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Help me learn how to maintain friendships?
November 5, 2012 12:31 PM   Subscribe

I am a good friend, I meet loads of interesting people, but I am terrible at maintaining friendships. Help me not end up alone, on my couch, eating out of a tuna can every night wondering what happened to all my friends.

Help!

I am not an introvert. I like people, I'm social, I'm a great manager and a good friend when I'm face-to-face with people, but I have a hard time ginning up the energy to do the work it takes to maintain friendships. When people need me, I'm there. When I need them, or just want to socialize, I shrivel into a ball on my couch and watch the entire run of "Homeland." When we're not in contact, it's easy for me to fall out of contact

For example:

— I won't call people to hang out, because I would feel kind of crushed by any rejection, even if they're busy with common things like work, or prior plans.

— I never just "call people up" to chat.

— I drop off the radar, don't write people back, don't answer their calls. Eventually I do so weeks or months after they contact me, with lots of apologies.

— I let my best friendship sink into oblivion because I was terrified I had been a bad friend by waiting so long to contact her. "Overdue Library Book" syndrome sank in (where every day that passes makes the penalty seem greater, and therefore increases my need to avoid contact) and now it's been two years and I fear she must hate me, or at least disrespect me.

— I only arrange plans a week or two in advance. I don't know how to build friendships where you can just call them up and make spontaneous plans, so if I don't have advance plans, I'm SOL.

— I have a wrongheaded/ingrained belief like people will only like me for "transactional" reasons: they think I can help, they want advice, they want the things I can do for them, but don't necessarily care about me as a person.

— Professionally, I have a really hard time with accepting mentors. I am in a field where mentorship is really important. I have made some big career moves and a few senior managers were like: why didn't you talk to me!?!? I could have totally helped you with that. And I shrugged and was embarrassed. I felt like this is part of the same problem. I don't reach out.

— Outside of intimate relationships, I'm afraid of needing other people and being beholden to them. This is not a problem with my significant other. (And I usually date people who are great at maintaining friendships, with built-in social circles). I am happy to be beholden to them! But it's scary to think of all those obligations toward a big cast of characters.

— I have a hard time saying no to people. (Ah, crap. Source issue. Clearly, writing this is helping me figure some of this out).

— But when I do keep ontop of my friends and contacts, I end up overscheduled with drinks and lunches every single day, and have no "me time" and so I retreat and flake, and end up alone all the time.

I've known people who spend an hour on the phone every day, dialing around, chatting up people. I know others who maintain a "friend circle" where everyone goes to the same bars 3x a week and they all just see each other constantly. I am good at using social media to let people know I'm thinking about them, which is fairly low maintenance, but not good quality contact.

And there are social butterflies, but how do they get it all done? How can I set up things so I am doing better at keeping up with friendships — not just being a friend, but maintaining friendships? Are there any hacks/tricks that can help?
posted by amoeba to Human Relations (17 answers total) 108 users marked this as a favorite
 
Here are two tricks that work pretty well for me.

1) I schedule group events, with multiple friends, thus getting personal time with all of them with only a single day's time commitment.

2) I spend the time that I am working out on the bicycle machine also making phone calls to people to catch up. (It's important to use a lower setting so that you're not breathing too heavily when you talk to them.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:40 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm working on this myself. And it is compounded by a lot of my friends being the same way.

One thing that's helped is having a monthly "people just come and hang out at my place" night - I sent out an email to people (a few, ones that I knew would probably do this) that from now on, the second Friday of every month, I would be having an open house come-just-hang-out-and-chill thing. They didn't have to come every month, they could show up whenever and leave whenever, and it'd be a totally casual thing. I've had as many as six and as few as one, and it's been totally fine.

And that right there has already helped a lot - it's started a more regular "social fun time" momentum for me, and it's been going on long enough that it's second-nature for a few people. And having that become part of a routine has helped me springboard onto donig more things with other people.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:41 PM on November 5, 2012 [15 favorites]


I've known people who spend an hour on the phone every day, dialing around, chatting up people. I know others who maintain a "friend circle" where everyone goes to the same bars 3x a week and they all just see each other constantly.
You don't need to be those people :) Socialize smartly, not often (if you don't want to). People aren't plants, they'll still be happy with you as long as you show up!

Just remember that other people are as anxious and busy as you are... I like wolfdreams01's suggestion to schedule group events (great call!). This'll let you socialize and not worry about having stuff to do everysingleday!
posted by raihan_ at 12:42 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is a pretty large question to unpack, and for brevity I'm going to leave the self-esteem/anxiety parts alone in this answer (though I do understand them). From a practical standpoint, one thing that's been working for me recently is the E6W practice. I haven't followed it to the letter, but I've followed the spirit of it in most cases: picking people out who I want to maintain relationships with (in my case they're all people who live far away, but I don't see why it couldn't be used for people closeby), schedule an appointment with them in my calendar that repeats every six weeks, and follow through. I find that having a fixed appointment is really helpful in terms of avoiding Overdue Library Book syndrome, because you no longer have to make the decision of when to contact the person: you do it, every six weeks. Doesn't mean you can't reschedule if you have to, but you have, at least, a "default" time.

Six weeks is also long enough that you don't have to deal with the rejection that comes from wanting to talk to someone and deciding you need to do it today or tomorrow and finding that they're busy. It's far enough out that most people will have SOME time clear to talk (or meet, or whatever). In my experience, so much of navigating this successfully is just a question of planning far enough ahead.
posted by Kosh at 12:43 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


From your post, it sounds like you need to learn that it is okay for both you and your friends to say "no." It's not rejection. When I say no to a friend's request, I usually try to reschedule instead of flat out saying no. If I ask for a last minute hang out, I usually plan for them to say no (because they're all awesome people and likely already have plans) and have a back up plan.
posted by ethidda at 12:45 PM on November 5, 2012


You kind of sound like there's some bigger underlying issues/anxiety/maybe depression going on? And these tips will help, but you might consider if being unable to reach out/accept help/see yourself as a valuable person to be friends with isn't a Bigger Thing that needs working on.

And good luck...maintaining adult friendships is hard for lots of people.
posted by emjaybee at 12:45 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sounds like pretty classic clinical-level social anxiety. The annoying thing about social anxiety is that you probably need to get help from other people in order to deal with it...sigh. That's life though.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:53 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds to me too like there are some larger anxiety and self-esteem issues going on here, but I'm not really qualified to comment on those, so I will leave that to posters who know more about it.

I have some practical comments to make on the business of socialising itself. I socialise a lot, and I would number 'maintaining adult friendships' as amongst my small number of actual skills, so I hope that these help.

— I won't call people to hang out, because I would feel kind of crushed by any rejection, even if they're busy with common things like work, or prior plans.


OK. This kind of jumped out at me. When they say no, citing work or prior plans, then it really is work or prior plans. Please try to not take rejection personally. I can't count the number of times I have been turned down, cancelled on, flaked on, etc. You dust yourself off, you remember in future that A tends to be swamped on weekends and B can never find a babysitter, you accommodate for that in future, and you move on.

Also, don't call people. Email, text or facebook them. Anything that does not put them under pressure, at a time which may be inconvenient, to answer immediately.

— I never just "call people up" to chat.

Me neither. You don't have to. There's no rules about it.

— I only arrange plans a week or two in advance. I don't know how to build friendships where you can just call them up and make spontaneous plans, so if I don't have advance plans, I'm SOL.

Hey, I have a lot of friends and we NEVER do things spontaneously. I'd be laughed at if I called up even my closest friend and asked if she wanted to do something today. Spontaneity is the kind of thing which is held up falsely by sitcoms like 'Friends' to be something that real people can aspire to. In real life, many people simply can't. There is nothing wrong or less, I don't know, meaningful in scheduling something a few weeks in advance. I mean, that's how I do it, and I don't feel anything lacking in it.

I really wish you the best.
posted by Ziggy500 at 12:55 PM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Then don't call people to just hang out. Call people to do something specific and awesome. Host an event like an election day themed potluck or a board game night. It doesn't have to be big, it doesn't have to be often, but it does need to happen somehow.

What is it that you want to do with others? How are you going to do it?
posted by oceanjesse at 12:59 PM on November 5, 2012


— I won't call people to hang out, because I would feel kind of crushed by any rejection, even if they're busy with common things like work, or prior plans.

— I never just "call people up" to chat.


These two things you don't do?

Do them.

Seriously, I was terrible at maintaining friendships, and so are a lot of other people, resulting in far too many lonely people just waiting by the phone for fun stuff to do.

Rejection won't kill you, and probably isn't permanent. Calling people and saying, "Let's go bowling this week! Let's hang out next month! Want to drop by and watch six hours of Revenge with me?" (That last one may be entirely me-specific.) is one of the best ways to go from alone at home and off people's radars to one of the most popular, in-demand people you know.

People like people who like them. If you show that you like your friends by offering to get together with them, you'll be surprised just how often they return the favor.
posted by xingcat at 1:21 PM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is where Facebook can be your friend.

You can post random crap on there like, "Anyone want to go see Wreck it Ralph at 8 on Friday?" Then people can say, "Sure!" And there, you have plans.

You can schedule your downtime, just like your social time. If you have a show you love to watch, then block that time out of your schedule. "Oh sorry, can't I have plans for that night."

If you want to share a pizza, it's perfectly okay to say, "Hey, who wants to eat dinner at Pizza Larry's with me tonight?"

Get in the habit, maybe just one thing you organize per week. Then limit yourself to one other thing someone else organizes, just so you don't feel overwhelmed.

Oh, and it's perfectly okay to tell someone, "I'd love to walk dogs with you, but if I don't do my laundry, I'll have to go to work commando tomorrow."

We're kind of TMI like that with our friends.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:30 PM on November 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


What helps me is having a clear idea of where my friends and mine crossroads intersect. For instance, I have several friends who enjoy going for drinks. So every two weeks or so, myelf or one of them throws out a group email that drinks will be happening on such and such date at such place. Whoever can make it can, and it's always fun.

I have a few friends whom I can only meet for lunches or coffee. So I try and schedule a standing lunch or coffee date with whatever frequency meets your needs. Some of them I meet a couple times a week, and others every few months.

I have other friends who are great do go for dinner with, or have over for dinner. They're good company, they're fun, they're hard to schedule, but a few times a year we make sure to make plans and commit.

I have friends who I go to a bootcamp with, and we share the misery. It's not quite sociable, but it's more fun than going alone, and we can email and moan about the class after.

So, in short, find the most easy and fun ways to see people who are important to you regularly, and have a standing date with them. It can be frequent if schedules permit, or as rare as a few times per year, and as long as you're both on the same page, it's totally fine.
posted by tatiana131 at 2:35 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seconding facebook. I find things I want to do and put them on facebook. Sometimes this leads to hanging out with people I don't see very often, which is awesome. This can be anything from "there's a concert/play next month" to "I need a gym buddy" to "it's a beautiful day, who wants to go to the park?"

Of course the people who respond to these invites are usually either already close to you or pretty extroverted. There are other people you do need to call or email directly or in a small group to say "We are having a party next week and it would be great if you could come." They need to know you want THEM to come.

I recommend using both techniques at different times.

Also try joining a group which has a structure that will do some of the work for you - a church group, a volunteer organization, or a class that meets regularly for several weeks. At the end of that you might know people well enough to reach out separately from the group/class.

Try thinking about the qualities you want in your friends, and try reaching out specifically to people who have those qualities. If people aren't available to hang out after 2 or 3 invites, let it go, but don't feel badly. Sometimes your life is just too full and it's hard to squeeze in another person. Friends take up a lot of emotional energy for me, and I can only be close to a certain number of people at once.

Keep reaching out and be patient. Having a strong social circle is a really important aspect of your overall well-being. And you have as much of a right to reach out as anyone else.
posted by bunderful at 5:11 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everyone upthread who said that you need to get comfortable with your friends saying no/perceived rejection is right, but while you're getting more comfortable with that it might be best to choose easier ways of getting together with your friends. Someone who has issues with social anxiety may experience strong feelings of rejection if people can't make it to a party they've organized or some otherwise heavy-on-planning-and-effort get-together. Likewise, the "I want to do something, I'm going to post it as a FB status update and hope that someone takes the bait" approach is going to be psychologically difficult if you worry about people responding to you.

So, for now, just start with things like dinner and drinks where all anyone has to do is send some text messages and show up. As time goes on you'll feel more comfortable with the inherent risks in organizing events and you'll start to branch out a lot more.
posted by thisjax at 11:43 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


My tip at helping both parties feel that a friendship is maintained: send postcards to them when you travel, or birthday and holiday cards. Birthday cards especially. Don't just greet them on Facebook or send them an SMS. An unexpected piece of snail mail is the pro move that bumps you up on their mental list of Aww, People Who Must Really Care About Me. It shows you Made An Effort, when actually an automated e-mail reminder and quick trip to the post office (okay, and maybe it helps to have a few nice blank greeting cards stocked up) was all it took.

I have a college roommate I haven't really talked to in years, but she always sends me a handmade card at Christmas, so somehow, I still feel connected to her. Another friend I haven't seen in person in two years, but we send each other snail mail every few months or so.

Best part is you can do it from a distance.
posted by pimli at 10:01 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am exactly, exactly like you. I can chat people up pretty easily, but even with my closest friends I'm shy to suggest activities and often find my Friday night empty even though I'd like to go do something (what?) with someone (who?). What has really been a boon for me was lucking out with a circle of friends who set up an email list where anyone can suggest an activity and others will respond if interested. It's more intimate than Facebook, but it doesn't feel like pestering people.

Likewise, the "I want to do something, I'm going to post it as a FB status update and hope that someone takes the bait" approach is going to be psychologically difficult if you worry about people responding to you.

Also, it's hit-or-miss. This is totally my favored way of doing things, but sometimes it works (five people joined me at a bar on Election Night and we had a great, long discussion) and sometimes it don't ("I have an extra ticket to a concert next week, free to you!" yielded zero takers*).

I have no idea who first said it, but there's this idea that what you spend your time on is what you prioritize. If maintaining friendships is a priority for you, you have to put in the sweat equity. Things as simple as sending postcards help. Maybe send an email to someone about something you want to discuss on the phone (which I know sounds dumb to extroverts, but scheduling helps). The hardest thing I've had to learn is that people don't want to feel that friendships are interchangeable, so you've got to tailor your outreach to those who matter. And if they don't matter, learn to be OK with letting go.

*This led to one of my most hated activities: serially calling people until someone said yes. But the thing is, someone did. Probably a lesson there.
posted by psoas at 12:07 PM on November 9, 2012


Spontaneity is the kind of thing which is held up falsely by sitcoms like 'Friends' to be something that real people can aspire to.

Time porn.
posted by mecran01 at 8:39 PM on November 11, 2012


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