Tuesday, 6 May 2014

On not being a 'good' friend

Jen at Gingerella wrote something about friendship a while ago that I related to so much.  She opened with the line, "I'm probably not a very good friend," and went on to talk about not subscribing to some of the usual friendship rituals expected of women (it's an ace post, do read it).  And all the while I was reading it, I was thinking, "Oh my gosh!  There's someone else like me out there, I am not completely abnormal!".

Because I, too, am probably not a very good friend.  I've been told as much, by different women, a few times.  I've had numerous close friendships end, some with animosity and some with merely a slow fizzling out.  And the reason for that, I think, is largely because I too don't really understand, and as a result don't follow, 'normal' friendship rituals.

The image of female friendships that we are fed via mainstream media is one of intense closeness, of shopping trips and long lunches, of spilling woes over a bottle of wine; a post-Sex & The City oversharing of every small detail.  All of that runs completely counter to my own personality.  I have always been something of a lone wolf, happiest in my own company and ferociously independent, but childhood and teenage bullying certainly exacerbated these instincts.  I've been told I'm too self-possessed, that I keep other people at arms length, that I don't share my feelings enough, that I don't let people in.  And that's all true.

Unfortunately, some people tend to think that my reluctance to open up is a personal slight on them, when in fact it's entirely about me.  But when even the people I am closest to (my mum, my boyfriend and my brother) find me annoyingly reticent at times, it seriously has nothing to do with the friend and everything to do with who I am.  I find it incredibly difficult to open up and admit to what I, in my slightly twisted way, think of as weakness.  I'm not one for sharing my worries over a bottle of wine, and I won't be talking about my feelings any time soon.  I am never going to be that person. 

When people expect me to be able to change my personality to suit their own ideas of what a friend should be (which yes, has happened), I find it a bit insulting.  It can seem as if, rather than accepting me for who I am (sometimes withdrawn and quiet, yes, but also - I hope! - with many qualities that make me a good friend), they want to mould me into someone different.  This doesn't, as you can imagine, do great things for my self-esteem.

What it comes down to is that I don't, at the heart of it, believe that people would actually choose to spend time with me.   I find the notion that people actually like me so bafflingly against reason that I am constantly surprised by any show of friendship.  Having this weird view of myself (again, a result of my experiences in childhood) means that it becomes easy to lose contact with people.  Why would they want or need to hear from me, goes my thinking?  Meanwhile, my mates are probably wondering why I don't value our friendship enough to get in touch with them.  And if I do contact someone about spending time together and they can't make it, I'm less likely to try again because I often read it as a rebuff. When you think about it, this is a horribly egotistical way to view the world, making everything (even someone else's busy weekend) about me. 

I don't know how much it helps to have identified the ways in which my own patterns of behaviour affect my friendships.  It doesn't make the pain of losing friends any less, and it doesn't make me feel any less guilty for inadvertently hurting people.  But I repeat again, I don't think I will ever be the person that some of those friends wanted me to be.  I may slowly be getting better about accepting that maybe, just maybe, some of the lovely people in my life are there because they choose to be. But silencing the little voice, product of my childhood, that says, "Don't trust anyone, they're sure to use it against you," can be an uphill battle.


  1. Do you know, a few years ago I would have written exactly this post - I believe people don't want to be friends with me; every refusal is because they dislike me; admitting my worries is a sign of weakness. I didn't TRY to change but somehow it happened anyway. I mean, I'm still paranoid and I'm very careful what I share and with whom, but somewhere along the way I found a few people I really trusted and opened up to them. I think being hugely open on my blog helped with that, too. Also, the realisation that most of the people I WANTED to be friends with were just as paranoid and reticent as me and one of us had to be brave if we wanted the friendship to stick.

    (None of this is me saying you could or should try to change yourself just that I totally recognised what you'd written and it made me realise how much less it applies to me these days - I never would have predicted that)

    1. You know, I almost mentioned how blogging has helped me become a tad more open about things. It's a weird contradiction - I often won't talk to people in my life about how I feel, but I'll write about it for internet randos to read (not including you in that category, btw!).

  2. I also find it hard to get why people want to be friends with me but am trying to be more open and more trusting of myself and others. I do sometimes go completely off radar for a while when things are hard as I just need to be alone to recharge but I also know that (for me) too long doing that makes it so much harder to get back to keeping in touch with my friends so I know that (for me) I sometimes do need to make the effort to get out of myself to let the people I value know I value them. Basically if they don't do it I get sad, so I do it so they don't get sad if that makes sense? But yes. I can get very lone wolf, but I then can also get very lonely so am trying to open myself up and risk it not working because I think that is how sometimes it does.

    1. I think that's an excellent point - remembering how I like to be valued and so ensuring I do that for my friends, but in ways which make me comfortable too.

  3. My 20's were rough when it came to friends. I had 2 break ups with BFF's. One came out of the blue, I was dumped by text and had no clue it was coming! The other was a mutual break up that was a very long time coming from a toxic friend who was no good for me, but I loyally stuck by her because she was my oldest friend from college and had lost her sister who was also my friend. Very messy business indeed.
    Losing friends was hard and did affect me. For years I could not trust anyone properly, distanced myself from friends and I did not want to meet new people.
    Im glad you have published this post, because as I have got older and wiser I have realised that I am not the only person who has lost friends and that I am not a bad person or a bad friend.
    Lots of people lose and gain friends in thier lifetime. Its just part of our journey as we grow and our interests and needs change.
    I think as you get older it is harder to make friends, we go out less, trust less and are more picky about who we want to spend our precious free time with.
    I think the media portayal of friendships has given us such impossible high expectations and we give ourselves a hard time because we are not in contact with our BFF's all day everyday and meeting up for cocktails everynight.
    Don't worry about being a so called bad friend. True friends will like you for you and accept you the way you are. No one is perfect and true friends will know that.
    In recent years I have made some good new friends and learnt to let people in again. In particular Rob and I have bonded with an old school friend of his who he got back in touch with and his wife. They are the perfect match for us both and bring out the best in us (and laugh at my jokes!) Plus they used to live around the around the corner from us, it was great! But then they moved to Cornwall. Sob!
    Sorry if this is a bit rambly! V.tired x

    1. Your point about the media portrayal of friendships is an excellent one- clearly all the responses here are on the same wavelength as me, but we are fed this ideal of cocktails and long chats on the phone that really isn't realistic for many people.

  4. Danke schon! Ein ausgezeichneter post Jane! (I'm currently in Germany and thought I should write a little something in Deutsch!)

    Your post has had the same affect on me; oh my! That's exactly me! And the comments show we're not alone. :) You've done a much better job than me at explaining the thought processes here, e.g. the part about struggling to believe that people would choose to be my friend; that is so heavily ingrained that I hadn't even thought to mention or explain it.

    The worst part might be knowing that I'm going to be this way, or even seeing myself doing it, as well as often seeing people's subsequent reaction to it, but still not really being able to stop myself! But I'm trying, and think I'm better than I was. But then, something else keeps happening to make me regress, once more questioning/testing people before giving them my trust.


    1. My pleasure! I really loved your post and have been turning the issues over in my mind ever since reading it.

  5. Wow, what an open and honest post. I think the very writing of it, the fact that you had to stop think and put words to it, will help you to understand what it means to be someone's friend and what you mean to your friends. It's OK not to be a 'normal' friend (but I would say that - I'm not a normal friend either), but it helps to know that friendships come in various guises, it's not all over-sharing over a bottle of rose.
    I always wanted to have masses of friends, be one of the cool gang, one that people would turn too but it's just not me, I'm too shy. But I'm OK with that, the friends that I do have know that I go awol for a while, but I always come back and they're always pleased to see me.
    A defining moment for me was when someone I thought knew what a great friend I considered them to be told me that she had no idea how I felt about her or anyone I knew. It was mind boggling - I'd been thinking it but hadn't shown it.

  6. Agreed, I love the honesty in this post. And I found myself nodding along to all of it. Most of the typical 'girly friend' stuff runs counter to my personality aswell, plus there's the fact that like Jen I was bullied by my 'best friend' at 13. I'm very, very wary about who I make friends with, and I only have 2 close friends, and like you I reveal a lot more on my blog than I would to someone in real life.

    I never found it easy to make friends when I was young because I was painfully shy. Now, I'm not remotely shy but I'm still very introverted. I hear stories about women my age going out for a night, or going on holiday, with 10 friends and the mere thought of that exhausts me.

    I also find it hard to believe that someone would want to be my friend, even though I think I make a good friend; I'm loyal and non-judgemental, plus I'm a good listener. And I'm funny apparently. Although on the down side I do need to force myself to keep in touch with friends and make an effort with them. Not because I don't like them or don't like spending time with them, its just that I can become quite insular at times. I rarely get lonely, therefore rarely seek company, if that makes sense!