How do I discover what I need from friendship?
June 26, 2018 7:48 AM   Subscribe

I have many friendships, too many to keep maintained, but I still feel longing and lonely. I feel I'm ready for my friendships, my chosen family, and my actual family, to be more fulfilling. To do so, I want to understand my own needs and desires. Please give me advice for philosophies of friendship, personality theories, personal journeys, or even online quizzes that can help me find better fitness in my friendship ecosystem. History and theories inside.

I am early 30s, married, no kids, steady job and very busy. People tell me I'm VERY outgoing and seem impressed with how many people I know around town, how many people I meet, how many days I am out of the house for social reasons.

I have always been a gatherer of people, excited to make new friends. I believe I have some fundamental issues with fearing abandonment, which motivates me to make more, more, more connections.

I seek out people who are attractive, who have positive energy, who are creative, and who have some craft or passion that I know very little about.

If we have chemistry together, regardless of how busy we are, they are added to my "friends list" and I will try to connect with them frequently. I love learning their perspective, their history, their desires, their life goals. And I like feeling like a positive presence in their lives, someone reliable and safe and supportive and creative.

This usually goes on until it stops. Either the excitement and novelty dies down and so I don't have the same passion for exploring them, or one of us decides to stop connecting. With most of my longest-term friendships, there's little excitement and the parts we disagree on become greater challenges to overcome than the parts we are excited about.

I have many long-term friends who I still have a lot to learn about and learn from. But, the chemistry or the excitement or the passion just isn't the same any more and I don't know why.

I feel some sort of longing. Some sort of emptiness. It reminds me of conversion stories, where the next step is to say "And then I found the Lord!" But I don't want to find the lord, I want to find friends and chosen family and family relationships that meet my needs so that they are sustainable.


What are some theories of friendship that might suggest where I can grow?
What are some personality theories that might provide a framework for relationships? (I'm a saggitarius, INTJ, DC on the Disc, introvert, middle child, and I think personality psychology is very untrustworthy but sometimes can spark good thoughts)
posted by rebent to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe some questions to ask yourself:

Are you opening up to them?
Are they learning from you? (You talk about learning from friends and growing that way, but are they learning from you?)
Are you being vulnerable with them?
posted by Sassyfras at 7:57 AM on June 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I personally don't put any weight on astrology, Meyers Briggs etc. But what strikes me most about your post is where you state that there is some sort of emotional let-down at some point after meeting people. Should really healthy long-term friends, relationships really be based on emotional changes? Emotions change all the time. So do people.
posted by jtexman1 at 8:15 AM on June 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have been friends with a number of people who descend on me with a lot of enthusiasm at first, disproportionate to how well they know me, and then pretty quickly deflate or drop me for the same unknown reason they picked me up. I've always gotten along well with people like that and still do, I like those people although they caused me some pain when I was younger and didn't understand why it happened. but over the years I stopped minding their friend-simulating behavior because it just became impossible to take it seriously at the necessary level for my emotions to be engaged.

I am not sure you're doing this, and I can tell you don't mean to be. but it is hard for people not to hold you at arm's length if they know you have a pattern of whirlwind infatuation followed by disillusionment and boredom. nobody wants to feel like they got played for a fool by taking early intense interest too seriously, same in friendship as in romance. the kind of people who might be after lasting friendships don't take well to being collected, to feeling interchangeable or temporary. I am curious how long the excitement stage lasts for you: are you running out of excitement five years into a friendship or five months?

there are people whose thoughts I always want to hear. doesn't matter the subject. no matter what happens to me or what I read, I want to tell it to X because I want to hear what X will say about it. this is the kind of person you marry or, if not possible/applicable to marry them, you make your best friend. this doesn't fade because the pleasure of knowing them isn't built on a foundation of novelty. you love them, not just the process of discovery: you love what you have discovered.

I think you could also probably decide to be more patient and tolerant with people you only like and don't adore -- let them be boring with you a few times a month, why not -- that helps sustain a relationship, if you don't need every meeting to teach you something or improve you in some way. but the best-friend type is a rare type and if you can find two or three to keep over a lifetime you will be doing very, very well.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:05 AM on June 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

A couple of thoughts:

1. Are you vulnerable with people? Are they vulnerable with you? In my experience, the kind of friendships you're talking about aren't just based on shared interests, but on shared... emotional stuff? I don't know how to put it into words, but your thing about "positive energy" might be what I mean. I know other people who are very lonely but who collect people, and usually the reason they still feel lonely is that they have a hard time with vulnerability. That is, being messy and real and allowing people in.

2. I am the sort of person who is also very social, and I am surrounded by awesome people, but I don't often feel that kind of connection that dissipates the loneliness. I usually have maybe two people like that, sometimes just one, even though I see people all the time. I'd say these people come along once a decade or so. It's possible that it's equally rare for you.

Also, I love this thing about defining the word "friend" as (to me) basically those people who get to the middle of you and make you feel less alone.
posted by hought20 at 10:51 AM on June 26, 2018

Making friends is kind of like dating lite -- most people are fine but not necessarily a forever match or bff material. What I hear in your description of friends who seem first to have a spark but eventually are disappointing is that you're focusing on the superficial -- being attractive, creative, having a certain skill, etc. Those people can become friendly acquaintances or potentially even good pals but good friendship is about a deeper connection based on non-superficial factors.

Since your current strategy is leaving you wanting more, I'd try to get to know people who are different from your usual go-to. I'm not saying people who are radically different in terms of lifestyle or political views but people who are nice but don't have that initial spark you seem to go for. As an adult, some of my closest new friends are so different on paper but such wonderful friends in reality: they are very religious whereas I'm a big atheist; they are in their 60s or 70s whereas I'm in my 30s; they are parents of young or grown children whereas I am childless/childfree by choice. I'd look for these potential new friends at work and in your neighborhood for starters -- just try getting to know them better, maybe invite them over for drinks on your porch or coffee after work, and see where it goes. Most won't become friends but all you need is one or two good connections and those take time.

That said, it seems like you're a friendly, interesting person whom people would like to meet. It's hard making friends as an adult -- I totally hear you there -- but you're putting in the time and effort and with time and luck it will pay off!
posted by smorgasbord at 10:52 AM on June 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thanks for all the comments so far. A few thoughts -

I don't think I have trouble making or keeping friends. I have quite a few really close friends. I can be very intimate with friends, sometimes overly so. I don't feel that I make friends and quit them quickly; in fact, our lifespan is probably average. But I am more likely to initiate a first contact than most.

I am quite intimate! Much of my personal work has been learning to identify boundaries that others create and ease into intimacy - no throwing fastballs.

I would like to find a way to continue to nurture my desire to be with those people who I am already very close with. I'm tempted to read marriage counseling books and spy them to my friendships, but we aren't arguing, we just aren't... Prioritizing each other.

There are many frameworks for how to have a fulfilling marriage and many center around understand yourself. I am looking for frameworks or advice on understanding what i want from a friendship, so I can pursue that in a sustainable way
posted by rebent at 11:35 AM on June 26, 2018

You sound like you're addicted to the limerence stage of new friendships. Which, as with the romantic and sexual relationships with which limerence is more usually associated, cannot last.

So, my guess is that this is either a commitment issue (you lose interest when the limerence fades) or you're using the intensity of the new friendships you're able to cultivate to paper over deficits in your marriage.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:28 PM on June 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

« Older Arrested while trans   |   How can my husband track my movements? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.