time, distance, jobs, a baby, or me: what's the problem?
November 3, 2012 3:03 PM   Subscribe

I feel abandoned by some friends. How should I address this?

A little more than a year ago, I moved with my husband from the city where we attended graduate school to a college town in a different state, where he had gotten a job as a professor. At the time, I was still finishing my degree, and was pregnant.
Before we moved, we were good friends with "Chad" and "Trish", two grad students (boyfriend and girlfriend) in my department. We did couple things together, helped each other move apartments, watched our respective cats while on trips, and just hung out. "Chad" and I were particularly close friends, and we shared a lot of ideas and professional activities relating to our field of study. When things were tough with school or personal problems, I often went to Chad and Trish to talk things over, and they came to me to do the same. Overall, I felt they were good friends who would keep on being my friends, even after graduate school ended.

However, after we moved away, I have felt pretty much forgotten by both Chad and Trish. We had a few phone calls just to talk for a couple months after the move; and after the baby came, I still called them once in a while (maybe once a month). But they didn't answer and didn't call me back. In the spring, Trish was busy finishing her degree. I sent her a facebook message saying "how are you? call me whenever you get a chance." She replied that she would call me later in the week, but never did.

I called once in a while, but less and less, throughout the spring and summer. This summer Chad and Trish moved together to a different college town, where she has a job while he finishes his degree. Since then, I gotten one email from Chad, which was just a link to a website he thought I would find interesting. I emailed him back to talk about the link, and asked "how's the new town?" and have never heard back. I haven't tried to call either Trish or Chad for a couple months.

I feel hurt that my friends, whom I thought really valued me just a couple years ago, have apparently just forgotten me. I'm also sort of self-conscious about trying to contact them; even though I have really only called or emailed maybe once every couple months, I'm sort of ashamed of the effort, because it feels so unreciprocal at this point. And while Trish's friendship has always been sort of secondary to Chad's, I'm really hurt by his silence in particular. We pulled each other through some tough times in grad school, and I'm bummed that I haven't even heard a single sentence from him on how life in their new home is going.

Moreover, I feel like this situation reflects something intrinsically wrong with me. I feel like I'm incapable of retaining friends from one phase of life to the next. I'm a very reserved person, and like many reserved people I tend to become very attached to the friends I make, because it took a lot of effort (on my part and theirs) to make those friendships. My husband has said in the past that I expect too much from people; but it seems to me that other people manage to stay in contact with friends from college and even high school. When I have tried to keep up friendships from those times, it has felt very one-sided, as in I'm the one doing all the emailing and calling. Besides my family, there are very few people who spontaneously get in touch with me just to say hello. I feel like...I'm just not a memorable friend, I guess. I don't know why that is.

Anyway, I'm having trouble making new friends in this town, although I've lived here over a year now. Part of it is a real reluctance to get out there and try again. I know there are moms' groups and playgroups -- lots of them -- but at this point, I don't want to make an effort. I'm reaching the conclusion that I'm never going to have a friend who will actually have an interest in who I really am; and even if I did have such a friend, they would forget me as soon as our paths in life diverged.

My question is three-parted:

1. Am I being unfair to my old friends for not keeping in touch with me? Should I keep trying to get in touch with them?
2. Am I expecting too much of people? In other words, do I have some unrealistic ideal of friendship -- that people can have friends who are genuinely interested in you beyond shared circumstances of time and place?
3. If there is something about me that makes me "forgettable," what could I do differently to change this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
1. No i don't think you're being unfair but I think some people have trouble keeping in touch over distance. I think you should try to keep in touch but lower your expectations and try not to blame yourself.

2. No, but I also know that making friends is hard and a lot of friendships are about being in a shared time and place and sometimes its surprising to find which friendships these are when you move. I moved to New York a few years ago and a lot of people i've met here, especially in grad school, where here temporarily and have left and i've found it really shocking how many of those friendships haven't survived changing circumstance. While it hasn't been all of them its fairly common from my experience and those of other people i know here. I can also tell you that from my perspective the fact that I don't keep in better touch with some of these people has more to do with my own business/laziness than it has to do with them.

3. Nothing is wrong with you. Friendships can be difficult to sustain over a distance. You sound like a really nice considerate person who is having a hard time. Please don't judge yourself the actions of two people especially when it sounds like you've all been going through a period of transition.

Moving and making new friends is hard for most people try not to let it get to you.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 3:14 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

1) No, and not-very-often.
2) Yes, but I don't mean that in a bad way.
3) Don't worry about it. Not your fault.

I moved away from my home town after college, and have since slowly fallen out of touch with most of my old friends. I still have contact with a few, but even those, far reduced frequency - We just have less in common, and at the work-sleep-repeat phase of life, not much changes to give us something to chat about.

Somewhat sad to think about, but make new friends and move on. People just drift apart, not out of a lack of former genuine interest, just part of life. We can't stop the world from changing out from under us, we can only adapt to what comes along next.
posted by pla at 3:15 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think you're necessarily being unfair by expecting that they remain friends with you, but perhaps you're being a little unrealistic. I mean, it's nice when my friends move away and we keep in touch, but I don't expect them to because I know life can get in the way and sometimes, you just don't have much to talk about anymore. Some people are just really bad with keeping in touch. It doesn't reflect anything on you, it's just the way life is.

Also, you didn't mention if they had children or not, but it seems that you are in different phases of your life. I haven't had to experience friends getting kids yet, but I've lost touch with a lot of friends because they got boyfriends or they moved onto different places in their lives and it seems like the same might be happening to you.

Please don't think you're a 'forgettable' person just because people lose touch with you. I lose touch with a lot of people that I find fantastic - I just don't have much to talk about anymore or life gets in the way.
posted by cyml at 3:17 PM on November 3, 2012

Are you being unfair? Not really. How you feel is how you feel. However, are you being unrealistic? Yes, a bit. In my experience, there are a lot of people who are good (and even great) friends while physically close, but not so great at maintaining connections at a distance. I am a sender of letters and post cards -- on an average trip, I mail about 20-30 postcards. I would guess that less than half of the people to whom I write send messages back, and most of those are occasional emails and texts. Chad and Trish may be this sort of friend -- it's not that they don't value you, but your relationship as a "faraway friend" means that they do not think to contact you (especially if their lives are busy).

Additionally, as you age, it does get harder to make new friendships (and having a small child further limits the kind of friendships you are likely to make). On top of that, college towns are weird places -- they often have a rather insular population of "locals" and the rest of the inhabitants are transient (and increasingly younger than you). Making friends is work -- you need to put yourself in places where you can meet people -- inviting your husband's coworkers to dinner (or out to eat) may be an avenue to meeting people, as would cultivating some sort of activity -- joining a book club or a new mothers' group, perhaps.

So don't blame yourself, but realize that friends and acquaintances will not just appear -- they need to be sought and cultivated.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:17 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Its just how life is, don't take it personally. You'll have all different kinds of friends in life and for different reasons. Some friendships work better when people see each other everyday and it is convenient for them, it doesn't make them less of a friend, but there is something about seeing a person everyday, you chat while you're working - you don't have to take time out of your busy day to make a phone call to catch up with them, its not that there is less effort, but it's just easier to have these kinds of friends sometimes*. Some people are good at keeping in touch, some are bad. Some people will be your friend forever and you can call them a year from now and it will be just like you saw each other yesterday. All different kinds of friendships.

As for Trish and Chad, it seems your friendship with them was one of the kind where living close and seeing each other at work is a big part of what keeps the friendship going. You made attempts to keep in touch, but they're just not good at it. They still like you, Chad sent you the article, they just aren't good at keeping in touch.

*There is a very strange phenomenon I've noticed with teachers, we are BFF with some of our co-workers during the year, but hardly keep in touch over the summer - September comes and we're all BFFs again. It's not that we're not true friends, just that the friendship is built on daily contact and not on catch up phonecalls or emails.
posted by NoraCharles at 3:21 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Specific questions first:

1. You're not necessarily being unfair. You should feel free to keep trying to get in touch with them as long as you feel you haven't gotten sick of trying. (More about that in a minute.)

2. You are not really expecting too much of "people", meaning that yes, it is possible to find people who do stay true friends. Whether Trish and Chad ARE people like that is the question.

3. You are not forgettable, so this question is moot.

And a more general response --

This sucks, but it happens. This probably is chalk-upable to "they got busy and chaotic and let the wedge just keep growing and it's just part of what makes people grow apart sometimes". It's happened to me a few times, and it's not a reflection on me as a person, it is just....people grow apart sometimes and those people have different priorities and different lives.

But this DOES NOT negate the value of the years you spent with them before things faded, and it IS NOT any reason to just give up on making friends altogether. I read once about a woman who had three marriages over the course of her life, and someone once was sympathetic to her about her three "failed marriages." "Oh, but they WEREN'T failed marriages," she said. "They were three very successful marriages, each one for its own very different period in my life." That's kind of like this - these were your friends during one phase of your life. That phase was good, and those friends are good. All this means is that they haven't survived the transition into the new phase your life is in now - and that's not a bad thing as such, and that is not a reflection on you either.

If you're wondering what to do about them, and you're sick of trying to be the one to reach out to them, I'd try just one more time, so they know that your door is always open to them, and....then they know where to find you whenever in the future they wish to, and that's that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:21 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please go to baby/mom gatherings. You might not meet your soul mate, but the people you do meet will be very valuable to you and your kid. Finding other parents that you can stand to spend time with makes having a small child so much easier for you and so much better for your child.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:45 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't want to make an effort. I'm reaching the conclusion that I'm never going to have a friend who will actually have an interest in who I really am

Listen to yourself here. So negative! You had one friend who's doing a shitty job of keeping in touch. It doesn't mean it's your fault OR that real friendships will never exist again ever. You sound depressed. You're an educated adult woman, a mom, a wife, and a friend. Just because Trish is being a shitty friend, does not mean every one else will. You have plenty to give, don't cash in your chips and give up because of someone else's shortcomings.
posted by Neekee at 4:19 PM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Some people suck at maintaining long-distance friendships. You shouldn't take it personally.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:45 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

It feels horrible to have a friendship wither, especially when there's no sort of big cataclysmic event but just an erosion over time. I think everyone has lost friendships that they mourn and wish things might have been different.

Just before I had my son, I had a bit of a panic wondering which of my friends would really stick around through this big change in my life, and which would not be up for it.

And then this happened: my friend J had a bike accident while riding with her four-year-old (they're both fine) and she called her friend S to come help. J and S met as pre-school parents when their children were two years old. This is what I realized - the people I will count on most, the people who I will call in an emergency when my son is four years old, the friends who will love me best - those people may not even be in my life yet.

There will absolutely be new people in my life and in my son's life, the way that there will be new people in your life and in your child's life. You may yet reconnect with these friends at some point, but there's no reason to berate yourself or hold off on connections with other people.
posted by judith at 8:08 PM on November 3, 2012

The thing about grad school friends is that you're often dealing with a population of people who have likely moved a couple of times already, for undergrad and then their current program. As that person, I know I was already having some difficulty dealing with having my hometown friends, great friends in my last town, and then making friends in a new town. Add one more town to that, with the added stresses of starting the next phase of your life and it's pretty tricky. I mostly just keep up with people via Facebook updates, and we plan to see each other at conferences about once a year. When we do get to meet up, though, it's an awfully good time - hours of catching up about everything in our lives.

It's hard to make new friends, and even a year is a sort of short time to expect that to be going smoothly. Put yourself out there, and my guess is that within the next couple of years you're going to find yourself building those strong friendships again.
posted by bizzyb at 8:15 PM on November 3, 2012

Usually, you will lose friends--probably most of them--every time you have a major life/circumstance change. A lot of people do not do long distance well. Some people are only your friend in person. Some folks hate the phone, some hate e-mail, most these days will only have a token "Facebook friend" with you and that's it. If you move away, you are more likely to keep friends if they are interested in maintaining the contact, and have the same method of preferred contact that you do. (For example, the long distance friends I've kept all like to write a lot of e-mail and aren't into the phone except for a few times a year, same goes for me as well.)

It's not that they stopped liking you, but...you Moved On, or they did, and that killed it. It's not you, it's them. They just don't bother to put in the effort with anyone who isn't right in front of them. I wouldn't bother to keep up with Chad and Trish if they aren't going to put the effort in too. You'll be mad and it won't work.

That's just...life. It's actually pretty rare to have long-term friends. I have one friend remaining from high school and one remaining from college, and that's as long-term as it gets for me and I'm surprised I still hear from them, even if I only see/talk to the HS one probably 1-2 times a year. Both of them are still in the same end of the state as me, that probably helps too. But it is hard to stay in the same easy friendship groove with people once you can't share as many circumstances as you used to. I'm kind of annoyed at my longest-distance friend right now because she's a lot chattier in person than she has been online/phone for the last year or two, and god knows I only sometimes find out anything that's going on with her because I wasn't there to literally see it or go over to her house for dinner frequently. Like "oh, btw, we're moving" kind of stuff. But we are never going to live in the same state again, so I just have to accept that it is what it is.

As to the question of "should I even bother with new friends here?", how likely are you to move again at this point now that your husband is a professor? Now that schooling is over, I'm assuming that you're more likely to (have to) put down roots in this location than you were during college and grad school. That will help. And not that i know from experience, but mom-friends seem REALLY SUPER BONDED to each other, at least until all their kids graduate from high school. Because unless you move or they do, everyone and their kids are a package deal that aren't likely to have drastic circumstance changes in the way that you've been dealing with previously. "We're moms with kids together" is a life circumstance that should carry you through for a long time.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:23 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

First off, you're not forgettable. I don't know you, and I know you're not forgettable.

I don't think this has very much to do with Chad and Trish as individuals. It seems to me, from what you describe, that your life has undergone a substantial amount of change in the past year or so. You finished (?) a graduate degree, moved to a different state with your husband for his new job, and had a baby. All of those things on their own are very, very, very stressful things. I am wondering, do you have anything going on in your life right now besides the baby? I don't want to read too much into your post, but is so common for women to struggle with their identity after having a baby. And if you are in a new place, where people don't know you for the things you are proud of, it's just that much worse. So it kinda seems to me that you don't just miss your friends, you miss your own self that was very involved in her studies, and your friendship with Chad and Trish represent that whole life.

In the past, when I have been extreme lonely and isolated, I was very hurt that my attempts to reach out to long-distance friends were not reciprocated. But it wasn't personal -- people just can't tell, and they put off responding to the email, and then it drops down to the bottom of the inbox, and then off the first page of gmail. And messages via Facebook or text message are like freaking ether.

Speaking more generally, yes, people do suck at maintaining friendships from afar. It is very hard to sustain friendship when you don't have an ongoing shared experience -- like graduate school, or a work environment, or an organization -- to keep you in contact with one another. I know some friendships manage to make the jump between high school, college, and first jobs, but in my experience, it seems like the more grown-up responsibilities people have, the less bandwidth they have for maintaining contact.

I am "facebook friends" with a couple of people who go back to my junior high days, and with a few more (but not many) from high school. A couple of the high school friends are people I care about, and who I know care about me. That said, we so very rarely talk now that we do not live in the same city. Again - it's that limited bandwidth thing. We've got jobs, spouses, children, avocations. I should probably point out here that my closest, most trusted girlfriend is someone I did not meet until I was in my late twenties. My husband's best friends are friends that date back from junior high, but when they are not in the same city, they don't really talk at all. I think maybe they might email around NBA finals time, but that's it.

There's also the wide variety of possible details related to you or them. I can think of a dozen things right off the bat, but I'll only mention the one that I think is most likely since I've experienced it myself. Sometimes new parents isolate themselves, or forget all about their uncoupled, childless friends. Sometimes it's the other way around!! When I had my daughter, I was so very surprised at the assumptions a friend made about my "new life." Seriously, I think one of my friends tried to pre-emptively friend-dump me, because she was sure I was going to do it to her. I hear from other women that this is A Thing.

I know I didn't directly answer your question. I don't want to tell you that you're being unfair, because you are entitled to your feelings. But it sounds like you are in a lot of pain about this and on the cusp of resigning yourself to a lonely life. Please don't. You deserve a full life like anyone else. Also - your child needs a mom who has friends. You're not required to just have "mom friends." (Although it's good to have some of those, too.) Do you get to do things without the baby? I think you need to expand your social network, not restrict it.

Also, please get screened for depression.
posted by stowaway at 8:31 PM on November 3, 2012

I had a few friends just like this in grad school. We maintained sporadic contact after graduation, but after a few months it faded to almost nothing. I'm busy; they're busy. It's really nothing personal.

Ironically, I'm still very close with another grad school friend--who I wasn't quite as close with during graduate school.

In my experience, the best thing to do is just go with the flow of these friendships. Most are transitory; some aren't. You can never tell until the experience is over which they'll be. The worst thing you can probably do is respond with intensity and guilt--that tends to drive people away. Reach out if you want to, but if you don't, that's okay, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:31 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh man. This question made me feel really terrible because I can be really bad at staying touch with people who aren't local to me, even really good longtime friends who I am really happy to know. It's not that I've forgotten about them or don't care about them, not in any way. I think about them all the time. It is partly that as a personal quirk it is just really difficult for me to keep someone filled in on the current events of my life if they're not there to see or participate in them; it just feels like me babbling at length about boring/mundane episodes, people they have never met, etc. Things that happen which are part of a series of things that you'd need to remember to understand, that would be of absolutely no interest or importance to someone who isn't local to me -- or just things that would be hard to remember if you weren't involved with them. To put it a bit more simply it feels like needing to do a ton of explaining, with the bonus that you're explaining about stuff that feels like it would be really boring for the listener.

ALSO, I totally get like this when I get really overwhelmed and stressed in my own life. When I get like that, sometimes, I don't feel like doing a lot of talking at length - about anything. Or anything else that requires that level of focus and attention. Especially if my stress is coming from my job because my job requires a lot of sustained bursts of mental focus. But I can still hang out with people in person who are local to me because you can do things like playing sports together, hanging out with our dogs, watching movies together, getting drunk, or what have you.

So, don't take it personally and feel like there is something wrong with you, I think there's a really good chance that it is not personal to you in any way and your friends would first feel shocked, and then terrible if they knew you thought that.

For me, when I'm in this state, if someone long distance tells me that they really miss me and they feel lonely, and really need to talk, that gets my attention.
posted by cairdeas at 9:05 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

My husband has said in the past that I expect too much from people; but it seems to me that other people manage to stay in contact with friends from college and even high school.

Yes but....

1) Only a percentage of people, and only a percentage of those friends. I have no friends from highschool or college, and one friend from the stage after that who I virtually never see.

2) Often, only if your lives proceed in lock-step. You may find that if your friends have children, the relationship renews.

3) Often, only with people who are right in front of them. I utterly SUCK at maintaining friendships with people who are not right there. I am really busy and over-burdened and if I can't schedule drinks with you once every three months, the relationship requires more energy than I can output.

None of the above speaks to a failure on your part. It has zero to do with how loveable or valuable you are as a human. It has to do with my personal capacity for friendship management, and I suspect the same is true of your friends.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:35 AM on November 4, 2012

Unfortunately, I've found that some people ditch out after the baby because of dumb stereotypes about what "moms" are like. It's a bummer. Make new friends, because even if you don't keep them around forever, you're a social creature and you need to talk to people and connect.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:09 AM on November 4, 2012

I have a few close friends from high school and college, and a few more from grad school (I'm now 44, and 15 years out of grad school). Thing is, I often go months or more without talking to them, or doing more than exchanging a few short emails. Then we get together and talk for hours, as if we'd barely spent time apart. Our friendships are strong but intermittent. Maybe you'll find that your friendship with Chad and Trish is like that, once all of you have settled down in your current situations.

I also have friends where I live now. It took a while to make them, since I'm somewhat reserved myself, but they're my source for day-to-day interactions. It would help a lot if you could find places to meet people like that. Most of them probably won't become lifelong friends, but it's likely that a few will.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:54 AM on November 4, 2012

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