Why am I the only one keeping in touch?
September 8, 2010 7:04 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with a close friend who doesn't put in effort anymore in terms of keeping in touch?

I have a close friend who I met when we lived nearby. During that time, she initiated contact at least as often as I did. We spent hours every week hanging out together, went traveling together, etc.

Fast forward...for several months after moving away from each other we kept in touch with phone calls a few times a week, lasting for hours each time. The phone call ritual (we had certain days we would call) was suggested by her. We'd talk about everything, laughing, and also discussing personal matters. I looked forward to those conversation every week, especially since I didn't have many local, close friends (I guess that's key).

Fast forward more...I moved closer to where she lives, but still not that close. These days, I am the only one to initiate contact. However, when we talk, we both go on for hours as before, laughing, crying, having inside jokes, etc. She gives me wonderful advice and is 100% present during the conversation. Last night we talked (I called of course) and she talked about me coming to visit, and things we could do then. I was also telling her about an ex-boyfriend who seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth, and that I was worried about him. She said, "There's no point in contacting someone who doesn't want to hear from you." At that point I said, "is that how you feel towards me? Because I feel that I'm the only one making an effort in our friendship. Since you never contact me intitiatively anymore, I never am sure you want to talk before I call."

She replied that I was taking what she said too literally. She said she doesn't stay in touch with people out of laziness. I said that if I didn't call her for a year, I might not hear from her. She replied that was probably true. She said she has the "out of sight, out of mind", mentality and is very concerned with her job and making money now, building a future.

It hurt me a lot to hear that, and also made me angry. I don't understand how she could give up our friendship and why the responsibility of keeping in contact is on me. It makes me feel bad. At the same time I don't want this person out of my life. I feel great whenever we talk/spend time together.

I'd really like advice on how to change my thinking as well as the balance of our relationship. How do I get to the point where I can enjoy this person's company but not get caught up in feeling hurt about these issues? Even better, is there a way I can get her to put in the effort? I was thinking of just not contacting her until she contacts me (even if that's never). I sort of feel that because I have taken up the task of keeping in touch, she can be "lazy" about it. I don't feel that it's an issue of her not liking me, as she often makes affectionate comments, hugs me, and it's clear that when we talk, we have a great time. So any advice on how I can change my focus?
posted by bearette to Human Relations (39 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a lot like your friend. I have a several really close friends that I value as much as anyone in the world that I'm horrible at keeping up with. When we do talk or see each other, we pick up as if nothing's changed, never mind the years that have passed, new kids, etc. If I knew they needed me, I'd drop what I was up to and do what I could. If it makes you feel any better, I consider it one of my own personal flaws that I don't do a better job of keeping up with people.
posted by advicepig at 7:16 PM on September 8, 2010 [28 favorites]

I don't think you can change her approach and you are probably wasting your time if you try. Instead, change your own attitude. Does this really matter, ultimately? I mean, I know how you feel because I've felt that way sometimes, too, but I moved beyond it by realizing that your end result (having a friendship) matters more than getting hung up on etiquette.

Take a step back and look at the big picture. Some people just aren't wired like you and they really are honestly lazy about this stuff. They let the world happen to them rather than making things happen themselves. If you truly value her friendship, keep calling and stop worrying. If you don't like having to be the one to initiate contact and this issue is more important than her friendship, then stop calling her.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:17 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well, I can tell you a story. When I was young (a teenager, in high school and then college) I had a friend I loved very much, admired and respected. He never called me. He was always happy to hear from me, expressed affection when we were together, seemed to enjoy me as much as I enjoyed him. But he never initiated contact, and it really bugged me. I was kind of an insecure person, and it would have meant the world to me if he had called me sometime and said, "Hey, let's get together," or just to talk.

Finally, after five or six years of friendship, I decided to do exactly what you contemplate: I decided to see what would happen if I didn't call him.

I haven't seen or heard from him since. It's been 25 years.

And, you know what, I regret it. I know the odds are high that we would have drifted apart at some other point if not then, but my decision to "test" him led to our relationship ending in what felt like a hurtful and unresolved way.

Honestly, I don't know why he never initiated contact. When we were in high school, he said he wasn't comfortable with the possibility of my dad answering the phone if he called my house, but once we were in college, my dad wasn't answering my phone anymore. It might have just been a quirk of his--maybe he hated making phone calls. Maybe if we'd been young in the era of text-messaging I'd have heard from him all the time! Or maybe he really was just lazy about it, or too introverted to reach out (I do this now, sometimes, not contacting people I'd honestly like to know better and spend more time with because I'm pretty introverted and it doesn't take much social contact to fill my tank, so I hesitate to initiate more even though I would enjoy it if someone else invited me out).

The thing is, I really loved him. He was unique in my life. And I wish that at 20 I had decided it was better to have him in my life even if I was always the one making the phone calls, than to risk losing him.

You probably can't change your friend--she may honestly just be not able right now for whatever reason to be the one to reach out, though she is obviously very glad to hear from you. So you get to decide whether the friendship is worth keeping even if you're the one making the calls, or whether you're willing to risk losing her if you either demand that she "do her share" in order to prove her affection for you, or stop making the calls to see what happens.

I think that making this decision consciously may help. I have at various times made conscious decisions to keep friends in my life even though they could not do certain things for me or meet certain needs. I'm thinking of one friend in particular who I learned could not be counted on to follow through on favors--I decided I wanted to still be her friend, but didn't think of her as someone I could trust to, say, feed my dogs while I was gone for the weekend. It was a diminishment, certainly, but once I accepted that about her I stopped being hurt when she didn't support me in certain ways and was able to keep enjoying her.
posted by not that girl at 7:19 PM on September 8, 2010 [52 favorites]

I didn't have many local, close friends (I guess that's key).

As you said yourself, that's key.

In terms of staying in touch with this friend, just do whatever you feel is comfortable and reasonable for you to do — don't do anything you resent having to do. And always remember that in any kind of relationship you have to give people room to decide just how much of themselves they want to give you.
posted by orange swan at 7:19 PM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Call her only when you feel like it. She's seems to be a go with the flow kind of person, so that seems to be the approach you should take with her. Don't put pressure on yourself to call her and don't feel bad about it when you do feel like calling.

I have a good friend who often cancels at the last minute and will only make last minute plans. I've decided that she's not a friend I can rely on, but do enjoy seeing when we do get together. So I now only agree to see her if other things don't come up and I don't hesitate to cancel on her if something does. Somehow, I still manage to see her with a fair amount of regularity.
posted by waterandrock at 7:20 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

She's not giving up on your friendship; she's trusting that your friendship is secure enough that it doesn't need to be high-maintenance. I say that as someone who's the same way as she is.

But maybe that doesn't work for you; maybe you require a lot of maintenance. If so, then perhaps that's something that will keep you two from being friends. If so, it's going to be because you aren't getting what you want out of the friendship -- since she's low maintenance, it isn't going to be her with an issue about it.

Ultimately, do you need the attention from her (which is fine, by the way) or are you offended because you feel she somehow values your friendship less than you value hers? I can say firsthand: some of my dearest friends are the ones I rarely talk to, and they (like me) value the ability to pop back around after months of not speaking to say "hey" "hey" and get right back to being friends like there's been no time passed.

In short: to hear you describe it, she's a good friend, and she cares about you, but she's not giving you the maintenance you need. Decide for yourself if that's a dealbreaker.
posted by davejay at 7:21 PM on September 8, 2010 [10 favorites]

Speaking as someone who can go weeks (and even sometimes months) without contacting various loved ones who aren't nearby, I can certainly understand the "out of sight, out of mind" line. I'm not saying it's desirable or responsible or anything of the such, but sometimes that's just the reality of how things are sometimes.

Your situation brought back a memory of a roommate I lived with for years. He was divorced with joint custody of children (who were only 8-10 years younger than me) and I was very much a part of their lives as he struggled with alcoholism. Once I finally moved out, everyone wanted me to keep in touch, visit, etc. I did for a while, then grew tired of always initiating contact. Finally, I decided to go a few months (which I weren't easy) of pushing them out of my mind and not contacting them, just to see what would happen. When I finally got in touch with them again, they were like, "Oh my god, you finally called! What happened? Where'd you go?" They all had my phone number and e-mail address, but I realized that for whatever reason I had to be the person who kept the lines of communication open if we wanted to maintain the relationship. It was just how they were -- nothing personal. Just because they didn't call me didn't mean they didn't value me.

In your case, I suppose you have to decide if the "burden" of initiating contact is too uncomfortable for you to bear. If it continues to really weigh on you, then communicate less and see how it feels. Different relationships have different roles for people to play. And sometimes we're in relationships which are more important to us than they are to the other person, and that's just the way things are. Very few relationships are completely equal in all respects. I can tell you from my own experience, though, that the three months of "no contact" that I went through above were much less pleasant than feeling like I was always the one who had to make the call (or the visit or the e-mail).

Good luck!
posted by GnomeChompsky at 7:27 PM on September 8, 2010

I had a long distanceish friendship very much like this. We tried the phone thing, but I found I really didn't like hanging on the phone for hours at a time and so I slowly became less inclined to call her. As the days/weeks went by, the fear of how long the "catch up" phone call would be took over as a motivator not to call. I didn't care for her any less - I just hated the way we had to communicate now that we didn't live close and couldn't just jump in the car and meet for drinks like we used to.

Seconding the comment made by davejay: She's not giving up on your friendship; she's trusting that your friendship is secure enough that it doesn't need to be high-maintenance. I say that as someone who's the same way as she is.

This is a weird phenomenon that happens with teachers. You spend all school year together, sharing personal stuff about families, etc. Then summer comes and no one keeps in touch. September rolls around and everyone just picks up right where they left off - no one chastises anyone else for not calling. It's just how those friendships are.

In life you have a lot of different friends and they are different things to you. I have one friend who is awesome to party and hang out with, but not so good on the 'talk to for advice' side of things. I have another friend who hardly leaves her house, but we have the best conversations and discussions. I appreciate each friend for what they are and what they bring to my life, but knowing the limitations certain friendships have can be helpful.

Oh and FWIW, the whole "tit for tat" I called her last, now its her turn to call me thing really isn't a good thing to do. You shouldn't look at friendships on a balance scale like that, it's just not a good thing to do in general.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:45 PM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Is it possible she prefers another communication channel? I basically never call anybody except my parents. I talk to my out of town friends via email, or text message, or IM. They're asynchronous (less so for IM), and they don't require a block of time to be specifically set aside for them.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:47 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

As someone who has struggled with this dynamic in various forms all my life, I think you need to use your own best judgment. It's clear that what the issue is for you is not that she's not calling you, it's that she doesn't value you enough to call--and while obsessing over balance in friendships is a really bad thing when it's overdone, a serious imbalance of friendship-investment is not a good thing either. I have had friendships where I have realized that the person doesn't call me because of pure egocentrism on their part, and that whatever I put into our friendship will disappear the instant I stop making an active effort. In other cases, it doesn't matter so much. Which of these it is is impossible for us to tell in this thread.

On the other hand, you definitely made a mistake by calling her out. Your attempt to confront her and demand an explanation frankly sounds needy and desperate, and it is not good friendship policy to puke your neuroses all over other people, whether you feel they are grounded in reality or not. Any "explanation" of not calling you may have gotten from her in this context should be read simply as a justifiable attempt to escape being put on the spot, and she certainly doesn't owe you anything more.

I feel your pain, really. But I think whatever decision you make on this front is going to be based on whether your anxiety over the imbalance will grow to outweigh the benefits you get out of the friendship. Forget "getting her to put in the effort"--in my experience, this either happens naturally or it doesn't happen at all.

She's not giving up on your friendship; she's trusting that your friendship is secure enough that it doesn't need to be high-maintenance. I say that as someone who's the same way as she is.

I'm sorry, but that's a really self-centered way of putting it. "High-maintenance" would be calling every day, or having mandatory regular scheduled activities, or something. Asking someone to pick up the phone every once in a while is just reasonable, especially if the other person has been doing it for a long time. Honestly, it's unbelievable to me that there are people who don't think this is inconsiderate, and I always think less of the person if that's the way they are.
posted by nasreddin at 8:32 PM on September 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'm basically your friend. I just don't seem to be very good about regularly making contact with people who live in other places, even if they are beloved close friends. And I feel bad about it, and I love when they call me.

It's a complicated thing I think--there's the "trusting that the friendship is secure" issue, there's the "major laziness" issue (not related to how much I value the friendship--it's a deep lack of motivation that keeps me from doing many demonstrably critical things when I should). Those are definitely relevant factors.

And then there's the "dreading the length of the catch-up call" issue that NoraCharles raises. This is where I'd like to make a concrete suggestion because it's one relevant issue that YOU can have some control over. I do like those loooooong catch-up calls when I'm in the middle of them, I know they make me feel good. But when I'm thinking about any given evening, and all the other things I need to do, anticipating an hours-long phone call can inspire dread rather than excitement. So, maybe you could try changing your communication patterns so that you talk to each other more often, but for a much briefer time? It might not make a difference, but I know that sometimes long-distance friends and I have fallen into patterns where our communication becomes almost daily and is a mix of quick texts, Facebook messages, and "I'm waiting at the bus stop"-length phone calls. This has been MUCH easier for me to get into, reciprocate, and keep up for a while. And I think it actually makes me feel like we're more connected than if we have those marathon catch-up sessions.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:32 PM on September 8, 2010 [7 favorites]

I am you, and your friend all in the same token. It could be she's needing space and that happens. There have been moments with my close friends where I would not speak to them for 5 years because they don't feel like it. And then we would reconnect like nothing happened. It's what happens when you're friends. I'm celebrating 19 years of friendship with my childhood buddy. And we know, no matter what, that we're gonna be best friends for life, even if we go months or years without really talking. We always joke that we're gonna be a bunch of old ladies sewing side by side in an old folks home. Don't worry. Don't put everything on your friend. She's just one person.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 8:45 PM on September 8, 2010

I'm struggling with this exact issue right now. I know I can't make my dear friend call me more (as painful as that is). I do intend on asking how he feels when I do call and whether the frequency of contact if I always initiate is too much. That way I don't need to second guess myself too badly about whether or how often to contact him. I'm hoping that will help me feel better about contacting him when I feel like it and not having to have any other baggage floating around. Maybe this would help with your friend too.
posted by kch at 8:57 PM on September 8, 2010

I've always put a lot of time, effort and attention into my friendships - it's just how I am. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time being hurt or just generally bent out of shape by friends who didn't seem to put the same effort into the relationship as I did. And then one day, something just clicked and I realized that, like any kind of relationship, different people have radically different ways of relating to their friends. And those different ways aren't necessarily bad, or indicative of a lack of caring, they just are.

Of course, as with romantic relationships, two people with radically different ways of relating might not be compatible as close friends. Again, it doesn't make one person the bad guy, and it doesn't mean you can't be friends at all it just means you're not compatible as close friends.

The other thing that clicked for me at this time is that my friends just are who they are. We're all adults, and I'm certainly not going to change them, just as I wouldn't want them to try to change me. However, I can decide how much difference in relating styles I'm willing to deal with, and a lot of that has to do with how much the person offers as a friend.

For instance, I really hate it when people are significantly late - it's an enormous pet peeve of mine. But one of my best friends is always at least 30 minutes late. I still hang out with her and consider her a really good friend because she is always there when I need her and we have a ridiculously good time together, every time we hang out. So it's worth it for me to deal with her lateness, just as she puts up with my little quirks.

Once I figured this out, my friendships got a lot better in general. I would say I have less friends now than I did in my teens and early twenties, but the friendships I do have are awesome and make my life awesome.
posted by lunasol at 10:23 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, these comments are great and are really helping a lot to put things in perspective.

I still am sort of wondering about something, however- for all of you who have trouble keeping in touch with people you like/love dearly...don't you miss them? Don't you want to talk to them about things happening in your life? I guess I am kind of confused because to me, a friendship involves interaction with another person. If that interaction is gone, what is left? Is it just the assurance that there is a person in the world who cares about you, and with whom you once had a good time?

As far as calling her out being a mistake....I honestly don't know how else to handle it (well, after reading this comments, I have more ideas, but still). I mean if you are close with someone and something they do bothers you, shouldn't you tell them?
posted by bearette at 12:05 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

for all of you who have trouble keeping in touch with people you like/love dearly...don't you miss them?

I love my parents and grandparents dearly, but I get so wrapped up in daily life that there's little time for things that aren't on my to-do list. I'm also an introvert and perfectly happy to live in my little corner of the world and in my head most of the time. I share things that are happening with my SO, and this seems to satisfy my urge to talk about them. Left to my own devices, I'd probably call my mother once a month (and she would disown me and declare me an inconsiderate, cold-hearted alien after a week without calls).

But after being called out several times at family dinners, I set up regular reminders to call my family. This solved the problem for me. I still don't feel the need to call them, but I know this is what makes them happy, so I do it. Mind you, I enjoy talking with them once I call them, it's just the step of remembering to pick up the phone that's the problem.

Also, you say you don't have many local friends. For a while, I was somewhat isolated and lacking local friends. This was the most extroverted part of my life. I'd been reaching out to people left and right, jumping at every opportunity to talk and hang out with other people. I'm guessing this is a big part of your frustration and that otherwise you probably wouldn't feel as strongly about your friend.
posted by gakiko at 12:39 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm like your friend, too. And at times I'm like you. But I'm more like her. But for me it's not 'out of sight out of mind'. And it's not laziness. It's kind of hard for me to describe exactly what it is - sometimes it's overwhelming how much I miss people who are far away and it takes a lot of mental energy to keep in touch all the time. Even with emailing making it so much easier.

It's hard to keep up with all the people I want to keep up with without feeling like I'm so far behind that another day of not contacting them won't matter. Even though I know it will. I trust that my friends know how important they are to me, and they do. I know they get frustrated when I disappear, as they perceive it. My situation is complicated by the fact that I live overseas, but still that doesn't answer it all.

I don't think you did anything wrong by telling her how you feel. I've had others do that to me, and it has helped me to make more of an effort. Honestly, I've lost friendships for my lack of contact, and I regret it. And I've been on the other side, too, where I was always the initiator, and I agree, that gets exhausting.

It's hard for me to keep up with my everyday life, everyday work relationships, everyday acquaintances and obligations, and find time for my friends who are here, let alone those who are far away. And yes, I always miss my other friends, I'm sad about those I lost, really sad, I wish I had done it differently. It's hard to keep in touch on a regular basis when people are far away, not matter how much I wish I could do it better.

I suggest if she's important to you, don't lose sight of that fact. It's really sad to regret close friends who you've lost when perhaps if you continued to be the initiator, you'd still be close. It's not a fair balance, but surely you get something so important from her that you can try to let go of this one thing that really is difficult to let go of. Good friends, I mean really good true friends, are hard to find and harder to keep, especially as you get older. They're worth keeping, even if sometimes you do more of the work.
posted by la ninya at 4:58 AM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: for all of you who have trouble keeping in touch with people you like/love dearly...don't you miss them?

I'm another of these people, and agree with everything said above: Many of the friends I do this with are such great friends that I know I could speak to them after a looong time off and it'll be like there's been no layoff. Happened at the weekend - someone I hadn't seen or spoken to for about 18 months popped up on Skype and we had a nice catch up.

I can also see it from your side - one of my closest school friends never picks up the phone, but when I phone her (about every six months) we talk for hours, laugh til we cry etc. I thought about being hurt by it, but figured she's a busy, working mum and I was secure enough in our friendship that I know how much she loves me, that she's thinking of me, even if she doesn't pick up the phone. And I suppose I know how lax I am at picking up the phone to other people, so I know exactly why she doesn't get round to it. It's that moment when you think "I could call bearette....Ahhh we haven't spoken for so long, it'd be a long call. Maybe I'll just see what's on TV and I'll do it when I have more time/energy".

Wrt your specific question about missing people - this (for me, at least) is about having enough friends locally who can step in to fill that immediate need. If I have plenty of people around me to make me laugh/listen to my woes, I don't feel a desperate need to reach out to people further away, I can just think about them and smile.
posted by penguin pie at 5:02 AM on September 9, 2010

(Oh, but I should add - with my school friend, I also decided that, since it was important to me not to let the friendship disappear completely, I should just suck it up and phone her every few months, without feeling like I should keep score of whether she'd phoned me recently. I figure that if I want the friendship to continue, I have to make at least some effort, regardless of her input, rather than just folding my arms and saying "Well, if she doesn't want to talk to me, then fine..." and losing a friendship that I cared about. I see it as a maintenance level of contact!)
posted by penguin pie at 5:05 AM on September 9, 2010

I am also your friend.

Yes, I miss those people.

Yes, I feel bad.

For me, there's a huge anxiety component to it. I don't make the call, then as each day goes by that I haven't made the call, I get more anxious about how I haven't called yet, which then makes me even more hesitant to call.

It's partly the whole "a catch-up call feels overwhelming" issue mentioned earlier, but for me, it's also the fact that the thought of talking on the phone at all makes me anxious. Once I'm chatting away, it's no problem, but contemplating it, whoo that's dreadful.

I agree with the suggestions to find different modes of communication. Many people bemoan the rise of Facebook, but for me, it's been amazing. I'm able to keep up with people I haven't talked to in years and feel closer to them than I ever did with just the dreaded phone.
posted by missjenny at 5:30 AM on September 9, 2010 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: I would mark all of these answers as "favorite". They're wonderful.

I guess I was having a hard time imagining why someone who cares about me would completely stop initiating contact; but I can see, from the responses here, that it's possible. (and I do it too- with family. But for me, family carries some baggage so it can be difficult to talk to them even though they are so important to me and I miss them).

I'm actually not a phone person, either, and I don't think alternate communications would help, though she does often mention talking on Sykpe (it used to happen a lot).

It hurt my feelings when she admitted that we just wouldn't talk if I didn't call...but maybe that was her pointing out the fact that the role of contactor has fallen to me. And when I think of the support and effort she puts into the friendship when we do talk, plus the fun we have...well, I guess it's a relatively small thing to always be the initiator. Still, it might be nice to hear, "it's great to hear from you!" or, "I love it when you call". But I guess I'm a bit insecure that way.
posted by bearette at 6:00 AM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have friends I don't talk to for months at a time. They are people I care deeply about and love to talk to when we do talk. But in the general hustle and bustle that constitutes life it can be difficult to actually make time to call people overseas, especially if you know they are as busy as you and likely to be scheduling you in for next week when you do call :) but that doesn't mean they don't care
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:34 AM on September 9, 2010

Bearette, I think you are completely in your right to feel hurt.

I'm shocked by all the people who are justifying why it is OK to treat good friends like this, how 'life gets in the way', how it's too hard.

To the general public:

It's not too hard. It's laziness. It's rude. Good correspondence has fallen by the wayside, ironically, in a time where communications technology has never been more advanced.

Life is short and mostly filled with drudgery - don't let your dear friendships wither on the vine! Instead of flopping on the couch or in front of the computer, send a quick text or email to let the person know you're thinking of them. Drop a postcard in the mail. Call to catch up when you're walking home. You can make excuses all you want, but there really is no excuse. Nurture your friendships if you want to have friends!

Has anyone noticed how many threads there are on AskMe about making friends? Here's a tip: keep in touch! 90% of success is showing up. Show up. 'Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver, one is gold.' That sort of thing.

To Bearette:

All you can do is lead by example. (And I think you were right to let your feelings known.) Continue to keep in touch with this friend, although only if it is not a strain for you. Forge new friendships and continue to keep in touch. You are obviously a considerate and thoughtful friend - I treasure friends like you!

Shape up, everyone!
posted by Flying Squirrel at 6:59 AM on September 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

I am similiar to your friend.
That's why I enjoy text messaging and social networking.
I cannot stand talking on the phone. And a lot of times I'm too tired to hang out with anyone.
I'm just an introverted person. And, well, almost all of my friends are the same way. We get together for events/parties and that's about it nowadays. Some have families, some work full-time and went back to school full-time, some live out of state. Some work nights, etc. It's hard to maintain friendships as everyone gets older. I see people do it all the time, but some people just don't.

"is that how you feel towards me? Because I feel that I'm the only one making an effort in our friendship. Since you never contact me intitiatively anymore, I never am sure you want to talk before I call."

Personally, that is something that would send me in the opposite direction.

I had a friend since I was 15 years old - and about 4 years ago, I moved back to the city where we grew up. She wanted me to go shopping, go to the gym with her, etc. She was confrontational and opinionated. I felt tense around her.
I ended up "breaking up" with her. I just couldn't handle it.

So, you know. Don't take it personally. Some of us either need a kick in the ass and not a guilt trip.
Giving people guilt trips (as opposed to just having a discussion) can usually send people far away from you.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:49 AM on September 9, 2010

I've lost a lot of friends over the years because I got exasperated with always being the one to reach out. It's surprising how many people you can lose touch with completely, if you simply wait for them to contact you.

My assumption was always that if they're not engaged or motivated enough to do some of the reaching out, they're just not that interested in me as a friend.

I'm not even talking about a 50/50 split. I'm talking about JUST ONCE, they are the one to initiate contact. Even just a crappy email. I would count an email with a link to a funny video as "first contact."

For this category of former-friends, just the smallest, tiniest move in my direction would have been accompanied by a heavenly chorus of trumpets.

Do we have fun when we're together? Sure. But placing the burden of first contact solely on my shoulders is a great way to get me to stop contacting them.

Frankly, I always assumed this was the point being made - "I like you, but not enough to initiate contact." Or even "I'm a little tired of you."
posted by ErikaB at 8:46 AM on September 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

This thread is a clear illustration of how different people have different ways of dealing with friends. Personally, I can't even imagine what it's like to really miss someone to the degree that I would get upset if they didn't call. I talk to my long-time long-distance friends when I see them or when I have something to say to them, that's about it. Sometimes that happens weekly, sometimes we don't talk for six months, and that's OK by me.

We all have our own lives, so we just catch up when we do happen to talk or see each other.

To me, not talking for a while is not letting a relationship "wither on the vine." It's just not talking for a while.

I would not much appreciate a friend around whom I had to be anxious about whether I was calling the other person often enough. I have enough work in my life to do without friends who require it. (Note that does not at all mean that I won't go very far out of my way to help them out if they need it, but that's not work in my worldview, that's what being a friend is really all about..having someone you can count on to be there when you need them)
posted by wierdo at 8:57 AM on September 9, 2010

There's something liberating about the knowledge that it's ultimately your choice about whether you stay in touch with this person or not. All you have to do is not call and you won't have to hear from that person anymore or even angst over whether they'll reciprocate. The question is what you want to do with this freedom of choice. It's okay to accept that sometimes one person -- in this case you -- has to keep the relationship alive and be the one that does that. Sometimes, you shouldn't take it personally that people don't initiate contact, or aren't "phone people," or even don't "feel" as strongly about you as you do about them when it comes to your friendship. Do you value them and enjoy their company? Then keep in touch, have them over, invite them to social events. If you don't, or feel that the effort to stay in touch with them isn't worth the reward, then don't.
posted by deanc at 8:59 AM on September 9, 2010

Oh, and I should have mentioned that one of the reasons I don't call people out of the blue is because I presume they are busy and have things to do, and I'm not much of a planner, I just let chips fall where they may, most of the time. My thought process might go like this:
  1. Thinks of friend
  2. Thinks it would be nice to talk to friend
  3. Thinks of calling friend
  4. Decides friend is probably busy with other things
  5. Gets interested in something else, and does that instead

posted by wierdo at 9:02 AM on September 9, 2010

don't you miss them? Don't you want to talk to them about things happening in your life?

I do, but not on the phone. I, like many of the people here, am a total introvert. Interacting with people, even the ones that I love dearly, can drain my battery. It takes a long time for me to get comfortable enough with someone that I feel completely relaxed in their presence; so that being with them is fun and relaxing rather than fun and challenging. And that dynamic usually works best when the friend and I are together in person. With the telephone there can be so many more awkward pauses and chances for misunderstandings that the relaxing nature of the interaction is reduced. So even if I have a perfectly good phone call with someone, the anticipation beforehand is that it will be awkward is enough to prevent me from initiating the call.

This doesn't have anything to do with how much I love the person or how much I miss them. And I do try to break the habit and do better about initiating contact. Especially now that there is texting and IMing, I try to send little updates, so that it feels more like the person is still someone I see on a weekly basis.
posted by MsMolly at 9:02 AM on September 9, 2010

On top of "yes, I miss them, but it's *hard* to pick up the phone" (for wide-ranging reasons of "hard"), there's also the fact that some people don't view life happenings the same as others might. When I think about getting in touch with somebody to catch up, I think, "Well, what have *I* got to contribute to the conversation?" And if I think about it that way, I often can't come up with anything. When talking, one thing leads to another and I often come up with a lot to say--but when thinking about talking, I often can't come up with anything I'd like to talk about.

So I don't often feel like I have a lot to contribute to conversation if I called somebody. And boy, is it a *serious* energy sink, to me, when I'm talking to somebody and they don't have much to say; I feel either like I'm holding up the whole conversation or like I'm pulling teeth. If I actually like somebody, why would I put *them* through that? Why would I call somebody when all I want to do is listen, and make them feel like they have to do all the talking? Ugh, that's mean.

And this may not apply to this particular instance, but it might apply to some people; it certainly does to me. Lately I only have bad news about my health (substitute "health' for whatever big issue is going on in your friends' lives). And everybody asks about it--and frankly I don't want to talk about it. So I try to wait until I have some good news to talk to people...and that time never comes. So there are people I haven't talked to in a couple of years because I just feel like every time I talk to them, all I have to say is, "Yeah, things are getting worse. Yeah, it's bad. Yeah, they can't come up with any answers. Yeah, that stinks." Once you've said that a couple of times, saying it again is depressing to both you and the person you're talking to.
posted by galadriel at 9:30 AM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I know there are people who talk on the phone a lot, but I don't know who they are. Here is my life:
leave work - 6pm
do errands on way home - 6:40
get home - 7pm
decompress, open mail, deal with cat, other immediate needs 7-7:30
make dinner - 7:30-8
eat dinner & chat w/Mr. M. 8-8:45
cleanup dinner 8:45-9

I now have to fit reading, research, running two web sites, going to the gym, getting ready for work the next day, cleaning, picking up laundry, paying bills, writing emails, planning - all of that now has to fit into the time between 9pm and the time I go to bed. I also don't have every night of the week to do this, some nights I go to class/leisure activity/work after work.

I do not have the time to chat with someone, anyone, for hours. Not any more. It's something I have to schedule. If someone required me to do that to be in a friendship with them, I would not be able to meet their expectations.

I'm kind of old, and I recently realized that while I have many wonderful friends, I don't see them because we are all in these types of patterns. So I decided to take the initiative and quite literally go down the list of people and make it a priority to make and solidify plans with them. I email them with suggestions of dates and activities. If they say "yes" but then don't follow up, I email them again. One of them quite literally told me "Not in September" and explained why. THat's fine. I have a note in my calendar to call her at the beginning of October.

It's been wonderful and affirming and rewarding. Some people aren't organized. Some people feel like "oh god it's been so long since I talked to her last, she's probably busy". I will keep doing this for the rest of my life because I need contact and I'm not going to put people through some kind of test to be my friend.

If someone really doesn't value your friendship or doesn't like you, and that's the reason they're not responding to overtures, you'll know that. I have people like that, and they're not on the list of people I work to make plans with. If I run into them at an event we get along great & we're social but I don't make any special effort to stay connected with them.

Think about this: I recently got back in touch with a friend I hadn't talked to since 1988. She got married. She had kids. She got divorced. Life happened to both of us. I never said "why did you stop writing to me" and she never asked me that either. We're both just enjoying being in touch again.
posted by micawber at 9:42 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

What you seem to be asking is not why you're doing "all the work", but reasoning that if your friend cared enough about you and your friendship, she'd make an effort to call you.

My sister who moved far away sends us cards every holiday, birthday or just because. She thinks this is a way people express their love and care for each other. Imagine how rejected and unappreciated she feels when that isn't reciprocated. Despite knowing the rest of the family aren't "card" people, she has a difficult time not seeing it as a reflection of how much we care. We miss her terribly -- it's just that we don't make the same gestures to express it. She's accepted the reality and adjusted her expectations though I do sense she feels we're inconsiderate.

Take perspective -- your friend puts different values on specific behaviors/actions. You're judging her by what YOU value. Asserting that value as truth could be damaging to your friendship.
posted by loquat at 9:47 AM on September 9, 2010

This thread is a clear illustration of how different people have different ways of dealing with friends.

I'd also add that it's a way of seeing how different people can have different definitions of friendship itself. Mr. blazingunicorn and I have different definitions of friends; to him, someone isn't a friend unless you're in regular contact.

I am also your friend: yes I feel bad and miss people. I've definitely become more introverted as time goes on. But mostly, I'm really busy. I have other nearby friends, I just got married, and in my little free time, I love writing/reading/teaching myself design and code. My friends know this, they know I might go in social bursts before disappearing for a while, and they respect that. I like being friends with other busy, active people, and often they have similar schedules; I love the fact that they don't take it personally or say things like 'Boy! long time!' whenever we chat.

Well, I guess it's a relatively small thing to always be the initiator.

Wonderful if it's a small thing for you! Because for the other person, it might be a huge thing. I already feel like I have too much on my plate right now, and calling loved ones—even though we'd laugh and love it—seems like it'd be something else to the plate.

(Also, it sounds like you're a past-oriented person, and your friend is a future-oriented person.)
posted by blazingunicorn at 10:21 AM on September 9, 2010

I spend a lot of time around 3am thinking about all the people I miss. I like to think that if they knew about it, they would appreciate how I don't call (and wake them up) when I think about it. Really, the chance of me thinking about someone between 6pm and 8pm (these being the acceptable times for calling)....
posted by anaelith at 11:38 AM on September 9, 2010

Just thought of something else. Having a long distance friend is actually more stressful than having an in-person friend for someone like me, because 100% of the interaction has to be talking one on one. If your friend is there in person you can go out to movies together, have brunch with a whole group of people, etc. You can spend time with each other without having to find SOMETHING TO SAY every single moment. You can't really do that on the phone. Hence, for some of us, stress.
posted by MsMolly at 2:09 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am also your friend. And I have to say I attribute this personality trait to neither laziness nor malice. My biggest problem is anxiety.

I'm bad at keeping in touch. I know I'm bad at keeping in touch. I actually hate it about myself. As a person who grew up in one city, went to collage in a different city, and now lives in a third city (not to mention 3 summers spent abroad) I have a bunch of friends who don't live in my current hometown. I miss most of them on a regular basis. I have fond memories of them and the desire to maintain those relationships into the future.

The thing is, as soon as I think about calling them I realize it's been a long time since we spoke. And I feel SO guilty! My missing them is always mixed with a sad anxiety that it's my fault. Everytime I try to call one of these friends I have to deal with all these emotions. It's really unpleasent for me.

The bottom line is, i miss these people A LOT. And to them I probably seem really laid back- even lazy or selfish. But really I have a lot of regret and anxiety about these relationships. I'm so relieved when my friends call me cause I don't have to deal with all these emotions, I can just enjoy their company. The friends who I stay in contact with the most are people who understand this about me. The more accepting they can be the easier it is for me to remain friends.

I guess it's up to you if this trait is something that you can live with in a friend. I think that's fair and I don't think it's healthy to try and accept something you truly find unbearable. I just wanted to point out that some of us can simultaneously care deeply about our friends and have a hard time initiating contact.
posted by MrsHarper at 2:17 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

for all of you who have trouble keeping in touch with people you like/love dearly...don't you miss them?

I don't have trouble keeping in touch; I just don't bother keeping in touch, because I don't think my life is particularly interesting, and I don't have much interest in talking about the things that are happening in my day.

In my head, it goes something like this: for every hundred days where I'm just living my life, there might be a day where something specific makes me want to contact someone I haven't spoken with in a while. Do I miss them? yes, and not just on the days I decide to contact them -- but when I miss them, I'm much more inclined to enjoy the memory and thought of them, than I am to call and go "hey, nothing going on in my life, just calling to see what's up with you."

Some people equate no contact with no missing/affection/love, but for me (and tons of people like me), that's not how it works. Out of contact doesn't mean out of mind.
posted by davejay at 11:21 PM on September 9, 2010

For instance, right now -- literally, right now -- answering your question made me think of a dear friend of mine, whom I haven't seen or spoken with for a few months, and whom I haven't emailed in over a month. I've thought about this friend since seeing/speaking with/emailing them, but haven't contacted them. Hell, I thought about 'em fondly not even an hour ago! But the subject matter of this thread makes me want to send a note, and so I'm going to go do so.
posted by davejay at 11:24 PM on September 9, 2010

Another thought on the different ways that people experience friendship - if you move around a lot (or if your friends move a lot while you stay still), you simply end up knowing a lot of people, and talking to all of them all the time would be difficult if you actually wanted to have a life in the present as well.

It's hard to say without sounding like a bit of a dick - I don't mean "Look at me, I've got so many friends", but it's simply a matter of maths - since I was 18, I've lived in six different cities, about 20 different flats/houses, had loads of different jobs. I've been immensely lucky in that, in most of those chapters of my life, I've had at least one friend nearby who I could spill my heart out to, and several more who I'd see on a weekly basis or more. When you move to a new city, after a little time, new people appear in those roles. It doesn't diminish how much you care for the others, but if you move six times, you're blessed with a lot of people who you get on with fabulously, but who you know you might not see for another year, or five, or ever again. So, if you're someone who likes/needs regular face-to-face contact with a group of friends (which I am), you put the biggest effort into your current group of friends and activities, to make sure you have them, and scale back contact with the others for occasional treats. It doesn't diminish how much you like your other friends, it's just all you can do.

I can see how it might seem mercenary if you're someone who prefers to nurture the same relationships at the same level over a long period of time, even if that means doing it over the phone.

tl;dr - For me, good friendships can survive infrequent contact and then blossom into life again without "withering on the vine", and it's important to focus time and energy on cultivating friendships with people who are actually around you.
posted by penguin pie at 6:02 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

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