Facebook's Skewing My Sense of Real Friendship
June 9, 2012 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm a supportive, loyal, and giving friend. My friends do not treat me the same way.

With the advent of Facebook and other social media avenues, the ways in which people portray themselves to other people has obviously changed. One thing that I've noticed over the past few years (okay, maybe the last decade even) is that everybody else seems to have more supportive friends than I do. They have friends who throw them birthday parties unasked, cheer for them at performances and graduations unasked, and friends who actively seem to miss them in ways my friends never have. I am, in short, jealous as hell and feel very sad because I am that kind of friend to other people, but I don't seem to have anyone in my life that reciprocates.

What's the deal here? Are other people actually that supportive of each other or is this sort of a constructed reality that people can now design for themselves with a few tweaks to their profile page? I feel so lonely and unappreciated, and I'd like to change that by seeking out people who will be as much of a friend to me as I will be to them, but I don't know that this is something that is actually achievable.
posted by iLoveTheRain to Human Relations (45 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Two things here:
#1 realize that the way you define friendship is not the same as everyone else. From your description, you like a hands-on, very involved kind of friendship similar to an extended family unit, yes? There are certainly other people like that! I know many of them. It's not my particular brand of friendship, but there's nothing wrong with either way of functioning.

#2 Wondering if people are "faking" these kind of things is pointless. No, they probably aren't. Are you keyed to notice this stuff right now? Absolutely. It's like when I learn a new word and then see that word 5 times in the same day. It's on your mind so every example jumps to the forefront.

Move away from thinking of your friends as ungrateful, crappy friends. That's just destructive. I know it's hard to find new friends past a certain age, but if they're not fulfilling your needs... you'll probably have to. This doesn't require anything dramatic, just a lessening of your focus on your current friends as you seek new opportunities. I'm just baffled by your saying "I don't know that this is something that is actually achievable." re finding new friends. Of course it is... but you're stuck in a pretty negative or overwhelmed mindset here. Go to some meetups, volunteer (you're bound to find service minded people here), etc.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:19 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've noticed this, and have similar thoughts about the differences between the way I treat people, the way my friends treat me, and the way I want to be treated. I haven't solved the problem yet, but I think it involves getting some new friends.
posted by rhizome at 11:20 AM on June 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

Do not judge your life, other people's lives, or reality in general, by how they are presented on Facebook. Seriously. Its basic usefulness is for staying in touch with far-flung friends; everything else is set-dressing.

Also, I don't know quite what you mean when you say you want people who "cheer for you at performances unasked." Is it that you actually want your friends to show up at your performances (or whatever equivalent event) without asking them to? Or that you want a lot of people to comment on your FB status about these events?
posted by scody at 11:22 AM on June 9, 2012 [34 favorites]

"Don't compare your insides to other people's outsides" has become a self-help cliche, but that's because it is, in fact, extremely good advice.
posted by escabeche at 11:29 AM on June 9, 2012 [19 favorites]

Are other people actually that supportive of each other or is this sort of a constructed reality that people can now design for themselves with a few tweaks to their profile page?

Both. Some people really are fortunate in that they have strong and rewarding social and familial networks. Other people just make it look that way.
posted by 41swans at 11:31 AM on June 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you supportive and cheering of friends?

Do you call people on their birthdays? Do you throw birthday parties for people?

Facebook isn't reality, but I find that people that do such things get it done back to them.
posted by k8t at 11:33 AM on June 9, 2012

Response by poster: k8t, I am that type of friend. That's the entire premise of this question -- that I do all those things and none of my friends do it in return.

As to the question about cheering, I have multiple acquaintances who just have to mention that they're going to be performing at X or playing at Y game and they have at least 15 to 20 non family members who come out to support them. My own best friend regularly has parties thrown in her honor for birthdays or for when she's feeling sad, but no one has ever done that for me despite me mentioning that I would love for someone to celebrate my birthday like that with me.
posted by iLoveTheRain at 11:37 AM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm going to nth that Facebook isn't reality. People *do* adjust things to skew to whatever they want other people to think about them (and not always consciously, either).

But also it sounds like maybe you need different friends -- or maybe just to have a very frank talk with your friends. If you can't sit down with someone and say, "I need $thing from this relationship," and have them take you seriously, it sounds like it's not the kind of friend you want.
posted by shamash at 11:41 AM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I wonder if, with all your supportiveness and giving - do you actually give people the opportunity to support you? Are you vulnerable with your friends? Do you let them see both your pain and your joy?

People like to offer support and help when they think it's needed and that they will feel appreciated and special for doing so. It's wonderful to be the strong, stalwart friend, but if you are projecting an aura of being super-strong and dependable, people might not even realize that you need or want their support.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 11:44 AM on June 9, 2012 [7 favorites]

I do all those things and none of my friends do it in return.

I doubt there is a friend-group in the world where all the members throw each other birthday parties all the time, and everyone is just as supportive and responsive as each of the others.

In your group, you're the one who does that. Or are you? Do you throw birthday parties for every one of your friends? Are you sure there's not someone you're leaving out?

Some of this is probably confirmation bias. You aren't scientifically studying FB to determine the actual frequency of friends applauding at concerts, throwing impromptu birthday parties, and whatnot. Even if you were, FB is contaminated by self-reporting, wishful thinking, and omission. You are noticing your jealousy when you notice other people getting attention of the sort you would like.

I think the only workable advice here is to either change your expectations and be content with what you have, or I guess get some new friends. Good luck picking ones who will conform to your expectations.
posted by General Tonic at 11:51 AM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have multiple acquaintances who just have to mention that they're going to be performing at X or playing at Y game and they have at least 15 to 20 non family members who come out to support them.

Maybe your acquaintances are extroverts who have very large networks of equally extroverted friends. Or maybe those 15 people represent a core group of friends who have known each other since grade school and do everything together. Or any other explanations or circumstances that may apply to someone else's life, but may simply not apply to your life.

I'm trying to understand whether or not the support systems I see other people in possession of are real or fake, and with that, trying to find out if the kind of friendship I'm looking for is something that isn't reasonable or realistic to seek out.

Of course it's reasonable to seek out supportive friendships. No one is going to say that it's not. But, with all respect, I don't think trying to figure out "what's real and what's fake" on Facebook and then using that to ask "why don't I have what they have" is the healthiest or most productive way to pursue the question.

What I think you're essentially saying is that you feel there is an imbalance between the effort you see yourself putting out for others, and the effort you perceive being put out for you in return, is that more or less right?
posted by scody at 11:57 AM on June 9, 2012

Some people, I think, just naturally draw social, bubbly people as friends, and others don't. I have a friend who has a million facebook friends, and they all spend tons of time gushing about each other. This friend also throws parties often in real life, and millions of people always show up.

I tried having a party once or twice, and only a few people showed up and left early. One time I tried to get people to go to a meetup that I wanted to try, but they all said "nah, that's dumb." I just don't attract large groups of people, for whatever reason, and I've learned to stop trying to be so generous with my time and talent while getting nothing in return.

Luckily, I have a few close friends with whom I do things, nearly always one-on-one, and that's satisfying. I've had to learn over the years to come to terms with my social limitations; whatever invisible aura my party friend has, I don't, and there's nothing I can do about it.
posted by Melismata at 11:57 AM on June 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

Are you able to let your friends know, directly and bluntly, exactly what you need? Or are you thinking it won't be real if they don't do it without being asked?

In high school, eons before facebook was around, some kids would have their lockers decorated by their friends for their birthdays, and due to the public nature of it it often felt like it happened for everyone else. But in my circle of friends it only happened once in three years, to me. (Yes, I do feel like a dingus for not managing to create that feeling for someone else.) If we had sat down one day and agreed that everyone in our group should have their locker decorated, then it would have been more likely to happen, but there was definitely this belief that it needed to be an organic show and not planned.

In hindsight, I wish we'd had that conversation.
posted by Dynex at 11:59 AM on June 9, 2012

Best answer: If Facebook is getting you down this tidbit my husband told me may be helpful: "People use Facebook for their benefit, not yours."

the essence of class and fanciness has the right idea. I have a friend that frequently has parties in her honor. She also throws parties for her loved ones. She shows love very easily and never doubts that people love her. She invites people to her own parties. Her 40th is coming up and we are all going camping. She came up with the idea. You state that you would love for someone to throw you a party. Why not plan something and invite a few friends?
posted by Fairchild at 12:01 PM on June 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

Or maybe that network is just into mutual ass-kissing and glory-seeking. If you wanted that you'd be doing that already. The attention getting is their drug and they sure to make it look attractive. But if you wanted it then you'd already be engaging in all the shallow nonsense it requires. Perhaps it's your subconscious understanding of that shallowness that has kept you from getting sucked into it. Consider yourself lucky.

Now, go stop wasting time with Facebook. Clearly it's doing you no good.
posted by wkearney99 at 12:08 PM on June 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Can you delete your Facebook account or just stay away from it for a while? I'd suggest that, since Facebook appears to be feeding your perception that your life isn't good as others'. Facebook, like the real world, is full of unreliable narrators. Many of those seemingly very popular people may be footing the bill for the booze/food/what have you to keep those people coming back: what appears wonderful may in fact be parasitical, abusive, or just a bunch of people who can't be alone for one second. Or maybe it really is as wonderful as the pictures of shiny happy people indicate. You don't know that, because you're not present to witness what really goes on.

You might want to try just hanging around with acquaintances for a while - people who enjoy the same things you do - and forgetting about the Close Supportive Relationships. You cannot, CANNOT force those into being. Treat yourself the way you would like to be treated on your birthday and special occasions. Most of all, learn to enjoy your own company. People may or may not come into your life who will be more supportive in the ways you want; till then, learn how to be supportive to yourself. And you are definitely not alone.

Try doing some reading in Buddhism: sounds like some old concepts of yours need to get kicked to the curb. And whenever you hear a movie trailer with a line like "This is how I'm SUPPOSED to feel!", yell "BULLSHIT!" or "WHO SAYS??" Works for me - at least I get a laugh out of it.
posted by Currer Belfry at 12:09 PM on June 9, 2012

Indeed. I think many people feel the way that you do, if you ask them. Two things stuck out from what you wrote:

I am that kind of friend to other people, but I don't seem to have anyone in my life that reciprocates... I feel so lonely and unappreciated,.

Three maxims come to mind from what has been said there:
1) How someone treats other people is how they treat themselves.
2) If you want to know a person, look at their friends.
3) We teach people how we expect to be loved.

If we chain all of that together, we learn how to treat other people by changing how we treat ourselves.

There was a gentleman in my social circle that was a good friend, however, he could be quite disruptive. He went above and beyond in terms of personal courtesies (gifts, etc.), however, he was not kind. He operated in a very input – outcome driven world. For whatever reason, he saw how people with great friends treated each other, and mimicked their behaviours. Yet, the key that he missed was there was a root of kindness behind all of those actions. Thus, he spent great lengths of time and money trying very hard to generate the kind of affection he desired, yet, deep inside, he was not at peace and did not treat people consistently and in a peaceful manner.

In reading the book Hostage at the Table, there is a interesting theory of attachment styles:
4. Compulsive caretaker style Caretakers are the people who create bonds primarily through taking care of others. Their energy and focus is on helping other even to the point of self-destruction or harmfulness to others. This style goes beyond healthy helping to the compulsive need to rescue someone who can and should be responsible for themselves. The identity of the caretakers rests in helping, and, as a result, they often do not take care of their own needs. Therefore, they tend to burn out because the imbalance in giving and taking. Compulsive caretakers can also become bitter and resentful when they feel they are not "appreciated" enough by the people they have looked after.

They can easily feel like a hostage. They can also manipulate others into too much dependency and take others as a hostage using words like "After all I have done for you." In organisations, the compulsive caregivers can impede the flow of moment of ideas and the development of people. In dealing with this style, directness with boundaries will be the most effective, along with the use of consequences for helping too much.
I believe the aforementioned friend was a compulsive caretaker. It's basically a violation of exchange theory, where you do something for someone else and then score keep how they treat you back. An example with the aforementioned friend was loaning people money. He would loan anyone money, but then become angry with them about it.

And I am not saying you are any of these things in any way. To say that would just be cray cray of me. Rather, the implication is that if you are not generating the styles of friendships that you are looking for, perhaps look at what is driving the motivations behind your actions.

To act from a place of genuine friendship, you first must be a genuine friend to yourself. If you look at the people around you, and they do not reflect your values, then either 1) you are miscalculating your interactions with them, or 2) they are the wrong people for you. In either case, changes to your behaviour is the only thing that will produce the results that you seek.

Thus, how can you change your behaviour and attitude to produce the outcome you want? If that is internal – that you find your behaviour is the problem – perhaps being more open and honest with people is a good first step. "Hey, why don't you do xxx for me?" and take the results on-board.

If you find that the changes to be made are external – that you are whole in your values and are surrounded by the wrong people – perhaps you need to make peace with letting people go. It is very easy to feel out of alignment with ourselves when we have the inability to let people go. People come and people go, and if we cannot let them go, sometimes we end up situations similar to what you describe, where you feel you are treating them well yet receiving poor treatment in return.

It's similar to a job role, it doesn't matter how hard you work, if your output is not what the customer will pay for. In relationships, it does not matter how much you put in, if it's not what the other party is looking for.

I imagine you are closer to the answer than you think you are. You are certainly asking the right questions. Perhaps the next step will be to start asking them offline.

Cheers and good luck.
posted by nickrussell at 12:10 PM on June 9, 2012 [25 favorites]

People are just different. Some like to host parties and throw parties for their friends, some don't. To an extent this is a function of how close you are, and to an extent this is a question of how they interact with the world. Introversion or extroversion seems to play a role, as does ask vs. guess culture.

Don't give up on getting what you want! Ask your friends for what you want. If that's not who they are, you may have to accept them as they are, but in addition, look for new friends. There are people like that out there (you're proof!), but they may be tough to find because in my experience it's not that common.

You also seem to be conflating support with throwing birthday parties, and I think that's a mistake. Are your friends available to talk when you need them? Do they spend time with you when you need them? That's support!
posted by J. Wilson at 12:12 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Previously and previously-er.

Facebook makes it easy for people to idealize their lives, and you're going along with this by accepting the idealized presentations of people's lives. You seem to notice the most outstanding things that happen to people, and you consider this to be the norm, the baseline, which makes it seem like your life is falling short. (See "availability heuristic.") While 1 of your friends is having one of these experiences, you have 100 other friends who are having average days — and even that one person might have a miserable day the next day for some unrelated reason. They will probably only post on Facebook about the great day; they won't post about the bad day, because on that bad day, they might have been wishing things were going as well for them as they were for someone like you that day.

I recommend reading the book Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, which argues that everyone is really bad at predicting how happy/unhappy they'd be in future situations. Gilbert points out that when people are asked to imagine how they'd feel if certain things happened, they imagine everything would be fantastic or everything would be terrible. That's not how things usually work. You imagine your life being wonderful if you were regularly showered with surprise parties — but that might become an annoyance. Personally, I feel uncomfortable at my own birthday parties, where people feel obligated to pay more attention to me than they ordinarily would. You feel like it would be fantastic to get to host an event where lots of your friends came to it — but the person who's actually running that event might consider it a huge chore. It's not always fun to need to ask lots of friends for the same favor. A certain percentage will always fall through, which can lead to resentment, disappointment, anxiety. (How often do you see people posting about that on Facebook?) When they do come through, it can be overwhelming to make sure you're spending enough time with all 20 or 100 people who came to your event. In short, not only are you overly focused on other people's successes (ignoring the failures), but even those successes will bring those people a mix of highs and lows, which to some extent cancel each other out.

I agree with General Tonic about how the ideal in which a wonderful group of friends is constantly throwing parties for each other — and not just birthday parties but "hey I noticed you've been down in the dumps so here's a party to make it all better" parties — is a fantasy, not reality. If that's your view of a baseline that needs to be met just so you can feel like your life is up to par, I'm sorry, but then you're always going to be disappointed. Anyone would be. At best, maybe that ideal can inspire you to occasionally throw a party for someone else. Otherwise, you might as well put the fantasy aside.
posted by John Cohen at 12:15 PM on June 9, 2012

1. Facebook is a genius platform that allows people to try to explain how glorious their lives are. Say 'fuck you' to facebook and get on the right side of history.

2. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." What does that mean? Be a good person to other good people. You can't change the fact that you have asshole friends right now (assuming that is the case). Meet other people. Give to other giving people. These are the things you can change. It takes time. That is the thing to accept.
posted by angrycat at 12:16 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think that it is unnatural to want a certain amount of reciprocity in friendships, but on the other hands most relationships, even close partnerships such as marriages, are rarely 50/50 all the time, although ideally things generally balance out over the long term. It sounds like that hasn't happened with your current set of friends, so I'd agree with others that you should try to find other friends who are closer to your mindset.

However, I would caution you not to become overly hung up on everything being quid pro quo. I have a friend who is very much like this. She has out right stated that she expects a phone call for every phone call received, etc. It's like she's keeping score. Yet I think that in her head, her personal myth is that she is an incredibly generous person. To me, true generosity is giving something without expecting anything in return. I say this understanding that constantly being the one doing all the giving, but I find score keeping equally tiresome and try to cut myself off at the pass when I find myself doing this remembering how unattractive I found it in my now former friend. You may not be anything like my friend, but I thought that I'd share this in case it resonated.

Ultimately if you do something for a friend, try to do it without any expectations. And conversely, note that sometimes not doing anything or not giving a gift if you know that the person is not going to be able to reciprocate due to life or financial constraints is the most generous thing that you can do (I bought a couple of friends Christmas gifts without expectations, because I really don't have many people for whom to buy gifts and it put me in the Christmas spirit, but they were both going through some financial hardships, and immediately after I gave them felt uncomfortable --not because they didn't have anything for me -- but because now they both felt that they had to run out and get me something, which they did. I realized that it would have been more generous to forgo my need to wrap presents and just meet them for drinks).
posted by kaybdc at 12:29 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Many of the most vocal "friends" I have on Facebook are people who I barely know in real life, and many are people I'd actually avoid if possible.

The one time someone tried to organize a big surprise for me on Facebook, it was entirely unwelcome -- the wrong thing from the wrong person at the wrong time.

Anyhow, don't judge what you're getting based on what it seems like other people have.
posted by hermitosis at 12:38 PM on June 9, 2012

I think it's a little unfair to tell OP to lower their standards or just be blunt and tell their friends what they want. Part of good friendships is not having to laundry-list your life with them, much less delineate all the ways in which you don't think they're the best friends a person could have. Plus, for something like, say, a surprise party? You can't ask for that shit, you just need the kinds of friends who would do it. I'm heartened that OP is using sort-of electrical terms to describe the problem, because this is definitely an impedance mismatch in social terms. I don't think OP is quid-pro-quo'ing here, it's just nice to "get flowers."
posted by rhizome at 12:47 PM on June 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

I have a kind of inherited set of friends that are the leftovers from a very big group that I spent my 20s with. People moved around and I ended up in a city with these people and started hanging out with them a lot a few years ago by default. It's a big diverse group and naturally I spend more time with the people closest to me in age and gender. Due to some stuff that's happened over the past 6 months I've realized that I basically don't like the 3 or 4 women I was supposedly closer too. I have nothing in common with them, share few values, am irritated in their company and find them childish and demanding. I DO like the larger group of people and I'm generally pretty easy going and I'm super busy and don't spend tons of time with any one friends so it took a while for their combined annonyingness to reach critical mass. But since I've admitted to myself that I simply don't get anything from these women and given myself permission to not spend my precious free time with them I'm happier for sure. And I'm spending my time with people I do like better.
posted by fshgrl at 12:53 PM on June 9, 2012

Jesus, come on, guys. The OP has the right to feel slighted by her friends, or like they don't return the goodwill she shows toward them. If Facebook weren't involved I'm sure this question would proceed differently.

In my experience with Facebook, people I know with really lovey-dovey friends DO use it to showcase the nice things they do for each other-- like "here is my surprise birthday party album! Yay! Best friends!" and "here is a cupcake my sister brought me at work!" &c. I don't know a lot of people who fake this kind of thing, tbh. It's a way of showing appreciation by letting everyone else know how thoughtful your friends are.

On the one hand this is tricky for me, because I can be that friend, and sometimes I can be the one who has that friend. For a couple years I made really intricate birthday gifts for my best friend, complete with illustrated envelopes and gifts for his newborn baby and the whole shebang. He never reciprocated with gifts, but he told me how perfect he thought the gift was and so I felt appreciated and loved. But also, he had gotten me birthday gifts in years past that were really thoughtful in his nerdy, non-crafty way, so there was some kind of balance there.

My sister is a really crafty person who likes to make a big deal out of things, like planning an entire secret bridal shower for our other sister when she announced a wedding a month away, and so on. I don't even approach her level of mindfulness about birthdays and special events, but I've told her many times how much I appreciate her. Last year she was on a service trip with her college where the organizers asked the family of the volunteers to write letters about them to be read out loud, and together me and my sisters wrote a really appreciative letter about how she was so thoughtful and always made special memories for everyone.

Ok, so I'm blabbing, but I think it's definitely important to have friends who return the love that you give them, even if it's not in the same way you do-- but they should do it. I have a lot of friends who just take take take (never show vulnerability, want to hang out but expect me to make most of the conversation, don't buy birthday gifts or check in during special times, don't throw parties, don't arrange group hang outs, and on and on). I still like these people and consider them my friends, but we don't hang out that much because I get tired of giving, and conscious that if I'm always the one putting myself out there I'm eventually going to look like an ass one way or another.

In other words, you can't ASK people to show thoughtfulness toward you, but you can save your own energy for people who will reciprocate. Don't get too hung up-- I'm shy but I've had so many different friend groups over the years, and they've been vastly different in how we related to each other. (From indifference, to nerdy and reserved but thoughtful gift giving, to unabashed expressions of love and affection, to "family" dinners once a week, to throwing wild parties, to always bringing back small gifts whenever we left the neighborhood... and on and on).

One thing you can do is maybe propose doing more fun activities as a group. Like, if you do start throwing big dinners together where everybody cooks or brings something, maybe they'll get more comfortable with the idea of doing things for one another? I think the above advice to see how vulnerable you allow yourself to be is golden, since I've always been a little reserved and unexpressive, and when I've gotten past that I've ended up with the friendships that involved shameless love and checking in and all that great stuff.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:14 PM on June 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

1. You really can't judge either your life or other ppl's lives by what is posted on FB. Seriously. I mean, there are studies about how FB depresses ppl for this very reason. There are many ppl who actively post things in an effort to appear as tho their lives are more perfect than they really are.

2. If your friends aren't giving you what you need, then you either need to talk to them about it or find friends who will. I highly doubt that the ppl you say who have friends show up at their performances do so without having been asked—or at least being informed of their performances. Isn't it better to just say "Hey, I'm performing in X thing—I'd love it if you guys came," then to not say anything and hope someone shows up and be disappointed and resentful if they don't?

3. You aren't that wonderful a friend if you are doing things for others in expectation that they'll return the favor. If you really are the friend you think you are, you'd be doing those things without expectation of quid pro quo. If you think there's an imbalance, then it's perfectly fine to scale back on the things you do for your friends that you aren't getting back in return. Also, you seem to think that showy displays such as throwing impromptu birthday parties equals support, love, and generosity. Other ppl might interpret those qualities by being there for their friends emotionally or during times of need or hardships. I have a close circle of friends who I consider very supportive but not one of us, in the years we've known each other, has ever thrown a surprise party for any other one of us. (I actually have my 40th birthday coming up and my friends want to do a weekend away for it—and things have been mentioned but it's obviously not going to be a surprise. I have been asked and I have made some requests. So again, if you want something that you aren't getting, you need to ask.) We have, however, supported each other through hard times emotionally and financially, even if it's just an offering of $50 to watch a pet for a wknd when one of us was unemployed—something we'd do for each other free of charge anyway. I've never received flowers from any of these girls either, but I have received them from less close friends—and yet I don't consider my group of friends any less supportive. So maybe think about how your friends are expressing their support in less overt ways...and if they are still falling short, again, maybe you need to consider how to get from them what you need or find ppl who will provide you with that.
posted by violetk at 1:15 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and also, very true-- keeping tally of good deeds one way or another would be awful. But there should be a certain level of trust between you and your friends for this kind of friendship to flourish. It's usually obvious when a friend is truly appreciative and when a friend is like "oh hey yeah my exams are going ok tons of work though me me me okay bye" and you don't hear from them until next time you send a text about them.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:16 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I check it maybe once every other week, but from what I can see Facebook isn't a lie -- the people I know who are most feted on Facebook are the people who were most popular long before Facebook existed.

Which leads me to a point. One of the things in life that you have to know, and deal with, is how popular you are. Popularity is as close to immutable as anything about our lives -- being based on physical appearance and social skills that are innate or learned very young. The benefits derived from popularity cannot be acquired by reciprocation: throwing parties for popular people doesn't make people (popular or not) want to throw parties for you.

You need to think of popularity as a tool. It's a valuable one but far from essential -- tons of unpopular people are exceptionally successful, and many popular people achieve nothing, sometimes despite their popularity and sometimes because of it -- as they let the tendency of people to like them substitute for objective assessment of their achievements, until it's too late.
posted by MattD at 1:59 PM on June 9, 2012 [16 favorites]

I've been where you are.

It took me awhile to make new friends.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:30 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I totally agree with MattD, as per: "One of the things in life that you have to know, and deal with, is how popular you are. Popularity is as close to immutable as anything about our lives -- being based on physical appearance and social skills that are innate or learned very young. The benefits derived from popularity cannot be acquired by reciprocation: throwing parties for popular people doesn't make people (popular or not) want to throw parties for you. "

Took me many decades to realize this, and I'm still working on it.

Because it's not "fair." Like so many other things.

Sometimes I compare this to tropisms in plants: plants automatically grow toward the sun, and their roots, toward water. So much of human behavior is like that - more instinctual than learned outright or mutable.

Some people have inviting expressions on their faces, and not because they're happy inside, but just because they're made that way. Or they are "happy" in some baseline sense, but it's because they just happen to have that nice mix of neurotransmitters going on. And they don't even realize it - it's ground, not figure. (and the opposite "non-happiness", too)

I do think something might be gained by your discussing this with a friend or two who are trustworthy and won't think you're blaming them or nagging. Maybe they would have some insight into what's happening with you and your friends. You *might* seem to be, on the outside, a person who would not want that reaching-out, even though you say otherwise.

But I'm not necessarily in agreement with the posters who are saying you need new friends. Unless you come to some conclusion that, for some reason, you hang out with people who aren't kind to you, and you want to start over behaving differently, I have the feeling that things with the new friends will be similar to things with the old friends.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:40 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am not a birthday party kind of gal. Now I'm in a group that throws them. It is just highly dependent on your group's culture. I'd suggest if you are the only one throwing parties, you have a culture clash with your friends. Either let them know, or let it go.
posted by Zen_warrior at 3:10 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do these things for some of my friends, but not all of them. The distinction tends to be that I do it for the people I feel closest to (or want to be closest to), and not for the people who I consider friends but not "inner circle".

I struggle with the other side of what you describe with one friend who I greatly value, but who is not in my inner circle, and never will be. From my perspective, this is about us just not "clicking" that way for me, which is hard to enumerate, but real.

It sounds to me like you're right that it's worth you branching out to meet new people, with the possibility that you will find friendships that are more satisfying. What you want is real and achievable. I definitely think it's worth NOT putting that kind of energy into relationships that don't give it back -- for me, that would be a recipe for resentment and sadness.

Good luck!
posted by rosa at 3:27 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

A suggestion-- or rather, I don't have to make the suggestion, but your feelings are making it clear that you need to make more friends.

Life's too short to be spending time unhappy on the facebook wondering "do they have more friends than I do?" "do their friends love them more than I do?"

The validity of those feelings is impossible to doubt, and it won't go away by focusing on the flaws of facebook in representing people.

I don't think popularity is immutable, by the way-- though more of it has to do with the general meeting of minds between people than looks. Popularity has to do with expressing the ideas that everyone likes or admires, and in a nice package, which makes people feel good about themselves in return. This does not have to be a skill you have to get birthday parties.

You just need a couple of friends. Or one, who will make it happen. Yes, one who is super into giving parties and get things like that started. Or a couple who hate parties but are still good friends the other 364 days of the year.

True friends are hard to find. People who have 1000 facebook friends have this problem too.
posted by kettleoffish at 3:40 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a similar feeling in high school - I was socially awkward and just knew that everyone else was going over to each other's houses, going on super cool dates, and doing all kinds of nice stuff to each other and I was being left out. As I started to progress through high school I began to notice that

a) I did have friends and I went places and did things and got invited to things too. It was just some kind of "grass is always greener" mojo happening.
b) having friends and doing things with them, while a Good Thing, did not magically solve all the problems in my life.
c) My real friends, all through my life, I've been able to fit around my dinner table (or my parents dinner table, as the case may be). The people I'd help move a body, and who would do the same for me. The people I can just call or otherwise contact without a reason, just to talk. There just aren't that many of them. As you gain popularity, money, power, influence, or whatever, I think your acquaintances (and FB friends) go up exponentially, but your real friends stay at - a number you could fit around a dinner table.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:05 PM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

My measure of the quality and depth of a caring and loving friendship follows along these lines: how much we like and respect each other, how much we enjoy each others company; how much do we understand and accept one another, how much does this person energize or deplete me; what is the work or pain vs. ease/happy ratio? When there is pain and work, do we deal with it in a way that lessens or worsens it?

I know myself well enough that I'm clear about what this all means to me, how it feels and how it plays out...at least clear enough to get what I need or adjust when I'm not getting it.

For me it all has to start with like and respect. Everything else flows from that or nothing does.

The qualities of like, respect, enjoy, understand and accept are the core characteristics of my friendships that feel inherently caring and loving. Facebook, parties, event turn-outs are peripherals. Even qualities like supportive and reciprocal aren't so foundational to me, though I can usually trace problems with anger and resentment about them to deeper problems in my friendship core.

I'm fuzzy on how you define friendship, what it means to you or how it feels to you. So my question has to start here. Do you like, respect and enjoy your friends? Do they like, respect and enjoy you? Do you feel energized or depleted by their company, do you have a sense of how they feel about yours?

I don't know how to address your post beyond this because I don't have a clear view of what the problem is. It is clear that you're not getting what you want, but it is not clear what you do want - how you define and describe it, how it feels, how it plays out and what your theories are about why this is happening. My sense is that having parties thrown for you and facebook aren't really the point, that they're signifiers for affection and esteem but aren't the same as feeling loved and cared for.

My best suggestion would be to start with feeling both loved and unloved and move slowly up from there.
posted by space_cookie at 5:49 PM on June 9, 2012

My experience with fb is playing games where people are constantly complaning that *they* return gifts, but their friends don't. My other experience with fb is that when you want someone to return your gifts nobody is on, and when they do return gifts it's that stupid thing that you only needed twelve of, but now you've got 34 of them...

I am guessing that maybe a similar thing is happening to you, that the friendship exchanges you have with people are missing fire, but maybe not by very much. However a near hit is useless to you emotionally and may even be worse than being ignored.

Rl gifts and parties and attention are, of course, very different than the fb gaming relationships. However, possibly a similiar solution would work.

1. Take note of who is giving all those gifts to other people that you want.
2. Make friends with them.
3. Ask if you can participate in any emotional tribute they are organzing in order to study their expectations for organizing these things, but don't take over. For example if your new friend Melanie is throwing a surprise birthday party for your new acquaintance Josh, ask what Melanie is doing, say calling friends and making a birthday cake.
4. Contribute something different from Melanie, such as a big bunch of balloons or a mix of Josh's posted music favs.
5. Look for a suitable time to throw a surprise party for Melanie, and call all her friends and make her a birthday cake.
6. Take note of what the gifty-giving type people are not doing. For example is complaining absent in this group? If so complaining may be found depressing and result in them avoiding you rather than being supportive.
7. Figure out ways of giving stuff, parties etc. that are more of a gift to yourself then to the person you are giving the stuff to, so you won't resent it if it's not being reciprocated. If you hate baking cakes, don't do the baking. But if you like playing paint ball, organize a couple of paint ball friends to kidnap them at paintball gun point for that surprise party in the woods. They may go along with being kidnapped half heartedly out of being a good sport, but you still get to have a paintball game. With luck however, they will get to enjoy being the flag in a game of capture the flag involving much crashing through brush. If you do like baking make cupcakes and keep 24 for yourself and use only 12 as a centrepiece for their party. The best way to give gifts is to include them in the fun you are already having.
8. If you are not having fun when people show up to your party or show affection to you, analyze what is falling flat in yourself. Do you need more verbal expressions of affection? More uproar? More physical contact like group hugs? More mental stimulation, like intimate discussion? Eye contact? Less uproar? If you can easily put your finger on something like that, then you probably could try hunting for more friends who are more into the thing you like. To find them ask around. Who do you know that always ends up giving someone a massage at parties? Who do you know who is totally silly and makes up nonsense songs about their friends?
9. Be aware that people including yourself always mis-estimate fairness. Basically what feels like a fair split to most people is 120:80 with you getting the 120 treats to break even and only doing 80 of the scutwork. If you already have a pattern of feeling underappreciated in other areas of your life (parents, boss, spouse etc.) the chances are the problem is more internal than situational.
10. Also take note of who your Melanie's are throwing parties for. It may be that Melanie is only throwing parties for Josh because Josh is her brother and unless you are a full blood sibling she won't throw a party for you. There are almost certainly things like this going on. Again, ask Melanie but very definitely without bringing yourself or your feelings into it, since if the situation is "only for siblings" you don't want to tell her you want a party, as it will lead to an uncomfortable situation for both you you, and less chance of you being invited to her parties, let alone treated to one of your own.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:11 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

But I'm not necessarily in agreement with the posters who are saying you need new friends.

Hm. I'm going to approach this in a much more utilitarian manner-- the OP basically has a different vision for the kind of social milieu she wants for herself. And I think for women, there is an "archetypal" friendship that many of them see for themselves where they are surrounded by, as Melismata put it, social, bubbly friends who throw parties for each other and gush over each other on facebook and plan surprise parties for each other. This isn't my social milieu (and men tend to have different expectations of friendship styles), but it is what some people have and want.

There aren't a lot of easy answers here because you really have to cultivate those extroverted, bubbly friends early on so that you guys identify as being "close." It certainly can happen, though, and I've seen people become very close friends in a relatively short period of time (as in, a matter of months rather than years). My advice would be to be more choosy about whom you become friends with-- make social overtures specifically to people you perceive as having the same social attitude that you do towards "doing stuff" for friends rather than expecting that if you do stuff for friends, than they will do it for you. Instead start with the premise that you're going to make friends with the sort of people who throw parties and go to each other's events, and work from there.
posted by deanc at 6:19 PM on June 9, 2012

Looking at Facebook, you'd think everyone was having the time of their lives.
posted by whalebreath at 6:42 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

"They have friends who throw them birthday parties unasked, cheer for them at performances and graduations unasked, and friends who actively seem to miss them in ways my friends never have. I am, in short, jealous as hell and feel very sad because I am that kind of friend to other people, but I don't seem to have anyone in my life that reciprocates."

I know what you're feeling, and I don't think it's an uncommon thing to feel. I've felt this way at different times in my life. I've talked before about my current awesome, tight-knit group of friends, and a while ago I was feeling sort-of blue that nobody threw me a party for X event. And then it dawned on me ... they probably didn't throw me a party because I seriously throw all the parties. Last week one of my friends called me a party-throwing ninja because I surprise-imported someone's mom from 9 hours away for a baby shower (I found her mom's e-mail address by looking back through my inbox until I found a picture that my friend had e-mailed to a bunch of people at once, including me and her mom, and then I just e-mailed her mom). I'm in the midst of planning a baby shower for a friend and a blowout summer cocktail party. I threw another shower 8 weeks ago, and a surprise graduation party before that. Every now and then another of my friends will suggest a party for someone, and my friends are usually happy to help me throw the party (I've farmed out the food for the shower, for example). But 80% of the time I'm throwing the party. And at this point they're all so used to me doing it that everyone waits for me to suggest it!

It finally dawned on me that I really like throwing parties. I'm good at it and I think it's fun. One of my good friends in this group, "Sarah," has not, for the 7ish years we've been close, EVER thrown a party. Not even a little one. I threw her an awesome surprise party for a life event; I can't even IMAGINE her throwing a party, for anything. But when I was pregnant and I was grousing that it had been approximately 9 million years since I last had had a wedge salad because I couldn't have blue cheese while pregnant, she went out and found pasteurized blue cheese, made the dressing from scratch, and dropped by my house on a random afternoon with all the (pregnancy-safe!) ingredients for a wedge salad, including real bacon, just so I could have a wedge salad. It's seriously one of the most thoughtful things anyone's ever done for me.

So the question is, are your friends showing their love of you in different, wedge-salad-making ways? (Personally, I will drive you to the airport at 4 a.m., no problem, or come run mind-bogglingly dull errands with you to keep you company, but the chances you'll get me to a concert or a movie are slim to none, even if you are the star of it.) Or are your friends taking, taking, taking and never giving back? If it's the former, you just need to realize that everyone has their own way of doing things, and it's okay to feel a bit disappointed that nobody's throwing you a surprise party, but you still have to get over it. If it's the latter, and your friends never reciprocate in any way (and I've been there, man), you may need to find a more compatible friend group, or evaluate if you're trying to force a closeness that isn't there through "good deeds" that will make them feel obligated to you.

It really is the worst, though, when you feel like you're pumping tons of goodwill into your relationships and getting little back. Although I wouldn't use facebook to judge that, people are very "performative" on facebook and post what they want others to see. But if in your life you're giving a lot to your friends and they're not reciprocating, feeling shitty is a natural response.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:57 PM on June 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

To build upon what rosa said:

I struggle with the other side of what you describe with one friend who I greatly value, but who is not in my inner circle, and never will be. From my perspective, this is about us just not "clicking" that way for me, which is hard to enumerate, but real.

I've been on the other side of what you describe, too. I had a very thoughtful, sweet, considerate friend for many years, but there was a big an imbalance in the relationship. This doesn't make me sound good, but, to quote the book: I just wasn't that into her. And so, I neglected to reciprocate her affections to the level she wanted.

I don't know if that dynamic may be at play in your friendships, but if it is, I hope you'll be able to know that it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you, or that you're unlovable, or not worth being celebrated. It may just mean you've ended up with friends who aren't like-minded.

The good news is, heck yes, you can find the kind of friendships you have in mind. Your tribe of kindred spirits is out there. I didn't find "my people" until my early 40s, so age needn't be a factor. The internet is your friend -- special-interest meetups are a good way to see people repeatedly, and see how they interact, and cherry-pick people who are your friend-type. You'll find your tribe.
posted by quivering_fantods at 7:07 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sometimes, when you have been the "cruise director" in your circle of friends for a long time, it takes the pressure off of others in the group to step up into that role. You may have, in an earlier time of your life, found it rewarding to be the coordinator (you always get to see the movies you want to see! everything happens at the time and place most convenient for you!), and you wound up with friends who liked that dynamic. Now that you're realizing you want a different dynamic, you may either need different friends, or you may need to work really hard to ask your friends to shift this with you, or you might accept that these people who you love for other reasons just aren't ever going to step up in this way and that you'll deal with that. I've gone through some of this myself, and watched other friends go through this, and it can be hard. But it's not that there's something wrong with you and your friends, or that everyone else's lives are shinier and prettier than yours.
posted by judith at 8:47 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreeing that this isn't a "Facebook is stupid" question. I noticed this with my group of friends even when Facebook wasn't in the picture. Facebook just makes the problem more evident and telling someone to "just avoid Facebook" doesn't get to the root of the problem.

iLovetheRain - Move the friends who aren't giving you what you need from the "friends" pile to the "friendly acquaintance" pile. Stop expecting more from them than you would from some random person on the street - cause you're not gonna get it, and likewise stop doing more from them than you would for some random person on the street. I know it'll be tough, but the resentment that builds up over time damages the friendship even more.

Some people will get the hint and recognize that the relationship is damaged. Some others won't and they'll drift away.

But yeah, there ARE people who will go out of their way to support others - if that's what you want stop wasting (as much of) your time with the non-supportive friends.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 9:47 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Focus less on Facebook and more on real life.

While FB may have its benefits, it brings a lot of negativity as well, just like TV and too much mindless internet surfing etc.
posted by xm at 10:17 PM on June 9, 2012

as a quick follow-up to the Facebook aspect:

The Anti-Social Network – By helping other people look happy, Facebook is making us sad.
By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people's lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles' heel of human nature. And women—an especially unhappy bunch of late—may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses.

Facebook is, after all, characterized by the very public curation of one's assets in the form of friends, photos, biographical data, accomplishments, pithy observations, even the books we say we like. Look, we have baked beautiful cookies. We are playing with a new puppy. We are smiling in pictures (or, if we are moody, we are artfully moody.) Blandness will not do, and with some exceptions, sad stuff doesn't make the cut, either. The site's very design—the presence of a "Like" button, without a corresponding "Hate" button—reinforces a kind of upbeat spin doctoring.

Any parent who has posted photos and videos of her child on Facebook is keenly aware of the resulting disconnect from reality, the way chronicling parenthood this way creates a story line of delightfully misspoken words, adorably worn hats, dancing, blown kisses. Tearful falls and tantrums are rarely recorded, nor are the stretches of pure, mind-blowing tedium. We protect ourselves, and our kids, this way; happiness is impersonal in a way that pain is not. But in the process, we wind up contributing to the illusion that kids are all joy, no effort.

posted by nickrussell at 1:59 AM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your insight. I wanted to put it out there that I am not the type of person who does something for somebody and expects something equal in return. That's not the point of friendship. The point I am trying to make is that here and there, I'd like to be treated the way I treat others, and right now I'm not being treated that way at all.

So, I put a few (non-petulant) feelers out to some of my friends re: some of the concerns I voiced here, and this comment was most in line with what my friends said. To these friends, I am the person that has everything together and appears infallible, and as such, even when I do show my vulnerable side, they assume that whatever problems I'm having at that time will be problems I quickly overcome. I don't need a party to get through a month or three; some of my other friends actually do.

I am going to dwell less on what I see on Facebook and just be glad that I have friends who love me however they can. I am going to branch out and seek out new friendships, however, not because I am a favor-counter, but because it can't hurt to meet new people and develop a stronger network of friends anyway.
posted by iLoveTheRain at 3:31 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

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