How to learn to draw emotional support from friends?
May 8, 2023 7:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm early-forty-something (nonbinary but superficially dude-coded), and I find it extremely soothing to just talk to my mom about hard things I'm going through. Not for everything, but for enough things. My mother is irreplaceable, and I'm not trying to parentify my friends, but how the heck do I learn to draw a little bit more emotional support from friends?

My parents aren't going to be around forever, and I can only draw so much support from my girlfriend, and I'm incredibly lucky to have all three in my life. How do I learn to draw more emotional support from friends? For some reason, it just feels pointless, and doesn't make me feel better, and I can't figure out what's missing.

Friends do use me for emotional support, and I listen carefully and empathize, and sometimes suggest things, and it's rewarding to be emotionally supportive for other people. But, for some reason, it just doesn't work if I'm the one trying to get support. It doesn't make me feel better, like it would if it were my parents or girlfriend. But I need to branch out a little bit.

Are there some things I can maybe try? More vulnerability? Ask them to reflect things back to me so I can feel more empathized with? Suggestions for experiments to diagnose what's going on?

If you had trouble feeling supported by non-family and non-intimate-partner(s), but now you do feel supported, what did you change?

Possibly important: most of my friends are people who I knew initially online, the majority of whom I've met in person or have video chatted with a decent amount, and I know a lot about their lives and vice versa, but(?) they are spread all over the world. Some of them I could crash on their couch (if I weren't housebound, at the moment---maybe that's important, too), but maybe I'd like a little more ride or die, still with boundaries?
posted by zeek321 to Human Relations (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have to say, even with friends I've had mutually supporting relationships with for years things are much more real in person. Part of it is getting a hug hello and a hug goodbye, but in general I'm just comforted by their physical presence.

They're supportive at a distance too, but there's really no comparison between the two.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:22 PM on May 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

The friend I feel most emotionally supported by is long distance for me. I think what finally turned the corner was having weekly phone hangs. We never miss it. Most of the time we are putzing around doing laundry and talking about regular day to day bullshit. So when we need emotional support, we have a lot of good feelings built up between us and can trust it. I think the regularity makes a big difference. It’s probably part of what is going well with you and your parents and girlfriend. Regular time together builds trust.
posted by Bottlecap at 9:59 PM on May 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

I'm a 39 year old dude and I am really close to my mom and several of my (mostly male) friends who I hang out with online and in person. I can talk to my mom about anything, but for my friends my closeness and emotional conversations are usually related to something specific we have in common as opposed to a general sense of emotional support. If I am looking for a deep conversation and support about my career I tend to go to a different friend than if I'm looking for support related to my personal anxiety or politics. I don't know if this is coincidence or a common trend, but I definitely get better emotional support from friends if I correctly match the topic with the friend. I think this does match the idea that many people (often male) define their friendships around doing certain things together instead of just being friends in general.
posted by JZig at 10:00 PM on May 8, 2023

I've had 33 years of friends that don't emotionally support me, until I finally made connections with people that wanted to be intimate friends with me - and I had the time to reciprocate. Intimate friendships don't happen with a once-a-week hangout - it takes talking on the phone/spending a TON of time together constantly, over a long period of time.

In my case, it took an acquaintance going through really hard times and being really raw with me, and I could reciprocate. Talking on the phone for extended periods, physically supporting them. And... now they also emotionally support me. It's great!

I'm not sure you can intentionally create this scenario, but you can be open to it. I have other friends who I've tried to spend more time with, who I like and like me, but they are just busy and don't have the need/desire as strongly. It really takes the right circumstances and inflection points to create something real.
posted by bbqturtle at 6:15 AM on May 9, 2023 [3 favorites]

Is gender at play here at all? Like, maybe, do you find it easier to open up and to accept emotional support from people who aren't men, and most of your friends are men?

You might find it important to feel loved and safe and intimate in order to get and accept emotional support; if that's the case, you can deepen your friendships to increase intimacy and the feeling of being loved. Be more vulnerable with the ones you feel share your values and your way of thinking about the world, opening up about the weird messy stuff. Try to visit them or host them in person. If you feel safe with someone, like they love you even if you mess up, like they envision the future decades from now still having you in it as one of the key people in their life, then their support may feel more meaningful to you.
posted by brainwane at 12:42 PM on May 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

40 year old dude, eho only in resent years started to really open up. The thing that helps me the most is to talk to my friends about having problems sharing thing and encouraging them to ask follow up questions when I'm vague about stuff, or point out when im showing signs of avoidance.

I should note that my closest friends aren't men and i find it alot harder to be open/vorneble with men, as brainwane mentions.
posted by skaggig at 11:43 AM on May 10, 2023

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