So, news flash, humans are complicated. What I’m discussing below is obviously only a snapshot and only part of the story. Note that at no time will I call anyone a bad person, or a terrible friend, or morally excoriate them.
Trying to figure out human sociality is exhausting. If you get upset because your friend didn’t reciprocally ask how your day was, you’re too sensitive and passive, but if you charge ahead and tell hir anyway, you’re egotistical and aggressive. I believe in boundaries like whoa, but sometimes I have difficulty with them.
My personal friends have a habit of letting me initiate all contact and propose all ideas for what we might do while we are together. Despite the fact that I am half an introvert, this is the hand I have been given: expend all of my energy to spend time with people I like, which I enjoy but costs yet more energy, or be alone, which sometimes is energizing and sometimes profoundly depleting. Either way, I am exhausted and unhappy.
I am unhappy because I feel unvalued, uncared for, and unworthy. However much my friends, should I broach the topic of how I am feeling and what I would like to have happen that might make me feel better (split the work of the friendship 50/50), assure me that “it doesn’t mean anything about how much I value you as a friend” or “I really do care about you,” in the end it is all on my shoulders.
What does all this tell me? Do my friends lie to me, when I bring it up, to spare my feelings and their own self-images? Are they really just “that way” and this is the status quo from now till forever? Am I unworthy of being prioritized?
In my darker moments, I feel like I’m just not getting the hint. Maybe I should let them go and somehow find friends who might like me enough to call me once in a while. Maybe I’m being an egregiously clingy boundary-violator. Maybe I really am unworthy.
In optimistic times, I try to believe what my friends tell me.
But sometimes I can’t believe either. Sometimes I am left with no other conclusion than that I am worthy of prioritization and my friends don’t consider me a priority. My friends, for whatever reasons of their own, are invested in the narrative of loving me but don’t really feel it, and I deserve better.
It makes me angry and sad. There must be, on wide planet earth, a certain amount of people who really are “that way.” There are probably even a few amongst my friends. Yet when I see my friends constantly thinking of and initiating contact with other friends, my skepticism grows. (Someone here will accuse me of being a creep, I am sure, but that doesn’t make it an accurate accusation) Every relationship is different, and for that relationship, my friend can muster the energy and enthusiasm to be the initiator. For our relationship, they cannot. I have a hard time believing that this doesn’t say something about their emotional connectedness with me. Yet this is always denied – not just by them, but by my parents, psychologists, mutual friends… I don’t see why we have the need to deny this, culturally. Surely it is self-evident that some relationships are more important to us than others. It’s no indictment of someone’s character – though the lying and false reassurances might be. You like who you like, and no one is certain how it works.
But even if I try to remain in that space of believing I deserve better, I inevitably slip back into carrying around the heavy burden of the belief that I am neither important, nor worthy of being important to someone. It is hard to practice good self-care with that belief. It is hard to make new friends. It is hard to extend effort towards old ones.
I don’t have a conclusion or a solution. Humans are too complex for that. But maybe think for an extra second. That friend who spent 10 minutes listening to you talk about your day and your feelings – did you remember to reciprocate? I generally reject the idea that people ask how you are so you’ll give them a chance to talk about themselves. For me, returning the question is a reciprocal act of care. Asking the question in the first place is an act of care.
But it feels really crappy to not have that care returned. Yet there is this perception that, if you get upset about something like that, you’re oversensitive and overreacting. People who are happy in their relationships and feel supported generally don’t get upset over the lack of one “how are you.” Accusations of misplaced emotion generally come from people who cannot see that the lack of this tiny piece of care fits into an overall pattern that makes the upset person feel undervalued and unloved. The lack of “how are you” is one symptom among many in a relationship that is not working. The person’s overflowing upset is the result of a thousand tiny cuts, many of which probably came from other people entirely.
That doesn’t make the upset person wrong, or bad, or hysterical, or testerical. It doesn’t make the person who didn’t ask evil.
It’s complicated. I don’t have an answer. I just have a thick ball of misery hiding inside. Sometimes it’s quiet, and sometimes cumulative events give it enough power to choke me. And when it does, I feel invisible and not just unloved – unworthy of love.
That’s been my day. I don’t know how to untangle it any more than that.
*This does not describe all my friends. I am fairly sure the exceptions know exactly who they are.