But ... I thought you loved me
December 9, 2013 6:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm one of 25,000 or so people who lost their homes in a recent natural disaster. The silence from (some) people I thought were my tribe is deafening. How do I move past/heal from this?

It's hard to write this, but I've been struggling for months. I lost my home in a nationally televised, very public disaster. I heard from friends all over the world, and had some amazing local support, and offers of assistance from near and far.

But a number of people, people whom I know KNOW, people whom I love and whom I thought loved me, didn't (still haven't) bothered to pick up the phone or the Facebook and just say "That sucks. I'm sorry. How are you?"

Raising this to them (in any form) seems needy and pathetic. But I'm left, on top of the loss of my home and a lot of my stuff, feeling like the biggest loss is the illusion that I was loved, cared for, in the way that I cared for them. I didn't hear from one of my dearest friends (to be fair, he's dealing with some heavy shit of his own). But when I said, "That hurt me" he immediately said "I'm sorry." From him, that's really all I needed to hear. But the others?

So, hive, do you handle/move past this? I'm putting my life back together after many hard months ... but this is the hurt that stays with me. Another friend said, "well you're so strong ... people know if you need anything, you'd ask." FUCK THAT.

I want to scream "I fled with my pet and a few things I could grab and YOU KNOW THIS and you couldn't fucking pick up a phone?" but that's counter-productive. Do I cut/block these people from my life? I'm not talking about casual acquaintances, I mean 20+ year folks whom if there's a tornado going through their parts, I drop a note/call saying "Hey, that's scary. Let me know you're OK." People for whom I would open my home, send a check (not ask if they needed a check), people I'd try to support emotionally, even long-distance.

Wha? And why? Sorry this seems whiny, but I'm still struggling with it. (And, to clarify, THEY KNOW.)
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet to Human Relations (64 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I appreciate that you feel slighted. I know that people SHOULD think to call you when something like this happens.

But consider how often people get tongue-tied when someone they know has a death in their family - they're often afraid of saying the wrong thing, or afraid of mortality in general, so they sometimes just don't say anything. They may indeed feel very badly for you, but they may also just be so unsure of what to say or do, and may feel so helpless about wanting to help you but just not knowing HOW, that they're afraid to do anything.

Your friend actually finally said something when you reached out to him and said "hey, it hurt me that you didn't say anything". I bet that if you let other people know the same thing, that you'd be hearing from them more. Yeah, it sucks that they didn't think to do it on their own, but you can either suffer in isolation, or you can speak up and give them their cue and have them finally say something. In fact, hell, this is the perfect excuse for you to throw a total diva fit and no one is going to be able to think less of you because of it, because HELLO, you just had a natural disaster happen to you, what are they complaining about?

(also, if there are a couple friends who still say nothing, you know that they're shit-bats.)

You are in my thoughts. Feel free to let 'em have it. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 PM on December 9, 2013 [14 favorites]

I am sorry for your loss. And your pain. You have every right to be angry.

but for yourself, for your own health, for your own state of mind -
Don't carry this anger in your heart. Find a way to let it go.
posted by Flood at 6:36 PM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yep, people are scared they'll say the wrong thing or that you don't need help because you are so strong. And it is a shit view, because it is unhelpful when you do need help, but people are so, so awkward. It's not personal; they just don't know what they're doing and doing nothing is better than screwing up. So many people are afraid of screwing up (so by doing nothing, they screw up...but, anyway...).
posted by heyjude at 6:38 PM on December 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

But a number of people, people whom I know KNOW, people whom I love and whom I thought loved me, didn't (still haven't) bothered to pick up the phone or the Facebook and just say "That sucks. I'm sorry. How are you?"

Not everyone approaches relationships the same way you do. In your position, I would prefer not to have to field dozens of phone calls from well-meaning friends asking me how I am. I'd prefer just to get on with my life. And my default position is to assume the same about others as well.

I'm not saying that all of the friends that you feel neglected by feel this way. Nor do I mean to say that this is a better way of approaching relationships. But consider the possibility that some people may actually think that the considerate, loving, helpful thing to do in this situation is not call and ask you how you are doing.
posted by googly at 6:39 PM on December 9, 2013 [80 favorites]

I think this is a Guess Culture vs Ask Culture difference. Askers assume that you would speak up if you needed help, because that's how they are.

I went through a very challenging family illness, and there were friends and relatives whose instinctive reactions were not what I wanted. Some people thought they should cheer me up and avoid talking about the illness, so they never asked about my family and instead would crack silly jokes. Others sent me questions asking for computer help, right after I told them I was in the hospital all night. I was furious at many of these people for months. But eventually I learned that it was not because they didn't care about me. It's because they are completely inexperienced at this situation. They had no idea what was the right thing to do. It's like blaming a baby for not being able to walk on his first try.

Also, maybe that's what they would've wanted. Maybe if they were in a tough situation, my offers of help would annoy them, and they would've just wanted me to send them jokes and make them laugh and help them pretend for a minute that life is normal.

I now just tell people straight up what I need. Usually people are relieved to be given instructions, and will go follow them to the letter. You can still feel warm and cared-for, when you hand someone a list of instructions, and they go drive all over town and spend hours running the errands for you.
posted by cheesecake at 6:41 PM on December 9, 2013 [16 favorites]

If they're truly your friends, give them the same empathy you wish they'd given you.
posted by hamsterdam at 6:45 PM on December 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

I totally get how you feel here. It might help to recognise that people respond to grief in all kinds of different ways though - and for a lot of people they don't want people reaching out, talking about it, etc. This was/is how I felt when my father died this year; people asking me if I was okay, wanting to talk about it, it all felt ghoulish to me and I was just trying to keep my shit together; the last thing I wanted to do was dwell on it, especially in a work setting.

There is nothing wrong with me feeling that way - just as there's nothing wrong with you feeling the way you're feeling. But people don't know what's going on inside of a person - what kind of comfort they like. As painful as it is, as much as it feels like "one more thing", if you want a particular kind of comfort, you have to ask for it. Just as I had to sometimes say to well-meaning but infuriating people at work, "I don't really want to talk about it."

And some people won't or can't meet that standard, and then you decide what it means for your relationship. But most will, I think you'll find.

Finally, absolutely rid this connection in your head that a certain response - or lack thereof - equates to a level of care. It's utterly untrue. Just as those people don't know what you are really thinking, neither do you of them.
posted by smoke at 6:45 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

>send them jokes and make them laugh and help them pretend that life if normal

Sorry, I promise not to thread-sit further but what I got from these people was RADIO SILENCE. For MONTHS

Thanks. It helps even to write this, as I have just been so HURT and unable to express it.

So for the people I want to reach out to, the ones that I loved, should I consider a "WTFF?" email, or what?
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 6:46 PM on December 9, 2013

This sounds so hard and upsetting.

I haven't been through a natural disaster, but based on personal disasters, I'd guess there's a combination of things going on:

1) A crisis does help you separate the wheat from the chaff. When I became a single parent, I discovered some people I wouldn't have guessed are the most solid, reliable people I know. They became my new family. Others who seemed enthusiastic to get involved were gone like smoke. 11 years on I don't judge them, but I don't spend any energy on them either.

2) Just about everyone is pretty weak and self involved. We get sucked into our own stresses and anxieties and preoccupations and forget there are others in need around us - even the people we love. Reading your post, I"m reminded of friends I have forgotten to call back, family members who are in difficult straights who I don't call. I'm not a particularly selfish person - on the contrary - I work as a nurse and spend most of my time caring for others! But I get caught up in my own life and forget some of the people I want to look out for. It's not right, but it's reality.

3) A natural disaster is so overwhelming, people might just shut down thinking about it. The sheer volume of people who suffered in the disaster that destroyed your home might be sending people into an unconscious state of self-protective denial. For me, when I think of the sheer volume of people suffering due to recent disasters - just in this country - let alone in the world - I feel so much anger, sadness and hopelessness, I am paralyzed into inaction. I feel a sense of impossibility.

None of this is probably particularly comforting for you. Maybe there is nothing anyone could say that could make this better for you. I suspect you're on the right track in directly talking to people about what you want from them - it's all you can really do. This will give the people who ostensibly care about you a chance to step up. You're helping them by shaking them out of their distraction or denial. Then it's up to them to show you what kind of person they're going to be in your life.

I wish you the best in this deeply trying time. I always loved this H.G. Wells quote, and look at sometimes when I'm in a really rough spot. I hope it's not too facile here:

"Affliction comes to us, not to make us sad but sober; not to make us sorry but wise."
posted by latkes at 6:50 PM on December 9, 2013 [16 favorites]

Unfortunately sometimes people show their true colors only when you actually need them. It sucks and you're right not to make excuses for them. Sorry.
posted by headnsouth at 6:52 PM on December 9, 2013 [13 favorites]

I am one of those people who does not "reach out" to friends because I assume that they are too busy getting their life together to field the same set of questions and responses. Tell me what you need, and it is done. So cut them some slack. They do not mean you harm and maybe just waiting for the signal to safely approach. So, with kindness signal to them that it is safe to approach. Also, you may not know completely about what is going on with their lives, so again, cut them some slack. Twenty years is a lot of time to write off in a friendship.
posted by jadepearl at 7:01 PM on December 9, 2013 [23 favorites]

How about inbetween a WTFF email and continuing the silence? Send them a note saying, "Hey, I don't know if you heard but I lost my house in this disaster. Thankfully me and pet got out ok but we're still rebuilding."

THEN see what they say. If they're all self involved and casual, well, I'd dump 'em. If they are all "yes and I've been kicking myself for not saying anything.." or "yes and can I help?" then it could possibly one of the explanations given above.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:01 PM on December 9, 2013 [34 favorites]

My father died last year after a very long and incredibly stressful illness. After the funeral, I did not hear a single word for six months from the person I had considered my best friend in all the world. Total silence from someone I had previously spoken with nearly every day for years. I have no idea why people do this because WTF? I don't have any help for you except to say that you are not alone. It seriously sucks. While I don't advocate carrying a grudge, stuff like this also gives you a much better idea of who your friends really are. And I don't buy the whole ask/guess thing in these situations because why should you have to ask for help if you've just lost your house, for crap sakes?
posted by tamitang at 7:06 PM on December 9, 2013 [18 favorites]

People are really weird about disasters. And they're terrified of saying the wrong thing.

Sometimes people are reluctant to reach out because doing so can feel selfish. It can feel like you're asking a person who's hurting -- whose life has been completely uprooted -- to drop what they're doing and pay attention to you and your feelings and make you feel better about their awful circumstances. There's a lot of sternly-worded advice out there to give grieving friends the space to sort out their lives instead of making demands on their time. People sometimes remember having felt overwhelmed by their own huge life problems, and how exhausting it was to answer email or talk on the phone on top of everything else, and they might decide it would be best not to bother you. People can sometimes find natural disasters to be extremely upsetting, even if the disaster has no direct impact on them at all. And those people might feel guilty about talking to you when they're so worked up, like it would be selfish to put you in a position where you might feel like you have to comfort them about the situation when you're the one whose house is ruined.

It's a situation that can lead to a lot of over-thinking. Ironically, the more someone cares about you, the more likely they are to want to give you space in a way that might not actually be helpful. (When I had a major disaster upend my life a decade ago, the people who emailed me out of the blue to check up on me were random ex-boyfriends who mostly just wanted to make themselves feel better.)

I'm really sorry that you've found yourself in such a frustrating and hurtful situation. I would encourage you to reach out to the people who you want to connect with, and set some guidelines for them to follow about what kind of support you want and need from them.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:06 PM on December 9, 2013 [14 favorites]

Another friend said, "well you're so strong ... people know if you need anything, you'd ask."

Why FUCK THAT? It's not exactly an insult. And it has a good suggestion, viz: ask.

It is easy to assume that no cry for help means nobody drowning. Your friends may well be sitting around marvelling about how they expected you to reach out and yet you're so impervious to injury that you needed nothing at all from them! And probably you don't want to re-hash the events and be reminded, etc -- I know this is stupid, obviously it's not something you'll forget, but, this is a common belief. People often don't mention others' dead relatives/friends/pets because they fear it will cast a pall over things, be an unpleasant reminder, etc, and then they'll be the bad friend who reminded them of the tragic loss.

Most people have not gone through anything approaching the magnitude of what you went through. They have, very simply, no idea how to respond. And googly's take is going to be correct in a lot of cases: 'he's busy, he doesn't need some random noise from me right now, I'll sit tight and be there if called on but otherwise I don't want to be a burden and make him feel like he has to return my calls.'

Also not saying this is universally great practice, but it is something to consider and, if possible, try to understand. Understanding it beats being bitter about it, at least.
posted by kmennie at 7:09 PM on December 9, 2013 [11 favorites]

After I had a life-altering, very public crisis happen to my family (my husband's sudden long-term hospitalisation after a severe illness) a tonne of people dropped out of my life and have never came back. A select few in my husband's family I reached out to (because I wondered if they were trying to make things easier on me by being distant or had maybe misunderstood how serious the situation was...) and they immediately emphasised how "important" family was to them and that they would drop "everything" to help (they did not work and had no commitments) - well I immediately asked for specific help (babysitting for two hours of their choosing so I could go to work) or anything else they could do to lighten the burden off my parents and I never heard from them again.

I figure crisis' show who people really are and what their priorities are. I'm glad I know that those people were never truly family, never truly friends. I have instead poured my energy into the people that love my family and we are richer for it.

Wipe those people from your mind, write a scathing group email - DON'T SEND IT, and follow up by writing a charming email to your true friends thanking them for their support (passive aggressive me says to post it to FB and publicly call out the good eggs to shame those that completely dropped the ball). If any of the silent reach out to you, wait 24 hours to respond cooly.
posted by saucysault at 7:17 PM on December 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

I'm sorry for your losses. It sucks to not have friends acknowledge what you have been through, especially something as major as this.

Sorry, I promise not to thread-sit further but what I got from these people was RADIO SILENCE. For MONTHS

So why didn't you contact them? Friendship runs both ways. Some friends honestly may not know this happened to you at all and they won't know until you tell them. And since you haven't been in touch with them, you don't know what is going on with them that prevented them from contacting you.

When the dust settles, you will see who your good friends are - that isn't to say that the others weren't good friends at one time- life changes, circumstances change, and friends change. Don't waste your energy worrying over those who didn't show you care, focus your energies on the ones who did - they deserve your time a lot more.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:29 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I've had friends in trouble, I've felt awkward about contacting them; surely they have better things to do than to sit on the phone with me for 15 minutes, telling me the whole story, for what has to be the 5 billionth time for them, just so I can say "gosh, that's terrible!". If you want to give these people the benefit of the doubt, assume that they are feeling awkward and uncertain and don't want to insist on involving themselves in your life. And no, don't trust Facebook; sure, post things there, but if somebody doesn't respond to your general broadcast, that might just be an indicator that the Facebook algorithm decided not to show it to them.

That said, reading your post has given me some things to think about, and made it a bit more likely that I'll reach out to friends and acquaintances when I hear through grapevine or national news that something's perhaps going on with them.
posted by aimedwander at 7:30 PM on December 9, 2013 [15 favorites]

Ok, here's a thing: have you considered that some of these folks might actually just be totally oblivious about this event?

I am someone who does not read, watch, or listen to the news. If news-followers are in my facebook feed, I hide their posts. If people start talking about the news around me, I tune it out. When something does filter in, i do my best to keep that information away from the rest of the information in my brain. I am as close to oblivious as it is possible to be in my society. Someone that I love could be affected by some sort of a disaster, and unless I was specifically told that it affected them, I could very conceivably just never know. Honest to god. Try reaching out to your loved ones. They might have no idea that you need their support.
posted by windykites at 7:33 PM on December 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm sorry for what happened to you. It sucks that you haven't gotten the help you were expecting.

Different people respond to disasters and want help in different ways. I personally wouldn't send a message to someone experiencing a crisis asking how they are because I would figure they are pretty busy dealing with urgent situations and don't have time to respond to interrogatories or shoot the shit on the phone with distant well-wishers who can do little to help. I'm pretty sure that's not what I would want in the situation but obviously many, such as you, would want it.

Sending angry emails won't get you what you need. You should be clear on what you want and need. Reach out to the people you want to hear from (via a reliable communications channel, not Facebook!) and say "Hey, I lost my house and I've been having a really tough time. People haven't even been asking how I am. I would really love it if you gave me a call."
posted by grouse at 7:35 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you might have to think that they're in pain because you're in pain and they're scared for you and they can't handle it.

Also, a lot of people just can't deal and are limited in this regard. This is why you have to accept that people have limitations.

I think if you demonstrate that you're capable if handling this on some level, that you haven't totally fallen apart, they'll be eager to help. It's also likely that they don't want to stress you out with their worry and concern and questions and are waiting for you to direct what happens next, what questions they can ask, etc.
posted by discopolo at 7:38 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I really think aimedwander is correct about what's going on. You should not use your friends' silence as a sign that your friends don't care, but more as an indication that they have the misguided belief that you are too busy and they shouldn't impose.
posted by jayder at 7:46 PM on December 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

I, like many people, have had moments of being a shitty friend to people I really care about. There comes a point where as said shitty friend, you feel like you've let it go so long there is no way to crawl back and beg forgiveness or the wrong is too big to undo. I still carry the guilt of letting good friendships go 20 years ago. If you love these people and want to keep them in your life, faults and all, call them on their lack of contact, tell them they let you down, and give them a chance to apologize and redeem themselves. Sometimes a bad friend just needs to know the door is still open.
posted by cecic at 7:50 PM on December 9, 2013 [17 favorites]

Some people get into a whole shame spiral thing (ask me how I know!) where they don't say anything at first because they don't know what to say, and then time passes and they feel weird/overthink how weird it is that they haven't said anything but now it feels "too late" to bring it up and onward and downward.

I totally understand your anger and sadness over this. I've been the radio-silence person and also had it done to me. I think sending a WTF email will not get you the results you ultimately desire, unless what you ultimately desire is to express that to friends and not have those friends anymore. Just be very clear about what you want before you act.
posted by rtha at 7:50 PM on December 9, 2013 [29 favorites]

Thanks for all the perspective. I left a voicemail for the friend(?) whose silence has been most hurtful ("You launched her career! You introduced her to her husband!") just saying I'd been thinking of her, and missed her, and to call me. We'll see.

Emotional support is perhaps the hardest support to ask for. And perhaps those years of providing support, of NOT being the needy drama queen, are now biting me in the ass.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 7:51 PM on December 9, 2013 [20 favorites]

Good for you for reaching out; but if I could maybe nudge you to take it a step further?

You say you called a friend to "say I'd been thinking of her, and missed her, and to call me". I'd urge you to leave another message that says, "you know, I was also a little surprised I didn't hear from you after [catastrophic event] happened, and I'd also like to know what's up with that."

You have the right to ask for what you need, especially if it's something people aren't giving to you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:16 PM on December 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, like cecic and rtha are saying, sometimes people just don't know what the hell to talk about with people who are going through things like you've been through. To my great shame, this happened to me with a formerly close friend who was dealing with a long, terrible illness. Now, this doesn't excuse my own radio silence whatsoever, and I understand that I'm a terrible person because of this, but just by way of explanation, since you asked for perspective, after a while, I just didn't know what to say to this person that wasn't "I'm sorry you're going through this" or "How long until you can eat solid food?" or "Here's the petty, daily-life stuff I have going on." It felt like I was struggling to find topics of conversation that weren't something medical—or depressing.

And it didn't feel like there was much I could do to help. They wanted to hear from me to take their mind off of their illness and depressing things, and I felt like I was terrible at that. All of it gave me feelings of frustration and inadequacy that I had trouble handling, not least of all because I recognized that I should really just suck it up and deal with whatever feelings I might have about a condition that I wasn't, you know, actually dealing with on a daily basis.

Beyond that, we were in touch long-distance, and this person's condition kept them at home and lethargic or asleep most of the time—and their cell and chat connections in the house were terrible. So if I wanted to talk, it was always uncertain whether I'd be able to, and it usually meant either playing phone tag for a week or calling their landline and talking to a family member—and after I'd been out of touch with them for an embarrassingly long while, that just made me feel guilty as hell. Every time I talked to their family, I felt like they hated me for not calling enough (when really, it was probably just that they were stressed and tense and locked down in this tight long-term crisis mode where everyone is an outsider—I've been there in the years since). It was too easy to let the uncertain connections and the guilt at not being in touch keep me from initiating contact.

And then, well, they didn't get in touch, either.

Even if we got in touch now, there would be a lot to work through, not least of which because our being out of touch eventually started to affect our mutual friendships (so now I'm sure everyone hates me). I'd been drifting away from some of those relationships for a while anyway, due to my own changing priorities, but the normal range of twentysomething flakiness and variability starts to look like something else in the context of dire circumstances and big life events. (See also: people who didn't RSVP to my wedding during this time period—I've never been sure whether it was something personal or because they were just being super flaky. Although re: the supposed friend who tried to RSVP through my sick friend that he wouldn't be attending, well, I may be a jerk, but forget him.) Anyway, I get it: It feels like either you're helping or you're not. You're with us in this urgent time or you're not.

But I've also spent so many mornings hashing all of this out in the shower in unspoken conversations with and unwritten letters to this friend and our mutual friends. It's not that the loss of our friendship hasn't affected me—it's that I haven't been able to see clear to make my way back out of the weeds. And I'm not sure whether I ever will, or if they'd have me back if I did.
posted by limeonaire at 8:17 PM on December 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

If this post is good for anything besides letting me open a vein on my grief ... if you have friends in similar situations, and it's been eating at you, please call them. I don't know about them, personally, but I know for me, all I need to hear is "That sucked. I suck for not knowing how or when to reach out to you. I love you." And then I'd be all "You DON'T suck. I love you."
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 8:28 PM on December 9, 2013 [11 favorites]

I could have written your question if I replaced "house destroyed in natural disaster" with "had baby with incurable genetic disorder." Many of my old friends fell off the face of the earth, including my oldest friend who sent me messages in-between my son's birth and his diagnosis less than a week later. I called her back and left voicemails, sent e-mails/texts, and got no response - so it's clear that things changed after my bad news. Honestly, I don't expect to hear back from most of the people who ditched me unless they have a sick baby sometime in the future (and even then, it would probably be me reaching out to them again in that sort of situation).

I'm sorry I don't have any real suggestions, as I'm still working on figuring out who's in my real friend circle now. But I wanted to let you know that you're not the only person in this sort of situation (I mean that in a comforting way, if possible). Perhaps this is a time to reassess your social network as well. I found some great emotional support in therapy this summer, and it sounds like your traumatic experience could warrant talking to a therapist, too. Best wishes to you.
posted by Maarika at 8:29 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is why the term "fair weather friend" exists. Anyone who has gone through major shit can tell a story like yours. Some people are just not up to being there for you when the chips are really down, period. And there's nothing you can do about it but write them off.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:31 PM on December 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

You say you called a friend to "say I'd been thinking of her, and missed her, and to call me". I'd urge you to leave another message that says, "you know, I was also a little surprised I didn't hear from you after [catastrophic event] happened, and I'd also like to know what's up with that."

I would actually advise holding off on the confro. You should start with something like, "you may not know, but I lost my home in Hurricane Sandy" (or whatever it was), and then see where it leads. You haven't talked with them ... Maybe they're in the middle of a personal struggle you don't know about. Maybe a family member is gravely ill. Don't start with "I'm really upset" or "what's up with your silence," etc. To do so is approaching this with needless hostility and judgment.

And also -- just throwing this out there -- you should perhaps own that you didn't reach out to them for any kind of support in this time of great crisis. You apparently did nothing to keep them posted or let them know what was going on. Why?

I feel you are in danger of coming across as entitled and vindictive if this is not handled with tact and compassion toward your friends ... you seem inclined to assume the worst of them and not consider other angles. Just a thought.
posted by jayder at 8:33 PM on December 9, 2013 [11 favorites]

Gosh, this sucks. I'd be feeling sad and angry too. Agree this could be guess v. Ask or some variation thereof. Anecdotally, I have a friend whose child is dying of terminal cancer. We were told not to invite her to a Christmas party. I thought this was because she had specifically asked to be left off-- actually, turns out some mutual friends thought inviting her to a party would be insensitive. WHA? (For the record, she plans on attending and would have felt hurt if she had been excluded).

Relatedly, I have a friend who lives in the Philippines. I emailed her to make sure she and her family were ok--but a really huge part of me was afraid to ask her in case they weren't. What would my response be? "Sorry?" (She is fine). Another thought is that some people, myself included, tend to back off during these tough periods with the assumption that you are already overwhelmed enough without having to respond to silly text messages. I would bet my last penny that your closest friends haven't intentionally abandoned you.

As to how to handle it-- I'd just confront in the way you've said here. Any friend whose worth the title will apologize and give you whatever emotional support you need.
posted by snarfles at 8:38 PM on December 9, 2013

Several years ago, during a hiatus from work, my boss, who was somewhat of a mentor to me, was diagnosed with cancer. I didn't visit him, because the whole thing made me nervous and he lived out in the suburbs and I had no idea what to say or what would be appropriate to do.

Then we all came back to work from the hiatus, and he didn't. I think there was a gift basket from the department? We sent a pile of art books to his hospital bed. Because of my position at the time, I was instrumental in organizing that but it wasn't my name on the card or anything. And, again, I continued to not visit or call. Because, again, I just didn't know what to say or how to help.

Ultimately my boss lost his battle with cancer, and I never saw him again. To this day, I regret not visiting him in the hospital. I miss him and still think about him, years later.

Know that just because people aren't right there with you, supporting you in all the ways you need, doesn't mean you aren't loved. Just because the phone isn't ringing or the emails aren't flooding in doesn't mean people don't care for you. There is a strong likelihood that they just don't know what to do, how they can help, or where to start.

Also, in a totally different vein, I knew a lot of people who were similarly affected by Hurricane Katrina, and after a while they got really tired of talking about it, explaining, telling people how they were doing, etc. It's possible that people who care deeply for you are concerned that reaching out without material support, just to say "hey, how are you?" would be an annoyance rather than a blessing.
posted by Sara C. at 8:54 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

And those people might feel guilty about talking to you when they're so worked up, like it would be selfish to put you in a position where you might feel like you have to comfort them about the situation when you're the one whose house is ruined.

Narrative Priorities has a good point with this. It does not feel comforting and emotionally supportive at all when someone reacts to you sharing bad news about your own life by getting upset at you for telling them about it.
posted by yohko at 9:05 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here is the Ask vs. Guess Culture post, if you don't know what everyone is going on about.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:20 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I dunno. Facebook makes it stupidly easy to say on someone's wall..."bloody hell lovey, heard about Typhoonado Catastrophe, thinking of you and sending you love." No uncomfortable conversations nor insincere offers necessary.

If someone can't even do that.... as we Australians say, "up their bums". Lazy, sodding lot of miserable self-involves.
posted by taff at 10:15 PM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

This is, literally, the "someone call 9-11" situation. Everyone assumes that someone else has taken care of the problem because, well because disaster that's why, and there's people who take care of this so we don't have to. The shitty thing is , while we are all assuming that someone called the metaphorical 911, no one did. That assumption includes you. You, and everyone else you know is assuming that someone called the 9-11 for the post traumatic stresses and hurts and traumas that endure for years on end. Except no one did, and you are crying out for help.

Reach out to someone, they are probably assuming you are okay, that someone else stepped in. Silence has a way of reinforcing the assumption that someone else is meeting the needs of those facing a crisis. That's why I say all the time "you! You call 9-11!!". Otherwise, everyone assumes it's been taken care of. It's one of those crappy things that happens in a crisis.

Let your friends know you are hurting and need help. Please, reach out. You are not alone even though it feels like it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:19 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

One of the things you have to be careful of is judging people based on a rule set that you assume they share when they may not share it. This is actually the essence of culture clash but culture extends down to the individual/family level. People do things differently. It leads to a lot of misunderstanding, anger, resentment, etc.

I had a friend who lived abroad and she was hurt for a long time that none of her neighbors came to visit her to welcome her to the neighborhood when she moved in. She later found out they were all offended that she never came to visit them to introduce herself when she moved into the neighborhood. Things worked one way where she grew up but the opposite way where she moved. Yet she assumed everybody operated by her rule set because these things are weaved so deeply into our fabric that we don't even realize that they are arbitrary. They are defining factors of reality... except that reality can be defined so many different ways so many different places.

When you judge people, you typically judge them according to a set of rules that you assume are universal. You are usually wrong about the universality. So often, the other person has no idea that you expected them to do something else that whatever they've done, or to not do it. You assume they do know, you assume they're aware of what they've done but just don't care, and so you're angry at them and see them as rulebreakers. Your rule in this case is that people call you to express condolences or say sorry or whatever. They may not have that rule. They may have a different one or none. You don't know what motivates their action or inaction. Let go of the idea that they were supposed to do something and should have done what you wanted. Those words are always recipes for disappointment. You're trying to telepathically make them call you and atone for this crime that they may not know they've committed but of course they have no idea you're telepathically willing them to do anything. As each additional day passes, you stew over this issue and let it make you fume. That may be entirely unjustified.

And of course as so many others here have said, they may not know how to handle this and feel awkward, or feel they missed the window due to having been stunned into inaction. They could be acutely aware of it and it gets worse and harder the longer it goes on, so they cut their losses at one point and hope you'll forget. It could be anything. You don't know.
posted by Askr at 10:20 PM on December 9, 2013 [10 favorites]

all I need to hear is "That sucked. I suck for not knowing how or when to reach out to you. I love you." And then I'd be all "You DON'T suck. I love you."

A more honest response to this hypothetical outreach would be "I was wondering why I hadn't heard from you. I'm glad you're here now."
posted by headnsouth at 10:55 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

So for the people I want to reach out to, the ones that I loved, should I consider a "WTFF?" email, or what? posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 6:46 PM on December 9 [+] [!]
Sending a critical email berating people for not rushing to your aid would surely not have the effect you wish. They did not rush, most likely did not know what to do or say. Would a scalding note from you bring apologies and offers of assistance, or a miffed further silence? Many are silent in the face of grief or disaster. A few probably did not want to bother you. Give them the kindness they failed to give you. So may comments have that theme.
posted by Cranberry at 12:39 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I wanted to offer another angle for some of these people based on observations from AskMes about people not acknowledging new babies or marriages for a year after they happened:

Sometimes life has this way of sweeping past you. If your disaster caused power outages, or people assumed, as mentioned above, that right after the fact, the first few weeks, you were swept up in triaging, they might not have reached out right then.

And then they have a huge project and work at the exact time that their partner and kid both have the flu and they have to pick up paint at Home Depot because their mother in law is coming, and then they paint the bedroom and then the mother in law visits, and a couple of weeks has passed, and as they're driving home they think to email you and it turns out one of the kids is getting into trouble at school and the dog needs doggie training and they get promoted because of all that work on that project and their professional expectations rise and they think to email you when they're in line at the grocery store, holding a watermelon, and then it's mid-summer and so they go to the Cape and all that time they're meaning to do write you and feeling increasingly guilty that they haven't done so but time keeps on pressing on and on and they start to feel like maybe they shouldn't call attention to their failure and then they're embarrassed and then they can't figure out whether to start an email with 'Hey, I'm sorry I never reached out to you after Awful Thing happened to you' or 'Hey, just thought I'd get in touch' and they worry that if it's the former they've pointed out a failure you didn't even notice and it's egotistical of them to even consider that you'd be thinking about them at all when Awful Thing was happening, and if it's the latter they're worried they'll sound phony and disingenuous.

And I think that's how a lot of friendships pointlessly break.

If you like these people and feel a little forgiveness in your heart I think the 'reach out and say Hi, how are you?' approach is valid. I think you'll get a feeling about them one way or another, even without any direct mention of Awful Thing.

I'm not saying any of this is fair, by the way. It isn't -- I just think how quickly time moves sometimes takes people by surprise, as does our own self-centeredness.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:47 AM on December 10, 2013 [25 favorites]

I completely know how you feel. I have had a similar experience. My misfortune was not a natural disaster, it was a very widely publicised event that caused me to lose two members of the family. The silence I got from many of my friends was deafening.

I understand where they were coming from to an extent. They felt awkward, they didn't know what to say; more charitably they may have wanted to give me time to grieve with my family, they may have thought that I didn't want to hear from them. Not that they've ever said this to me, but it's not hard to imagine how they felt when they heard the news. But it hurt very much at the time. And I never said anything about it to any of them, and so the hurt is still there. I am still friends with many of these people, in a very light, superficial kind of way; we have never discussed this life-changing incident. Kind of dysfunctional I know. Don't be like me.

I think you would be in the right to say something to your friends about wondering why you had not heard from them. I expect that some people may have thought you were so busy attending to the basics of getting your life back together that you wouldn't have had time to talk to them.

I'm pretty sure that if you were to reach out in a non-angry way, your friends would be just as relieved. They're probably thinking about you and feeling too awkward to get in touch - "Oh man, I didn't know what to say when that awful thing happened to 2soxy4mypuppet, now it's been such a long time and it just seems even more awkward".

But, you know, communicate with them and give them a chance to explain themselves. Don't sit on your hurt for years like I have!
posted by sockandawe at 2:55 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you still need to vent, send out one of those horrible holiday newsletter things to all your friends and family, including of course the people you think should have called you but never did. "Well, everybody, you are of course well aware that my whole fucking house washed out to sea and almost took me with it. I got out with my dog and the clothes on my back. It's times like those when you really need a friend. Thanks for all of your support." Etc.
posted by pracowity at 4:23 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Essentially, having a big shitty thing go down can sort of separate the wheat from the chaff in friendships. As in, perhaps these other people who went silent are not toxic people to be avoided, but rather spend more of yourself on the people who are strong enough to come correct even when the shit gets hairy.
posted by angrycat at 5:06 AM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am real sorry that you lost your home. I can't even begin to imagine what that must be like. I hope you're doing ok.

I am really angry on your behalf that people you cared about let you down. I know what people are saying about "sometimes its hard to know what to say" and while I know that can be the case in terms of death and disease, I think this is different. You lost your HOUSE! How awkward can it be to send one short message by text or via FB to say "Are you ok? If you need anything let me know."? Why should you need to ask for help before people offer it? You lost your house - of COURSE you need help! You might have never been the "needy" one, but holy hell, who doesn't need help rebuilding their entire life?! You have every right to be hurt.

So do not apologise for being "whiny" - if you can't whine about your close friends not even asking you if you're ok when you lost everything, then I think we may as well delete the vast majority of AskMe threads, frankly. Your anger is justified. As to how to deal with it, while I understand the temptation to send a "WTF" email, I think you're right that this won't be productive. As some people have already suggested, I'd give them ONE chance to redeem themselves, by sending a message saying what happened, where you are at now, and expressing that you feel hurt/surprised/disappointed or however you want to phrase it by the fact that you didn't hear from them. If they immediately get back to apologise and offer some explanation - they didn't know, or they didn't know what to say - then you can decide how to go forward with the friendship. If you don't hear back then I would not bother contacting them again.

No matter what happens, you're right that it is a loss that your image of what your friendship entailed was very different to the reality. Like any loss, allow yourself to grieve it, but also realise that every ending leads to space for something new to start, and maybe the friends who were there for you will begin to play a bigger part in your life, and good things may come from this. Good luck with getting your life back together.
posted by billiebee at 5:18 AM on December 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Just want to chime in as one of the "please leave me alone" minority. My brother was in an auto accident that left him completely paralyzed, and I had the major responsibility for his care. I DID NOT WANT to hear from all my loving friends and relatives, telling me how much they cared, asking me what was going on, asking me what I needed so that I had to think about them, needing my attention and gratitude. I really did appreciate the people who left me alone to contact them at my time and in my own way.

You lost all your stuff. It happened to my grandma (1927 Mississippi Flood) and she carried the pain with her all her life. Of course it got better, and she got new stuff, but just like losing a loved one, you don't forget. But I wonder if your feelings about losing your friends because you haven't heard from them is part of the giant feeling of Loss you have right now. You can't get mad at a tornado, but you can get mad that someone hasn't called you. But they might be like me -- just call and say "I'm going through Hell and I miss you" and see what happens.

All of us reading this and answering do feel for you, and wish you all the best.
posted by kestralwing at 5:24 AM on December 10, 2013 [9 favorites]

I would just call them, ask them how they are doing and see what they say.

Some of these folks probably just feel embarrassed that they didn't reach out earlier, some didn't know what to say period.....and a few might just be ditwads.

I just had to relocate because of a fire (I didn't lose much, no worries) and I know how disruptive even THAT was. I cannot imagine what you must be going through, and I am so sorry your friends haven't spoken up.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:48 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I truly empathize with you, but like a lot of people here I can see both sides. I am a "leave them alone, they have enough to be getting on with" person when hard times hit people I know. On top of that, I always feel really AWKWARD when bad things happen to the people I care about. I know this sounds selfish and self absorbed, but when friends are going through hard times I never know what the hell I am supposed to do. I also always feel guilty for having a relatively stable happy life when theirs isn't. Survivors remorse or something, I don't know. I always get stuck in a bad loop of "I want to let them know that I care but I don't want to bother them but I want to let them know that I am thinking of them but I don't want to shove in their face that my life is normal and unchanged while theirs has crashed down around them but I want to let them know that I would love to help them but I don't want to contribute to the no-doubt endless and annoying stream of people contacting them with offers,..." and on and on it goes, so I sometimes have ended up doing absolutely nothing because I just couldn't figure out how to deal with it that wouldn't make their situation worse. It is a dick move, I know, but I sometimes go all deer-in-headlights when bad stuff happens to people I care about. I know that I have been annoying in the past, barfing my concern and offers of help all over a friend who was going through a really hard time, and the fear of repeating that has apparently led me to sometimes going in the other direction to the extreme. I also know that in difficult times in MY life I often want people to leave me the fuck alone so that I can sort things out and get things done and pull my life back together. I assume some people are the same way. So now usually I just wait until THEY contact me and let them dictate what they need from me. I'm going to guess now from your post that I have probably come off as an insensitive asshole with my "stand back, let them cope with their life, help them when they ask to avoid annoying them" reaction, which I do feel bad about. Even now I still don't know what the right answer is. I hear your upset and hurt, so maybe leaving people to their own devices isn't best, but I know for some people that is exactly what I should do. It is really hard to know what each person is going to want/need during a hard time.

So I say reach out, touch base with the people you are missing and haven't heard from.

I wish you nothing but the best. Losing everything and having to start over like that is no doubt so much harder than I could ever imagine.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:13 AM on December 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have experienced this too, people I never thought would just disappear, do when things get rough. But I think all of the statements above about the fact some of your friends might be more well meaning than you realize might also be true.

Could you send out a bulk e-mail to everyone you have radio silence with updating them about your situation and that you would appreciate any kind words or support in this difficult time? That would at least give people who really are well meaning a chance.

Then, seriously, cut everyone else off. You learned something about them, and they are NOT friends and you do not owe them "showing them the empathy you wish they would give you". Friendship can involve charity, but it's also a two way street. If you want to do completely one way charity you can volunteer in the community, not continually give your love and time and energy away to people who don't share a value of giving back because you owe them the kind of friendship you wish they would give for some bizarre reason.

Some people like their friendships to only be easy and cut anything else off. These are not people I want to bother being friends with so I consider it a nice thing to know who they are. It is however depressing how many fun otherwise kind seeming people are like this. I might engage with people like this to get my needs for fun/play/vapid interaction met but I know what they're capable of and make sure I'm getting something I want out of it too. I consider this form of "friendship" the equivalent of hookup culture. It's superficial and kind of shitty (by my standards) because it really doesn't involve meaningful or committed compassion for others and is mostly about meeting selfish urges. Not innately terrible, but not something I want to spend a lot of time cultivating or a value system I share in common with people like this.

But it is also true that some people are seriously damaged by witnessing others suffering. When you realize you are the person being cut off for other people's self preservation,and that's what it is, it's like if there is a food shortage and you are starving and you watch people you thought were your friends lock their doors so you can't get it and eat up some of their food stash. Empathy and ability to witness suffering are limited traits in humans and we can get damaged trying to help others. So if you are in a lot of pain and have huge needs, you might get cut off so they can focus on them and their families and loved ones who aren't in as dire situation.

Kind of teaches you a lesson about "unconditional love" and how untrue it really is for some people with push comes to shove, and yeah, it changes how you view human beings. They aren't as loving as they think they are.

But you are limited too. You might not have understood this about others, or yourself if you hadn't gone through this. So take it as an opportunity to learn who your true friends are and cherish them with all your heart.

To have even one true friend in a frequently cruel and unloving or superficial world is more than many have. And give people who haven't reached out a chance by letting them know you really COULD use some support right now. I found a lot of people were able to be supportive when I asked, they literally hadn't known what all I was going through, but some really were just to flustered and it was just time to friend break up if you will.

Also these are all things that will be good to process, both on your own and with friends/family/therapist. These kinds of crisis can change you deeply, and require a lot of processing and support. Seek all the support you can get and make sure you don't do this alone. You DO have people who love you and will listen to your pain and your many losses, including the loss of perceived feeling of support by people who aren't true to who you thought they were. That is a terrible trauma that some don't ever have to face.

I will say having gone through a number of crisis that left me with no one, my view of humanity really has changed a lot. I'm sorry you're going through it.
posted by xarnop at 6:28 AM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

>bothered to pick up the phone or the Facebook and just say "That sucks. I'm sorry. How are you?"

From the perspective of someone who's been in similar-to-the-other-side of this, Jesus, how would that help someone who's lost their home the slightest? Contacting you, getting my sloppy sympathy all over you, makes it about me. If I'm far away, all I'm offering are cheap words that will take up time that you must need to make calls to the insurance company or whatever.

I see what you're saying, but your friends will not know what you need if you don't tell them, and "not bothering someone who's too busy to be bothered" is absolutely a value that some people have.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:58 AM on December 10, 2013 [20 favorites]

Two different problems, right? First, how to deal with these people, and second, how to avoid this kind of situation in the future.

I'm curious about your "radio silence for months" comment. Are these people you normally talked to frequently, or are they just people you felt close to and rarely actually talked to? (I am not judging; there are people like that in my life too.) Because if they're people you typically talked to all the time and then they stopped talking to you, then they basically cut you off, and that's one level of problem. It's a little different if they're people you often went long periods of time without talking to, but you're surprised that they didn't *reach out* to you, you know? I'm not saying either of those isn't a problem, but if they cut you off, I think you have cause to say, "Hey, it really hurt me that all of a sudden, you vanished." If, on the other hand, you often go a long time without talking, there may be people who either (1) knew about the disaster but didn't know that you were affected personally, or (2) knew you were affected but genuinely didn't know what to say, as folks here have noted.

I would really encourage you, as hurt as you are, to ask for what you need. I think that's less about going to them now and saying, "I really want you to know you let me down," which may or may not help. It's more about saying, "I really need to talk." If you can't get yourself to say "I really need to talk" to the people you love, then you're unnecessarily depriving yourself of necessary support.

I guess what I'm saying is I don't at all blame you for being hurt, but I hope you won't conclude they don't really care about you if there may be other explanations. Because there are so often other explanations for why people hurt each other, and it's worth thinking through them before you let yourself feel unloved or conclude that your close relationships were an illusion.

And I'm so sorry all of this happened to you.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:02 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Emotional support is perhaps the hardest support to ask for. And perhaps those years of providing support, of NOT being the needy drama queen, are now biting me in the ass.

Hey there, I'm so sorry you're going through this. Unimaginable, it is, really.

I just wanted to second that "miss you, thinking about you" might not be enough. I'm a really great friend, I'd like to think, but I can't really tell the difference between "miss you, thinking about you, wanna go to a movie?" and "miss you, thinking about you, I AM DYING." Because they sound the same to me.

However, I have a few close friends who have a lot of the difficulty you describe up there, with the asking for help. Their faint, mysterious, passive calls for help just weren't getting through to their friends, including me.

So, we came up with a solution: THE PASSWORD. Maybe it'll help you.

When I finally realized that my friend needed help, and could not enunciate it, I told her that next time to text me the word PAPAYA in all caps. If at all possible, I will drop what I'm doing at at least call her. That way she doesn't have to do the whole rigamarole of asking.

PAPAYA is not to be used lightly, but I do get at least one PAPAYA a year. It freaking works.

I've used this trick with other friends who have the same communication fear. And honestly, I feel like it's saved a few relationships. Now I have STEGOSAURUS, PAPAYA, CATBUTT, and VOYAGER.


When you get a hold of your friend (you might want to call back and be all, "Hey, when I said I miss you, I mean, HOLY SHIT I REALLY COULD USE YOU."), I would get her for coffee and tell them about how hard it is for you to ask for help, but that you really needed her. That it's not all on her, and that you should have communicated more strongly. Then drop the idea of THE PASSWORD on her, for the future. Have some wine and think of a silly word.

All the best to you, I hope this helps.
posted by ulfberht at 7:46 AM on December 10, 2013 [40 favorites]

I didn't have this happen around MY natural disaster (the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake in California) but I did, a couple of years ago, go through an extended radio silence problem to do with a breakup.

Before my breakup (like right up until it hit, and it hit me as a surprise - I understand the run-up for my ex was about 2 years - yeah it's hard to believe I didn't know for certain for so long), I had perhaps a dozen folks in my life who I thought I was tight with. I mean I classified them as good friends and loved ones, members of my tribe, and close confidants. After the breakup was official, they wouldn't talk to me. Many of them formally cut ties by cutting off Facebook connections and being unresponsive to e-mail. They used to comment on my blog posts - no more, etc.

I think the cutting me off dynamic was partly their expression of loyalty to my ex, partly the effects of a whisper campaign about my unsuitability to my ex, partly a rumor that I was abusive in some way (I wasn't, but truth is malleable), etc. You get the idea.

When I did manage even partial communication with any of them and asked my ex what the hell was going on, I got the everyone-pointing-at-other-people 3 Stooges treatment, so I never got a great, thorough answer, but I could see the writing on the wall. The shape of denial and of things not talked about indicated that I was serving as everyone's scapegoat and no one wanted to hear a different perspective.

All I can say is that while I thought they were close, they were probably holding me at arm's length and evaluating me the whole time. Really good actors. Or maybe I was blind.

Unfortunately my only advice for you is to move on (I needed a little therapy to do this). Sometimes circumstances, loyalty and new life priorities, as well as different perspectives brought on by disasters or other life-changing events is too much to overcome. Sometimes the new ways people see things after a life changing event like losing your home to a disaster change the underlying nature of how people see you so much that you can't go back.

If this is the case with you and your former tribe members, move on. If fate would have you meet again, let it be fate (i.e. don't seek it out, let it happen). There is room in this world for new tribes and tribespeople, new loves, new loyalties. If the old ones come a-knocking, figure out then what to do about that. But otherwise it seems pretty clear that they want space. So my advice is to give it to them.
posted by kalessin at 8:35 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

My mother died when I was in college. My parents had been divorced for years. I made my dad aware of all the particulars with regard to the funeral, and he didn't go. Years later when I complained to my stepmom about it, she said that she asked him if they should go, and he replied that if I had wanted him there I would have specifically asked him to be there. Gah!

So, yeah, there are people in the world who are complete dunces. I agree that this falls into ask vs. guess territory. And I totally get the whole "you-are-so-strong" thing, that's what I've been hearing ever since mom passed. Since I never said anything all these years, people have just carried forward that opinion of me: "she's so strong, she'd ask me if she needed anything." You know what? I am exhausted from having to be so strong. Once in a while I could use a shoulder to lean on.

So I say, don't give this anymore time to fester. If you love these people, let them know that you were hurt that you didn't hear from them. Or at least surprised that you didn't hear from them. True friends should always be able to be honest with one another, without fear of reprisal. Once your cards are on the table, and you see how they react, then you will know for sure who to cut out, and who will realize that they were a clod and that they are genuinely sorry.

And for the record, I am so sorry that you are going through this. Best wishes that you will be settled soon.
posted by vignettist at 8:42 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm not saying you shouldn't be disappointed and hurt. I would like you to think about asking for help more. Even saying you miss someone isn't specific enough in my book - give someone something specific to do. -Can you meet for coffee? I would love someone to talk to. -I'm still missing some furniture, do you know of anyone with an extra table or chairs?

After I had major surgery, I had a friend who cleaned my bathroom without me knowing (serious drugs!) I found out later that she was embarrassed and wasn't sure if I would appreciate her being so intimate or that she was judging me for a dirty bathroom. To me, those were the most ridiculous thoughts! Who wouldn't appreciate that!? She was/is a very close friend. I mention it so you can get an example of what silly things go through other peoples heads. I had made some very specific requests from her and her partner - rides, visits and outings. They never declined me but the bathroom cleaning was the only thing that I received unasked for (other than some flowers from work - nice but doesn't really compare to a clean bathroom and an outing with good friends)
posted by Gor-ella at 9:26 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not a drama queen? How many times have you brushed off small problems and offers to help with little things?

Maybe you trained people that you tackle your problems solo. (This does not make sense for people who were in regular contact and then dropped entirely off the map.)

I think the message you left is a good one and hope that goes well.

(FWIW, a friend of mine with a cleaned bathroom-type experience was not happy. Different strokes.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:04 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

How to help during a crisis is very personal and goes back to people's childhood and upbringing. In my family, what (it seemed to me) the parents wanted during a crisis was for the kids to stay out of the way! Don't make things worse! You might just upset people more! That became very instinctual, and it's taken me some time to get over that as an adult. And that "getting over those instincts" is not something that just comes with time but via thinking about particular situations.

Having a conversation about this with your closest friends, approached with not just a desire to have them know it was hard for you but also for you to understand what they were thinking and forgive, could strengthen your relationship for future challenges (may they be minor!).
posted by salvia at 11:04 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another friend said, "well you're so strong ... people know if you need anything, you'd ask." FUCK THAT.

^ you are wrong here. Reach out to people and then judge who is abandoning you in your time of need. Also, don't assume people know because you post things on Facebook (if that's the case) because some people don't pay attention to things like that. You can only really know that people know your situation if you've told them yourself. The grapevine can and does break, and TV and Facebook are ignored on purpose by many.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:10 AM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

When I've heard bad news about a friend, I feel immediate sympathy but I will often hold back from making immediate contact. This is because I assume that it is not my place to be one of the first people to get in touch. Surely, I think, they wouldn't want someone like me getting in touch right now - they've just been through the worst disaster of their lives, the next few days/weeks are time for them to spend with family or lifelong close friends - the last thing that they want is their mate from chess club or their old university acquaintance pushing in at this difficult time. Then, after a few days/weeks, the immediacy is gone, and it becomes hard to know what to say.

It is easy to assume that your friends are all secure in their understanding of your relationship. But, many people are socially insecure and fearful of coming across as overfamiliar, pushy and presumptuous about their relationship with friends. Incidents like this just exaggerate these things - many people are anxious about over-presuming closeness of friendship at the most casual of times, and the prospect of becoming "that weird bloke from work who kept calling me just after I'd lost my house doesn't he have any sense of boundaries for fuck's sake" is mortifying and motivation enough to avoid immediate contact.
posted by Jabberwocky at 12:44 PM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

I lost my home in some floods this summer, and literally everything I owned almost (saved my cats and my playstation and some recipes but that's about it!) and the reactions of people are really.. different, across the board.

I guess I found it easiest to just keep an open mind. I had amazing awesome offers of help from people I've met once and people I haven't seen for a decade showing up at my place to help muck it out, and phone calls and facebooks and texts and wishes from people I barely knew, and that was all awesome.

I had lots of good friends help too, but lots who said nothing or just a simple "are you okay?" kind of thing.

I spent some time pondering it, because it sucks to not even have your best friend ask you if you're doing okay, but I've decided there's a few factors... as people point out, everyone reacts differently, LOTS of people assume you're too busy to chat at this point, lots of people assume you're exhausted of telling people you're fine, thanks so much, can't think of any help I need right now.. and just don't reach out. a lot of people who have been through something similar end up in this spot, because I kind of was honestly tired of fielding phone calls and telling people I'm fine and yeah it sucks but I'll live. also because when you're the person affected you feel a certain responsibility to be positive for these people, and that's tiring when you've spent 10 years building a life and it gets washed away. I just wanted to kind of wallow for a few days, and I spent so much time telling everyone I was doing fine that I never really got that. I'm not sure if I'd be calling when my friend goes through something similar. it's tiring.

ALSO, if you post things on facebook, some people have a lot of information from you already. like.. they don't feel like they need to phone you and see how you are, because you posted that you were okay and evacuated, and then posted that your place was destroyed, and then posted some pictures of how wrecked it was, and then posted some clean up pictures, and then posted a status on how you're doing okay with the cleanup, thanks for all the help and kind words!
posted by euphoria066 at 4:48 PM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think you might have to bite the bullet and show some vulnerability. By "not being a drama queen" you've let people think you're tougher than you are. Some people really do let this stuff roll of their back (I work with one- amazing!) and then there are the rest of us.

Personally, I'd post something on facebook or at least message a bunch of people "Hey, I'm really stressed out and feeling incredibly alone in all of this. Hit me up if you have a shoulder I can cry on!" and I bet people step up.

The downside is that, if you're like me, you'll get a bunch of people stepping up who just love the drama of it all, and get all gushy but are actually feeding off your trauma like fucking vampires and want to hear EVERY. TERRIBLE. TERRIBLE. THING that happened and will remind you about how terrible it was for years and how you must be scarred for LIFE! is that just my facebook feed?

So with that in mind, I guess I'd pick my top 20 faves and just PM them.

I LOVE the texted codeword idea.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:15 PM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is exactly why I have such a hard time trusting and getting close to people. Many, maybe most are self-centered turds. Love your pet even harder because they are worth it.
I'm very sorry for the terrible turn your life has taken. It's easier to deal with people if you have NO expectations of them.
posted by beckster at 3:04 PM on December 11, 2013

So, i just sent this to a "friend": i fled my home with my pet and the clothes on my back, and the biggest hurt is feeling like no one has bothered to call or email in 3 months. I love you and would love to hear from you. Sorry if this seems needy." We'll see.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 4:11 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a follow-up, I did hear from the friend whom I sent the last message to. We didn't address the silence but we did talk about what happened to me and also catch up on her life. The friend with whom I left the generic voicemail (who is good friends with friend 2 ... I INTRODUCED THEM), nada.

Thanks for letting me have this space.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 6:40 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older What are some good online tutorials/resources for...   |   Strange Women Lying in Ponds Distributing Swords... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.