Ask Polly: Why Did My Friends Ditch Me?

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Dear Polly,

My issue is that I feel dismissed by a lot of people I consider friends and it hurts. I have tried to make new friends but for some reason or other it never works for us. I resent my friends and I feel like they're constantly doing things without me. I become like a psycho ex, going through Instagram and seeing pictures of them (without me) at the beach or at a bar or at someone's apartment and feeling rage. My friends might think I'm super-needy because I always want to be out doing something but honestly, it's not like I'm asking them to do some grueling, tedious activity. I'm just asking for company.

I don’t complain or anything while we hang out, if anything I'm hilarious and comical and fun to be around. The only reason I am needy and need to be out all the time is because I can't be left alone with my thoughts. I'll get anxious and depressed, and being around other people talking about other things like TV or movies or whom we hate in common lets me de-stress and not have to think about all of the shit I shouldn't be thinking because, although it's a huge issue for me, I have no control over it. Sometimes you just want to lead a normal life and not live in your head. But they don’t seem to understand that or even budge to humor me at least a little. What sucks is that if the roles were reversed (which they have been), I would be out there with them helping them get through whatever it was they were going through. And it's so difficult to make new friends, especially when everyone you know already has their established groups and as much as you’d like to join in, it's not the same. Eventually you don’t hang out with them because you’re just that extra person.

A week ago, I made a huge decision in my (early 20s) life. I blocked my best friend of ten years from my phone. Any texts she has sent me since then I haven't received. I did this because I was tired of constantly being the one to initiate a hangout only to be declined 99.9 percent of the time. The flimsiest excuses were used each time and left me feeling embarrassed that my best friend since middle school couldn't have some Starbucks with me or go out for drinks on a Friday night. I felt humiliated, and each time I dared to ask to hang out it felt like heart palpitations.

Again, I'm going through some stuff in my life (that to her defense, I haven't told her because, even though we are close, I can't even speak to my own family about this) and I just can't be alone with my thoughts. My coping mechanism has been to stay busy, whether at work or the gym or at any sort of activity. The weekend is the loneliest part of my week. I try to occupy myself by marathoning TV shows and working out but that isn't always enough, and I need social situations just to feel normal and alive and a part of something. Except I don't have anyone to be social with.

Except for this friend. We've spent nights discussing what is bothering her and countless hours at the local Starbucks talking it over and analyzing everything. I was there for her, but she isn't there for me now. So I blocked her number because I hate confrontation and have spoken to her about this before anyway.

My question, essentially, is this: Am I wrong in expecting this much from my friends? Are friends not really like they are on TV, where they are like their own little family?

All Alone

 

Dear All Alone,

I'm sorry things are so hard for you. But right now, you're essentially cooking up the perfect recipe for a friendless existence: high expectations, simmering resentment, envy, passive-aggression, avoidance, and fear of confrontation. You haven't told your oldest friend what's going on with you, but you expect her to magically glean that you're in crisis. She's supposed to traipse around town with you, shopping and laughing, even though there's this heaviness in the air. You're choking on your own sorrows, your envy, and your loneliness, but she's supposed to play along with your chipper façade, high-five you, and invite you along whenever she goes out.

Do you know how hard that is, to play along with a friend who doesn't want to tell you what's up? You have a mysterious problem, the heaviness of which is apparent to anyone sensitive who comes into contact with you. But you don't want to talk about it.

You can't have support without honesty. Two people lying to each other isn't a relationship at all, it's a Raymond Carver story. Even if your friend went along with your lies, you'd still need more distractions to protect you from those dreaded moments alone. The fact is, you can't move forward until you face yourself and tell people what's going on with you. Until then, you can't be a true friend to someone else, either.

"But I've been a true friend!" you're thinking. "And my oldest friend didn't even appreciate it!" As long as you're not completely present, trust me, you're no comfort to her. You've listened to her talk. But truly making space for another human being requires honesty.

If you ignore everything else in my response, don't ignore this: You need to be completely honest with someone about this secret of yours. Maybe you need to talk to your friend, or someone in your family, or maybe you should see a therapist. Don't tell me you can't afford it. Read this about finding affordable help, and start looking.

Once you start telling the truth and feeling some of the emotions you're spending all of your energy trying to avoid, you're going to feel like a new person. As it stands, you don't differentiate between thoughts and feelings. You say you're afraid of being alone with your thoughts. What you need is to be alone with your feelings. Instead of thinking in circles, you need to let the emotions of your situation wash over you. Honesty and vulnerability are crucial for you right now. You need to surrender, lie down on the floor, and admit that you are defeated. You are fucking up. Things are going wrong. Admit it. And then ask someone for help, with an open heart. 

American culture doesn't offer much consolation for someone who's screwing up. We all embrace this shared myth that only screwups screw up, and only losers lose. Even if you don't feel like a winner, you need to keep acting like you're winning.

But no one is buying your act right now. That's why they don't want to be around you. I know you've learned, over the years, that being comical and hilarious and fun to be around is enough, that people crave that. I used to think the same thing. When trouble came up with friends, I'd say to myself, "I'm so funny and awesome. If my friends reject or avoid me, I'll just walk out the door and make new friends, because everybody loves a woman who never complains and is always hilarious."

People don't love funny as much as you think they do. This came as a shock to me, when my life was awful and I needed friends but I didn't want to admit that I was depressed. I thought I could just spew out a clever broadcast and people would laugh along. Wrong.

Have you ever met a comedian (or someone who thinks he's a comedian) who's always cracking jokes like he's onstage, around the clock? Have you met someone who thinks she's incredibly charming and wise but never listens, even for half a second? That's an extreme version of what you become when you believe that your main value to other people is your ability to entertain or inform or be "fun." You don't listen closely enough. You don’t enjoy the comfortable silences. You're always scrambling for your next punch line or deep thought. Kids love that in middle school, in high school, even in college. As adults, though, it gets old quickly. 

You may enjoy being the life of the party again. But right now, you've got to admit that you're in the middle of a crisis. Listen to me: That doesn't make you a loser or a freak. Maybe in the past, you were the one who was supposed to make everyone laugh. You were the shiny distraction, rewarded for keeping things light and bubbly. I know how that is. But your act isn't working anymore.

If Instagram had existed when I was young, it would've driven me straight off a cliff. But you have to remember: Those laughing people in the photos are confused, too. They're lonely, too. Hell, they probably weren't even smiling before or after those photos were taken. They were thinking, "This salad sucks. I hate my hair. No one here understands me."

You're falling apart. Say it out loud. Let it sink in. Cry if you need to. But know this: You are no different than anyone else. We have all wanted someone to swoop in and save us from ourselves.

But no one is going to save you. No one is even going to help, until you start telling the truth. This is where everything gorgeous and real in the world begins: at this crumbly, dejected starting point. When you abandon your defensive stance and your story — about what you need and don't need, what you will and won't accept from others, what you've given and how your love has been abused — you are free to let the real, fragile beauty of who you really are shine through.

You are clinging so tightly to your defenses, your distractions, your anger. Let them go. Admit that you're lost. Call your best friend and instead of telling her everything she's doing wrong, tell her you're sorry for blocking her. Tell her you need her and you love her. Tell her you've been feeling hurt and you're going through something big and you're afraid of talking about it. Tell her you're sorry again. Tell her you know she has her own life, but you want to try to lean on her occasionally, even though you're not good at leaning, even though you hate talking about heavy stuff.

Maybe she won't be able to handle that. Maybe she never wanted the truth from you at all, and she just wanted to keep things light and remain acquainted while she moved on to spending all her time with her new friends. Or, maybe she'll realize that you need her and she'll show up and be a true friend to you after all.

Either way, you won't be crouched in this defensive, angry stance anymore. And as long as you're not afraid of telling the truth, as long as you're not fearful and angry and hiding, you'll make more friends — true, loyal friends who understand you and won't leave you behind.

Polly


Got a question for Polly? Email AskPolly@nymag.com. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday afternoon.

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