Convincing Yourself to Trust?
October 28, 2007 11:05 PM   Subscribe

How do I get past the trust issues brought about from an abrupt, unexplained end to a close friendship of three and a half years?

I really couldn't post about this earlier; it's a bit intimidating to post about emotionally sensitive issues to AskMefi. It makes me get a much more healthy respect for the courage of people who asked about issues in their lives much more sensitive than what I ask about below, and what I ask about below is more than a bit tough for me. My hat's off to them. Anyway, *deep breath*, here we go.

In March 2007, my best friend of four years abruptly stopped speaking to me, with no explanation at all. I initially made a few calls, and then sent four or five e-mail messages over the months between then and now, encouraging him to argue out whatever he needed to with me ... or at the very least, to tell me what was going on. At this point, I can't do anything more to encourage a response without feeling like a stalker, and, indeed, I'm aware that there's a line both of my dignity and of his privacy that I don't want to cross. So as November 2007 rolls in, I'm coming to terms with the fact there's nothing more I can do to find out what the hell happened. So the friendship is utterly gone, now, and moreover, I will never know why.

There are two issues I'm having difficulty with in coping with this.

First, I'm finding that dealing with this is made significantly more difficult by the fact that I have no explanation, no reason why this friendship that meant a great deal to me was ended. Even were the explanation to have been a ridiculous one, it would have helped to have known, say, that wearing a striped argyle sock was the causative factor. But in the last two e-mails, I asked him to at the very least share his reasoning for the friendship's termination, promising that it'd not serve as the prelude to an argument; that even if I didn't accept it, I'd nevertheless nod and move on — I asked him to at least tell me this, so that I could find some peace over this and move onward. The silence merely continued. I canvassed my memories of the time intensely, as well as those e-mail messages I have from that time. I can't find anything that remotely could be causative — neither something loud and garish nor something subtle. It is not due to anything solely technical in nature, and, given that he and I take the same subway route and a month ago my departing train passed by him standing on the platform, I can safely assume he did not die, get struck with amnesia, or fall into a coma. So ... I'm not going to even get a reason. It's hard enough that the friendship ended; it's made much harder by the fact that the reason why it ended will never be revealed to me.

Second, this has placed me in a situation where I need to start creating some new social circles from scratch. For years, I had needed to do this anyway, but now, I find myself in my early thirties with literally no in-person friendships whatsoever, and no social activities. A pathetic state of affairs, but for many years, I worked at a bad job that sapped my energy by day's end, and during all of that time and more, I had uncorrected sleep apnea that was de-evolving me to the point where I could have starred in a George Romero film quite easily ("braiiiiiiiiiiiiiins") i was a zombie, get it? yuk yuk. I've already asked for and gotten advice here about (as well as having read others' Q&As here about) the logistics of discovering new places to be social with like-minded people in person; where to go is not a problem (I think, at least for the moment). The problem, it turns out, seems to lie with the emotions that are necessary for forming new friendships.

In the last 10 years, there have been only four people in whom I invested anything more than a very light acquaintance-level of interaction, and, unfortunately, all four of those people in some way betrayed those friendships. As each person hurt me (these four were sequential in nature, not concurrent), it became progressively harder to open myself up the next time around. Now, it feels impossible; I can't seem to lower my own shields.

(BTW, while I understand that an outside observer's first thought, looking at a pattern of four ended friendships with Person A, is to attribute the cause to some unknown deed or behavior of Person A, that being the only constant. But after a lot of careful self-analysis and thorough analysis by a level-headed out-of-town friend, that is not the case here; the "betrayals" were different in nature and were all very much acts of the respective other person.)

As a result of those four ... well, my mind knows that in order to find both friendship and romance, I need to (a) interact with people, and (b) should I be able to do that, be the relaxed-likeable me with them, not the guarded-prick me. However, my emotions are now firmly convinced that if the penny came up heads four times in a row, it will come up heads the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, etc. ad nauseum time in a row, and they do not want to expose vulnerability or invest trust anymore; they want to go home, close the shades, and turn on the boob tube — forevermore. My mind, however, knows precisely where that ends up, in a future I don't want for myself. So my mind and emotions are working at cross-purposes, instead of together.

So I find my questions are these: first, how do I deal with the fact that I'll never know what ended this friendship? Second, by what techniques can I convince the emotional part of me, which apparently is not listening to my rational mind, that it's not a one-to-one ratio for being vulnerable and getting hurt, and that I can trust the next person to come along, and the person after that, and the person after that?

Thanks in advance.
posted by WCityMike to Human Relations (34 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I can't help you, unfortunately, with dealing with your friend's abrupt disappearance from your life. However, I do suggest spreading out your friendships in the future. Try not to invest too much in one person. Having some friends that are closer than others is probably normal, but pinning your emotional health on one person is never healthy, even in a romantic context.

Please take even this little bit of advice with a healthy dose of salt- I'm pretty much the opposite of an expert on this stuff.
posted by MadamM at 11:21 PM on October 28, 2007

Oh, man. I really feel for you. I had a long-term relationship implode in exactly that way. One day we're talking and laughing, the next day she won't even open the door. I called and wrote to her to no avail. This happened over ten years ago and she still crosses my mind fairly regularly. I finally had to decide for myself that something pretty heavy was happening in her life and she felt she had to cut me loose for whatever reason. Still, it is very painful. Is it possible that he cut off a lot of folks at the same time? I really did make the decision that it was HER and not ME in order to get some peace with it. I lost a good friend, but so did she.

As for meeting new people and the trust issues: I am not one to trot out going to therapy as every answer I give here on the Green, but in this case, it might be helpful. At the very least, you would have a third party to bounce thoughts off of. You need to have someone with whom you can grieve this.

I also had a run of betrayals many years ago, and decided that I couldn't let the false people "win," by closing off my heart. There are people worth your time, even though right now it seems like everyone has an agenda. I think much of this will just take time. You sound like a thoughtful and kind person in a lot of pain. Things will change, however; the pain will lessen, and you will find someone(s) who will be worthy of your energy.

I hope this doesn't all seem too pat, I mean it whole-heartedly. Good luck to you, I'll be thinking about you.
posted by thebrokedown at 11:25 PM on October 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I just wanted to throw a quick addendum on here before I go to bed ... just to break it down, of the four, two were romantic in nature, with women (and ended in betrayal) and the other two were friendships (that ended in betrayal) -- one female, one male. Of the four, the relationship with my best friend was the male friendship.

Also, thebrokedown, I agree, therapy is quite useful. Most of the reason why I was able to state the problem above so clearly was due to therapy, actually. :) Unfortunately, because the events have been sequential, the grief has been reopened a number of times in a row, thus the damage.
posted by WCityMike at 11:46 PM on October 28, 2007

So sorry about your situation. I know how painful that is. All I can suggest here is to make deliberate steps to widen your net. Join some clubs and get involved and try to make new friends. Act like you just moved to town and want to make friends.

As far as the ex-friend... I guess all you can do is maybe send a card or letter expressing your feelings. Perhaps end with a sincere "sorry if I did anything wrong... my door is open if you want to talk" statement, then leave it at that. It's not easy to get past things like this, at least not for me. But you can't wallow either.

Getting past the trust issues can only come with time, and you can't "will" yourself to trust. You can just put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable.

There's more in your MeFi Mail.
posted by The Deej at 11:54 PM on October 28, 2007

Who knows what drove your friend to withdraw from you. I suspect, and this is purely speculation, of course, that it was a build-up of sorts and not one single event that led him to turn from you. Perhaps a series of minor annoyances he neglected to address that accumulated to the point where it got to be too much. Ultimately, only you and he can know the true reason.

However, I urge you to take comfort, if you can, in the fact that this person clearly has issues communicating with you, and is in the least acting a little immature in refusing to have it out with you, laying everything on the table and just getting over it. (Getting over it doesn't mean you have to be friends in the end, but at least you have addressed your issues together).

What I'm saying is, do you really want to be friends with someone who keeps his issues so pent up? Make this a learning experience and, as the above answers have recommended, widen you circle of friends.
posted by Brittanie at 12:11 AM on October 29, 2007

I feel for you, I really do. I've been on both ends of broken friendships and relationships that never resolved properly, and it sucks.

Forget email, and try what The Deej says: a real card or letter (assuming you have your friend's address) rather than the emails you've sent so far. Phone calls are too intrusive and email is just pixels on a screen. Spend as much time as necessary to write the message, because this may be one of the hardest things you will ever have to write. Put it down for days between drafts if necessary. It has been months already, and you seem to be able to analyze the situation fairly well, but the way you want to talk about it to your friend may still need to evolve a bit.

Write the note knowing that you may never get a reply. You may never even know if your friend reads it or just trashes it immediately. You may finally get a reply, but it may be hostile rather than welcoming. Don't send the letter until you're emotionally prepared for all of these outcomes.

(Oh, and photocopy your message before you mail it.)

Once you send the message, you'll have done all you can do. Given your friend's pattern, it's very unlikely that you will hear from him again, but you'll know that you have made a whole-hearted effort, and this may let you walk away feeling a bit more free. This article about forgiveness and moving on has a core of kindness and common sense. You don't have to be the offending party or a Buddhist to get something from it.

About opening yourself to new relationships and trusting again: you may have been wrestling with mild depression for some time as your social circle constricted, and it's probably gotten worse with the loss of this friend. Yes, this was a platonic friendship, but in your circumstances, it may hit you as hard as a breakup of a longterm relationship or even a divorce hits other people. You are going to find yourself looking at things negatively, even catastrophically: that's the way depression works.

How about putting yourself into a social situation where you have to be trustworthy and responsible, such as volunteer work with kids or some other kind of work that takes you out of your apartment? You'll be doing something good for someone else, getting practice socializing with people much less likely to reject you, and associating with other caring, responsible people. (Of course, I'm not suggesting that all volunteers are saints, or that you won't run across some assholes in a non-profit. But I think you'll find a lot of good people there nonetheless.)
posted by maudlin at 12:31 AM on October 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry to hear that, Mike. I know it's hard not to take stuff like this personally, because deep down we all think "well, the 'it's not you it's me' thing can't be true all the time"... but you know, sometimes it is.

Some five years ago, I befriended this guy at work (we both taught English as a 2nd lang). We quickly became best buddies, and used to hang out all the time, not only at work, during breaks, but also for drinks, watching anime while, er, lighting up, and many other things guys do when not around females (no, not those things! not that there's anything wrong with that!)

After several months, I find out that he's been badmouthing me at work. At first I didn't pay attention, but some close (girl) friends confirmed it. Now, I was young(er), and yeah I can't say it didn't hurt. Out of pride I guess, I didn't ask for an explanation. I just let the friendship die off, and since he was pretty much avoiding me anyway, it wasn't hard to drift apart.

I wish I could say that was the only rejection that hurt my fragile heart. But you know, one thing I've been able to learn over the years is that the joy of relationships is the part where you give, you know, just "loving" and not worrying too much about what you're getting. I know, total cliche right? Well yes, but see, the thing is that I didn't really understand it till I actually tried it. And it wasn't easy. It takes a lot of work to overcome your selfish genes and just concentrate on giving, not getting.

Of course, I can't say I've mastered it. I don't think I ever will: the way I see it, it's a lifelong path, of learning how to deal with people with compassion as your basis. But the more I practice it, the better I get at it, and the more fulfilling relationships become. And fwiw, let me mention that I'm not religious; if anything, I'm an agnostic that enjoys studying Buddhist philosophy, seeing as how much of my worldview regarding human interaction and development is shared with the Buddhist beliefs.

I imagine you know this, having been in therapy. The trick is not only knowing it, but trying it out in the real world, see? Like I said, I won't claim my relationships are now perfect, or that I'm even happy (!), but yeah I think now I can avoid a lot of grief simply by not expecting people to be giving, and instead focusing on being a giving (or at least understanding) person myself.

Finally, I just wanted to say that it's likely that your friend just drifted away for reasons unrelated to you. How likely that is, only you can tell, but in any case it's a possibility. And, the only way to trust a horse again is riding one.

As someone who has had his trust in fellow humans shattered more than once, I feel you man. I just hope you don't spend too much time inside your shell again, because the truth is, it's not a nice place.

Let me finish with a metaphor I use to explain to myself (and others) some of my actions/mindstates, which I call el hoyito de mierda. I Imagine a desert at night, with cold wind howling, and a menacing moonless sky. In the middle of this wasteland is a person-sized hole, where I can barely fit with only my head protruding. And this hole is also full of foul-smelling mud. And I'm inside it, because it's warm in there, and I don't feel like getting out, wet, in the wind. In the distance I see some hills, and beyond them lights, of a village maybe. I keep telling myself I'm "happier" inside, because the trek is long and cold, and at least in there I'm not freezing. But the truth is I'm in a shithole, which is not a good place to be, and I'm only there because I put myself there. The point being, even though it's a hard, long journey toward your goals, anything beats sitting by yourself in a stinky hole.
posted by papafrita at 1:13 AM on October 29, 2007 [17 favorites]

I want to live in a world where I can trust people by default, so I choose to live that way - to trust people before they have earned it (ie the benefit of the doubt), and to both allow and accept the occasional betrayal of that trust as the worthwhile price of revealing the true colours of those people who are not worthy of my social circles. It also quickly reveals the flakes - people whose hearts are in the right place, worth your time, but not to be relied on for anything too important or involving a deadline :-)

You too would prefer to live in a world where you can trust people without fear. Your emotions agree on that, so there's the thin end of a wedge to use.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:38 AM on October 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

Move the hell out of town! It's cruel to yourself to take the same subway every day and risk seeing that guy. That keps the wound open.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:51 AM on October 29, 2007

It's not necessarily betrayal. It could be something not related to you, like depression. I've lost touch with people I care about for that reason. Even if it seems ridiculous that I wasn't able to make the effort to answer concerned emails or explain what's going on, that's how it was. So seconding sending a final message that says your door is always open, even if it takes him 5 years to get back to you. Aaand to take care of himself. And then you move on.

(Not that that's necessarily the explanation, but you never know.)
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 3:07 AM on October 29, 2007 [5 favorites]

To build on lullabyofbirdland's point - sometimes it has NOTHING to do with you.

I became best friends with a wonderful woman that I was in complete awe of. I've never had a friendship quite that strong in a long time (possibly ever) and I was smitten. After a year of intense friendship, she suddenly disappeared. I was going through anxiety and depression at the time (just got diagnosed) and her leaving me brought me rock bottom as I had no other support.

What made it worse was that, because of her job, I could SEE her very often - but I couldn't talk to her! No way of contacting her! Email didn't work, phone didn't work. I became almost stalker-like really; I was in such a bad state mentally and this was the last straw. I was obsessed.

It took about 9 months for me to get better and accept that she probably wouldn't write back. Then suddenly, she wrote back.

I don't think I've ever been so shocked before.

Turns out she had to leave her earlier job very suddenly, moved back and forth different countries, and had to work out her career and life direction. She did know I was looking for her (turns out my dad wasn't kidding when he said he knew someone that worked with her) but she didn't want me to be codependent on her. (I don't buy it, but whatever.)

We rebuilt our friendship. It's been 6 years. We're still the best of friends.

It may take forever, but try not to worry about it being your fault. People are strange sometimes. Don't take it personally. Just live your own life, and if your friend is ready to get back to you, they will.

posted by divabat at 3:24 AM on October 29, 2007

Damn, WCityMike. For what it's worth, I don't think that your feelings about this are very out of line... A lost friendship may be mourned and then one eventually moves on - but such a dramatic change, veiled in mystery, would prey on my mind and possibly undermine my confidence, too. This is very cruel behavior from your friend, though there's a good chance that he doesn't really understand how damaging it is.

The answer may simply be that he has had some sort of emotional/mental crisis, and that you aren't the only person in his life he's done this to (I see on preview, that others are suggesting this possibility as well). I agree that writing the letter as a last-ditch effort to resolve the enigma is a good idea... But after that you need to let it go, and move forward.

Be very specific with your therapist about how much this has affected you, if you haven't. It may seem like just a regular breakdown in communication, or a friendship that's gone south, which happens to everyone - but the sudden and inexplicable nature of it has been an emotional shock, and just like people who suffer a random act of violence or disaster, you have lingering fears and anxiety that you need to work through. The fact that you care so much means a great deal, and you sound like you would be a wonderful friend. A whole lot of people out there would be so glad to have a friendship with someone like you, and are ready and able to reciprocate.
posted by taz at 4:11 AM on October 29, 2007

I agree with just about everyone above. It is your friend's deal.

My example:
My best friend of 3 years recently started acting like a huge prick. We used to do everything together (we own a racecar together), and then suddenly he acts like he hates me. Then I hear him talking to another not-so-close friend when we were out on Saturday.

Turns out--he has a job offer 3 hours away--which he hadn't told me about. His defense mechanism is to withdraw--because he's afraid--from those he's closest to. I've seen him do it before. He doesn't really THINK about what it does to me...because he's pretty inwardly oriented.

So basically--in the end we got rip-roaring drunk and held each other and told each other the normal "I love you and don't want you to move away--but don't keep that shit from me" stuff. We're back to normal.

My advice:
You COULD write him a letter. Or better yet--sit next to him on the train and just be normal. Perhaps he doesn't want to talk about it. Some people have communication issues, especially if you're intimately close. It might be easier to just fall into your old pattern of friendship, and then eventually you can figure it out.

Good luck.

Good friends come and go, but true friends never go.
posted by rocket_johnny at 4:50 AM on October 29, 2007

Response by poster: I'm quite grateful thus far to everything everyone's said. I did want to post a few notes of clarification in response to some of the answers.

The one big thing: I appreciate that everyone here keeps agreeing with the rational part of my mind with regards to joining clubs, widening my social net, and so on. The problem is that while I am able to type onto this keyboard that I should go join clubs and widen my social net, as the original post suggests, my emotions are not willing to go along with the ride. In order to feel the feeling of friendship, you have to have your emotional shields down; you need to be willing to trust someone. My shields aren't coming down, despite my commanding them to do so. They are a stuck power window, and no amount of tugging on the glass seems to be snapping them back in the groove. So I appreciate the recurring suggestion that I do indeed need to widen my social net, but this is something I knew coming into this question; what I don't know is how to get my protective emotions to "stand down" so that going into social groups will do some good, and so that I won't be scared that going into social groups is merely going into relationships that will eventually hurt me. Right now, the idea of socializing with people in an environment where I'm being genuine and don't have a fake PlasticMike up (like I might at a work party) is a bit of a frightening thought.

I appreciate the suggestions about writing a letter. Unfortunately, I don't think I can take them. I'm already at the point, after four or five e-mails, where I feel as if the answer of rejection has been given pretty thoroughly. I know the purpose of such a letter would be to vent emotions, but I think those e-mail messages I've sent already expressed those desired emotions, including, finally, anger. My last e-mail message was very angry -- angry in a sensible and nondangerous way, but angry nonetheless. After that, I just want to leave the whole thing be; if memory serves, anger is one of the five stages of grieving, and I'm beginning to phase into acceptance of the fact that the friendship's dead. I don't want to jeopardize that acceptance.

I also appreciate the affirmations that it has every possibility of having nothing to do with me. They say depression is anger turned inward; I can't say I haven't wondered what I might've done. I'm grateful that my burgeoning sense of self-worth, however, did come into play with this situation; "all of me" -- rational and emotional -- quickly agreed on the fact that he was being a Grade A asshole, and that the very least he could do is confront me with his concerns. If it is one of the reasons that others have described, if he approaches me in the future, we can play it by ear. I don't feel that's going to happen, but you never know.

I do think he may have done this to another friend of his. I wasn't privy to what was going on, but I know he and this other friend were close, and that said friendship ended very poorly and abruptly.

Maudlin, with regards to the onset of depression, I began taking Wellbutrin this year; I think that may've assisted with the reaction.

BTGOG, I don't see him every day on the subway; in seven months, my subway car has passed him standing on his platform twice, and I have never seen him in my subway car. So it's a rare event. So fortunately, it is not a daily wound-reopening; just a very occasional one.

I'm very grateful thus far for people's responses here and privately. The support means a great deal to me.
posted by WCityMike at 5:51 AM on October 29, 2007

There could be a lot of reasons for someone to reject a close friend. So instead of beating yourself up, which is bad for you, beat him up, metaphorically of course. In the age of email and text messaging, it's unkind to ditch somebody without a word. He's being a major jerk. Once you stop thinking your horrible thoughts about yourself, you won't be so afraid to make a new friend or 2.

Since it is, of course, possible that your social skills are not perfect, spend some time improving your listening skills. Pick up a new, healthy hobby and meet some nice new people. You deserve to have good friends in your life.
posted by theora55 at 6:30 AM on October 29, 2007

Mike, I am so sorry you are going through this. Some thoughts about unsticking the power window:

When I have been in situations where a friend has abandoned me -- or even just really let me down -- I get scared and depressed and angry and antisocial too. What I've done to get back on track is to sort of prime the pump: meet people, but keep my expectations low.

This is what I've done; it seems to have worked OK. Try emerging very gradually (it may feel a bit like you are in PlasticMike mode, but just go with that for a little while). Make a point of having coffee/a drink/a walk with someone who seems sane, nice, stable, decent. Ask basic things about him/her: Read any good books lately? What do you like to do in your spare time? Is there life in outer space? Who's your favorite Beatle? When he or she asks about you, reveal only as much as you feel comfortable exposing. Keep the encounter rather brief: an hour or so. Then go home, take a deep breath or two, and let the experience sink in.

If you're like me, you may think back on the conversation and feel you've been awkward, stupid, tone-deaf... but in reality, everything probably will have gone just fine. Let that sink in -- that your feelings don't necessarily accord with the reality. (Personally I hate my feelings, but I have had to declare a truce with them over certain matters.)

Then try this same experiment with another person of similar decency. (Eggs in many baskets, don'tcha know.)

Choose your people sensibly and rationally. Invest your ego as minimally as possible. You may feel very self-conscious; admit it to yourself. Let it be. After a while, you may find that you are gradually learning how to expose your inner self more and more.

I hope this helps (would be happy to talk more about this via MeMail if you like). Wishing you the best; hang in there.
posted by GrammarMoses at 6:57 AM on October 29, 2007

One of the problems with having a small social circle is that every blip -- which often come as the result of random occurrences -- become Big Deals when they're happening to one of your small set of friends. I'm going to take a different tack here and suggest that instead of getting back on that horse for a bit, you spread yourself more thin and don't spend any more time on the "wtf is with that guy?" question.

One of the things that comes along with depression of any stripe is the tendency to nurse these private hurts at the expense of future healing and happiness. I don't think this is necessarily something you can handle or manage, but it's worth keeping in mind. So, put another way, every minute you are spending going over what went wrong -- in an episode now admittedly receding into in the past -- is a minute you're not spending living in the present and figuring out what you're going to do.

So, make an inventory of what is working for you. If PlasticMike works for work parties, maybe you can use is as a temporary get-you-out-of-the-house maneuver to do something that interests you without thinking of it as a possible inroad to future socialization. Just do the things that make you happy and don't ride yourself about meeting and making friends. You seem to be bright enough that you can think through a lot of these situations, but you don't seem to be able to adopt a "fake it til you make it" attitude to get you farther along the path there.

I notice in a lot of your AskMe questions (and apologies for going back but I think there's a pattern) you ask very specific questions and often have a lot of meticulous almost overthinky reasons why the answers people give you won't work. Granted when people do have the perfect solution you tell them, but I think this tendency to be fussy or picky -- and I speak as a fussy person myself so I hope you don't think I'm just pointing fingers -- can lead to an ongoing free-floating dissatisfaction that may not be rooted in any one thing and so gets applied to whatever the problem of the moment is which for now is thinking about this (lousy! say it "lousy!") ex-friend. So, to talk around the trust issue but not specifically to it, here are a few concrete suggestions

- go do something where your participation is not just accepted but it's valued. I know people recommend volunteering a lot, but there really is something about doing work where you are appreciated and where you feel like you make a difference with whatever your skills are. This is different from social events where you can feel like it's "not working" if you're not meeting people and making friends. Find a cause you care about -- an OUTSIDE the house cause -- and dedicate some MeFi time to doing that. having people say "Gee WCityMike, thanks for coming, we value your particpation" is a good thing to hear from time to time.
- Learn to enjoy your own company. You seem to like to think about things and that's one part I think of getting comfortable with yourself but you seem to worry about social connections a lot. While I think that's understandable certainly, that seems to point out some sort of self-unease, to me. Learn to really enjoy yourself in ways that aren't just enjoying your mind, find ways to enjoy your body, your actions, your family, your living space. I think people who are techie/cerebral have a tendency to overlook the importance of some of these things from time to time.
- I know you're just free-associating here so that we can understand you better, but having a list of ex-friends and betrayals seems again to indicate that you're keeping those wounds open. Look at forgiving people, even maybe those who don't "deserve" it. Try to find ways to accept people who are imperfect, possibly even lousy, and I think it's a path to self-acceptance and a rosier outlook. See if you can take advice without debating it, take people at face value, see your ex-friends as flawed but valuable (maybe to someone else, not you) people, say "yes" instead of "yes, but..."

You'll have different ways of getting there, certainly, and I'm sure what works for me isn't going to work for you, but I've gone through intense periods of personal solitude (self-enforced and non) and I try to think of it as an opportunity to really untangle some of the questions I have about myself that I was previously too busy or entertained or unfocussed to deal with.
posted by jessamyn at 7:03 AM on October 29, 2007 [8 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to you. The same thing happened to me four years ago - my best friend just stopped talking to me, almost overnight. He wouldn't even return any of the stuff he'd borrowed from me. Worse still, I was going through one of the hardest and most stressful periods of my life at the time.

I seem to remember a mutual acquaintance telling me that he'd said dealing with my depression was "annoying." I'll admit that it is kind of a hassle to provide constant support to someone who's always down, but still: asshole. Inexcusable assholery.

(Maybe it was the same jerk who dumped both of us? He lives in Chicago.)

It'll take time, but you will heal and find new friends. Don't waste any more thoughts on this guy if you can. Good luck; you have my support.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:27 AM on October 29, 2007

first, how do I deal with the fact that I'll never know what ended this friendship?

Do you have mutual friends who are still in contact with Mystery Friend? Maybe you can feel them out. Otherwise, you'll need to let this scab over with time.

Second, by what techniques can I convince the emotional part of me, which apparently is not listening to my rational mind, that it's not a one-to-one ratio for being vulnerable and getting hurt, and that I can trust the next person to come along, and the person after that, and the person after that?

You can spend the next ten years living with your blast shields up, and get tired of it, and only then try something different, or you can live your life right now as if you'd already learned that lesson. That may mean putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, it may mean monitoring your state of mind more carefully than you're accustomed to, and it may mean more than your share of social blunders. But it beats living in a cave.
posted by adamrice at 7:32 AM on October 29, 2007

He has hooked up with one (or both?) of the women who betrayed you. Or not. You'll never know.

In any case, check the answers to other questions on how to meet compatible people. Like this one. Make lots of friends, not just one friend. And if they all betray you, well, that's why a person prone to being betrayed should always have a few fresh friends in the pipeline.

By the way, this doesn't sound like solid proof that there isn't something about you that somehow helps to lead to these "betrayals" (?):
But after a lot of careful self-analysis and thorough analysis by a level-headed out-of-town friend, that is not the case here
You can't ever trust your self-analysis and you can't be sure an out-of-town friend isn't telling you what you need to hear. But you still need to make more friends. And keep that out-of-town friend, too; he or she sounds like a winner.

posted by pracowity at 8:07 AM on October 29, 2007

The problem is that while I am able to type onto this keyboard that I should go join clubs and widen my social net, as the original post suggests, my emotions are not willing to go along with the ride.

Mike, I just want to say that I am in the exact same boat. It's easy to say to someone else, but hard to do. The crux of your question is indeed about how to get to that point where you can trust enough to reach out.

I'll speak in the first person here because I don't want to pretend to speak for you. Although some down time can be a good thing, I have found lately that if I wait until I trust enough before reaching out, I may never do it. I just have to get over the initial hump and take a small step. It's like the old saying: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. By staying aloof, I am digging a deeper hole.

But, I also have to be realistic: I know that letting down my guard WILL result in being let down, disappointed and hurt. That's the nature of any relationship because we are all human. Pain is sometimes just the cost for having loved, platonically or otherwise.

Good luck. You are not unusual to be where you are right now; it's just part of life. A sucky part, of course, but something we all go through.
posted by The Deej at 8:54 AM on October 29, 2007

oh, wow, wcitymike, I am so sorry for this. People here have given you some great advice. I personally think such communication failings (friends hurting friends) happen a lot in everyday life, maybe not to the degree of betrayal you have faced, and it is good to learn to deal with them. Sort of, use this unpleasantness to your own advantage. I know, it is a terrible blow to your feelings, your ego, your self-esteem besides the loss of a friend (perceived mistakenly as such, obviously).

My opinion is to forget entirely of this person now. Now. Do not try any other communication route. You do not need to know what they are thinking anyway, as it could drag you down in another spiral of self-questioning. Since you are convinced you did nothing wrong, there is no reason to put yourself on the defense. Invest your time and energy to yourself.

As for regaining your faith to people, you know how it is when you hurt your knee badly at the corner of the desk once and for the next few times you pass by that desk you sort of feel the same 'pain'? And you take an extra step aside? Well, you always forget about it after a while, don't you? That's how you will forget about this one too. What I am saying is that it is okay to be cautious for a while. You sound like one of those people who will not hold back after all, and that is really great.
posted by carmina at 9:04 AM on October 29, 2007

I second jessamyn: find someplace to volunteer. It's a "social" situation, but you have a task to do or a function to fulfill so it just feels less awkward to be hanging out with a bunch of people you don't know. It also gives you a built-in, immediate subject to talk about which can help take away a LOT of the anxiety that is always present, at least for me, when I walk into a room full of unknown people. You'll also meet people that share your same interests, and, who knows, you may develop interests you didn't even know you had.

Good luck to you.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 9:06 AM on October 29, 2007

Can you let your emotional shields down half-way instead of all-the-way? It doesn't have to be one way or the other -- it's not just plastic Mike and real Mike.

Also, I wonder if the all-the-way-down thing is possibly related to the breakup of the friendship -- sometimes people can't deal with intense personal relationships, they need more privacy even in relationship. (I've been on both sides of this.) The person feels the need to retreat into themselves, to not be completely open to the other person. I wonder if your ex-friend suddenly realized that he couldn't deal with the level of intimacy, and reacted by retreating (rather than expressing). It could be a pattern for him. Just a thought, could well be off.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:38 AM on October 29, 2007

I think you're doomed as long as you look at the failed friendships as betrayals. I have had a friend that decided to just cut off interactions with me with no explanations, and it was pretty awful and I was pretty shaken up about it. I'll never know all of the reasons, and I obsessed about it for a good long time (years?).

But I don't see it as him betraying me, but as him being a jackass. Some people are that way, and it's better not to have to deal with them. I can still trust people, even when people do awful things to me.

If you really have a hard time trusting people, try starting out by trusting in little things about people. I trust that someone may make it to an event on time, although I may not trust them with my telephone number or mailing address. I trust that the cashier is not trying to cheat me out of money when she rings up my purchases. Even with that ex-friend of mine, I still trusted him not to use other people against me, even though I may not trust him at all in other ways.

Be careful about how close you get to people. Try to avoid imbalances--they make people feel awkward. If you told your friend everything and he was telling you very little about himself, there was an imbalance there, and one he was feeling a lot more than you. That's why relationships where one person has a unrequited crush on the other rarely work out. It's too hard for the person to deal with knowing that they are continually hurting their friend by not being up to going further. Pay attention to the people you interact with. Offer a little, or wait for them to do the same. Think of friendship in some respects as a power play, and don't ever let them get too far up on you.

Just start out with a hello. Talk about the weather, the band playing, the local sports team. Generic things. Nothing personal. Don't work at putting up a facade, just keep to things that you don't need the facade for. Then go from there.
posted by that girl at 10:38 AM on October 29, 2007

I'm really to sorry to hear this. Everyone deserves an explanation when a relationship ends and I admire your persistence in trying to resolve things!

I've been on both sides of this and I know how hard it is to let some people go. Sometimes I play mind games with myself like attributing some sinister motive for their behavior or focusing on their bad traits to ease the pain. In the end you have to start from scratch making new friends and who knows, maybe that person will return... life is long.

In making new friends it has helped me to remember that Rome wasn't built in a day. Good friendships have to grow, and like watching a bean to sprout and the little green leaf to form, you can't make it happen faster by wishing. Still, getting involved in other pursuits in the meantime will help to avail yourself of good people and distract yourself. It's amazing what moving on will do for your perspective.

Good luck! Almost everyone goes through these things, and remember,

"'tis better to have loved and lost than never loved at all"
(or what's the other ending... "than to spend the rest of your life with a psycho").
posted by MiffyCLB at 11:10 AM on October 29, 2007

Your ex-friend may not have an answer you would understand... whatever the "last straw" was may not have had anything to do with you. They just decided that what they had to emotionally invest in you wasn't worth the return anymore, so they cut their losses. It's odd to use economics to explain emotional stuff, but it works.

All of our relationships require time and energy to maintain, and none of us have a limitless supply of either of them. Over time, we make good investments in people who improve our lives, we make bad investments in people who just drag us down, and if we're smart we occasionally rebalance our emotional portfolio and find promising new people to invest in -- if we're not, we hang on to people who make us miserable forever out of a sense of loyalty.

Me, I'm a terrible emotional investor... I give way more than I should, ask way too little in return, and hang on way too long trying to "turn around" bad investments. But even I still ended up cutting off a large swath of my social circle a few years back -- a string of deaths and other Very Bad Things consumed my life, and I just didn't have much spare emotional income anymore. It's not that any of those folks did anything "wrong" or different to deserve it, it's just that they were bad investments that I no longer could afford... so they had to go away.

So, after all that... your questions. First? You do know, you just don't "know" -- your friend reached a point where you weren't worth the effort to them anymore, and what the last straw was doesn't matter... it would just have been something else soon anyway. Second? You don't -- you invest yourself in people that are worth a risk, and if they are you'll re-learn to trust in time... what you don't do is wait until you're "ready" because you'll never be ready, and because people who wait until the perfect time to do things usually end up never doing them.
posted by Pufferish at 12:10 PM on October 29, 2007

Is there any third-party acquaintance that you could go out on a limb and ask to fish out some information on your former friend's motive?

Other than that, I second the many other recommendations to get out and do things that involve other people, not necessarily because they will result in friends, but because activities involving other people tend to do a better job of diverting you from people problems than solitary ones. They force you to respond to outside stimuli.

They don't necessarily have to be obviously social. Going out to play chess or Scrabble with strangers, doing some martial arts, or going dancing are all things that could work very well to get you to move on.

BTW, I've enjoyed your bookmarks (and comments on those bookmarks) for years, and I've somehow gleaned that you're a pretty cool guy. It's surprising how much of a sense of a person you can get through such a limited "medium." I hope that you get through this well.
posted by ignignokt at 3:45 PM on October 29, 2007

After being devastated by the "betrayals" of two of my friends in a short time, I found these to be helpful in getting over the incidents and finding a new social network:

1. Do not think about the old friends and/or pretend they don't exist for awhile. Do this for a few weeks or a couple of months to allow yourself to get over the person and the loss of the emotional attachment.

2. In the meanwhile, schedule a time to meet new people and make sure you stick to it, no matter how scary it may seem at that moment. Don't make excuses for yourself not to go, just go.

3. Before the event, try to think of a few topics to talk about (research if needed) and also a few funny stories in case conversations get dry.

4. Before going to meet new people, prep yourself mentally at home. Imagine yourself as the person you would like to be or the person you'd always admire. For me, it was imagining myself as confident, outgoing, and funny.

Now pretend you are that person, truly and deeply. Knowing this, you now know that you have nothing to lose at all but all to gain and you know you're going to gain a lot because you're just that type of person who can. Do this a few times to get some positive energy going and you'll find yourself excited to meet new people because you convince the emotional part of yourself that you're able to protect yourself.

5. When meeting new people, be relaxed. I find the best way to do this is to make eye contact, smile, and/or laugh at people's jokes.

6. Once you meet some people, don't become too emotionally invested or expect too much out of people until they can prove to you that they can meet it. This is important, at least for me, as I used expect too much of people when the relationship hasn't develop far enough for a true friendship.

7. Schedule times with people you've met for some fun activities together and hopeful the relationship can become a friendship.

Good luck!
posted by vocpanda at 9:06 PM on October 29, 2007

Response by poster: I got hit with a poorly-timed stomach bug (or ate something bad), so forgive the brevity, but I didn't want to let this thread pass off the front page without telling everyone how grateful I am for their responses. I have a lot to think about, and the advice and life experience that people shared ... well, I'm not sure I can sufficiently say thank you. It'll have to do, then: thanks. I'm hoping the combined life experience of all of you will help me get myself back on course. I've seen Mefites make a significant difference in people's lives in other Ask Mefi threads; I think I've maybe just seen it happen in one of mine.
posted by WCityMike at 9:34 PM on October 29, 2007

you have to have your emotional shields down; you need to be willing to trust someone.

You seem to think that you need to be feeling a certain way for you to make friends and for others to make friends with you. I'm going to respectfully disagree with you on both those points. In my life, I've seen "fake it till you make it" / "the hand teaches the heart" / "action precedes emotion" work several times in major ways. What's important is just embodying what you want to become -- getting your body there is about 90% of it, trying is maybe 5%-10% and luck is 0%-5%.

What I'd suggest is finding something you're interested in doing, that you'd voluntarily do several times a week, that involves being around other people. Recognize that you don't necessarily want to hang out with people and certainly don't want to be "trying to make friends," but just engineer your life such that you kinda end up seeing the same people over and over. Volunteering is a good idea. Take an art class. Going to the gym puts you around people, but it'd be even better if you did something where you needed a workout buddy (eg, to spot you on weights or spar with you in tae kwon do) so you'd end up working out with the same person. You could join that Team in Training group that prepares to run races together. Or start playing chess seriously. Oh, or take a cooking class.

I've been surprised how people grow on me. Trust and other emotions develop over time. Meanwhile, you may not be feeling very open, but people may begin to like and respect you anyway. They'll get used to your physical presence (people are animals -- it takes a while to get used to a new person being nearby), and maybe then they'll notice things about your personality that appeal to them. I mean, it's partially total chance, right? Maybe Susie will like you after she's come to respect your work ethic because you were venting about work one day, but maybe Joe enjoys your consistent dry humor. Maybe you don't like them back until... who knows? It takes time to accidentally have the conversation that helps you click or stumble across the way of getting along.

In the meantime, you just have to keep yourself showing up. So, don't worry about the outcome. You're not "trying to make friends," you're just there to learn to cook. Maybe you feel anti-social that day and just focus on the recipe. And maybe over time, those people will grow on you, or maybe they won't. You can't control your feelings. But you can create the external conditions, and then maybe your feelings will notice that you keep seeing these few people, and they're not that bad... Or maybe not, and you'll just learn to cook.
posted by salvia at 1:23 AM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

This happened to me several years ago too. I wrote emails, sent cards, called, and rehashed every detail of the mysteriously aborted 5-year friendship. I couldn't figure out what I had done, so I eventually directed all my energy towards being worried for her...worried that she was trapped in a bad relationship, or depressed, or that there was some big misunderstanding that had caused her to turn away. After a year of getting nowhere, I got a reply from her brother saying that yes, I did do something wrong, that he didn't care to discuss it, and that if my friend wanted to deal with me she would. He finished by saying that I really should just give up now and move on.

It was devastating (and I am still no wiser about what I did to end our friendship), but I realized something extremely important in that moment. That my friend had started moving on a year prior, and was probably over whatever misunderstanding or wrongdoing had been involved in. But for me, because I had held on hoping, no time had passed, and that day was day one on my journey of letting go. And it sure felt fresh like it.

I share this because I don't want you to waste time by putting off dealing with the grief portion of the program because you don't have answers. Sometimes no answer is your answer. (And yes, that really, REALLY blows.)

Loss of friendships are like very bad breakups, sans romance. The process is pretty much the same. I would go back and think about the breakups you endured, big and small, and how you got past them. What was the most successful way for you to deal with it? What got you nowhere? How long did it take to move on? What types of activities, behaviors, thought processes made it easier?

Spend some time figuring out those answers, and then do that.

I feel for you. These situations are really hard. But how you get through is the character batter. You'll get there.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:58 AM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

It took me two years to figure out why a close friend all of a sudden dropped me cold. So you might figure it out, just not now. I'm still learning things socially that explain so much of what went so wrong before. So there is hope.
posted by philosophistry at 11:28 AM on October 30, 2007

Mike, I, too, am sorry you are going through this.

You've gotten some good advice here. I would like to add: try separating yourself and your ability to make friends from your friend's rejection of you. They're two issues, not necessarily linked. In other words, try not to let your friend's rejection of your friendship affect your own identity (sense of your "self").

I'd like to recommend a book that has proved helpful to me:
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. In it they talk about the "identity" part of these hard conversations: how anger and rejection can often lead us to feel bad about ourselves. While this book may not be of help in resolving this issue, it might give you some food for thought on how to be more effective when difficult issues arise in friendships.

Of course, the old adage still applies: you can't change anyone but yourself. Try and let go of your desire to "fix" this and just accept your friend's decision.

I know all of this is very hard and doesn't feel very good. But times like these, if taken as "opportunities" for growth, can bring wonderful results.

PS Maudlin, good link to that article.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 12:50 PM on October 30, 2007

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