What do you do when nothing makes sense anymore?
January 14, 2012 7:56 PM   Subscribe

What do you do when nothing makes sense anymore?

I have a friend I've known (or thought I knew) for a long time, who is very special to me & very important. I've come to find with recent conversations that I really don't know this person at all or at least feel like it, and it's really sent me reeling from the experience. They're doing things that I never would think they would do, actions which are pretty shocking to me, I didn't know they behaved this way. It's just really sent me on my head cause I guess maybe my impression of them wasn't really who they were. Nothing feels the same to me anymore. I've been at a place in life that's been pretty constant for about the last year or so, but lately now it's been feeling like I'm totally lost & don't know how I feel about life, or really even what it's for. This instance has pulled it up. This is really bothering me because this person has been so important to me for so long. It's nothing they did to me, just a part of their personality I didn't really know to this extent existed. It's really screwing with my whole idea on life- I feel like I don't know what I'm doing, or where I'm going. This person has meant so much to me, to think of not having them around makes me feel sick to my stomach, but also hearing what they're doing is making me feel that to.
Life just feels extremely weird & very strange to me right now (it always has to some extent, but not like it does now).

Can you change with a person or allow a friendship to change, even though it's making you feel different about them? Anyone gone through something like this? The age is our early 20's. My description might be a bit vague, but any advice or stories would be very appreciated. I'm feeling quite in a not good place right now, & would love some help. Any is appreciated.

Throwaway email: helpmakesense@hotmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
People start growing up and apart in their early twenties. This is doubly true for people who go to college, because the bubble of college often forestalls a goodly amount of personality growth until after graduation. Sometimes change is good, sometimes change is bad. Sometimes we don't notice who people really were until after the bubble of college ends and the "real world" begins.

Is this person actually changing in a bad way, or just changing? To turn your question around, why do you find it difficult to accept the fact that your friend has changed?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:00 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

For a lot of people, the early 20s is a time of change and experimenting. Is your friend experimenting with drugs, alcohol or sex? That's pretty common and doesn't make someone a bad person. You should still remain their friend. If they're going around robbing people or acting violent, then you should distance yourself. If you want more specific answers, contact the mods to update your question with details you left out.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:09 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need to think about what aspects of their personality or actions upset you. It's understandable if you find that your personalities don't mesh the way that they used to; this is because people change over time sometimes in a bad way and sometimes in a good way. But, if it's something truly unethical or something that you can't stand then you should distance yourself away from this person.

I think you still know certain aspects of this person's life, personality and values, but you don't know everything about them. People don't even know everything about themselves and people don't even like everything about themselves (let alone many things).

You have to figure out if your friend is crossing the line and if they are someone that's far too overwhelming to be around or if it's worth it to keep this friendship. Sometimes people have to break up their friendships for various reasons and that's okay. But, think about what this person has done that doesn't sit right with you.

Spend more time figuring out your own life too since you mentioned that you feel lost and confused about your own life and the purpose of your life. It's great to have friends, but friends shouldn't define who we are to such a great extent. Friends should make our lives better and provide us that support that we need, friends should have similarities but also differences, friends should be able to be people that you can laugh with and have deep conversations with. And, I think one of the concerns is that you are allowing this friendship to define a large part of your life. You make it seem like who you are is influenced by who your friend is which doesn't have to be the case.

Friendship dynamics change over time, sometimes you become closer because of certain events or situations and sometimes you end up further apart. If you feel that this person is not someone that you want to be around at all, that you can't even stand the thought of this person, that you don't want to understand this person, etc.. then it's time to distance yourself away as difficult as it is.
posted by livinglearning at 8:21 PM on January 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

There are precious few people whose companionship I valued 25 years ago that still matter in my life today. We mostly just grew up and went on with our lives, in whichever directions they took us. I can say it's s tiny bit bittersweet to remember the feelings invoked by such relationships, that once meant so much and have since fallen by the wayside. But mostly I don't mourn the loss, because I'm a different person. A person that I enjoy more than ever. I don't mourn because I can't. It just isn't in me. So I figure, if maintaining those relationships required my own stagnation, they probably weren't worth maintaining. The persons who meant the most I chose to keep at least spiritually close required an extra effort, and really, some significant evaluation to determine if the effort was worthwhile.

Accept that all things in life change, may do so without any apparent reason, and that you may actually know very little in the course of a lifetime. This applies (perhaps especially) to people and just about everything else.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:34 PM on January 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Well, it depends on what kind of change you mean. Are they acting in ways that alarm you, in terms of harming themselves (like taking hard drugs, or doing something criminal)? Or are they just doing things that aren't harmful but that blow up your understanding of them (like coming out as gay)?

If it's the first one, maybe they've developed an addiction or are having mental health issues that have changed their personality (or have gone through a recent trauma).

If it's the second one, one of the things that you find out in life is that you never really know anyone as well as you think you do. I mean, think of any thoughts, fantasies, fears, or dreams that you've never ever revealed to anyone else...yet those are part of you. Maybe someday they'll be something you express outwardly, maybe they'll just be part of your private self forever.

This doesn't mean you can never "trust your instincts" about someone; just that you accept some amount of uncertainty in life when it comes to other people. Generally, people who you've known a while won't change radically, but sometimes, yeah, they do. At that point your job is to decide what if anything you want to do about it.

You say that finding out this part of this person has messed with your head; that's totally understandable. But maybe your view of yourself depended a little too much on this person, or who you thought they were. You have to decide who you want to be, whatever other people do, after all. But that is the kind of process that will take up the rest of your life, and you may find you change a lot too while you're searching. It's part of life. You might even come to enjoy it.
posted by emjaybee at 9:03 PM on January 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

I heard an old saying years ago that seems to ring true to me today. I'll give it a go:
"Men make all their friends by the time they leave college. After that we just cross people off the list".

This is of course just a saying, but it seems to hold true to me, and what others said above. Your early 20's are a time of immense change. I would slap the shit out of myself in my early 20's. I sure as hell wouldn't be my own friend.

But that's how life is. It evolves and changes. Now that I'm a stable upstanding citizen in my 30's, I have no idea how to make friends. Not that I have the time for friends anyway, with a wife and baby. So I just get along by getting along day by day.
posted by sanka at 9:04 PM on January 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

One of my best friends growing up, who did so much to shape my whole concept of who I was and what our dreams were about life, turned out a couple years ago to be not the teacher's pet and golden child from 5th grade but a frightening Talented Mr. Ripley-style con artist who was hurting people for fun.

I still think about him all the time, after dropping him. It's a weird hole in my life and when I return to my home town, I still kinda expect to hang out with the guy at our childhood diner.
posted by steinsaltz at 9:23 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I can tell you that I have had friends that I grew apart from in my twenties-

Sometimes we just had different priorities, sometimes we were in messed up relationships. . . yet, we managed to stay in touch and over time, the gap closed again.

Although it's not like it used to be, looking back, I am able to understand my old friends in a way that I suppose you only gain insight into when you've known someone 20+ years. We live all over the place and manage to see one another every 1-2 years.

And yeah not all friends turn out to be 'keepers.'

Some people are more/less true to themselves, some people are more/less perceptive of others. These factors will effect how we understand someone's 'core.' People are complex and sometimes erratic.

Your post gives me the impression that this behavior was somewhat displeasing but not offensive, but then you find it so disturbing, I'm not really sure what this could be. This is hard to answer without more details, maybe your friend is going through some emotional troubles and this is effecting their behavior? You should gently probe your friend about this new side of themselves.

*also you don't mention this in your post, but if any of this is from secondary sources be sure to confirm that your info is in fact true
posted by abirdinthehand at 9:46 PM on January 14, 2012

Read about the illusion of asymmetric insight. You can never fully know anyone except yourself, and even that takes work.
posted by girih knot at 10:04 PM on January 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Just want to say that you've got a really precious sort of E. E. Cummings thing going on in the Tags box, fwiw. It's a funny place for such poignancy, but I'm with you there.
posted by cosmologinaut at 11:13 PM on January 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

This happened to me between the ages of 22 to around 27, there was one thing (set of things really) my best friend revealed to me about himself that just sent me reeling, I mean, totally pulled the rug out from underneath me, but we made it through that and we are better friends ten years later than the twelve that preceded those revelations. it happens, it blows your mind, but a good friend is hard to find. Hold on to them.
posted by roboton666 at 12:53 AM on January 15, 2012

No matter what your friend is doing, reacting this strongly (with disgust and negative judgment, it sounds like) and having your worldview shaken this deeply sounds like maybe you are not approaching friendships and relationships in the most healthy way. If people you know are doing things that you have always chosen not to do, it can be startling in a scary way: you have always avoided that behavior because you find it reprehensible or you fear the consequences would be harmful to you or others. But, the fact that you have known this person and not known about this horrible dark side, makes me think that maybe you need step back from your harsh judgment of them and examine how you can gain more confidence and strength about your own position in life, so that the behavior of others does not so thoroughly shake you. Maybe that means avoiding contact with this person for now or permanently, but try not to lay blame. The more able to take care of yourself (mentally, physically, etc.), the more you will be able to be interact with/be friends with people who make different choices than you, or people who are struggling with negative behaviors, without feeling that your own well-being is threatened or being sucked into making bad choices yourself. Maybe you give too much of yourself over to too many people and end up stressed about other people's bad decisions (or mixed up in their drama).

Or maybe you judge too harshly where there's no need to be so disturbed. I've found it freeing to grow older and realize that I can have meaningful relationships with people whose lives I don't really understand or do things that I consider unhealthy, without just discounting them as "messed up."

I'm not saying no one should pick and choose friends based on their behavior and opinions, it's important to regulate the effect "toxic" people have on your own life and regulate your contact with them. If you need to, say goodbye to them, but it's bad for your health to spend so much energy condemning others.
posted by dahliachewswell at 12:57 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Has your friend moved away or started their higher education process somewhere else? To follow on from Sticherbeast, it might be that they are being exposed to new ways of thinking and expressing themselves that you have not been familiar with if you've grown up together. Have they developed new friendships themselves that you find you're out of kilter with in some way?

" ... maybe my impression of them wasn't really who they were ..."

This is the thing with change and growth - your impression of your friend was who they were for that period of time and set of circumstances in which you were with them. Your interpretation of them wasn't wrong then, but you have to keep recalibrating as you go on because you'll find that lots of people and relationships will change as they mature.

My sense, and I'm probably wrong here so please do forgive me, was that there might have been some degree of additional emotion tied up in this friendship on your side? Not necessarily romantic but perhaps a higher degree of admiration than with some of your other friends? In which case, your friend changing in ways that are shocking to you will be that much harder for you to comprehend maybe, and it is understandable that you are feeling particularly disillusioned by this apparent change in someone you know.

We don't know enough about the circumstances to comment in more depth, but you've had wise counsel upstream and I think one way of dealing with it might be to try and empathise with your friend if they are starting to reveal things about themselves that are hard for you to understand - have you thought that maybe it's even harder for them to express these new behaviours or attitudes in some way? Perhaps they're starting to be true to their real feelings in some way. There's also a great opportunity here for you to learn something about how people work and grow - talk to your friend, ask them why they are feeling differently and be genuinely interested in their answers - they may surprise you.

NB - You've not indicated that these new behaviours are racist or sexist or homophobic so I am assuming the best of your friend here; if they are, then maybe your role in this changing relationship is to consistently continue to model better behaviours and ways of thinking that they might come back to one day.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 3:12 AM on January 15, 2012

Plenty of people change A LOT in their twenties, and many of them continue to keep changing throughout their lives.

In particular I've noticed people changing a lot when they
- settle down with a specific partner
- have kids
- start their career
- change their career
- become self-employed
- split up with a long term partner

Sometimes the life skills that people pick up in their twenties open up a lot of avenues that weren't open before; particularly if people start to get their social skills together. Sometimes people finally move out of the small bubble that was the town they grew up in or the college they went to, and all these myriad of different influences can have a pretty profound effect on people.

Sometimes when it seems that someone has changed, it's really YOU who has changed, and you just have some unconscious expectation that your friends from childhood will change along with you in the same ways at the same times.

I think it's possible for friendships to survive change, but only if you're open to the idea that the shape of that friendship will change as the people in it change. You're allowed to mourn the passing of the friendship that was, even at the same time as you welcome the challenges and opportunities of the friendship that will be.
posted by emilyw at 5:59 AM on January 15, 2012

Mod note: From the OP:
It is a general life question, I've had a lot of friends seem to change recently. In this situation, I have feelings for my friend, & that's why I'm feeling this way. They've been telling me about sexual things they're doing with other people, which are explicit. We've only been just friends, that's why I didn't mention it when I posted initially. I don't know how to deal with it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:28 PM on January 15, 2012

Ouch - that must be hurting you quite a lot, I would think; I'm sorry you are having to hear it. There's nothing wrong with politely telling your friend that you're really not comfortable hearing about their exploits - if they're a good friend to you, they should hopefully be sensitive enough to take the hint and tone it down a bit.

I'm assuming they don't know of your feelings for them - you say you've only ever been friends but if you've ever expressed how you feel to them, then they are being at the very least insensitive in talking about their activities in such detail. People can get carried away in the first flush of whatever new situation they find themselves in (relationship, new place / freedom of movement etc), so try not to take it too hard if they appear to have forgotten their manners a bit. However, if you do suspect they are telling you to be cruel or to tease you somehow, then you really don't have to stand that - you wouldn't take it from someone you didn't know that well and you should be able to expect a friend taking much better care of your feelings.

If you can, and I know it's difficult, try and reconnect the person you are shocked by with the person you thought you knew. As I said above, your original impression of your friend is still valid in very many ways. If you didn't know what was happening, if they hadn't told you, wouldn't they seem just the same to you? All the things that held you together as friends are still there and your understanding of them is a real one - it's just been deepened in a way that you find personally difficult. They are the same person - they haven't changed, only your knowledge of what they do has changed. This "new" side was always part of who they were - they just hadn't had an opportunity to express themselves or experience that aspect.

And this will go for a lot of people you know now or meet in the future - you don't get to see every aspect of a person straight off, and it isn't simply that they're hiding it from you or being disingenuous, but that maybe they don't know you well enough yet or don't think it's necessary you know something about them, or they're ashamed or nervous or aren't quite sure if you can be trusted - do you see how it will always take time to know people?

With regard to seeing the people around you change, that's a difficult thing, I know - sometimes we're so content with our situation that we can't bear the thought of anything happening to change it and when it inevitably does we feel bereft (for me, it was my first two years at college - first set of proper friends, first chance to be a grown-up, first romances etc - it was a golden time; people went away to uni and it was just never the same). If it helps, you will be changing too through having these experiences, even if you don't feel as if you are.

I'm sorry again that you've been hurt by this. There's LOTS of good advice on this site about how to move on and how to get over people, which I'm sure you will be aware of, but I will say what I generally tend to say - get outside, get some fresh air and get busy doing something physical if you can, or anything that takes lots of processing space and doesn't leave you too much time to brood (and yes, I'm a champion brooder, too).

Chin up - you'll be fine, you'll muddle through like we all do.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:54 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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