Dear Captain Awkward,
I used to have a really close friend who I’ll call A. A and I went to the same middle school, high school, and college, and for several years we talked online together almost every day. Then, about two years ago, she stopped talking to me. At first, I thought she was busy (since she’d just graduated from college and was looking for a new job), so I tried sending her messages and things, but she never responded. I spent about a year trying to figure out what was going on, but I never really figured anything out until A finally sent me a message completely out of the blue. A had sent that message because, on tumblr, I’d reblogged a post that A’s friend had made about a sensitive subject, and A wanted me to delete it.
I had no problem with deleting the post, so I went ahead and did that, and I also took that as an opportunity to ask her, “Are we still friends? It’s been about a year since we’ve talked, and I don’t know why.” A never directly responded, but she did make a vague tumblr post about how it had been a year since she’d realized she was a lesbian, and she put a lot of emphasis on stating that it had been one year. So my best guess is that A realized that she had a crush on me, and instead of talking to me about it, she decided to cut off communication with me completely. I’m actually not straight either, but I never got a chance to talk to her about that, so I guess A never knew.
At that point, I still would have liked to be friends with her, but I decided that if she wasn’t willing to talk to me, then we really weren’t friends in the first place. So, I deleted the tumblr blog that A knew about and made a new one, and otherwise I just avoid her online. I don’t really check Facebook anymore, because I inevitably see something she’s said to one of my old friends or something like that and I just get upset.
It’s been about a year since I gave up on talking to A. I spent a while being really upset and randomly crying and so on, but after a while I thought I’d gotten over all of this.
Earlier tonight, I randomly found something that A had written. Pretty soon, I just started sobbing.
She was my best friend – at times my only friend – for almost a decade, and then she suddenly shut me out. I don’t really know what to do now. I’ve tried to find new friends, but I’m very socially anxious and I’ve never been good at talking to people, so nothing I’ve tried has worked out at all. After college, I had to move back in with my parents in a very small town, so there aren’t very many people my age in the area. I basically don’t have any friends anymore, and I feel very isolated and alone, and I don’t know what to do about it.
Lost and Lonely
Dear Lost and Lonely,
I’m so sorry you are having to mourn the death of a close friendship at the same time you are navigating isolation. There is no shortcut for dealing with all of this, but there are some steps that with time and effort may work to help you grieve the loss of your friendship with A. and start to make new friends.
As for “A”:
- Block her on social media. On Facebook, this means that even if she participates in discussions with your friends, you won’t see her comments or their comments on her feed. She won’t see yours. She will stop existing for you there. That means that you can still use the site to connect with your people. Reclaim the social part of social media from this one person!
- Get the feelings out. Write her a long, long letter pouring out all of your feelings. Don’t send it. Dispose of it ritually by burning it. Or give it to a friend to hold onto for you. Do something to get the feelings out of your head and then get the evidence of those feelings out of your physical and mental space. You are metaphorically holding a funeral for that friendship and its potential.
- Assign the responsibility for what happened between you where it belongs: with her. Whatever she was going through personally, whatever made her decide to stop being your friend was her right. But it was cruel to just dissolve the friendship by freezing you out. Even just telling you “I need some space from our friendship and do not want to be in contact for a while” would have given you some information you could use and saved both of you the period of time where you reached out and she got (presumably) annoyed by that. And I think it was up to the person whose post you re-blogged (vs. A.) to tell you whether that was okay or not, not A. to reach out only to tell you you messed up and then disappear again. Message: “I’m still sort of paying attention to what you do, just, not enough to want to actually talk to you.” If you want to cut off contact with someone, fine, but you don’t get to pop up at intervals that suit you and tell them how to act. That’s on A., not you.
- Come up with the briefest possible story for what happened between you. “A. was my close friend, but she decided to drop the friendship without telling me why. It really hurt my feelings when she left, and it really bugged me to never get a good explanation for what happened, but ultimately it’s out of my hands.” If anyone who used to know you both asks, you now have an answer. You don’t have to pretend that it didn’t hurt your feelings. You don’t have to offer reasons for why it happened – you’re allowed to say “Who the fuck knows? It wasn’t my decision.” If you start finding yourself cycling through your history together, you have a way to skip to the end without making yourself live through every detail again.
Now, we can’t tell you how to make friends, but we can tell you steps to take to meet new people and hopefully diminish the isolation you are feeling now. Living in a smaller place or more remote area makes it more challenging to meet people, but it can still be done. We’ve covered ways to adjust to living with parents after being away from home, and we’ve also covered a lot of the steps for meeting people before on the blog. They don’t really change, so I’m not going to elaborate on all of them in this post, but I will list them again.
- If you’re religious at all, and you can find a queer-friendly church, go to church. If churches where you live are unfriendly to LGBTQ folk, avoid church like the plague. Nothing will make you feel more isolated than being surrounded by smiling well-dressed people who believe hateful things about your basic humanity.
- If you can and you’d like to, take a class in something.
- If you can and you like to, find a sports league to play in or a regular exercise class to go to.
- If you have a hobby or interest, see if there are local groups that support that interest.
- Look for community and interaction with like-minded folks online. You know about our forums, right?
- Find a local bar or coffee shop or library and become a regular at it, even if all you do for right now is read a book when you go.
- I mentioned “volunteer”, right? SERIOUSLY, VOLUNTEER. You can’t not meet people that way.
- Look outside your own age group. Once people are out of school, the artificial warehousing of individuals by age ends. It’s awesome to have friends who are direct peers, for sure, but at 40 my friends are anywhere from 22-60ish and I am glad for it.
It’s easy to grow up in a small town, go off to school and think perpetually of your hometown as a place where there is “nothing to do.” Believe me, my high school best friend and I ceremonially shook the actual dust of our town from our actual feet and pinky-swore never to move back there when we graduated. This was us, more or less:
But actual people live actual awesome lives in our little town. We didn’t see it because we didn’t see beyond our immediate peer groups when we lived there. We weren’t navigating the place as adults, with jobs and our own money and no curfew and a need to look beyond the high school for stuff to do or people to meet.
This is my hometown. It’s not an ethnically or culturally diverse place, to be sure. But there is stuff to do there. A quick search turns up a ton of stuff to do:
- Play role-playing games at Ye Olde Commons. You guys know if this had existed when I was a kid I would have been there Every. Single. Day.
- Hike or volunteer at the cool nature sanctuary or help out at an environmental non-profit.
- Work on preserving and appreciating all the cool historical stuff nearby.
- Go to and/or work on various arts and crafts events. How did I not know about Open Mic Night?
- There is a food bank, called CHIP-IN (Charlton Helping Its People In Need) that I went to some of the very first meetings for when I was in high school and my friend’s mom was a Selectwoman. It’s still a thing! So cool!
- There’s an animal rescue group, a friends-of-seniors group, and a general volunteer group.
- A community theater group with a hilarious name!
- An outpost of Toastmasters International.
- Being queer in a small town where everyone seems old and straight and married is rough. Looks like my town has a LGBTQ* support group and some friendly therapists, though you’ve got to drive 20 minutes for a gay bar scene. Maybe yours has a similar setup?
- Meetup.com isn’t just for cities. There are a jillion groups active within a 20-30 minute drive.
So, the point of all that is: Somewhere in your town, or in the next town over, there will be nerds doing what nerds always do: Getting together and making awesome nerdy stuff happen. And the people who run these groups are happy to make newcomers feel welcome. Even if you are not an extrovert. Even if you are shy. Even if you are younger than everyone else. If you go to the Nerdy Town Thing, someone at the Thing will say hello to you, be genuinely glad to see you, try to introduce you to other people, remember your name and be psyched when you show up the next time. Because the people who run such things like being the people who host events and introduce people to other people. You don’t have to be good at that stuff, you just have to show up and appreciate what they do.
Making close friends will happen in its own time. Maybe it will happen soon. Maybe it will happen 2 years from now when you’ve moved out of your parents’ house and into an area with more queer folks and more young folks. But decreasing your sense of isolation can be done.
- Find the nerds who are doing cool stuff near you.
- Go to their stuff.
- Try to find something that meets weekly, so it can be a routine.
- If you don’t immediately love it, try to go back at least 3 times before you make a final decision about whether to keep doing it. Sometimes people suck, or the activity is not fun, but sometimes it’s just nerves/newness and it’s a good life skill to be able to sort out the difference.
- If someone creeps on you, tell the organizer. If the organizer doesn’t address it, break the above rule, for sure.
- If you don’t find something you like immediately, go to more/different stuff.
- Take lots of breaks – if it starts to feel exhausting or like a chore rather than an enjoyable adventure, pull back for a few weeks and give yourself a break. Then try again.
- Repeat until you find something you like. If it turns out you never like anything, work extra hard on plans to move away. The skills you developed in meeting new people and putting yourself out there will serve you wherever you go.
Moving to a huge city where I didn’t really know anyone, taking my own advice, it took me over one year to make real friends and over two years to have what I’d call a social group. Two years of saying yes to invitations, making myself to places by myself, going to meetings of clubs, volunteering for stuff, creating little adventures for myself by finding cool local events, looking for friendly faces, etc. Sometimes it was as lonely and discouraging as hell.
So, this is big. When you feel lonely and needy and isolated, and you make the effort to go somewhere, and you don’t really find anyone you connect with, it’s very easy to weave it into the story of loneliness and failure that you’re experience, a.k.a. Well I TRIED and it DIDN’T WORK and now there’s PROOF.
You have to actively fight against that mentality. It’s not fair. It’s exhausting. But every time you go to a thing and/or talk to a new person, make sure you congratulate and reward yourself for your efforts. Write it down in a journal somewhere. Give yourself a gold star. Tell yourself a different story, one that goes like this: You are doing good things to take care of yourself! You are learning the skill of meeting new people and building a social life as an adult, and that is something that a lot of people need if the volume of questions I get here is any indication. You are learning to find people you connect with; one part of that is figuring out where you don’t belong. Tell yourself that you put on clean clothes and showered and you tried. You saw a terrible band at the local anarchist collective and ate the worst food of your life at the vegan potluck and you listened to crabby Old Farmer Olsen talk about his hip pains for the 1700th time, and even if he didn’t really appreciate it, his wife had a good time not having to deal with him and getting to talk to some new people for a change. You helped give food to people who really need it. You marked trails for hikers who will appreciate not being lost. You petted kittens and puppies who need homes. You learned a new expansion pack of a board game. You gave your parents some alone time without having their roommate underfoot. You are doing the best you can. You are learning new skills. You are finding new interests and strengths. You are doing your best to take your place among your fellow humans. That’s all you can control, and the rest is up to luck.
Now, let’s circle back to A. When you have one person who has embodied the concept of friendship for you, and you lose that friend, it’s hard not to correlate the whole idea of friendship with A., and subsequently with betrayal and loss. I can’t say that you’ll never lose a friend again. But I can say that A. does not equal everyone. Grieve for A., say goodbye to A., and then try to leave the story of A. at home when you go out to meet new people. If you have intrusive thoughts of A., and the hurt you suffered when she left seems to be always with you, please seek the help of a pro to help you learn strategies for diminishing the power of those memories over your current life. A. is part of your story, but she’s not the whole story. It sounds like you were a true and good friend to her. I think some lucky person in your future will see and appreciate those qualities the way you deserve.