Dear Allison: 'I'm easy to get on with, so why is it so hard for me to make friends?
Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships
Q I am 56 and separated. I have some friends, but would like more. I have made some efforts — for example, a neighbour invited me in some night and when I called a week later, she said she had visitors, and when I called again, said she was sick and she’d be in touch. Another neighbour and I became friends on the way in and out as we smoked a bit, so I said we must go for a coffee sometime.
The night I asked her, she snubbed me and I felt so hurt. She continued to want to chat to me at the smoking area. Both these women are a bit odd and always seem stressed. Another friend of 15 years wants mostly phone chats. She’s had a lot of bereavement in life, and all her family are dead, so I feel she keeps me, and other friends, at arms length.
This is all so frustrating. I consider myself a normal, open and quiet person, easy to get on with and interesting. I miss my ex partner’s company, and this is the reason for my need of more friends, I think. Luckily, I work full time and enjoy my job and work colleagues.
Allison replies: You are already ahead by being open and willing to make friends. It seems like an obvious thing to say, but I can see that you are actively making an effort to make friends. Making friends sounds easy, but it requires a lot of social skills that no one ever learned formally.
There are lots of examples that you have given. I’m going to pull out certain themes or patterns that may be causing some issues for you. Certain basics can help forge new friendships, such as seeing each other on a frequent basis (for example, neighbours). The problem, for some, is they may be happy with the friendly neighbourly banter as you share a cigarette and they may see you in the acquaintance bracket, but friendship may have not entered their mind.
It’s the step behind the line ‘we’re just good friends’ when one wants a romance and the other person doesn’t. No one ever says ‘we’re just good acquaintances’, so there’s one of two things going on here. For the neighbour who invited you into her home and then seems to have retracted her desire to be friends, sometimes we have to accept the situation as it is. This, however, doesn’t make her odd.
It can be so easy, when rejection hits, to avoid and swerve away from the stinging pain of it, by projecting negative personal attributes back on the person. Again, in relationship speak, when the old proverbial ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ is reversed and you point all your fingers at them, this is to detract from your own feelings.
I imagine it must have not felt very nice when it seemed you were making inroads with this new fledging friendship for it to be uprooted by perhaps real reasons or excuses.
However, if she wanted to be friends, it would have made sense to set up another friendship ‘date’, but without that, I think it ends here.
How was that for you? Where did you feel the feeling in your body when you went to her door? Was it okay the first time, or worse the second? Have you experienced rejection like this before?
Did you feel a sense of desperation that made you go back the second time?
When you feel shame, stay out of judgment. Don’t judge yourself or others. Reflect, question and be curious.
On reflection, would you do anything differently? Sometimes it isn’t about saying the right thing, but to listen and watch more.
If you are being kept at arm’s length, that is their decision, move on to a receptive friendship. Put your energy into new ways of making and creating friendships. A wonderful group of women called the Forever Fierce Revolution describe themselves as ‘the tribe with the kind vibe’. They explore midlife and beyond and a current campaign they are running is #shieldsdown (ie. allowing others to see your authentic self).
Each stage of life brings people in and clears people out, and at 56, many women feel more reassured in what they like and who and how they want to be. You want more friendship, you want to feel connected, these are good goals.
On the ground, go back to the old reliable of picking something you like and going for it. This could be anything and what it naturally does is brings like-minded people together. Every new social interaction is a chance to change.
Lose some of the old judgmental narrative. See yourself as in charge of how you want to live your life and keep being brave and taking those steps, one friendly step at a time.
If you have a query, email Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org
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