How do I prevent losing friends as soon as I make them?
August 15, 2017 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I have always been an introverted, shy person (also moderately anxious) and have always had issues with keeping friends. In my past, I've been pretty good at making friends fast but not good at keeping them. I think it’s because I open up to people really easily, I am nice, I am a decent conversationalist, and some people have said I can be really funny and fun to be around.

For example, I've had several girlfriends who I met in high school, college, or at work who have liked me and we hit it off right away but over time we stopped keeping in touch and our friendship faded away. This was due to several different factors but I think always revolved around the fact that we had grown apart or weren’t truly interested enough in each other or clicked enough with each other in order to keep the friendship alive. I have always felt like it was easier to form “friendships” with guys because usually they were interested in a romantic relationship with me and this probably formed a false sense of closeness pretty quickly. Chicks have always scared me because I felt I wasn’t fluent in “girl language” and would unconsciously make a misstep or say/do the wrong thing inadvertently.

I am 30 and have very few friends at this point and I want to figure out why and prevent it from continuing to happen. Recently I met an awesome guy at work who I immediately became friends with and then clicked with his fiancée immediately as well. I feel like they are "home" to me, people that I truly click with. I have told both of them that I am very grateful for their friendship and we have all hung out several times together and they both seem to like me as much as I like them. And this to me feels like a rarity and something I need to hold on to.
I am terrified now that I will do something inadvertent to cause me to lose these new friends that I'm so grateful to have now. I think I’m so scared because of my history of losing friends but not knowing why. I tend to get like this every time I form a new friendship that I’m excited about and it probably results in the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Please help me get over this fear and tell me what I can do to make sure I keep these friendships thriving. I am so afraid I’m going to mess up. Thank you
posted by koolaidnovel to Human Relations (7 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
IME, as an adult friendships tend to come and go as people move, change jobs, go to grad school, or have kids. This isn't necessarily because you're doing anything wrong. It's just the nature of being a grownup. When you're a kid, unless you're in a military family, you generally are forced to be around the same group of peers in the same town for upwards of ten years. There isn't really anything like that in most peoples adult lives, at least not until they have kids themselves.

I've found that losing my friend group every 2-3 years as people move/go back to school/have kids is sort of par for the course in my 20s and hope (maybe in vain) this will stabilize eventually with a core group who all start having kids at the same time/raising them in the same place.

I would suggest becoming a regular at a weekly activity (or two or three) and take a friend with you. This is a great way to cement current friendships and also possibly expand your social circle.
posted by stockpuppet at 11:45 AM on August 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm not clear from your description exactly, but it sounds like more often friendships have "faded away" due to not keeping in touch, rather than some sort of misstep that caused the person to actively reject you? If it is more of the former, I'd say the biggest thing is stepping up to make sure you are reaching out to connect/make plans/schedule things/suggest stuff as often as the other person. A friendship can only gradually "fade away" if BOTH sides are ignoring it.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:52 AM on August 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: As others have said, I think this is totally normal. However, as @rainbowbrite said, a friendship does require maintenance, and in my experience that becomes a bit more difficult as we get older. I have one friend in particular who is genius at maintaining friendships. I try to emulate her. Every month or so if she hasn't heard from me she sends me an im or email, or even a little joke gift from Amazon. I do the same for her and because of her example I try to do the same with my other friends. When I was younger, I would have scoffed at this, thinking that friendships should just happen and should not require work. But with my now advanced wisdom, I understand that that is short-sighted. If something is important you should invest in it, and this is one way to invest in friendships that are valuable.
posted by OrangeDisk at 11:59 AM on August 15, 2017 [13 favorites]

Best answer: This is indeed sort of tricky, and my response will be involved, so hear me out. Or course it can be awkward to invite people out and try to make them your new best friends. Maybe your new friends feel similarly about this problem and will do their best to make a lot of effort. (But also, are you sure they aren't romantically interested in you? They sound on the intense side and maybe not on the healthy side for how nice friendships start, going by your last question).

Other than that, your post is sort of clearly describing some mix of anxiety and abandonment issues. There is no way these aren't throwing you off. You know how to make friends, essentially. Why be "scared" and "terrified" as you say, to lose a burgeoning friendship with some people you just met? If at some level, your answer is that because you tend to lose ALL of your friendships, so every new relationship is a precious and rare diamond for you, one that must be hoarded in case another one never comes along, well worry not friend, but those are sort of textbook anxiety and abandonment issues.

It's very possible that you come on too strong, or lose interest in interactions where the other person isn't pushing things forward at a purposeful speed (men who are horny for you!), and tune out nicer and mellower folk who just want to hang out for no special reason (women who are not trying to get in your pants!). You should look into the possibility that a lot of this is sort of in your head. You may be skeptical like pshaw so much psychobabble, but these are words you are using, "scared" and "terrified," and abandonment issues and anxiety are the concepts they usually go along with.
posted by benadryl at 12:55 PM on August 15, 2017 [10 favorites]

I have always felt like it was easier to form “friendships” with guys because usually they were interested in a romantic relationship with me and this probably formed a false sense of closeness pretty quickly.

Sometimes when lady-friendship questions are posted here and the OP mentions something like this, someone always jumps on her about how being one of those women who find friendship with guys easier is a massive red flag. I'm going to argue that it's just the natural state of affairs for women who don't feel totally comfortable with their friendship maintenance skills. If you're kind of passive about creating momentum in new friendships, the people you're mostly likely to make friends with are people who have some degree of romantic interest in you or people who are otherwise pushy about starting a friendship. They're both situations where you can depend on someone else to move things forward, but they don't necessarily yield friends worth keeping.

Everyone here who's saying that you need to invest more in your friendships is right, and I'll add that the people you want to invest in are the ones who don't glom onto you or with whom things get really intense really fast.
posted by blerghamot at 6:06 PM on August 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

I agree that it's fine to find some friendships easier than others. However:

Chicks have always scared me because I felt I wasn’t fluent in “girl language”

This is something I think you should examine. Calling women chicks and girls, and talking about them as if they are sort of another species, and as if you're "one of the boys" and not like them, sounds a lot like internalised misogyny. I used to carry a lot of that around with me in my teens, and it took a while to throw it off, and then a further while to understand what it was and why I felt it. It won't do you any favours in cultivating healthy friendships, with either gender.

There are lots of articles about it, check them out. Check out point 3 on this one.
posted by greenish at 3:57 AM on August 16, 2017 [12 favorites]

I can relate to you (in my mid-30s). I also don't do "chick language" largely because it was discouraged for me growing up. So getting excited about certain things just doesn't register in a way I can see that works for other women. And if I come across as snobby about such things, I have to remind myself my dad wanted things this way (i.e. for me to feel isolated from being able to relate to other women) so he could feel confidence in his control of me (btw he's dead now). There's no doubt that a lot of my baggage on relating to women comes from the baggage passed onto me by my dad (and his hatred/fear of women, especially those who can embrace their femininity). YMMV.

But I don't think you're losing friends. I think you're feeling the lonely reality of what it's like to be unpartnered as communities fragment they way they do in modern North America. We don't stay living close to friends nearly as much anymore. We're told to be willing to move anywhere for work, and to leave our support networks behind at a moment's notice -- and that is just what our generation has done! ~5 years ago I felt horrible angst that my friends had "left me", when really, I'm aware that they did what they were told to do with their lives, and them leaving had nothing to do with me. It's how the world is now. It's f**king depressing and terrifying, because more than ever, you can't count on anyone to actually be a present part of your life anymore.

So here's my hack for coping: it's time to start treating your friendships with other women as tenderly as you do potential romantic relationships with men. I'm very fussy and selective about the women I spend time with -- are they big on "girl culture"? Were they raised "anti-girl", like me? Do we have similar hang-ups? Are they introverts/loners like I am? Have they done the inner work on themselves to not resent my company as another (potentially competitive) woman? Do they see me as a person, or are they categorizing me off some "women of color, therefore, stereotypes" label? Etc etc etc

It's true what people are saying about friendship maintenance. I have one really good friend (known each other 10+ years) who I would have loved to be closer to today, but she chose a life that took her in a very not-geographically-close direction. I asked her for friendship maintenance, and her response was that I was being high maintenance, so our lovely friendship has since dwindled to an acquaintanceship (which sometimes I am still very resentful about, because it wasn't what I was expecting from her; I thought we had something solid).

Then I have another woman friend who I never expected a long-lasting friendship to form with (we just didn't seem to have many obvious things in common), however, she is an expert at planning for friendship maintenance. Quite miraculously, our friendship has survived grad school, moving across the country 2-3X, and starting her family -- all because she's willing to understand that friendships require maintenance for there to be ongoing growth. She's not at all rude about me asking if we can chat regularly for the next couple months while our home schedules are still compatible before her 3rd kid is born. Even if we don't talk for ~6 months, I'm not insecure at all about this friendship because she is so skilled at acknowledging the emotional labor involved as we carry on. She has never made me feel small or like a baby for asking for what I need in order to feel secure in our friendship. (Okay, maybe I'm glorifying it here, but it really has been a breath of relief in a world where I have experienced much friend-related abandonment with time.)

So sorry for the wall of text, but there's my data points. I can relate, and I hope my anecdotal evidence will help you feel better about a situation you've probably have very little control over. Take care!
posted by human ecologist at 10:11 AM on August 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

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