About 10 years ago, I was part of starting a book club, which has met regularly since then and been a significant part of my social life. I was no longer in a leadership position as of 2020, but I was still involved, and increasingly frustrated with the group. The pandemic was a relief in this one area, because the book club stopped meeting, and I was hoping it would just fade away.
Now, though, the group is coming back together in person, and the current leaders have asked me to help get it back up and running. How do I respectfully bow out without ghosting people I’ve been close to for a decade?
Bowing Out of Book Club
Dear Bowing Out,
Most of us, in one way or another, have had the opportunity over the past 15 months to re-evaluate priorities. Whether it’s in the area of who we see socially, what we eat or how we spend our limited time and energy, there are very few people who want everything in their lives to go back to the way things looked in March 2020, at least not without thinking about those choices first.
The past year of space from your book club has allowed you to admit what you already knew before but were avoiding enacting: You’re done with your book club. People change, social priorities change and you are not required to be committed to this group in perpetuity, even if (and maybe especially because) you helped to start it in the first place. Ten years is a long time and, as the pandemic taught us, even one year can feel like a really long time if you feel trapped in circumstances not of your own doing.
First, give yourself permission to feel done with this group. If it feels appropriate, spend time mourning the group that once was, or the person you were when you started it or just the simple passage of time that can be overwhelming to contemplate. Accept that you, the group and surrounding circumstances have changed. Be kind to yourself as you feel whatever you feel about moving on from this chapter (and thank you for allowing me a book club pun).
Then, you can be confident going back to the current leaders and explaining that this group doesn’t fit into your post-pandemic life. You don’t need to give explanations or excuses; saying, “I’m not available for that right now,” is perfectly polite and acceptable. If they press you, repeat yourself. Throw in a compliment if it feels comfortable, like, “I really respect how you’re bringing the book club back together, and I’m sure it will be meaningful for a lot of people.” But don’t get sucked into something you don’t want to do.
You may find that you change your mind in another year or so and want to be an occasional participant, or you may want to explore other kinds of social interactions with the club members or you may want to start a new, different book club down the road. You don’t have to know any of those things now to be sure that you are making the right decision about the group in front of you.