How can I make more friends but not get used?
March 10, 2017 6:45 PM   Subscribe

I've become exhausted with people using me because I'm sincere and want to connect. How can I find more balanced friendships? what am I doing wrong that's inviting this selfish behaviour?

I only have a couple friends left in this city. In my defense I've only been here 2.5 years and 3 of my best friends moved away in the past year. I'm pretty lonely right now and I haven't seen any friends in the past 2 weeks. I hope I don't sound too bitter in the below writing. I just need help figuring out what I'm doing wrong. I'm 28 , soon to be 29, and I want to figure out how to have contact with humans that is mature and adult. In Myers Briggs I've always come out as a specimen of the ISFP variety. A complicated Pisces of a person who makes their life harder than it needs to be because suffering is what I'm all about (apparently)

growing up I had 2 really close female friends who were both stable, kind, wonderful people. (I'm still friends with them, but they live 2 hours away and both are in long term relationships and don't have as much time for me). They are great people, but I've branched out a lot because I have a lot of arty and intellectual curiousities that they are not interested in so I've tried to find friends that I can also share those things with.

Over the past year I've had to cut back on seeing 3 or 4 people for a few reasons: 1) 2 guys I was friends with kept using me as a therapist/mommy figure and would only contact me to complain about their problems. 2) 2 feminists I was friends with who got literally furious at me if I disagreed with something they said about feminism 3) My friend who I really did care about, but who was behaving awfully towards people she was sleeping with and dragging me into her love life. Similar situation to the feminists where when I told her I was not OK with her behaviour, she got furious with me. I'm realizing that with those type of people, you have to either support them 100% or not be their friend. Which I'm really not good at because I have trouble keeping my opinions to myself at times.

I've always been someone who wants to get to know people really well. I've never really known how to maintain casual friendships that don't get more intense, because I have a tendency to want to discuss deep feelings and thoughts (which ends up hurting me sometimes, because sometimes I open up too much too soon). How do I balance this need to be real with the fact that there's so few people that will really get me?

I have joined a choir this year which has added so much joy to my life, however I find it's hard to really connect with people since we're in a group. But I think this illlusion is the source of my problems. I always feel that I can't be real when I'm in a group, which means I'm attracted to one on one situations which sometimes turn out to get too close too fast and end up in a realization that we're incompatible and shouldn't be this close.

I've always had trouble with "feeling like an outsider", even though in reality, I'm quite average and mainstream. It's a very difficult feeling to cope with though, because while the pain of it comes from a feeling of isolation, that same pain makes it harder to connect with others because it gives off a cold, anxious, sad, weird or awkward vibe.

Another problem I've noticed is that my emotional reaction time to intense interpersonal situations , is very delayed. For example, if someone does something that makes me mad, I may not realize I am mad until a month later. By that time, if I choose to bring it up with the person, they will think I'm being awful because I didn't say anything at the time. I really struggle with expressing boundaries and asserting myself (I even took a course on assertiveness last year, and another one on social anxiety this year).

What I want to know is, how can I get back into those kind of normal, stable, supportive friendships that humans need in order to feel healthy? HOW DO I HUMAN? Why do my instincts lead me so far astray from what is healthy and wholesome? How can I get back on the balanced path?? I hope I haven't strayed too far.
posted by winterportage to Human Relations (15 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
if someone does something that makes me mad, I may not realize I am mad until a month later

Not to be harsh but this makes it seem like you don't really know yourself, or are bad at communicating with yourself, or something along those lines.
I think everyone has these challenges to some extent, but this sticks out as extreme to me. I'm not sure what way of working on it will be best for you, but that is where I'd start.

Meditation, instrospection, self hypnosis, certain drugs, role play, group therapy, exposure to different cultures, exposure to arts and entertainment you're not familiar with, reading philosophy-- all of those have helped me or people I know learn to know themselves better, so I say try any and all that appeal to you.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:58 PM on March 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


Go check these out of the library:
Codependent No More
Beyond Codependency
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on March 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I strongly disagree with SaltySalticid's comment. I have the same delayed reaction to intense situations--even situations where people are behaving towards me in a truly appalling way. In addition, based on how you have written this question, it sounds like you already know yourself well. I think the delayed processing is a function of being an introvert. We need time to steady ourselves, gather our thoughts, and process our emotions, which is almost by definition impossible in a hostile situation.

While I can see how from a stimulus-response perspective it makes a great deal of sense to immediately shut down boundary-violating behaviors, I think it puts an unfair burden on people who require time to thoroughly sort through their reactions.

A lot of this question resonates with me and I will be watching the replies with interest.
posted by Lycaste at 8:59 PM on March 10, 2017 [15 favorites]

Yes, exactly what Lycaste just said. All of it.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:18 PM on March 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm very similar to you but now in my mid 30's and I've stopped trying to make new friends who are close. I still have my closer friends who live further away but it just seems like the friendships I make now aren't the same depth. I have one friend who I'm starting to get closer to but it's taken much longer and we aren't in each other's pockets. I almost feel that most people either have their friends already and aren't in the friendship market, or they don't need close friends as they are able to confide in husbands/partners- the ones that seem super available to be friends- well often there seems to be a reason.
posted by catspajammies at 9:35 PM on March 10, 2017 [10 favorites]

Best answer: things you say about yourself:

Which I'm really not good at because I have trouble keeping my opinions to myself at times.
I have a tendency to want to discuss deep feelings and thoughts

things you say about other people you aren't happy with:

feminists I was friends with who got literally furious at me if I disagreed with something they said about feminism
she got furious with me.

things I say about this:

there is a certain similarity between these assessments. Telling the truth about deep subjects feels very important. You want -- need -- the freedom to say exactly what you think and how you feel and not stifle yourself to make other people feel better about their bad decisions. but when other people do the same to you, you do not like to be the target of their intense feeling and judgment.

this is all very understandable and not unreasonable. but what it suggests to me is: you are gravitating to people who are similar to yourself in these particular matters, expecting them to be people you can get along with, but it doesn't work well even though it seems rationally like it should. This is frustrating, but you may need a different kind of person, someone who appreciates and complements your traits without sharing them. I have come to believe that I can admire and appreciate people who remind me of me, because people like me are great, but from a moderate distance is best. you may be the same.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:22 PM on March 10, 2017 [17 favorites]

I think you're on the right track, in terms of things you need to work on. Being in healthy, stable friendships requires the ability to draw and maintain reasonable boundaries as well as the ability to communicate clearly.

If you are someone who has the tendency to dump a lot of big, heavy information on someone the first time you really talk one-on-one, then you are probably accidentally scaring off a lot of healthy, reasonable people and drawing the drama-prone people to you. So, I think an additional skill you should work on is general small talk, so you have some more conversational tools in your toolbox and don't have to go from 0 to 60 so fast.

Also, if you're having trouble identifying your emotions, taking a look at a feelings wheel can help sometimes.
posted by colfax at 3:27 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Like Lycaste, and the OP, this is me. I'm in the middle of the same sort of dawning, or life-retrospective, in a way that never revealed itself to me quite like this before. Yes, there are a few souls with whom I can claim true closeness (the anam cara that John O'Donohue writes about so beautifully). But they are either too far away, or living their own lives, or surrounded but [reasons] that make them simply not viable as the true companions I want my life to contain. That sort of connection is what I long for, and find at (practically every turn), just not happening.

A review of the last ~5 years nets a laundry list of people who seemed like they were going to have that connection with me, and into whom I invested a great deal of myself. But as the OP wrote, they all turned out to be illusions. The connections I thought were there were never real, and their (sometimes brutal) endings left me crushed, betrayed and deeply hurt. They consumed my resources, drained me, and gave me nothing. But along the way, it seemed so very very real. I liken it to addiction recovery, in a way. Drugs can alter reality, and so did the power of these relationships. So now, burned by these experiences, I am emotionally bubble-wrapped and would rather just be alone, thank you very much. Other see me as fun and friendly and probably think I'm living the life. That facade is well-constructed. I have to protect myself somehow.

Except- surprise! I crave true connection. Being alone to recharge is one requirement for my life, but the other is to gladly and lovingly and continually, pour myself out to those I love and care for. I want nothing more than to find people who 'get me,' who understand me, and with with whom real trust and mutual respect can develop. Most days, these motivations simply have nowhere to go. They are shoved down and suppressed as best I can, until in the wee small hours or early morning quiet, they rise up to devastate me yet again with their broken edges and unfulfilled chasms. Withdrawal hurts like a motherfucker.

You can't just "go out and meet people" and put yourself through that roller coaster over and over again. I can't, at least. I only have so much emotional capital to invest and the risk of a crash looms far too large. Each failure burns off a little more of the optimism, builds up a little more of the self-protective wall. I realize that my choice of people in whom I invest myself is flawed... I have chosen narcissists and high-functioning emotional abusers that I feel, somehow saw me coming. Those poor choices scare me into thinking I will never choose wisely again.

I wish I had real advice for you, OP. I realize they are a lot of words here that don't offer you anything. I guess all I'm here to say is, I feel deeply for you, I share your pain, and I'm sending you virtual hugs and supportive vibes. I am watching this space closely as well, in hopes that others may be able to help. Memail me if you like.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:14 AM on March 11, 2017 [8 favorites]

The way we make close friends is by going through things with other people. We bond with other kids into intense friendships that may last a lifetime because we are going through first experiences with them at the same time - dealing with teachers, dealing with puberty, dealing with learning to assess danger from crossing streets to sassing back the kids that jeer at us - A little later we tend to bond deeply with those we share experiences while we first learn to adult - keeping a job, not having a curfew, decisions around drinking, stealing when there will be real legal penalties, falling in love, etc.

The first stage is intense because it is how you create a tribe with your cousins. The second stage is intense because it is how you create a chosen tribe with whatever pool of people you draw your reproductive partner from. It's instinctive behaviour for bonding with your spouse's cousins, or with the pool of wandering adolescents that becomes your tribe.

Outside of those two situations bonding requires something very gluey, thus your desire to talk deep thoughts, and be intimate. But at this stage deep thoughts don't really work as glue because you are not all still developing your philosophies. You probably aren't getting a lot of insight from the people you try to make friends with, unlike when they told you that the teacher hates kids who turn in papers early because that's sucking up, or the third floor is dangerous and you will get sprayed with the water fountain and kicked if you go up there with the disruptive kids.

To bond you need intense share experiences where you demonstrate that you have each others back. In the absence of intense shared experiences trying to demonstrate your value by what you contribute only marks you as a valuable source of stuff - favours, objects, whatever, but does not trigger them to bond with you. It means that you will attract scavengers, people on the lookout for resources they can get from you.

So your failure to find people to love and people who will love you may be largely situational. At 29 most people who are still looking start complaining how difficult it is. One way they work around this is by falling in love - if you can trigger limerance in yourself and someone else you may bond. But unfortunately the more often you fall in love the less gluey that is as a bond. It can result in training yourself to go galloping off to look for another love high when the first one wears off.

Perhaps if you found something very important to you, and other people to whom it is very important - renaissance dance, No DAPL, the homeless program, staying alive through global warming, shipping the Ottoman Lieutenant with Dr Woodruff, - it doesn't matter what, so long as it is important to both of you, you could bond with people over that.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:43 AM on March 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

Your title and initial few sentences struck me FWIW as similar to plaints I hear from rescuers. Rescuers are people who so want to be liked that they give and give of themselves in the hopes of winning someone worthwhile. But the object of their desire didn't get to be irresistible by being a patsy, and that's what they see in the rescuer. So they feel free - no, invited - to take whatever the rescuer is willing to give without any thought of reciprocity. The rescuer, for his/her part, feels used, taken advantage of, toyed with, and so forth until ultimately being dumped by the desired one or (just as often) driven away when the object of their desire does something so egregious that the relationship cannot continue.
posted by DrGail at 6:48 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

if someone does something that makes me mad, I may not realize I am mad until a month later

Emphatically Nthing disagreement with SaltySalticid's comment that this implies you don't "know yourself". Based on personal observation, this kind of thing is rather common. I think at least part of it is because people who treat other people badly often learn to be subtle about it. I'm the same way - I'll work with someone for years, and it's only after taking a new job and leaving that person behind that it hits me: "wow, I never realized what a massive asshole Bob is!" I try to deal with it by learning from the experience.

That said, I'll agree with SaltySalticid on their comment "certain drugs". Going with drugs may not appeal to you, but (for instance) Wellbutrin can be effective for social anxiety (in my non-professional opinion, it seems like a lot of what you wrote about could be considered "social anxiety").
posted by doctor tough love at 7:45 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I find it's hard to really connect with people since we're in a group.

I always feel that I can't be real when I'm in a group, which means I'm attracted to one on one situations

What am I missing? Have you asked anyone in your choir group to go out for coffee? If someone declines or demurs, ask someone else.

I know people like you who wind up in these situations because they don't have confidence in themselves and they become a sponge for other people's drama. I'm pretty good at weeding out dramatic people from my life by paying attention to how they make me feel, and to objective measures (are they drug users? are they financially irresponsible? do they always have relationship problems? are they properly appreciative of favors?). If I'm emotionally wiped out after spending time with someone, then I stop spending time with them. Yeah, that may mean I spend a lot of time alone, but it winnows down my friend group to quality people.

I also go slow and make a lot of small talk at first. The first few conversations should be at the level of "where did you go to college, do you have siblings" rather than "let me tell you about my abusive childhood." You cannot rush a connection, but you can increase the odds that you will have one by finding friends who deeply hold shared values, like Jane the Brown suggests.
posted by AFABulous at 7:45 AM on March 11, 2017

Shoot, my link was broken. Here is a (hopefully working) link to another feelings wheel.
posted by colfax at 7:57 AM on March 11, 2017

Best answer: Just meet more people! More more more. Stack up those numbers. I think making a new friend you can really talk to is a reasonable goal, and not even one to necessarily be abandoned even if your existing friendships did work out.

For the feminism - why not just forgive your friends? That is sad to have ended 2 friendships over politics. Think of it like a potlach. If you take their feminism from the best possible angle and they take your lack likewise, couldn't it work?

As for this: It's a very difficult feeling to cope with though, because while the pain of it comes from a feeling of isolation, that same pain makes it harder to connect with others because it gives off a cold, anxious, sad, weird or awkward vibe. This is very important! This thought seems so laden with distortion with me. You should be on therapy to address this, because it could totally hold you back from having friendships. Are you sure you are giving off this vibe? More likely these feelings are coming from INSIDE you and do not map onto reality. I think that recognizing that there is *space* for you to be yourself in friendships, and that your friends spend time with you because they LIKE you will be a huge benefit.
posted by benadryl at 8:24 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for all of your answers
It really helped me put all of this in perspective and see how the energy I'm putting out into the world is too open and easily exploited. That doesn't mean I'm gonna close off my heart and turn into stone, it means I'm gonna turn inwards and treat myself like a goddess, and just wait for the right people to notice me. I'm gonna practice small talk and Level 1 conversation so that I don't get embroiled with melodramatic people anymore. And Im gonna reach out to my old friends more even if we don't have a lot in common, they're still good people that on some level still care about me. And for those of you who read my question and expressed the same sentiments, never give up on people. if you're feeling burned out then treat yourself extra nice for a while until you're healed and ready to go out there again. Cynicism is cowardly and eats you from the inside out. how I know
posted by winterportage at 5:10 PM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

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