most people in my generation still use being sick as a general excuse, but it does seem to be a trope here.

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