Not that friendly

friendsIt’s no secret that I struggle with relationships. Not just big R romantic relationships, but basically all of them. I feel like the term social anxiety was invented just for me. Except that I don’t think it’s some strange brain disease that requires Paxil to cure. It’s based on my habits of mind, related to what happened when I was a child. But, it’s basically my top issue where I struggle consistently.

I have been shedding relationships. Partly through ineptness, and partly because I have changed and friends have not liked that. I met up with a friend last weekend, and it really underlined for me how my perceptions have entirely changed.

I had stopped calling a particular friend, E, and she then called me over the holidays. She asked me what was up, that I hadn’t called lately. I didn’t say much, because it’s not that she’d done anything, it’s more that I don’t think we’re that compatible anymore, which isn’t something worth discussing IMO. She asked did I want to go for a walk, I said I wanted to meet for coffee instead, so we did that. I felt good about that, because a complaint I have about her is that she controls everything – what we do, where we go, and when. So although I would have been OK with a walk, I also wanted a coffee, so I expressed my wishes, and she went along with them. That already felt quite good to me. I think she does tend to seize control if anyone is not sure of what they want, but she is somewhat flexible if you have a firm plan.

So we had an OK chat for half an hour. The next weekend, I’d decided I’d like to see a movie, and I picked one I thought we might both like. My pick was more slanted towards her tastes, but it was still a movie that interested me. So I called her, and yes, she wanted to come. So far, great. I was asking for stuff I wanted, and she was happy I was making a plan.

So about the controlling part of this, I felt better. I was no longer at her beck and call, doing things that didn’t interest me much. I could see how I’d been buying into that, by not proposing my own agenda, and just going along with hers.

But when it came to actually talking, it was rough going. I felt uncomfortable, and instead of blaming myself as per usual, I paid more observant attention to what was actually happening.

First, she was extremely anxious after the movie to rush home, so we kind of jogged to the subway. I asked her if everything was OK – she said she wanted to get home fast and have an evening at home. So what else made me uncomfortable? Well, she doesn’t share much about herself. No problems or feelings. She started peppering me with questions, but didn’t actually want to discuss further anything I said – I’d say something, and then she’d throw out another unrelated question. It seemed like she wanted desperately to keep the conversations going, without saying anything about herself, and without taking in anything I said. So I couldn’t discuss anything I wanted to discuss, because she couldn’t listen and wasn’t actually interested. I’d ask her a few things, to which she only replied very briefly.

I concluded feelings and problems make this friend very uncomfortable. She needs to keep things very superficial. She doesn’t know how to discuss anything, so she tries to control interactions and people so she feels less anxious.

I used to be jealous of another friend, because she’s friends with E also, and I’d always imagined they had this great relationship, while I was not getting along well with E. I really felt it was my fault. For having issues, for mentioning my feelings, for being weird in general. This time, I didn’t think that. I felt sorry for this other friend instead, for having E as a friend who cannot really connect with people. This was a huge shift for me. I no longer blame myself for not having a good friendship with E.

It’s quite amazing when you suddenly see things so differently. It actually occurred to me that maybe E has changed towards me – maybe she’s decided I’m no longer a person she likes. But actually I don’t think so. I think I can suddenly see. Oh. This person does not connect with others. It’s not me. Wow.

Reminds me of someone important. Yep, my mom. The model of a woman who does not connect with people. That’s why E seemed familiar and safe to me.

This is not a venting bitchy post about a friend, though I realize it may come across that way. I’m trying to think about a relationship and how I’m changing in my view of what friendship might be. It might be better. It might be a good time. It might be a mutual give and take. It might not involve so much fear of judgement and so much withholding. I am not going to feel bad about this friendship not working out anymore. I don’t think there’s anything I can do. Except seek distance and look for others who are able to connect, and who want to be around me.

I’m not needing to end this friendship. Maybe I have it wrong. I don’t after all know the insides of E’s head. But if I can be around her once in a while, but not feel bad that we don’t connect well, that’s a big change. I’ll let it be her problem I think.

Art: 1892-94 panel painting by Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1858-1924)
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12 comments
  1. As I have come to understand myself over the last 10 years my ideas of friendships have changed. Now, I look for people that I can have in-depth conversations with. I have limited energy so I use it to be with people who are real and have depth. I am an introvert and don’t need a lot of social relationships but what I do have are quality ones. I have actually built a lot of new relationships online with people that shared a common purpose and vision. it has been most enlightening and fulfilling. I think as we grow are needs around friendship change. Good luck as you sort through these relationships.

    • Ellen said:

      Hi Janet – I’m also an introvert. Great to hear you’ve also changed your view of friendships, that’s encouraging. Thanks.

  2. Cat said:

    Hi Ellen… This post really cheered me up because it is so absolutely BRILLIANT to see… read… the changes in you. Sometimes family and close friends are the first to see those changes and they often struggle to come to terms with them. Maybe E is too superficial to notice, but I did wonder if she witnessed that change in you. My sister fires questions constantly, but it’s more to do with her own inner panic over not knowing how to engage in conversation.

    It makes sense to shed some friendships that don’t suit the new you. Maybe E will continue to be an occasional social-buddy, although I did think it a little odd that she was so keen on rushing home for a quiet night in… maybe she had a secret man waiting for her!

    This is all good assertiveness practice for the new friendships that will be coming your way!

    • Ellen said:

      Hi Cat – Your comment really cheered me up. 🙂 Because I was so pleased you got what I’m trying to say. I feel like it’s unpopular to talk about relationships which aren’t working – people often don’t like and don’t comment. I feel kind of like I’m talking about someone behind their back, but that’s not my intent at all.

      I think E is too self-involved to really notice changes in other people. And yes, this is exactly like your sister with the questions and sense of panic – you do know what I’m talking about. I don’t hear people discuss this much, but it must be a characteristic that some people do have.

      Funny you should say that about the ‘secret man’. It’s actually partly true, but it isn’t really my story to tell, so I left it out. E is somewhat obsessed by an old love, who is now ‘friends’. They spend a lot of time together, and she’s always anxious she is going to miss a call from him or an opportunity to hang out. She doesn’t discuss this with me anymore, maybe she’s a bit ashamed of not being able to move on, I don’t know. It’s kind of like being with an addict, who always has something pulling at her mind – the addictive substance. That’s how it seems to me, anyway.

      Thank you Cat.

      • Cat said:

        I don’t think it’s talking behind someone’s back. Blogs are our sacred private place and we can write what we like. Maybe it was coincidental that fewer people respond. I sometimes get that on my blog, without really knowing why.

        I’ve met a few people who bombard with questions to veer people away from themselves. I feel sorry for my sister and E because they didn’t learn the same communication skills. It would be my worst nightmare if I couldn’t express myself.

        While E is self-involved, she’s bound to notice she’s not getting her own way…lol… she might even start to think you’re too bossy now 😉 It doesn’t surprise me about the man obsession… it’s the first thing that came to mind.

        • Ellen said:

          I don’t give out the address of my blog to anyone I know for that reason, so I can say what i wish to. At the same time, I don’t wish to trash people. Maybe I am projecting, because I feel some discomfort with the topic, so I’m projecting out to readers that this is how they also feel.

          I also feel sorry for E. It is painful to have to live without being able to express your true feelings. I should know, as I was like that, more or less, for many years. It’s something I did have to learn.

          Thanks Cat.

  3. Ellen,
    Way to GO!!!
    What you are sharing did not come across as a venting bitchy post about a friend….not at all.
    I just felt so thrilled for you getting this new perspective about yourself in relation to your friend – HUGE growth.
    It sounds really liberating to me. I felt a little sad for your friend in that it might be painful to not be able to really listen to you and others and connect. But that is her stuff. And this is about you and your experience.
    I’m so glad I came for a visit.

    I also like that you don’t see this as the end of this friendship, and that you can see having a light (lite) friendship with her. That reminds me of what someone told me when I was struggling with a friendship that didn’t seem satisfying to me. She said you’re allow to decide who gets to be in your innermost circle, your closest friends and you can have friendships of varying levels of closeness, and doing different kinds of things together. That was really liberating for me to realize then.

    So good to hear that you are seeing that you are not the source of all that doesn’t go well with others.

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks Gel. I did remember you telling me about ‘lite’ friendships – I thought of that when writing this post. I’m the same as you in that I had to learn this, about different degrees of friendship.

  4. Ashana M said:

    This seems like real progress–and no, it doesn’t seem like a venting, bitchy post. You have an explanation for her behaviour that makes it not puzzling for you, but you’re not wedded to it–you don’t assume you know everything–and you have some compassion for her over it.

    I hope new people start popping up for you soon. But I wonder if even just having more honesty in your head about the broken friendships will help you feel slightly less lonely.

    Take care. 🙂

    • Ellen said:

      It does help to just get the contents of my head sorted out regarding friendships. I’ve stopped torturing myself about things that are not working at least. Thanks Ashana

  5. I am in the middle of trying to find friends that I can really talk to and have conversations about deep things. I am an introvert and don’t need a lot of relationships but the quality of the relationship must have depth. After 55 years of my life I am comfortable to be at home living a contemplative life with a few people I can truly be myself with. It is a wonderful feeling.

  6. manyofus1980 said:

    It sounds like you worked a lot out in your mind. Its always good to try to figure things out. It sounds like E is not the person who you thought. Maybe being around her less and only when it is convenient for you would be better. Good luck with that going forward. XX

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