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#508 & #509: Friendship, Attachment Styles & Boundaries

This is the last day of the Summer Pledge Drive, where I post the links for making a (non-tax deductible) gift  through PayPal or  via Dwolla.  Your generosity so far has been amazing and I am so humbled and pleased with the outpouring of support. A new computer will be within reach when this one goes. I will be able to pay down some debt and have a little bit of an emergency fund. And, I bought a ticket to see Janelle Monae at the Vic on October 21. Yes, YOU made it possible for me to see my dream show with my dream artist. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

These two letters are representative of many I have gotten in the inbox over the past few years, and I think a lot of you will recognize yourselves somewhere in here. I think I finally have a way to frame this discussion that is maximally reassuring and honest. Please allow me to suggest some background reading before you dive into this post: The Dirty Normal on Attachment Styles.

Hey Captain!

I have a male co-worker who I am friends with outside of work. A few months ago, his wife’s work schedule changed and since then my husband and I have been hanging out with my co-worker and his wife “Clara” frequently. I like them and they’re good people, but his wife is the kind of person I enjoy best in small doses; I am shy and reserved, she is very outgoing and can be overbearing. 

Lately Clara has been inviting me to do stuff with her 2 or 3 times every week. Usually it’s a 6+ hour event with a group of 3 other girls. She frequently talks about how close we are and how great it is that we’re such good girlfriends. The thing is we’re not that close yet. We’ve only been hanging out for a few months and I actually am much better friends with their husbands & boyfriends, all of whom are my co-workers (I work a heavily male-dominated engineering field).

I do like these girls, I appreciate being included in these plans, but it’s just too much! So, I’ve started to decline every third invitation or so. The problem is, Clara bends over backwards to accommodate me. If I say I can’t make it, she’ll suggest 3 other days. When I decline those, she’ll try to squeeze the event in between my morning rock climbing club meetup and my date night, for example. I find this very stressful because she obviously is trying hard to include me and I end up having to refuse the same invitation 4 times! I can tell it hurts her feelings when this happens.

I’m not sure how to handle this. I definitely want to cultivate more female friendships in my life, but I feel like I’m being forced into some kind of weird Sex In The City fantasy of Clara’s instead of the more casual way I prefer friendships to form, where different people make the plans every time instead of one person being the Designated Event Coordinator.

How can I kindly get Clara to back off a bit without burning bridges?

Thanks,

I’m Not Carrie Bradshaw

Dear Not Carrie:

This is a “classic” advice question that perfectly fits the paradigm of many questions we have around here:

Dear Captain Awkward:
A person is making me uncomfortable and doing stuff that violates my boundaries.
How do I stop them without hurting their feelings or making them feel uncomfortable?

And you guys are all so nice, and kind, and considerate, and working so hard to be fair to the other person! But the fact remains, if the behavior is making you uncomfortable, things are already uncomfortable. Often to the point that you might have to scorch the earth of the relationship if whatever it is keeps continuing, but you’re still looking for a way to let the other person down easy. There is a perception that speaking up for boundaries is somehow introducing conflict into a situation, or at very least, escalating it in an unkind way, like, everything was fine until you spoke up for your needs and now you made it weird.

So I’d like to perform a bit of a mind flip.

  • When your shoulders are going up around your ears…
  • When you are spending a lot of time strategizing about how you deal with a person. “I will accept every third invitation…
  • When you are avoiding someone you are theoretically supposed to be friendly with…

…things are already uncomfortable enough to speak up about them.

Axiomatic:

  • NOT speaking up is not making the situation better, it’s just giving the other person more license to operate and even to try harder or communicating that you are okay with the behavior. There is no prize for being the world’s most stoic and accommodating person.
  • A friendship that cannot survive a the momentary discomfort of you standing up for your needs is not actually a friendship worth holding onto.
  • Nobody loves being told that they are screwing up, obviously, but if you don’t have the ability to ever take any negative feedback along the lines of “Hey, could you not do that one thing anymore, thanks?” from a friend, YOU are the problem. When told that they are stepping on someone’s foot, good adult people will apologize and get off the foot and not perpetuate a FEELINGSDUMP about their need to really stand on feet sometimes.
  • Communicating “Hey, that’s where my boundary is, thanks” IS KINDNESS. It is giving the other person the tools they need to be in a good relationship with you.

So, I really feel for Clara. She is trying hard to be your friend and make sure you are included, and I am sure that everything she is doing is meant with great affection for you, and this is what it means to her to be a good friend. But friendships can’t be achieved through diligent effort; there has to be a spark, and there has to be reciprocity. One place she is fucking up is not the desire to be your friend, or even the inviting you places, it’s that she’s not waiting for reciprocity. She’s not trusting herself or you or this friendship you might have to actually turn into a thing, so she’s trying to force it. And once she’s hung so much effort out there, she is NOT going to appreciate anything that looks like rejection. We’ve talked about “favor sharking,” or “kindness sharking” on the blog before, where a person does you a favor or a kindness you don’t really want and then feels “owed” a kindness in return. It’s a manipulative behavior, even when done unconsciously, which might be one of the reasons your back is up about this whole thing.

I am operating from the assumption that you would like to remain on friendly terms with Clara while decreasing the expectations that you’ll socialize so often. You are always free to distance yourself entirely! But if you want to try resetting the relationship to a more chill level, several tactics come to mind.

One, be less detailed when turning down an invitation. If when you decline a thing right now you are telling her the reason you can’t be there, stop doing that.

Before: Sorry, I’d love to, but I have rock climbing that day. Maybe next time.

After:

  • Sorry, can’t make it, but have a great time!
  • No thanks, but have a great time!
  • Won’t be there, but drink one for me!

She is seeing the reason/alternate commitment as an opening to negotiate a different time, like, you WOULD be there if only you didn’t have this other commitment. So the problem is one of scheduling, and if she can solve that, y’all can hang out!

The real reason is that you don’t want to go. Since you don’t have to give a reason, don’t give one. You may have to repeat “Can’t make it” several times, and add in a “Hey, I’ll let you know when my schedule opens up and we can plan something else!” but do not give an actual reason. Reasons, to Clara, are reasons to negotiate. She is not picking up on the “soft refusal,” so it’s time to try plain old refusal.

Two, take a break from all socializing with her for a few weeks, and tell her why. Well, tell her a truthful variation on why.

I am feeling a little over-scheduled right now and need to take a break from making social plans. Can I call you in a couple of weeks when I am more in a hanging-out mood?

This is not a lie, it is just a truth that puts your needs at the center. “Clara, you’re doing it wrong” is not going to be received well. But “Clara, I need x” is hard to refute.

Hopefully for those weeks she will back off and give you some space. It might take a little bit of time for her to readjust, so be prepared to say “Thank you so much, but I’m still flying solo” when the inevitable invite comes in. You’re teaching her to take no for an answer and you’re giving yourself some space from her expectations.

Three, if you actually want to be friendly, initiate some plans with her & the other women.

COUNTER-INTUITIVE, I KNOW.

Right now the dynamic is that Clara chases, you run. Reciprocity isn’t even really possible, because you don’t have a chance to invite her anywhere. Show her that you like her. Show her that she doesn’t have to chase you so hard. Show her what a fun event for you looks like (not six hours long, not on a weekday, maybe co-ed in some way, something you like doing). “I can’t make Tuesday, but next week I am taking kayaking lessons/want to try this new place for brunch/am going to see Stories We Tell, want to come along?

Four, once you are hanging out again, if you feel like you can be friendly on some level, even if that’s a relatively small doses level, talk to her about your needs and how she is making you feel.

There is a way to frame this around your own needs in a friendship rather than as a critique of her. “Clara, your invitations are so kind, especially after a Day of the Dudes at work. But I am introverted and need a lot of alone time and solitude, and spending time together 2-3 times/week is just too much for my schedule and energy level. When I turn down an invitation, it’s not because I don’t like you guys, it’s because I really need some time to recharge and do my own thing. I hope you understand.”

If you want to bring up the way she is pressuring you, you can do that gently and honestly as well. “So when I say I can’t come to something, it would help if you wouldn’t try to reschedule it around me. Just hang out as you planned, have a good time, and I’ll catch up with you next time. Otherwise I feel pressured to say yes, but then am kicking myself the next day if I don’t get (my workout)(alone-time)(creative project) in.”

See also: “I love Girls’ Night, but that’s more of a 2x/month thing for me.

And the best of all relationship negotiating techniques: “In a perfect world, where this works exactly how you want it to, what does that look like?”

She tells you.

You tell what your ideal picture is.

You meet in the middle, if you can.

As an introvert, you really are trying to budget your social units here, so this is not being mean to her, this is you taking care of yourself and giving her a tutorial in how to be a friend to you. I hope she listens and takes it in, so that you can have an authentic relationship.

My other advice, is:

a) Let the “but we are such close friends!” comments pass without comment for now. This is one of those “time will tell” situations. If you find some kind of pattern of socializing that works for you I think she will ease off and stop trying so hard about this. You can always disengage if you find out that you have really, really different expectations of a friendship or find that you really don’t like her- for now, we’re taking it easy and leaving all options open.

b) Do not make your coworker the middleman. If you pull back from Clara, she might enlist him as the Clara Ambassador, but keep dealing with her directly and don’t use him to carry your discomfort to her. As far as I’d go is: “I really like hanging out with you and your wife, and she’s been so welcoming to me. I just can’t hang out as often as she & the other women get together.” Treat it like not a big deal and hopefully it won’t be a big deal.

Once you’ve spoken up for your needs as directly, honestly, and kindly as you can, Clara’s feelings about the state of your friendship are hers to deal with. You cannot take away or manage whatever rejection she might be feeling or whatever hopes she had for what your friendship would be, so please let that go.

Now let’s visit the other side of the coin.

Hi, Captain!

I’m struggling with communication issues. I have social anxiety, which I’m working on with a counselor, but she isn’t the best at giving me concrete scripts for communicating my needs to people. The problem is, I have a hard time distinguishing flakiness from actual busyness, and I tend to feel (probably?) disproportionately upset when someone cancels plans with me – then I don’t know what to say to them when they do.

I am not a busy person, and I arrange my life that way. I’m happiest with lots of free time, and I don’t have any major caretaking responsibilities. So I very rarely have to cancel plans for unavoidable life reasons; and additionally, in part because of my anxiety, I tend to prioritize the few friendships and relationships I do have very highly. When people cancel on me, I struggle because I can’t come up with reasons from my own experience that I would do the same. (I get it if their dog/baby is sick or they got called into work, of course.) I tend to panic and assume it’s either the start of a Slow Fade or an Abrupt End, and then I don’t want to say anything to express my disappointment for fear of coming off as needy or controlling of their time. Even though I’m not needy or controlling and I rarely ask anyone to spend more than 2 days a week with me.

The crux of all this is that I end up feeling powerless in most of my relationships. Everyone is busier than I am, and they all tend to keep me waiting around for confirmations of plans. I don’t know how to speak up unless I’m very close to the person in question, and so I worry this is poisoning new relationships because I’m feeling resentful and anxious and unable to communicate these feelings. How do I let someone know that I’m not 100% okay with them cancelling on me (or making me wait for ages for a concrete answer) without coming off like I’m trying to control their time? I don’t want to hold anyone hostage and force them to spend time with me. I just want to feel like I can be assertive and not turn into a doormat, or ask for reassurance if I need it. And how can I tell if someone is just plain unreliable and needs low expectations, or if they are actually trying to see me and life is getting in the way? I’m especially interested to know how to respond to cancellations through text – I feel like the passive-aggressive “Ok” is my go-to, and it’s not helping me at all. How do you respond to that if you don’t have your tone of voice or body language to help?

Thanks!

That is a rough situation to be in, especially with your anxiety telling you lies about worst case scenarios, when really it is just your friends being flaky or cavalier about something that is not cavalier for you.

My first suggestion is to stop saying “okay” when someone breaks plans with you.

Alternate scripts:

  • “That really sucks, I was excited to see you!”
  • “Man, that’s disappointing news.”
  • “Really sorry to hear that. I hope we can reschedule soon.”
  • “Sad news. Let’s catch up soon, ok?”
  • “Huh. I bought our tickets already, can you reimburse me when you get a sec?”

Or any variation where you actually express your actual feelings about the news that they are cancelling. You don’t have to be okay with it, and you don’t have to pretend you are. You won’t win any friends with sulking & browbeating them, but a short expression of “Wow, that sucks, I was really looking forward to it” is part of you speaking your truth and taking care of yourself.

Now, this is for the Plan Cancelers:

Life happens. I am not going to give you a rudeness lecture. But if you had plans with someone, and you have to cancel, it’s on you to reach out and reschedule something. You can cancel with a text, but if you care about the person, reach out the next day with an email or Social Media message that says “I am really sorry I didn’t get to see you yesterday, can we reschedule for X date?” You will truly be making the world a better place with this small act of kindness and good manners.

My second piece of advice for LW #509 is about resetting expectations about how often you’ll hang out and how you schedule time together. Your expectations and needs might be perfectly reasonable, and I don’t really want to dig into whether they are and what they are. What I do want to say:

Whatever expectations you have about how often you’ll hang out with your friends, they are not matching up with their expectations & availability.

If they were, there wouldn’t be so many cancelled plans. If this were going to work in its current form, it would already be working.

I think what is happening is that these people like you fine and want to spend time together and want to say yes when you set something up, so they do. Then the reality of their lives gets in the way and they can’t follow through, and now it’s become the pattern. This is because your needs & expectations are, for whatever reason, incongruous.

And then when they cancel, you say “okay” and try to set something else up, so the consequences for them cancelling are nonexistent. It becomes not a big deal to cancel, because there will always be another set of plans. This is not your fault, and I don’t want to victim-blame, like somehow you are making this happen, I just want to highlight that from a certain perspective, “Oh, I had to cancel on X, which is sad, but she’s always so cool about it and set something up for next weekend” doesn’t look like a deep incentive to change one’s over-committing/under-attending ways. The bad dynamic is there because they are overextending themselves and then cancelling. You might be inadvertently reinforcing it by being so compassionate and cool when it happens, so try being honest (“That sucks”) and see if it changes.

Here are a couple of different scripts/scenarios for talking about this that you might adapt depending on the friendship and the circumstances.

One tactic, that I do not think you want to hear, but I honestly think it will help, is to schedule things less often with frequent cancelers. If 1-2x a week is just not working out, try once every two weeks. Schedule way in advance, schedule something that is a finite amount of time, schedule something that is easy to fit into a schedule and needs to happen anyway (breakfast, lunch). You will see your friends probably less than you wanted to but might get more of a commitment and more of a chance of finding the sweet spot where expectations match up with reality.

For the parents of young children who may have trouble finding a sitter or achieving escape velocity from the house:

“I’d love to see you this week. Is there a day this week we can order food and watch TV once the kids are in bed?”

You just saved your friend at least $60 in babysitting costs and made it possible to hang out in a way that is easy for them to enjoy. Boyfriend and I are doing this thing where we babysit Chicagoland’s Cutest And Most Logical Baby for a couple hours on a weekend afternoon so the Commander & Husband can get some time out of the house, then we make dinner and all hang out when they get home. We see our busy new parent friends, we do our laundry in their nice washer & dryer, and we get to feel involved in each other’s lives and play Cards Against Humanity on the regular. There are no downsides.

Also, this is a counter-intuitive one, but it may help. I’ve had some friends that are really hard to nail down about plans because they treat all plans as tentative until they are coming right up. So we agree on a date and a time, but the day before I get a “Are we still on?” text which, accurately or not, 50% of the time I read as code for “Oops I may have accidentally forgotten and made other plans.” Or with others, it feels like you are still negotiating what the plans are right up until the day – “Want to get together?” “Sure” “When?” “Tuesdays and Fridays are good.” “Yeah, good for me, too.” + 47 more emails and texts. If your event planning resembles this hilarious piece from my new favorite website, The Toast, try a different way of making plans.

I want to see X movie at X showtime this weekend. Want to join me, and have dinner beforehand?

The person will either accept or not. If they have a counter proposal, they will make it. Once the plans are formed, say “Great, it’s in my calendar, see you then.” And don’t negotiate anything else about it. Don’t check and see if you are still on. Don’t constantly text and re-firm up the plans. If they forget, or cancel last minute for a not-emergency, it is okay to be pissed off. “Hey, do what you gotta do, but this information would have been really useful yesterday.”

You might still have some awkward conversations about expectations around time ahead of you. Here are some scripts that might come in handy for those.

  • Call out the behavior that is bothering you. “Friend, I really want to see you, but the last three times we’ve made plans you’ve cancelled in the last minute. I know stuff comes up, but it makes me feel crappy to find out at the last minute. Can we find a better way to plan our time together?”
  • Give them room & permission to say no. “I would much rather you just tell me ‘no, I can’t make it’ than make plans and cancel.”
  • Take the pressure off even further. “It sounds like you are feeling over-committed and over-scheduled. I want to see you, but would it help if we eased off for a while and made plans to catch up in a couple of weeks?”
  • Go ahead and ask for reassurance. “When people cancel on me, it really exacerbates my anxiety. If for some reason you do have to cancel, it would help me so much if you reached out the next day with a little reassurance that we’ll hang soon.”

The message that you want to send is “I love you and want to find a way that we don’t lose track of each other, even as our lives accrue more commitments and responsibilities.” You don’t have to hide your anxiety, or your hurt, or your desire to connect more often, or pretend to be cool when you are not cool.

The other thing I suggest is that you schedule some regular social commitments in your free time. Stuff like:

  • Meetups
  • Classes/lessons
  • Book clubs, movie-watching club
  • Exercise/sports

One night a week, do something that gets you a) out of the house b) in contact with new people c) trying something new/learning a skill d) where there is some structure to it that makes you interact with others in a low-stakes way. Your goal isn’t necessarily to make new friends, it’s to have some positive human interaction in your life where a victory is “Had a cool conversation about Octavia Butler and Connie Willis with a new person.”

This is a suggestion that gets made a lot here, and I’m not sure I’ve ever fully articulated why, exactly, beyond a strong intuition that it bring some balance & control for people who are feeling lonely. My friends run the Chicago Game Lovers Group, and their events are all about “Hey, new person, come have fun and meet folks and feel comfortable and welcome here.” Your friends love you, but as we get older and add things like grad school, intense jobs, and kids into the mix people start to have Other Shit Going On. Making sure you are having regular “This is me, doing my me-thing” time scheduled means that you also have Other Shit Going On, Too and makes it less of a zero-sum game.

So, to get back to the piece on attachment styles I linked at the beginning.

  • Introverts & extroverts can be friends
  • Anxious-insecure and avoidant-insecure attachers can be friends.

They can be friends because these labels describe tendencies and preferences, not destiny or identity. They are also, in my opinion, not fixed states and can describe relative dynamics within a particular relationship. For example, overall, I probably trend more toward the avoidant side of things. But in some relationships with avoidant-type folks, I have definitely been the anxious-insecure attacher because those people brought out that dynamic. Before I understood this more, and before I found friends where we balance each other, this was the basis for some real power struggles and hurt.

Here’s how it’s useful: If you recognize yourself in either of these letters, take a second and see if differing attachment styles and differing needs for social interaction might be at play between you and your friends. Hopefully reassuring: It’s not something you have to “diagnose” beyond a reasonable doubt or even discuss, it’s okay to be wrong or decide intuitively or try something out without knowing for sure.

Context note:  For the rest of this post, if I use the word “anxious” or “anxiety” it is in the context of attachment styles and not anxiety disorder.

If you are a more avoidant person who is feeling chased and smothered by an anxious-insecure person, and their behavior is inadvertently activating your terror that you will end up like this cat:

…you might be able to diffuse the situation by offering reassurance. Reach out to them. Initiate plans.  It may feel like sand in your mouth to actually say it, it may feel like you are giving up some inherent piece of yourself and your power and just submitting to SLOTH KIDNAPPING, but let them know verbally that they are important to you and that you care about them. This is why I advised Letter Writer #508 to initiate plans with Clara.

If you are the more anxious-insecure person and you feel like you are chasing a more avoidant person like this dachshund trying to be buddies to this dubious calico:

…offer them space. You want so badly to spend more time and to receive reassurance, and it is okay to need that, but you can diffuse the “OH SHIT, THE DACHSHUND SLOTH IS COMING FOR MY SOUL” feeling in the other person by making it okay for them to have some space. This is why half of the scripts for Letter Writer #509 were about recognition the other person might need some solitude.

I’ll admit some bias & unfairness here since I know myself to be more avoidant. In (my non-scholarly) opinion and experience, the more attached, anxious-insecure person needs affection, contact, and reassurance more and suffers more from an imbalance. The theory is that avoidant-insecure folks become that way because at one time their coping strategy was to teach themselves to be less invested in affection and attention within relationships. They do suffer when a relationship is “clingy” or “smothering,” and want very much to love and be with the person without that feeling, but when the shit hits the fan they have slightly more power in that their tendency will be to leave rather than be left; they won’t submit to being smothered, but they can take off running and force the other person to submit to being abandoned. “I can always leave you more than you can need me into staying.” If people have a different experience, I’d love to hear that perspective.

This is the terror, right? This is the terror, if you are the more anxious-insecure person. Adults can end relationships at any time for any reason, and it won’t be fair and there won’t always be closure. But also, people who like you will act like they like you, and you deserve reassurance and affection and attention and time and are not stupid or “clingy” for needing that. It’s a paradox that can really, really suck when you are the one being left or avoided, and it is very, very hard to learn how to comfort yourself and trust other people when this feels hard.

The way that acknowledging this unfairness is useful, I hope,  is in a plea to my fellow Avoiders: You have slightly more power, even if leaving would be cutting of your nose to spite your face. So you can afford to be a little kinder. You can afford to say “Hey, I care about  you and you are important to me. I will see you this weekend.

I want to leave this on an optimistic note. I am optimistic about affection and the desire to connect winning the day. I think this is negotiable and solvable when people feel real affection for each other, are self-aware and compassionate, and use their words about what they need. We are communal animals. People who need people are the luckiest people in the world, regardless of attachment style. BOTH sides need to loosen their grip. BOTH sides need to offer the reassurance and space that each person needs to feel safe.  Both sides need to give each other credit for trying. “You gave me space even though that is hard for you, let me reassure you that I care about you.” “You gave me reassurance and attention, even though that did not come naturally to you. Let me reassure you that I respect your boundaries and for solitude.“I will always come back if you respect my space and give me room.” “I will always let you go if you promise to come back.” Someone has to let the walls down first, and be the vulnerable one. If you think these situations describe a dynamic you have with someone, try letting your guard down and see where you get. Only connect; it probably won’t make it worse.

Love and Awkwardness,

Jennifer

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246 comments
  1. “But I am introverted and need a lot of alone time and solitude, and spending time together 2-3 times/week is just too much for my schedule and energy level. When I turn down an invitation, it’s not because I don’t like you guys, it’s because I really need some time to recharge and do my own thing. I hope you understand.”

    THIS! ONE THOUSAND TIMES THIS!!! Captain, you always say things perfectly.

    Also, to LW 1, I’d like to point out that for some reason there is a WEALTH of material on big sites like huffpost and buzzfeed about “Being an Introvert.” Since that topic is currently in the public eye, maybe referring Clara to one of those lists would be easy and helpful.

    Here’s a link to one: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/introverts-signs-am-i-introverted_n_3721431.html

  2. Hannah Kushnick said:

    “This is a suggestion that gets made a lot here, and I’m not sure I’ve ever fully articulated why, exactly, beyond a strong intuition that it bring some balance & control for people who are feeling lonely….Making sure you are having regular “This is me, doing my me-thing” time scheduled means that you also have Other Shit Going On, Too and makes it less of a zero-sum game.”

    I’m classic anxious-insecure, and I think the unarticulated thing about control might be that doing this helps you take some of your eggs out of the “social safety is everything, other people have 100% of the power to determine my mental state” basket. A genuine interest in something, or even belonging to a structure, is dependable and stable whether or not a given person rejects you.

    I struggle to do this (I will easily/compulsively fill 100% of my free time with social activities if everyone is available and neglect the solo stuff I want to do), but when I pull it off it is very good for the brain.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ooh, thanks for adding that layer of insight. I also think that it’s helpful for just plain old filling the time – if you pull back on initiating plans with friends, there will be gaps in your schedule that have the potential to feel really sad and lonely. If you can head some of that off at the pass, you can set yourself up for feeling more confident, in general.

      • Hannah Kushnick said:

        Truth. Thanks for this! (And All This, more generally.)

      • MuddieMae said:

        That’s probably why it’s part of the standard end-of-relationship advice, which of course can apply to any sort of relationship that fills a lot of one’s time (parent, friend, partner).

    • J. Preposterice said:

      I think “belonging to a structure” is important here! I am an introvert but have been known to compulsively fill my free time with social things (I’m an at-home parent, so sometimes I am simultaneously overwhelmed by a lack of solitude and by a lack of adult conversation HAHAHA this interacts badly). What tends to help me stay on an even keel is to do something like take classes, or have a standing activity on a certain day. So Tuesday nights I go running with a friend. Thursdays are for going out with Mr Hypotenuse, possibly with another couple. Sometimes I take a short class somewhere — I get my fulfilling solo activity AND adult interaction without having it be “social” the same way that seeing friends is. Structure! It has its purposes!

      • JenniferP said:

        Whatever commenting issue you were having yesterday seems to have resolved, though the spam trap is hungry.

        • J. Preposterice said:

          maybe it was all those links to viagra I was including?

          • JenniferP said:

            It’s nice of you to care so much about my penis size and erectness. Thank you for being a friend!

    • Jane said:

      Yeah, this definitely. During my recent mental health crisis, I was not able to deal with many social activities, but I took up a lot of my hobbies again with a vengeance (painting a lot, some writing, cycling.) Solo activities are something I can control, unlike other people’s reactions to me. If I work hard at them, I will get better and be more satisfied with what I produce, quite predictably (unless I fall off my bike.)

  3. Ve said:

    “In (my non-scholarly) opinion and experience, the more attached, anxious-insecure person needs affection, contact, and reassurance more and suffers more from an imbalance. The theory is that avoidant-insecure folks become that way because at one time their coping strategy was to teach themselves to be less invested in affection and attention within relationships……when the shit hits the fan they have slightly more power in that their tendency will be to leave rather than be left……they can take off running and force the other person to submit to being abandoned. “I can always leave you more than you can need me into staying.”

    I am a mixture of the two, but nowadays I lean much more towards “avoidant-insecure.” I’ve had issues with relationships fading away or abruptly ending, and when the latter happened it was generally over something petty. As someone who would like to have reassurance and affection who figures she’s never going to really get it, I now tend to avoid getting too close to anyone in the first place. I feel like essentially all non-familial relationships have a shelf life (which is a bit depressing as someone with a dysfunctional family), so this is how I cope with that.

    • Blue Meeple said:

      ” I feel like essentially all non-familial relationships have a shelf life ”

      I feel that way too. I know that it’s not necessarily true – my dad has known his best friend for 60 years, for instance. I’ve only known 2 of my current friends longer than 5 years (and many much shorter). One has become the kind of friend I see 2 or 3 times a year, and we have a great time when we do get together (for birthdays and Thanksgiving – ok, maybe that IS like family!) and the other I’ve had to do a slow fade on because she was completely unreliable and it was messing with my head.

      I wish I’d had some of this advice out before having to fade out on her, though. It got to the point where she would suggest things and I would say “sounds great!” and make other plans, because she would invariably cancel. I gave up suggesting things, because she was always unavailable. I wonder if I had said “wow, that sucks, you’ve had to cancel the last three times” instead of “ok, that’s fine”, if she would have realized what she was doing. (Or maybe she did realize. I don’t know.) I do still see her occasionally, but it is only same-day-plans of “let’s hang out out at the bookstore” or “let’s go shoe-shopping” and I don’t really believe she’s coming until she shows up. I always invite her to my birthday party, but I might keel over from shock if she ever actually comes.

    • THIS. It’s kind of doubly full of suck right now, because I recently moved back to the States and away from all of my best friends, and sometimes I don’t even want to want to make friends. It’s hard.

      • Lieutenant Right said:

        I definitely used to be anxious-insecure (I’ve worked a lot on it though), and I want to say…I hope you don’t give up completely. I’ve been burned, and continue to be burned by certain people, and will likely be burned again, but I’ve learned that it’s usually their loss and their problem (as Captain Awkward notes above). While I was certainly imperfect with my attachment style, such experiences improved my filter a bit so that while I still pined for the avoidant-insecure, I had friends who WEREN’T like that, who gave me a lot of affection and got really happy when I gave them affection. It got to a point when I realized I could drop the avoidant-insecure people and have a lot of caring people in my life. While my friends helped because they weren’t avoidant to my anxious, I have learned it’s best to separate time for myself and just spend time in my own company. This helps ease my tension when talking to new people because I don’t need as much outside validation, because I work really, really hard to get it from myself. It’s pretty difficult! I’m not there yet, for sure. But I’m working on it.

        Ve – I think you will definitely get the affection you need and want — but it means believing you will. I believe you will! *Jedi Hugs, because I’m sorry for all the people who couldn’t handle your affection*

        • unlurking said:

          Yes, this idea of getting validation internally (especially in situations with folks with tendencies toward the insecure-chaotic side, (mixed anxious & avoidant)) definitely resonates, and it’s pretty difficult, for me, too, haha! but I’m working on it. I think this goes along with what CA says above, “A friendship that cannot survive the momentary discomfort of you standing up for your needs is not actually a friendship worth holding onto.” Or, to clarify, it’s not either person’s worth that is in question, but, the relationship itself may not actually be sustainable.

    • Jae said:

      The theory is that avoidant-insecure folks become that way because at one time their coping strategy was to teach themselves to be less invested in affection and attention within relationships……when the shit hits the fan they have slightly more power in that their tendency will be to leave rather than be left……they can take off running and force the other person to submit to being abandoned. “I can always leave you more than you can need me into staying.

      Oh man… this just described me completely.

  4. As someone who struggles with these types of social dynamics a lot, I would like to add one other piece of advice. Perhaps less a piece of advice, and more something that I really wish people did more often. It is this: make your expressions of interest in people predictive of the actions you will take with respect to that interest. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who say, “We should hang out sometime!”, whenever I see them, and then never follow through by trying to make plans or managing to find time when I ask them if they would like to make plans.

    It’s entirely possible to express an interest in spending time with someone AND ALSO set realistic expectations at the same time. You can say, “I would really like to spend more time with you, but I don’t think I have any more space for spending time with people in my life right now.”, or “I would like to hang out sometime, but my schedule is really crazy these days, and I’m not sure if I will be able to make time.” Those statements communicate interest while at the same time setting a realistic expectation.

    It’s perfectly reasonable to want to spend time with someone, but not have the emotional or temporal resources to do so. If that is the case, though, communicate it. Don’t say something that implies an intention to find time to spend together if you know you can’t realistically make that time.

    As an introvert, when I go through times in my life that are unusually stressful, I often find it hard to predict the level of social energy I may or may not have for spending time with people – even good friends. During these periods, I make a concerted effort to communicate this. I let people know that I am in a period where I am more likely than usual to flake out on things, and often explicitly give them the option of not making commitments to spend time with me if my canceling on them due to unexpected social-exhaustion-panic would be a problem for them.

    And for the love of fuck, don’t express an interest in spending time with someone “Just to be polite”. If you want to be politely complimentary to someone, there are plenty of ways to do it that don’t involve saying you want to hang out.

    • JenniferP said:

      I agree with this, and would like people to feel more comfortable using their words to say no or to set expectations realistically, with the counterpoint that until you actually make concrete plans with someone, “let’s hang out sometime” isn’t a contract.

      When someone says “Let’s hang out sometime” and you say “I’d like that” (because they would, sometime) and then get 15 “Howabout now?” “Howabout now?” “Howabout now?” emails in a row, “sometime” is going to quickly approach “Oof, I thought I wanted to hang out, but I was wrong. This person’s expectations and desire are very mismatched to mine and I do not feel comfortable anymore” and they are hurt and mad because “YOU SAID YOU’D HANG OUT WHY DID YOU LIE.”

      I like the scripts you suggested, but I also think there is some room to emphasize reciprocity. When you invite someone into your life, do they come willingly, or do they make you work at it? Does it feel unbalanced and anxiety-making from the start? Then maybe, for whatever reason, this is not a good fit either schedule-wise or chemistry-wise. Sometimes I cannot tell that perfectly right away and need more time and information before making a decision. Sometimes the way someone approaches an invitation gives me that information.

      A good rule to protect yourself from this dynamic when you are meeting a new person and there has been mutual “Let’s hang out sometime” discussions is, two pings/invitations and then let it drop until the other person makes some move toward you.

      “Want to go this art show Friday?”
      “No, sorry, I can’t make that.”

      “Want to go to the movies with me Tuesday?”
      “No, sorry, can’t make it.”

      If there is no counter-invitation, ie, “I can’t make it Tuesday, but Wednesday is good!” or “I am so sorry, I would like to get together, but my schedule is very busy right now. Can I check back in in a few weeks?” or any one of the scripts you suggested that honestly lays it out there–

      –STOP INVITING. If it’s meant to be, the person will come back around your way. If it’s not meant to be, it’s ok to be disappointed. It’s okay to decide they are being rude. But it’s not okay to keep pushing, and likely will not get the result you want. People who like you will act like they like you, and you deserve friends who won’t make it this hard to have lunch.

        • JenniferP said:

          The biggest mental shift, I think, is in realizing that you both have power and choices at the beginning of a relationship. If you’re the one who is trying harder to connect, it’s easy to frame everything as a rejection, but as much as the other person gets to decide “Eh, I am not so up for it after all, sorry” you get to decide “Whoa, you are too hard to make plans with and I don’t like feeling like I am chasing you.” Information is flowing both ways, decisions flow both ways, the decision to stop engaging is a way to take power back.

          • ellex24 said:

            “Whoa, you are too hard to make plans with and I don’t like feeling like I am chasing you.”

            I like this.

            I’ve been told that I’m “too hard” to be friends with by a few people, and they’ve always been people with whom I could seldom firm up any actual plans with. At some point, I’m going to say “Look, I’m not a greyhound and you’re not a mechanical rabbit. I’m not going to chase after you. By the 4th or 5th time I try to make plans with you and you bail on me/never get back to me/hem and haw over a time/place/activity, I’m going to assume that you didn’t actually want to get together in the first place. If I have to do all the work…it’s too much like work, and not enough like a friendship, and I’m not interested in that.”

            It helps that I’m perfectly happy to spend 100% of my free time alone. I’ve never been lonely – I don’t really have an understanding of what it is to be lonely.

      • Elanie May said:

        And it’s probably obvious, but I used this exact script in online dating. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that “we should do this again” might just be politeness on the other person’s part.

        So, if I wanted to see the person, I asked once. A “can’t do it” with no follow-up meant I let it go. A “can’t do it” followed by “how ’bout Tuesday?” was a sign to continue. And that’s how I always let others know I was interested, too, even if I couldn’t make it on the date they suggested.

        • Datdamwuf said:

          Thanks, I am INTP and I have issues fufuribg out this shit, now I need to let that new person who invited me to an event that I turned down that I would like to X, joust need to figure out X now

          • Datdamwuf said:

            Where the hell is auto correct when you need it?

          • lani said:

            I dunno, I kinda like the idea of jousting to make decisions. “If you can defeat me in this joust, I will join you on tuesday for a movie!” or, “If I win this joust, we will go to the Pizzeria, Spouse! If you win the joust, we shall go get gyros!”

      • Omar said:

        “Two pings/invitations and then let it drop.” This is exactly the rule I’ve been using! …Which is also when the people on my contact list began dropping like flies. (I have the additional policy of deleting their number if I receive no contact from them after several months.)

        My current social network is still suffering from back when I had the mentality that I had to be Extra Friendly to Everyone regardless of whether or not we clicked, or they were friendly, or they said horrible things about certain groups of people (including ones that I’m a member of).

        I’m glad I’ve grown enough since then and now at least cut out the people in the last category without a second thought, but still needing to get a group of friends where we’re close enough that my mentioning that I’m looking at jobs out-of-state isn’t received with, “Well, be sure to tell me before you move across country so we can hang out or something.” (OF COURSE I WOULD TELL YOU; THIS SHOULD GO WITHOUT SAYING.)

      • Normski said:

        If you’re a bit of an avoidant person it’s good to remember that lots of people work to this rule. I’m a bit avoidant and a lot busy so when I’m trying to get to know new people I try to make sure I don’t turn invitations more than twice without setting something else up so that people know the rejection is because I can’t make it not because I don’t want to.

      • This is good advice like whoa. I have a couple of friends at the moment who are quite comfortable just not answering heir phones if they want an evning to themselves, and my default emotional reaction to that is to worry that they are annoyed at me. Like, have I not being paying enough attention to them because I was hanging with Other Friend a lot this month? Are they sitting there looking at their phones being all ‘Oh so NOW she wants us to be friends, when it suits HER!’

        And then it is super hard to resist the impulse to chase them harder, as an earnest demonstration that I really do care about them and want them around. I have to keep reminding myself that 1) I am definitely reading way too much into it because they call me just as often as I call them, and 2) even if by some remote chance they really are withholding communication to punish me for something that they aren’t big enough to use their words about, then that would be a dynamic I’m not responsible for and should not feed under any circumstances.

        It’s hard though. Becuase Jerkbrain is all, ‘Ahhhhh there might be a problem! Fix it! FIX IT! IT MUST BE ALL YOUR FAULT!’

        /eyeroll

    • Esperanto said:

      I became a happier person when I stopped interpreting “we should hang out sometime” as an actual expression of wanting to make plans. I now interpret it as a general expression of positive affection towards me, but really nothing more. So I don’t take them seriously but I don’t let them annoy me either. If the person follows it up with a genuine social invitation, then great! Until then I will interpret as stated above.

      For example, I have a friend where the friendship died after I started giving them space and they never called me to make plans ever again. But she is still friends with me on facebook. A few years ago she started contacting me more on facebook by commenting on pictures and statuses etc. and has many times said “we should hang out sometime.” She has never once attempted to make concrete plans with me. I’m glad she still has positive feelings towards me, though :)

    • Anisoptera said:

      I dunno – this is a tricky one. When I’m just meeting people for the first time I don’t feel particularly comfortable responding to “We should hang out some time!” with anything other than non-committal acceptance (i.e. “That sounds great!” or similar). Then sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. If nothing else I’m usually not sure if I do or don’t want to hang, and will generally expose myself to someone via group activities or online before I commit to some kind of full on friend-dating scenario. That doesn’t mean I want to shut them down right out of the gate – I just want to feel it out a bit more.

      Sometimes I’ll respond in the vague affirmative (“that sounds cool”) to someone I *know* I don’t want to hang with because I don’t want to make the kind of fuss involved in a straight down the line rejection. Especially when I’m trying to make friends in a new group of people and don’t want to give everyone else the impression I’m not open to making new friends. And especially if they haven’t done anything seriously offensive, but just don’t gel with me personally. It just seems to be part of the culture I inhabit* to maintain a facade of polite interest when interacting with people I barely know. Instead of a hard rejection up front, you just avoid people you don’t want to know better.

      Perhaps this is a very non-optimal way of doing things, but it would certainly stand out and be off-putting to others if I started doing it differently.

      • Anisoptera said:

        And I’ve just realised you were talking about the people who say “we should hang” and then never follow through, not the people who are politely agreeing with this sentiment. :-/

  5. I think Jennifer’s advice was compassionate and practical.

    I did want to add another perspective that might comfort letter-writer #509. It used to be, in “polite” Western society — from Jane Austen times up to about the Mad Men generation — that cancelling an engagement was not considered remotely okay. Once you accepted an invitation, breaking it was a seriously rude thing to do.

    And some of us were basically raised with that as a social norm, even if the actual rule went unspoken. It sounds like this is still *your* social norm. It’s mine too, so I’m sympathetic.

    But modern society doesn’t have a Jane Austen level of uniformity. Your friends are operating under a different set of “norms.” This is, to a certain extent, a clash of culture and expectations, and Jennifer gave you good advice for navigating it.

    But I wanted to validate your sense of upset at having plans cancelled at the last minute, because there are a lot of us who still hold to the older standard. It’s not just you being anxious or clingy. You’re just operating under what used to be a much more prevalent social norm.

    • Marie F said:

      This is so true. I feel you, LW and Shannon.

      I’m definitely an introvert and am perfectly comfortable being rejected when making social plans, but the social circles that I’m hanging in now have a big tendency toward the “no plans are final until they actually happen” dynamic combined with the “most plans initiated within hours of the event” dynamic, which does not work for me at all. I am a lover of plans and cancellations really annoy me.

      Kind of ironically, I was really expecting this social group (military and spouses) to be equally as fond of plans as I am. Has anyone else noticed this when socializing with military and fam or is it just the subgroup I’m in now? Any advice on applying these scripts in a situation where the balance of power really is not in your favor (e.g., “mandatory fun” events with higher-ranking people)?

      • The military is big on plans, yes, but it’s also really big on changing those plans at the last possible second. I’m a military spouse, and I’ve noticed that my husband’s friends (who are also in the military) are super prone to never giving definite answers as to whether they’ll be coming to a thing we’re planning. I don’t know if that’s stereotypical early 20’s men unreliability or if it’s military specific, though.

        (I am also a huge lover of plans, and it drives me batty when I have no idea whether zero or six people are coming over for gaming/pizza. But I have no control over these people. Sigh.)

        • Marie F said:

          Well, that’s two data points trending toward this being a military-wide thing. I was not really prepared for the lack of control around social engagements. I was anticipating mandatory fun, like a unit potluck or something, but not, “Hey, we’re all going to drive 100 miles and spend $150 to go to a theme park this weekend. And you have to come.” We did get out of that one, but it’s hard never being able to make reliable plans. And yes, I also get the “Hey, do you want to do games this weekend?” then no responses to followup inquiries, then three weeks later, “We’re doing games in an hour. See you then.”

          I guess this is something we just have to get over? Maybe it gets better with rank?

          • I don’t have too much experience with the mandatory fun (my work hours tend to overlap with their picnics and whatnot), but luckily we have yet to encounter anything as major as the theme park – though from what my husband’s told me, if he refused enough his supervisors would probably offer to cover the cost, since they do that for a lot of events. He works a pretty standard 8-4, and we’re lucky to have avoided deployments so far, but the occasional “by the way, I’m going to ::STATE:: for a week” or “Oh yeah, I’m working midnight-8AM three days this week” or “PT at 0400 every other Thursday for four months” or whatever… it gets old.

            And yeah. I’ve basically given up on trying to get even a vague headcount for anything we plan, since it’s proven impossible. Unless the economy crashes even further, he’s only in for another three years, so maybe he’ll get more reliable friends then?

    • rachelini said:

      I really hate being the one to cancel plans, for all those reasons above. Unfortunately, this has led me to being a bit wishy-washy about firming up plans, especially for any kind of large group event, because I never know how high my social energy is going to be. I’m working on it – ideally, I wouldn’t be either kind of annoying person!

  6. Jaye said:

    I am a bit of a social nucleus, and tend to make plans for all my friends that revolve around me. Everyone seems quite cheerful about it, but something about this post makes me want to step back from organising everybody for a while and see what happens. Certainly not in a manipulative way (!) but just to reevaluate everyone’s boundaries and make sure they are actually happy versus seeming happy, and their individual needs are being met and not just bludgeoned by my PLANSBOMB. I think a great place to start would be reaching out to each of my friends individually to make ‘Just me and them’ time, doing something they want to do, using plenty of honesty, and making sure I LISTEN TO THEM instead of talk about me the whole time (boy howdy, I am bad for this). Thanks for a great post Captain, that has helped me see the other side of this and could even make me a better friend/human!

    • Sounds good; might be worth just asking if they’re down with the situation. Because personally I want a friend like you. :P It’s *work* being the organiser, so it’s entirely possible that you all benefit from it. I bet there’ll be a few people who’d enjoy more individual time or something a little different though.

      I am kind of needy but avoidant, and shit scared of pushing myself on people too much. My friends consist of a lot of friendly people and a small handful of actual friends that are individual friends with no group. I can also get very anxious about going out, and need time to mentally prepare. I wish I could be a nexus for socialising but it’s not going to happen. *sigh*

    • J. Preposterice said:

      It is probably worth checking in with your friends, but like Hrovitnir said — a lot of us love our friends like that! The big organizer friend in one of my social circles moved away a while ago (for a SUPER COOL JOB), and so we’re now only seeing each other in dribs and drabs if at all, AND it turns out that friend was the only one who had contact info for some of the people she used to invite to her things — they were her friends, we were her friends, but we only interacted THROUGH her and now it’s like “are they on facebook? maybe? do we even know their last names? if we find them we could maybe do a thing?”

      I miss Organizer Friend for lots of reasons — she is a sharp, funny, wonderful person — but I miss her PLANSBOMBing, too.

      • Cady said:

        So funny, this exact thing happened to me a couple of years back. And she is so consumed by and with her SUPER COOL JOB that we get to wave at each other on FB and that’s about it, after being exercise buddies for most of a year! I am so happy for her but arrrgh, some people leave a big hole, don’t they.

      • Jinian said:

        If you’re still in contact with her at all, I bet she’d be happy that you guys want to see her other awesome friends and could get you in touch! Finding someone to make the plans and host things is harder, though. I’ve definitely fallen out of touch with people once our Organizer moved away, and it’s a bummer.

        • J. Preposterice said:

          Yeah, it would require one of us to suddenly become the person who makes plans, and the likelihood of this is slim. All of that remaining social circle are hermits.

          • Cady said:

            Hermits untie! Or unite, on rare occasions! (You’re not in Western MA, by any chance….?)

    • Monika Tillsley said:

      Amusingly I did this inadvertently when I went into mental hospital. Suddenly my social circle had no organiser! My friends joked with me that a few empty days and nights went by before it occurred to them they could pick up the phone and talk to each other.

    • ellex24 said:

      reaching out to each of my friends individually to make ‘Just me and them’ time

      This sounds like a great idea. I have a tendency to be the organizer for whatever group I’m in, both socially and at work (and most of my social circle are co-workers anyways). I frequently find that if I don’t do the organizing, nothing actually happens. But my current social circle seems fine with that, even though I sometimes feel like I’m left with all the responsibility.

      With my previous social circle, I eventually realized that trying to organize anything was a waste of time and personal resources because a large portion of that circle had “issues” whereby they didn’t want to do any of the organizing themselves, but they also didn’t want anyone else to take charge. Not a good situation, and once I realized what was going on, I removed myself from it.

      You might want to feel out your friends to see if any of them might like to do some of the organizing. Some might be happy to leave it to you, and some might like to take a turn at it. And you might enjoy sitting back and letting someone else hold the reins for a change.

  7. H.Regalis said:

    I tend towards anxious-insecure and wanted to second the idea of having regularly scheduled activities, because that 1000000% sure makes me feel better. I’m in a good-problem position right now of having too many activities, but it gives me peace of mind to know that Monday night I’m doing A, Wednesday night I’m doing B, Saturday night I’m doing C, etc. otherwise time seems to stretch before me like this horribly empty road; and I can definitely tell that having regular activities makes me more confident, which in turn makes me be less clingy.

    And also YES to doing stuff at friends-with-kids’ houses after the kids have gone to bed! Some of my friends cannot afford a babysitter, period. Like literally never or else maybe-maybe once in a blue moon, and as a current not-kid-having person I am totally cool with being invited over after kid bedtime and playing board games or watching movies. I’m guessing it’s good for them to have some adults-only time, and it’s good for me because I get to see my friends ^_^

  8. Laura said:

    I’m anxious-insecure like whoa- my mother was user of the Silent Treatment method of parenting when I was wee and also I was very isolated during grade school. (My habit of camping out on the playground with a book instead of playing with the other kids did not help.) So as a result, I developed a nasty self-perpetuating cycle of mindsets and behaviours:

    1. If someone cancels on you/doesn’t want to talk to you/is distant for whatever reason, it’s because they HATE you and just aren’t saying it out loud! Actions, words, etc.
    2. It’s pointless to try and make friendships because nobody likes me anyway (various social anxiety/autism spectrum issues also contribute to this one) I’m gonna go eat worms.
    3. OH GOD, I’M SO LONELY! NOBODY LOVES ME!

    In other words, I am totally that dog trying to be friends with the calico cat. I’m afraid I can’t really offer any kind of “here’s how you move past it” I’m still slowly- very slowly- trying to reason myself out of “okay, just because this person cancelled plans doesn’t mean they hate you forever or don’t care if you live or die.” The second is worst than the first, I think- this is probably my extant mommy issues talking, but the real terror for me is always the indifference, not the hate. I learned early on (like most bullied kids do) that people were going to hate me; I developed a system of “oh YEAH? well hate THIS!” and going out of my way to be contrarian and noticeably Different as a way of self-asserting. The hate or bafflement wasn’t a functional substitute for affection, but I hadn’t really developed the ability to tell the difference. But people just not CARING? Oooh, that one stung. That was saying “it doesn’t matter what you do, no one is interested in you or your actions or well-being either way.” Were they actually saying that? No. But it takes a long time to internalize that and not immediately flip out.

    ALL THAT SAID, I have a semi-relevant question: how do you deal with being hurt when friends ignore important MOMENTS rather than cancelling plans? Like forgetting a birthday, or not noticing when you accomplish something. The obvious answer is to Use Your Words and say “hey friend, it kind of hurt my feelings when something important happened in my life and you didn’t notice” but I’ve yet to formulate a way of doing this that doesn’t sound like “WAHHH WHY AREN’T YOU PAYING ATTENTION TO MEEEEEE?”

    • unlurking said:

      One suggestion that I do, is that if something is important to me, then I make sure my friends know that. And if I think I’ll feel hurt if a birthday isn’t acknowledged in a particular way, then I set up something directly that is what I want to have happen. Like, if you’d like people to gather, invite them out, such as: “Hey! It’s my birthday on Tuesday, and I’d totally love to spend it chomping down cake with you & my other peeps – Why don’t we meet at AmazingCakePlace at 7pm? Be there, yo, it’s my birthday.”

      For topics that aren’t being picked up on, I never underestimate saying, literally, honestly, and openly, “This is a big deal for me.”

      Given what you’ve said above, you may have a tendency to down-play certain stuff, and so keep in mind you are probably hinting at what is important to you much less than you fear you might be. And also, directness works better than hints.

      Actions may speak louder than words. But! The jerkbrain’s interpretations of actions (and non-actions, and words, and words ~”hidden” meanings) can speak louder than /anything/ else, unless trained with more helpful interpretations. In other words: Assume your friends think you are awesome. Because I’m pretty sure you /are/ awesome!

      • But what about when *everyone* cancels on your birthday plans last minute?! Srsly, I have had this happen two years in a row, and that was with planning it at least two weeks in advance, which I figure is a reasonable time frame for bigger gatherings. Makes me not want to bother this year. :-(

        • Ve said:

          Plan something different that will not be easy to ruin. I’ve had similar birthday issues as well as quite a few people I know, it’s an oddly common young adult issue. No one cares about your birthday as much as you do (general you), and adults are generally only so excited about birthdays in any case. Plan something that will make you happy, but is not overly dependent on factors that you can’t control.

        • Remy said:

          That sucks, and I’ve been there, at least in part. 2 and 3 years ago, my birthday celebrations (dinner at a medium-priced restaurant that is reasonably local and affordable for the people invited) were unexpectedly about half-full. One year we found ourselves moving tables to downsize from the number specified in our reservation! Some people cancelled with a same-day text, some just didn’t show up after saying they’d be there. And of course some people never responded to their invitation. Last year, I said, “Fuck it, I’m not doing that again.” I had Chinese food and Pixar movies at home with my wife, and it was fun and relaxed. A dear friend (who, incidentally, has some health issues that cause her to flake on plans a LOT) took me out to lunch as a private celebration. Overall much less of a “big deal”, but I liked it. Maybe you don’t want to bother this year — do what takes care of you.

          • Datdamwuf said:

            Long ago I realized all I wanted was the people I love to remember my birthday, a simple call to say happy birthday was it, I told them that and I have never been disappointed since. My best friend doesn’t like to be reminded of hers, we laugh about it every year when she calls and sings happy bday off key.

        • I didn’t think you could get any lower key than drinks in the pub, and yes a couple of people did turn up so it wasn’t “ruined” but there’s nowt like the kick in the teeth of the sneaking suspicion that people just don’t much care about you. Or rather that, as a mostly introvert who doesn’t do much socialising outside of her hobbies but likes the odd big night out, there is no group you can rely on as a group. You know how some people have the knack for organising big events? That’s definitely not me.

          @Datdamwuf, your story makes me happy. :)

          • Jake said:

            NessieMonster, I basically stopped celebrating my birthday when I was 14 because I didn’t want the disappointment of no one showing up. It’s only the last couple of years that I’ve started doing it again. Both times I invited more than 10 people, and both times fewer than five showed up.

            I can have a lot of sympathy for the no-shows, because as an avoidant introvert myself, I am totally apt to find myself, just before I have to leave the house to go to a party, just totally not up for going to a party right now. I try to manage my social-interaction spoons so that it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. And before I got self-aware enough to do the spoon-management, it happend A LOT.

            Two things that save me from total disappointment/sadness that my friends didn’t come to my birthday party:

            1) Have at least one person who is guaranteed to be there. An SO, a sibling, a very close friend. If you can involve this person in the planning of it all the better.

            2) Don’t make this a secret referendum on whether or not your friends love you. If it’s just you and your one guaranteed person, don’t tell yourself this is a reflection of how many friends you have/how much they care. Have a great time with that one person and call it a birthday win. If people show up HOURS late (as all but my SO did the first time) enjoy their company once they get there and call it a win. If you did a fun thing with ONE person on your birthday, it is a win. Because you had a birthday, and you did a fun thing.

            It’s okay to be a little disappointed, but it might help you to lower the stakes a little bit.

        • miss_chevious said:

          My solution to this was to go the opposite way and make my birthday plans something people would think was a bigger deal and not cancel on. So, for example, when I was having a party at my house or a group dinner at a restaurant or a happy hour, people would routinely cancel day of, or just not show up. But when I do limited tickets to a baseball game or concert or other event, no one cancels (or hasn’t, yet). Of course, this solution is dependent on a certain amount of disposable cash, but I’m willing to save up if it means I don’t have to deal with the anxiety of “what if I have a birthday party and no one shows?”

        • Kaesa said:

          I’ve been there pretty often, unfortunately. Partly it’s because my parents routinely “forget” my birthday (they are jerks) and partly it’s because my birthday is on New Year’s Eve and friends who legit like me are often traveling for the holidays, and everything gets really horribly lonely because I start feeling like everyone is having a party except for me.

          Example: In seventh grade I had a birthday party sleepover wherein I invited all the girls in my class, but most of them cancelled at the last minute (I think there might’ve been a blizzard? It wasn’t Middle School Drama, is my point.), so only one girl showed up and while she was nice, we weren’t BFFs, and she was really nice about it and I remember the birthday fondly, but at the time it was super awkward.

          What I did this year, and what I think I’m going to do from now on, is decided to have a birthday party for myself on a totally different day several months later, let people know a month and a half in advance out of paranoia, set a firm RSVP date, and then went all out on the date of the party.

          I also gave myself permission to be sad and lonely on my birthday, and to turn down any and all “but you haaaaave to visit us on your birthday unless you have clearly-defined other plans, and we all know your parents aren’t in town!” invitations from family, who mean well but are not remotely helpful in this matter.

          I don’t know if that’s at all helpful for you, since I assume your birthday isn’t on a really inconvenient date, but there’s no shame in contacting people and saying “It looks like no one could make it to my party before, but how do you guys feel about [new date]?”

        • Nerdlinger said:

          I’d also like to add the suggestion of assigning a close friend as “birthday admin” for whatever plans you’re making, In my experience, people tend to be more accountable when they don’t have to answer directly to you. Usually, I make it super-duper easy for said birthday admin friend (and I try to rotate it so its not annoying) and give them all the contact info for the people, date / time and here is where I want to eat / hang! All they really have to do is cut/paste and take a headcount for a resi. Sometimes they can play point person for any last minute folks who are prone to cancel. Basically the birthday admin is a good buffer / proxy for any / all responses you will get.

          I’ve done it every year, and it takes a lot of pressure off. Since all my friend circles don’t overlap heavily, my Birthday Admin also isn’t as vested in who responds / why. They just relay the info as needed and vice versa. I LOVE birthdays, and while I love celebrating mine, life happens and people can’t make it – totally understandable! I also tend to get busy work-wise around that time of year, so it helps me manage my peace of mind that planning my party or get-together won’t add to my work-load.

    • Badger Rose said:

      The “important moments” thing is difficult because it’s so culturally dependent. Like, I basically stopped paying attention to my birthday as anything other than an excuse to buy myself a new book or whatever once I turned about 22–I basically never actually do anything for it beyond maybe pick up cupcakes. And that’s *my own* birthday. And a bunch of my friends are more or less the same–either they don’t do anything, or if they do, it is the lowest of low-key.

      So in order for me to know to recognize someone’s birthday, I have to get some kind of signal that This Is An Important Event, It Is Upcoming, It Is Meaningful To Me. If I know that someone else considers it important, I’ll make sure to celebrate with them, but if I don’t know, I won’t, because it just doesn’t enter my brain space.

      Similarly, I have friends who throw parties and stuff to celebrate “I just finished my masters!” or “got a new job!” or “bought a house!” or “successfully trained Fido to sit!” (okay, maybe not that last one), and friends who mention it, in passing, three weeks later. I’m only going to know who considers it important if they *tell* me, basically. I am thrilled to celebrate with them, but I have to know, and I have to know that it’s important.

      This can go badly in a couple of directions. On the one hand, celebrators can feel really hurt and isolated if people don’t celebrate with them. On the other hand, non-celebrators can feel really awkward and terrible if celebrators make a big fuss over them that they didn’t ask for. The only way I can think of around this is to just out and SAY it: “X event is really important to me, so I’d really love if you could come celebrate with me!” Maybe they still won’t be able to, but at least you can be sure it’s not due to a simple mismatch.

      (I actually do this in the other direction–I have made it clear to my SO and to certain close friends that I do not want people to put me in the center of attention unless I explicitly ask for it, and *especially* that I never want a surprise party ever. This confused the hell out of a friend of mine who loooooooves surprise parties thrown in his honor… but he respects my feelings on it.)

      • twomoogles said:

        I’m with you, on birthdays and celebrations in general. My group tends to view ‘birthday’ as ‘excuse to get together and drink/have a movie night/go out to dinner’ which I’m fine with! But, if I don’t want to do X activity I typically won’t prioritize it any higher *because* it’s a birthday. Unless it is a very good friend, and I know it is important to them. I will be clear about whether I’ll go or not, but adult birthdays just aren’t really a big thing for many people I know.

        • Badger Rose said:

          Yes, that’s exactly it. If I feel like I want an excuse for cake or something, I might plan an outing. And if a friend happens to be emailing me on my birthday–or I on theirs–we might say, “Oh, happy birthday! So… [insert mundane rest of email here].” But it really isn’t a thing. Same goes for graduations, anniversaries, etc… they are sort of assumed to be not really a thing unless proven otherwise.

          So I could easily see someone being inadvertently deeply hurt by having their [important event] ignored, whereas the rest of us would just be treating them as any other member of the group.

    • How do you deal with being hurt when friends ignore important MOMENTS rather than cancelling plans? Like forgetting a birthday, or not noticing when you accomplish something.

      As a person who likes birthdays and doesn’t always remember other people’s birthdays, this is my deal with the social universe. I won’t ever expect anybody to remember my birthday. If I want to celebrate it, I’ll pick a fun thing and invite people to it. Others can do the same for me.

    • I LOVE my birthday. I also love other people’s birthdays. I am also incapable of remembering dates, and once got my own birthday wrong on a form at the bank and almost cut myself off from my account the week I moved away to university. So I try and be kind about people not remembering mine, because, you know, I forgot it once.

      The best way for me to get maximum BIRTHDAY JOY has been, consistently, to be excited about it, mention it and be clear about what I would like for the day to mean. So I start with the ‘eeee my birthday is soon EXCITED’ about a week or so before. Now we’re all past the childhood stage I feel like a lot of people don’t really care about their birthdays, so I guess this is a way of showing people that I do consider it a big deal.

      If I’m planning a party, dinner, or any other celebration, I am a little obnoxious about asking people if they’re coming. I try and be pretty clear about saying ‘it’s totally fine if you don’t feel like it, but please let me know’ to try and actually maximise the number of rejections I get. Those people weren’t coming anyway, so making it clear that you’re ok if they turn your invite down helps me avoid the ‘everyone said they were coming, and now it’s just me and my cat’ situation. I also try and make it stuff where I have a core of a few people who will DEFINITELY be there, and then a flexible amount of extras. That way, even if nobody but those core people turns up, it’s still a win!

    • atma said:

      “ALL THAT SAID, I have a semi-relevant question: how do you deal with being hurt when friends ignore important MOMENTS rather than cancelling plans? Like forgetting a birthday, or not noticing when you accomplish something. The obvious answer is to Use Your Words and say “hey friend, it kind of hurt my feelings when something important happened in my life and you didn’t notice” but I’ve yet to formulate a way of doing this that doesn’t sound like “WAHHH WHY AREN’T YOU PAYING ATTENTION TO MEEEEEE?””

      Important moments are cultural, some places don’t celebrate birthdays at all, some have other days that are meaningful, different families have different traditions.
      Is there a way for you to process this internally? Maybe instead of insisting (in your own head) that remembering your important day = all the love! – look for where the actual love manifests. Do they care about you in other ways? Who remembers birthdays outside of their family anyway? If that’s the confirmation you look for in order to feel love, you are BOUND to be disappointed. I don’t think you can change the way your people pay attention to your special days, would it be possible for you to remove the impact of that by looking to the things they DO?

    • staranise said:

      I haaate being ignored when important events happen–it drives me squirrelly. I’ve found it doesn’t help to try to mend things after the fact, since I have a lot of bullying-related issues with people being forced to be nice to me Because It Was The Right Thing To Do. I’d love if people just spontaneously popped out of windows when I walked by and started singing a musical number about how awesome I was… buuut I don’t live in a Disney film. Back in real life, other people can’t read my mind and end up mistaking “Staranise is really quiet about X” for “Staranise doesn’t care about X” and I have to give people pointers on how to be kind to me.

      So now with important events, I let people know well in advance that it’s a big deal to me. I begin talking about my birthday about a month and a half in advance, and the parties I throw for myself are things I’m demonstrably jazzed up about. “Oh good, my birthday falls in Easter this year! I’m having a party at my place, and I’ll make sure to have a big chocolate cake. I’m really excited, and it would be really great if you could come. I’m not always good at being social, so I like having one day a year where I don’t feel awkward about making a big deal. It’s not even about presents, which is good because most of my friends are starving grad students. It’s just getting the chance to celebrate.” So if the person is like “I wouldn’t go to this chick’s party if you paid me,” they can say, “How nice for you, I can’t make it,” and I say, “Too bad; well, it was nice talking to you.” On the other hand, if they are like, “I like Staranise and want to make her happy!” they know: a great way to do this is by showing up to this party.

      It’s about being able to publicly like and celebrate myself, and other people can join in. Some years it’s ended up that I couldn’t have a birthday party, and once or twice I’ve bought myself a little cake and ended up giving pieces away to other people at lunch when I couldn’t eat it all before it went stale, which was like a hungover morning-after birthday party. They wished me happy birthday, I said thanks, we all ate cake. Though now that I think about it, it required me to have comfort with being socially expressive in a way I couldn’t really manage when I wasn’t medicated for anxiety and depression.

  9. Emma said:

    I definitely share LW 508’s frustration with people cancelling, and here is one thing I do that lessens my feeling that I’m out of control of my own social life: If I want to do something with people who don’t always show up, I make the plan first with close friend (can be your significant other) who I trust not to flake on me, at a time we both know we can make it. Then I invite everyone else. That way, even if some people cancel or can’t be firm about anything until like two hours before it starts and stress me the #^%$ out, I know the plan as a whole will still happen. This makes it much easier for me to feel like it’s the canceller’s loss and not mine, because I still got to do a fun thing and be social. I’m not sure if that will work for someone who is anxious in all their relationships, but it works for me with friends that don’t have a lot of time or set schedules.

    Also this whole post is awesome and I feel like I have a lot to think about about myself and attachment.

    • Zooey said:

      The ‘plan with one person’ is a great strategy in general, I think. I do it with arranging social events with colleagues – typically I’ll get chatting with one person and the idea that it would be nice to do drinks with colleagues comes up. Then instead of doing endless emails with lots of people trying to figure out when we could do something, I fix a time with that one person and then send out a general ‘X and I are doing Y at such-and-such a time’. X feels committed and got the luxury of picking the best time for them, so I can rely on them coming, even if they’re not a close friend (obviously this isn’t 100%, but it’s a lot better than everyone involved feeling like it’s an optional group activity). Other people may or may not make it, but often they will come along for a while even if it’s not the time they would have picked.

      I have a lot of anxiety about organising events that nnoe will come to, and this helps me a lot!

  10. General Assortment said:

    I have been on both sides of this coin and both can be SO frustrating.
    For LW #508 there is absolutely nothing wrong with telling your friends that you need a ‘night off’. If they are people worth hanging out with they will get it. My friends and I do this to each other plenty. Some weeks I simply do not have enough HP left to have a conversation with another human being.
    Also I think the Captain is absolutely right about the ‘invite them to something’. Few things are more reassuring in a new friendship than the other person reaching out to YOU. If you plan something (even something small) and invite them it shows you are invested in the relationship and that you are making accommodations for them. It might ease her feelings that she needs to accommodate YOU all the time.
    For LW #509, I am also frequently the ‘planner’ amongst my friends. And this is a practice that has worked really well for me (amongst several flaky/unresponsive friends). Make plans with someone who you KNOW will show up. Someone who is reliable and you want to hang with. Then expand the invite to anyone else you think might be interested. It cuts back on the disappointment of no-shows, but doesn’t exclude anyone from the picture.
    I have several friends different circles of friends. The ‘2x a weekers’, the ‘weekenders’, the ‘every other month club’ and ‘a couple times a year’. There are always people with different priorities than I mine sometimes those priorities can change. When someone shows repeatedly (though tardiness/cancellations) that I’m not a high priority in their social circle I try to move them down to the next circle without being to disappointed.
    Once they stop receiving invitations they will either reach back out to you, or you will have room for new people on that friendship level with complementary priorities.

    • Bwmn said:

      The issues of reciprocity is such a big deal – which in some ways can actually make some of the best advice for 508 and 509 the least intuative. For 508, taking the initiative to invite the chasing friend (while requesting more space) can also be supported by initiating a text/email/etc that ties to an inside joke. Not only does it reassure the friend like the Captain mentions – but it also serves to model the type of friendship you want. Maybe you don’t want to hang out so often, but you’re open to adding some email/social media interaction .

      Similiarly for #509 – I am you!! I can totally relate, in that I am a big planner and in my current city am not only single but have no family and a relatively stable 9-5 job. Around December of last year, I hit my “flakey” person limit. A number of my friends were having major increases in work loads which combined with horribly flakey reasons for canceling really started to get me down. So I stopped trying to plan, stopped trying to reach out. If I was going to do something, I would let my friends know – but it would only be for activities I was already going to do anyways. I also “planned” a week of being alone. Now it was a week where most of my friends were away from Christmas – but I was telling myself that I would get a week of just planned me-time. After the holidays when people started coming back, because I wasn’t doing all of the planning other people started to plan get togethers in ways that worked for them, often in ways I hadn’t thought of. I also got feedback from friends with things like “hey, we loved it when you planned X, we should definitely start that back up”. Basically, by pulling back we were able to recalibrate our relationship where the planning wasn’t so one sided.

  11. helenhuntingdon said:

    “OH SHIT, THE DACHSHUND SLOTH IS COMING FOR MY SOUL” has now permanently entered my vocabulary.

    LW#508, I’m also an engineer who mostly works with men (sometimes only with men). I can’t help wondering if part of the dynamic is to “correct” you into socializing with the women rather than the men (when from your perspective, you were just hanging out with your colleagues and their being guys is a side-effect). That might not be the case at all here, but I’ve seen it come up A LOT that female partners of my male coworkers can be thrown by a woman in what they thought was a gang of dudes. It seems to create tension sometimes in a way that doesn’t happen when the “coworkers” group is more demographically balanced.

    Something that has worked for me in dealing with non-engineers who spend a lot of time around engineers is to toss out some statistics on how much of the engineering workforce is currently estimated to have Aspergers Syndrome or something similar, and then add a few nuggets of what that’s like to live with for someone who has it.

    The example I usually use is that if you need me to do 12 hours of calculus in a day, I can buckle down and get it done. I will be tired at the end and there may be some creative use of muttered language, but it will get done. But most people tell me they can’t do this — 2-3 hours in, they have just used up their higher math for the day and there will not be any more happening at any kind of useful level.

    Then I say the same happens for me and a lot of engineering types when it comes to being socially outgoing — there’s only so many hours I’ve got, and then I just plain don’t have any more that day. Asking for more is like asking a lot of people to do more higher math in a day than they’ve got in them. It just doesn’t work.

    It all depends on who you tell this to and you have to pick your moment, but the usual reaction I’ve gotten, is “Ohhhhh, that explains so much.” I do have to remind people of this — that my magical ability to do certain things for long hours that many people can barely tolerate also means that I can barely tolerate some things many people can do for long hours, but once the initial story is told, the reminders do seem to work. It might help in your case just to set the expectation that you’re not necessarily cut from the same social cloth as “the girls” in this particular group.

    • Datdamwuf said:

      That kind of bugs me, why talk about Asbergers? Nothing you are explaining really has any thing to do with it.

      • Since I’m talking about me, why wouldn’t I talk about my own experience?

        • datdamwuf said:

          Sorry Helen, my bad, I didn’t read it that way, it seemed like a generalization

          “Something that has worked for me in dealing with non-engineers who spend a lot of time around engineers is to toss out some statistics on how much of the engineering workforce is currently estimated to have Aspergers Syndrome or something similar, and then add a few nuggets of what that’s like to live with for someone who has it.”

          I was misunderstanding your post as you suggesting saying that stuff as a general thing pertaining to most engineers and I don’t have that experience.

  12. helenhuntingdon said:

    The SLOTH KIDNAPPING had me clutching my arms frantically and trying to climb the furniture by about halfway through.

    • Lady Commenter said:

      Yup. That was terrifying.

    • Guava said:

      OMG that SLOTH! Watching that, I was like, “Yup. Yup. Definitely avoidant-insecure.”
      Gaah.

      • Virginia said:

        Thank you three for letting me know that I am not the only one who finds sloths terrifying.

  13. helenhuntingdon said:

    And the dachshund is giving me traumatic flashbacks to engineering school, where it felt like approximately 90% of the guys acted exactly like that, nervous heavy breathing and all. And I have a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a Ph.D. — I was in engineering school surrounded by dachshund-panters for a lot of years.

  14. On a different note, if that dog or sloth tried either of those things with my cat, they’d get their eyes clawed out! And the sloth nails/fingers? are creepy….

  15. MuddieMae said:

    I’ll probably have more thoughts later as I read the comments and digest this fully. But in case I get distracted or anxious later – thank you so much for this. I am just entering what I think will be a very difficult but necessary growth period around these issues (LTR just ended) and this is so incredibly timely and awesomely stated!

    • MuddieMae said:

      And I hope this didn’t double post, because apparently my network is sick of this heat wave, too.

  16. Rose Fox said:

    Dear LW #509: I used to be a chronic plans-canceler. I was always running late and sometimes running so late that there was no point to going at all. (Getting to the movie an hour in: not worth it.) Eventually I got better organized and better at allowing for my own lateness. I would also totally overschedule myself and then get introvert-overwhelmed and have to back out of things. Now I book months in advance to avoid crowding everything into the next two weeks. Being a plans-canceler sucks! But as a chronically late introvert, I had to learn in adulthood how to balance my own needs and foibles with societal expectations.

    So I encourage you to be patient with the plans-cancelers in your life, and if you need to protect yourself from making plans with them right now, maybe check back in a few years to see if they’ve become more reliable. Also, if you know the reason behind their cancellations, you can make more flexible plans for a time when you have something else to occupy you and won’t just be waiting for them to show up (“I’ll be writing a novel at this cafe all day, stop by if you’re in the neighborhood”) or otherwise adapt to their needs (“I know you’re an introvert, so how about a picnic in the park where we both bring books and read together?”). And if you keep trying to adapt like that and they keep turning you down or canceling, then let them go; they may just not be into you.

    Also, for anyone making plans via email, I use a two-step approach that works really well. First, provide a list of options and other parameters that excludes anything that DOESN’T work for you. Wait for a reply with the other person’s parameters. Pick a date, time, location, and activity that fits all provided parameters and INFORM the other person of your selection. At most there will be one additional step where the other person identifies a problem with the selection, and you make a different selection. Then it’s settled and done. Example:

    Them: We should get together sometime.

    Me: We should! I’m free Thursday evenings for dinner, Fridays 1 p.m. for lunch, and Tuesday afternoons for freelance coworking at my place. I’m on vacation Sept. 14-21 but otherwise pretty free in September. [In other words, here are a relatively expensive going-out option, a relatively cheap going-out option, and a staying-in option; and here are both daytime and evening options.] What works best for you?

    Them: I’m broke and unemployed right now, but I’d love to hang out on a Tuesday. I’ll bring my sketchbook–does art count as coworking?

    Me: Totally! You can draw portraits of our cats. We’ve got vegetarian lentil soup in the freezer that I can heat up for lunch. Let’s do Tuesday Sept. 10. Come to my place between noon and 1 (or later if you like, but I need to eat by 1 so I can get a solid chunk of work done in the afternoon). I’ll need to wrap up at 7 for my date with J. Here’s the address. [Note that these are all STATEMENTS. This is VERY IMPORTANT. If anything on this list is a problem--they're allergic to lentils or cats or Brooklyn, they can't make it on the 10th, whatever--they'll let me know; and anything they don't say is a problem, I can assume is fine. Phrasing them as questions would lead to at least one extra round of emails.] I’ve got it on my calendar; can’t wait to see you. [This emphasizes that it is an Actual Agreed-Upon Date and not just a thing that might or might not happen.]

    Them: Great, see you then!

    You’re basically creating a Venn diagram and looking for the overlap between what suits them and what suits you. It works VERY well. Recommended.

    • Datdamwuf said:

      Will you be my friend? Cos you already know me :)

    • Bibliophilian said:

      That is a fantastic system. I’m going to be horrifically busy with a new school program, but this may allow me to preserve some sort of social life!

    • Taketombo said:

      I have a more-than-a-decade friend who is a chronic plans canceler. And I’d love to give friend a year or two of space, but as I pull back friend is like “unsolicited text saying how much I love you!” and “tell mutual friend how we’re BFFs!” and acting like that dachshund only without the showing up bit. I ended up blocking/hiding friend on all social media for 6 months – and now that I’ve unblocked them I have no idea how to interact. It’s a long-time chosen-family thing, so I suppose I should stick with it, but at the same time I don’t feel I can talk to friend when the standard response is “my friends all know I’m going to be late/flake/etc. and love me anyway.”

      • Baytree said:

        Perhaps you could make it clear that it isn’t about your love for Friend, it’s about Friend demonstrating their care for you? They may be thinking of it as a no big deal thing. Something like, “Friend, I like seeing you but when you cancel/don’t show/etc. it really hurts my feelings. Please don’t do that.”

    • Badger Rose said:

      I would find your proposed reply really pressuring. That may be a cultural difference.

  17. theLaplaceDemon said:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. This post is giving me ALL OF THE FEELINGS as lifelong avoidant person who has spent a lot of time trying to articulate this stuff and a lot of time trying to figure how how to take care of my own needs while still not being an asshole to other people. I will try to keep this from being a novella-length comment, but this has left me with all kinds of thoughts swimming in my head.

    The Captain’s advice, as usual, was excellent; it was both practical and compassionate and I heartily co-sign all of it.

    I have been someone who requires a lot of alone time for my entire life. I can count the number of times I’ve been on the anxious-insecure side of the dynamic without filling up one hand, and throughout my childhood and teenage years I was often hassled and harassed about it by friends who simply could not understand it. I was constantly stuck between going along with social events I didn’t want and being interrogated about why I said no. This was especially bad when I was a teenager working a service industry. So much of my Social Energy Units would be spent just doing my job that the idea of spending time with people – people who I loved and appreciated and enjoyed – was way too exhausting to handle. And in general, among the circles I associated with as a teenager, needing to have at least 3 or 4 truly quiet nights at home was a preposterous idea. Everyone operated on a Social Time Maximization algorithm, and I spent a lot of time feeling guilty and like a total weirdo.

    But the Captain said something that is very true for me that I never realized before: I DID train myself to be less invested in friendships. Until I am very close to someone (and that is a process that takes awhile). The power imbalance that existed for me as a child and teenager has very much shifted the other way, which is also very uncomfortable. I have certain relationships with people – wonderful, amazing people – who are a lot like LW #509, who like to spent pretty much all of their time socializing and have a lot of free time, and I feel like I’m the gatekeeper of our friendship in a way that’s very uncomfortable (probably for them, too!) I have very much developed “run, RUN AWAY” instincts at the first sign of “clingy” (intentional scare quotes, because I don’t think that many of these people are actually doing anything bad or excessive at all, they just trip-up my over-sensitive alarm system). And while I’ve gotten a lot better at using my words and managing expectations from the start and actually saying no to plans I’m not sure about (which makes it SO MUCH EASIER not to flake on things I’ve said yes to), I still am ready to cut and run the second someone starts displaying the pushy behavior I used to see from my friends as a kid. And that puts me in a very advantageous position compared to the anxious-insecure person. Sometimes it is cutting your nose to save your face, but at least you’re in control of the cutting.

    LW #508, please please talk to your friends instead of just feeling sad and resentful. I had someone abruptly (at least, it seemed abrupt to me – I expect it was a long time coming for them) end a friendship with me when I was 19 because they felt like I didn’t make an effort and didn’t care. I miss this person to death and would have been so happy to find ways to make them feel loved and cared about if I had known what they needed. My guess is some of your friends probably feel that way to.

    Some things I have learned about myself and my needs:
    – Short events and specific durations are way less anxiety-inducing and way easier to say yes to. “I have one hour free between [appointment] and [appointment], want to meet downtown for coffee? is a lot less scary than “Want to come over Saturday and watch movies and do some baking?” because the latter will leave me wondering how much time will be expected of me (Internal dialogue: “Will it be disappointing and rude if I leave after one movie and one batch of cookies? Am I expected to stay for at least two movies? Will this person be sad if I don’t spend ALL DAY with them? Better say I’m busy Saturday and wait for an opportunity with clearer expectations?)

    – Big group events where my absence won’t ruin anything are actually a lot easier to go to than more intense one-on-one events, because I feel like if I go I’m allowed to leave at any time. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy one-on-one things too – I really do! In many ways more than big group events! But it does mean one-on-one time has to be more like a biweekly or monthly occurrence. Everyone-will-be-at-the-bar-come-if-you-want is an easy thing to show up for every week or even twice a week, because it’s low pressure.

    – I have a personal rule where I absolutely will not cancel on someone twice in a row (barring circumstances outside of my control). Even if I’m feeling really exhausted and socially burned out, if someone’s friendship is worth it to me I will drink some coffee and put in some quality time, even if it means being extra tired the next day. I also try to religiously follow the “if you canceled, you have to reach out next” rule.

    – Being upfront and honest about being socially exhausted. I didn’t do this for a long time because of how awful my friends were about it when I was a kid, but as an adult I’ve found people are actually very receptive to this – even if they can’t relate personally, it’s A LOT less awkward and uncomfortable than “Uh, I have a headache…” Especially when it’s followed up immediately with “What’s Thursday night look like?”

    In general, this has become much less of a problem the older I get. I am better at articulating my needs and enforcing my boundaries, and people are better at accepting those boundaries even if they don’t understand them. Because everyone has different jobs with different demands at different hours, only seeing someone once a week or even once a month seems much more normal now.

    • Badger Rose said:

      “(Internal dialogue: “Will it be disappointing and rude if I leave after one movie and one batch of cookies? Am I expected to stay for at least two movies? Will this person be sad if I don’t spend ALL DAY with them? Better say I’m busy Saturday and wait for an opportunity with clearer expectations?) ”

      Oh my god, that is me to a tee. Even if I think someone is awesome and fascinating I am always wondering about the exit strategy. If I’m Done after lunch but they’re looking for more hanging-out time, how will I make my exit? If I come over for “movies” are they going to think I’m rude and/or hate them if I leave after only “movie”? If we go to a matinee is it going to be weird if I want to just take off instead of going for coffee or dinner or random hanging out afterwards? Etc.

      Because no matter how awesome and fascinating the person is, no matter how much I adore them and think they’re great and want to be friends… at some point I just run out of energy. I am done. It wouldn’t matter if they were the most perfect person on earth, if they were Adonis plus Athena plus Aphrodite plus Artemis with a side of Mrs. Potts and a smidge of Princess Leia, I would still be done. So there’s this constant buzzing in the back of my head of making sure that I only set up social situations where I can be done and get out and still not hurt someone’s feelings.

      It is such a relief to know that it’s not just me!

    • miss_chevious said:

      I so hear you on this. My one rule for social engagements is “Control Your Exit.” Whether than means driving separately, or having money for cab/train/bus fare, or a friend make an emergency rescue (used only in blind date scenarios, generally), I must have a way to end my time at the engagement. The few times I have not obeyed this rule, I have regretted it. Deeply.

      • theLaplaceDemon said:

        “My one rule for social engagements is “Control Your Exit.””

        OH MY GOD YES.

        That’s one thing I’ve really loved about moving to Big City – pretty much everywhere is accessible by public transit, so I’m never dependent on anyone to get home. But the social problems with exiting still exist…

      • J. Preposterice said:

        I live somewhere with rivers. Occasionally, this means people want to Do A Thing on a boat. On the river. Where I cannot escape.

        I can do it better now than I used to be able to, but what I did the first time I was at one of Mr Hypotenuse’s work events, on a riverboat, when I couldn’t get away…would probably require a trigger warning for self-harm, actually.

        • miss_chevious said:

          Wow, that’s awful! I would really really really try not to go to those things. Because, NO.

      • monologue said:

        Thissss. On the rare occasions when my exit is not under my control, it’s like this quiet buzzing anxiety in the back of my head throughout the whole event. This is especially annoying when it’s a superlate/overnight party. I hate it when I get to that point at 4 or 5 AM where I can’t stay awake anymore and also can’t leave. In those cases I developed a solution where I just drink so much redbull that I won’t have to sleep until like 8 AM. Yeah, not a healthy solution so often I just stay home : )

  18. Lucia said:

    The theory is that avoidant-insecure folks become that way because at one time their coping strategy was to teach themselves to be less invested in affection and attention within relationships. They do suffer when a relationship is “clingy” or “smothering,” and want very much to love and be with the person without that feeling, but when the shit hits the fan they have slightly more power in that their tendency will be to leave rather than be left; they won’t submit to being smothered, but they can take off running and force the other person to submit to being abandoned. “I can always leave you more than you can need me into staying.” If people have a different experience, I’d love to hear that perspective.

    *winces*

    Yeah. My caregiver is anxious, and I am ex-anxious and now avoidant (it can change over the course of your life, yo), and it’s hard.

    I love him but I feel smothered and I feel choked off. He’s literally anxious – he has a friggin’ anxiety disorder, and it’s got to be awful for him, too. So the whole “I can leave and you’ll just have to deal” angle where the avoidant one kind of comes out on top (GREAT observation, btw) is negated by the fact that I am disabled and I need him – and because it’s a mental illness, and because many of my needs require someone legally empowered to make calls and so forth on my behalf, I can’t substitute one person for another easily. We work at communicating and are really good at it, we deal with our issues amazingly well, but it’s still so hard.

    It’s not made easier by the fact that I’m the caregiver for him, too, and I’m further along in the Dealing With My Shit department, since I started therapy years and years and years ago, and he only just started last year. So I’m having to basically teach him and model good behavior so that we can continue to function as a unit.

    This is so hard, guys. I don’t even. Some days I don’t know if I need room, or if I just want to leave. Except I can’t leave. Which just makes me feel trapped and afraid, and want it more.

    Jesus. It’s complicated. Maybe I should just write a letter.

    I just wanted to observe that when there are inequalities in the relationship’s power dynamic that go the other way, the issue becomes more complicated. I’m sure it’s equally if not more horrible when the caregiver is avoidant and the person they are caring for is anxious. (Basically my childhood and my relationship with my mother, which I remember with no great fondness.)

    • That’s so hard.

      Is there any way that both of you can expand your personal support systems? Something where your boyfriend has other people to hang out with when you want alone time, and you have alternative ways of getting some of your needs met? This doesn’t really count as advice because I don’t know HOW you’d accomplish this — if it were easy, you’d probably be doing it already. Still, it seems like an important question to ask. Depending solely on one person for survival is terrifying and, as you said, will make you feel trapped even if you love the person you depend on.

      I wish I had something more useful to offer.

      • Lucia said:

        Believe me, sympathy is SO useful. You have no idea.

        *I* have a rock solid network of friends now, thankfully, although this is a comparatively new development compared to the timeline to my actual relationship with my partner, which is old enough to vote. I feel well-taken-care-of in that regard. I just feel really awkward/icky about complaining to them about him. I mean, even talking about it feels like complaining, and like some sort of breach of trust. And I don’t want to bias my friends against him. :/ That’s a me issue, not a him issue.

        He, on the other hand, has no friends aside from mutual friends. I can’t force him to go out and make more. He has problems leaving the house, he’s got major issues with rejection, he’s more introverted than me, he doesn’t like most people (not hate, just doesn’t want to be friends with, or even talk to), he’s just one of those people who has trouble making friends, and has trouble finding people who get along with him.

        I’ve tried to think of things that would facilitate him having other friends, but I’m not having much luck. I have been doing things on my own when I want to, and have encouraged him to do the same, and progress is being made there in baby steps. But dear god, it’s so hard.

        It’s just hard. Being chronically ill and living with someone else who is chronically ill is . . . really hard. And there’s almost nothing out there that specifically addresses it.

        Gad. This can’t be an uncommon problem. Maybe an open thread sometime? I don’t know.

        But thank you. Just sympathy is helpful. I have so much compassion for him, because I’ve been there with the panic attacks and the anxiety and the depression, AND he has to take care of me when I have my frequent nasty bouts with manic and mixed states. Both of us are having a hard time.

        • Clodia said:

          I can’t speak to the illness section of it, but my SO and I have a similar dynamic support wise. A thing I have started to do when he’s being too overwhelming is to remind myself that his lack of a support structure is not my problem. As much as I want to be there for him, if I’m hitting my limit, it is my responsibility to take care of what I need. I’ve had him complain that he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to, and my response is “I’m sorry, that sucks, but that is not my fault.” It has helped significantly with my emotional health and my ability to provide support.

    • solecism said:

      That sounds very familiar. Zie actually has a much wider social circle than me as well as many more seriously long-term friendships, and is far more personable and charming, such that far more people are interested in having a connection with hir than me. But zie has been functioning poorly if at all for so long now. It felt like a weird role reversal for me when we first started dating because my abusive ex was extremely anxious-insecure, and I spent so much energy fighting off the smothering blanket of his need and demand for ALL my attention. In that previous relationship I was avoidant. In this relationship, it felt so strange to want to hold hir hand, to seek affection, to be happy receiving attention, to verbally declare my love. And it seemed pretty mutual. Zie has been my caretaker ever since my diagnosis and years of treatment, and continues to excel in that role. But in every other aspect of hir own life and our life together, zie is now overwhelmingly passive, inert, silent. Zie acknowledges being unhealthily dependent on me but doesn’t seem interested or able to make any effort to reach beyond me to create the support system lost through relocation and the inevitable social entropy as everything changes over time. I’m on the verge of giving up.

      You have my sympathy. It’s hard enough negotiating a relationship, and mutual disabilities make everything so much more difficult.

  19. thesmittenimmigrant said:

    This piece gives me a lot to think about. Highly useful. Interestingly enough, I recognize things from both LW 508 and 509 and I wish them both well with their conundrums (dra?).

    Thanks!

  20. meh said:

    I am so needing this post. I have a friend who recently became very busy with no end in sight for years. A friend who never initiates plans with anyone in all the time I’ve known them. I am feeling very unsure of how to proceed, because it makes me unhappy and insecure to constantly be the one proposing plans and getting “I’m not sure, I’ll get back with you later”. And frequently the get back later is a yes, but I end up feeling like I can’t make other plans, and can’t rely on this one, and getting anxiety bombs about bothering busying people, because I have NO WAY of knowing if they actually want to hang out, because they never invite me back-but they never invite ANYONE. EVER. I can’t figure out a way to get what I need out of this-whether to withdraw, or just keep….asking.

    • apricity said:

      :( Not a good position to be in. I think in this case you should actually say to him what you said here: “I enjoy spending time with you, but the way that we make plans is not working for me. How can we work this out? How about we X?” And that may be him making the plans, or having a standing arrangement that he makes time for, or he has to say yes/no straight away, or something else. But just keeping asking will only make you sad, and if he never invites anyone then withdrawing will not change this ingrained pattern of behaviour (sadly).

      • meh said:

        Yeah. I wouldn’t withdraw to change the pattern of behavior. I’d withdraw because as things stand, the stress of trying to make plans is more bad for me than the occasional hanging out is good for me, so barring a change, I need to move away from this friendship. Which I hate, because I really like my friend! And the anxiety the plan making gives me is making it hard for me to plan this discussion, because of course, I need to invite him out to have it. I will do so, I don’t want to give up without trying, I just wish I had a good script to keep me from getting into my anxiety-which is mine and not his.

    • silence said:

      I think this may be a situation where instead of trying one on one meetings to doing group things the friend is welcome to come to but not essential. A ‘we are having drinks / dinner / a party on x day would you like to come?’ So if they show up it’s great but if they can’t make it there is no stress for you.

      • apricity said:

        Yes, good idea! Or if you want to keep it one on one, plan a solo movie outing and invite him as optional, much like how I never decide on whether to get popcorn until I am actually at the theatre. Something like that maybe?

        • apricity said:

          To clarify, your friend is the popcorn in this scenario. Something nice but an add on to the experience. Metaphor got slightly out of control there sorry.

      • meh said:

        It would be, but the lovely group of people who I miss a lot has evaporated and not been replenished. People have gradually moved away, and now there’s three left, and one of them is someone I am happy to be group friends with, but want to limit my one-on-one time with because no matter how explicitly I say I want to be your friend and not your therapist, as soon as we are alone, this person tries to turn me into therapist, not matter how determinedly I go, “Huh. How about NSA spying, thing in the news?” I’m making new friends, and doing activities to meet more people, and it’s all going well, but I’m a slow friend maker, and not far along in the process with anyone to invite them to be putting together groups of them.

  21. E.C. said:

    As someone who’s usually anxious-insecure but can also be anxious-avoidant in some situations, I really appreciate the compassionate advice, Captain.

  22. Monika Tillsley said:

    It has taken a large chunk of my 35 years but I think I have a great method now. I am the organiser but I do that because I want to. I find it fun. I like to do things and see people. I rarely mind when people say no as long as I can find one person to do the thing with me (I’m not very fond of doing things alone).

    So what I do is find a thing. Then send out an email to those in my social circle who seem like they would be interested with the date and time and details (is it kid friendly? is there a cost? etc). Then if there is interest we do the thing. My friends know they can say “Dear god I would rather drink paint! Are you serious with this one?!” and I will be amused but not offended. My friends also know they can say “I’ve done enough things this week. Have fun but I will be under the doona having a snooze.”

    So I guess a good method and great friends is what I have. I’m lucky.

    I’m trying to decide tonight if I want to go to a documentary. I really want to see it but didn’t get any interest so it would be solo. That makes it much less appealing.

  23. mamacitaconpistoles said:

    I have, with chronic cancelers, actually said “I would like you to respect my time as much as you respect yours. If you can’t make it, I have other shit to do, and I can make plans. So please don’t say you will show up and then bail next time.”

    Saying “I have things to do” (which could include “folding my laundry” or “being alone in my own head”) took a lot of the pressure off, I think. It seems counterintuitive, but I think what was happening was, they were thinking “oh, she needs lots of social time, I should say yes, because that is what friends do!” and then they get overwhelmed or want a night off, or whatever, and bail.

    But my saying “no, actually, I am a big girl and don’t need you to resolve my extravert-needs problems. I just need you to do what you say you are going to do, when you say you will do it” reframed that.

    The only responsibility people have is to respect my time by keeping plans when they make them. Make them less often, or make them more, but when they are made, they matter.

    I also got ruthless about how I spend my time. If people aren’t respectful of my schedule, I don’t put their needs in a “make big efforts to meet them” column. I still treat their time like it is important- if I agree to something, I will do my best to follow through. But I also don’t make big-cost commitments. Coffee? Sure. A party where I can leave after half an hour? Sure. A dinner party I plan and shop and cook for? A trip out of town? Changing schedules so I can get back to town to hang out at x-time? No. Not so much.

  24. Lieutenant Right said:

    #508 — I’m really glad you asked Captain Awkward for advice! I’ve met some avoidant-insecure people, and sometimes I get hurt because I try and check in with them and they still just avoid me. It means a lot, personally, to see someone try and rectify their situation instead of pulling away and acting like nothing happened.

  25. theLaplaceDemon said:

    I wrote a long comment earlier that I think WordPress ate, but honestly I think the majority of it was catharsis for me rather than helpful for the LWs and others, so I’ll just sum up some of the take-homes here:

    (0) I am a lifelong Avoidant Person who needs lots of recharge alone time after socializing. I can count the number of relationships where I’ve been on the Anxious-Insecure part of the dynamic on one hand. It’s not that I don’t like people. I love them, and I love my friends. But socializing takes a ton of energy for me – it’s pretty much never “down” time.
    (1) I’ve experienced some pretty awful badgering, haranguing, and social pressure from less introverted friends who couldn’t comprehend or accept my need for alone time. Saying no to plans was met with a demand for Explanations and Reasons and Can’t You Just Do [solitary activity] another time?!
    (2) I’ve been That Asshole who was always bailing on plans at the last minute or refusing to commit until 12 hours beforehand
    (3) Fixing #2 by setting firm boundaries from the get-go in all my new relationships (and working to re-set boundaries in my old ones) almost completely fixed #3.
    (4) The Captain is totally right about the Avoidant ones having more power because of training ourselves to be less invested. This was not true when I was a kid, but it has totally been true in many of my adult relationships.
    (5) At the end of the day, someone who needs to see me for more than a couple hours a week* is just not somebody that I am going to be compatible with, no matter how wonderful they are and no matter how much I like them. It needs to be okay for me to say “I’ve got a lot of stuff going on that week and I kind of want to stay home Tuesday, how about a night next week?”

    *There are, of course, some people who are exceptions to this, people who for whatever reason don’t drain my social energy as much. But these people are few and far between.

    Honestly, someone like LW #509, who seems like a totally awesome, compassionate, self-reflective and generally kickass person, is not someone who is going to be the best friend-match for me because as someone who just can’t put that much energy into socializing/planning, even for people I really like, it creates a bad-for-everybody dynamic if the other person is devoting a ton of time and energy to the relationship, through making plans and trying to connect and remembering to stay in touch.

    (let me make it very clear that I am NOT trying to imply that it’s okay that LW #509’s friends are always canceling. While I have been that person and understand how that can come from a lifetime of dealing with pushy Anxious-Insecure people who demand Explanations when you say no to things, it’s still an INCREDIBLY uncool and disrespectful to frequently cancel plans)

  26. twomoogles said:

    I liked especially where you said that introvert/extrovert and avoidant/insecure are tendencies rather than identities. I don’t know what it is, but lately (on Facebook mostly) some of my friends post constantly about their introversion in a really ‘this is *who I am* so *deal with it*’ way. It started really suddenly so I’m not sure where it came from.

    I tend to be on the avoidant side when it comes to relationships, but also have anxiety as a condition, which can be..confusing. I have this low level fear all the time that my friends secretly hate me, but this manifests in me taking a really long time to warm up to people, and I have been accused of being cold. I’m not very good at reassuring, and tend to react *really* badly when people try to chase me down.

    As for cancelling plans, I accept it just fine from people who don’t make it a habit. But it nearly destroyed my friendship with one person. She and I were supposed to have a twice-weekly engagement, and she cancelled well over half the time. I started developing a white hot rage reaction when I would see her latest excuse/reason. I finally had to tell her this wasn’t working for me emotionally, she said ‘it’s who I am’ I said, ‘it’s who I am that I can’t deal with that much uncertainty’.

    I know it’s not about me, but it just feels disrespectful to cancel plans. It’s one thing to not make it to a big group gathering, and another to effectively waste someone’s time and book some evening, then cancel at the last minute so they don’t have a chance to make other plans. Emergencies and life happen to us all, but I have a really hard time with people who do this as a matter of habit.

    • staranise said:

      There’s a book out about introversion that got a big publicity push in the spring, so it’s the new vogue. :)

    • apricity said:

      I liked especially where you said that introvert/extrovert and avoidant/insecure are tendencies rather than identities
      Agreed so hard. Also, for me personally, I’m extroverted AND introverted, in that I get sad without human contact but also sad without time to peacefully chill out by myself, and the balance between those two sides changes over time. I don’t think that’s unusual or the population would have long ago divided into hermits and people in communes. So I think classifying people as extroverted or introverted can over-simplify things. It can be useful to help explain things, yes, but it should be the start of the conversation and not the end of it. I see people using it in a “I’ve told you I’m an introvert/extrovert, so now you completely understand my needs and will meet them all” kind of way, which just doesn’t work. There is no substitute for Using Your Words and negotiating your relationships.

      I also agree entirely about cancelling plans. Sometimes it’s unavoidable but I find it far worse to have someone cancel on something I am looking forward to/organising other things around than if they refused at the beginning.

      • twomoogles said:

        Yes, I feel like most people would be a balance; even the most social person needs downtime *sometimes*, after all. I know I go through phases of wanting to see people all the time, and spending most nights at home. I am *social* but need a lot of downtime, and really can’t identify myself as an introvert or extrovert. Like you, I get sad without both human contact *and* chill time.

        It’s definitely the ‘now you understand my needs and will meet them all’ things my friends are doing. I’m not saying only introverts do this, but for some reason, that’s what I see on my own facebook feed. It’s a bit hard to take it seriously when ten or so people post about how they are introverted as though it’s a super super uncommon thing. But I think pretty much everyone needs downtime, doesn’t like being interrupted, and other things that appear on the ‘introvert need list’.

      • keelyellenmarie said:

        It was really important for me, in learning to function socially as an adult, to understand that there are definitely many different degrees of introversion/extraversion, and many different ways to “do” introversion/extraversion.

        As a kid, I was very anxious and [sometimes] shy, and I came to identify strongly with my introversion because it was a PROBLEM. I was the kid who spent all my time reading and my mother was forever scolding me to get my nose out of my book and talk to people. My house was also FULL OF PEOPLE–I’m one of 5 kids–so true alone time was a precious commodity that I spent a lot of time chasing after.

        And extraverted traits are somewhat overvalued in my family. My [very extraverted] mother wants to describe me as a “people person”, because she likes me and in her mind, good people are “people people”. It took her YEARS to finally get that when I described myself as introverted, I wasn’t putting myself down, “limiting myself” or “selling myself short”, and that being introverted DIDN’T mean that I hated human contact or was going to have a life of a miserable hermit. My father is an introverted salesman/manager, so he’s spent a great deal of his life focusing on performing extraversion. It’s only in recent years that he has started to acknowledge that it isn’t some awful shameful flaw that he needs downtime away from people.

        So yea, coming from that environment, where extraversion was expected and glorified, I felt EXTREMELY introverted. But as a weird nerdy adult, I have found that I’m actually often the most extraverted introvert in the room. It was quite an adjustment to realize that some of my friends needed MORE alone time than me. My first boyfriend frequently got mad at me for being too social… the fact that I wanted outside social contact a few times a week clearly meant that there was something wrong with our relationship, not that I needed more social time than he did!

        So yea… some people fall at the extreme ends of the spectrum, but lots of us fall somewhere in the middle. And regardless of level of introversion, EVERYONE needs SOME social contact and SOME downtime. I’m appreciative of the fact that the needs of introverts are getting talked about more these days, but there is definitely a tendency towards oversimplification of how introversion/extroversion actually play out in real life, and that doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.

        • VG said:

          “It took her YEARS to finally get that when I described myself as introverted, I wasn’t putting myself down, “limiting myself” or “selling myself short””

          I have a friend who scolds me for that regularly. “I wish you liked yourself as much as everyone else does” is a favorite refrain. Actually, I like myself fine; I’m just realistic about my own personality, and the fact that it’s sometimes harder for people to understand than a more bubbly, open way of being.

      • Kaz said:

        I think I might be some sort of intrextravert… I *appear* to gain energy in social situations (sometimes to a quite frightening degree, I can end up basically bouncing off the walls) but often it and more vanishes as soon as I leave. I have had experiences like being in a pub having a wonderful time and being super-engaged, deciding “I’m having fun but it’s late, better go home” and then the instant I step out the door I have to catch myself as exhaustion hits me so hard my knees actually buckle. If I don’t get several hours alone time a day I don’t end up exhausted, I end up this weird hyperactive mess that can’t quite think straight and is 100% guaranteed to crash and crash hard the instant I get time to myself. (I also function markedly better with frequent human contact, but I figure that’s true for everyone – prolonged solitary confinement isn’t just torture for extroverts.) I generally classify myself as an introvert because of the “needing time to myself” thing, but I don’t think anyone who sees me in a social situation would think I’m one – and I get annoyed when people toss around the word like it means something about someone’s personality.

        • OMG, I’m exactly the same! I can turn it up hard for social events but I am completely tapped out afterwards. And I get the same amount of disbelief from friends about my introversion. I think, like so many things related to human beings, it’s not an either/or situation, but a continuum.

        • J. Preposterice said:

          I am like this, too. What was really funny to me was when my old workplace did the whole, full-on, professionally-assessed Myers-Briggs thing (which is so different from the web quizzes you would not believe it, if you’ve never done it), and my results were that I was EXTREMELY to the Not Shy side of things, but also quite introverted. This…made a lot of sense to me. I could just go along on the Not Shy ride, going along with the part of my personality that tends towards that, and that ride will go a very long way. My former job required a LOT of large-group interaction and meeting facilitation and so on, and to this day if you throw me at a group of 40 people and tell me to keep them occupied, I can do it without blinking and without fear.

          But the instant the ride stops, I am done. I have nothing left. I might drag myself into a hole and stay there, whimpering with exhaustion, for a day. I get no energy back from whatever it is I’ve been doing with all those people, only energy loss. It was pretty horrid before I understood what was going on.

        • Ali said:

          I’m the same; I wonder if it (for us) has anything to do with autism and having learned to perform social roles more by rote (not a question, just something I’m going to ponder).

          • Kaz said:

            Actually, I was wondering about that; whether I might be “naturally” something of an extrovert, but so much energy goes into performing social stuff that I end up with a net loss. I definitely think a lot of the energy drain comes from the sheer amount of effort I pour into just existing around people, I’m just not sure where the phantom energy gain and the occasional acting as if half my blood got replaced by concentrated ENTHUSIASM (possibly mixed with pure caffeine) comes from. Although I think for me, one aspect of the mess might be that I’m prone to mirroring other people’s emotions and opinions, especially if I’m kind of stressed or having trouble keeping up with things (it’s like my brain decides the ability to think critically and form opinions on things is less important than being able to follow the conversation and keep my body language semi-NT, so triage occurs and the former gets axed in favour of the latter). The result being that I kind of need time away from people to ground myself wrt who I am and what I actually think, and if I don’t get that I start feeling weirdly… floaty and disconnected. I think the mirroring thing is an autistic thing, so…

        • Kaz said:

          Ooh, thanks for the link! That… does sound a lot like me in some ways!

    • Jinian said:

      It’s pretty exciting to run across things that describe things about you that you might not have been able to get through to people before. Probably the pendulum will swing back a bit once your friends feel more comfortable and less exclamation-pointy about having Discovered Introversion and being able to point others to Real Internet Articles and Books about their tendencies.

  27. staranise said:

    The good news is, it’s never too late to repair attachment and learn how to feel okay and trust that you will still be connected to other people..

    I tend to pop back and forth between secure and disorganized attachment. Disorganized is avoidant and insecure at the same goddamn time. “I acutely feel your lack of love for me, so I will sit over here in the corner and send you eyebeams of hateful longing communicating how much I wish you would come over here and pay attention to me!” And as my mental health history can testify, disorganized attachment is a short path to being fucking crazycakes.

    This is why I love Brené Brown so much–what she addresses is what gets in the way of attachment, and how to fight it. The Gifts of Imperfection gave me really concrete ways of changing how I think and act that let me simultaneously feel better about being on my own without constant reassurance to soothe me (helping my insecure part) while giving me the courage to reach out to people and connect in a way that feels really satisfying and meaningful (so I can be less avoidant).

    • JenniferP said:

      Staranise, your description of “disorganized attachment style” and how it manifests for you is delightfully similar to FIRTHING. Day made.

      • staranise said:

        Firthing in a nutshell! “I ardently desire connection with you, but have no fucking idea how to make that happen and no desire to risk rejection!”

      • M Dubz said:

        Yes, I read that and I was like, OH HAI DARCY I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE (but i could feel your eyes boring into the back of my head).

    • keelyellenmarie said:

      High five for the Brene Brown mention. I read all of her books earlier this year and they were SO helpful.

    • Julia duMais said:

      Oh, thank you for the recommendation! I am very much disorganized and it is really frustrating and difficult — I’ve worked with a therapist, and have gotten a lot better, but that was more geared towards the PTSD relating to the stuff that caused the disorganized style. I’ll check Brown out.

      (A friend has a cat who is a hilarious combination of I-will-rip-your-face-off-if-you-touch-me and needy, and when we were roommates, I joked that I got along great because the cat and I understood each other’s conflicting needs so well. “Hey hey hey please love me and show me affection HEY WHAT ARE YOU DOING WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME WHY ARE YOU TOUCHING ME STOP IT HEY WHAT ARE YOU DOING WALKING AWAY I ASKED YOU TO SHOW ME AFFECTION AND LOVE ME.”)

      • JenniferP said:

        There is a poem about this by Maggie Estep. P.S. I don’t think you are any kind of idiot, or that that is a word we should necessarily throw around, but I do love the poem.

        Emotional Idiot

        I’m an Emotional Idiot
        so get away from me.
        I mean,
        COME HERE.

        Wait, no,
        that’s too close,
        give me some space
        it’s a big country,
        there’s plenty of room,
        don’t sit so close to me.

        Hey, where are you?
        I haven’t seen you in days.
        Whadya, having an affair?
        Who is she?
        Come on,
        aren’t I enough for you?

        God,
        You’re so cold.
        I never know what you’re thinking.
        You’re not very affectionate.

        I mean,
        you’re clinging to me,
        DON’T TOUCH ME,
        what am I, your fucking cat?
        Don’t rub me like that.

        Don’t you have anything better to do
        than sit there fawning over me?

        Don’t you have any interests?
        Hobbies?
        Sailing Fly fishing
        Archeology?

        There’s an archeology expedition leaving tomorrow
        why don’t you go?
        I’ll loan you the money,
        my money is your money.
        my life is your life
        my soul is yours
        without you I’m nothing.

        Move in with me
        we’ll get a studio apartment together, save on rent,
        well, wait, I mean, a one bedroom,
        so we don’t get in each other’s hair or anything
        or, well,
        maybe a two bedroom
        I’ll have my own bedroom,
        it’s nothing personal
        I just need to be alone sometimes,
        you do understand,
        don’t you?

        Hey, why are you acting distant?

        Where you goin’,
        was it something I said?
        What
        What did I do?

        I’m an emotional idiot
        so get away from me
        I mean,
        MARRY ME.

        -Maggie Estep

        • Oh, goodness, that is delightful/poignant. GPOY, as they say on the tumblrs.

        • No Longer In Academia said:

          I’ll have to show that poem to my husband, I think he’ll appreciate it. When he first heard Pink’s song ‘Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely)’ he laughed a lot, and then said “That’s just exactly you, isn’t it?” in which he was quite right.

      • staranise said:

        I’m cracking up, because before he and I lived alone, my cat was universally considered “touchy” and “difficult”. To me, this is nonsense! He is a big ball of fluff! He is purring and nuzzling you because he really wants you to feed him and then he’ll ignore you. And see, the fact that his head has been still for too long means that he wants you to stop petting him. But him walking away means he wants you to pet him more because these are really good pettins!

        OMG, that’s hilarious. I never realized that.

    • Chloe said:

      omg all the love to Brené Brown, her books are so helpful. I just found out she has some recent ones out I’m saving up to get them. She doesn’t talk about introversion/extraversion or attachment styles, particularly, but she is all about how we can connect and stay connected with other people, and how to deal with what gets in the way of that connection.

  28. Esperanto said:

    I really like the idea of using attachment styles to describe dynamics in specific relationships, as I have definitely been on both ends. Here are my thoughts on being the anxious-insecure person in a specific friendship. I should mention that I have had problems more with friends who just didn’t make plans with me at all (though would often happily attend things I planned, though turned down plans more often then other friends) rather than cancelling.

    Although I get that drive to cling to the other person, to it just feels super-icky. On the one hand, I have been on the other side enough times to know how unhappy that can make them (which is not at all my intention!) and on the other hand it feels like the other person just does not care enough about me or the friendship to put any effort in. At some point my self-respect takes a hit. So I hate that feeling in a friendship.

    Therefore, since late high school, all of my friendships that devolved into this dynamic of me making all the plans and them saying “no” a lot and never initiating plans of their own.

    Step 1: At some point I notice that I am the one who is making all of the plans

    Step 2: I decide to stop trying to make plans with that person anymore, although continue to be friendly as ever if I saw them around school or at a party

    Step 3: a) Either they decide they want to initiate plans OR b) the friendship slowly died

    Even though I really wanted to hold onto those friendships, I think it was really important to let the other person act like they liked me (or not). And to make peace with the realization that no matter how worried you are about losing a friend, if holding on to them is making you that anxious that you will be happier if the friendship ends (or you can achieve some sort of re-balancing a la option a). I have had several friendships die this way and I truly have never regretted it; I was always happier and felt more in charge of my life once I just let go and stopped clinging.

  29. h said:

    Dear Jennifer, you wrote, “I’ll admit some bias & unfairness here since I know myself to be more avoidant. In (my non-scholarly) opinion and experience, the more attached, anxious-insecure person needs affection, contact, and reassurance more and suffers more from an imbalance.” And: “I can always leave you more than you can need me into staying.” If people have a different experience, I’d love to hear that perspective.”

    I absolutely have had a different experience, but I am wrestling with how much to write, because it is long and complicated and intensely personal. I keep going back and forth. I type something really long and personal, then realize I just don’t want to go into it all in public. Then I pare it down. Then I worry that lack of context makes what I wrote unclear…

    On a purely abstract level, it sounds to me like the underlying assumption you are making is that the avoidant person loves the anxious person less and is prepared to leave. In my case neither of those were true. If you are not prepared to leave, what you have is a case of having your boundaries pushed at and nudged and pressed on and wheedled at and pestered at over and over until you think you are about to go mad.

    On a personal level… my husband has wrestled with depression and anxiety his whole life. He will get in states where I feel like I am in a catch-22: no amount of attention is ever enough, but if I try to get even a teeny bit of space, he latches on even tighter.

    I guess the one example I will give took place after my husband got some serious bad news. Every single time I would walk within arm’s reach of him, (which was often, as our apartment was not large), he would physically grab on to me, just to have my attention. If I pulled free, oh the trauma! If I didn’t, well, he would do this over and over all night long, and I would get soooo sick of not being able to just walk across the room without making it into a project. He would ask me over and over, “why are you ignoring me?” But ignoring him meant any instant in which I was not actively paying attention to him. Even if he was just watching T.V., if I didn’t watch it with him I was ignoring him.

    I guess in absolute terms maybe he did suffer more than me… but I wasn’t the one making him suffer. His anxiety stemmed from an event he went through that I had no control over. And the toll it took on me was severe. I guess it might not sound it from the minor things I described, but they went on, and on, and on… and he was always home when I was home.

    If you love somebody, you don’t just have an easy out. I would not have left him. It’s easy to say the avoidant person has the easier role, but if every bit of “avoidance” is something the other person makes you pay for by clinging ten times tighter, it sure doesn’t feel easy.

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m really glad you shared this. I’ve also been driven up a wall by some of this kind of behavior from former partners and also friends, I guess the thing that got me through a lot of it was the self-reminder “I can always leave and not come back.” Thanks for this picture of what it can look like when it gets really, really bad. Maybe I’ve just blocked a lot of it out, and because I’ve left, feel less eaten by it than I once did, and your comment is bring it all back.

      “He was always home when I was home”

      YES, YES, YES.

      I used to go up the back stairs of my house because I could go into my room without passing the sad man & the sad cat who had been waiting all day for my attention and maybe get 10 more minutes before I had to deal with the bottomless need.

      • Commander Banana said:

        There is nothing that makes me run faster and farther than someone clutching onto me like that. I just ended a relationship in a way I’m really, really not proud of because I could not stand the repeated “Are you going to leave me? How about now? How about now? Are you thinking of leaving? I want to be essential to you! I can give you everything you need! Are you going to break my heart? Promise me you won’t ever leave or make me sad!” I mean this person was literally following me into the bathroom at home to keep up his litany of don’t-ever-goes and it started to make my skin crawl.

        • JenniferP said:

          Well, that’s the shittiest part of it. The person who behaves that way is enacting a horrible, self-fulfilling prophecy and putting you in the position of having to say “I wasn’t planning to leave you, but you are making me want to run far, far away with this behavior.” So you pull back, and they cling harder, which makes you pull back, etc.

          • Commander Banana said:

            Thanks, Captain – it’s really helpful to hear that from someone else. I’m really, truly, deeply ashamed of how I ended things (basically…complete silence. Out of nowhere. I would be very hurt if someone did that to me and I really hate that I did it to someone else.).

            I just could not – not by Using My Words, not by actions, nothing – get this person to understand that I could not give them what they wanted, and every conversation became a dissection of our relationship and how I felt about it and them and was I attracted to them and I must have been because I liked them and did my friends like them and how could they be essential to me and on and on.

            I couldn’t handle it and I’m not proud of the way I handled it, but it was so, so incredibly surreal to hear someone tell me that they knew me SO WELL when I didn’t think they knew me at all. And I would (eventually) like to apologize but NEVER EVER see or speak to them after that, and I can’t because I know that if I do they’ll sink their hooks back into me, and so I have to live with the shame and guilt of having done something really crappy to them.

            The worse is that they were a really supportive friend during a major, unexpected crisis I had, and I felt like I owed them my friendship, but the price because so high that I couldn’t pay it.

        • staranise said:

          I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my friend, where they said, “I’m afraid when I move away when I graduate I’ll see you less and worry about whether we’re still friends, so I’ll get more and more clingy and try to hang out all the time when I visit and get really upset when you don’t want to be with me, and then I’ll drive you away.”

          And after a considered pause I had to say, “Yes. If you do that, that is what will happen.”

        • Guava said:

          YES. I ended a friendship a couple of years ago because I was feeling like that person wanted all of my time. And when I told her that I didn’t have the bandwidth/energy to devote more hours to the friendship than what she was currently getting (which was more time than I spent with all of my other friends, combined) her response chilled me.

          She wrote me this letter where she described what she’d hoped for from our friendship. It was almost exactly a description of a sister-wife, minus the having-sex-with-my-husband part, but including the being-a-second-mother-to-her-children part. (I am not poly, and to my knowledge neither is she, so this expectation is completely out of bounds for me.)

          It is such a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially if you tend toward more avoidant-insecure in the first place (like I do.) When I watched that cat/sloth video, it made me think of her!

          • Lindyray said:

            Wow, did we have the same friend? I think my ex-friend had pretty similar hopes about me. She wanted all of my time and seemed to resent when I made plans without her.

            She once made a comment about buying a house on a nearby island and how she was going to convince me to live with her and her child (the child she wanted to have on her own to fulfill all her emotional needs). In one of her last emails, she accused me of being cold and how she would have let me sleep in her bed (with her, presumably).

          • Guava said:

            Sounds like my ex-friend has a doppelganger! She got really stalky when I ended things, to the point where I’m still looking over my shoulder in our town, and had to lock down all the info she’s able to extract about me from other friends. As for you, the house on the island/child to fulfill her needs/bed comments are…really creepy.

          • Guava said:

            Oh – and I forgot to add that my ex friend made repeated “jokes” about moving into an RV and parking it on my property. It *is* the same person!

        • I ended things abruptly with someone because instead of going, ‘hey, I miss you, can we try to hang out more,’ he gave me creepy, weird accusations consisting of 1) a blog post I’d written that had nothing to do with him, 2) us not talking that often, and 3) me turning down an invite to hang out when he was my neck of the woods.

          Never mind that he was well aware of my incredibly demanding job. No sirree Bob.

          It took me months to realize it, but the friendship was effectively over after that conversation.

        • VG said:

          My husband was like that, except that instead of asking me if I was going to leave him, he would talk about it like it was a foregone conclusion. “I know you’re going to leave me one day” and “You’re going to meet some white guy at work (I’m white; he was Asian) and cheat on me with him, and then leave me” and “When you leave me…” It made me angry and also hurt my feelings, because I loved him and never would have left him, but no amount of reassurance could convince him of that. He passed away several years ago (quite young) and I wish I could talk to him again for a lot of reasons, but one of them is to ask “Well? Do you believe me now?”

          • Commander Banana said:

            Oh man – my ex-boyfriend used to do exactly that. He wasn’t very tall and for some reason decided THAT’S why I would leave him! Not the alcoholism or physical, emotional, and verbal abuse. Or stealing my money. Or treating me like a combination Real Doll and unpaid servant. The height! That was the problem!

            I did leave him for a taller guy. I would have left him anyway.

        • Moi said:

          “There is nothing that makes me run faster and farther than someone clutching onto me like that.”

          Yes. Yes yes yes. A friendship that I had valued quite highly ended when I began a very busy job after grad school and s/he moved to start into another advanced degre. Every conversation became a monologue on how we /never/ talked, and I started to feel dread at that name in my email/on Skype/on my call display. I have felt so much lighter since we realized neither of us were having our needs met and we stopped talking.

          I have been on both sides of the attachment style, and I know it’s really, really awful to feel unwanted or insecure in a friendship. As an introvert who has started to come down more on the avoidant side as I’ve gotten older, though, it is so much easier/less stressful for me to reciprocate (and initiate) gestures of friendship when there isn’t a sense of contractual obligation in doing so (“by replying to this text, respondent agrees to no less than three (3) hours of phone or Skype conversation to be initiated no earlier than one (1) hour and no less than five (5) minutes before respondent’s planned bedtime. Should respondent fail to meet this obligation by not answering or “sleeping,” respondent hereby waives all rights to un-monitored social media use for seven (7) subsequent days, and will be contacted at any moment perceived to be “free time”).*

          *This is entirely My Own Shit, I realize, and not what my former friend meant to communicate to me—s/he cared about me and just wanted to spend more time talking. Quoting my sporadic Facebook updates as a metric of how much more time we could be spending on the phone…did not communicate that.

    • helenhuntingdon said:

      Holy shit, h, that is some hardcore physical abuse you are describing.

      I am so sorry that happened to you. You did a brilliant job of explaining how being the one on the avoidant side isn’t necessarily easier.

      • JenniferP said:

        She was truly in the clutches of the Sloth.

        • h said:

          Guys… I appreciate the intent, but this is my husband of 17 years who you are talking about. This particular period in our lives happened after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. One of the stigmatized and little-discussed symptoms of MS is cognitive confusion. Since he had always put a lot of his self-esteem on his intelligence, he had to really redefine himself as a person. He was genuinely terrified about his future.

          I don’t mean to say that the way he behaved was okay. But there is a difference between negative behavior and an abusive person. What made this behavior so hard was not that he engaged in it, but that it became more common and went on for longer than I could handle.

          The good news is that not only did he come through this, it tipped the scales for him getting counselling (something he had always resisted). He and I had seen people go on and off drugs, go in and out of counselling, and end up the same or worse. So neither of us had a high opinion of psychology/psychiatry. But in his case, it really helped. Later, I realized that of course the hard-to-treat cases are the ones who will be in therapy indefinitely.

          To come at this a different way, every relationship of any depth means sometimes sucking it up and doing things you don’t like and don’t want to do. If you care about a person, you care about them all the time, not just when it is convenient. They need help when they need it, not when it fits your schedule. But you wrote, “The way that acknowledging this unfairness is useful, I hope, is in a plea to my fellow Avoiders: You have slightly more power, even if leaving would be cutting of your nose to spite your face. So you can afford to be a little kinder. ”

          But the bread-and-butter of friendship is supposed to lie in mutually positive experiences. Those cases where I step up and do what I don’t want to do should be crisis times, not everyday obligations. The exception was for my husband, but even then, I couldn’t have endured it forever.

          In practice, most of my friends are introverts, so this rarely comes up with anyone other than my husband. I do have one good friend who I struggle over setting limits with. It’s a double whammy, because she wants more time with me than I with her, AND she is usually late and frequently cancels! (I don’t need advice on this, we manage okay, it’s just kind of funny that these two go together.)

          On another note, I’ll add that my spouse and I did go through a period of dealing with friends cancelling a lot. He was on graveyard shift, and it was really tough, because he’d rearrange his schedule, lose sleep, and then someone would cancel due to “not being in the mood,” or “being tired.” This happened post-college, when people were going in different directions and setting new patterns. I mostly took it in stride, but it was really rough on my husband, due to the social anxiety I already mentioned. Plus it really stung when he would make a sacrifice but people would blow him off for trivial reasons. I don’t remember any one magic fix, but as people’s lives settled down, we developed new patterns.

          • JenniferP said:

            Hey, I REALLY don’t want to discount your experiences or question your choices. You are providing a valuable perspective about how the attachment styles play out in a marriage, and the feeling of confronting someone’s bottomless need, and I am glad you provided an alternative view. The prospect of being clutched every time you cross the room, of having that personal physical space and freedom of movement be a negotiation every single time made my skin crawl and if you were asking for advice, the words “might be abusive? nobody can touch you without your consent and it is wrong to pressure people in the way your husband is doing?” would come into it. But you’re not asking for advice, and you are the boss of how you run your relationship, so instead of that narrative I’d be interested to know how you and husband overcome that dynamic and make the relationship safe for each other.

            But I do want to redirect somewhat. The post is about how this dynamic plays out in friendships, especially around the problem of making social plans. A marriage vs. someone you met at work who wants to hang out all the time, a marriage vs. that friend you want to make plans with but who always cancels on you = not remotely the same territory. Though I think it is useful to look at how attachment styles play out when you are first getting to know someone in a dating context, too, because people do manifest this in how they make plans, in how they stay in contact and set those expectations from the beginning.

          • h said:

            You’re quite right, it IS off point, sorry! The phrase (not from you) “hardcore physical abuse” hit a nerve, but if I’m going to post about my personal life, I have to be prepared to read people’s reactions to it without getting defensive.

          • Badger Rose said:

            Thank you for this reply. I do think that people are often quick to label behaviors, and it’s not always helpful.

        • h said:

          I’ve hit the threading limit, but I don’t think it really matters. Scroll up for context.

          First, I think I’ve been at least partially responsible for steering this thread toward discussion of abuse, which wasn’t really the point of this particular topic, so sorry about that! Second, I wanted to respond a bit to CA’s asking how we came to a more positive state. I know that brings in yet more discussion of these issues, but that’s happening anyway, so I might as well add the positive resolution :)

          First, this wasn’t his normal behavior, so simple passage of time took care of some of it.

          Second, therapy helped a lot. I’m repeating this, but it really bears repeating – we both had a negative view of therapy, and he resisted it because of that. Plus he was not willing to use antidepressants, which was every doctor’s first recommendation. But eventually he did give therapy a try. Just one hour a week for a few months, and yet the impact was huge. I never knew the details and never wanted to, because for me it was huge that he was taking some of his problems to someone else. I was actually really glad that he didn’t talk about it too much. But I can now say from personal experience that if you get the right match, even a small amount of therapy can make a huge difference to a motivated participant.

          Third, I had some serious stressors in my own life, and when those were taken care of, our interactions got better for two reasons. One, seeing me stressed out made him more anxious and depressed. Two, I actually did have more energy to give him the attention he wanted. Yeah, I know it’s not all on me to make him happy/shower him in attention to cure his anxiety/love him into not being depressed/etc, but I’m being honest about how things played out.

          Finally, on a different note, my own emotional reaction to the initial responses has been kind of enlightening in a really uncomfortable way. I realized that even while I insisted this wasn’t abuse, I was playing out a stereotype of abuse: complaining about how I was treated, then turning around and defending the person who I started out criticizing! To me, it felt sort of like I criticized my spouse for being a shoplifter, and someone said, actually he’s a murderer. Then I had the dual reaction of having the horrified fear that maybe he was really a murderer, plus guilt and horror at myself for even thinking that about someone I love very dearly. I tried to not completely freak out online, but I realized my emotional reaction was way out of proportion to what was a kindly-meant comment from a stranger on the internet! What I realized is that even though things have changed, I still have some unresolved emotions about the past.

          • staranise said:

            my own emotional reaction to the initial responses has been kind of enlightening in a really uncomfortable way

            That’s been really useful to watch from the outside. I think part of why so many people stay in abusive relationships is that their mental picture of abuse is this totally alien experience that happens to other people in relationships different from their own. Abuse is when a testosterone-filled man shouts and hits you, right? It’s not a sick man asking for comfort and reassurance. Except… it all depends on how you define abuse, on where your physical boundaries are, everything like that. And those are some really uncomfortable shades of grey.

            (The other thing about the abusers I’ve known: None of them thought they were abusive, and most had no concept of why their SO would object to their behaviour. *wince*)

            Thank you for being so tolerant and thoughtful. It’s sparked an interesting discussion. I’m sorry that it was uncomfortable for you, though.

      • staranise said:

        Not about h’s husband specifically, but about the discussion that happened of “abuse is different than being anxious like this”: No, it isn’t. This is what is going on with abuse, quite often.

        This is not the only type of abuser, but every domestic abuser I have personal experience of as a therapist has had strong insecure-anxious attachment patterns. It’s just that they have really warped ideas of what’s okay and what isn’t, so when they got afraid that the person they loved would leave, they thought it was okay to use controlling tactics, pressure, coercion, or violence to persuade them to stay, instead of sloth-arms.

        • keelyellenmarie said:

          Dear god, THIS.

          My controlling boyfriend’s behavior definitely came from a place of insecurity and anxiety about being left/not being loved/etc. I also spent long enough with him and his family to have a pretty good idea of the early relationship dynamics that likely made him feel so insecure and unloved. But that didn’t make any of his BEHAVIOR okay. The same goes for my parents and their controlling behavior.

          To this day, the most important thing that my many many hours of therapy has taught me is that the REASONS behind an abusive behavior, no matter how “legitimate” or “understandable” they are, are not EXCUSES for continuing that behavior.

          Misunderstanding that is one of the biggest ways people end up defending their abusers. “No no, they aren’t ABUSIVE, they’re just [anxious/depressed/upset/traumatized/insert-sad-thing-here] and acting badly out of that.” This is the “abusers are BAD PEOPLE, my [friend/family member/partner] is not a BAD PERSON, therefore they are not an abuser, therefore their behavior is not abusive” argument, and it’s bullshit.

          “Good” people do bad things. Sometimes really bad things. And it happens all the time. Because being a decent human is HARD, and we all fuck it up sometimes.

        • ahn said:

          THIS, A LOT.

          I seem to operate on a spectrum when it comes to how my insecure-anxious attachment stuff manifests in my relationship. Sometimes I’m fine and sometimes I’m not. But when I was first figuring this stuff out I would get SO anxious and the inner fear of the person leaving/not loving me/etc made me really see how thin the line can be between attachment anxiety and abuse or verging-on-abuse behavior. It gave me a lot of insight that often scared the shit out of me and made me work even harder on developing a lighter attachment style and working on the foundation for my insecurity and anxiety. (Which seems to have a lot to do with co-dependent dynamics in immediate family relationships. The more I figure out where that stuff comes from the easier it is to deal with it.) This is especially important to me since my partner has an abusive relationship in his past. My insecure-anxious attachment stuff would sometimes trigger his abuse stuff (even just having strong feelings and becoming more partnered in our relationship has triggered this on occasion) which would then make him withdraw more and ugh, evil circle. I’ve had to learn how to make sure my needs are being met, while separating out the “needs” that are coming from my black hole of insecure attachment stuff, while respecting his needs for space, autonomy, and occasional avoidant tendencies.

          This has become more about relationship stuff than friendship stuff so I’ll cut it short. I am often the opposite with friendships, though. I tend to be avoidant if I get vibes that the other person might be more anxious/attached, because it rings those co-dependent dynamic BOUNDARIES ON DECK NOW alarm bells that I’ve developed from dealing with family stuff. And it doesn’t always have to do with frequency of contact with a friend. More about the vibe from them that they are super clingy rather than the “hey I really dig you and it’s convenient and fun for us to hang out all the time so why not” thing that happens sometimes.

          I definitely agree that these styles, like introvert/extrovert, are malleable depending on the relationship in question, general period of life, state of mental health at the moment, ability to tell a hawk from a handsaw, etc. :)

    • Itsy said:

      Oh yes, thank you.

      My college BF was clingy and anxious, and went through some serious stuff our senior year. He wasn’t really able to cope – I was the beginning and end of his support network, he refused to seek any other help, and what he needed was me to be physically present in order for him to fall asleep. Doing that for him meant I *wasn’t* able to sleep, pretty much at all. My health and happiness (and grades, and ability to show up for work, etc – this was that extreme) for his.

      Of course I was quite young at the time and didn’t know the first thing about setting boundaries. (This would not happen in a present day relationship. I learned a lot from it. But…) Like a lot of young women, I was socialized to be a caretaker and put his needs in front of mine — which is why I’m commenting at all, because that dynamic, to me, is what can make it just as hard for the avoidant person.

      Could I have broken up with him? Theoretically, yes, but in practice I had no idea that was an acceptable option. The thought of it of leaving him to suffer alone kept me going back night after night, as every single one of my boundaries disintegrated. I basically was “needed into staying” by a combination of him plus social expectations and gender dynamics. It was super non-fun.

      (It was also awhile ago now, and the dude in question has since learned a lot more about taking care of himself, and realized on his own that what happened was not okay. We’d stayed friends (not close) and years later he apologized, unprompted, which I greatly appreciated.)

  30. twomoogles said:

    Also a thought on socializing and making friends post schoolingI am someone who takes a very very long time to warm up to people. I can talk for hours to my friends, but my instinctive reaction to new people is ‘why are you here, I want to be around people I like!’ Which I know is horrible and I manage to keep the instinct to myself and not be terribly cliquey all the time. I have little tolerance for small-talk, and it’s one reason why travelling frustrated me. I got so very tired of the same ‘where are you from? how long have you been travelling?’ conversations that never had long enough to turn into anything that was to-me-interesting. My friends liked those kinds of conversations, though, so I usually just hung back at first.

    The idea of a one-on-one hangout with someone I don’t know very well makes me feel super unhappy. I remember in the past trying to force friendships in these ways. I have a very hard time maintaining or starting friendships with people as ‘solo’ friendships, that is not in the context of knowing other common people, or participating in activities together. But..once I get to know someone enough, I am that person keeping them up till 2 AM with the conversation that just won’t end.

    So to me, group activities (gaming mostly) have been an absolute lifesaver for my socializing. I can get to know people slowly, often through something like in-character interactions at first, without the pressure to immediately be friends. I always absolutely love that moment when someone goes from an acquaintance to a friend, and the first one on one hangout is always fun. It also feels like, if we don’t schedule one on one time we will still keep on each other’s radar enough that it won’t feel like the friendship died.

  31. Jolly said:

    LW1: It sounds like kind of a weird distinction to make, but this is kind of a delicate situation that might benefit from some subtle phrasing. From how you described it, you just might want some lighthearted, chick lit-ish language in your pocket to help get your feelings across in a way that will gain her sympathy/compliance.

    I think a good buzzword for you to use with this girl might be “ME TIME.” While she totally could be hyped enough on hanging out with you that she would still try to schedule around it, I think telling her that you need more “me time” to recharge (either in general, or when specifically discussing plans) might go over better than some other phrasings. It makes it sound more like Sex-and-the-City-style Spoiling Myself whatever, and less “Jesus Christ lady, lay off me,” or “I’d honestly just rather play video games than hang out with you/other humans.”

    If she still ignores your stated need for ME TIME, then this girl is either dense or a jerk, and you might feel less like the bad guy (which you obviously never were! but, you know.) when you directly tell her she needs to cool it.

    • Chickie said:

      I agree. I also think this is a situation where, if you want, you could open with “I love spending time with you and [friend group], especially when we [activity]! I need a lot of Me Time though so how about we have a standing date for [activity X and/or Y] and I’ll catch up with you there?”

  32. Moggadeet said:

    I’m the person you want to be friends with, but who declines invitations so often that it’s frustrating to keep trying. (I’m extremely introverted, and used to be socially awkward but became charismatic in my 40’s. Also my lifelong occupation, that I was busily starving at, recently got fashionable. (I’m sorry to humblebrag. I’m aware that I won the lottery. I just want to tell someone why my social life looks this way from outside. It’s not that I don’t like you, or that I’m trying to act like a snobtastic rock star.))

    The problem is that by Monday night I’m booked for the week. First there are the ‘me’ things — that I love, that I depended on completely before I got popular, and that I’m not willing to give up because you like me a lot this year. I’d love if you wanted to do any of them with me, but nobody did when I started, and now I’ve been doing them long enough that if you’re a beginner we can’t enjoy them together.

    My boyfriends go onto the calendar next. They have busy lives too, and making and keeping dates is important to us.

    These are the I-beams of my life, if I mess with them the person you want to get to know will fall apart. I have two or three social units left in a week for everything people want to do with me, and there are enough of you that if you ask me to Friday dinner on Wednesday, you’re playing the lottery.

    I need you to ask last Friday. This is ridiculous if we’re not already good friends, and also makes no sense because it’s going to escalate forever. But two other people want to do awesome things with me that evening, and I don’t feel like there’s anything nice I can do about that. My friends can only see me once every six weeks? I can only have three friends? Everyone has to pretend to like each other so we can get together in groups? I can’t organize that…people like me don’t do groups.

    My game plan is to accept the first date that I feel like, and then never change plans. This is tough on anxious, or introverted, or socially not-very-adept people (i.e. everyone I have anything in common with) who get refused more often than either of us would like, and also on people who just don’t plan that far ahead. I can’t think of any non-douchey-sounding way to explain to them that I will never, ever be able to hang out tomorrow. At least this way I don’t cancel on people.

    Anyway, first-world problem. I just wanted to say I’m sorry for how it looks.

    • Vicki said:

      One possible non-douchey-sounding explanation would be to say that you don’t like making plans on short notice, sorry, it’s not about them or about that particular movie. (People may still feel rejected if it never comes with “but how about a week from Thursday?” but your schedule really is full. I’ve been up front with people that my energy is finite, and I am going to prioritize having enough time with my partners, even though that may mean very little time for most of the other people I know.)

    • hypermobility said:

      I dunno, that level of advance notice doesn’t sound ridiculous to me, and I think there are some places where it’s normal. When I lived in London in my early 20s it was 100% normal to have to book people up two or three weeks in advance – to the extent that it really weirded me out when I moved away and suddenly people were contacting me to ask if I wanted to hang out THAT NIGHT. Wait, that’s not how it works!

  33. “I rarely ask anyone to spend more than 2 days a week with me.”

    There is no right or wrong amount of time to want to spend with a friend, but it is worth maybe being aware that people have very, very different ideas about what is “a lot”. Specifically, I internally flinched when I read the above sentence. I see my boyfriend twice a week, and my friends once or twice a month each.

    Neither my preferred schedule or the LW’s is more correct, but if LW’s friends prefer a schedule closer to mine, then maybe they are just not likely to be compatible as friends? Maybe LW needs to find friends who like a lot more contact, and have these other friends as more like acquaintances, who s/he is comfortable seeing what for her would be very rarely?

    I know that my friends (who I am seeing once or twice a month) are happy with that and not hurt (we’ve talked about it), but also that they have some friends they see a lot more often, which seems to work for them.

    • unlurking said:

      I internally flinched, too, (2 days a week might even be fun! on a rare week, but the thought of 2 days a week every week and I can feel the anxiety tightening inside me, because it’s not sustainable for me) and I am so glad that you wrote this, because my jerkbrain went to town on me last night, suggesting that preferring more time alone just made me ~bad, but, no, different people are different.

    • Bittybird said:

      Yeah, in my book, two-or-more days a week with one person–or any kind of *weekly* commitment with one person–is a state reserved for boyfriends. I see people in my various friend groups probably a couple of times a month each, if even; if I don’t see someone for a couple of months, when I do see them it’s still like we just hung out yesterday. I would feel very confined needing to see *each* of my friends *every* week, even just once–when would there be time for me? Weekday events are rare because I usually require the evening to defrag after work, so that leaves two days of potential social time a week, but those are also my potential romantic-outing time or my potential [insert thing I've wanted to do by myself] time. I’d feel very claustrophobic and drawn thin if I was expected to go to multiple social outings a week on a regular basis.

      • theLaplaceDemon said:

        This is how I prefer my friendships as well.

    • LW #509 said:

      Actually, the only person I ever ask to spend that much time with me is my boyfriend. That’s like my maximum limit, is what I’m saying. I see most of my friends 2x a month or less. Which to me, makes me feel like they can carve out that time for me, make reasonably sure that there isn’t going to be a conflict. I might invite them to things more often if something in particular is going on, but generally our hangouts are fairly rare.

      I would like to find more friends to have more hangout time in general, but it’s not that easy. In fact, making friends is probably my biggest struggle. I’d prefer to feel closer to the people I already know and love, but I’m getting the hint from comments like this that that probably isn’t going to happen.

      • Virginia said:

        I hope you won’t feel too discouraged, LW509. It *might* happen – it’s just that you are only in control of 50% of each of those relationships.

      • Jinian said:

        I wouldn’t say that. I’m a withdrawn introvert, but I see my best friend at least once a week and have multiple text and email interactions per day. It’s harder for me to manage than my lower-key relationships are, and it is a really big commitment that I consider partner-equivalent, but it can definitely happen.

    • M Dubz said:

      Yes, this. I am perfectly content to see my close friends once a month or so, and to talk to them maybe every other week on a good month. This is useful since mostly they live far away and it’s unreasonable for us to see each other more than that (although my best friend is moving back to my home city at the end of the month yay!) I love them deeply and passionately, but I don’t need much more interaction than that.

  34. meadowphoenix said:

    I can always leave you more than you can need me into staying.” If people have a different experience, I’d love to hear that perspective.”

    I think what bothers me about this sentence is that it implies that tendency or desire that you’re talking about is always associated with a capability or desire to act on that tendency. I don’t think avoidant people are less susceptible to fear of loss of a relationship simply because their response is more flight than fight.

    I kinda see these attachment types as how quickly you braid or how long you make a rope. Anxious people may braid quickly or make a short rope. Avoidant people may braid more slowly and need breaks or may want the rope to be longer. But just because it takes them more time to braid a rope doesn’t mean that once made it’s not a very strong rope and not hard to cut. It just means they try to let as much as possible slip through their fingers first. I think however there can be a lot of mental anguish about whether to lift the knife or not. And I think it’s possible that an avoidant person with no other ropes would not have as much agency to cut the rope as an anxious person with other ropes that are actively being tugged.

    I honestly think the power dynamics in any situation are significantly dependent on the strength and number and length of the other ropes everyone may have, and how hard they also are being tugged.

    I personally would describe myself as extremely avoidant to slightly disorganized (with my mother). My mother is very very anxious, in a needs-to-get-help-for-it (but refuses) way. I am her main source of support for this, and its so bad that a certain tone of her voice can be make me tense into a thousand knots whether she’s intending on asking for my support or not. While we are both adults, I don’t think this is a relationship I could survive ending, as she is pretty much my only support emotionally.

    • unlurking said:

      “And I think it’s possible that an avoidant* person with no other ropes would not have as much agency to cut the rope as an anxious person with other ropes that are actively being tugged.”

      *or secure.
      Yes, this is a very compelling observation.

    • hrovitnir said:

      A few people seem to have taken this sentence to heart (which I thought may happen). What I see when I read that sentence is that at the end of the day, if the discomfort gets so bad that the friendship is ruined, avoidant people may feel awful, but with a side of relief. The insecure person doesn’t get that relief, just more anxiety.

      I don’t think it’s saying that it’s easy on avoidant people, hell no. It’s just an extra element that can affect the dynamics in a relationship.

      • meadowphoenix said:

        I guess I just disagree with that assessment. My mother is much less anxious about our relationship when she knows she can’t physically engage in anxious behavior (because I’m not there). That’s more of a relief to her.

  35. Though I’m introverted and largely secure, I’ve gone through periods where my social circle has shriveled up, leaving me much more dependent than I’d want to be on just one or two friends. When those remaining friends became busy and unavailable, I’d have two coexisting reactions.

    Intellectual: “They’re just involved with their new thing/person. It doesn’t mean they don’t like me.”

    Emotional: “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! LONELYYYYYYYY!!!”

    The fix, when it finally occurred to me, resembled CA’s advice to find a one-night-a-week activity. I realized that the problem wasn’t just social withdrawal, it was the fact that I was never getting out of the house. I resolved to go do things I like doing out in the great big world on my own. Nothing elaborate. Just biking to a bookstore or going to a movie. It worked. I met a few people, though none turned into permanent relationships/friendships. More importantly, I felt like I’d regained control over my life.

  36. paper plates said:

    I have been (and still am, really) both of these letter writers with different friends, and two things have really helped me.

    1. Making plans, Awkward-meet-up-style, where I would say “I will be in X place from X time until X time with a book/whatever – come and join me for some/all of that if you like, no need to confirm!” Whether I am the anxious-insecure one or the avoidant one, I appreciate being in control of the fixed amount of time during which I have to be switched on/sociable and at risk of disappointment. Even if that friend I was longing to see doesn’t show up, it feels much less like a personal rejection, and I still get to hang out with other cool friends/read my book/drink delicious coffee or whatever. (When I am in avoidant mode, I am also way more likely to show up when anxious-insecure friends of mine issue invites in this way.)

    2. Accepting that sometimes people won’t make plans with me because they just don’t like me that much. It sucks to be not-liked, but I have also found it to be a relief – no more pressuring myself to somehow find the magically appropriate plan that will allow me and X person to have the best! time! ever! And then I can be nice to myself to deal with the sting of being not-liked and move on with my life. (I wonder if this is how we sometimes move from anxious-insecure to avoidant, like the Captain says?)

  37. LW #509 said:

    LW #509 here. I have to say, it’s been basically straight-up shocking to me to see some of the comments about me as a person who, for example, likes to spend all her time socializing… I’m thinking I didn’t describe my situation/self very well!

    I really appreciate the scripts, Captain. I will absolutely be using them the next time this comes up. I think I tried to make my letter sort of vague and general so it would be applicable to a large portion of your readership, though, and while your advice definitely worked in that regard, it also sort of… missed me. Which is fine! I’m learning a lot by piecing bits of comments together and the actual problem is becoming a lot clearer to me in the first place.

    I’m actually a mega introvert and I identify a lot more with the self-professed avoidant commenters above. I need a lot of space. A LOT. In fact, part of the reason that I think I put so much emphasis on plans following through is that a) I’ve been brought up to think that the amount of space I need is freaky and bad and I’ll be lonely forever if I keep it up and b) I’ve ruined most of my friendships by needing too much space and being avoidant. I’m really trying to build meaningful connections in my life now, but I’m wary of adding too many people, getting overwhelmed, and having my progress reset itself. I do know that I need to make new friends… but I dread group settings and the promising meetups in my area are actually pretty far away. So I keep putting off that option. It’s a bad cycle that isn’t helped my by life being totally in flux lately.

    I’ve also recently started dating someone who lives farther away and is a lot busier than anyone else I’ve ever been with, and he brings out the anxious-insecure side of me a bit when we’ve been apart for awhile. I don’t actually cling to him, but I do get worried that he’ll go away when we’re apart. I’m trying to ride it out because I definitely think it will get a lot better once we’re out of the nervewracking beginning stages of a relationship and my life is less in flux. I don’t particularly need more time or attention from him, but more trust and security and that obviously takes awhile to build. I have a very hard time in the beginning stages of things. I am comfortable when things are well-established.

    This is getting super long so I’ll just say I think the advice about meeting new people is spot on. I definitely need to work on my issues and stop making excuses for why I can’t welcome people into my life. The cancellation deal actually happens very rarely, which is why I think I was getting disproportionately upset over it. And I don’t really think my current relationships need to be scaled back much if at all, although it should be worth having a conversation about. And thanks so much for the scripts! I’m sorting through a lot of confusing emotions and situations here, but hopefully I can start feeling better about my relationships overall.

    • Badger Rose said:

      I feel so much for you. I have anxiety in many of the same ways you do. Alas, the only thing I can say is to keep working with your therapist, particularly on why you have what you realize are disproportionate reactions to things–for me, that was very useful in getting better, was figuring out why I freaked out over things that should have been “ordinary.”

      Good luck, and best wishes. I’m a lot like you and I got a lot better, if that helps to hear.

    • J. Preposterice said:

      good luck, LW #509! sometimes other humans are confusing messes, aren’t we?

  38. LK said:

    Wow. I have so many thoughts. I grew up an introvert, but sometimes that introversion was out of necessity–I had few friends when young, no friends at all from 11-13 (I read a book every day during lunch because no one would sit with me). In high school and college I had a small but secure group, friends who I felt I could count on, always.

    Post-graduation, I’ve been struggling. I recognize that reality that making friends as an adult is nothing like what’s come before, but over two years trying this thing and I still don’t feel like when I invite a bunch of people over, more than 2 or 3 will come. I know I have social anxiety from growing up.

    I try to join geeky organizations to meet people that way, or go to swing events, or audition for choirs, but I feel like I spend so much time showing up at events alone, and I’m tired of it. I can go to things without knowing anyone, but it’s so stressful that sometimes it’s not worth it. I’m tired of being anxious about going to events that normally I would enjoy, because I can’t stop worrying about whether someone will talk to me or not. As a quasi-introvert, I like my alone time, but my current occupation (grad student on a night classes schedule) means I spend a lot of time alone when the 9-5 world is at work, reading or working on assignments or other grad student-y things. My weekday schedule is difficult to coordinate, so when the weekends finally come, I want to spend them with other people! But that “other people” list of mine is pretty short. And when I have exhausted that list, I’m left… lonely. Yea.

    • staranise said:

      I also hate going to events or practices alone. It’s really hard for me to cultivate acquaintances from those events into individual friends–to ask the person who shares sheet music with me to meet up for coffee, or whatever. I always used to invite people to things and get disappointed when they didn’t turn up–now I think of the first few invites as more like warm-ups, things that set the stage/demonstrate my willingness to socialize. I really do use Siderea’s friend-making algorithm sometimes, because I get so anxious about it.

      • LK said:

        “It’s really hard for me to cultivate acquaintances from those events into individual friends–to ask the person who shares sheet music with me to meet up for coffee, or whatever. I always used to invite people to things and get disappointed when they didn’t turn up”

        This, so much. I don’t know how to turn acquaintances into friends. I also have a particularly hard time lately with people I thought were friends seeming like acquaintances again–being busy all the time, canceling on me, just not answering invitations, etc.

  39. M Dubz said:

    I’m a secure to slightly avoidant attacher when it comes to friendships and a seriously insecure attacher when it comes to romantic relationships. I blame that particular dynamic on being an seriously introverted person who expects people to be slightly standoffish in their dealings with me, and is generally more comfortable being the initiator. So when a new friend is super excited to hang out with me all the time and initiate all of the plans, I get slightly confused, but then I overcome it with use of words and good boundaries. Conversely, when it comes to romantic relationships, I have all these pantsfeelings that I’m bad at dealing with at first, so I keep running after the person because I’m terrified of what will happen if they lose interest (which, ironically, might drive them away).

    No real advice here, I just think it’s interesting how one script of how social interaction is “supposed to go” leads to really different behavior in different contexts.

    • Lieutenant Right said:

      Ahh, I totally have that attachment style regarding romantic relationships. I feel as if that IS what drives people away (for good reason), so I’m trying to learn to be more patient in general to avoid those circumstances again.

      • M Dubz said:

        yeah, same. it’s realllllly hard, though.

  40. Commander Banana said:

    Captain, do you think you could address how to navigate office socializing when you’re an introvert? I’m very outgoing but at the end of the day I’m just done. My office is very cliquey, and I’ve started noticing that I’m not getting invites to happy hours any more (I would usually accept every third invite). It’s actually starting to get really demoralizing. I really don’t have the energy to go every time, but I’m not sure how to convey that me not coming most of the time doesn’t mean I don’t want to come ALL the time.

    • JenniferP said:

      I slightly edited your comment – Other posters have gently pointed out that we should try to use “spoons” specifically in a disability context and not an introversion context. So try “social units” or “forks” or “energy.”

      Tricky one. I would say, organize a happy hour yourself. And/or email the person who usually organizes (or the person in the group who does go out that you are the most friendly with) and say “Hey, I’ve needed to duck out of work at the end of the day the past few times, but I’d love to see you for a drink next time you’re going out after work.” Then go, even if you’re not fully feeling it at that moment. You don’t have to get too deep into why, or feelings of exclusion (probably nobody at work wants to talk about feelings), just send the message that you want to come and follow through with it.

      Introverted-But-Social Jedi Mind Trick:

      It is sometimes hard to make myself go to a thing, and hard to feel excited beforehand, but generally once I am there I will likely enjoy it and be glad I went. In 2 weeks (!) when I no longer live more than an hour away from everyone I like, pushing through that initial barrier will be easier.

      • Datdamwuf said:

        Introverted-But-Social Jedi Mind Trick:

        This doesn’t work for me the way it used to. Last month I made SIX pounds of potato salad the day before a gamer potluck to force myself to attend. I discovered I rebel against control even if I’m the one doing it, I ate a lot potato salad because I could not make myself go.

        • JenniferP said:

          It’s not foolproof, by any means. Jedi hugs to you.

          • Datdamwuf said:

            Thanks for hugs, I needed some of those

        • hrovitnir said:

          Oh man, I feel you much. I lean more toward needy but keep that so tightly in check and am so bad at trusting people that I can be more avoidant in practice. And I have massive anxiety about going out. So, yeah, I try and trick myself into doing things and have done exactly the potato salad deal with cupcakes. :/

        • Chickie said:

          Oh, I am so familiar with the Potato Salad Trick. Jedi hugs to you.

          • datdamwuf said:

            Jedi Hugs back to all of you :), I am not alone, introverts who want to go out and can’t quite get there sometimes require the force.

      • Commander Banana said:

        I do have a disability – well, a mental disorder, which I consider a disability because it does and has really impacted my ability to maintain a health life. I have severe, severe chronic depression and anxiety disorder (including one involuntary hospitalization because of it) and manage it with a combination of therapy and medication. Being an introvert impacts if I want to do something – my mental illness affects whether I am physically able to do it. In general, if someone asks why I can’t do X, especially in a professional setting, I’m more inclined to tell them I’ve an introvert then tell them that I have a severe mental illness that requires operating within some pretty strict parameters in order to remain functioning.

        Sorry for using it incorrectly.

        • staranise said:

          I use “spoons” to refer to my mental disabilities, totally. The same population of people who use the spoon metaphor tend to believe that disability is a self-identification thing, so if you identify as disabled, you are. Your original comment just popped up, I think, at a time when PWD were pushing back against other commenters for using “spoons” to talk about their abled experiences. But it sounds like you’re used to specifically downplaying the nature of your difficulties, which means you’re playing by norms different than online crip pride ones. Fair enough.

          (Yesterday I got to duck out of a training session because it triggered my mental illness, after telling my boss, “This is triggering my mental illness, I gots to jet.” She was like, “Yup! Fine.” It was so friggin’ weird. I would love for that to be more common and acceptable, but it so isn’t.)

          • Commander Banana said:

            Thanks – that’s great that your workplace is like that! Mine is…not.

            I do like that this community has given the participants some new language to help them talk about things, but at the same time I’m starting to feel that it’s turning into a way to identify us-and-them, and anyone not using the lingo Exactly! Right! gets turned on. It’s too bad because that’s essentially All Of The Rest Of The Internet and I’d rather that not crawl into this space.

          • JenniferP said:

            Editing This Comment:

            Commander Banana, editing your post was a huge moderator overstep on my part. I was trying to be respectful to people who want to protect the “spoons” theory from appropriation to mean things like introversion, tired of dealing with social justice conversations, “don’t wanna” vs. “can’t”, since that comes up in every thread where someone mentions spoons and it’s been coming up a lot here lately.

            Of course we learn, as in your situation (and the time I was critiqued for using it in this same fashion and I was like, hello, depression) that people who use it may do so without providing a list of their disability bona fides.

            Again, I am sorry, but this discussion has led me to a new personal blog policy.

            1) If someone uses “spoons” theory, assume they know why and what it means. Do not audit them for whether they are sufficiently disabled.

            2) This means that some appropriators might slip through our nets….Big whoop. I’d rather that than repeat me or anyone being crappy to someone like Commander Banana again.

            3) If a thread devolves into “Who is disabled enough to use spoons?” it’s a good sign that we’re out of OP-relevant things to discuss and a good sign that I am done moderating such things.

          • Jenna said:

            This is a comment on spoons as a reference point for energy. For the record, I am on medical disability leave. I have done the whole chemotherapy thing. I don’t have the energy or the strength that I used to, and it annoys me often.
            I wish MORE people understood spoons. I really REALLY do. I don’t want to restrict the use of the spoon analogy at all because I want it to spread, and prosper, and for more people to understand it.
            I also come at the analogy of spoons from the social justice angle, where the people that I know of often use it as “I did/didn’t have enough spoons to battle that prejudice/side-eye that rape joke/speak up at the time.” With the idea that the ocean of injustice may be emptied one teaspoon at a time if enough people join in.
            So, I do see people speaking out against the open use of Spoons for all, but, I, personally, disagree.
            I won’t argue on it, certainly not here, but, I had to say it once.

          • staranise said:

            Yeah, I am also totally fine with abled people using the spoon metaphor. I get that some PWD feel that their own experiences are belittled by it, but my experience is that it helps shift everyone into a paradigm that recognizes that we’re all embodied and we all have limits. And yes, our preferences and abilities differ for various reasons–introversion/extroversion, pain, ability, attachment, preference, whatever. But that should be a subjective thing every person determines for themselves, instead of something held up to an outside standard like a “You must be this uncomfortable to receive social acceptance.” There isn’t just one good healthy way to be that everyone will like, and then flawed alternatives; we’re all different, and we have our own experiences and click with different people.

          • JenniferP said:

            I don’t want to steamroll anyone or require a disability audit for using spoon metaphor, but I have been asked specifically to curtail it when people use introversion as if it is synonymous with disability.

  41. Kaz said:

    Okay, so for me disability means that I am, in effect, ridiculously flakey and prone to cancellations on extremely short notice – my energy levels are both quite low in general and wildly fluctuating, so not only do I often not have the spoons to make it out my front door but I frequently don’t know whether or not I will until I try. (I sometimes call this having quantum spoons – you only know if they’re there or not when you try to use them. An exciting level of randomness added to your ability to function!) To make matters worse, initiating communication can be very difficult to impossible for me if I’m not feeling well, which is… not good when it comes to letting people know. /o\

    So, for fellow “I can’t *do* anything about the flakey bit” people… here’s how I’m trying to approach things:

    – in relaxed-ish group situations, I try not to commit to attending. “That sounds really great! I’ll try to come but I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to make it.” is something I find myself saying a lot.
    – in group situations where committing is more important, I might approach the organisers and say that hey, there’s a chance I might not be able to make it on very short notice or without being able to let them know in advance, is that okay?
    – if I’m organising a group thing, I try to make sure it does not hinge on my attendance and that everyone will be able to have a good time if I’m not there.
    – if I want to meet with someone one-on-one, I warn them about this and explain I can’t help it – I tell them I have a disability that behaves a little like a chronic illness, which is a level of disclosure I’m generally comfortable with. We can decide whether to go ahead making plans then. If so, I do expect the other person to be okay with this (something important for my mental health).
    – I try to plan one-on-one meetups at either my place or somewhere where it will not be as bad for the other person if I don’t show: their place, a cafe in town so they can have a coffee/read a book/go on a shopping trip/whatever, that kind of thing. The idea is that although it may be sucky for them, it will not RUIN THEIR DAY HOMG. If I had closer friends (both geographically and emotionally), I might arrange something with them picking me up.
    – if I miss something, I apologise, but I’m working very hard to move that to a general “sorry the world sucks in a way that inconvenienced you” apology and not one that implies it was my fault or I could have done something differently. Again, mental health.
    – for funsies, problems with communication mean the long e-mail/text chains of “anytime is fine for me” “for me too” “huh, how about Saturday!” “great, what time?” etc. are a bad idea, because at every point there’s a chance I’ll won’t be able to respond. I am *really* trying to move to more of a “hey, how about we do X thing Y time Saturday?” method.

    Honestly, I think my attachment style insecurity is reassuring myself that I am worthy of friendship and human contact despite these issues. /o\ I’d be curious to know how anyone in a similar situation handles it.

    • Britt said:

      I’ve been on both sides of the sort of quantum spoons scenario (such a good description, btw) and I think it really comes down to disclosure and giving people the chance to opt out if the conditions you have to operate on aren’t workable for them.

      The relationships where it really messed with things for me were the ones where someone wouldn’t just cancel on me last minute or not show up, but the ones where I’d be stuck waiting and waiting and waiting for them to decide if they could do whatever it was today and they’d inevitably decide that no they couldn’t but now I just wasted my entire (limited) chunk of free time and not only didn’t get to do the thing with them, I didn’t get to do any of the things by myself that I would have otherwise done. And then if I didn’t want to make plans another time because I wasn’t in a headspace to deal with the uncertainty it was met with a lot of guilt and wheedling and clinging.

      Conversely, there have been relationships where it was not really a problem at all, because the people involved knew themselves and their limits well (even when it was a quantum spoons “I don’t know how I’ll feel literally until right then” situation), were clear about the situation from the beginning and gave people a guilt free opt out if they weren’t up for potentially being stood up/cancelled last minute, and found ways to make the time that they were able to devote to the relationship really count.

      Hopefully that’s at least a little bit helpful.

  42. 1333 said:

    I’m in LW #509’s state…

    I’m naturally very anxious, insecure and clingy. I am quite afraid of people, and it makes it hard for me to meet new friends. I’ve been told many times when I was younger that I am not a very pleasant individual.

    I’ve worked hard during the past years to improve myself. I’ve been reading self help sites. I tries to be friendly with people, and I was even told several times that I am friendly and nice. It was the best compliment I was ever given.

    And then I met this group of friends through a common hobby. We spent a lot of intensive time together and I started regarding several of them as close friends. It meant so much to me to have this group, be surrounded with people I like and who like me. But then my insecurity shot up and I fucked everything.

    Thing is – there are several cultural differences between my friends and me, and I could never tell if I misunderstood things because of the cultural differences or because of my anxiety, or if I saw things correctly. When I started talking about my discomfort, some assured me that everything is OK, some (I think) were weirded out by it, and some told me that I’m trying too hard to be friends, and that I’m making people uncomfortable.

    I didn’t take that well. I’ve suddenly realized that maybe I was being controlling and manipulative all along. I was so embarrassed by the thought that maybe they tried to hint me to back off and I didn’t understand, and I felt heartbroken because the people that meant so much to me didn’t feel the same about me.

    Everything circled down the drain from there. Couldn’t look in people’s eyes. Had a breakdown and shouted at some of them.

    I figured it’s best to distance myself from the situation so I left my hobby and this group of friends. I realize I’m making drama and probably being manipulative in some way, I just can’t handle the situation.

    I miss them… :(

  43. Bittybird said:

    Thank you for your thoughts/take on avoidant/anxious pairings and how the avoidant one, in some respects, has more power. I’d never thought of it that way and it’s good food for thought. I do think that the “having more power” mostly applies to the power to end a relationship/friendship, and not necessarily to the power dynamic within the friendship itself–i.e., if the avoidant person is unable or unwilling to sacrifice the friendship, then the anxious person has the power to make them feel extremely claustrophobic and trapped (which may add to the illusion that they’re unable to leave).

    I think what I mean is, ending a relationship that you value is awful for everyone involved, but at least for an avoidant person, ending a clingy relationship is awful emotionally but comes with relief from the intense pressure the other person put on them, while the anxious person has the nightmare all their anxieties derive from come true. But avoidant people can love just as strongly and just not be willing/able to end it yet. In which case, pleasing the anxious person becomes a circle-of-hell of ever-increasing demands, where you can never give enough and you can’t breathe. You feel like you’re feeding your own energy into the other person and draining out.

    Until you’ve bled out everything you have, and that’s when you realize that you were able to leave after all. But until you reach that point, it can feel pretty powerless being the avoidant one. Of course, everyone’s experiences and relationships will be different, and your mileage may vary!

  44. Vicky Sanders said:

    When I moved to NYC I didn’t know anyone and had no family here… it sucked. My coworker showed me cliqie.com and I’m a big fan of that over the others in terms of actually meeting people vs. just entertainment. It has a different approach that feels less sketchy cause you and your friends essentially act as “wingmen”. I like that it helps you find things to do too. Skout’s okay too, but still has it’s fair share of creepers

  45. Toestands said:

    Okay. So. I’m ever so slightly freaking out here.

    My friend and I are looking for an apartment together, and when we had the roommate agreement discussion there was what I in hindsight realise was a moment of clashing attachment styles. I’m an introvert who has in the past been told to suck it up and socialise like normal people, so when we were talking about how much we’ll see of each other I may have gone a bit overboard…

    My rule was, if my the door to my room is open, I’m willing to chat, if it’s closed I’m unavailable – and that it may be closed a lot of the time. We agreed that knocking first and then talking about necessary practicalities that can’t wait was okay, and I suggested that if Friend felt like she needed to get something off her chest she might knock and ask if it’s okay to talk. She wasn’t exactly enthused by this idea and asked what she should do if I said it wasn’t a good time. I think I suggested trying again later? Which was also not well received, so as a last resort I suggested that she text or Skype me if it really couldn’t wait.

    We kind of left it there as a deal-with-it-when-it-comes-up solution, with no mutually agreed upon rules in place. And I just. What do I actually do if/when this happens? Friend has a new relationship with lots of exciting turns that she likes to talk about so I’m fairly certain it WILL come up at some point. How do I conquer the “OH SHIT, THE DACHSHUND SLOTH IS COMING FOR MY SOUL”-panic in order to not make it worse? I do need some time alone and it’s for both our benefit because I start snapping at people because of minor irritants when I haven’t had my alone-time. And I don’t want to snap at my friend.

    Sorry, this got long and angsty. I’m going to go take some deep breaths now.

    • Moi said:

      Toestands, it sounds like you’ve expressed a perfectly reasonable boundary to her. Her response actually confused me for a moment, because…isn’t that obvious? Not a good time isn’t, you know, a good time?

      Perhaps something like a key phrase to bypass the “it’s not a good time” rule when it’s something really important to her would help, but that depends if you and she can mutually agree upon what qualifies. (Personal experience here—waking me up at 4am during midterms bc your favourite country artist is debuting their new single at a concert in another time zone is /not/ something I’d qualify as important).

      I think it’s on her to accept that boundary or not and work her feelings out about it. While you can be open to a dialogue about those feelings, I don’t think AT ALL that you need to have a dialogue about the boundary that makes you comfortable.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        Sigh, I had a friend like that. I remember a very late night call from him because he had just finished a book I recommended to him. The book had kind of a surprising ending, and he wanted to talk about it RIGHT THEN.

        We had a system at the first college I went to where people could put a “RED FLAG” sign on their door. Red flag meant do not disturb unless a specific exception also written on the sign applied (or unless something obvious like the fire alarm is going off right now). Some people also adapted that to “yellow flag” which basically meant “not feeling particularly social right now but it’s ok to at least knock.”

    • Moi said:

      (Sorry, thoughts ran away with my post. When you’re feeling more social, perhaps ask for a rundown of said relationship and its exciting developments. That may preemptively minimize the times the dachshund sloth appears at your door. But yeah, otherwise I’d say when it comes up, stick to the boundary that you set. It is reasonable. Really. It really is).

      • Chickie said:

        I had a next door neighbor like that in college – we were all right friends, would casually knock on each others’ doors to check outfits before dates etc, and she had relationship excitement/drama cycles that she really wanted to share about. What worked for me was asking preemptively (at the kitchen table?) and half-doing-something-else at the same time (cooking dinner and knitting are good because I have to look at it but can also pay attention), so I caught the gist of it and could “mmhmm” at the right times while she talked herself out. (I also want to say, it wasn’t a dismissive mmhmm, I just didn’t have a lot to contribute other than being a person she could tell the story to and validate her feelings. and that’s an okay thing to need.)

      • Toestands said:

        That’s a great idea! Thanks, I’m definitely going to start doing that, however things turn out. :)

    • Badger Rose said:

      “She wasn’t exactly enthused by this idea and asked what she should do if I said it wasn’t a good time.”

      Short answer: She should talk to someone else. She should call another friend, go talk to a neighbor, IM her bestie online, whatever.

      Longer answer: I would take that question as a serious indicator that your friend thinks that living with a friend = having a constantly-available ear for whatever issues or drama or excitement or thoughts might come up. That sounds dismissive, but when I was in college, that was actually a totally reasonable assumption: in my small dorm you could wander out at any hour of day or night and find SOMEONE who would listen to you squee or vent or bitch or whatever. It may be that your friend wants the same thing. She may even be able to get it.

      Thing is, that doesn’t mean she needs to get it *from you*. She can get that without you providing it by finding other people who will do that for her. It will be kinder for you to say, “Sorry, when I’m not up for talking, I’m not up for talking, but maybe you can call Arwen, Bilbo or Celeborn instead” than to talk whenever she has the urge for three weeks and then breathe fire at her on week four when you finally hit your limit.

      • datdamwuf said:

        I’m so glad my post got eaten because Badger Rose said it way better. I wish we had like buttons

      • Toestands said:

        @ Badger Rose Also very useful advice. I’ve never really thought about it but now I see that out of our group of friends, I’m probably her go-to person for relationship gushing.

        And this probably sounds weird but it’s really nice to hear that for once, maybe it wasn’t me being clumsy about human emotions that was the problem. So thank you for that. :)

        (Hope this show up in the right part of the thread, something looks weird about this reply space box thing.)

    • datdamwuf said:

      Toestands, I might be way off here but it sounds like in the course of your boundary setting/working out how to live together your soon to be room mate is already having you compromise, but I don’t see any compromise on her side from what you wrote. Are you pretty sure you are compatible room mates? I’m of the “when I get home do not talk to me for at least an hour, I need to be ALONE” variety of person. So, I would be saying, door closed means leave me alone unless the house is on fire or the cat is stuck behind the fridge. OTH I had one room mate/friend who could overcome this occasionally for whatever reason and I didn’t mind so long as it wasn’t often. So, do you like her because she gets you out of your self? So maybe you are willing to move the boundary because it helps you not be locked in your bedroom all the time? If not, then revisit the boundary. just throwing out some thoughts.

      • Toestands said:

        I’m like that too! :D Which is why I added the thing about my door being closed a lot of the time. And you’re right, part of why we are such good friends is because she gets me out of my room and doing things sometimes, and I like that. (Like more than one person has noted in the comments, it’s not so much that I want to stay at home more than anything, it’s that I need something or someone to get me started.)

    • Commander Banana said:

      Eeee…yikes.

      I have been on both sides of this issue – being the avoider and the avoidee – and I would say that it really helps to schedule regular time with the other person. Like you brunch it up every other weekend so she doesn’t need to knock on your door to unburden herself because she knows she can do it over pancakes on Sunday.

      That being said – if her response to when something isn’t a “good time” is how to make it a good time, that’s…kind of a warning sign. Her answer isn’t really indicative that she’s getting how to respect your boundary. To me it signals that she’s already looking for ways around it. Her needing to be able to Skype or text you when it isn’t a good time is still not respecting the boundary.

      She may just not be able to. I’m not trying to ring the Bell of Doom, but I also think it’s a gift when you realize early enough to divert it that someone’s needs/expectations/wevs aren’t jibing with yours.

      • Commander Banana said:

        And FWIW I think you may want to revisit the issue – the more I think about it the more it sounds like her goal is to always be able to get some form of response from you (whether text, Skype, what have you) whenever she needs/wants a response, and it doesn’t sound like you’re willing to give that to her.

        I’d probably try to bring it up again and maybe draw a harder line – that if the door is closed and she knocks and you don’t answer and she texts you STILL may not answer. Not Answering may not be a response she’ll accept from you.

  46. I sometimes feel like I’m the only one in relationships who gets my needs met, and that’s because my need is almost always “keep your distance, please.” And I feel like I’m super-good at establishing this and enforcing it, but also that I force my friends to do the slow fade because I never hold up my side of the relationship when it comes to actually, you know, seeing each other.

    I’m so strongly introverted that seeing people even once a month is almost too much. The Jedi mind trick mentioned above is actually very true for me…I hate leaving the house, but once I’m there, I’m fine and typically have a great time. It isn’t anxiety…it’s laziness mixed with exhaustion and a good dose of never having true alone time because of my living situation. Almost all of my friends have done the slow fade, and the one still remaining I only see maybe twice a year.

    So I’m trying to change that, and trying hard to keep in contact more and forcing myself to remember “no, you’ll love it, get off your butt.” I was very proud that this month I suggested a cool thing to do, which I haven’t done in oh, ten or so years.

    When I was very young, I actually made agreements with my very social friends like “I can’t tolerate playing together daily, so let’s play every other day.” My mom had to step it with one friend who wouldn’t listen because they kept popping over and it was really distressing me. But now I realize that while it is so important to establish and protect your boundaries, you do have to give a little too and meet your friends’ social needs on some level.

    As far as romantic relationships, part of the reason I consider myself aromantic is that I simply can’t imagine one in which my social needs are met. Most people aren’t interested in seeing each other only a few times a month. But that would be the ideal relationship to me, which isn’t really fair to the other person involved.

  47. Ella Ella Ay Ay Ay said:

    I agree with John Mulaney on this subject: “In terms of like, instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin.”

    I am not the plan-canceler often because I turn down most invitations to begin with. Whenever friends cancel with me, it is instant-relief heroin. It rarely has anything to do with the person the plans are with; I’m just super super super introverted and am virtually always happier staying home. I wish I could absorb all the plan-canceling happening to LW #509—it sounds so relaxing to me!

    People are like 100% likelier to get me to hang out with them if it involves a scenario where I’ve already left the house. Lunch in the middle of the workday, coffee after class, etc. Otherwise, I’ll just always prefer to stay home. That might be something to keep in mind when trying to schedule things with hard-to-pin-down folks, but maybe my attitude isn’t a common one. (I am *shocked* no one else has quoted John Mulaney yet!)

  48. staranise said:

    I’ve been thinking a bit more about attachment. So then I wrote a ginooormous comment and I hope the formatting in it works. I am simultaneously reading like three different books about attachment right now, so I guess it was going to happen. /o\ And I even cut out all the little digressions about how when I make a sweeping generalization about humanity there are always exceptions, and here’s what the exception is and why I feel okay not including them. Good mental exercise; not so germane.

    The secret behind attachment–why it’s important–is that being a “social animal” literally means that when we don’t feel adequately connected to other people, it damages us. It causes pain, distress, fear, and anxiety. On the other hand, the theory says, we are never happier than when we are fully safe, in control of our circumstances, and truly connected to somebody else.

    Connection, safety, and control are all different things, which is really important. But they’re what make us happy. When you’re distressed, it usually boils down to: you don’t have enough of one of those. And everyone has a unique internal set-point that makes them happy and says, this is enough. Because it’s pretty obvious that some people like living very safe, predictable lives and are traumatized when something changes that, while some people feel stifled in average lives and need to go find an extreme sport or three. And even the domain in which you have connection, safety, or control matters. It’s all really personal.

    The drive to move from extremes back to your own personal set-point is called homeostasis. When you norm the scales, let’s just say that we all WANT to be right in the middle of our comfort zones:

    Abandonment [-----o-----] Connection
    Danger [-----o-----] Safety
    Chaos [-----o-----] Control

    But in a pinch, if one’s out of balance, sometimes we’ll try to get back to even by counterbalancing by moving another way over and trying to average it out. For example, when I get in a fight with my friends and feel really afraid that I’ve screwed everything up? I lean really hard on my rational brain and my intellect, hopefully just to tell myself that it’s okay, I’ll survive, and it’ll all work out. I’m trying to convince myself that it’s safe.

    Loneliness [--o--------] Connection
    Danger [--------o--] Safety
    Chaos [-----o-----] Control

    On the other hand, sometimes I lose perspective and try to keep my friend from being angry with me by logically explaining all the reasons I am right and they should just agree with me and be friends again. I’m trying to control the outcome.

    Loneliness [o----------] Connection
    Danger [-----o-----] Safety
    Chaos [--------o--] Control

    Spoiler: this tends not to work. Part of why this tends not to work is that we see another person’s attempt to control us, especially for their own purposes and in a way that’s not really mindful of what we want, as a threat to our own safety and control. Therefore, it’s a situation we wanna get out of. So my friends are like “I pry free of your sloth arms!”

    So to loop back to the post: Avoidant attachment means seeing too much closeness with another person as a threat to your autonomy and ability to control and predict your surroundings. I feel like avoidant attachment has been explored pretty well in this post and its comments. Anxious attachment means that abandonment leads to danger and chaos. This is primal–imagine a baby left alone without a caretaker. That baby can’t feed itself, change itself, move anywhere, or predict or control what’s going to happen next. A baby’s biggest power in the world is that when it cries, it can summon someone to come and see to its needs. So if you learned as a child that sometimes your caregivers disappeared and it was fucking terrifying, you’re more likely to grow up with anxious attachment. (Securely attached kids were the ones who learned to trust and hope that no matter what, or how scary it seemed, someone would come back to help them feel okay. Avoidant kids were the ones who went, “I’m not waiting for someone else to feed me–I’ve got my thumb in my mouth and that feels good, so I’ll just suck on that instead.”)

    Sooo, when you feel discombobulated and like your sliders are out of whack, changing your external circumstances through healthy, respectful dialogue and action like this post recommends is a really great tactic. Doing it by shooting everyone in the room and leaping out the window is reserved for British secret agents. Your other options are: bearing with the pain and discomfort, or changing your internal circumstances. I feel like these are often the more difficult ones? They get pushed on us as “grin and bear it” and “think positive”, but they’re actually really hard to teach or learn. You have to build them up slowly, like muscles, and have adequate support: bearing with the pain and discomfort, without changing your external circumstances, means having the ability to say, “I’m really scared and anxious right now, but that doesn’t mean I’m doing the wrong thing or that I need to change where I am or who I’m with. I can handle this and I’ll be okay.” (The approach a lot of people are currently using for this is “mindful acceptance” if you want to find a book or professional to learn about it)

    Changing your internal circumstances (also known as emotional self-regulation) is the hardest of all in my opinion, though I know a lot of people say “bearing the pain” is harder. YMMV; I was brutally depressed for more than half my life, so I think it’s a personal comfort thing. Anyway. Changing how you feel relies on a trick of how the mind works: you don’t need to be safe, connected, and in control; you only need to feel that way. If you can find a place in your mind where you feel safe and loved, or you can narrow your world to focus only on the things you can control, or any other consolation of philosophy, it’s a way to calm down without needing the world around you to change.

    (Fuck the nihilists and philosophers who simper contemptuously about “illusions that numb us to the harsh realities of life”–living on illusions and dreams is a proud tradition of homo sapiens, thankyouverymuch–and I notice they mostly seem to be people whose realities are not so harsh as many peoples’.)

    Part of what makes me think emotional self-regulation is hard is that we put so much effort into it. We devote endless time and money to things that make us feel loved; people will run back into burning houses for a photograph album, or trek across a decade of hell without ever taking off their wedding ring. It’s the kind of thing we need big ceremonies, like funerals and wakes or jammies and ice cream, for. It’s not nearly as easy as “sucking it up”. I just, well, I think there’s a future in it.

    • keelyellenmarie said:

      This is brilliant and insightful and lovely, thanks for putting in the effort to share it.

  49. Marvel said:

    I feel you, LW#2. I also struggle with social anxiety, and sometimes it’s really hard to gauge whether the behavior of friends is actual bad/rude behavior or just normal behavior that I am reacting to disproportionately.

    However, I have to say that my eyebrows went up a bit at the “rarely more than 2 times a week” part of your letter. I’m not even a particularly busy person–full-time college student, yes, but I don’t have to work on top of that and that makes me considerably less busy than many of my friends–and I would still think that someone who was asking me to hang out 2 times a week was being pretty demanding. How okay are you with people turning down plans at the start rather than canceling them, and how often does that happen? Is it possible that as a consequence of your social anxiety you might become pushy about initiating plans, making it hard for people to refuse you and leading to future cancellations?

    I’m not saying either of these things are the case at all (obviously, since I can’t possibly know), but I would take what the Captain said to heart: make it easy for people to say no at the start, and that might lead to fewer cancellations.

    • twomoogles said:

      Sometimes differing expectations of hang-out frequency also have to do with ‘friend level’ which seems a really callous way to put it, but it’s really just that everyone has different levels of closeness. There are best friends, and then there are people on your Facebook list who you sometimes chat to at parties, and everything in between.

      With a romantic relationship, it can be easier in some ways to define. Sure there are still different expectations, someone might want to see their SO every day, another be content with once a week. But at least there’s a universally acknowledged ‘level’ of the relationship, and it’s known to be stressful when there isn’t.

      But with friends it’s more tenuous. Nobody’s going to say “I like you at a five friend level, heading up to a six.” But some really painful and awkward friendship moments I’ve seen and experienced have to do with different expectations. If I put you at a friend level near to best friend, an 8 or a 9, and you put me at a 3 or a 4, I am going to feel hurt and disappointed when you don’t act according to my expectations. I might expect a best friend to make time for me in circumstances I wouldn’t with a more casual friend.

      • Paige said:

        I think this is absolutely a thing. I’m definitely avoidant, but I have a few best friends who I don’t get to see much since we’ve all moved to different (fortunately within driving distance) cities, so we make time for each other. I will fight to carve out time in my schedule for them if I know one of them wants to do something. We remember each other’s birthdays. Etc. On the other hand, I have coworker friends I see all the time, who are nice but not on the same level of friendship, and I see my coworker friends at work every day. I’m not really inclined to see more of my coworker friends outside of work for several reasons:
        1. I’m one of those “keep work at work” people who wants to not think about or do anything related to work when I’m not there -I like my job, and this is how I keep it that way- so seeing coworker friends outside of work interferes with that
        2. Coworker friends and I are familiar with similar types of things, but none of the specifics intersect (i.e. we can talk fanfiction, but we don’t share fandoms) so we only sort of click
        3. I have an SO who already takes up a large portion of my socializing capacity. I love my SO and we spend most of our free time together since we live together. This makes me uber happy, but it means other people get less of my time.
        4. We aren’t on the same level of friendship. So I am avoidant or if I feel too pressured to say yes, I usually flake out the day before.

        I don’t want to give up a weekend or an evening of something I want to do because one of my coworker friends wants to do something with me. It’s not that I dislike them, it’s just that I don’t want to be that level of friend with them. This is difficult, because I also am a people pleaser, and at least one of my coworker friends thinks we are a much higher friends level than I am comfortable. The Captain has helped me learn to say no and set some boundaries, so things are improving on that front.I haven’t flaked out on anyone in awhile, because I refuse invites and expectations I can’t handle.

  50. Gosh, I really feel this. : ( My best friend is an avoidant type person, and I’m an anxious type person, which was fine… until she moved to a different country at the same time that I moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone. I was super lonely, she was super busy, I felt abandoned and miserably alone. It was the most depressed months of my life.

    I’ve finally maneuvered to a place where I can give her space, but it’s really hard for me, because since our previous dynamic has been so much about me chasing her, I feel like she might just float away. And while I’m giving her that space, I’m still alone in a way which is really difficult for me, because I am a hardcore extrovert.

    .I want to take up a hobby where I can talk to people a lot (I have plenty of solo hobbies, but I’m seriously tired of being alone.) I’m in graduate school, which kind of puts a squeeze on time, but ‘ll make the time if it helps me get my social fix. Any suggestions? Other graduate students/other nerds?

    • Eve of Destruction said:

      Just a few ideas: An outdoor group — lots of talking while hiking.
      Grad student happy hour. Volunteer in a role where you’re interacting with the public (taking tickets, serving food, giving tours, gathering signatures). Good luck.

  51. Jane said:

    Sigh. I feel like this thread is skewing pretty heavily toward people with avoidant attachment styles. I am anxious-insecure like fucking whoa (I WOULD TAKE BOTH THE SLOTH AND THE DACHSHUND, OKAY. I AM SECRETLY A GRABBY LITTLE WHINY CRITTER THAT CATS DO NOT LIKE.) Sadly I am also pretty introverted and shy, so making new friends is pretty hard for me. (Even MORE sadly, I do not APPEAR introverted and fearful in social situations, but rather bubbly and gregarious, so with some frequency I accidentally attract people who are really, really incompatible with me.)

    Here is my problem: Do people cut friends who refuse to offer reassurance out of their lives? Is that a thing that people who are not horrible do? Is there a non-controlling way to go, “Hey, the fact that you need all this space means we are not compatible — have a nice life?” Do you just start declining invitations to things (when they rarely come) and hope the other person gets the hint that you’re done? If someone says, “I need a break from you,” and it happens at a point when you really, really need not to have a break, are you allowed to end the friendship then? Even if avoidant-anxious and insecure-anxious people CAN be friends, am I, as a seriously insecure-anxious person, allowed to screen my friendships for avoidant tendencies and not to hang out with those people because it’s too exhausting and emotionally painful for me? Or does that make me an emotionally immature douchebag?

    Some of my friends are okay with my level of contact! Really! (Which varies from several emails a day to specific people to a Facebook status every couple days aimed at the general public, depending on what part of my mental health cycle I’m in.)

    • JenniferP said:

      Not only CAN you screen for mismatched attachment styles wi th out being a jerk, I encourage it. Someone who is hard to make plans with? Someone who brings out your anxieties? Why work so hard to be close to them.

      I screen like whoa for people who are on the clingier side of things, because we bring out the worst in each other. It doesn’t mean I don’t like them, that they are bad people, or even that we can’t be friends – it just means we will have to set expectations and talk things out, because going with our respective “default” styles is going to result in friction. It’s not like we fill out a questionnaire, but a newish friend who wants to text or talk on the phone every day?= NO NO NO. But they can screen me, too. “Never takes my calls = not friend material.” That is HOW you get power back.

      You’re not a shitty person if you don’t become friends with everyone who wants to. That’s hard to internalize when you’re feeling lonely, but friendship (like attraction) is subjective and unfair. That subjective ability goes BOTH ways.

      • Jane said:

        Yikes yikes yikes. Full disclosure: This discussion is flipping a lot of my depressive switches/punching a lot of recent sore spots, so I don’t know if I’m being reasonable or not.

        I guess a better version of my question would be: do you get to say “you are the wrong kind of person for me to be casual friends with — you can be my close friend, or not interact with me at all, but you don’t get to have casual friendship with me?” even when I can manage that casual friendship with other people who have different personalities and histories with me? (I associate “casual friendship” with “not someone I expect periodic reassurance from” and “not a person I would send panicked and time-sensitive messages to” (among other things;) vs. “close friendship” with “someone who I can give space to, but who will understand if there are times when I really need daily contact.”)

        I have had some issues with people in the past telling me that the things I need (in terms of frequency and consistency of contact) are Wrong and Not Normal, and while I grasp that some levels of clinginess are unwelcome almost anywhere, I postulate that in the future anyone telling me that my emotional needs are objectively incorrect is going to be a Big Red Flag that they are not Jane-acceptable friends.

        • JenniferP said:

          If the thread is making you feel that way, my very strongest suggestion is to stop reading it.

          Discussion of attachment styles is not meant to privilege any kind of attachment style over another. It’s a framing of a dynamic and giving people some strategies to try if they think the dynamic might be in play. It’s not about good vs bad, it’s about finding people who are compatible with you.

          In answer to this question:

          “Do you get to say “you are the wrong kind of person for me to be casual friends with — you can be my close friend, or not interact with me at all, but you don’t get to have casual friendship with me?” ”

          If you said this out loud to a person, what do you hope the result would be? Because if someone said this to me, I would say “Ok, let’s not then.” It would 0% of the time get me to say “Cool, let’s get closer!” Because SLOTH vs. NOTHING is too extreme a choice for me to commit to when put on the spot like that. This is actually an avoidant tactic, btw, because “NOTHING” is an option. So you might be a mix of attachment styles.

          It is certainly “ok” for you to say that, and definitely not wrong for you to feel it, but a better question is what is the result you’re looking for? Do you have to pre-emptively break up with someone who fits this paradigm, or is this something you can decide on your own and act on (stop scheduling things, pull back on the friendship)? In the post, the suggestion is to give the person a little space and see if that makes them more comfortable, not to give an ultimatum. Ultimatums are pretty guaranteed to backfire, in my opinion.

          Mostly, Jane, look for reciprocity. Don’t worry about attachment styles. Look for someone who responds enthusiastically when you make plans. Look for someone who gets right back to your texts. Look for someone who seeks you out as much as you do them. In the absence of these, it is cool to decide: This person would not make a compatible, good friend for me. & Disengage.

          I do not want to activate the issues you are dealing with. Again, I strongly encourage you to walk away from this thread entirely if it is making you feel bad.

    • Anxious-insecure people high five! Somewhere in the world is our people, and hopefully we will find them soon. You are totally allowed to choose the friendships that make you feel happy and not stressed. Sorry, this isn’t advice so much as cheering and going I feel you gurl.

      Imagine me as a tiny cheerleading crab, tumblr gif style.

    • twomoogles said:

      You can have whatever standards you want for being friends–it doesn’t make you a jerk or a bad person. It just might not be very helpful for you if you are *too* stringent about it.

      I mentioned above I have an irrational hot button about people cancelling plans frequently (once in awhile is not an issue). So, I am not very compatible for people with issues that mean they cancel with no notice a lot. This isn’t fair to people who can’t help it. But, it is what it is. It doesn’t mean I don’t like those people, just that I typically shouldn’t make one-on-one plans with those people.

      I think it is kind of jerky (or at least appears so) when someone is self-centered in ways such as “I want you to be there when I really need you to be, or you are not the kind of friend I can have. But, I also need space, so if *you* need me to be there, the same rules don’t apply.” I am friends with someone like that, and it’s fine for me because she’s not close emotional support and I am more avoidant. But that behaviour on her part has done bad things to others’ emotional states.

      But, deciding to only be close friends with people who are emotionally compatible is a pretty reasonable and healthy thing, I think. If you were finding *nobody* who met your standards for friendship, that would be an issue worth looking into I think. But if you are finding those people, just not everybody…well, nobody’s friend-compatible with everyone.

  52. therufs said:

    This seems like a big assumption: “And once she’s hung so much effort out there, she is NOT going to appreciate anything that looks like rejection.”

    OR, she might say, “Oh man, I’m so glad you finally just told me you didn’t want to hang out. I often experienced anxiety about social situations and trying to please everyone, and it makes me sad when I can’t actually please everyone, so it’s a huge relief when someone just tells me they don’t want to be included.”

    Anyway, that’s what I would say. I’d probably leave out the bit about how it also hurts my feelings when people I think of as friends are pretty obviously lying to me (even if they’re probaby doing it to spare my feelings. They /might/ actually be telling the truth this time, so I’ll just keep trying to please them! In vain.)

    • therufs said:

      tl;dr: Everything may go better than expected!

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