#190: The Sandwich Means “I Love You”: A Valentine.

An embroidered sampler of Smeagol loving the Ring
Sometimes love is really awkward and weird.

Valentine’s day is tomorrow, right? These are pretty much still my thoughts about that. It’s a terrible night to eat out. Don’t buy anyone an expensive necklace that looks like two butts stuck together. People like to be told that they matter.

Today’s question is also a love story.

Dear Capt. Awkward,

I have depression. It’s diagnosed, I’m on happy pills and everything. It varies, sometimes I’ll be completely fine, other times I’ll have a sobbing emotional breakdown in the middle of a bar. The breakdowns don’t happen very often, and I’ve talked to my drug!shrink about my medication. Unfortunately it appears my options are to be more drugged during the good times in order to compensate for the bad times, which are sporadic and unpredictable. Since I don’t really like being on drugs in the first place, we decided to continue the meds I’m on and cope with the bad episodes.

 One of the (few) really good, awesome things I have in my life is a group of friends that is nurturing, loving and completely sympathetic to my issues. Several of them have either been diagnosed with depression or had depressive episodes following breakups or extreme stress, so they understand what I’m dealing with.

My problem is that I fear that I’m becoming too reliant on them. I have a few things I do that I recognize in hindsight are signals that I’m about to spiral down the depression hallway: forgetting to eat is one; *hiding* that I’m not eating is a HUGE one. I told one friend this a while ago, and now whenever he thinks I’m not doing too well he makes a point of asking when the last time I ate was, and what I ate, and if he doesn’t like my answer he makes me food. I truly appreciate that I have friends who are observant enough to notice and caring enough to make sure I’m ok. In the middle of my sobbing breakdown last week I told two friends that I had taken my medications that I thought might be harmful to the docs to be disposed of, but then I told the doc that I wasn’t sleeping and she prescribed me 30 pills of ambien, and they told me if I wanted to keep the pills at one of their places so I could still have access if I need it, but don’t have a whole bottle in the case of a bad day, they’d be happy to help me out.

But how do I keep from depending on them too much? When I’m in the middle of an episode, it’s not that I don’t notice that I’m having issues, it’s that I don’t care, or it’s too much effort to do anything besides stay in bed and cry. I’m worried that I’m becoming “that friend,” the one who no one actually wants to be around and who gets made fun of when I’m not around. On my more rational days, I realize that, having dealt with psychiatric issues before, my friends are likely to just tell me if I’m becoming needy or asking too much of them. On my less rational days, I convince myself that I’m crazy and no one likes me and I should just hide in my room and not pester them because then they won’t like me anymore and I’ll be all alone in this city, in addition to being unemployed and single.

I was seeing a talk!shrink for a while. She gave me some useful tools for dealing with myself and recognizing the way I set myself up for failure. Unfortunately, I was limited to a certain number of sessions, which I’ve reached.

So, my question is basically, how do I set boundaries for *myself* with my friends in order to ensure that I’m not overly reliant on them, but still able to reach out when I need help?

Thank you!

I need my friends, but I don’t want to *need* my friends

Molly from Sherlock, asking "What do you need?"
And even weird, awkward love can save the day.

I love your friends. They are wicked practical about emotional matters, and when they say “Keep the pills at my house,” or “I will make you a grilled cheese now” they are really saying “I love you.

I’m sorry your Jerkbrain is translating that differently for you. I think it is hearing “I love you…for now…as long as you don’t actually like start to depend on that love and count on it too much and maybe become a burden? Enjoy this grilled cheese of temporary toleration and eventual judgement and abandonment.

But your friends? They’re just saying “I love you.” Really.

There’s a scene in the novel Smilla’s Sense of Snow between Smilla and her father, in Smilla’s childhood. Someone has my copy so I can’t quote it exactly, but Smilla was raised by her mother, a famous hunter and navigator in Greenland, and after her mother’s death she ends up with her father in Denmark. There’s some party where cookies are served, and she takes “too many” of them for politeness, and he tries to shame her about it. “Keep taking cookies until you feel ashamed,” so she locks eyes with him and takes more and more and more and more and more until he can’t stand it and stops her.

Your letter made me think of that scene. There is something in there about a primal need – for comfort, for sustenance, for sweetness – that goes beyond politeness. The part of ourselves that will lock eyes with someone and say “Yeah, I need everything from you, what are you going to do about that?” and the part of ourselves that is socially conditioned to feel shame about expressing unseemly desires or worry that if we give ourselves permission (to take a few cookies)(to really need and count on someone else) that we’ll never, ever stop.

We joke a little bit about Party Smeagol around these parts, because Smeagol is so pathetic and gross and he will do a weird dance if given the tiniest scrap of affection and we don’t want to be like him: constantly hungry and ruled by that hunger. If anyone knew how gross and hungry we were, how could they ever love us? So we let our inner Gollum smack Smeagol around. “Stop being so pathetic, Smeagol. They don’t REALLY like you. Go ahead. Ask them if they really like you and see what they say.”  The problem is, if you turn every act of kindness from your friends into an emotional audit of your relationship and an opportunity to abase yourself and indulge your jerkbrain’s belief that you are not lovable – “Are you really sure you want to make me that sandwich? Like, really really sure?” – it IS tiresome and distancing.

Let’s throw more literary references at this problem.

“People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating, and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security and about love, the way others do?

They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft.

The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.” – MFK Fisher, The Gastronomical Me.

Humans are hungry. Inside us there is a shriveled, slimy, disgusting turd of a heart or a soul or a self or whatever you want to call it, and it’s just fucking hungry as hell. The only way to feed it is to love people and let yourself be loved.

The way you set boundaries around this is to accept what’s offered with grace and gratitude. You’re loved. Your friends are proving it to you all the time in small, cool ways that are not hard for them. They’ve been where you’ve been. They would not offer these things if they didn’t want to do them. Stop looking for evidence that you’re unworthy of this, and stop questioning these acts of kindness. Maybe your little turd-heart doesn’t deserve this love. Tough shit. You’re loved anyway. Deal with it. Let your friends feed you, and when you can in whatever way you can, feed them back.

And because this is my blog and I get to write anything I want here, let me just say to my own friends:

I love you all so much with a bottomless, awkward love. Happy Valentine’s Day.

98 thoughts on “#190: The Sandwich Means “I Love You”: A Valentine.

  1. One of the hardest things to do is accept that someone is doing something for you because they really really love you, because your jerkbrain refuses to believe you could be loved that much. I have been there. Hell, I still hang out there from time to time (I am getting better). Your friends love you and think you’re awesome and want the best for you because they are your friends. You will be there for them when they need it, because that’s how it works.

    As an aside, can I just say that MOLLY HOOPER NEEDS MORE LOVE? *ahem*

    1. Agreed! When I was Undergoing Hard Times, once I gathered every scrap of courage I could find in my quivering heart and asked a friend whether he would possibly be willing to go to breakfast with me that weekend and talk to me about cheerful things.

      He burst into tears, said “I’m so glad there is something I can DO for you!”

      He and his wife took me to breakfast every Sunday for the next 3 months, and it fucking *saved my life*.

      1. Here’s a study in how to break your friends’ hearts: When you need them and there is a small thing they could do that would help you or make you happy, don’t ask. Stew about it and worry instead.


      2. That is an awesome story Virginia. You have a couple of really wonderful friends!! Glad that you reached out – and that they responded with so much love. Awesome! 🙂

          1. Completely caught up! I love a good fan fic, and I love Molly to PIECES, so this is basically perfect. Thanks for recommending it 😀

          2. Sorry I’m a little late to this whole blog, but this sentence tidily sums up my experience here thus far AND that fanfic: Holy crap that was wonderful.

  2. I was about to write a pathetic letter about whether or not I should break up with my boyfriend because I’m depressed and therefore maybe sorta kind of a dead weight on him right now. Well.

    1. Didn’t you specifically identify this exact situation where your brain does this in a comment a couple months ago? Knock it off and be loved, jerk.

      1. Probably! But it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder Time, like if I were a bear, I would be hibernating sooooo hard right at this moment.

        1. I always loved the idea of hibernating! I love sleep and I hate winter.

          And then someone who knows that kind of thing told me that hibernation’s not like sleep at all, because bears wake up from their hibernation tired and need a sleep soon after, and I was very disappointed.

          1. Hibernation is where all the body processes slow down so you do not burn though resources quickly. Bears do it in winter because of food scarcity and they lose a lot of weight by the end of winter still. It is kinda like being super depressed and unable to get out of bed more than a few times in months. It doesn’t seem like fun…Want fun watch meerkats snuggle and lean on each other. Too cute!

          2. So, if I understand SAD correctly (which I quite possibly don’t), if the Ensign were a bear, they’d be hibernating right now…

        2. There should be a Captain Awkward Fans With SAD support group. We could have Google Meetups so we could talk face-to-face without having to brave the cold, cold winter.

          1. Lurker living at 59 degrees north (though it’s less cold than it is dark. ALWAYS DARK! in winter) would support this. Or in-person meet ups somewhere around the equator…

  3. Aw, this is lovely! *sniff*
    I have friends like your friends, LW, who have fed me and helped me and administered beer or Talisker or chocolate or Haagen-Dasz as needed, and made me laugh through all kinds of tears, and I love them back.

    1. As my beautiful golden cat is called Talisker, I read this thinking (for one moment) that your friends helped by administering beer, choccies or a kitty! Still valid.

      1. If you’ve ever read The Witch of Blackbird Pond you know that “blueberry cake and a kitten” cures everything.

        1. Oh my hat! You’re the first person I have ever met who also read that book!! I loved it as a child when I first read it. I was 8 and I have never forgotten it! (Ok, I hate when people overuse exclamation marks – I’m just so thrilled).

          Ahem, back to the topic at hand… this was a useful letter for me as well. I am bad at letting people help me and I feel like crap when I ask for anything. I found positive self-talk and reminding myself how much joy I get from helping my friends really helps. Good luck letter-writer!

  4. Darling LetterWriter, you put me in mind of my mother, who on some level does not believe that friends can be a family. Who worries that, without any blood relations to speak of within 200 miles, I would somehow wither and fade. Fortunately for you and me, love is not in the blood, it’s in the action.

    Love is in the sandwich and in the eating of the sandwich. Love is in the offer and in the acceptance of the offer. Love is also in the rejection of an offer, and in the caring anyway. Love is in asking questions, even if you think you know the answer, because maybe you don’t. Love is in a couple of pennies so you don’t have to get three back in change. Love is in remembering to pick up ice for the party because there’s never enough ice. Love is in holding the door for the stranger behind carrying packages.

    Happy Valentine’s Day, Awkward Army!

      1. True Story: I didn’t know for the longest time that ❤ meant "Heart" and would wonder why people were giving each other asscones.

        1. It has been known to confuse people when I start getting more esoteric and throwing things like (-∞,3)…

          1. I do <83 for an infinity heart! But it kinda looks like an ice cream cone in a bikini top.

            Or <4 to indicate that there is extra love.

            …I’m kinda sappy sometimes.

          2. When my partner and I get sappy sometimes we do >3, as well.. Because we love each other with the ENTIRE number line. And are very nerdy.

          3. RQbrain – We once had a long, horrifically sappy-nerdy discussion about how really we could just say 0<x<1 and that would be infinity already. And then there was much debating about if ❤ is a bigger infinity than 0<x<1.

          4. Whereas I’m doing a maths degree and immediately go “no, they’re exactly the same size, assuming we’re talking real or rational numbers (which it looks like we are), rather than restricting to the integers.” 😉

  5. OMG, everything above!

    A while ago, after wearing deep grooves in my brain thinking in circles about it, I decided that I was going to stop thinking about what people “really meant” and just take them at their word.

    So, if someone was like, I will make you a sandwich, I would just decide that I couldn’t know whether they *really* wanted to make me a sandwich or not, and assume that they did, because they offered. Let other people worry about their own preferences, if they offer some kind of aid and don’t really mean it, they can always take the offer back or be put out and, perhaps, learn to say what they mean. Or at least to mean what they say.

    1. It’s the interpersonal relationship version of Occam’s Razor (basically, that amongst all possible solutions, the simplest one is probably right).

      I had a wonderful friend do his best to make that sink into my head when I was a teenager. I’m still working on it.

    2. “Let other people worry about their own preferences, if they offer some kind of aid and don’t really mean it, they can always take the offer back or be put out and, perhaps, learn to say what they mean. Or at least to mean what they say.”

      YES. This is a decision that I made a long time ago and it has made *such a difference*. My corollary to it is ‘I am not a mind-reader and I will not assume that my loved ones are either,” which means that — if I need support, I will try to tell someone or ask for it because it’s unfair of me to expect them to intuit that I need them.

    3. Dude! I need to make a sweater that has that comment knit on it, in intarsia, in reverse. So I can see it all winter whenever I look in a mirror.

    4. Learning (or starting to learn) to take people at their word and let it be their problem if they were lying has made my life a million times easier, especially when I remember to do it.

  6. De-lurking here just to say I almost burst into tears reading the post (and the comments!). I moved recently to another city and I miss my best friends, who live far away from me now… And great comment threads like this one that make me realize the world’s a great place, and things will get better, after all!

    *awkward internet hugs to all of you*

  7. Stop looking for evidence that you’re unworthy of this, and stop questioning these acts of kindness. Maybe your little turd-heart doesn’t deserve this love. Tough shit. You’re loved anyway. Deal with it. Let your friends feed you, and when you can in whatever way you can, feed them back.


    *bursts into happy, happy, loved tears*

  8. Hi, LW! I have about a dozen friends just like you! I used to be just like you! (I also really like exclamation points today.)

    Whenever my friends are down and offer to do something and they go through the whole “Are you SURE? I mean, really sure? I don’t want to bother you. Are you sure you’re sure? Are you sure you’re sure I’m not bothering you? What about now?” thing, I tell them that I am not in the habit of offering to do things I don’t want to do. It sounds like your friends are in the same habit, so trust them.

    Are you familiar with the Dunning-Kruger Princicple? The teal deer version is that humans use themselves as a baseline. Stupid people think they’re smart, because they can’t imagine they know less than they think they do; average people think they’re average, because they know what they know and don’t; while smart people think they’re stupid because they know what they DON’T know, so all that other stuff they know must be fluff.

    This works with depression. Basically, you cannot stand to be around yourself right now (No shit! You are depressed! It is miserable!), so you cannot conceive of anyone else wanting to be around you. You can barely focus on the skills required to bathe yourself, so someone making a sandwich for you seems a gargantuan task and OMG I AM THE WORST PERSON EVER WHY DON’T I ASK THEM TO MAKE ME A SANDWICH ON MT. EVEREST WHILE I’M AT IT SINCE I AM SO DEMANDING OMG.

    That was me two weeks ago (and six weeks ago before that, three months ago before that), and I am here to tell you that you are going to be fine. All the worrying has a bright side—as long as you’re worried about putting your friends out, you are not actually putting them out, because your brain has flipped the “respectful of other’s boundaries” switch into high gear. At least for me, I get like that because I really want people around and I don’t want to push them away, so the best way to keep friends around is to have NO NEEDS, RIGHT? =D =D =) =\ =| =( =< and there's no emoticon for sobbing into a bucket of ice cream to follow that, sorry.

    If you're worried about putting out your friends, ask for help in a way that gives both of you some control over the situation. You forget about eating? Why not buy a cookbook and have a "learning to cook" day with a friend? Even if you're too depressed to make a full stew, you can still peel potatoes, and that way you're helping (reducing the perceived burden) and following through on a task, which I find helps me out of my depression. For the friend with the sleeping pills, you can figure out what a dangerous dose is and then hang on to less than that, and go for coffee once a week to check in. You don't need to worry about knocking on her door every night, plus you get social contact once a week and you have someone who would be happy to help check your moods.

    I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but these have worked for me and I'm now pretty comfortable asking for help (it took eight years, but I got there). In my experience, you want to figure out what your jerk brain is latching onto as a fear and then cut it off at the pass.

    Your friends love you, and you have the emotional literacy to get this in hand. It's not always going to be great times, but you're going to get through this. All of you.

  9. LW, you may have been misdiagnosed, as happened to me. The statement “…my options are to be more drugged during the good times in order to compensate for the bad times, which are sporadic and unpredictable” just SCREAMS “bipolar disorder.”

    It’s possible to have a form of bipolar in which your manic highs aren’t particularly noticeable — they’re often just what others might consider normal happiness, but they represent a huge swing away from your depressed state. Check this link http://www.depression-guide.com/hypomania.htm and consider asking your mental health pro to be evaluated for bipolar. If you are bipolar, antidepressants are the wrong treatment.

    1. /delurks with a theme name

      Depression medications are a livesaver for a lot of people, but not for someone with bipolar disorder. It’s like trying to drive a screw in with a hammer–a great tool, but not for this job. Bipolar II (http://www.depression-guide.com/bipolar-ii-disorder.htm) or cyclothymia (http://www.depression-guide.com/cyclothymia.htm) are possible diagnoses for the hypomanic/major depressive episode or hypomanic/dysthymic cycle. Either can look a lot like unipolar depression, but treating them with depression meds, especially SSRIs, is either useless or outright harmful, depending on how the individual’s body reacts.

      If you’re having unpredictable, apparently uncaused mood swings, it’s absolutely a good idea to ask whoever’s providing your prescriptions about it. My doc watched me like a hawk the first few months on an SSRI to make sure he’d gotten my diagnosis right. According to him, bipolar II gets mistaken for regular ol’ depression a lot, because it’s a relatively new diagnosis.

      1. Thanks!

        I like the message “If you’re on head-meds, and things aren’t right, keep checking with your doctor and don’t be afraid to readjust things to get the right mix.”

        Beyond that we can’t diagnose people we haven’t met through the internet and I’d like to keep that as a bedrock principle around here. So this is the last comment I will approve about specific meds/diagnoses.

        1. Roger, Cap’n. o7

          I realize how much the geek “I WILL SHOW I CARE BY FIXING IT what do you mean I can’t fix it” thing can overlap with steamrolling someone else’s choices. We don’t know that the LW hasn’t already exhausted their options on the better living through chemistry tip. Brain meds are such a crapshoot.

  10. When I saw the phrase “this letter is about love” I thought…ohh it will be about someone and their couple problems, but yay for platonic love on Valentines Day. Love You All!

    1. All the couple letters lately are “Should we break up?” “Yes.” So I thought I’d mix it up.

      1. Hmm, that topic seems ripe for a Blanket Statement post, no? Something like “You don’t have to remain together at any cost”?

  11. Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you for making this post, CA! You did not know it at all but this is a post I needed very badly today.

    This weekend I went to a big event with my boyfriend, and as a result of event-stress plus suppressed-social-tensions plus weird random triggers, I ended up having a giant panic attack for no obvious reason. And he held me and told me he loved me and that I was safe and that we could do whatever I needed to do to feel comfortable and calm. And I felt so guilty.

    My jerkbrain was (unfortunately, still a little is) convinced that my boyfriend hated doing that and was rolling his eyes the whole time and thinking “isn’t she a little drama queen” and getting resentful that I wasn’t being fun and enjoying the event. Not that he was doing or saying anything like that, of course. But my jerkbrain is equipped with “he secretly hates this but he’s being very polite” backup mechanisms!

    Thank you for giving me this bit of validation and confirmation that it really is just jerkbrain thought and that people are not angry that I accept their love.

    1. I had a thing on Saturday where I was out with people (after a week of being sick) and having a great time and then all of a sudden I hit the wall – of tired, of hot stuffy room, of feeling feverish and sweaty. And my friends asked a few times, “are you ok?” (and I feel like all the color drained out of my face and I did not look ok at all, probably) and I said “yes” a few times and then I said “wait, no, I feel crappy and need to leave” and then my friend M. said “ok!” and drove me to the train and said “you could have said something before, you know” and he was correct and I didn’t ruin anyone’s evening by needing stuff like air and to go home and sleep and to be taken care of a little.

      1. I’ve been working on this sort of thing — realizing it’s okay to say I’ve had enough for one day and need to go home.

  12. De-lurking because HOLY MOOD SWINGS, BATMAN I am this person. And it’s hard and no one understands, at least if you listen to your sneaky jerkbrain.

    The Cap is absolutely right, your friends love you. Accept the sammich of love, for it is the tastiest of sammiches! But, at least in my experience, sometimes you need to play tricks on your jerkbrain to enjoy that sammich. An example from my own experiences, I go over to my best friend in my new city’s house once a week and cook them a nice dinner (they work all the time and don’t have time or energy to make fancy food) in return for being dragged out of my cave and made to enjoy myself at least once a week.

    This can be hard when you’re at a low point, but it doesn’t have to be an immediate return like that example. Maybe you could promise to make something for you friends if you’re crafty, or run troubleshooting on their computers if you’re good at that? It could be something as simple as treating your friend to coffee when you meet up with them, whatever works for you.

    1. Yes! I crochet when I’m depressed because it keeps my hands busy and my mind occupied, and I keep almost NOTHING I make. If I’m leaning on my friends, it makes me feel better to know that at the end of it I can give them a sweater with 50+ hours of work in it.

        1. I’m quite sure! Though I would like to point out that the feeling of requiring repayment is also something that the jerkbrain can overanalyze too. When I do something for a friend, the last thing I want is for them to worry if they’ve done enough to repay me.

          So! If I have done something for you (generic you, since I don’t know you specifically, Sweet Machine,), I consider that your friendship is my repayment, and I love you (say it with sandwiches!). I already derive intangible benefits from our friendship. Making me a blanket would be lovely, and I would likely consider it to be a gift given freely, without consideration of past or future repayment.

          I have, in the past, had many friends who worry and fret that they have done enough to repay the favors that come with friendship. I feel terrible, because I don’t know how to convince them that they don’t need to! (I tried, actually, and then gave up because there was nothing I could do other than repeating everything I’ve said above.) So I, personally, worry that telling someone to assuage the jerkbrain by repaying friendship with favors is less a placation of the jerkbrain and more a redirection of jerkbrain worry over in that direction “have I done ENOUGH to repay and be a good friend?”

      1. I do this, too! But with embroidery, because I cannot crochet or knit to save my life. I have only ever kept one cross-stitch project, and that’s because it’s part of a set (I have yet to finish the rest) and I want to frame them all together before giving them away. It is also good because the usual “Wow, you stitched this WHOLE THING” is good for my sneaky jerkbrain self-esteem.

  13. Friends are patient. Relax into the security blanket you have, and turn their love into acceptance for yourself as you are. ((((HUGS))))!

  14. I hardly ever cry at stuff I read, and yet here I am, eyes full and sniffling away, because of this beautiful post and these wonderful comments.

    Real, true example: The spouse is currently suffering from some pretty severe anxiety problems. He’ll wake up in the middle of the night, and literally have spasms and shakes because he’s so worried about stuff. This usually wakes me up. I hold him and attempt to talk (I’m not very awake, so I don’t think much actually happens except soothing noises) and scratch his back and if it’s been really bad, make some tea and put something dumb on the DVD player so he can relax enough to go back to sleep. He always apologizes for keeping me up. But the thing is, I love him, so when he’s having trouble, I’d rather be awake to do what I can to help him through it, rather than him suffering alone.

    As a disciple of the love as a verb school of thought–okay, primarily because I suck at using my words for it–I can assure you that love is a sandwich. It’s volunteering to keep something of yours so you don’t hurt yourself. It’s random care packages to family because you miss them. It’s dragging you kicking and screaming to a therapist (*raises hand*). It’s a back scratch, and tea, and walks in the dark, and just sitting on a friend’s couch because you’re too sad to be home alone.

    You don’t have to do and be everything alone. Really. Let your friends love you and be there for you. Take and eat the sandwich of love, nomitty nom nom.

  15. I just sent this link to four people:

    – the one who’s depressed and has a bunch of external stress in his life that he’s sure we’re all tired of hearing about
    – the one who had a bad accident and felt self-conscious about all the time we spent taking care of him in the hospital and helping him do things around the house over the months he was recovering
    – the one who feels like a terrible girlfriend when stress and tension make it emotionally costly for her to do what she feels like she “should” be doing
    – and the one whose disability sometimes makes it hard or impossible for her to have a “normal” life, and who doesn’t understand why people keep putting up with that

    And then I thought about the people who have made me proverbial sandwiches. The one who insisted I come over when I needed it but hated to ask, the one who followed me when I tried to disappear and instead held me while I bawled on the sidewalk. Above all, the one I told outright that I was afraid and waiting for the time when he wouldn’t want to put up with my neediness any more, because if it were me in his shoes I wouldn’t be able to stand it.

    “Really?” he said. “You wouldn’t?”

    And I thought about it carefully, and for the first time while thinking about this, instead of imagining some random dim acquaintance I imagined it was him–that this friend I loved so much and had put so much weight on was crying on my shoulder, and asking for support over and over, and I knew instantly and beyond a shadow of a doubt that if it were him that needed it I would be there every single time he asked and then wish there were more I could do. That’s what I meant when I told him I loved him.

    “Well,” I said. “No. I would do it for someone I really cared about.”

    “Uh-huh,” he said, and waited.

    Ton of bricks.

    “… oh,” I said, and started crying.

    Which I am, again, remembering all that. I’ve obviously got my problems, but jesus, sometimes I think I might be the luckiest goddamn person in the world.

    I have coined [<3] as an abbreviation for sandwich-that-means-love, in the IRC channel where we're discussing this. In the future I will be using this as a shorthand reminder, to people who think that they are burdens, that we love them and will make them all the sandwiches they need.

    1. Okay, it bothers me in retrospect that I implied that love means being there for someone every time they ask. It doesn’t. It might mean wanting to, but it also means being able to say “I can’t do this for you right now because it conflicts with taking care of myself” and that being okay.

      1. That’s why we love boundaries. Someone saying “Can’t today” doesn’t NOT love you, they’re just taking care of themselves.

        1. Yes! Thank you. I wasn’t sure how to word the connection between those things and that’s it exactly. Stating boundaries as boundaries clearly disambiguates them from not loving someone, not wanting to help, or any other untrue reason you might not do whatever you’re not doing.

  16. They would not offer these things if they didn’t want to do them. Stop looking for evidence that you’re unworthy of this, and stop questioning these acts of kindness. Maybe your little turd-heart doesn’t deserve this love. Tough shit. You’re loved anyway. Deal with it. Let your friends feed you, and when you can in whatever way you can, feed them back.

    …and yet another Captain Awkward post gets tacked up on the Wall of Relevant Things.

    Happy Valentine’s Day, Captain. I’m so lucky to know you.

  17. They would not offer these things if they didn’t want to do them.

    This. This this this SO HARD. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever learned to be able to just say thank you and accept the kindness and love and help that friends offered. And if they’re doing things because of some weird ulterior motive or because they feel like they “have to” but don’t actually want to and will stew and resent you for it? That is 100% on them and not on you.

  18. What a great answer. When a Friend A acts Guilty and Undeserving, it puts the onus on Friend B to say, “No, it’s fine, don’t worry, I don’t mind!” So Friend B is put in the position of further comforting Friend A. A simple thank you suffices just fine and is graceful and lovely. When Friend A feels better, she can offer the sandwich. Sandwiches for everyone!

    And, happy valentine’s day to CA and the Army. Yup, I think I L-word this blog.

  19. My favorite suggestion for Valentine’s Day came from Susan Jane Gilman (author of “Kiss My Tiara”):

    “Inclusive chocolate bacchanalia”

    (Substitute consumable/beverage of your choice for the chocolate, and bacchanalia can be either the carnal variety or the relaxed good times with friends variety, of course.)

  20. i take this impulse to extremes, as in hiding and pretending my depression, self-injury, and eating disorder etc etc away from pretty much all my family and friends for YEARS (and still feel guilty for the support the few online friends that know give me) because not only do i not want to burden them with taking care of me, i dont even want to make them worry. terrified of asking for help even in really kinda extreme situations…this post was helpful to read. as they all are, o’ captain :]

  21. I sandwich this with all my ham.
    LW: Your friends are super awesome and you will know if you overstep. I ALWAYS fear the overstep, the greediness, the “ohshitIaskedtoomuchofthem” and so I just make sure I am super appreciative and super loving any moment I have the reserves. Which is more and more of the time when I let loving friends like this in.
    Eat that sandwich and LOVE!
    ❤ ❤ ❤

  22. I cosign to everything the Captain says here.

    The scariest goddamn thing that has ever come out of my mouth is “I love you.” Because when I tell people I love them, I’m telling them I need them, the way I need blood pumped to my heart and a little sunshine in the middle of winter, they are essential to myself and my happiness. When and if that person disappears out of my life, that part of me that was essentially theirs and ours has to stumble into a cave somewhere and hibernate for awhile until it can roll back over and put up with all of this shit. Being strong and independent is easy. Admitting that you need takes real and more elusive courage.

    And, honestly, LW, the fact that you have to ask this question means you never have to really worry about it. It means you love and care about them in return, and they know that. That’s why they make you sandwiches. Eat up.

  23. This post was perfectly timed for me, like it seems to have been for a lot of people. Only my stupid brain still isn’t letting me believe it. I have a history of being the emotional support for people who I really *don’t* love–acquaintances who think we’re friends, people I meet once who end up telling me all their problems, people I’m distantly friendly with who end up texting me every night telling me how lonely they are–because I’ve felt all those things and I feel obligated to make sure no one struggles through it alone. Which means a lot of one-sided friendships I don’t want to be in and being constantly emotionally exhausted. And then I have days when I feel terrible and there’s that little voice in the back of my head going, “you can’t ask your friends for help, they’ll just feel obligated just like you always feel obligated…”

    There’s no winning, really. :/ I should learn how to not get stuck in those situations. Or get better at nudging people towards professional help instead.

    1. Oh dear, this is I am afraid what people are worried about, they think that they are the pathetic,desperate non-friends of yours and their friends are you going against “They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t want to”. This is of course nonsense friends don’t work like that.
      The difference here is that you are not having even one sided friendships, you are doing charity work and you haven’t yet learned how to get people on their feet and pointed at resources instead of getting sucked into taking care of them yourself. This can be done, trust me, I end up with strays( a lot) but I don’t make them my long term problem, I get them help. It does everyone more good in the long run.

      Kudos for being such a mensch, now just refine it until you are not drained. You can do worlds of good without letting people take advantage of you. More actually.

  24. I know I’m a bit late to the party here, but I was linked to this today.

    This is exactly what I needed to hear, and it’s on me to take it to heart, now. Not only do I have the I’m Overburdening My Friends brain, but also My Friends Don’t Really Like Me, Why Do They Still Talk To Me brain. This was a beautiful reminder that my friends are there for whatever reason they want, and to take them at face value, and that, yes, people can love me.

    1. If you aren’t the person I pointed at this post yesterday, then she’s been lying to me all these years about being an only child. 😉 Either way, though: Yes, your friends are there for you, and yes, people love you!

  25. Thank you for publishing and responding to this letter. It really means a lot to me; change up some of the details, and it could very well have been me writing it. Captain Awkward, your response soothed a lot of the fear and anxiety I’ve been experiencing lately.

    I’m writing this from my bed. I had to take the day off from a job that I love for my mental health and this has completely made that decision worthwhile. Without it, I wouldn’t’ve had the time to click around the internet until I found this.

    So thank you. Thank you so much.

    To the person who wrote this letter: idk if this is allowed, but I’ve included a link to where you can get in touch with me. I’ll be here for you and we can be here for each other if you want.

    To any of my friends who happen to see this comment, I’m so sorry that I’ve doubted you. It’s not you, it’s me. I promise. I love you.

  26. But if the turd-heart is so gross, and feeding it won’t make it stop being gross anyway, what is my motivation for not ignoring it so I can pretend it doesn’t exist so I won’t have to feel ashamed about how gross it is?

  27. Let’s throw more literary references at this problem.

    You? You are my kind of advice columnist. Thank you.

    Also, yes, what you said! Although I do not really think the hungry little soul-creature inside us is a turd, or gross, or all the mean things we call it when we’re trying to crush our spirit before someone else can. I think it is like a spiny underhider.

    *pauses to find picture* The underhider in this picture is named Flerb. A friend of mine made him out of muslin that I dyed in the most bilious colors I could make. He worries that anyone who hugs him or gets close will get stabbed by his spines. He worries and hides a lot.

    When myself or a friend gets to that point of avoiding or rejecting help, knowing that we don’t deserve it, that we’re a burden and our friends probably are tired of us and if they do really love us well they SHOULDN’T what are they thinking, then it’s very helpful to have a concrete metaphor around. I can be mean to myself, but not to Flerb.

    Your inner underhider is more lovable than you think, and deserves care and feeding.

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