#618: My ex is pushing me out of our friend group.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I used to hang out with Friend Group, and dated a guy in that group for two years. When we broke up five years ago, I moved to a different neighborhood and saw them less because I needed space and because I was starting to move away from them socially.

Since then, I hang out with this group less and less, but still come out for big get-togethers. My ex-boyfriend and I were on good terms. He’s more socially awkward than I am and in our relationship and after, I took on the burden of smoothing any awkwardness over. We hooked up at one point, and I suspected he wanted to get back together with me, but I wasn’t interested. We hung out in group settings a few times since then, and all was well.

Then I got engaged to someone outside of Friend Group, and ex-boyfriend started ignoring me at these Friend Group events. Avoiding eye contact. No talking. Looking the other way when I was standing in front of him. Since I don’t see this group much, I tried not to let it bother me. I also didn’t want to talk about it with anyone, because I didn’t want to come off like an obsessive ex. 

I don’t think he bears me any ill will or anything. I just think he’s kind of an awkward guy who just didn’t know how to react.
The problem is that a) mutual friends started mirroring his behavior and b) he started becoming a more integral part of that group, so I got pushed further out. When I show up to a party someone is throwing and he’s with a group of people, most of them are his friends, so no one greets me. I don’t get invited to Friend Group parties at his house (understandable!) but then mutual friends surprised when I don’t attend. It’s made me pull even further away from Friend Group, and now I get super nervous before attending if I go at all.

I KNOW that I should have just ignored any weirdness, jumped right into the middle, and started chatting like normal. But I was tired of shouldering the burden of being the outgoing, socially adept one (despite social anxiety) YEARS after our relationship ended that I just didn’t. And it really, really sucks feeling rejected whenever you hang out with a group of people.

So I’ve been married a year now, and have been with this group maybe five times since then. This last weekend was the wedding for my oldest friend in this city, and it felt really weird to be there, two feet away from my friends, being avoided. People came up to us individually to say hi, but since I haven’t been around much, we weren’t included in any pre-wedding parties or weekend group activities. We left the wedding early because I just felt really weird about it. Everyone else went on to go bar hopping, after parties, etc.

I know no one can make me feel small except me, but is my only choice to avoid this group moving forward? Am I just blowing this feeling out of proportion? Should I be the bigger person and step in, him be damned, and have a good time no matter what?

Help, Captain.

Some of this is about your ex. It sounds like he felt really uncomfortable after your breakup and was fronting that he was more okay with staying friends and socializing with you than he actually felt, and then when you got engaged the wheels of pretense came off. It’s hard to tell if he’s actively shunning you or if it’s just become an awkward habit that he doesn’t know how to break out of. The one way to find out is probably for you to brave the lion in its den and, the next time you see him, say a quick hello – ANYTHING to break the silence – and see if you and he and the others exhibit signs of profound relief to have the standoff at an end or if they double down on their weirdness. It takes a lot of effort to blank someone to their face. It’s actually much harder than small talk. 

However, not all of this is about your ex. It’s natural for social groups to change as people get older and develop different priorities, so some of what you have going on is plain old social entropy. And some of this is about you, and how you relate to the people in this group and think about the group as a whole. There is a chicken-and-egg thing going on, where your ex was uncomfortable, and his obvious discomfort you uncomfortable, and you needed space, and you wanted to give Ex some space, and you moved on with your life and made some new friends and met a new dude, so you stopped coming to as many things. This is all understandable! These are good reasons to not be around so much! But the fact is, you have been around less. And, for whatever reason, you are not on the radar of the person or people in that group who are the chief organizers/planners/herders/maintainers of the invite list or the Facebook (what my friends call The Alsatian, like Paul was for The Beatles) of that particular group. The behavior you describe from your ex and his close friends is weird enough that I’d believe it was happening on purpose, as in, the Alsatian doesn’t really like you or is acting out of loyalty to your ex, but it’s also possible that the it’s just this vague inherited Thing, where the current Alsatian(s) started organizing stuff after you were no longer around so much and they honestly just don’t factor you into their social calculus when they call the herd together.

These things can all be true or factor into how people see the situation at the same time, depending on whose point of view we’re talking about:

  • “LW doesn’t come to things because they aren’t invited or don’t find out about them in time.” 
  • “LW comes to big things sometimes (like weddings), but I haven’t seem them for a while (at smaller get-togethers, like after-parties). Do they still even want to hang out with us?”
  • “LW stopped coming to things frequently a long time ago. I guess they weren’t comfortable after the breakup with Ex and needed some space.”
  • “Lemme invite all the people who come to mind.” (forgets about you/doesn’t think about you at all)(you don’t come)(keeps forgetting about you)
  • “I like LW, but Ex is always so upset and awkward when they’re here, and since they aren’t around much anymore anyway, I don’t see the harm in having it just be Us tonight.” (Ex’s closest friends who aren’t really your friends)
  • “It was so nice to see LW at the wedding. I wish they were around more!”
  • “Who is LW, again? Oh, right. They seem nice.” :shrug:

I don’t think there is much, if anything, to be gained from seeking redress for past slights or teasing out the why of the situation. There IS no one “why,” and even if there was, nobody wants to field questions from Party Smeagol about why they aren’t being invited somewhere. I’m not sure you would even get an honest or useful answer from your Ex or some of the people who are shunning you if you asked them what was up. I don’t think you can necessarily resolve anything that’s already happened, but if these friends are important to you and you want to actively fight the drift that is occurring, it may be possible to reconnect. 

I think the best way to reconnect is to pick the people in the friend group who you feel closest to and miss the most and to invite them to stuff. Go to lunch or breakfast with them one-on-one and catch up. Periodically host a dinner party or board games night with your husband and invite two or three of “his”-your friends and two or three of your friends from this particular group. If they enthusiastically accept invitations, and you all have a good time, and it seems like you want to keep hanging out, great. If they invite you to stuff, go to that stuff. And if you can’t make a particular event, make sure you reach out and tell them “Hey, thanks for inviting me, that sounds really great! We have a conflict that day, unfortunately, but please do keep me in mind the next time you organize something like that. Also, are you free x day? We’d love to see you.” It’s a tiny, tiny thing, but it matters. Over time you’ll very likely be back on their social radar and be included in more things, and it won’t be about your Ex or membership in any one social group at all. And you’ll be friends with them in a way that works with your life now and who you are now. 

If communicating with them feels like a lot of work, and they don’t make the effort to see you socially, or you find that whenever they are hosting an event it conflicts with something you’d rather be doing (including and perhaps especially when that something is “staying in and catching up on TV/sleep/reading/sex/laundry”), consign them to the category “Sometimes People,” where you happily see them occasionally at events or interact with them ambiently on social media but they are not the first people you think of when you want to be social, and you are probably not theirs, and that’s okay.

The older you get, the more jobs you work, the more exes you have (& the more blog posts you write and lit readings you perform at, the more students you teach) the more Sometimes People you tend to accumulate in your life. It’s awkward and painful when there is a big disparity, like, you realize that someone you really want to be close to sees you as a Sometimes Friend, or, you can see someone making a lot of effort to be your friend and you know that you just don’t the emotional processing power or time to do the same. Rejection of someone’s sincerely-offered friendship or being excluded from someplace you want to belong will never happen without emotional friction, and I think it’s good to be able to acknowledge those feelings within yourself and grieve for what might have been. But I’ve found that it’s sometimes possible to find equilibrium with minimal social friction, and I think there is a lot of good that can come from learning to be okay with having some people be just Sometimes People in your life and in being other people’s Sometimes Person without a lot of negotiation or discussion.

To elaborate: When I want to be closer to someone, I will invite them to do stuff or engage them in conversation. If they always say no or postpone or cancel frequently, I will stop inviting them and try not to focus on them at all until or unless they make an overture to me, and I will let my hurt feelings (if any) be my own to deal with.This doesn’t mean I empty myself of expectations or needs or hurt, it just means that I don’t make the other person responsible for managing those feelings. Fundamentally, someone who doesn’t want to hang out with me as much as I want to hang out with them isn’t doing anything wrong. They don’t really owe me an explanation or comfort for that. They are not on the hook for times when other people have rejected me and made me feel sad. They may be disqualified (or, heh, disqualifying themselves) from being my close friend, because I need something different from my close friends or have certain expectations of how a close friend acts, but there is nothing to be gained by asking them whyyyyyyyy or digging deeply into it with them. I also pay attention to where I put my own time and energy. Have I been distracted or depressed or hermit-y? Have I been neglecting someone where I really do want to reach out to them? Or are my “meh, not today” reactions to invites an indication that this friendship isn’t really meant to be? That’s why reciprocity is one of THE keys to leveling up in the social skills arena: If you can pay attention to and mirror the effort someone else is putting into a relationship, and learn to reset your expectations and your efforts accordingly, you can devote more of your energies to people who want to pick up what you are putting down and stop chasing, running from, or doing all the emotional work for people who aren’t giving you what you need or playing on your level. 

I don’t think that being someone’s Sometimes Friend, or Situational Friend (Con Friend, Nice Coworker from 3 Jobs Ago, High School Friend Who You Don’t See Except on Facebook, Ex From Before The Dawn of Time, College Roommate, etc.) is a failure or a bad thing at all. We can’t all take up all the space in each other’s lives, and I think it’s pretty cool overall when people try to stay somewhat connected to the extent their time and energies allow. That said, I don’t think there are good scripts to say “I think you are great, but I see you more as a Sometimes Friend, wherein I would be delighted with seeing you at monthly intervals at social events but I will likely decline all one-on-one invitations. Is that cool?” “You’re neat! But I can only fit 10 people in my apartment at one time, and the last 10 times I had people over you were the 11th-infinityth person I thought of.” Explicit communication along these lines is risky because it codifies what’s happening as a rejection. This is one of those frustrating unwritten things where it seems like the people who get it just kind of get it (“It” being the ability to perceive and act within the bounds of reciprocity), and if you don’t get it you don’t know how you could possibly get it.

What I can tell you (as someone who used to be constantly confused by matters of reciprocity and mismatched intensity in my relationships and who isn’t so much now) is that it’s all trial and error. You don’t automatically know how someone will feel about you, or how you will feel about them. You try to connect, you see how they react, you pay attention to how you react when they try to connect, you ask questions when you don’t understand something, you try to keep a generous and open heart, you guard your own heart from mistreatment and fuckery, you make mistakes and recover from them, and over time, and little by little, you teach yourself to be okay with whatever happens. You let go of the people who don’t belong in your life and you forgive yourself for faux pas and missed connections. You let go of the idea that perfect congruence between how you feel about other people and how they feel about you is possible, or even desirable. You trust that the people you want in your life are the people who will make this as easy as possible for you and the people who will try to help you feel good and find your way.You learn to trust yourself more. It is a process, and it’s a repeatable one, but it’s not an experiment where you will ever be able to predict or replicate results. Every new person you meet will be a universe unto themselves, and the process of getting to know them will be its own journey. 

Back to the LW, one sense I have is that you’re feeling the rejection of finding out that you are most likely Sometimes Person in a group where you used to be an Always Person. UNDERSTANDABLE. But I think that if you look at the pattern of how you’ve interacted with the group, you turned them into Sometimes People, too, at least as far as your actions and priorities went when you started attending fewer things. You had your reasons! They were very good reasons! The sadness you felt at the wedding and the frustration you feel is real. Just, as you go forward, keep in mind that we prioritize the people who prioritize us. If you want these folks to prioritize you, stop thinking of them as a group where you wish to always be a Member Emeritus when it suits and start looking at them as individual friends. Pick your favorite people, cultivate their presence in your life, weed out the ones who give you the silent treatment, and see what blooms there. 

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The summer Pledge Drive is concluded which means, you can donate anytime you like but I will stop awkwardly reminding everyone about it until the winter sometime. A million thank yous to all who donated, and thank you all always for reading and commenting and for making me look forward to showing up to “work” at this space each day.

70 comments
  1. sorcharei said:

    On one hand, you say you were starting to move away from this group socially. On the other hand, you seem to be taking it personally that they are treating you like a person who moved away from them socially. If you want to reconnect with some or all of these people, treat them like you want to reconnect (Cap’n has great advice for that). If you don’t actually want to be an active part of that social circle in the old way, then learn to accept that “moving away from a group socially” also means “not being invited to all the satellite events surrounding a wedding thrown by a group of friends of which you are no longer really a part”.

    You don’t really get to ignore people when it’s convenient to you to move along socially and then step back into the group as if nothing happened.

    The socially awkward ex complicates things, but not as much as you seem to think. Say hi. Make small talk. Let any awkwardness be the ex’s to own and deal with. Reconnect with people where you want to do so. Accept the consequences of your choices, including the ones to enlarge your social circle, thereby making yourself less a part of the older, smaller circle.

  2. Kacienna said:

    LW, this is really, really good advice. When it started becoming clear that my Darth was really not good for me, I realized I was going to need more socializing to distract me from the space that used to be filled by him. I made a list of all the people I hung out with at the time and began the detailed Kacienna-Socializing-Plan-For-Nonrecovering-Compulsive-Planners. This was around four years ago, and I still use the list and the plan. I’ve tweaked the list as people have moved and new people have entered my life, and I now have a sub-list of people I would like to get closer to but am not yet on the one-on-one easy socializing level with. (I can’t store information in my head. That’s what computers are for!) And I’ve tweaked the plan as circumstances have changed (being out of town most weekdays all summer dramatically curtailed my social planning), or as I’ve noticed things not working out the way I’d hoped (Hmm…maybe I should invite more people to my parties to increase the chance of getting enough people to eat all the food).

    I love planning, so I’m one of the main organizers among my friends, despite also being a definite introvert. You might not want as much planning as I do, and that’s fine – the goal is to do what works for you! But if you do want to see people more than you’re currently seeing them, regularly initiating get-togethers is a really effective way to get that to happen. The regularly is important – sometimes everyone really is busy at once, but that doesn’t mean nobody likes you! And nice grown-ups that you’d want to be friends with aren’t going to be offended by a low-key invitation to get lunch/play board games/come to craft night. I’ve found that more often than not, people appreciate having someone reach out.

    • miss_chevious said:

      I love your list. I, too, have a list and have found it invaluable for all of the people I want to keep in touch with but would have otherwise lost touch with. It seemed a little…mercenary, maybe, when I started it, but it’s super useful and I’m happy I did it.

  3. Here is my Friending Guide again in case it helps:
    #############

    One of the big ways indirect friending works is by reciprocity signals.

    Sorry, I’m now going to nerd out and write something down in geeky detail in case it helps. For the sake of turning into numbers, let’s assume everyone starts at friendship level zero, and really really bestest friends is level 10.

    So person A wants to test out person B to see if they are open to friendship, they say something mildly friendly, at level 1 (‘Hey, how are you? Nice to see you again!’). If person B replies similarly at level 1 (‘Okay thanks – I’m glad it’s the weekend! How are you doing?’), then they both know that they are open to being level 1 friends (in this case, people who are friendly-ish to each other but not close).

    At that point, if neither of them wants anything more, they can carry on happily at level 1 for years. Or, one of them – B in this case – will test the water at level 2 by adding a bit more personal detail (‘Actually I’m a bit sad today because….’) If A reciprocates at level 1 (‘Poor you! But at least it’s the weekend’), then they both go back to level 1. The signal was ‘do you want to be better friends?’, and the answer was no. Or if A does want to be better friends, they reciprocate at level 2, or even at 3.

    The idea here is not to be too far ahead or behind the other person, and test each level first to see if they are open to more intimacy. Going from 1 to 7 (“I had a great orgasm last night, and this is how…”) in a single bound is viewed as high pressure and weird. 

    [The caveat here is that there are very occasional circumstances where extreme intimacy happens quickly – hen/batchelorette nights, CA meetups, natural disasters, etc. – but for normal circumstances don’t leap ahead, and if you’re nervous let the other person make the leap first even if you are in one of those situations.]

    A friendship where one person is at 2 and one person is at 5 is unbalanced and won’t really work long term. It is okay short term (if you are going through something horrible and need to talk about it), but it needs to get back in balance after the crisis.

    So to navigate this, the keys are a) responding to any change in level – if they lead with a 2, responding with a 1 looks like a brush off even if you didn’t mean it that way, and b) respecting their levels. If you’ve tried someone with a level 2 or 3 and they didn’t reciprocate, don’t push it, and respect their choice. Be open to more from them, but don’t start it yourself more than twice on the same person.

    Incidentally, some ways to signal a change in levels are by actions as well: invitations to something, introductions to partner/family, home visits.

    In these cases, saying no is a no; saying yes is a yes, saying ‘I can’t do Tuesday, but how about Wednesday?’ is a yes, but importantly: saying ‘I can’t do Tuesday, but let’s do it some other time’ IS A NO. It’s a polite deflection and shouldn’t be taken as a yes.

    So if you like someone, try testing them out for moving up the scale – if you’re at 1 try a 2, if at 2 try a 3, ask ‘it’s fun to talk, would you like to get a coffee this weekend?’

    If the same person says no or deflects twice in a row, back off and let them decide if they want to invite you to something. Move on and try someone else.

    If you’re really geeky about it you can track all of this in a spreadsheet or something!

    • JenniferP said:

      I love this and couldn’t find it to link, so I’m glad you read my mind!

    • canomia said:

      I don’t know how to feel about this. It’s an explanation I’ve been wanting and asking more socially adapt people for before and am so glad to finally have written out for me. But in the end I don’t know if it helps or just makes me even more sure about failing. I mean how the heck am I supposed to know what level what is on? And the invitation thing. What if I can’t do Tuesday but really wanted to but I can’t say a specific time right then because of lack of planning skills. What if all my yeses will sound like no?

      • syrens said:

        Re: Don’t have a specific counter-time to offer right off the top of your head:
        Say “[Optional Expression of Dismay]! I can’t do Thing on [date], but would love to do it a different day. Let me check my schedule and I’ll call/email this evening” (or similar) and then following through with what you said you’d do. That’s how you make your yes sound like a yes.

        Re: How do you know what level what is on:
        I think it’s less about categorizing what is “level one” versus what is “level six” or whatever, so much as being able to gage offers of intimacy. Does their offer of intimacy (invitations, information, etc) feel weirdly personal – are they oversharing in some way? Yes? They are probably offering a friendship level that is higher than what you’re comfortable with. If you want to up your friendship to a higher level, but not one that’s as high as what they’re offering, you might counter “Want to come to my house for pizza and Dr Who on [Date]” with “Can’t do [Date]. Maybe we could do pizza and *trivia night at [place]* on [different date within the same seven days] instead?”
        Does their offer of intimacy sound totally cool and like something you would want to do – “I’m having people over to play boardgames on Saturday. Want to come?” (“Yes! What time should I be there, and is there anything I should bring?” OR “Yes! But I’m busy on Saturday. Can you let me know when the next one is? [followed by inviting them, within a couple of days, to a group thing at your place]” OR “Yes! But I’m busy on Saturday. Want to meet me at [place] for one-on-one scrabble, Tuesday night?”) – then you both want to be at the same level.

        Er… Does any of that make sense…?

        • Oh oh oh. So here’s a real world example.

          I got a message from a guy on OkCupid last week. He said “Hi, how are you doing?” I said “Hey, I’m fine, how are you?” So far we are on the same page: I responded, so I’m willing to test out whether we could advance farther than 0 (me ignoring him).

          He says “I’m good, really enjoying the sunny weather. Do you have plans for the weekend?” I respond “Yeah, it’s been really gorgeous, which is good because I’m helping a friend move this weekend and it’s always easier when it doesn’t rain!” We’re still at Level 1 as far as I’m concerned. Which is fine, but his next message reads:

          “How do you feel about mind shattering orgasms?”

          If your “next overture” would read to an uninvolved person as a hideously intrusive non sequitur, you should probably rethink it. If not, you are likely doing fine. 🙂

          • JenniferP said:

            Great example or GREATEST EXAMPLE?

          • A few days later, having gotten no reply, he messaged again and said “Where did you go?”

            I WONDER. I REALLY WONDER.

          • AutumnFire said:

            Submit it to straightwhiteboystexting.tumblr.com .

      • JenniferP said:

        The good news, I guess, is that you don’t have to be perfect or understand perfectly or say the perfect thing. Kate’s giving illustrative examples, but not an exact framework of any kind, especially since everyone is different

        The biggest thing to take away: If you decline a specific invitation, and it seems like a “no” because you can’t think of an alternative or don’t have your schedule right then, what matters is that you understand that if you want to see the person, it’s probably your turn to suggest something to do next when you do know your schedule. If you invite someone out a few times and they say no without any effort to follow up and schedule something when they do have time, treat it as a “no” until you hear otherwise from them and move on. It’s A-okay if you never hang out. It doesn’t mean you did something wrong. It doesn’t mean it all has to be decided in that exact moment in the exact correct words.

        For example, when my boyfriend first wrote to me on OKCupid, I was sick and too busy to make plans, and I said so, and promised to write him when I felt better. He treated that like a “no” and expected to never hear from me again. But then when I felt better, I wrote to him and we made plans.

        If someone likes you and wants to get to know you, a glitch or three in making plans won’t harm anything – you’ll figure it out, with their enthusiastic help. If someone isn’t really keen on getting to know you (whether you’re not their cup of tea or whether you are perfectly great but their friend-card is full, presently), a glitch or three in making plans won’t be the deciding factor. You’re allowed to misread a cue or make mistakes while you try this all out.

      • Brooks M. said:

        I’ve had the “yesses sounding like no” problem myself. It may be a situation where using more words is helpful: “I really would like to do Tuesday, but I can’t and my plans are in a lot of flux. Can we try setting something up again in a couple of weeks?” Or “but please invite me again next time,” or something like that. There’s also the “I can’t really plan things in advance, but how are you with last-minute things?”

        The part that took me a while to realize is that a pattern of “not this time, ask me again next time?” with no other information about how they might get a different answer is functionally a “no” answer regardless of intent, because as a repeated pattern it doesn’t actually lead to having dinner. If you give them information like “I can’t make plans more than a week out” or “Ask me again in two weeks when I’m less busy,” that’s one way of getting things closer to dinner. Or, “Maybe next week? I’ll let you know as soon as I know if I have an open evening,” or something like that, where you take ownership of making the next move — and then do it.

        And, ultimately, if you can’t ever find a time to make an invitation work with them, then the truthful answer really is “no.”

      • charmed.omega said:

        What I do in this situation is to give additional information, or I make sure that I emphasize my earnestness in my response if all the information I can give is “no”.
        example: “I have Specific Conflict, so I won’t be able to make it to Event. But I really would like to hang out with you. Let’s find a time to do Thing You Mentioned You Like.”
        You could also respond with immediate plan-making intent, like “I am free next weekend though, if you want to do something together” or “I would really like to hang out, what is something that you like to do?” You don’t have to make the entire plan to show someone you’d like to make plans with them.

        For level, maybe think about it broadly: acquaintance, sometimes friend, good friend, best/very intimate friend. Then think about how *you* would want to interact with people in each category. If you want to do activity A with a sometimes friend (e.g. get coffee), then it belongs in that category. You get to make up the categories!

        • I have two really super close friends and one of them can only make plans either SUPER last-minute or farther out than my brain can work for planning purposes. Like, it’s either 5-20 minutes OR 4 weeks away, but feels like rarely anything in between, whereas I exist in a comfort zone of 4 hours (“last minute”) or 4 days (“long range”). Knowing that’s the case though, if I can’t make a last-minute hangout invite, I try to deflect to 4 days. “I am already doing something right now, but what are you doing Friday?” Knowing where my comfort zone lies has been really helpful to me in managing my hangout plans with people whose comfort zone is very different from mine!

      • Canomia, first I wanted to say that it is possible to learn this. The reason I can write it down is because I never picked it up instinctively, like my sister for example did. I had to intellectualise it and learn it as a conscious skill.

        This looked like multiple years of me flailing around, then a bunch of years (maybe 5 or so) where I was thinking about it and deliberately tracking and sending signals. And now I don’t think about it much because I managed to embed it in my world view. And of course nothing’s perfect, I still screw up.

        The general take is to think about things like ‘is this something she did towards getting closer (emotionally or physically, like spending time together), hey I like her, I’ll do a thing the same way next time I see her’. You don’t have to read the signal and play it back in the same interaction, just watch if they’re sending CLOSER or FURTHER in general, and decide what you want to do in response.

        This is also useful for de-jerkbraining. You can say, actually, they do like me, look, they invite me to parties and voluntarily leveled up our conversation.

        Also, someone on the original comment thread asked for more specific examples, with the prompt of Level 1: “How was your weekend?” Reply: “Oh, it was good, how about you?”

        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

        Level 2: “Yeah, we had a great/awful weekend, my partner and I went to X and Y happened” (Still pretty impersonal, but giving more detail about your lives, and a hook for a longer conversation about X, Y, or partner).

        Level 3: “Yeah, I was struggling a bit this weekend because / I was awesome this weekend because” (Same as above but with more emotional content, some degree of vulnerability.)

        After this level you need to have built up to it beforehand and already know each other at lower levels, you can’t go in cold.

        Level 4: “You know that thing with the thing we talked about last time? Well actually even more thingness happened and I’m happy / scared / sad / excited / confused, what do you think I should do next?” (Proper response here is “Wow that’s really great / awful / scary / confusing! You’re handling it really well, but I can see why you want to talk it over….”, and mirroring stuff back to them, rather than jumping in with your own level 4. Once the conversation about their thing has wound down you can go on to your thing.)

        Level 5: “Oh lawks, thing is really thinging and I don’t know what to do!” (Greater degree of vulnerability, less attempt to hold your shit together or project an image.)

        After that it progresses in the same way, but the nature of the thing discussed gets more and more personal. Job -> health -> family relationships -> romantic and sex relationships, or the other way round depending on the person!

        And you also spend more time together doing stuff together – cooking for each other, braiding each other’s hair, going on holiday and having adventures, whatever.

        Level 10 is like the platonic version of the media idea of a True Love relationship. Finishing each other’s sentences, phoning to talk about rubbish, etc.

        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

        It’s difficult to give really solid examples of this because it’s all context dependent, but that’s the sort of flavour.

    • Surien said:

      Honestly if someone tried to up the levels simply by saying they were a bit sad today because whatever, I would beat a swift retreat too. Asking if they fancy getting a coffee, etc, is just great! But any sign of insta-offloading and I assume that’s all they want me for. Quite often I’m too tired to deal with other people’s problems, or in too much pain, or a few too many people have tried to use me as an emotional dustbin recently, or…

      • JenniferP said:

        That makes total sense and also fits well within Kate’s model…the other person would raise the issue, you would retreat back to “Lovely weather we’re having, also, no thanks for coffee,” and they would know that you are not into hanging out more with them.

      • I think it is a fair point that a more cheerful approach may be better in some cases, and a negative one might put people off.

        If people want a cheerful example of going up a level, something like ‘I just found out my favourite band/author will be visiting City soon, I love them’ (or ‘a new book/track came out’, etc.) would work, because Other Person can then go into why you like band/author and ask about your other tastes, if they want. Or say ‘cool, have fun’ if they don’t want.

  4. TechKnight said:

    I’ve been struggling with a similar situation over the past 2-3 years. I’ve never been good at making friends, so when I stumbled into a tight social group ~5 years ago, I was thrilled. Suddenly I had stuff to do and people to do it with on a regular basis. Then I attempted a relationship with one of them which was a terrible idea. I fucked it all up and it fell apart messily. Since the partner was part of the core group, I immediately stopped seeing most of them anymore. I was sad, lonely and depressed for quite a while. Even though other mutual friends in the group liked me, because ex-partner still can’t stand the sight of me, I rarely see them anymore. I only see one member of that group regularly anymore. He reaches out from time to time whereas I just don’t matter enough to the rest of them to hang out with.

    In the years since then, I’ve struggled with feeling like my social life was over, like the years of being socially desirable were an aberration in my otherwise socially-isolated life. I wish I could tell you that I eventually found ways to hang out with the people I once spent a lot of time with and cared about, but the fact is that they’ve shifted from close friends to casual acquaintances. I eventually started making new friends and have only now re-established a fulfilling social life. Even if the awkwardness and discomfort between you and your ex wasn’t your fault (in my case it was my fault), it hurts to be excluded from the group. It hurts to see pictures of the fun times they’re having that I’m no longer invited to, but I made my mistakes and they made their choices. Now I have new friends who care about me and enjoy spending time with me. Even though I’ve never been able to re-connect with my formerly close friends from my previous social group, at least now I have new friends who value me and spend time with me.

    • I came to the comments to say basically this, too, although with different details to both you and the LW. I haven’t got any insight to offer here, but a lot of jedi hugs for you both and anybody else struggling with losing a social circle this way.

      • Xenophile said:

        Jedi hugs to you both. A few years ago I was relatively new to the city where I live and didn’t know many people. I started dating someone who has lived here their whole life, and hangs out with people they met in middle school. It was a close-knit, ready made social circle that hung out together multiple times a week and I was always welcome. In fact, my partner really, really wanted me to spend time with them and showed no interest in meeting my friends. As it turned out, that social circle was thoroughly toxic and the relationship turned horribly abusive. These people wouldn’t support me before the breakup and stopped talking to me afterwards. I thought these people cared about me, and it really, really hurt to realize they didn’t. Even though I don’t miss them, or even respect them, the rejection still hurts.

        The only advice I can really offer is, “It gets better.” In the six months or so that I’ve been single I’ve been able to meet new people and I still don’t have a family-of-choice but spending time with new people helps me forget the old ones, even if only for a little while. It lightens the load.

        • Erin said:

          I am really glad you are out of that relationships and friend group, though it’s a lot to take to loose both at the same time.

      • thepaintedlady said:

        Yeah, I was actually the one who introduced my socially-inept ex to a group of friends of mine, and throughout the relationship, our circles of friends merged – his tiny circle, my noticeably larger circle – into a hugely-overlapping Venn diagram. When we split, he took some of the overlap that had originally been mine, and that was the worst. He was awkward! I was not! We split because he was kind of not nice to me! THEY WERE MY FRIENDS FIRST!!!!! That last part was probably the most hurtful. One of my closer friends of the ones he got custody of in the split, I thought he was just busy. We would run into each other occasionally, and it was always great to see him, so I did the, “It’s always awesome to see you, we should do this on purpose next time!” thing, and he did the, “Oh yeah, busy for a few weeks, call you after!” thing (which was not unusual for this group and so I didn’t think it was a rejection). I waited, didn’t hear from him, went to send a Facebook message along the lines of, “Still up for Doing a Thing?” and discovered he had dropped me from his friends in the time since that last conversation. OUCH. And I was still FB friends with the ex, so it became very apparent that they were still spending quite a bit of time together. But then, there are a few more who have remained friends with both of us, and right after the breakup it got a little awkward, but once we had the “I don’t hate you!” “I don’t hate you, either!” “Let’s go drink Things on Night again!” conversation, we managed to pick up where we left off.

        Point is, I think it’s okay to step out there and be like, “I do not see you nearly enough! Things! We should do them together!” as long as you realize there’s a chance you get rejected, and as long as you approach it without blaming them or making them feel responsible for ensuring you have a social life. Be aware, there is every possibility that some of these people have decided, for whatever reason, that having Ex and not you as a primary focus in their lives is preferable. Even if they pretend otherwise to your face when you tell them you miss hanging out with them, if they never accept an invite, take that for the soft no it is. But then, they may also be taking their cues from you, as someone who appears to have made them Sometimes people, so they have responded in kind.

        Ultimately, yes, the answer is, if you don’t like where you are with these people, you must be the one to do something about it. And your only choices seem to be that you return to your role as the socially competent one, or you cut ties. Otherwise, being a Sometimes Friend – totally acceptable, IMO – is what it sounds like you will be.

    • Ethyl said:

      Just wanted to say — you don’t have to be friends with those people on social media, or look at their posts and pictures if it’s making you sad. I hid a couple of people for just that reason for a while and oh my GOD did it help so much.

  5. What about in situations where you’ve been given the signal to back off (they say no frequently, don’t reciprocate, don’t follow up) and do so, only to then have the person blame you as the reason you’re not close anymore? On top of that, what if the person’s behavior just doesn’t match their words-they claim you are a “close/best friend” but absolutely never act like it (rebuff invites, only see you in group settings, never talk to you one-on-one)? Is it socially allowable to call them out a little, or do you just have to grit your teeth and accept the dishonesty?

    • JenniferP said:

      Absolutely okay. Do you want to be closer, though? Because it sounds like this person is a lot of work.

      Script: “Hey, if you want to get together sometime, call me up and plan something. I’d love to see you when you have time.”

      Put the ball 100% in their court to do something going forward. If you get a “But why don’t YOU plan something” or “I would but you’ve been drifting away from me” response brush it off and reiterate the request (but don’t make plans, Plans Chicken is no fun and you don’t have to play).

      • icelimbo said:

        Seconding this. I have a Sometimes Friend in my life who totally blames me for the fact we see each other maybe twice a year despite living a few towns over from each other. She says she wants us to see each other more often, but mostly says she’s too busy whenever I would suggest meeting up. Or we’d have plans and she’d email (never call, to you know, be able to talk and catch up briefly) to postpone or cancel them, again because she’s too busy. She’s also one of those people who has time for others when she isn’t dating someone, but when attached, she disappears into the relationship and her other friends don’t see or hear from her.

        In my head, I have a distinction between people who are “seflish” vs. “self-centered.” By my definitions, a selfish person intentionally sucks all the air out of the room. Their rallying cry, which is repeated in countless ways large and small, is “Look at me!” They know they are clamoring for not just your attention, but your subservience in whatever matter is on their mind at present. By contrast, the self-centered person still sucks all the air out of the room, but it isn’t intentional. They’re just so focused on themselves, they don’t notice how they demand all the attention. Their rallying cry is simply to keep every conversation about themselves, just because that’s honestly the scope of their interest in any given situation. (I have tended to find in my own life that introverts gravitate more towards “selfish,” often because they know themselves so well and think about themselves in social situations a lot, and that extroverts gravitate more towards “self-centered” because they can often be much more focused on situations than on thinking about how they specifically are interacting in that situation, but I definitely don’t think introverts and extroverts are necessarily aligned with one or the other.)

        My friend is self-centered. It’s not that she tries to say “It’s all about me,” just that that’s how she acts and her focus is always on herself. So I had decided to do what the Captain said and have made getting together entirely up to her. When I communicate with her, it’s without the expectation that she’ll communicate back. I wait for her to suggest plans, and when she does, respond honestly: if it can work for me, I put it on the calendar, knowing that there’s a 50/50 chance it’ll get canceled shortly beforehand. And so our friendship has become a Sometimes Friendship, and I’m all right with that. But I agree that if you want to be closer and put in the work, you’re going to have put in 150% of it, because a self-centered person isn’t going to meet you halfway, not because they harbor conflicted attitudes towards you or your friendship, but simply because in all times and in all ways, their goals/needs/interests/plans are always the center of their life. One of the other small distinctions in my head between “selfish” and “self-centered” is that the selfish person can be selectively selfish: with this person or this group moreso than that one. The self-centered person treats everyone else the same way: as a great person on their own, but always of secondary consideration to themself.

    • Xenophile said:

      I think sometimes you just have to accept that the friendship is ending and someone blames you. Maybe they’re entirely wrong and it’s a lie they tell themselves to soothe their conscience, or maybe you’re each a little bit to blame. Either way, if the other person won’t reciprocate despite claiming they want to, you can’t make them do anything. Yes, it is unfair. All you can do is remind yourself that you did everything you could and the other person is acting like a jerk.

      My bias: during the worst of the aforementioned abusive relationship, I tried reaching out to several people who I thought were my close friends, and none of them would answer my repeated messages or return my repeated calls. (For various reasons, some more understandable than others.) One of them was a woman who used to have a crush on me, and then resented it when I didn’t return her feelings. After it seemed like her crush had passed, we spent lots of time together, confided in each other and (I thought) became close. However, this halcyon phase was when we hung out one-on-one or in small groups. Much of her life revolves around being in a romantic relationship, and she’s in a relationship, her friends suddenly don’t exist and it’s difficult to make plans with her one-on-one. If the relationship is coming to a close, she immediately starts looking for a new partner and is usually in love with the next person before she’s done with the previous one. If for some reason she’s single, she’s constantly looking for a hook-up partner and turns friendly hangout time into a chance to search the bar for guys and doesn’t pay attention to the conversation. She picks fights with her female friends and in large groups she feels the need to be the center of attention. In particular, she tried to prevent me from talking to her male friends. After a while, I tried to talk to talk to her about some of these things but she kept canceling plans without offering to reschedule. She continued to invite me to her parties, where she would get drunk, interrupt me whenever anyone tried to talk to me, and bitch about people who weren’t there.

      After a few months of trying to reach her, we finally had lunch together and I told her my boyfriend had raped me and I felt trapped because I had nowhere else to live. She told me, “I’m so sorry he did that to you. That is not okay. You deserve better,” and I was grateful to her. That was exactly what I needed to hear. No judgments, no unsolicited advice, just an affirmation of my worth as a human being. Then she ignored my messages for a few more months and hit on my rapist in front of me at her next party. So I stopped talking to her. A year later she was single and threw a party…and no one came. Lots of people were miffed that she ignores their calls unless she’s lonely. Suddenly she was inviting me out all the time, and I didn’t respond to a single invite. So I’m sure she feels hurt that I let the friendship die without any explanation. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with her blaming me, because I know in my heart of hearts that I tried to talk to her, I really fucking tried, and she had her chance. She recently moved away and texted me begorehand, “I’m moving on [date] and I’d love to see you before I go!” I considered meeting for African Violets over coffee but just didn’t have the energy. The fact that it takes so much energy to talk to her makes me feel better about doing a slow fade, even if it hurts her feelings.

    • Mary said:

      I think that’s the same situation as a romantic-relationship “trust the actions, not the words.” Someone who keeps telling you they love and value you, but doesn’t act like they love or value you? Trust the actions, not the words.

      They might be trying to manipulate you or they might just be chronically self-deceiving about their own behaviour, but either way, they sound like a pretty exhausting and unrewarding person to be around. Whether or not you want to call them on it depends on how much you have invested in the relationship and whether or not you trust them to respond positively.

      • Cricket said:

        Oh god, this comment articulates the behavior of my abuser all too well. When someone says they have so much love and trust for you but the way they act involves shaming you, dismissing your feelings, and somehow turning every discussion about your comfort and boundaries back towards them and their needs and desires, they do not actually love and trust you all that much. (This is especially true if they use their claimed trust for you as a reason why you HAVE to trust them a whole lot more than you’re comfortable with RIGHT NOW because they’re giving you so much you HAVE to give something back.)
        I don’t know if my abuser was intentionally manipulative or just seriously self-deceiving, but in the end it doesn’t matter a whole lot because I was getting hurt either way. If there’s a serious actions/words dissonance going on with someone, reflect on other aspects of the relationship too because it may be a signal to get the heck out of there.

    • KellyK said:

      Yeah, I think that’s reasonable. I mean, it depends on what they’re saying and when—I wouldn’t turn lunch with mutual friends into a 20-minute discussion on why it’s *their* fault. But if they make the “you’ve been drifting away” or “you’re the reason we’re not close anymore” comments, it’s totally reasonable to say “Wow, I’m sorry you feel that way. Here’s what it looks like from my perspective–I asked you to do X, Y, and Z, and you were busy, so I feel like it’s your turn to plan something if you want to hang out.”

  6. monologue said:

    Introverted or depressed or anxious people, the captain’s script about rejecting invitations but being explicit about how you’re happy to be invited and would like to be invited again next time has been really helpful for me. I sometimes don’t show up to things cause I just can’t deal with a party today or I got depressed and didn’t answer someone’s email and then it’s too late to make a plan or the plan needs to be rescheduled. Sure, not everyone will tolerate this behaviour, but it at least helps prevent people from not inviting you next time because they think you don’t want to be friends. And saves you from being like, “sorry, I’m depressed so I bailed.”

    I find I’m really good with reciprocity in the early stages of things, but I need to keep working on it with close friends. I find it hard to go from seeing a close friend regularly to less regularly. Is that person just busy right now or are they sending the signal that they would like to go back to a more arms length friendship? Sometimes it’s difficult for me to tell. I’m generally fine with going back to once a month friends from weekly friends, that’s not the issue. I just can’t tell sometimes so I stop inviting that person to things in case I’m imposing and it ends up looking like I’m the one that wants the distance.

    • Northlight said:

      A couple of things.

      [i] Thing one [/i]: if I’m depressed/anxious/brain weasely AND they’re close friends I give them a heads up. Just a “hey I’m going a bit crazy, love you, want to spend time with you but I’m not well right now. I may be a bit flaky and I’m sorry, I would love it if you continue to invite me to things and I will do my best to attend if possible and I will plan low key things with you as I am able” (put reminders in your phone to do this, or at least think of doing this otherwise it’s easy to lose track of time). When my reminder pops up I try to schedule a coffee or a dog walk or other discrete and time limited things with a comfortable level of interaction. Even if it’s a coffee at my house or a dog play date there with a definite end time set up prior to the event. If I can’t do this I at least send a non-complainy text/email asking about their life and sharing something that made me feel at least less awful. I try for something that expresses interest in them and isn’t about the brain weasels. That doesn’t mean they’re off limits, just that that’s not what I lead with or plan to make the conversation about. Something not remotely fake but that reminds me of who I am when I’m well and functional. I also share fun things that I find online that they may be interested in as I come across them, just little thinking of you reminders when I can do that.

      Less close friend people get as much medical information as I’m comfortable scheduling and similar reminders to check in. I need that reminder to make sure that I don’t lose huge stretches of time. I might go with a “sporadically available but still really enjoy you and value our friendship.” Similar text/emails/random bits as I notice them.

      [i] Thing two [/i]: I need firm guidelines so I go with two invites to two declines. If they decline twice I may give them a “contact me when you can make plans, I’d love to hear from you!” and then back off. If they have been super close and I know life is crazy (new job, crazy job time, new baby etc) then I’ll go with three invites to three declines with a reasonable amount of space between them. New babies get an invite (usually me appearing with a meal and a 30 minutes or so stay with permission), offer of help, food if they want it and an offer to come over and perform tasks that they’re missing but enjoy having been accomplished. My friends recently had a baby and I typically clean their house every two weeks. I went over while she was hospitalized (with permission from her husband) and spent a zillion hours cleaning All The Things. Like baseboards and vents and walls plus regular things. The linen closet got everything neatly folded and stacked but put back in their precise order according to pics I’d taken. Then I didn’t see them for weeks and understood. I got baby pics, cleaned like normal and supplied an emergency cookie stash.

      • monologue said:

        Thanks for this! I really like the idea of putting reminders in your phone, I think I’ll try that.

    • ordinarygoddess said:

      “I find I’m really good with reciprocity in the early stages of things, but I need to keep working on it with close friends. I find it hard to go from seeing a close friend regularly to less regularly. Is that person just busy right now or are they sending the signal that they would like to go back to a more arms length friendship? Sometimes it’s difficult for me to tell. I’m generally fine with going back to once a month friends from weekly friends, that’s not the issue. I just can’t tell sometimes so I stop inviting that person to things in case I’m imposing and it ends up looking like I’m the one that wants the distance.”

      Oh, my gosh, I worry about this all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.

      A lot of my friends are friends through either a hobby context or a professional one, and while we have very warm, genuine, affectionate, one-on-one interactions at group events and also on social media, I’m very weird and panicky about initiating non-event-based face-to-face get-togethers, which feels to me like intimacy leveling-up. “Is dinner while I’m traveling through her city too much? Is a birthday gift weird? I haven’t heard from him in a while, should I call? OMG she called me up just to chat, what do I do?!? Am I being too clingy? Not demonstrative enough? Can I be friends with his non-hobby-participating partner? Am I a weirdo because acquaintances are so easy and friends feel like so much WORK?” And then I go through active-brainweasel periods where I’m just not social AT ALL, and I fret that people think I don’t like them individually, which stirs up the brainweasels and re-energizes the guilt/shame/self-deprecation cycle, and makes coming back from that so much harder. So then there’s the month of lurking on Facebook, feeling weird about posting. *sigh*

  7. canomia said:

    The captain’s advice is really good here. I’ve been in a similar situation where the friends group I grew up with chose my ex over me after we broke up. I really don’t think it was something they did consciously but he really hated me and ignored me completely to the point where he actually put his hand in front of his face so he wouldn’t have to see me. And they just stopped inviting me to things to avoid awkward situations like that. I felt rejected and backed of from the group, resulting in them inviting me to even less things.

    I’ve just recently started to realize that maybe to them it was me that stopped hanging out with them and not the other way around. Just this summer one of them, my best friend growing up, had her first child and somehow that changed something. I realized that if I don’t make an effort to see them when I’m in town her kid won’t know me and somehow that hit home for me. And in doing that I found out that she really did want me in her life too, still. So we’re reconnecting slowly. As for the rest of the group most of them will probably stay sometimes friends and that is ok.

  8. Caitlin said:

    One thing I thought when I was reading this is maybe it’s not the LW. The letter says this started around when they got engaged – maybe the group just doesn’t like the partner.

    • victoria said:

      Or if LW was the first in this group to get engaged, that could’ve changed the dynamics pretty radically regardless of the group’s opinion of the fiance(e).

      • boutet said:

        Yes! It can feel really weird to suddenly be or suddenly have a married friend among a bunch of unmarried friends. Same if a friends group has one parent and a bunch who don’t have kids. Even if there isn’t an actual roadblock there (if the person still has the time to do the old usual stuff) there can still feel like a roadblock.
        It makes me think of friends groups based on similar situations, like a group with a shared hobby. Then one of the friends gets involved in a different hobby and that somehow breaks up the cohesion of the group. Like, we all watch anime and now you want to want Bollywood? What are we going to watch together now? Will that person want to watch Bollywood with us? Do they not like anime anymore? Maybe we just won’t invite them, then we can avoid any arguments/changes to the group. The group identity gets challenged and then it can adapt or it can shut out the change and hold on to the identity it already has.

    • rmloro said:

      (I hope this doesn’t get posted twice. Sorry if it does)

      This is exactly what I thought. I don’t agree with the Captain completely. It looks like the ex is not a very nice person who cannot stand she’s with someone else. Instead of handling it normally (agree to have separate meetups where they aren’t both there at the same time, so it’s fair for everyone, until he feels OK with the relationship), many people in the group are following him for whatever reason, and they are shutting the LW out. One thing is to stop calling because she wasn’t attending anymore. Not saying hi at the wedding is ridiculous. You know each other, how is it possible not to acknowledge someone who you know? That’s just plain rude.

      The fact that the LW is blaming herself is what rings the most bells for me. “I know it was my duty to…”, “I know I should just talk to them…”. She never even felt like she could tell her friends that her ex was behaving rudely, out of fear from coming across as if SHE was the “obsessive ex”. Really? They are shutting you out, and you’re the one who should talk to them? You don’t dare tell your friends you are feeling miserable?

      They are not the LW’s friends. They do not behave like friends: therefore, they are not friends.

      My advice: It smells like toxic group dynamics, like many I’ve experienced in my life, and it’s better to stay away. Try to reconnect individually with the people who value you and who you value back. Friendships are individual. Group friendships are NOT friendships, they are just dynamics that combine individual relationships. If you have a good individual relationship with several people and they have their own, then the group works (and it never becomes a shut-out, closed group, because groups who are decent to each other tend to be flexible in this aspect). If the “friendships” depend only upon group events, group relationships, group inner-jokes? Not friendships.

      Rekindle the individual ones, with the people who treated you well. Forget about the rest, they are not worth your time. It’s healthier to have fewer good friends than having a group you can do activities with, when it turns out the group doesn’t treat you like you deserve.

      Good luck, and remember to treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. Do not blame yourself for other peoples’ fade-outs, LW; focus on the good people in your life.

      • Editorrr said:

        “Friendships are individual. Group friendships are NOT friendships, they are just dynamics that combine individual relationships.” Wow. This is so, so, so true.

      • MK said:

        I think you missed the part of the letter where the LW admitted that she was the one who distanced herself from the group originally. Also, she said that poeple DID came up to them individually to say hi, not that they didn’t. Frankly, it sounded to me that she was upset not because people were rude (she says they weren’t), but because no one made a fuss of her. Yes, her ex could have handled it better, but the LW also says that she doesn’t sense any ill will from him, just awkwardness.

        Also, I wonder if perhaps during the LW’s courtship and engagement she semi-disappeared on them. Sometimes people get so caught up in a new relationship, especially when it looks like it’s going towards “lifetime-commitment”, that they don’t devote as much attention to their friends. And the LW had already distanced herself from them. It’s possible that there are people in that group thinking “Well, when LW broke up with EX, she sort-of broke up with us too. She did make some effort to keep in touch at first, but when she met Husband, we hardly saw her. And now that the honeymoon is over she expects to come back and be BFFs as if time had frozen while she was getting over EX/living her great romance with Husband? Not bloody likely! I like her well enough, but I am not going to pretend we are close friends”.

  9. Angel said:

    I’ve been lurking on-and-off for a few months (linked by Love, Joy, Feminism) but far more on since a couple weeks ago, and accidentally stayed up all last night trolling the archives, so now I’m going to Say A Thing. Advance apologies for the Wall Of Text approaching.

    I agree with everything that’s been said about reciprocity and Re-Engaging Friends When One Of You Dropped Off The Planet, and about seeing the group as The Group (or possibly now as The Ex’s Group?) rather than as a bunch of People To Be Friends With. I definitely think that approaching one or two (or three or whatever number you want) of them to start rebuilding a relationship is the right place to start.

    Partially because it’s related and partially because OMG I started Using My Words and employing a strategy mashed together out of the enormous number of CA scripts I’ve read over the past couple weeks AND IT WORKED, I’d like to share what I hope will be a short-ish story.

    I’m a weird combination of extraverted (NEED MAH PEOPLES, love being Out And About) and introverted (if you are not one of mah peoples, this will be awkward) and socially inept (what do I do with the fact of your existence/presence in my space?) and this has resulted in having very few good friends. Like… I think you might plausibly be able to say that I have two close friends I see regularly, and one of them is my long-term boyfriend. (I have a few other very close online friends, but the total is still in the Count On One Hand range.) Last semester I really hit it off with a guy in one of my classes and we exchanged some contact info, but I didn’t really put any effort into maintaining the relationship once the semester was over.

    We’d made vague mentions of meeting for lunch sometime this semester, so tonight I put on my best Captain’s Hat and started a conversation. Pleasant small-talk about the beginning of the semester, some inquiries about his classes, and finally an invitation to meet me for lunch on Wednesday (with an apology for the short notice, since I realized next Wednesday wouldn’t work). He responded very enthusiastically. A few more minutes to sort out a plan and exchange cell numbers so we can find each other, and I politely ended the conversation with a reference to dishes to be done and bed to get to (plus a wish for good luck in his difficult homework). I felt like an absolute boss, like a Social Butterfly just graduated from Caterpillar Camp and ready to take on the world. We’ll see how the actual lunch goes, but just being able to have a chat and set a plan has made me feel so good about myself.

    So please, LW, definitely make an effort to one-on-one time with some of your old pals. If you get the same sort of enthusiastic response I got tonight, even just setting a plan might cheer you up substantially. Good luck with your old-and-hopefully-new friends!

    • RacingTurtle said:

      I love your story. Maybe it will inspire the LW, if it applies to their situation. It definitely applies to a situation I’m in in which I meant to reciprocate some vague overtures of friendship from someone, but haven’t yet. I feel inspired to give it a try now! (Well, very soon. I need to make a plan first so that I don’t suggest a friend-date and then accidentally bail on them due to time management issues.)

  10. twomoogles said:

    Awesome advice and comments. I think there’s a lot that could be going on here,like the above suggested idea that they might not like her fiancee/now husband. Or, maybe the social dynamics have shifted and some of the people LW was closest to in the group now aren’t going to everything either and the ‘core’ group members are someone the LW wasn’t as tight with.

    I had an interesting experience about this from the other side. This doesn’t sound like exactly what’s happening here but I thought I would share my experience because it’s a really common situation, and many possible things could be going on.

    Two friends in the group started dating, we will call them Alice and Lisa. I was much closer to Alice, and never really that big a fan of Lisa; many of my closer friends felt similarly, though Lisa did have her own social circle who were closer to her (sort of on the…other edge of the social scene, if that makes sense). Essentially to a lot of us, Lisa was “Alice’s girlfriend”, not really “our friend Lisa”…she was a sometimes person, basically. Then, Alice and Lisa broke up messily, and the group rallied around Alice. I know that Lisa feels like we all ditched her but really it’s more than…we were never really all that close to her, but when she was dating someone in the group, we saw her more. So, the invitations to Lisa dried up because once she wasn’t seeing one of my best friends, I didn’t really want to expend the extra level of effort that socializing with her was.

    But, I know she really didn’t see it that way because nobody was going to straight out say anything as blunt as “actually we were cool with you but not super close we really only wanted to socialize with you in groups”.

  11. Ethyl said:

    I wonder if LW might find this Ask Polly about the different ways people tend to make friends at different times in their lives helpful. I’ve found as I’ve started getting older and further away from the tight-knit ka-tet of college that I have definitely had to rethink how I find people, and how I interact with people. I no longer have the tight-knit core group of friends — but that doesn’t mean I have to be lonely (which I spent a lot of time doing!). I now have more varied categories, more Sometimes People, more people I have one specific thing in common with, if that makes sense. It sounds like a similar shift in LW’s world might also be happening on top of ex/new partner weirdness, so I wanted to throw that out there.

    • Linden said:

      That Ask Polly advice was really great. I’m struggling with this issue right now, and it’s so, so hard. I feel like I’m being streamlined out of the Group I’ve been hanging around with for the last few years, and it’s terribly hard for me to make new friends because I’m a single mother trying to run my own business and I’m short on time and energy. The Alsatian in the Group is pushing me out whenever she gets a chance, and I don’t know why but I suspect it’s because when everyone first met me I was married and now I’m not, and she doesn’t want any single ladies getting along too well with her husband.

      She’s one of those people who’s like, “Oh, I just love my Husband so much. Husband, Husband, Husband. I have a Husband, did you know? Come over here, Husband, and give me a kiss in front of everyone so they’ll know you’re my Husband. Let’s talk some more about my Husband and how awesome he is. No, Linden, you can’t come over to our house to watch Game of Thrones with us like we invited you to do all last season, because Husband and I want to do that together and no one is allowed to do things with us when Husband and I want some time together. But we’ll invite other Married Couple to do that very same thing, publicly on Facebook where you can see it, even though I just told you I only wanted to do that with Husband.” It might sound kind of dumb, but I’m still so upset I haven’t been able to watch Game of Thrones since, and this was two years ago.

      This past weekend she invited everyone over to her house to have a prayer ritual for Husband’s mother, who is ill. When I said I was going to come with my kids, she messaged me to say, “No kids.” Which of course she can do, but there was no, “Oh, sorry if that means you can’t come either, we’ll miss you” or anything like that. My kids are almost 12 and have been to multiple other events without incident, by the way. So all of the other people I consider my friends went to the ritual, and I was left out because I didn’t have babysitting. I was heartbroken because I wanted to see everyone and now I feel like no one cares that I couldn’t make it. I tried to call another friend in the group I know to talk to him about it, but didn’t hear back from him. I had told another friend of mine I would see her there, but of course I didn’t go and I didn’t hear from her, either. I did see lots of burbling messages on Facebook from everyone about what a good time they all had and how supportive our community is, etc.

      New friends needed, I guess, but it hurts.

      • Ethyl said:

        Ugh that sounds awful, I’m sorry 😦 It does sound like you need some new people! The big takeaway from the Ask Polly piece I think is letting go of this idea that you need to have A Group. I didn’t realize how focused on getting/having that Group I had been, and that was definitely why I think I personally had some trouble meeting people. I was trying to recreate my tight-knit friend group, instead of meeting one or two new people I clicked pretty well with. It really takes the pressure off of going to a meetup, or to a party hosted by a new friend, or whatever, because you can go with the goal of “I’ll see if I hit it off with anyone and maybe invite them to lunch,” instead of “I must be best friends with all of the people in this group!”

        So yes to new people, yes to meetups (maybe with other moms? or business owners? or professional women?), no to trying to recreate your former friend group, because a) they sound like those who aren’t jerks are kinda lazy on the friend front, and b) you won’t be able to recreate that anyway!

        • Linden said:

          Thanks, I’m sure you’re right. These all sound like good ideas. I’m not sure I have the bandwidth to recreate a Group right now anyway, even if I could.

          • Ethyl said:

            I hear that. I can barely keep up with my Words With Friends games…

  12. Crinoline said:

    Another strategy to add to the already excellent advice– Stop trying to relate to The Group and experiment with making friends with Individuals. Choose someone from the group and ask them over for something planned and informal– maybe a meal or to watch a ball game or Dr. Who on television. Ideally, the get-together would involve some alone time with you and some time with spouse– Spouse could be present for the meal and disappear for the television, perhaps. Whether that goes well or poorly, make the next invitation to another Individual from the old group. This will isolate whatever awkwardness is happening from Ex and is an easier social scene to navigate anyway. It won’t take long for you to discover which individuals you want to get together with informally again and whether those get-togethers are better with our without Spouse there.

    • Elsajeni said:

      Yes, I think refocusing on Individual Friends rather than Friend Group is a good way forward here. I think, as Ethyl suggested just above, this is a transition that tends to happen as people move out of school/college settings and into the adult world — I still socialize with my Friend Group from college, but what used to be “Every couple of weeks, EVERY LAST ONE OF US will get together to play Super Smash Bros. at Mike’s dorm room” has become “Let’s cut the EVERY LAST ONE OF US gatherings back to about every three months, but every couple of weeks, 5 or 6 of us will get together for dinner or board games or D&D at someone’s house,” and each person (or couple) within that larger group has a different core group of 5 or 6. The transitional situation the LW is describing, where they’re included in big, whole-group things like the wedding, but not in a lot of activities outside of that, sounds to me like maybe they’re still in the overarching Friend Group, but haven’t really found a place in anybody’s core group — so, now might be a good time for the LW to figure out who their core group within Friend Group is, or who they want it to be, and focus in on those people for individual and small-group socializing.

    • Manders said:

      This is such a good point. For a while, circumstances allowed me to be one of the more prolific party planners in one of my friend groups, and I ended up with some situations where I knew that two people I was inviting were not on good terms. Most of the time I invited both and let them sort it out, but when I knew I had to choose between them (because there was limited space, or one would absolutely not show up if the other attended) I invited to the person who had made an effort to invite me to things they had planned. Not because I was playing some sort of cynical game for friendship points, but because I felt closer to the person I spent more time with.

      I can’t have big crowds at my apartment anymore, so the Sometimes Friends who came to my parties but didn’t hang out with me one-on-one will probably start drifting away. That is ok! LW, it sounds like you would be happier if you stopped thinking of this friend group as a unit whose approval you’re supposed to win and start thinking of it as a collection of people you’re allowed to form individual relationships with.

  13. paddlepickle said:

    Ugh, I feel demoralized now that Captain Awkward has officially confirmed that there is no script for “I want you to be a Sometimes Friend”. I have multiple people that I’m currently struggling to communicate that to, and I feel horribly guilty about it. Basically, due to some Serious Stuff going down in my life I’ve found myself only wanting to spend time with really close friends one-on-one, and other than that I prefer alone time or rowdy group hang-out times. I hadn’t noticed really that I have some friends who I’m not generally inclined to seriously confide in but would regularly spend one-on-one time with, especially because I was unemployed for awhile and made a big priority of having stuff to do at night so I didn’t go insane alone in the house. Now I’m busier, and need alone time and time with close friends who I don’t feel weird bringing up serious stuff like anxiety and grief around, and that means there are several people who invite me to hang out and I just don’t want to anymore. I have always kind of considered not responding to a message or returning a call to be the height of rudeness and HATED when people do it to me, but now I find myself doing it to others. And I feel especially guilty because these people haven’t done anything wrong and have every reason to expect me to want to hang out based on my past behavior. My therapist is reminding me that it’s OK for them to have their feelings and me to have mine and I’m not responsible for theirs, but ugh. Have other people dealt with this? Are there scripts I’m missing??

    • JenniferP said:

      There is no script, necessarily, but your therapist is right (you don’t have to take care of all of their feelings) and there is a method. That method is:

      -Agree enthusiastically to the things you want to do.
      -Do not go to the things you don’t want to do.
      -Respond to invitations promptly (24-48 hours?), even if it is to say no, so you’re not leaving people hanging.
      -You don’t have to explain your decision-making. “Thanks for the invitation, but I can’t today. Have a good time!”

      • paddlepickle said:

        Thank you, that is most helpful! There’s one that’s still throwing me– a friend who I kind of faded on by turning down one-on-one invitations recently messaged me “Hi there! Sad, I can’t remember the last time I saw you”. . .and I just haven’t responded because I have no idea what to say when the answer is “yup, and I have no intention of changing that!” Is there anything I can say to that, or should I just let it lie?

        • Would you be happy saying something vague like “yeah, sorry, I’m really busy at the moment and I’ve had to cut back on socialising?”

          • KellyK said:

            I like this. If there *are* ways you would want to socialize with them, you can throw those out there too. Like, if you don’t want to see them but would be happy to chat on the phone and catch up, offer to give them a call. Or even just message them back and ask what’s new in their universe and how they’re doing. (If you want to, that is.)

          • paddlepickle said:

            I think I’d feel weird about that because it’s so clearly a brush off, especially since I don’t want to follow up with a “hope to see you soon” or even ‘how are things?’. . .and since we’re Facebook friends she can clearly see that I still have a pretty active social life, just not including her. Though, I think that would work great for the people who I do genuinely want to see at least at parties and stuff– this is someone who I more realized isn’t a Bad person, but I don’t actually like her that much. Thanks!

          • Ethyl said:

            Seriously, Facebook lists have made my life so much nicer. You can set people to “acquaintances” and then set to post to “Friends except Acquaintances,” and unless you change it later, that will stay your default. So nobody has to know stuff you don’t want them to know!

        • JenniferP said:

          If you don’t want to hang out with them, LET IT LIE.

        • Thistledown said:

          I’ve had good luck downgrading friendships by countering friend requests with a concrete suggestion of something that works for me. I think offering something really specific helps reassure the other person that you still want to be friends while also defining the boundaries of what you’re willing to offer. If somebody texts you to say, “want to hang out tonight?” You might counter with “Sorry, I already have plans tonight. Could we catch up at (group thing) this weekend?” (Note: inside your head those plans can be anything. You can think, “Sorry, tonight I’m actually have plans to avoid talking to you at all costs. If I have to hear about your wonderful new boyfriend one more time, I might literally die of boredom.” While saying, “Sorry, I can’t come over tonight. But I’m going with a group to see movie X which I think you’d love. Want to come on Saturday?”)

          It also helps to set-up something that happens regularly, on a schedule that makes sense for you. If you have a regular Thursday night study date, then your friend will feel more secure in the friendship and will probably stop trying to make plans at other times (or at least feel better if you turn them all down).

          When you’re suggesting an activity, you can come up with something that’s more likely to work for you. If you’re not up for intense conversations you could try something like pub trivia or a book club which would preclude one-on-one conversations. If you want to catch-up without hanging out for hours on end, you could set-up a lunch date or meet for coffee/drinks 30 – 45 minutes before you have to leave for something else. Sometimes I feel less stressed about social time if it can also be productive time. I like doing laundry with a friend or even just running errands together. This works better for more interesting/complicated errands like a trip to the comic book store/farmers market/dumpster diving/wine tasting/stocking-up trip to Costco/Ikea/driving to the good stores in a nearby big city (or if you live in the big city and don’t normally drive, anything involving a car).

          I always feel a little guilty, but sometimes I’ll make plans with a friend for something I want to do, but never do on my own. If you’ve always wanted to try (activity) but end up going, you can sign-up for a class with a friend. If you’re trying to become more (organized/fiscally responsible/better at chess) and have a friend who feels the same, you could have a monthly date where you (clean out a closet together at alternating houses/review your expenses and plan your budget/watch chess videos). More ideas: some sort of exercise, networking events, car wash, cooking a bunch of freezable food which you can split. Many things that you hate doing are more fun with somebody else. (So long as there’s some sense of reciprocity. You can’t just keep inviting your friends over to quiz you before exams or to help clean your bathroom.)

          For somebody that you really don’t want to continue seeing either weekly or monthly, you might try an event really far in the future. You could respond to “I can’t remember the last time I saw you . . .” with “Yes, my social life’s taken the back burner right now. I’m hoping to catch-up with everyone at Sue and Bob’s wedding.” If Sue and Bob’s wedding is six-months away, it’s a reasonably subtle way of saying, “Yes, you should probably stop trying to make plans with me, but I’ll be friendly the next time I run into you.” Other events that could work depending on the situation are fan conventions, industry/work events, or local events. (If it’s July and you’re both runners, you could make plans to run in a Turkey Trot together.)

          This of course doesn’t really work for people you really never want to see ever again, but it doesn’t sound that’s your situation. I am a very committed introvert and misanthrope, so I’m very skilled in the art of avoiding people. But unless somebody’s really unpleasant (scary, abusive, racist, etc), there’s usually something that I can find to do with them. Even if it’s just running a 5k together twice a year. If the friend I want to see twice a year is looking for a Friday night drinking buddy, I’ve made it clear they need to look elsewhere. (But also that they I’m not mad at them, that they haven’t done anything wrong, and that they needn’t fear running into me.)

          • paddlepickle said:

            Thanks!! These are great ideas. I have already started doing some of this to an extent– like last week a friend wanted to hang out one-on-one but instead I invited her to a group thing that I’d been hoping to find someone to go with.

  14. LW said:

    LW here. Thank you so much for the great advice, Captain and commentators. After re-reading my letter, I realize that I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too: this group has become Sometimes Friends, but I still want to be treated like a core group member. The rest of the group basically remained intact after I moved away, so I guess that’s where a lot of these really strong feelings of being left out of something I was a part of come in, even though I’m the one who moved away from them socially.
    A lot of the reason for that was to avoid awkwardness with my ex, and so I feel a chip on my shoulder that he “got” those people after our breakup (which I realize isn’t really fair). I’m sure that the dynamic within the group has changed internally in the last few years, though, but it’s hard to tell from the outside.
    The last thing I want to do is be a Party Smeagol, so thanks for calling me out on that, too. I really like all of these people individually, it’s just as a group where I get really nervous about being left out and have to deal with my ex, so I turn down more events, and then get invited less, etc. It sounds like reaching out to friends individually in this group is the way to go.

  15. Alexis said:

    This is such a helpful post for me, mainly for the general outlining of how a mostly-mutual experience of becoming Sometimes Friends can still trigger Feels when it becomes clear that’s what happened.

    you’re feeling the rejection of finding out that you are most likely Sometimes Person in a group where you used to be an Always Person. UNDERSTANDABLE. But I think that if you look at the pattern of how you’ve interacted with the group, you turned them into Sometimes People, too, at least as far as your actions and priorities went when you started attending fewer things.

    This basically happened to me with some friends – I moved away to another city, and I didn’t visit as much as I had hoped/suggested I might/would ideally have liked. I had good reasons! Just like the LW (more logistical though). But the net effect was that I got less and less close to these (longtime) friends. I sorta saw it happening, but it hadn’t really hit me until recently when I was hoping to visit and see them and it became clear that they weren’t willing or able to make time (also for good reasons). I even thought of Captain Awkward when I was like “Well, how do I respond to this email that is pretty clearly a ‘don’t bother’?” And I came to the exact conclusion that this post comes to: there’s no great way to put my feelings in play. They need to just stay my feelings. And I need to accept that I participated in the making of this situation by not deciding to prioritize visiting.

  16. This is such a great post. I’ve been through some stuff recently with a friend who I didn’t know long, but who started off inviting me to things quite often, then suddenly stopped and didn’t respond to the couple of messages I sent asking if she wanted to hang out. Then I tried following a really good suggestion I’ve seen here in the past, to message her with very specific plans, as in “I’m going to see film at time on date, would you like to come?” and she said she would, then literally left me waiting in the cinema lobby because she didn’t turn up or message me to explain. When she did get in contact afterwards, she said “I forgot and was in another town, sorry”. I did get the message that she’s really not prioritising our friendship anymore – she’s had some changes in her life recently which might explain that. It’s hurtful, as she’s a really kind and interesting person and I had a great time hanging out with her, but it’s her right to do that and I need to stop putting effort into trying to see her unless she reaches out to me. Anyway, I really liked this post, especially the paragraph about “it’s all trial and error.” It’s quietly comforting to be able to categorise my experiences with this friend as an error I can learn from.

  17. Dear LW

    I want to add one thing: it is totally all right to move away from old friends.

    It is totally all right on their side and on yours.

    In terms of what to do now? I’m with all the commenters who point you to contacting people individually, and to making a group of Your People.

    Good luck in all this

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