Friendship vicissitudes management
May 7, 2008 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Why am I so bad at "letting go," and how can I better come to grips with the idea that some people are only in our lives for a certain window of time?

A few specific details: I'm female, mid-20s, well-educated, about to graduate from med school. Have done fairly well in my professional life and I look pulled together on the outside. But personally, I need to learn some coping methods and mechanisms.

Backstory: I was overweight for a very long period of my life. I had never really had friends, and generally did not fit in. This was coupled with parents who come from an old world ethnic/traditional background who were always suspicious of outsiders of the family as friends. Basically the message sent to me was why are you crying over wanting friends, no one will ever be as good of a friend to you as your family. There's more, but suffice it to say, I never really had friends and always grew up with this yearning for that heartfelt, finish each other's sentences, have each other's back kind of friendship.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight. I gained more confidence, got out away from my parents' roof, and found that people seemed interested in having a friendship with me. The problem is that I don't know how to deal with the vicissitudes of these friendships (stuff I am assuming people probably experienced when they were teens). Two examples come to mind:

1. I have one friend with whom I bonded because we share the same religion, which is a minority one. She is ostensibly more religious than me, and always says that there is a benefit to entering relationships with people of the same religious faith because you will likely base the friendship on seeking God. I struggle with religion, but I want to continue my search for questions and answers, and I want to have friends of my religion so I can feel the fellowship that comes with being of a particular religious pursuit. Yet, when it comes to maintaining a friendship with me, she is terrible. It feels so one-sided, that I am the one emailing and calling and putting myself out there. I have checked to see if I am being clingy or overbearing, which I know can annoy/frighten people away, but I am not (literally my communications with her now are like once every 2 months). I guess I feel resentful a little bit... that she is hypocritical for acting the way she does, even though she believes that friendships should be based on God/religious pursuit/etc.

2. A friend of mine ended up liking me, and drama/complications arose, etc, but suffice it to say, they doesn't like me anymore in that way. that's fine. Fast forward to many months later, and I am still trying to maintain a friendship with them, and it's horrible. I, again, initiate, and when we do hang out, this person makes it seem like they are sacrificing time they could be spending with other people for me. This sucks. I was there for this person back when they were going through some big-time problems of their own. And now, I feel like I am chopped liver. Is it that once that line of friendship is broached it cannot just go back to the way it was, even if both parties have no interest in each other romantically?

Do I just let these friendships fade in the good night? I have communicated with both of them about my feelings, and I have just gotten stonewalled with no real resolution. I am really bad at dealing with the idea that people who were so dear and close to me can, slowly, fade away. I think it stems from my past and my overwhelming desire to have friends. There's also a part of me that wants to prove my parents wrong -- that you can have relationships that are meaningful outside the family.

In both these instances, and I have consulted with others, I don't think I have done or made any egregious action per se. I am human, of course, so maybe I have slipped up, but nothing that they've come back and said -- this friendship is over. I hate the idea of these people going from close confidants to just acquaintances that i would say hey-whats-up at a party.

My apologies for the length. Any anecdotes or advice on how to deal would be appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Friendships are on a spectrum. Some people are going to be closer than others. But a key rule of friendship is: you should feel good around him/her and s/he should feel good around you. It isn't going to be mutually beneficial at every moment though.

With a good friend, I am really excited to share news with him/her or spend time with him/her. And I hope that s/he feels the same about me, but I don't stress out too much about it.

But, people move, physically and emotionally. Maybe your close friend got a boyfriend/girlfriend and started spending more time with him/her? Maybe s/he has a new job that has put him/her in a new space? These things happen. Sometimes you mourn the loss, sometimes you don't.

You have to have more relationships though to know what feels right. Making friends as an adult is tougher, in some respects, but easier in that you're probably going to meet friends through work or hobbies rather than just the coincidence of going to the same school or living in the same neighborhood.

I'm not sure exactly what your question is, but I hope that this helps. Good luck.
posted by k8t at 10:14 AM on May 7, 2008

It feels so one-sided

I feel like I am chopped liver

Whether or not these people want to remain friends with you, these are just feelings, and that doesn't make them true statements. I suspect you have an internal conversation that revolves around feeling unwanted, and any behavior that seems to "prove" this just reinforces your truth. You're looking to be "right" about this. Maybe you are right in that these particular people are no longer friends in the way you'd like to be friends with them. This does not mean there's something wrong with you. They are confused humans too.

Really close friendships, like "true loves," are far and few between for almost everyone. The vast majority of people you call friends will fade away at some point. Do not depend on others to tell you who you are. Continue becoming yourself, whether through your career, your religion, or other passions. The vicissitudes of others will fade in importance.
posted by desjardins at 10:18 AM on May 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

Do I just let these friendships fade in the good night? I have communicated with both of them about my feelings, and I have just gotten stonewalled with no real resolution.

Honestly, I would. I don't believe in one-sided friendships, and neither of these people seem to be interested in doing their part.
#1 sounds self-absorbed, which is fine, but by being the one to initiate everything, you are enabling her and telling her that this is ok -- she can keep friends without any consideration or thought. This isn't good for her, and it's terrible for you.

#2 sounds like he just doesn't want to be friends. No true friend would make you feel like they think you're wasting their time.

It's very likely that you have done NOTHING wrong at all, in either instance. A lot of people are self-absorbed. It's, like, the national pastime these days. And in #2, a lot of people find it hard to be friends with someone after they have been rejected by them romantically. And it is hard to come to terms with, as the person who has been trying to keep these friendships alive. It might feel like a failing on your part -- but I think you need to shift your focus. You have to be your own friend before someone else can be, and what would you say to a friend in your shoes? From what you've written here, if you were my good friend, I might tell you that to keep chasing after people and being there for them, when they aren't doing anything to reciprocate, is putting yourself in the position of a doormat. You are so much better than that. I can tell that you are a kind, giving, friendly person. You deserve friends who appreciate that for all it's worth, and who also have those qualities.

You don't need to "break up" with your friends, but I would stop putting yourself out there, and instead focus on meeting new people who are a little more balanced on the whole "give and take" thing. Focus your energy on things that will build your self esteem, not crush it. Find situations to put yourself in to make new friends or at least meet new people. Do things by yourself, like seeing a movie, just because you want to. Take classes on things that are interesting to you -- you'll meet new people who are also interesting, and you may very well meet an acquaintance who might wind up being one of your best friends. And if not -- you will still have fun.

Making friends as an adult is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, so I really do sympathize. But fear of a fading friendship is no reason to put work, energy, and emotion into a one-sided, unfair relationship. You deserve better.
posted by tastybrains at 10:19 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been both the disser and the dissee. More the latter. Either situation sucks.

I think what you are describing here is the normal wax and wane of friendships. Sometimes people we really care about just sort of dissapear. Occasionally, we get sick of someone ourselves. I don't think there is a solution to your problem or desire, except that it happens and it's normal. It may or may not have anything to do with you, but you need to accept it and not let it stop you from having other friendships.
posted by sully75 at 10:19 AM on May 7, 2008

As someone also in her late 20s who comes from a tiny family that only gets smaller as the years go by (all that's left is my dad, my brother, and an estranged aunt and uncle), my friends are my world. My friends are my family. My friends do the things that family is supposed to do: provide that unconditional love and support no matter what.

Because I value friendships so much, I used to put stock in every bit of friendship chemistry with any person I met. That is to say, I felt the need to find friends all the time, instead of investing in my nearest and dearest. Even on an airplane, I would think "this person could be my friend!" but it has come to my attention in the recent years, that people come and go in your life for good reasons. They serve a purpose at the moment you meet them, and then that purpose might end sooner than expected or wanted. Perhaps your friendship with that young woman of your same faith was meant to let you know that you can find fellowship in your church, although maybe she's not the right one for you (she seems less than committed, and I agree with k8t that there's give and take, and it's not always a perfect balance). And people who show that more-than-friends interest often have a tough time backing back down into friendship. Maybe that friendship needs a bit more time to develop, or maybe that person can't be friends with you because they feel so strongly about you.

Regardless, these examples do not mean that you can't sustain lasting friendships, or that you won't. Lasting friendships take time to develop; family is instantaneous and you just can't pick 'em, which actually makes friendships pretty valuable. Don't cling to someone just because there was the possibility; do cling to someone if they truly demonstrate a commitment to you and your mutual friendship. You sound like you are comfortable in your own skin, you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses, you are a good person and you certainly deserve good friendships. My advice? (After long rambling and such...) Get out and try for more friendships. Be social (as social as you can with a doctor's schedule, anyway), join a book club, a gym, a cooking class. Find people with similar interests and then know that often those lasting friendships pop up in the strangest places at the most unexpected times. And remember that good friends love and support you just as much as you love and support them. There will be times when you need more attention, or they need more attention. The nice thing about friendship is that it is there for you through thick and thin.

Good Lord, sorry for that long, self-indulgent rant! And good luck to you!
posted by cachondeo45 at 10:30 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your parents are wrong. You can have relationships that are meaningful outside your family. There is an enormous span of rewarding relationships that exist on the spectrum between "not friends" and "best friends". I think that, assuming you *like* the two people you've given as examples, you should keep them as friends even though neither is shaping up to be someone you'll have that "best" friend intimacy with. That's ok. And the best, easiest way to not feel overwhelmed and clingy and too-hopeful when you meet *new* people who you begin to get to know is to have other friends in your life. That first woman is a friend who you only have a narrow area of common interest with, and she never initiates plans, but when you *do* get together she's interesting to talk to. That's a perfectly good kind of friend! And the guy is that friend who liked you, and nothing happened, and now he's all sulky and it sucks because you really liked hanging out with him and you're hoping he'll get over it. That's another common kind of friend! I'm not saying that you're obliged to maintain relationships with either of these people if they aren't healthy or rewarding to you - but from your question it *sounds* like you're saying that you like being friends with them, but it hurts you that the friendships aren't as deep or serious as you'd like and you feel like a burden. Given that they both *choose* to spend time with you when you initiate plans, it seems more likely that you're projecting your own feeling that you are essentially friendless and that they enjoy your company just fine. I'd stop holding people to some Ideal Friend Template and just accept friendships on their own terms... and then see how they develop. And I think that by doing that, and slowly growing the number of people in your life, you'll stop feeling anxious about each individual friendship.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:32 AM on May 7, 2008

I am human, of course.

Rule No. 1 is that people you care about do freaky shit that hurts you and that because they do that doesn't mean it has anything to do with you.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:51 AM on May 7, 2008 [7 favorites]

i used to feel this way too, but over the years i have come to realize that it is just the nature of things. people move in and out of our lives, and it's usually nothing personal, just the ebb and flow of life.

i had a few friends in grad school. they were fun to hang out with. after we all graduated, we tried to force it, but i think we all realized without the "bond" of being in grad school together, there wasn't a lot to keep us together. at the time i didn't get it, felt bad about it. but, they served their purpose, and we all moved on.

that seems kind of a harsh statement, but it's kind of what these "transitory" friendships are about.

in regards to the person who liked you, well, it's really hard to maintain a friendship with someone after putting yourself out there and getting rejected.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:58 AM on May 7, 2008

One thing it may help to keep in mind: you will learn to deal with this sort of thing with practice. That will mean some time spent learning universal truths ("whenever a friend does X, you should do Y"), but also a lot of time spent developing your own style and learning what makes you tick ("when a friend of mine does X, I find it makes me happiest to do Y").

We can help you with the universal stuff, and it looks like you're getting good responses on it so far. But the individual stuff, you just need to figure out for yourself.

Most people spend middle and high school practicing. Some people get their practice in later. The point is, it's never too late, and inevitably if you keep trying, keep meeting people, and keep paying attention, you'll get the hang of it.

So as much as I hate to say this, to some extent the answer's got to be try it and find out. See what it's like to hang on to a friend in this sort of circumstance. See what it's like to let go. Notice how they make you feel in the short run, and how they make you feel in the long run, and decide for yourself what's going to be the best for you. Over time, you'll find yourself getting more and more of a feel for how you like your friendships to work.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:59 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Keep trying -- I meet a lot of people that I'm friendly with, and very, very few of them have become close confidants. Some people I've known for years aren't close confidants, but have shown friendship in other ways. Not every good friend will be close in that way.

Read Personal Village: How to Have People in Your Life By Choice, Not Chance, it has some good advice on how to put yourself in situations where you will be more likely to find friends and how to move that forward.
posted by yohko at 11:20 AM on May 7, 2008

Are these friends fellow med students? If so, consider that it's a selected population and not many people I know would classify medical doctors as 'normal'. In purest statistical terms, they are not. Making inferences about friends in general from this sample may be risky.

That said, even in a more representative sample, friendship is a crap shoot. It's unlikely that you'll establish a great friendship with a random person who crosses your path, but it is likely that with enough exposure, you can screen a fair number of good ones.

It is also unlikely that you will establish a good friendship fast. By definition, a good friendship is one that stands up to testing, and testing takes time. Be patient.

It is unlikely that even a good friendship will last forever. People are not points.. they are trajectories... headed to who knows where. It is common for change to express itself in new attitudes, behaviors, locations, and even with the Intertubes and all, distance often proves a weakening factor.

Congratulations on your successful extraction from home life into nascent adulthood. Most of your relationships with people are outside of the family, and frankly, it sounds like your mom is as full of shit as a christmas turkey. I frequently encounter people who are vastly better friends than my family members, and have often extended emotional, financial, logistical, personal, loving support to my non-family friends when their families have been no where to be found in a time of need. Mom sounds more like a won't-let-go fear-centric captor than an encouraging, helpful, optimistic assistant to your future. Take HER advice with a grain of salt.

Good luck. Be friendly! You'll be fine.
posted by FauxScot at 11:51 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sometimes people are in your life for a reason, a season, or forever. I definitely think it is important to have close relationships outside of your family -- I think it's the only way to become a well-rounded person with some perspective. There were people I was friends with who my parents originally thought were "bad kids" who have turned out to be lifelong friends, and my parents have since come around.

I think being an adult means that there are things that you like about your parents, and things you don't like. They are just people. And they can be great friends too. But they are not always right the way you may have thought when you were younger.

An important thing to remember about friendships -- in addition to finding new friends (which is always a good idea) I think it's very important to maintain contact with the friends you have. It is SO easy to lose touch with people who were once our closest friends. If you make the effort to have contact with them at least once a month (more if you can) you will be able to maintain those friendships longer. Everyone gets busy. But it's important to not lose touch.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 11:54 AM on May 7, 2008

I have felt like you have in the past and have dealt with it by trying not to put too much emphasis on any one particular friendship, and trying to cultivate many freindships. My observation was the more I expected of any one particular person, the more they seemed to disappoint, so with many great friends, I simply don't ever reach the point where they don't seem to be there in the same capacity as me.

Also, I make it a priority to be a good friend and to make an effort to stay in touch with people and take a special interest in things which are happening in their lives - my reasoning for this, beyond the obvious, is that with the ebb and flow of life and friendships, people will always value the people in their lives who are good friends to them, and in turn, I will always have good people in my life.
posted by lottie at 3:39 PM on May 7, 2008

Classic answer: therapy to deal with your self-esteem (and other) issues?
posted by lalochezia at 4:41 PM on May 7, 2008

First of all, know that you're not alone, that everyone will cycle through friends at some point in their lives. If I look back on my life, it's segmented into uneven, but identifiable blocks in which these people were my friends and those people were my friends, but I don't hang out with them anymore. With a major life change, like graduating, getting a new job, breaking up with a s.o., and especially moving to a new place, this is just going to happen.

I think people can feel like a "bad friend" or a failure at making friends because our culture puts the concept of "lifelong friend" at a premium. It's certainly a good thing, no doubt, to be friends with people that you were in kindergarten with, but it's simply not true of everyone. For me, some of the people I hung out with in high school turned out, over the years after we graduated, to be rather dreadful people. Some of them I gradually (and somewhat unconsciously) phased out of my life, some of them left me. This process will happen a lot in your lifetime. As for high school friends, there's a few that I shoot an email to every now and then, but I'd hardly consider them friends in the practical sense.

Bottom line is this: you're on a path in life, and that path will coincide with others, sometimes for a really short time, sometimes for longer. Friends WILL come and go. The two friends you mentioned don't sound much like friends, so don't waste energy on them. You're on your path, and if you really want to find other friends, deep down, then you will shape your life in a way that it will become possible to do so. Don't stress about it, just go with the flow.
posted by zardoz at 9:26 PM on May 7, 2008

a good friendship is one that lasts a long time, but you dont really know it until a long time has passed. Having stuff in common does not necessarily lead to a good friendship. People who have more traditional upbringings and friend experience aren't necessarily any better at it. There's plenty of people who dont bother thinking about how they behave or the impact they have on other people.

The people you've been friends with sound a lot worse at it than you are. The way people behave as friends is derived from the people they were friends with at school and its not all a positive experience. You havent got that, you've tried to learn this with a more grown up head on but everyone else learnt it with a teenager/kid you communicated feelings and they stonewalled.

unfortunately you're stuck in a world where the likely majority of people wont be on the same friend wavelength as you. best you can do is cultivate different levels of friendship and how you behave on those different levels. The more acquaintances you can make the better chance there is of finding someone who is on your wavelength.

Friendship is also equilibrium, it not necessarily an equally balanced equilibrium. both parties can get their rewards in different ways.

Your parents arent entirely wrong because family friendship is unconditional but with external friends its a different matter. Your parents seem the type to imagine an amount of friendship no matter the source is all that matters. e.g if u get 100 units of friendship from your family u dont need any more. Thats not really the point. diverse friendship leads to evolution of thought. You've already discovered that friendship is not an mature and logical business but the value of one good friend is worth all the not so good ones you had to go thru to find them.
posted by browolf at 6:53 AM on May 11, 2008

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