what if they can’t

thinking about friendships quite a lot right now. various situations, varying types and degrees of painfulness. and the thread that weaves through it all is something like this:

what if they can’t be there for me in the way that I need/want? a friend is just a human being, with lots of limitations. sometimes it’s practical limitations (like time constraints, or geography, or not having a car) and sometimes it’s limitations in the sort of person someone is: one person may be better at showing empathy when you need a shoulder to cry on, and another might be a lot better at making you laugh, or giving you good advice when you need it, or helping you fix your car. No one person is going to be good at all the things you might need. And no human being, with all the good intentions in the world, can always be there for you at any moment, day or night.

One of the times when it’s particularly painful is when you’re thinking of a particular friend and how you feel they haven’t been being there for you in a while now and you’re trying to be understanding about it and remind yourself that they’ve got a lot on their plate, but it’s difficult to hold on to that thought and the pain is very much there, and then that person offers you something completely different as a gesture of friendship – like, I don’t know, say you were dying to meet up for a coffee like you used to and spend several hours chatting, and this friend phones up and you think “yay” and then they say: I can’t talk long, I’m due in a business meeting in two minutes, but I want to treat you to something special for your birthday so can I put you through to my secretary so you can choose which spa you’d like to go to? But I don’t want a day at a spa as a treat at your expense, you feel like screaming, I want time with you.

But if you’re me, you somehow survive through the conversation and then you put the phone down and collapse in a heap and cry.

And you don’t say it. You never say it, because you don’t want to seem needy and demanding and clingy and all those unappealing things that make people want to have nothing to do with you.

And also because part of you is being sane and saying: you know people do have their limitations, and no one can really be there for you at any given moment…

And yet, it hurts because you’d like to think that they’d also be really wanting to spend time with you. That’s it really, that’s the bottom line, that’s where the pain comes from – from thinking that maybe you’ve been mistaken and this other person doesn’t like you as much as you like them, maybe you thought of this person as a close friend but to them you’re just an acquaintance, and oh, that thought feels so embarrassing it makes me want to crawl into my snail shell and hide.

Going to hit Publish before I lose my bottle. No editing. Raw.

14 thoughts on “what if they can’t

  1. Oh, Meirav. I have experienced this type of thing. It’s painful. I’ve discovered that it can be painful to be on either side of this dynamic. I have a friend who wants the one thing I cannot give him. He wants to have an affair with me, and I am monogamous and happily married. His desire for this has made it so we cannot be in touch with each other now. He could have had (almost) anything else I had to give, but he kept pushing for this one thing. It hurts. I miss him, and we could be in touch and enjoy each others’ presence in our lives, if he could let go.

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    • oh wow, yes, that seriously sucks. I’d have expected a good friend to be able to see that – to know you well enough to know that this isn’t something you’d contemplate, and to respect your boundaries.

      and more generally, you raise an important point – that the stuff I wrote about is stuff that can cause pain to either side. If someone keeps wanting something that you feel unable to give, where does that leave you? It would be really hard, if it’s someone you care about and you don’t want to hurt them but you just can’t help being the way you are.

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    • awww… this made me smile. thank you. I’ve been missing you on plus, but assumed a lack of spoons, and can understand it very well. I’ve been having a day of mostly staying off plus today, need them now and again even though I love it there, so can totally appreciate that you might not always feel up to it. (and I’m so bad at keeping up with people’s blogs, so… pots and kettles… I can’t throw stones at no one no how…)

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      • It’s been a weird thing. I’m feeling mainly good, but there’s definitely a hard cut-off that I can feel crossing isn’t a good idea. But then, it’s not just socialization — at times, I feel there’s a lot less I do now that I’m ‘better’. But then I have to remind myself that it’s still kind of early days and I’ll figure out the best balance in time.

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  2. No offense, Hon, but you should have spoken up and told this person how you feel. Mind reading is not common. He’ll never know how you feel unless you tell him.

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    • I think you misunderstood. I wasn’t describing a specific situation, I was talking about how things work generally and I made up an example scenario to illustrate a point.

      Also: I find your comment hurtful and insensitive. I poured my heart out in this post, expressing some very deep and painful feelings, and you’re totally ignoring those feelings, instead just offering unsolicited advice about an imaginary situation.

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  3. I’ve definitely felt myself more on the other side of this equation. I’m so often busy (doing projects that I really enjoy doing) that when people ask to spend time with me (doing something else… like just sitting around talking) it really stresses me out. I know that people expect it of a friendship, and I make room for it, but I don’t really look forward to it and when it’s over I’m relieved. That doesn’t mean I feel any less of friendship with the person before, during, or after. It’s just clear that they need something from me that is painful for me to give. But I give it. Not nearly as much as they’d like, but as much as I can handle. Now if they were to spend time helping me out with a project, that would be a whole ‘nother matter.

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    • Yes, quite – we all have different preferred ways of doing friendship, this connects with that stuff about people have different strengths and weaknesses. When I wrote that bit I was thinking for example of people like you, who are not good at empathy – and in building a friendship with you I’ve had to learn that, and to accept that. Once I understood it, it became much much much easier – it’s like I wouldn’t expect you to be able to conduct a conversation with me in Hebrew :)

      And I think we all make some sacrifices for the sake of friendship – you make the effort to do the sitting-around-and-talking stuff now and again even though it’s hard for you; I make the effort to go out and be sociable at a time of day that is very unnatural for me for being sociable but that’s the time most people can. Sometimes it feels worth it…

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      • Not expecting me to converse in Hebrew is a great example. I think there’s two important things to do in any friendship (related to this topic, at least): understand what other folks can handle and don’t ask too much of them and be willing to step outside of your own comfort zone now and then in order to build a better friendship that fits with their needs and not just your own.

        … more tangentially, I find that though I might not have hung out with a friend in awhile, when something comes up that I know they excel at, they’re often the first person that pops to my mind and the first person I ask for help. And I find that people appreciate being asked to do what they’re good at. If I were asking for help out of their weakness, I would be acting needy. But when I ask for help out of their strength, they tend to feel honored. It’s a way to show that I value them, even if I haven’t had the time or spoons to hang out with them much lately.

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