DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I was wondering if you could help me out with friendship dynamics.
I met this really cool girl, we’ll call her Zoe, about 3 months ago. We hit it off immediately: 3-hour conversation, lots in common, super easy to talk to, soul-sister kind of feeling. She’s a much more extraverted person than I usually hang out with, but that made me excited because she’s connected with this big group of other cool people. When I first met her, I got a weird feeling about her personality, but it was hard to place why and because the connection felt good, I brushed it off as me having too high expectations for people.
This girl and her husband host a weekly get-together at their home, which they use as a sort of open house to connect with their friends. The first time I went, it was amazing. Fun games, great conversation, etc. All the people were nice. In addition, Zoe came over to hang out with me at my house a few times and we hit it off just like the first time we hung out.
The problem is that the connection seems to be tapering off, and I don’t know why.
I got sick recently, starting about a month ago, where I can’t drive and the doctors aren’t sure what’s wrong (I’m not contagious). So I haven’t been able to really get out of my house and I haven’t been able to make it to any of the weekly get-togethers or other things my new friend group has planned, such as hiking trips and other social events on the weekends. I told my friend what was going on with me around the time I first got sick, and she seemed concerned and sympathetic in text messages, but that’s as far as it went.
This is kind of where the issues started. I haven’t seen her in a while because I can’t drive. My sickness makes it hard to be out and about so I haven’t risked catching a ride to her place. I invited her over to my place to hang out but she said she was busy and was so sorry. After a while, she started not replying to my texts as much (I send one maybe once a week and she replies about half the time). She also never checked in on me to see if I was doing ok, and it started to feel awkward reaching out to her, knowing I was probably going to get rejected, either by being turned down for hanging out or just not receiving a response at all. I know that she’s been extremely busy socially lately as well.
I don’t know if my expectations are unrealistic, but here they are so it’s clear where my mind goes when I’m anxious: A good friend would have checked in on me to see if I was getting better from my sickness. She hasn’t. A good friend would have tried to see me or reschedule knowing that I can’t go anywhere, but she has not. A good friend would have responded to my texts eventually, even just to let me know she got them, rather than ignoring them entirely. She’s apologized for not responding to my texts in the past, saying how much she cares for and misses me, but the behavior doesn’t change and I don’t see any actions supporting her words.
I know this friendship is young (again on the order of a few months), but I can’t help but get the intuitive hit that this girl is more self-centered than she initially let on. I have another close friend who said he’s seen similar patterns in people. Essentially, they make sure that you’re attached to them and love them and go over to their place to hang out, but once they know you’re hooked, they sit back and relax. I don’t want to believe this is the kind of new friend I found. I’d hate to lose this friend because she’s sort of the self-titled “leader” of this new group and I like a lot of the people I’ve met within it, but it feels really crappy being ignored, especially when I’m sick. And to be honest, I miss her. Again, she’s cool and fun to hang out with.
Are my expectations too high? Do I have a blind spot that I’m unaware of that’s making me the problem in this situation? I’ve often suspected I have social dynamics struggles since I haven’t been able to maintain friendships for more than 2-3 years since I was little, and I also know that I’m super sensitive and have some anxiety that gets in my way. I also have a tendency to assume people don’t like me and don’t want me around, when in fact I’ve been told I’m a joy to be around and very socially calibrated (I think I just learned the motions and can act well). So I know these things are increasing my anxiety around the situation and I’m wondering if it’s not just me and my own issues.
Any insights for me? Assuming there’s absolutely nothing wrong, and this is normal for new friendships, do you have any tips on how to maintain connection? I haven’t accused her of anything because I don’t even know if she’s done anything wrong!
I don’t want yet another new friendship to fizzle simply because I don’t know what I’m doing. This has happened to me before, and in the past I’ve just stopped reaching out altogether, losing the friendship entirely.
Sick and Abandoned
DEAR SICK AND ABANDONED: There’re a couple of possibilities here, SaA.
The first is that you may have rounded up the level of the connection that the two of you had. This isn’t all that unusual; we feel the thrill of New Relationship Energy with platonic relationships just as often as we do with romantic or sexual ones. You met someone who’s really cool and you really enjoyed spending time with. It’s understandable that you’d feel strongly about this new connection you had. Unfortunately, the fact that we may be excited about a new relationship – regardless of the type – doesn’t always mean that the person we’re excited about feels the same way. It could well be that while you were super-hyped to have this awesome new person in your life, she didn’t feel the same way. Not that she didn’t like you or didn’t think that you were cool, just that she didn’t necessarily see you as her new BFF.
The second possibility is that your absence meant that the two of you weren’t able to keep the friendship going to the same level. One of the things we rarely think about is that friendships take both time and maintenance. It can take weeks or months to really solidify a friendship beyond being acquaintances and even then, those friendships have to be maintained. It takes seeing each other at least once every couple of weeks to keep a friendship going and preventing them from starting to fade. Considering how recently you met her and how much your illness has incapacitated you, the fact that you haven’t been able to put in those keeping-the-connection-going moments may mean that your friendship meter started depleting. This has nothing to do with you and everything to do with just the way humans form and build social networks. Without active maintenance, they start to go away. Since she’s been planning more active outings that your illness has been preventing you from attending, then it’s that much harder for you two to get together and cement those bonds.
Another possibility is that she’s a little benignly self-centered; she tends to prefer things on her terms, including when and how she sees her friends. If her open-house events are her preferred way of maintaining those social networks, then the fact that you haven’t been able to make it – through no fault of your own – meant that she simply didn’t think of seeing you more often.
Along the same lines, if she’s a real social butterfly, it could well be that she’s topping out at the number of friendships or connections she can reasonably maintain; we all have only so much emotional bandwidth and we can only reasonably maintain so many social connections before some of them start to fade.
It could also be that your illness makes her uncomfortable, or that she’s just selfish and doesn’t like putting herself out there for folks she’s not already close to.
There’s not really any way of knowing, and speculating past a certain point isn’t helpful. It’s too tempting to blame yourself or go down unhelpful roads that aren’t actually connected to reality.
Now all that having been said: I think the likeliest explanation is that your connection wasn’t as tight for both of you. Not everyone bonds with other folks super-quickly and you may have had expectations that she wasn’t going to be able to fulfill at this stage in your friendship. Which is a damn shame, to be sure.
But what I wouldn’t do is assume that this is because people don’t like you. As with romantic or sexual relationships, sometimes we’ll meet people who we have insane chemistry, but we simply aren’t compatible with on some fundamental level. And it may well suck, because they’re awesome, but it circumstances mean that it just can’t work out. Similarly, just as with romantic or sexual relationships, not every friendship is meant to last forever… or even for terribly long.
If your illness eases up or you find a treatment that makes it easier for you to get around, then it may be possible to rebuild that connection and even put in the time it takes to solidify things. Or it could well be that, circumstances being what they are, this is a friendship that you may have to let go of and prioritize ones where your friends are more willing to make space for you and your restrictions.
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