You don't get what you give.
March 27, 2007 8:22 PM   Subscribe

Should I learn not to care that much about people?

I view myself an extremely compassionate and caring person. I'm the one who when my dormmates and friends go out to a party says "be careful" and worries about them. I'm the one who cries over missing people and murders and abductions. Even though you may think this is bull, I would be the one who in an extreme situation involving a friend, would rather me die instead of them (I don't fear my own death, but I fear for others). I would go over leaps and bounds for people. I love giving money to the homeless and hearing "thank you." etc etc

Since I care about people so much, of course, I never get that same amount of affection back. I have never gotten the same amount back from anyone save for my family. I feel that people are selfish because of this, but I continue to care deeply and help people because it makes me happy.

For example, I am in a group of three friends. We are all the same major, and I introduced the two others in the group to each other. They hang out together but they never include me in anything. Right now they are going to Applebee's to "study" (I dunno how it's good to study in that environment and I hate their food, but whatever). They were talking about it in class to a friend, who came up with the plan. I sit in the same row as them and they never once invited me. This happened many a time and when I say "How about me?" they make up some excuse. They are close, they almost act like girlfriend and boyfriend, but they deny it and just say they are really good friends.

This makes me tear up, because I feel like I am being rejected by people who are my "friends." They care about me to an extent like they will IM me and talk to me and ask me "Is everything alright?" when I feel like crap, but they don't care that deeply about me.

One night last week, the guy was at a party and the girl was at another party. The girl came back to the dorm drunk and started to IM me "Dan, I'm worried about Jeff." I called him and relayed back to the girl "He said everything's fine." She said she cried for ten minutes worrying about him, so I went down to her floor (after trying to make her come up to my room to give her a shoulder to lean on), but she wouldn't open the hall door. Once someone else opened it, I went and knocked on her door and she was sleeping. I was so worried about her I woke her up and she said "Dan, I'm fine. I'm drunk, Why do you worry about me so much?"

I have tons of friends (even through high school) but never really one best friend that cared about me or a boyfriend (I'm gay, but afraid to come out fully) or a girlfriend. Nobody seems to want to hang around me all the time or be my best friend even though people say they like me and say I'm a funny and nice guy.

Over the summer, I might volunteer at my local Red Cross or help people somehow else.

I would think it is hard to change how much I care or my weak backbone, but should I? How?

This is a complex question and it might not make much sense, but it really bothers me.
posted by daninnj to Human Relations (36 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Actually, I did have a best friend up until age 12. She was one year older than me and as you could probably expect, once she got to high school, I was abandoned. This depressed me for months. I never had a best friend since then.
posted by daninnj at 8:25 PM on March 27, 2007

Response by poster: One more thing, am I selfish for wanting to same amount of affection back from people? Am I selfish for writing this question?
posted by daninnj at 8:26 PM on March 27, 2007

Dan, I hate to give the seemingly kneejerk AskMeFi response, but these would be excellent issues to explore in therapy/counseling. Don't know if you have any experience with that or aversion to it, but it's exactly the place to get these questions and worries out of your head and examine them, as well as unclog your feelings about them. A nice impartial third party, sort of similar to the function we respondents in this thread will perform, is just the ticket. Except they'll be better equipped to work with you than we will. And on top of that, if you don't have what you consider to be a best friend who you feel cares about you as much as you care about him or her, then you probably have no one to discuss this with, and there's all the more reason to find someone you can talk to.

A lot of people think therapy is for crazy people, but it's really for anyone trying to work through questions just like these. Rejection, intimacy, worries, self-image, self-confidence, self-worth, other people's impressions of you and how much you care about that, your value of your self vs. others - - this is totally the stuff of counseling.

Your college almost certainly will have some sort of counseling available. If you're not to averse to the idea and would like to get some traction on these issues, consider checking it out, at least just once to give it a try.
posted by kookoobirdz at 8:43 PM on March 27, 2007

School, whether it be high school or college, can be a really awesome and really awkward and horrible social scene. I think you need to invest more time in yourself (whether it be volunteering, joining clubs, getting a part time job) rather than putting your energies into other people.

You cannot control how people treat you. But you can control how you react. And you need to control your neediness.

You need to stop trying to be the "go to" guy. You cannot be the "go to" guy if you are constantly running around trying to make everyone else happy. Being the "go to" guy is being secure in yourself and having your own agenda and activities.

Go to a dean and request to be set up with psychology graduate student for counseling (on preview, what kookoobirdz said). And be frank with the dean. By that I mean also mentioning that you are gay but afraid to come out.
posted by spec80 at 8:45 PM on March 27, 2007

You don't need to learn not to care about people; you need to let go of your expectation that you're going to start getting the level of affection you want from the specific people you are friends with right now.

Everyone is different in how broad and deep and affectionate their network of friends is. It's selfish of you to expect the people you spend time with now to just magically conform to your own preferences, and you're not doing yourself any favors by just idling unhappily in this unbalanced sort of state; but you, like anyone else, are perfectly in the right to want whatever you want.

You're going to have to try to let go of your specific attachment to the idea that your friends are going to change, and look for other folks who are more like-minded and willing to meet you halfway as affection goes. That may be hard going, when what you're looking for is a tendency toward more affectionate, intimate friendship than the average joe, but there you go.

A lot of what you describe falls into what most people would associate with a close romantic relationship. Some of the difficulty you feel may be rooted in that: your friends may care about you but find what you see as desirable levels of open affection and concern as overly codependent for what they think of as friendship.

One of the harsh realities here is that you can like your friends so much that you don't acknowledge that you're not a very good fit as close friends go. I don't know that there's a good way to just "move on", but letting go and forcing yourself to meet new people and make new friends is practically speaking the only way you can try to find folks whose inclinations better match yours.

Be more selfish and less expectant. Look for the people you want to be around/with, but stop expecting your friends to want what you'd prefer them to want.
posted by cortex at 8:49 PM on March 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Everything 23skidoo said - most people just can't take that much caring, I'm afraid. You need to give them their space. It sounds like you are a very caring person, maybe some volunteer work for an organization that helps those who don't have someone to care about them would be a good way to express that.

It might help to come out fully. People probably kinda know, or at least get the idea you are different, or keeping a secret about yourself - when they don't know what that is, it makes them uncomfortable. Probably a lot less comfortable than they would if they knew you were gay. Being gay is pretty common, and if someone doesn't like you for that, better to find out and not give them any more of your energy.

Um, wait - I just see you haven't had a GF either. If you are bisexual, you'd better come out as bi if you are hoping to have a GF. Or you can come out as 'attracted to both men and women' if you would rather not have a label.
posted by yohko at 8:53 PM on March 27, 2007

Since I care about people so much, of course, I never get that same amount of affection back.

I'm kind of going through shades of this problem right now in my life. Shit kind of hit the fan last week. I'm not very good at dealing with problems, you know, on my own - I perform much better as a person inside a system, than on my own. It's gotten to the point where I simply cannot control my vices, even the most leisurely of them. and the worst part about it is that i tend to internalize fluctuations that develop around me, and frankly, when a situation demands that you be disciplined, "the world" per se can provide you with a lot of excuses to deviate from the high road.

my most recent analysis is that "caring for others" is a function somehow of how much your parents cared for you - namely, if you care a lot about other people, your parents cared a lot about you. and chances are you are an only child.

frankly, i try to avoid being overly sympathetic with the original poster, because i don't think that'll provide you with a very square answer in real life. so maybe you're weird in some way. maybe that's why you detect a "distance" between you and your "friends". i can't tell you how many people i know "act weird" and somehow aren't cognizant of it themselves. but let me put that to bed, since there i can't be more specific.

in the long run, i've found being tremendously caring and nice to other people is totally overrated. especially if you concern yourself with the notion that by caring for others, other people will care about you. that is a one-way ticket to depression.

not to mention that "being nice" is not a virtue that is specifically awarded in any kind of academic, professional, or social environment i've ever been in. it took me a long time to appreciate this, and i think i've only come to turns with it today. when i was dealt a professional blow that was a consequence of my treating people with a tremendous amount of respect / room to operate. i apologize for the lack of specificity, but i do reflect back on my "unreasonable" compassion as an unwillingness to make a hard decision, even a fear of doing so.

but i think that you will come to terms with this kind of stuff on your own timetable. your story about tending to a friend reminds me of something i experienced in high school. we had a drama-queen in our grade, and it was about the time we were all just starting to get exposed to drinking and this girl had a couple of beers and kind of lost it, freaking out in the kitchen. when that happened, her girl friends started to tend to her like maidens, and when that happened, the guys were like, "where did the girls go?" and then tried to make sure the drunk girl was ok. this kept going on for a few minutes, with the drunk girl escalating in her drunkenness. then the guy who bought all the beer for the party, who was outside smoking a cigarette, walked into the kitchen, gave the girl a good smack across the face and then walked out. safe to say, we all snapped out of our hysteria rather quickly.

so i think you question you ask is an important one, especially in terms of helping you mature into an adult, and also in regards to understanding what it is you want to get out of life - in terms of a family, friends, and society at large. fine-tuning your personality is normal, like anybody who grows up "perfectly happy" but then finds certain new situations to be a challenge. and i would strongly suggest that if there is something that you want, you ask for it bluntly. or better yet, initiate it yourself. implied in your description of your friends is a kind of deference to other people's plans to hang out, something that feeds into your attitude that you might be weak or complacent by tending for your friends in the way you do. i strongly suggest that you self-realize. it is a wonderful talent that you have to work on building. good luck.
posted by phaedon at 8:56 PM on March 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Counseling would be a good idea, not because you're crazy but because something about the way you act isn't getting the results you want -- that's something a counselor can help with, but we can't, since we have such a limited space here to help. Go talk to someone at the university's counseling office -- you don't need to talk to the dean; talk to the psych services people who will be listed on the student health webpage. This might be a huge help to you, and in the worst case scenario it would be a waste of a very small amount of time. Call them, make an appointment, go and talk things over.

One thing to think about: worrying so much doesn't really help people. Crying over accident victims in the news does not help them. Sometimes it serves mainly to draw attention to yourself ("hey look at me, look at how upset I am over your illness!"), or conversely, it can just exhaust you and make you sad without actually helping the people you're concerned about. Either way, it's a mental attitude you would do well to re-train -- counseling can help with exactly this. You don't need to be callous, but it would be good to develop more of a shield than you have now.

Also, as you're finding: acting in exaggerated "people-pleasing" ways (as it sounds like you are) doesn't really please people. It can make them feel suffocated, because their every move has an effect on you even if they don't intend to have an effect on you. Also, if you are willing to bend over backwards for people, often they will just interpret this as meaning that you value your own priorities less that theirs -- that you see yourself as less deserving than they are. This is no good. They can end up treating you as if you were less deserving! The way out of this is to say "I'm going to the game tonight. If you guys want to come I'd be glad to have you" (but I'm going regardless, because it's something I want to do). This may mean leaving behind your current friends; this happens a lot in college, and college is a great environment for making new friends quickly.

Another point which may or may not apply: Sometimes children of alcoholics or drug addicts grow up to be "people pleasers" in this way. Consider whether there might be something like this in your past. If so, you can look for a group called Al-Anon which is for the families of alcoholics. Try going to a meeting, or speaking to someone who's involved privately, to ask if they know a good therapist in your area who deals with that kind of background.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:11 PM on March 27, 2007

Also, depending on the campus: college is one of the best environments for coming out and actually meeting a reasonable number of gay partners quickly and safely. It is harder to do that in the "real world". So consider coming out while you're in school, just for practical reasons!
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:20 PM on March 27, 2007

Just a guess here, buy it sounds like you want the intimacy of a real relationship, while still being afraid to come out. The former sounds difficult/impossible without the latter to me, so work on that, but not in the come-out-and-screw-everyone way.

I'm straight, in a long term relationship, and naturally a bit socially awkward, but I've always found that the more comfortable I am with myself, the better my friendships and social relationships are. I don't see how how you can be comfortable with yourself while hiding a significant part of who you are.
posted by Good Brain at 9:23 PM on March 27, 2007

Response by poster: 23skidoo, yeah I think the guy and girl like each other, even though they keep denying it. I also am not a worrywort to my friends verbally, it's more in my mind. I'm not also really a buzzkill, as I do not really spoil the mood for others, just myself, if that makes sense. But yeah, I should stop worrying about every little thing.

kookoobirdz and spec80, I actually have been going to counseling since I was extremely homesick at the start of college and I had a craptascular roommate. Now, I am having the time of my life in college (my roommate left after a drunk friend called him a bad insult) compared to last semester save for the bouts of depression from this issue. I never thought of bringing it up to the therapist, but I will now. I also want to come out badly, but after sophomore year in high school and the harassing phone calls and the making fun and all that it kinda spooked me (I know college is different than high school and I will come out in the future. I think the guys already know something's up anyway.)

cortex, I know that there are like-minded people out there, which is why I want to volunteer and meet people. I know I have to change and not think I'm gonna get the same affection. It's hard, but I probably can do it.

yohko, when I said girlfriend I meant it during my "denial" period. But yeah, I'm gonna try to come out to more people. It sucks, I like being a (and I hate this term) "straight-acting" gay guy but I hate how I scare off girls because I'm so nice to them and they think I like them or something or having to come out.

phaedon, I am not an only child, but my sister is ten years older than me. Being nice is overrated... As the cliche goes, "nice guys finish last" and it doesn't help in professional settings (I always hated calling out working in the dairy department of my supermarket, because I didn't want to put stress on my coworkers) but in the end, nobody realizes what you did for them.

LobsterMitten, well I really want to do something like the Red Cross or find missing children or help people in need. I'm a psychology major (in my frosh year) and I want to become a high school psychology teacher to open up the minds of teenagers, but my lifelong dream is to do humanitarian work. Also, my school is a major design school so there is no shortage of gay guys here. I'm just afraid to talk to them for some reason. But, my friend, who I was talking about in the OP, told a gay guy about me when I came out to him and the guy said I could talk to him about anything. I'll think I'll take him up on the offer. Also, that just made me realize my friend does care me!

Good Brain, yeah, as I said before, I want to come out and be me, but I am scarred from the events when I came out sophomore year in high school. I am recovering, and am coming out little by little, but it takes time.

Thanks all!

My friend just passed by and asked if I wanted to study with him and the other friend. I'll think I'll go now.
posted by daninnj at 9:46 PM on March 27, 2007

Lots of good advice upthread. Couple things— Don't invite yourself along. That's needy. Come up with something that you're going to do, then invite others. They'll either show or they won't, but you'll have fun.
And christ, I know so many gay guys who keep saying they want someone who acts straight. Come out, let it be known you're out but don't make a deal out of it, and you'll get plenty of guys who want to fuck your brains out.
Now, whether you take 'em up on it, or whether you want a relationship, or whatever, that's up to you.
posted by klangklangston at 9:59 PM on March 27, 2007

I never get that same amount of affection back...I feel that people are selfish because of this...

She said she cried for ten minutes worrying about him, so I went down to her floor ... she was sleeping. I was so worried about her I woke her up and she said "Dan, I'm fine. I'm drunk, Why do you worry about me so much?"

OK - I'm probably pretty much on the opposite end of the sprectrum from you. I am the kind of 'uncompassionate' person who looks at parents making TV appeals for their missing children days after they have gone missing and thinks 'what's the point - the kid is dead but has not been found yet'.

That does not mean that I don't appreciate the parents' distress but I don't get upset about it personally because they are not people I know. My reaction to the scene is primarily cynicism about the police and media who will force the appeal on them giving them false hope that the child may be found alive...just the sort of selfish person you describe in your post then!

Now I would feel absolutely suffocated by the sort of attention you showed this girland seem to be showing people in general.

You appear to need constant affirmation that people care about you - you need to be told/shown regularly. I find people like that draining. My intutitve approach is that people I care about should 'know' I care and not require constant affirmation of that would exhaust me to spend time with somebody who constantly needs to be told/shown that I care for them.

By no means do I consider myself to be uncaring or lacking compassion for people I am close to - I spent most of the last three weeks comforting my cousin after his fiance broke off their engagement.

People aren't nescesarily 'selfish' but most of us chose to focus our emotional concern on those nearest and dearest to us as opposed to our general acquaintance and the public at large.

Also, note that my cousin's distress is real, his whole life got turned upside down and all his plans for the future became futile from one moment to the next. Contrast that with your drunk friend.

The girl did not really have a problem - she was pissed! And drunk people cry about imaginary problems...she herself explained that. You woke her up for your own gratification - people who are fast asleep do not as a rule require comforting - you can't be extremely upset and sleep peacefully at the same time!

Two suggestions and one thought then from this uncaring person who nevertheless takes time to write out all this:

There is a difference between real distress and a drunk person becoming emotional - the former need your compassion, the latter just require you to take care of them physically (take away car keys, walk home, settle in bed and make sure they are safe).

Different situations call for different levels of concern. People who are in extreme emotional situations (shock, heartbreak, loss of a loved one) will be more appreciative of the sort of concern you show than those who are having a bad day (i.e. a bit grumpy and miserable that day). The former will be grateful for your sincere concern - the latter may well be just overwhelmed by it and withdraw!

And lastly - friends are very special people. They are few and far between and may not be people who live close to you - they will reciprocate your affection for them and appreciate your concern no matter where you both are. The people you are talking about are your mates, your general acquaintance - a completly different species!
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:00 PM on March 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh, and one more note— Right now you're a drama magnet. Seriously consider if that's what you want: a soap-opera life.
posted by klangklangston at 10:15 PM on March 27, 2007

A good way to make friends in college is to participate in a common activity like a play or a club. It allows people to focus on something neutral. That way, not everything has to be personal.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:19 PM on March 27, 2007

You sound like you're caring about people without actually respecting them. They have their own needs, their own resources, their own feelings, and none of those things needs necessarily to revolve around you. Assuming that they must is selfish, or at least self-centered -- not caring.

Respect your friends and acquaintances enough to have faith that they're smart and resourceful enough to deal with day-to-day life on their own, and that they'll tell you when they need your help. Don't give more help than they ask for; you've seen in the past that doing so leads to resentment.
"I'm worried about Jeff" does not mean "Call Jeff." Crying on the phone does not mean "Come down here." "Call Jeff" would mean "Call Jeff"; "come down here" would mean "come down here." Stop trying to read people's minds and decide what they "really" mean and respect them enough to hear what they're actually saying instead.
posted by occhiblu at 10:23 PM on March 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also, while the sexual politics are wrong, some of the Nice Guy and former Nice Guy posts at Pandagon may apply, and be helpful reading.
posted by occhiblu at 10:56 PM on March 27, 2007

"Caring too much" is seen by many as selfish and aggressive. And I think that they're right. There are a lot of good posts in this thread. Read them with an open mind.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:02 AM on March 28, 2007

People have their own agendas and wants. Caring about people the way you're caring (unless it's for something awful that warrants such overt sympathy, such as if someone's had a bad accident) isn't always going to get you love and concern back; people will care about who they want to care about when they want to. Mainly, it won't be the altruistic type. They'll care about you if you fill a need that they have, and then to the extent that you're able to satisfy that need. The question is how much you're willing to bend over backwards to fill that need. That's the putting yourself first thing that a few people have talked about up there, because unless you're very, very lucky, most people won't reciprocate to the extent that you want--for their own reasons, not necessarily selfish ones. And that's sad, but it's how people seem to operate.

Not that I'm saying compassion isn't needed in this world and all that, but there's a place for it if you want it recognized and especially if you want it to actually help someone. Kind of cynical, but I'm still dealing with this myself.
posted by elisynn at 12:15 AM on March 28, 2007

I think the title says it all -- "You don't get what you give."

You can't expect other people to give you what you need; you have to give it to yourself. The fact that you would rather die than your friends, and that you have not yet come out, suggest that you are not doing enough self-validation and self-nurturing.

Humans are incredibly elastic creatures. Unless one of them has cancer or a serious drug addiction, you generally *don't* need to be worrying over whether they're okay or not. Even if they're not okay now, they will be soon.

If you do go into therapy (and I strongly recommend you do), the issues you need to focus on are more than just the question "Why don't people love me like I love them?" I fully expect that for the first few weeks, this will be the issue. But you need to move on from there, addressing issues like developing stronger personal boundaries (which I suspect is why many of your friends are uncomfortable around you), self-nurturing, letting go, and valuing yourself (including your sexual identity).

In order to really become close to other humans, you must become willing to be hurt and, sometimes, to hurt. Human beings aren't built to nurture exclusively. With your closest friends you'll say dumb things, hurt each other, have small fights, make fun of and tease each other, and all of these hurtful things are actually necessary to make the bond that much stronger.
posted by Deathalicious at 1:48 AM on March 28, 2007

>I never get that same amount of affection back...I feel that people are selfish because of this...

You seem to have set up a system where you don't have to take any emotional risks but expect others to do so for you. You'll go out of your way to help anyone, even strangers, yet you do not share your true thoughts and feelings with your close friends. You appear to be investing quite a bit of energy into the martyr role, and the bulk of what you wrote speaks less of your friends' selfishness than it does of your own.

It's a self-reinforcing cycle where the more energy you put into other people, the better you hope to feel about yourself - except you aren't actually doing those things for the other people, you are doing them for your own selfish need to feel like you are that guy... so you don't actually end up feeling better about yourself, and you decide to try harder. To an outside observer, this probably looks like you are frantically trying to avoid dealing with your own issues by losing yourself in someone else's. People can tell the difference between frantic desperation and love freely given... and too much of either of those can freak people out even if they do care a lot about you.

>Over the summer, I might volunteer at my local Red Cross or help people somehow else.

Sometimes the best thing we can do for other people is to work on ourselves, to find a solid foundation within ourselves on which we can build and grow.

(Sorry if this was too harsh... I tried to give an honest reaction to what you wrote, and didn't feel that an oblique approach would be worth much.)
posted by foobario at 2:14 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

23skidoo, yeah I think the guy and girl like each other, even though they keep denying it.

They shouldn't have to keep denying it. At most, you should have asked once or twice and let it go. This sort of thing, more than anything else you've written, is what will drive people crazy, even those that find you to be otherwise pleasant and nice.

And I don't meant to be mean or lack compassion, but it sounds like you want to frame your problem as caring too much and not getting enough back when your problem (from my experience) is actually a matter of self-esteem. I second the notion that you should see a professional rather than suffer through it all by yourself.
posted by The God Complex at 4:05 AM on March 28, 2007

Over the summer, I might volunteer at my local Red Cross or help people somehow else.

I'm not sure if this means you're hoping to channel your empathic nature into a helping profession in the future. If so, there's a number of ways to do work that helps people and doesn't necessarily require being on the front lines where you're so close to suffering that it's constantly tearing you down emotionally. Policy and research work is one way, fundraising for nonprofits is another.

It sounds to me like you're maybe too young and dealing with too full an emotional plate to dive into anything too intense. You've got to understand that the frontlines of helping professions (including teaching in urban public schools or anything in social work, mental health, addiction) often times includes putting yourself at risk for physical injury or dealing with intense animosity from the very people you've dedicated yourself to helping. It helps you get a clear and realistic perspective very quickly. Well, that or you find a different job.

I see you're in Philly, if you want to volunteer doing homeless outreach work over the summer in a structured way where you would be with an experienced team leader drop me an email (in profile). You'll know after one night whether or not it's too much for you right now. We don't put kids in situations they're not comfortable with, you would be able to keep as much distance as you want while maybe learning a little more about what homelessness is about.
posted by The Straightener at 6:07 AM on March 28, 2007

I'm drained just from reading this post.

I had several friends like you in school. They were always the most concerned, always looking to help. It was regarded by everyone as sort of aggressive, this constant forcing of feelings on all of us. It was hard to take, honestly.

I should point out that they were all gay thinking they were "acting straight." One by one, they came out of the closet, and you know what? Now they still all hang out (ten years later) and they're all worried about each other. It's a perfect little closed system.

My sister was also in that mindset, the aggro-caring role. Again, it was tough to take...all the talk about how worried she was about people she'd never met, about how she wanted to donate a kidney to someone. At a certain point, it doesn't look like caring, it looks like a desperate bid for attention.

I'm not trying to come off like a dick, here. Compassion is an amazing thing, but it's quite a bit different than drama. You seem to be after the latter.
posted by nevercalm at 6:14 AM on March 28, 2007

That answer came off as unnecessarily harsh, which was not my intention.
posted by nevercalm at 6:16 AM on March 28, 2007

Your value about yourself and others is, in some aspects, a zero sum game. If you're "caring" so much about everyone else, it tends to mean that you dont care about/like yourself that much and are focusing on everyone else in order to get away from your own head.

n+1 therapy, to learn that the only problems/drama/concerns you can control are your own, and when you start focusing inward (note: this does NOT mean becoming a selfish asshole..there are many many differences and shades of gray), then you will be able to develop the intimacy you crave and deserve. Nobody wants to be with someone who is only going to be worried about them, since theres no THERE there. Plus it'd be like dating your mother, and nobody wants that either.
posted by softlord at 6:28 AM on March 28, 2007

Being a nice, caring person has little to do with finding friends. All most no one things, "Fred is so nice and caring. That makes me want to be friends with him!" Maybe that's unfair, but -- alas -- the what's true and what's fair don't usually intersect. So you can "be upset" about this unfairness or you can accept it as a simple fact about the way people operate and move on.

I'm NOT saying people don't value kindness and compassion. They do. I'm saying that these qualities, alone, do not lead to friendships. It's sort of like how, if someone I know baked a really impressive cake. I WILL be impressed, but I'm not going to become that person's best friend because of the cake. (I'm not saying cake and compassion are on equal footing. Compassion is more important, but it's still not enough to make me want to be someone's friend -- even though I value it highly.)

You really shouldn't expect friends based on any specific trait: I should have friends because I'm good-looking. Wrong. I should have friends because I'm rich. Wrong. I should have friends because I'm a good writer. Wrong. I should have friends because I'm kind to animals. Wrong.

Making a close friend involves really complex chemistry between you and the other person, and you can't force it or wait for it to happen. It's vital that you STOP TRYING to get a friend. Instead, you need to lead your life -- whether you're lonely or not. You need to study, travel, read, write, etc. You need to have interests and activities. When your life is full and rich, friendship will happen. You and someone else will just click. But you won't click with anyone if your life is about pining for a friend.

And I nth the plea that you come out. I have NEVER met a closeted gay man who wasn't awkward. Either people knew he was gay but scared to come out or they sensed he had some kind of secret. This makes people uncomfortable.
posted by grumblebee at 7:17 AM on March 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

My therapist explained to me that a lot of my caring/codependency in romantic relationships was me doing things for others that I wanted done for myself. I would project my needs on to the other person, and then satisfy them in the other person. I would write him letters and buy him little thing that I knew he liked. But I really wanted him to do those things for me. By this method, I wasn't really in touch with my bf's real needs, and I wasn't satisfying my own needs. I should have either done nurturing things for myself or made an ultimatum that he do those things or else I was going to leave.

With friendship you can't be as direct and demanding with the other person, so I would focus on satisfying your own needs first. Determining what you want to do, where you want to go, and then invite your friends along. Don't expect that they are gonna know the kind of caring you need. Find ways to self-nurture. Be somewhat 'selfish'. I use to think puting my own needs first was selfishness, but it's not. If you don't take care of yourself first, you're useless to help others. It's like if your starving to death, you won't have the strength to carry you sick friend. You'll both die. You need to eat! Emotional health is like that too. You need to care for yourself, give yourself emotional sustinence, so you're not always looking for it out there! Because out there is a scary place. I have had friends betray me, and if I didn't learn some self-sufficiency, I'd be in an institution.

BTW Did you ever need to care for a parent as a child, in a way that was inappropriate? IE comforting your mother about her failing marriage, struggle with alcoholism etc. 'They' call this becoming a 'parentified child.' Both myself and my roomate were put in this position, and we have struggled with excessive caring and expectation throught the four years we've known each other. I relate to others, especially bfs, as a mother to a child, which is inappropriate for adult friendships and relationships. (Worrying about them, going to sacrificial lengths.) I have a hypothesis that this excessive caring comes from not recieving sufficient nurture as a child, and then having to give nurture to a parent/much older sibling. Thus you don't learn how to properly care for ones self, but only how to care for others.

I feel like I have made much headway towards independence, with my roomie's help and understanding. I think you need to find someone who has similarly struggled and who can give you some perspective on what you are doing, how you are thinking, when you are slipping back into that behavior. She holds me accountable to myself. Also therapists are useful.

Good luck!
posted by amileighs at 7:19 AM on March 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

A point that hasn't been raised yet: When you wear the mantle that says, "My worth to others ONLY comes from giving and giving and giving and caring!" (whether the result of low self-esteem, coming from an alcoholic or otherwise sick environment, in-born temperment, etc.), you can often attract some pretty selfish or even personality-disordered people who will smell that on you from a mile away and take full advantage, even feel entitled to the care-taking you are offering. If you only know how to have these kinds of relationships (is part of the appeal that you feel "safe" that no one is close enough to you or, to be blunt, interested enough to ask you about your sexuality directly?), you'll gravitate towards them again and again, and wonder why you keep getting hurt.

Learn to have enough self-esteem to set boundaries. When you start to say "no" once in a while (or, if you wish, "I prefer not to") only then will you learn who your real friends are. Only then can you have relationships in your life where there's a real balance and back-and-forth.
posted by availablelight at 7:20 AM on March 28, 2007

Have you ALWAYS had these issues, or have they mostly emerged in the past year? It sounds a lot like you're feeling insecure, and this is how your insecurity is expressing itself. It's a normal part of college, in my experience. You start out by trying to make a huge number of friends in a new environment -- people on your floor, people in your classes, people you met in the dining hall, people who went to the same club as you, etc. Over time, some of these friendships grow stronger and some fade away. If you are already insecure, it can be really stressful to see the friendships fade away.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:25 AM on March 28, 2007

One more thing: many people here are accusing you of "drama." Here's why I think this is so: most truly compassionate people are quiet and active. The don't give themselves ulcers worrying; they don't cry every time a friend gets hurt; they don't wake people up... They care, so they act when action is needed and butt out when they realized that action will just turn into an invasion of someone's privacy.

Most of these people don't say or think that they're especially caring, nice or compassionate. They just do what they think needs to be done. They are no nonsense. They make anonymous donations, because they know the donation is more important than who made it. They say, "I don't want to intrude, but I'm here if you need me." And then they go.

I'm not saying that you're faking compassion. You probably really are a nice, caring person. But your "dramatic" way of showing it will make people think you're more concerned with yourself than for them.
posted by grumblebee at 7:25 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

You've got to give people a chance to WANT for the care/compassion you are offering them.
When they have a problem - let them stew a while; if they're starved for love/help/money, they'll ask for it.
Only then will they APPRECIATE what you're giving them.

It's that whole "What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly" thing.

This was drilled into me a couple of years ago. You sound like me (well, the old Me.)
I look back on my so-called Caring, Love and Humanity as: maybe cute, definitely naive, but mostly extremely needy.

(p.s., I second everything amileigh said. Especially the bit about projecting needs onto other people and then fulfilling them. People get really sick of that... being "nurtured" all the time. It's like over-watering a plant -- it kills them.)

(p.p.s., Don't worry about this too much; you'll figure it out in time. You'll find your place, and maybe even find–as I have–overenthusiastically caring people who now get on MY nerves!)
posted by mjao at 8:47 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I also want to make a point...
re: the quotation I offered above, the opposite is true as well.

i.e., you are regarding the caring attention of others far too highly, purely because it is difficult (or impossible) to obtain.

When you get what you want, you get over it pretty quickly. I was surprised and maybe a little humbled to discover this! I truly believed once I found somebody who "cared" the way I did, we'd both stay that way forever, or something. But nah, we both just settled down. You will too.
posted by mjao at 8:54 AM on March 28, 2007

Hey, welcome to being passive-aggressive! I've been there, had friends who have acted in that way, and cringe when I think about it. You're confused and angry that friends don't include you in everything they do. You lack a roommate and likely have time alone where you daydream about what other people are doing, and resent that they're not doing it with you. You express too much emotion and put too much weight into what they're doing, even when they're just putting off studying by catching dinner. Were you at dinner, you'd probably talk about other friends and how they snubbed you!

I've started to recognize this pattern of behavior as "too much drama, not enough hobbies." When you're not busy, not involved with someone, and have free time, you need to realize that the world doesn't revolve around you. Seek out other friends to fall back on when one group is busy. And above all, learn to value yourself. You're putting your friends, and possible friends, up on a pedestal. You envy their time together and would die for them, but they're eating at friggin Applebee's! These aren't people you are even comfortable enough to speak to about your issues. The friends you want to sacrifice for, the ones who are true friends, are ones you can confide in and feel as equals. You are equal to these people, treat them as equals and you'll find they'll include you more often.
posted by mikeh at 11:41 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've been there, I've done that, though not to the extent of crying over strangers on television. I have been in a lot of situations where I've given more than I've taken/received.

The above comments are, for the most part, pretty dead on - both on the critical and compassionate side of things, IMO.

You're reaching out all the time because you want someone to care that way about you. The more you try to make that happen, the less likely it will - and the more likely you will wind up in situations where you end up getting used.

You're just going to have to play to the law of availability. Be friendly, be nice, be polite. But don't go out of your way until someone asks you to, and unless it's a family member/someone you live with or are in a romantic relationship, don't do it unless they agree right then to future quid pro quo.

It's cynical, but it keeps "caring" from taking over your life.
posted by medea42 at 1:02 PM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

The one glaringly false assumption you're working under that I can see is that caring / affection / altruism / whatever are transactional in nature. That if you put a lot of effort or emotion into someone else, then they're obligated to do the same for you. In the context of a romantic relationship, or of a lifelong friendship, this might be true(though it's still not very healthy way of thinking about it), but in the early stages of friendships, casual social life, dating, crushing, and any other informal social setup, nobody owes anyone else these things, regardless of the behavior or feelings of the other.

For one, people only have so much of themselves to spread around, those of us who are introverts, even less. For another, these are feelings that can't just be called up at will, that are hard to fake, and even if they aren't in some cases, are undesireable to fake and to do so is not in the best interests of either party in the long run. The Pandagon threads linked above are good examples of this sort of tendency, albeit in a much more pernicious and pathological form. People owe each other civility, respect, and concern / care when there is obvious distress. Anything beyond that is a gift, not an obligation.
posted by jdunn_entropy at 4:35 PM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

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