You must be a friend.........?
June 8, 2019 1:58 AM   Subscribe

I can't seem to keep friends for more than four years. Common denominator is me. What do I do?

I seem to make friends easily, but I can't seem to keep them. I'm trying to understand where I fail. The last really good friend I made was through my kid. We hit it off. It was great. Friend was going through a really rough time when we met, which I didn't know until we had our first friend-date. Antecedent to this rough time, said friend needed help with a pretty personal issue. I filled in and helped in a very practical and meaningful way, which I was glad to do. It turned out we have a lot of common interests. A LOT. But are different enough people that we didn't grate on each other (or so I assume). We always had a good time, and we were also really helped each other at different times. That is what friendship is --- hanging out and helping out?

We started hanging out, but as friend's life got better, we texted less. We started seeing each other less. Now I don't know where this stands. I think I'm being ghosted. This is kinda the general MO of the process of my losing friends. It reaches a point where my receiving contact after respectfully and with the right amount of distance/time between my reaching out is so little that it'd be pushy and clingy for me to be the one to always initiate. And yet, I always have to initiate in my friendships --- ask availability, ask what people want to do, suggest alternatives, find the dates, etc.

I'm not a pushy person, and I'm not a pushover. I don't have many hang ups and I can talk on a variety of subjects (and do -- as much as I'm a parent, I'd say my discussion about my kids with friends only takes up about 40% of the conversation, but to be friends also spend about that much time talking about their kids (and yes, I have non-parent friends and with them my kid conversation is about 20% o the time and usually related to, "We were so busy with [Kid Activity] the past month! Good to see you!")). I enjoy a wide variety of activities and am always up for trying something new. I'm also happy to just hang out without doing much of anything --- watching a movie, sitting in silence, whatever.

I try to check in emotionally and socially when I suspect someone may be having a hard time (anniversary of deaths, struggles with chronic illnesses, divorces). It seems to be appreciated.

I suppose I'm a little chatty, and I know I'm not perfect by any means. And I certainly don't demand perfection in others. But still, I can't maintain friendships after a relatively short period of time. They always fizzle out. They never end in arguments or fights, just a slow dying out despite my tries to have them not. But at certain point, the message I'm getting is clearly received: We're not friends any more.

And I accept that and grieve and move on. And the pattern repeats. Yes, I should seek therapy. It's on my list for when I can afford it, but in the meantime.....why would this keep happening and how can I fix it? Maybe I'm not being specific enough. But I'm not sure what else to say or think.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I can’t identify a pattern from what you say in here but I’ve found this website helpful so maybe there is something on it for you: Succeed Socially.
Hope you can find your niche with people who like you the way you are!
posted by EatMyHat at 2:11 AM on June 8, 2019 [7 favorites]

I've had a lot of other friends where it started out great, then fizzled out. Sometimes I wasn't their cup of tea (I am definitely chatty), or they wanted me to listen to their problems, but when I was having a crisis, rudely told me that I just need to to X and it would solve everything, or subtle cuts and put downs "(only joking," I don't put up with that stuff).

And sometimes people just get busy with their lives, and don't have room to cultivate friendships, in particular, women seem to be burdened with kids and spouse and extra family members, work, housework, etc. taking up their time, and they just may be too tired to keep up with a friendship at this time in their life.

I had one good friend who was going through a crisis, bad relationship, she would call me every single day, and when she eventually got out of it, we spoke a few times after that, and then she just disappeared. I'd helped her in many ways, and I know she didn't intentionally ditch me, she just got busy with a new job and having 2 kids to raise, and trying to navigate her new life. This was in the days before the internet, whereas now, I think friendships go really fast, people are distracted, and can't keep up.

You might find this article about the types of friendships, as described by Aristotle, to be helpful.

Also consider that a friend who ghosts you or flakes out on you with plans isn't a very good friend, if they can't use their words and at least say they are busy right now, and apologize for not getting back to you. Sometimes there is a very good explanation, such as a family illness, sometimes they are just being thoughtless, and that's when you realize their friendship meant more to you then it did to them, and that sucks. Sorry you have been going through this, it's hard, I know.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:50 AM on June 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Are you sure it's not just your time of life? In my thirties, it was more difficult to see friends more regularly since everyone was so busy. Even my best friends I might not end up seeing more than a few times a year.

Anyhow, some questions:

If one of your friends is less available, do you have other friends who fill the gap? I tend to find it's good to have a balance, so if one friend is going through something/ less available/ busy then I'm not putting all my pressure on them. I find it actually can preserve the friendship to take the stress and focus away. It might feel off-putting if you feel like your someone's only good friend.

Finally, one other thought-- is it your pattern to end up making friends by being there for them when they are in trouble? A friend of mine refers to this pattern as "foul weather friends". If this is a pattern, is it possible you're expecting a level of intimacy and attachment which tends to happen more at emotional low points than as part of normal life?
posted by frumiousb at 2:51 AM on June 8, 2019 [14 favorites]

Missed the edit window. My first paragraph was to say, I have one good friend, who I chat with once a week, or every 2 weeks, on FB, and we get together once or twice a year IRL due to distance, but other friendships have come and gone along the way.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:02 AM on June 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think it can be hard putting together enough friendship even though lots of people would really benefit from a support network. There can be pitfalls in seeking friendship. If you are a good empathic listener you might end up being the one the other person turns to when they have problems in life, while they see someone else as better suited when they want to have a fun night out or go shopping or something. Or they can rely on friends when in between partners and be less willing to meet when they are in a relationship, it might not feel great but it's probably natural. Personally I don't think society values friendship enough. The two places people seem to recommend for seeking friendship are volunteering and and both can be okay, though I have found there can be quite a turnover in people from one year to the next. Rightly or wrongly, I have coped in two main ways. If I go to a Meetup event I just try to be in the moment and enjoy that evening rather than worry if I will make friends from it. I have let go of my hangup that someone isn't really my friend unless I see them one to one outside of the group events, since most of the others going to Meetup have decided the group events are what they want and what works best for their schedule. I have also (to a degree) let go of my hangup that my online friends are a different and less category than in-person ones. I have become more proactive about reaching out on social media and in the last two years was willing to make railway journeys here in the UK of about 4 hours to be with my online friends for a day and it has made us closer.
posted by AuroraSky at 3:27 AM on June 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Maybe it’s not you but the types of people you attract or tolerate. Are you making friends with slightly shallow superficial people? “Here for a good time” people? After a time are you feeling mutual genuine caring and affection developing? Does the relationship get too intimate / over sharing too soon? I’d avoid people where it seems to happen too fast and easily, and look for people who are a little slow to open up. Also look for how they respond to minor conflict with you - those who will be more long term oriented will put effort into clearing the conflict. And as people have said above, the time of life is a huge factor. Friends with young kids are really in the thick of it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:43 AM on June 8, 2019

In the example you provided it kinda sounds like you got used. A newish friend needed help, you helped them and got closer, their life got better and the friendship faded. Is this typical?
posted by bunderful at 4:56 AM on June 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

Ah! I heard a wonderful piece of wisdom: some friends are here for a reason, some a season, and some a lifetime. I love that. So true!
posted by catspajammies at 4:57 AM on June 8, 2019 [10 favorites]

I think it's pretty common for friendships to shift in four years or so, especially when people have kids, because lots of things change in their and they kinda remake themselves. They often have family and high school/ college friend they're close with, and others just come and go depending on whether their kid is doing soccer that year or whatever. It sucks but it might not actually be you.
posted by metasarah at 5:11 AM on June 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

I find my adult friendships do fizzle a bit sometimes, but they also fizzle back in again. Depending on busyness, on whether we’re both into our mutual hobbies at the time, whether someone’s slightly irritated me (through no fault of their own, I just need a slightly different shade of intensity/joviality/humour/whatever for a while), all sorts of different things. But keeping in fairly passive touch via social media and seeking other activities or friends in the meantime means they’ll often either revive down the line, or at least become part of a wider community of friends I have out there who I can see less frequently but who all add up to a good network of people, lessening the pressure on any one single friendship to meet all my needs.

So I’d say, don’t write the entire friendship off as over just because it’s less intense than it was. It might have just evolved into something else, so go out and seek some new activities and social ties and continue to think warmly of your friend even if you don’t see them as much.
posted by penguin pie at 5:37 AM on June 8, 2019 [17 favorites]

Are your friends also friends with each other? Are you friends with their other friends?

As I get older and have less time for socializing, I notice myself prioritizing social events where I can see multiple of my friends at the same time and catch up with them all. I’m lucky that lots of my friends know each other and travel in the same circles, but some of my friends who are more disconnected, I go a while without seeing. It’s just harder to carve out the time to get dinner or coffee one on one while I’ve got a whole bunch of errands, house cleaning, life stuff to do and I’m also trying to to make it to a friend’s birthday party where I know I’ll see twenty people I know. I end up choosing the birthday party over the one on one dinner 80% of the time. And when I was younger I’d do both, and stay out until 2 AM and hop between plans, but I just can’t sustain that level of socializing anymore. That must increase exponentially with kids!
posted by sallybrown at 6:50 AM on June 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

With friends, I’ve also found the saying “easy come, easy go” to be really true. Someone who goes from 0-60, from a total stranger to telling you their deepest feelings pretty quickly—for some reason those are the friends who drop off the face of the earth once they want to move on to a different time in their lives. I’m not sure why. Maybe they’re just not as stable and consistent of people?
posted by sallybrown at 6:53 AM on June 8, 2019 [9 favorites]

I've found that in-person friendships where we see each other regularly flower under a different pretext -- not "Oh you're an amazing friend and I'd love to sound time with you," but rather "Hey, gardening buddy, come help me deal with this patch of hellfire weeds and I'll make dinner?" or "Let us officially pledge this day to be movie pals until we reach the end of our to-watch list. We will meet every other Wednesday to drink beer, eat popcorn, knock one movie off our list, and complain about how our list keeps on growing, at this rate we will have to be movie pals forever, oh no!"

Your ostensible reason for hanging out will be interrupted when your friend gets surgery and you visit then at the hospital instead of doing your usual thing, or when you get divorced and spend a few months getting very drunk in the safety of their company.

But the anchoring reason for your friendship will remain, and it will act as your hedge against "Life got busy." You are committed to your project of getting through your movie watch list, dammit. Committed.

The no-reason-but-pure-love works best with friends who live far away whom you get to see less regularly. With them it helps to be very intentional about, "I have 40 years left on this earth, and if I see my friend on the other coast once every two years, that means we just have 20 meetings left, holy shit, better aim for every year!!"
posted by MiraK at 8:49 AM on June 8, 2019 [25 favorites]

To me you sound like someone who comes across as affable and easy to get along with and comfortable initiating plans. Aka a confident person. I have had friends like this and love being included by them. Then, later on I assume don't like ME anymore once they stop being the sole initiator. (I have crippling social anxiety and take everything as a sign that people don't like me, so I might not be the norm but lots of people have social anxiety).

Any chance that's what is happening?

You could just get more comfortable being the initiator more of the time, or you could make requests of people to do some of the initiating. Not saying these are perfect solutions but they might be possible solutions.
posted by seemoorglass at 10:02 AM on June 8, 2019

is it your pattern to end up making friends by being there for them when they are in trouble?

I came to ask this. There's nothing wrong with making some friends this way, but you might want to consciously reach out to people who aren't in crisis mode. Sometimes people can connect the person who helped them during a difficult period with the negative feelings that went with that tough time, and then need some distance in order to move on.

The good news is, though, that the need for space might not be permanent. I've found my adult friendships to ebb and flow quite a lot. Years ago I read a quote along the lines of "friends come in and out of your life like waiters in a busy restaurant," and I take comfort in the idea from time to time.
posted by rpfields at 12:14 PM on June 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

I have a pretty active and large community of friends, because I'm extroverted and love making plans to get to know new people, but I pretty much don't actively hang out with people that I've done crisis mode with unless we also have been being friends before. This is either because they need distance or I need distance, and also I don't really know who they are outside of the crisis mode. I have hung out with people after crisis mode and realized that I completely didn't really want to spend time with them, sometimes because they turned out to be awful, but usually because we were at different emotional stages in life.

As someone who is really emotionally supportive and good about it and has dealt with people distancing afterwards, I wouldn't take it personally and just keep on making new friends but over interests or doing silly fun things or intellectual topics, etc. Be a whole person basically - the folks in crisis need recovery time to learn how to be a whole person too.
posted by yueliang at 2:51 PM on June 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

is it your pattern to end up making friends by being there for them when they are in trouble?

If that is your pattern, the other challenge it causes is that you lose practice doing social things with people and relating to them in ways that aren't about solving their personal problems and such. After a while of doing this you begin to lose the ability to just be fun and easy-going with people.

FWIW, this isn't all on you. Someone who's bring up their difficult personal situation on your first friend date might be the sort of person whose boundaries turn friendships into feelings-dumps/free therapy sessions. Someone who's in that situation probably doesn't have the bandwidth or skills to be a friend when it's not about emotional support.

You sound like a really supportive and helpful person, which is great, but I wonder if you'd end up with better friendships if you keep a bit more distance when it comes to new-ish people's crises.
posted by blerghamot at 5:46 PM on June 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

I've had a reason to really consider what friends are and what they mean lately. A year or so ago, if you asked me, I would have said that I had a lot of friends - some close and some not so close.

If you ask me now, I would say that I have a few friends and a large number of people I have met. It seems to me that Friends create space. Not-Friends take space.

When I found out about the affair, and news of it spread through the friend group, so many of our mutual friends noped out of any contact with me. As one said "Dude, its been 3 weeks, and nobody knows what to say to you. They just want you to be fun like you were and stop being all mopey - it was an affair, not the end of the world".

I was pretty hurt by that. It was the end of the world. I lost my house, and my community. I lost... well, the respect and admiration I had for my wife. I lost my dog. It was devastating. What a churlishly pig-ignorant thing to say.

And it especially sucked, because I put a lot of work into those friendships - I was always helping out, and offering tools and effort and skills. I was there when someone needed help. None of that counted when my world ended.

Thing is - the friends I had from previous lives, who I saw maybe once every few years - they were on it. They called, they chatted, they listened. They offered couches, and spare rooms, and ears and whatever else they could do. I'm sure they are sick of my shit - I sure am. But they knew me before. They have/had faith in me, and they know that I need time - and space - and I'll be alright, eventually.*

Friends create space.

Those new people - they didn't have faith. They couldn't or wouldn't create space. And so, they aren't friends - just people I had met. Don't get me wrong - they aren't bad people or whatever. I like some of them just fine. They just aren't friends.

I would tell you to continue doing what you are doing. Meet people, and cultivate friendships - guard your boundaries. Some of them will sprout tall and strong. Most... nearly all.... they are just the flowers under the trees.

*I can't discount the MeFi Community - some of them really came through as well. The support was amazing, and honestly I can't possibly thank you guys enough. It was stunning to me that people who only know of me by my shitty internet comments were so much more willing to chat and send nice messages and listen than people who I literally took risks for.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:40 PM on June 8, 2019 [12 favorites]

I've been a scintillating high-value friend for people who felt great respect for me, and got a lot of value out of what I had to offer as a friend. I've also been a shlumpy beer drinking friend who mostly just watched baseball on the teevee one stool over, once in a while muttering something funny but really nothing notable at all. And I've been every type of friend in between (I've led more lives than a cat). And I've experienced that same dynamic in all these realms and dynamics of friendship. There is inevitable social churn (especially in metropolitan areas). That's just how it is.

Yes, it's true that some people maintain a close circle of friends practically forever. These people are mutants, and it's not normal. Most people either churn or else opt out entirely.

I'd suggest going with the flow, and don't try to force it. You'll find it's a frustrating and futile effort to stanch a natural flow.

Two observations:

1. I was an eager regular on Compuserve (dial-in online service before the Web), and the admins of a forum I liked got curious eventually about why regular users tend to fade and disappear. They did some follow-up work to try to shed light on what they were doing wrong. The answer was incredibly prosaic. People got busy at work. Or got drawn into other hobbies. Or got a romantic partner who took up all their time. Or moved. Or were in poor health. Or just didn't get around to it for no particular reason. Dumb stuff like that. And similarly dumb stuff accounts for friendship drift. If you could survey all your departees, you'd get a long list of this sort of crap. It's not because of your poor fashion choices or shellfish allergy. They'd mostly speak well of you. No change of heart. Just shit came up, and drift happened. No biggie.

2. The reason middle-aged and older people perennially complain about how the world is going all to hell is because their favorite bands and restaurants and TV shows and breakfast cereals and political movements and fashion styles all inevitably fade and disappear. If you have a tight set of most favorite things when you're 20, you will see them all wither and evaporate by age 50, which can feel like a horror. The problem of course is they fail to notice the great NEW bands, restaurants, etc., that are appearing...and treasure in newer realms they don't keep tabs on. Similarly, friendship churn only becomes a bummer when you're not keeping up with both sides of the equation. You need to keep making friends, which takes work, and it gets harder as you get older (here's why). You can also invest that work into begging/persuading fading friends not to fade. But, again, that's just going against the natural flow. It will frustrate you.

That link will also suggest reasons to work a little harder to hold onto particularly old friends. Just because they're not weekly pals doesn't mean they need to be (or want to be) summarily dropped. There's nothing at all wrong with 6-month check-ins with people you share history with. Just don't spook them with enthusiastic plans/invitations/rekindling pressure. Go gentle on people; they're as twitchy as you are. Many people lack that social low gear.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:08 PM on June 8, 2019 [9 favorites]

Do your friends ghost you entirely or do they just become busier/less willing to initiate/less emotionally open with you? If they're still responding to some extent, it might help you to reframe things not as losing a really close friend but having someone who is down to watch a Marvel movie with you when they come out/catch up once every six months/come to some of the parties or hangouts you host. They might not be close anymore, but they're still part of your network. Or: you can't count on them to be a bosom bud, but knowing them might be helpful when all you need is a fourth player for your favorite board game.

It definitely hurts to be faded out on, especially if you've put a lot of time and emotional energy into friendships. I agree with the other posters who suggested that you might be drawn to space for you when they need your help and support but drop you when they don't need you anymore. I'd suggest that once you get to that emotionally intimate level, test the waters by asking for some support back and see how they respond. That might filter out people who (for whatever reason) can't give back what they take.

Generally, I try to match the energy/commitment/investment level my friends seem to have for me. You start with low-level, no-pressure stuff, and then throw out a few test balloons to see whether or not they can be a closer friend (For example: venting to them for a little bit, asking them to plan the next hang or text me next time they feel like having tacos, etc.). If they respond well, we've moved on to a closer level of friendship. If they don't, then they can just stay at the level they're at, and I usually neither expect nor offer very much more than they're willing to give me. Being there for people is nice and all, but putting in effort with the expectation that you'll get an equivalent amount back can end in an After Everything I Did For You That You Didn't Ask For situation. If you want a strong reciprocal relationship, you have to be on the lookout for that from the start.
posted by storytam at 11:20 AM on June 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Honestly, I would not rule out being that friend who has to persist a bit past comfort to get people to respond, as long as they eventually do and you enjoy the time hanging out.

I really appreciate my friends who will consistently pester me to hang out even when I suck about initiating (due to overwhelm at work/home and the demotivating effects of low-level depression).

Due to their efforts we still get to have fun together and maintain a friendship, and they understand that I am better at sending occasional "thinking of you" memes than planning dinner, and that it's not creepy or weird to keep pushing for those in-person gatherings if the first attempt fails.
posted by Pomo at 12:18 PM on June 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

As the counter point to all the suggestions here to keep on reaching out regardless of reciprocity, I have to say that it has backfired spectacularly on me on several occasions.

I am, by nature, a puppy dog. I will get excited about seeing people and I will artlessly, naively assume that their saying yes to most of my invites (or politely declining with good reasons given) and then subsequently enjoying the meetups we do have amounts to a mutually appreciative relationship.

In an ideal world full of spherical people and frictionless ramps or whatever, this might be true.

But IRL I've gotten so burned, you guys.

- there was this friend I used to initiate all contact with throughout my teens because she wasn't allowed to use her phone to make calls but I was. Later, when all calls became free, the pattern persisted. I didn't mind, though. Who keeps count of petty shit, right? But for a couple of weeks I wasn't able to call her because life got in the way .. and the next time I called, this friend UNLEASHED on me for ignoring her and neglecting our friendship. I said, well, you could have called me, you know. There's no law that says I gotta do it every time. And she got so mad at not getting the apology she was looking for that she stopped speaking to me forever. A decade later we were accidentally on the same flight and she wouldn't speak to me.

- I have a sister who liked to keep her distance from me but we would still meet up a couple of times a year and she would have an amazing time with me and my kids when we met. I would ask her if things are cool between us, when we met, and she always said yes of course! She loves seeing us and wishes she wasn't so busy usually. This made me think our relationship was improving slowly as long as I give her enough space but also keep connecting 2-3 times a year, even if I had to initiate every time. WRONG. The last time I contacted her, she ghosted me for 2 months and then wrote an angry, nasty email to explain how I was soooo overbearing and controlling for always wanting to see her (2-3 times a year). Couldn't I take a hint? She was always having to say no to my asking to meet up! Clearly I can't respect her boundaries! So now she's cut me out of her life completely.

- I had an ex husband who wouldn't put any effort into our relationship, but I was like, fine, he's good in other ways that I suck at, so I can pick up the slack here. I'd organize all the date nights, I'd give gifts without reciprocity, I'd do a ton of emotional labor for him, listening to him and supporting him, which was never returned because he tended to dismiss or mock my worries and concerns. I thought I was doing the right thing in not talking up who does what for the health of the relationship and who supports whom more. But I was so wrong. That marriage ate my soul.

So one of the lessons I've learned over the course of life is to look for reciprocity. I WILL keep count of who initiates contact how often, who seems interesting in doing the work of keeping relationships alive, be that friendships or family or partners or coworkers. I used to go blithely into the world assuming if my goal was to have a relationship with someone, then it doesn't matter if the effort towards it is unbalanced. But now I realize relationships are only real when they are reciprocal.

This has serious implications for folks on this very thread who say they are introverts and they appreciate friends who keep making an effort without expecting any in return. Five years ago I would have been your friend, you all. Now I see that arrangement as exploitative. I don't trust people who won't make an effort.
posted by MiraK at 5:26 AM on June 11, 2019 [7 favorites]

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