A Friend’s Visit

A Candid Conversation
Photo by Christian Yves Ocampo via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

One of my long-time friends made the 7-hour drive from another city to visit me last month. She stayed for four days. Our apartment is small, but we made a private little space between the back of the couch and the wall for her air mattress, and that worked well.

It was really nice having her here. We went out shopping and dining. One day we went to the farmer’s market and another day we went to the beach. We had great conversations. I find it really easy to talk to her.

I wrote a blog post in June about not having a social life in this city and said I didn’t really mind that I have no friends here. But my friend’s visit was a nice reminder of how much I can really enjoy being with a friend and socializing when it’s with the right person. With the small number of people I naturally click with and already love and trust, it’s easy to be with them. There’s no social anxiety or constant ruminating on our conversations afterward, wondering what I might have said wrong, like I do with most people.

It makes me wish that I could live in the same city as her. Or that I could make a new friend like her where I do live. But I don’t know if I can make friends like that now. It seems like I made all my friends when I was young and I don’t connect with any new people that deeply anymore. I just find meeting and getting to know new people exhausting now. New people tend to ask me so many questions and put me in the position of having to explain myself and why I am the way I am. My old friends already know all that and accepted it a long time ago. And I think it’s a numbers problem. It’s like I have to meet so many new people in order to find one I might click with, and I open myself up to a lot of stress and pain and potential rejection in the meantime. Maybe I had the energy to do that when I was younger, but I don’t now.

My Social Life (or Lack Thereof) in this City

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Photo by John Perivolaris via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I have absolutely zero social life in this city right now. I am not really lamenting this. It eliminates a lot of stress from my life, to be honest.

My husband and I first moved to this city in 2013. After a time of unemployment for both of us and getting to a point of utter desperation, we both managed to get something lined up here, and things seemed to fall into place for us to come here in other ways, even though it was never somewhere we had previously aspired to live and we didn’t know anyone here. Feeling like we had no other option at the time, this is where we ended up.

My job here ended up not going well (surprise surprise). On several occasions I had to e-mail the woman who had previously held my position (she had been fired abruptly and had not had the opportunity to tie up loose ends, leaving a lot for me to have to figure out) and when, after six months, she found out I too had been fired (in a nutshell, for back-answering my boss during my six-month performance review), she, probably feeling an affinity with me since we’d both been fired by the same man from the same position, invited me to go out for coffee with her and another woman I knew from work.

The coffee outing (I don’t actually drink coffee, but that’s what it’s called regardless, isn’t it? Going out for coffee?) turned out to be a surprisingly validating social experience for me. It’s not often I can say that. Both of these women are writers, one in her spare time outside of work and the other having moved on to a staff position at a magazine after getting fired from her office job, so we talked about writing and various ideas we had. Sometimes when I talk about these things, people’s eyes glaze over, but these women were interested and engaged. And I was interested and engaged in their ideas too. How rare! And when they asked how my job search was coming along, I told them about an awkward interview I’d had and then I confessed that I actually wanted to be at home. That was my real heart’s desire: To stay home and read books and maybe write or take online courses or pursue other personal projects. But I confessed I was worried about money.

They completely validated my desire to stay home! Most people do not. Most people treat me like it’s disgraceful to want to stay home. Being Christians, these women even told me that if I wanted to stay at home, I should do that and let God worry about the finances. No one had ever told me that before. I suppose it’s always nice when people tell us what we want to hear, isn’t it? For what it’s worth, they turned out to be right. While money is tight, it is no tighter now than when I was working, because I wasn’t earning very much and I tend to spend a lot more when I’m working, on transportation, office clothes, convenience foods because I end up too exhausted to cook, useless impulse purchases because I get too exhausted and overstimulated to practice my usual restraint, and medications, because the exhaustion and stress of being in the workforce, as well my poorer diet at those times, causes all my health issues to flare up. But I digress.

The social engagement didn’t go off completely without a hitch though. At one point they started talking and laughing about something that happened on a TV show I hadn’t seen. Understanding that it was a funny anecdote, I laughed along, only for one of them to turn to me and ask, “Have you seen it?” I then had to confess that I hadn’t. Busted! What a tool, huh? I was mortified, and still think about it sometimes, even though it was relatively minor.

Anyway, they invited me out for coffee with them again, but that time I was ill with nausea and… ahem… bathroom issues (not out of the ordinary for me, but some days are worse than others) so I declined. I legitimately was ill, but perhaps they thought I was making an excuse, and after that it was like the ball was in my court, and even though I had enjoyed being with them, I just never got in touch again.

The thing really holding me back was the fact that I don’t have a car. When they invited me out, it was their idea and one of them offered to come pick me up. But I didn’t know how to initiate an outing and then say, oh, but you’ll have to pick me up, okay? It just seemed to create this imbalance, and I didn’t want to come across like a user or a taker or whatever you call it. (I was accused of that once before, over twenty years ago, and I never want to be again, so it’s something I am very conscious of.) And it’s not like I could afford to treat them to make up for it.

I just didn’t know how to initiate under these circumstances, so I didn’t.

Then there was this guy I met on Twitter. He’s a little younger than us and is a local pastor of a small church, and we had great conversations online. He invited my husband and I out for coffee a couple of times, and then it progressed to having dinner at his home with his family. We got along fairly well, but then he pushed for us to attend his church and we declined, explaining that we don’t have a car and bus service is so drastically reduced on Sundays that we can’t feasibly get there and back. He said, “I’m sure I can arrange for someone to give you a ride every week.” But we explained that we weren’t comfortable with that, partly because there might be some weeks we wouldn’t want to go (especially with my health issues), and we would feel awkward cancelling and making excuses in those cases. And we explained this is not a temporary situation. Unless our situation dramatically changes we do not envision getting a car, so we would be an ongoing drain on whoever volunteered. (At our previous church, someone had even generously offered to lend us a car until we bought one, but we didn’t intend to buy one, so we thought we would have come across as taking advantage of them. Not to mention the fact that we would still have had to pay for insurance, gas, maintenance, repairs, and parking, which is not something we can commit to in our current situation.)

So anyway, we never heard from him again, and it became apparent that he didn’t really want to be friends with us, he was just trying to recruit us to his church. It is always so disappointing when you think someone likes you, but it turns out they have an ulterior motive.

So all that was in 2014, and I have not had any real social life in this city since. Both sets of parents have come to visit us here, and one of my long-time friends is coming here from another city to visit us next month, which I’m really looking forward to, but generally my life is void of in-person social contact, other than clerks in stores and whatnot, but that doesn’t really count.

For the most part, I don’t mind. When it does bother me, it’s more the idea of it that bothers me than the actual day-to-day experience of it. Like, “Yikes, we don’t have any friends; we’re all alone here. What if something happened? There’s no one we could call.” But I also kind of love the fact that I don’t have anyone trying to get me to go places when I don’t want to and making demands on my time, which I never feel like I have enough of, even though I’m not working now. I love that I never find myself in awkward social situations, where I’ve made a fool out of myself and ruminate on it endlessly afterward. I love that I don’t find myself in positions where I have to explain myself and my various quirks and the health issues that affect my life. Life is so peaceful now, and I need that.

This is one of those things that makes the person who shall remain nameless think there’s something seriously wrong with me. Who doesn’t even want friends? Once when this person was visiting, I got a phone call from one of my long-time friends in another city, and afterward the person who shall remain nameless said, “Oh, I’m so relieved you got a phone call from a friend. I do worry about you not having friends!” I just stared at the person, kind of shocked, not understanding why anyone would be thinking such things about me. If I’m not unhappy, what’s the problem?

My husband also hasn’t made any real friends here. There are people he’s friendly with at work, but no one he sees outside of work. Somehow that’s okay though. The pressure always seems to be on me, not on him, as if it’s the woman’s responsibility to make a social life for both members of a couple or something. I don’t understand that. But I don’t understand a lot of things about how people think.

Leaving a Friend Behind

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Photo from Photofunia.

So what do you do when you really don’t want to be friends with someone anymore?

I don’t think I have ever taken the initiative to end a friendship in my life. Other people have stopped being friends with me, and in some cases we’ve just sort of mutually drifted apart, but I have never chosen to end a friendship.

Is it a matter of personal growth that I have reached a point where I can willfully leave someone behind? Or does it mean I’m just not as nice as I used to be?

The friend I’ve blogged about before, the one who didn’t invite me to her wedding but then sent me a really nice Christmas gift and kept messaging me like nothing ever happened, is not a positive, supportive person in my life. She talks down to me like I’m an idiot. She seems to have developed a really low tolerance for weakness and stupidity, and she sees weakness and stupidity everywhere. She once told me that people call her “the dragon lady” at work and I’m starting to see why.

I’m afraid to say anything to her at this point because she’ll just argue with me or point out some way in which she thinks I’m off base. I could probably handle her doing that once in a while. If it were 80% support and 20% correction, maybe I could live with that (I get that nobody’s going to agree with me 100% of the time or be able to honestly support everything I say or do), but it’s the other way around. I do think that a friend should be able to tell it like it is, but it’s also her general attitude that’s getting to me, like she’s exasperated and annoyed by everything that comes out of my mouth. I can’t take it anymore. I end up feeling bad almost every time I communicate with her. So it’s not even a matter of needing to forgive her for individual things she’s done to hurt me; this is an ongoing pattern of behavior.

And if I’m perfectly honest with myself, I have to admit that if she’s finding it so hard to tolerate me and the things I say and do, the friendship is probably not a positive, beneficial thing for her any more than it is for me. It is probably for the best for both of us if we can wish each other well but go our separate ways.

I’m not sure of the best way to end things with her though. After 31 years I probably owe her some kind of explanation. But I don’t want it to turn into some kind of back-and-forth accusatory thing. Usually when people have stopped being friends with me, they’ve just stopped getting in touch and not replied when I’ve gotten in touch. Perhaps that’s the way to do it, but it seems cold and wrong after so many years.

 

Trying to Make it On My Own

Toronto

Photo by Kat Northern Lights Man via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to be old enough to live on my own. My dad had left just before I turned 14 and a couple years later my mom decided we needed a new start, so we moved to a small town of her choice a four-hour drive away. Unfortunately, I hated that town. This is going to sound really flaky, but I just got a bad, oppressive vibe there. Plus, it was really hard for me to make friends there, and it seemed like all the people my own age who were willing to have anything to do with me when I first moved there were heavy drug users. I drank alcohol, but illegal drugs were not my thing and being around them made me really uncomfortable. Meanwhile, I didn’t have a great relationship with my mom. She yelled a lot and was very critical. It’s like she took pleasure in pointing out things I was doing wrong and ways in which I was at fault for various things.

For example, sometimes my dad would phone and if I was friendly to him, my mom would scream at me, “How can you be so nice to him after the way he’s treated me? I’m the one who’s always been there for you! Where is your loyalty?” So then one time I refused to talk to him, thinking I was showing loyalty to my mom like she wanted. But then she yelled, “How dare you treat your father like that! No matter what he’s done, he’s still your father, and you have no right to disrespect him that way! If you keep doing this he’ll never come back to us!” This is only one of many examples. It was an ongoing pattern in our relationship when I was a teenager. I couldn’t do anything right in her eyes and I got yelled at for every little thing. It was unbearable. I don’t even have words to describe the pain and stress her yelling and criticism caused. Needless to say, home did not feel like an emotionally safe place for me.

I had dropped out of school when I was 14, but I was enrolled in a part-time education program by this point, and through that I got involved in a government-funded employment program for at-risk youth. They got me a summer job in an office, and when summer was over, I was kept on as a part-time employee. I was extremely good at not spending any money back then, so nearly every dime I earned went into my savings account. At 18, having saved up a small nest egg, and with my hours now being drastically cut at work anyway, I moved back to the hometown I desperately missed. Alone.

It never occurred to me that I might not be able to handle it. I had this boundless optimism (which is now long gone), and even though I had already failed at many things, it still never occurred to me that I might suck at life. I just thought anything would be better than living with my mean mom in that town I hated. And I was perfectly willing to work for what I needed. I assumed I was able to do that.

I initially rented a basement suite owned by a family friend. I assumed I would find a job right away, but it turned out to be harder than I thought. Part of the problem was the suite’s inconvenient location and the transportation issues resulting from that. I loved living alone, but seeing how quickly my little nest egg was diminishing just due to basic living expenses, I took a friend (the frenemy I wrote about here) up on her offer to share an apartment with her and her boyfriend. It seemed like a wise decision, as rent would be far cheaper and it was close to all amenities, making my job search much easier (there was no internet in those days; you had to pound the pavement, as they say). It actually went well at first, but then they broke up and my friend moved out.

Now here’s where I made one of my clueless social blunders. It didn’t occur to me that because my friend had moved out, I had to move out too. I liked the apartment and the location, and I got along well (platonically) with her ex-boyfriend. He was a really nice guy. It wasn’t like he had treated her badly; she had just gotten bored with him and wanted to move on, so I didn’t see how it could be a loyalty issue like when I was nice to my dad in spite of him treating my mom badly. But my friend got very angry at me for continuing to live there, and I was utterly clueless as to why. Now in retrospect I can understand that it was highly inappropriate for me to stay there, but I couldn’t see that back then. I was just baffled. I saw that apartment as my home. Why should I have to leave my home because of a decision someone else made? It was bad enough when my parents broke up and I had to go wherever my mom went, but I was an adult and could do what I wanted now, or so I thought. But it understandably led to a huge strain in our friendship.

And then a few months later my friend’s ex-boyfriend moved out too. He couldn’t cook and I certainly wasn’t doing that for him, so he found a room-and-board situation that included meals. And I couldn’t afford to pay the rent on my own, so after a disastrous situation resulting from placing an ad in the paper for a new roommate (which deserves its own post), I ended up having to move anyway.

The next couple years were spent moving from place to place and having roommate after roommate. In total I lived in six different apartments/suites with 9 different roommates. My living situation was a constant source of stress and worry. Some of my roommates were very unpleasant. One of them told me she thought I had a mental illness because I spent so much time in my room, but I was only doing that because being around her was a constant sensory assault.

I wished I could live alone again, but I just couldn’t afford it, even once I had found employment.

I was only able to find minimum-wage jobs (not surprising, given my lack of education). The first one was at McDonalds, where I started working a few weeks after moving in with my friend and her boyfriend, but I only lasted six weeks. The noise and the fast pace were more than I could handle and I ended up having a crying meltdown and getting labelled “emotionally unstable” by my boss, so I quit in a state of overload and humiliation. About a month later I landed a job in a mall bookstore and worked there for about 15 months.

I performed fairly well at the bookstore, despite the stress of dealing with customers, but I had a difficult boss. I got to be good friends with one of my co-workers (whom I’m still friends with to this day), and our boss became very paranoid about the friendship. She accused us of plotting against her (which was a completely false accusation; I wouldn’t know how to plot against someone even if I wanted to, and I have certainly never wanted to) and forbade us to speak to each other. One time, she saw us smiling at each other across the store and demanded to know what we were up to. We were “up to” nothing. We were friends, and we smiled when we saw each other; it was as simple as that.

I have always tended to get sick a lot (mostly bad colds/coughs and nausea/vomiting) when I’m in the workforce, so my choices are to either come in to work sick and get criticized for that, or call in sick a lot, and get criticized for that. During that time, I tended to call in, but then my boss accused me of calling in sick because of hangovers! She even wrote it in my employee record! Again, another completely false accusation. I have never called in sick because of a hangover in my whole life. I did drink socially, but I’ve never been falling-down drunk in my life and I have rarely had anything resembling a hangover. But I guess in her mind, there could be no other explanation for such frequent illnesses. It is odd, I admit, but I have always been this way and nothing I have tried has helped.

The work environment became increasingly tense, and soon the boss had become paranoid about the entire staff. Apparently another staff member overheard her telling someone that she intended to find reasons to fire the entire staff so she could start fresh with a new “uncorrupted” staff. This was because she thought one of the staff members (fortunately not me) was a troublemaker and was poisoning everyone else against her. It was insane; there was nothing like that going on. But she did start firing people one by one and I knew it would happen to me eventually. I dreaded going in there every day, not knowing if that day might be the day. One day I couldn’t take all the stress anymore and I quit. I knew it was unwise, as I had nothing else lined up, but I had reached a breaking point and I knew I would soon be fired anyway. Knowing that potential employers always ask why you left your last job, I knew it would be better to say that I left of my own volition than that I was fired.

In the following weeks, my former boss did indeed fire every last member of staff. In one case, she rummaged through a staff-member’s bag and found a roll of toilet paper, which she then accused her of stealing from the staff bathroom. My close friend was let go with the reason, “The length of time you have now worked here has made you overqualified for the position for which you were originally hired.”

For about three months I desperately tried to find another job, to no avail. Then some awful things happened with my roommate. I had come full circle; this was actually the same person who was my first roommate, the friend who had broken up with her boyfriend and moved out; we had since made up and moved in together again. She said she didn’t want to live alone because she had an ex-boyfriend (not the same one we had lived with) who had been violent with her and was continuing to threaten her, and she thought living with a roommate would offer some level of protection. It didn’t. She ended up getting assaulted by him and I was called to court as a witness (it turns out he had actually been on a bit of a rampage that night, so assaulting her wasn’t the only charge). But having reconciled with him before the court date, she lied in court to protect him and got angry with me for telling the truth. She moved out of our place and in with him (and eventually married him). We had been friends our whole lives but have not spoken to each other since that day. Her choice, not mine. I did not reject friends back then, no matter what, even when I probably should have.

Meanwhile, the guy I was seeing at the time was fast losing interest in me, dashing my hopes for something serious to develop there. A mutual friend he’d confided in told me he had developed feelings for someone else, so I asked him about it. I wasn’t angry (I never got angry about anything back then; it was almost like a weird deficit in my emotional repertoire), but I did want to know. He admitted it was true, but he got angry at the person who told me, which made that person angry at me. I apologized, but she said, “I don’t have time for this juvenile bullshit,” and never spoke to me again.

Emotionally, I hit rock bottom. I had tried and tried to make it on my own. I had been running on adrenaline for two years. I was exhausted, and I was getting physically sicker by the day (probably partly because I couldn’t afford to eat healthy food, or much of anything, really). I’d lost a couple friends, lost my boyfriend, had no job, my money had run out, I couldn’t afford rent on my own, and my mom had been calling me on the phone daily, begging me to move back in with her. I remember just sitting there thinking, okay, what are my options? Everything I had tried had failed, so I narrowed it down to two: I could either kill myself, or I could move back in with my mom. Killing myself would take a certain amount of courage and impetus that I just didn’t have. So I chose the latter. And it felt like a death of sorts anyway.

Off Script

I have spent most of my life observing other people, trying to understand why they act the way they do and how I’m supposed to respond to them. When I was a teen, I started reading self-help books about social skills, communication skills, and even etiquette. When I was in counseling in my thirties, my counselor and I would role-play different social scenarios where I would practice what to say and how to respond.

But people, being what they are, inevitably go off-script. And then I get thrown for a loop. If it’s someone else who’s awkward like me, I don’t worry about it as much, but when it’s someone who seems popular and confident, it really confuses me. I expect those types to be predictable, but I guess I still need to get it through my head that no human being is ever completely predictable.

That’s why the situation with my long-time friend not inviting me to her wedding, but then sending a Christmas gift, confused me. It didn’t seem to follow any pattern I have familiarized myself with, so I wasn’t sure how to respond.

What I ended up doing was texting her to thank her for the gift. Then I said, “Sorry, I am not on the ball this year at all, but check your e-mail on Christmas Day.” We went on to have a very nice text conversation where the subject of her wedding was just completely ignored, but enough was said on her end to let me know that she still considers me a close friend.

On Christmas Eve I sent her an Amazon gift card by e-mail in roughly the same amount that I estimated her gifts to me totaled. Yes, I know that’s a very cold way to think about gift-giving, and it’s not typical for me, but I was so confused by that point that I felt I had to do it that way. Obviously when my emotions and instincts aren’t serving me well, convention and etiquette have to fill in.

So I guess now we just carry on as before, pretending the whole her-not-inviting-me-to-her-wedding thing never happened. I don’t think I know how to do anything different.

I kind of suspect that what happened is that her husband didn’t want me at the wedding, and she understandably didn’t want to tell me that. My mom says something like that happened when she married my dad. She had a close friend at the time whom she wanted to invite to the wedding, but my dad insisted he didn’t like her and didn’t want her there, so my mom complied with my dad’s wishes, which seemed to make sense at the time as he was the one my mom was committing herself to. That was the end of the friendship and my mom has regretted it in the 44 years since. But my mom’s friend was the type to hold a grudge, and I’m not. I don’t have the emotional energy for grudges or hard feelings. I will inevitably still obsess over the whole thing for a while, but only for the sake of figuring it all out, not for the sake of nursing any hard feelings or resentment.

More on Friend Trouble

Now I’m really, really confused.

The friend who didn’t invite me to her wedding has sent me a Christmas gift. There are some cosmetic items, a gift card for a store I like, and a picture of her wedding. The Christmas card has affectionate, hand-written words on it.

I don’t have a clue what’s going on.

I assumed we weren’t close anymore. If she didn’t consider me a close enough friend to invite to her wedding, why does she consider me a close enough friend to send gifts to?

I assumed I was trying to hang on while she was trying to let go, so I let go. I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself. I have done that too many times in my life.

I didn’t send her anything. Now it’s too late for something to get there by Christmas.

I at least have to contact her to thank her for the gift. This is going to be so awkward. It would have been so easy to just not get in touch with her again. Now I have to. I’ve never not thanked someone for a gift.

Should I be honest with her and tell her how confused I am? She apparently doesn’t even realize there’s an issue. It’ll just seem like I’m making a big deal out of nothing. I really, really don’t want to have to do that.

What would a socially savvy person do in a situation like this?

Update on Friend Trouble

This is an update to the posts Friend Trouble – Part 1 and Friend Trouble – Part 2.

Juliane has now posted more of her wedding photos so I now know it wasn’t just a family thing. I was deliberately excluded.

Upon further reflection, I don’t think it was just Bob’s influence on her that changed our friendship. I think I am responsible as well. The fact is, I don’t like Bob, and not just because of the obnoxious things he said to me and my husband when he was intoxicated. Since Juliane first met him, she’s been telling me things about their relationship that have raised some major red flags in my mind. I don’t think he’s a good person, I don’t think he treats her well, and I don’t think he has her best interests at heart.

Perhaps one might argue that if I’d been a good friend, I would have warned her. But she was so taken in by him that I knew my warnings would not be heeded and would likely damage our friendship. So I said nothing. But here’s the thing about me: I am a bad, bad actor.

No wonder she didn’t want me at her wedding. I probably wouldn’t have wanted someone who disliked my husband at my wedding either. I was fortunate that all my friends liked my husband. Juliane herself said I’d finally found someone who was worthy of me, and that meant a lot to me. But I’ve always been careful not to say anything about Bob. Like, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. I’m sure my silence spoke volumes.

My dislike for Bob is truly not based on any mean-spiritedness though. I want Juliane to be happy and I sincerely do wish both of them well. I hope with all my heart that my opinion of the guy is off-base. This is the kind of thing you want to be wrong about.

I wish I could have known how to correctly handle my concern for her and known how to communicate and behave in a way that would be beneficial to her and to our friendship, but I didn’t. So I understand why I was excluded. And even though I can see my part in it, I don’t think there’s any going back. I can’t lie or pretend things, and I think I would have to in order to have a relationship with her now.

Now that I’ve seen that the wedding wasn’t just a family thing, I have complete peace about not sending the Christmas gift I’d already bought for her. That’s what I really needed at this point. Peace about a course of action. I have that now.

There will be radio silence from me until/unless I hear from her.

Friend Trouble – Part 2

excluded - Copy
Photo made on Photofunia.

This is continued from my previous post.

Finding out on Facebook that one of my closest friends of more than 30 years got married and I wasn’t invited to the wedding hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t know all the details. I don’t know what kind of wedding it was. Maybe it was a tiny wedding and they excluded everybody except family. I don’t know. And Juliane’s not communicating.

If it was a small, private thing, I can accept that I wasn’t invited, despite the fact that my own wedding had been a small, private affair and yet not only was she invited, she was the maid of honour. What really bothers me is that I didn’t even know it was happening. Not even so much as a text message saying, “I’m getting married tomorrow; wish me well.” I could have accepted that. But I knew nothing. And then I found out on Facebook of all places.

There was a time in our friendship when not knowing something like this would have been unthinkable. To me, it still is, and yet I did see the signs that we were drifting apart, I just couldn’t accept them. I am extremely loyal and can be downright deluded about things like this. I don’t ditch my friends, and it doesn’t occur to me that they might ditch me, even though this isn’t the first time someone’s done something like this to me. Now I have to accept the fact that Juliane and I are not as close as I thought we were.

My main problem in all of this is not what you might expect. It’s not the hurt. I can get past the hurt. The main problem is the stress of trying to figure out what to do about the situation. I have a Christmas present I’d already bought and packaged up for her. Do I mail the present? My normal rule of thumb is to err on the side of kindness, but this feels more tricky. I feel like if I send it, I’m making a fool out of myself, like some weak-willed little pansy who can’t take a hint. And I don’t know if it’s even kind to send a gift at this point. If she’s trying to ditch me, sending a gift is just a sign that I’m hanging on when she doesn’t want me to, which might be seen as stalkerish or something. It wouldn’t be the first time someone’s accused me of that.

But if she’s not trying to ditch me, and it was just a small, private wedding that no friends were included in, not sending a gift now when I always have before might be seen as petty and childish. Like, fine, you didn’t invite me to your wedding, so no Christmas gift for you! So there!

Another friend has advised me to confront her. But I really think if I confront her, she and her husband will just think I’m being a drama queen. They already see me as too emotional; any kind of confrontation would just further confirm it. They are both very stoic, tough, confident people who would have little time for such things. When someone screws Juliane over, she just washes her hands of them and moves on.

I really think I’m going to feel horrible no matter what I choose to do. I either feel like a weak-willed fool, a petty jerk, or an overemotional drama queen. Those are my choices. That’s the thing about something like this. Once something like this has been done to me, on an emotional level, I’m screwed no matter how I respond.

It would be easiest to just (to use the trendy term) ghost her. But is that the healthy, mature thing? Probably not. But then I don’t think the way she’s treated me is all that mature either.

And it all makes me wonder, why am I always the one who obsesses about whether I’m doing the right thing, and whether I’m healthy and mature, when other people don’t seem to give their actions a second thought?

 

Friend Trouble – Part 1

Rainy Walk
Photo by Brandon Wang via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

Because I find it exhausting meeting new people these days, I especially treasure the friends I already have. They already know my history and my quirks and I don’t need to explain myself to them. It doesn’t matter that we don’t live in the same town anymore. Distance doesn’t diminish the friendship, at least not on my end.

Something just happened to me a few days ago that gave me a huge wake-up call, however.

I first met Juliane (not her real name) at camp when I was 11. We were partnered up for orienteering. While trekking through the woods, one of the boys tripped me and I sprained my ankle, but I continued hobbling around on it rather than telling one of the people in charge.

“What’s wrong with you?” Juliane asked in her forthright way. “Why are you walking like that?”

“My ankle hurts. I think something’s wrong with it.”

“Why don’t you tell someone?”

“I don’t know.”

Juliane rolled her eyes and went marching up to the nearest person in charge. “She sprained her ankle,” she said, pointing at me. “She needs to get off her feet immediately.”

And that set the tone for the rest of our friendship. Juliane rescuing me from my own inadequacies.

A little more than a year later, we ended up at the same junior high school, and she was the one person who remained my friend the entire time I went there. Others either viciously turned on me or just avoided me after I became a social pariah, but Juliane, who was much taller, stronger, and more confident than I was, would walk the halls with me as my bodyguard. She had a younger sister who was a lot like me, and she had done the same thing for her sister all through elementary school.

My mom and I ended up moving, first to another town just across the river, and later a 4-hour drive away, but Juliane and I always kept in touch, writing letters back and forth and even visiting each other via bus. I hated where my mom had moved us to, so when I was old enough I moved back on my own. Juliane and I ended up working at different stores in the same mall, and we got closer than ever. She was always there for me, helping me move on short notice when I was being threatened by a psycho roommate, and patiently listening to my teary-eyed ramblings when I had my heart broken.

We had fun too, going to the movies every week on cheap Tuesday, trying new cuisines, and going on shopping trips to the big city in her convertible. We talked about everything under the sun.

At times I worried that I was a burden to her. I was emotionally unstable, while she was an emotional rock. I was always having crises, while her life was calm and stable. But she would tell me how much I meant to her. She said that while my emotions were always right on the surface, hers were buried, and she would often find herself feeling stressed or sad or irritable without knowing why. But after a few minutes of talking to me, I would somehow draw out what was bothering her and she could work through it and feel better. I was shocked when she told me that. I had no idea how I was doing it; it certainly wasn’t deliberate. She also once told me that she was my friend because I was wise and I said things that made her think. Again, I was baffled, but very grateful that she felt she was getting as much out of the friendship as I was.

After a couple years, I ended up crashing and burning in my mall job and moving back in with my mom. But again, Juliane and I stayed in touch. She also ended up moving a few years later so we were closer, but still a couple hours away from each other. Once when she heard on the news that my town was being threatened by a forest fire, before the evacuation order had even been issued she called me and said, “I’m coming to get you and you’re coming to stay at my place!” She was always looking out for me.

Since she was the friend who had stuck by me the longest and most continuously, when I got married 11 years ago, I asked her to be my maid of honour. I had a very small wedding with only 12 guests, but everyone who was truly important to me, who I really wanted in my future, was there.

After I got married and moved even further away, Juliane and I continued to keep in touch, by phone or e-mail and then through Facebook. Once when I was sitting in my car having one of my meltdowns, my cell phone rang and it was her. It was kind of weird that she was calling because it was in the middle of church, which she knew I attended on Sundays, and she never called during that time. Her voice was exactly what I needed just then, and she, without any judgment or impatience, calmly talked me down off the proverbial ledge. I felt at that time that God must have sent her to me, not just in that moment, but back when I was 11 at camp. I was certain that our friendship was not an accident, but that she was a God-given friend, and I was so grateful for her.

And then in 2011, my husband, through no fault of his own, found himself unemployed. My husband’s career is very important to him and he was devastated. He desperately searched for another job. I was a stay-at-home wife at the time, but of course I started looking for work too. Unfortunately, we reached a point where we felt we had no choice but to move in with my parents, but doing so meant moving to the tiny town they lived in where there were few, if any, jobs. My husband, with his advanced qualifications, looked for work all over Canada, and I looked for work locally to help us out in the meantime. Neither one of us was having any success. After four months, we made a trip out to where Juliane lived so my husband could meet with some potential employers there. Juliane had invited us to stay with her and her boyfriend, and that was my first opportunity to meet him. Let’s call him Bob.

During the visit, Juliane had another obligation and had to leave us alone with Bob for a few hours. During that time, my husband and I sipped on our glasses of wine while Bob drank well over a dozen beers. Not that I’m judging, just setting the scene for what happened next.

My husband and I were talking about our job search and Bob suddenly looked at me and slurred, “You’re not even looking for work.”

Caught off guard, I said, “What? Yes I am.”

“No, you don’t even want to work. You’re not looking.”

I realized he could only have the impression I didn’t want to work from things Juliane had told him, so I explained, “I get stressed out in the workforce, so I do like to stay home when we can afford it. But in a time like this, I am absolutely looking for work. I have applied for dozens of jobs.”

Suddenly he said, “Man, I would be scared if I were you guys. I would be fucking scared.”

“Yeah, well it is a difficult time,” I said.

Turning his attention to my husband, he said, “You know, there is work out there. If you really wanted to work, you would have found it.”

Things were just awkward after that.

A few months later, with my husband and I both still unemployed, I found myself looking at the website for the company Juliane managed. I noticed that they were looking to hire someone with my qualifications. It was full time and I knew that my husband would at least be able to get some tutoring work in the area, unlike where we were currently living with my parents, so between the two of us we might be able to eke out a living there. I’d been seeing an employment counselor who had stressed again and again that I needed to use any connections I had. People who know you are more likely to give you a job than people who don’t, she said. So I called Juliane.

It was extremely difficult to make that call. I think on some level I realized that with Juliane being the hiring manager and with her knowing my skills, qualifications, and desperate situation, if she were willing to hire me she probably would have already told me about the opening. But I felt I needed to prove to myself and to others that I was doing everything I could to find a job. To have a clear conscience, I needed to pursue every avenue.

She ended up telling me that she would not hire me because I was prone to meltdowns. It was true, I was, but this was the first time I had felt any judgment from her because of it. Besides, despite my meltdowns, I am extremely conscientious with a strong work ethic and a perfectionist’s standards. I am a good employee when I am employed, I give my all to whatever I’m responsible for, and I even have excellent work references from past employers. I felt she should have known that about me, but all she could see were my deficits. I didn’t say that though. I was aware that she had to make the best decision for her company and was under no obligation to rescue me yet again. I calmly accepted what she told me but cried after we hung up, because despite my reasoning, on an emotional level it still hurt.

I guess, despite what my employment counselor told me, knowing me makes someone less likely to hire me, not more. That was a hard thing to realize.

My husband and I are now back on our feet, or at least my husband is back on his and I am along for the ride. Juliane and I have continued to keep in touch but things have felt different. While I used to feel 100% accepted by her, for the last couple of years, I’ve felt that she is more critical and impatient with me. I think she runs everything I say past Bob and he tells her what’s wrong with me and it’s making her see me in a different light.

About a year ago, she told me that she thinks my emotionalism is a result of my hypothyroidism. She said her sister has hypothyroidism, and like me, often needs her medication adjusted, and also like me, has the same kind of emotional issues I do. I appreciated that she was making an effort to understand, but then she said, “If you weren’t both like this, I’d think one of you is full of shit.” I was floored. She had never said anything like that to me before and it didn’t quite sound right to me. I didn’t say anything that revealed my feelings about it though.

A few months ago, after coming to the realization that I likely have Asperger’s syndrome, I told her about it. “And if you do, so what?” she said. “Why even tell people? Like, you’re telling me, so what do you want me to do about it?”

I should have said, “All I’m looking for is understanding. Besides, we’ve always told each other things, so I’m telling you because this is important to me.” But I didn’t think of that at the time. All I said is, “Nothing, I guess.”

Around the same time, I found out on Facebook that she had gotten engaged to Bob. Since I found out on Facebook, I congratulated her on Facebook. But then she called me later that day, and I congratulated her again and asked her what kind of wedding she wanted. She said she had no idea and hadn’t even begun to think or to make plans. I said at the end of the conversation, “Well, keep me in the loop.”

And then a few days ago, I unexpectedly saw her wedding photo and announcement on Facebook. Juliane and Bob are married.

To be continued in Part 2.

 

 

 

 

Why Are We Always the Ones Who Have to Bend?

Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

It seems like to be friends with people, I have to conform to what they want to do. Most people I meet like hockey and camping. If they want to be friends with me, they invite me to go to hockey games or on camping trips with them. I loathe both activities, so I decline. Then they tell me I need to learn to go outside of my comfort zone. Let me tell you something: No, I do not. I grew up in a family that went camping. It’s not like it’s something I’ve never tried. For most of my life, I wasn’t allowed (either by my parents, by others, or by myself) to have a comfort zone. It’s a matter of personal growth that I allow myself to have one now and that I am able to say no to the things I don’t want to do. Besides, those people go camping because they like camping. But I’m supposed to go in spite of disliking it? That’s not even logical.

And why am I always the one who needs to go outside of my comfort zone? If I invite them to one of my husband’s physics lectures, or to come over and watch a documentary on Scandinavian music or culture with me, they’re going to decline (or they’re going to say yes and then back out later or just not show up — something I wouldn’t do, I might add). Why? Because they don’t like that kind of thing. I get that. But why are they allowed to say no to things they don’t like and I’m not? Just because my likes and dislikes are less typical?

Also, I’m starting to notice that when we Aspies (yes, I’m putting myself in that category even though I haven’t had an official diagnosis) have a negative social or interpersonal experience, we always assume it’s our fault. We assume it’s because we don’t communicate well. And often that might be the case. But neurotypicals are not always right about everything. They are capable of error. Some of them are even inconsiderate, insensitive dicks. I don’t think they should be absolved of all responsibility to try to get along with us. Communication is a two-way street, even between Aspies and neurotypicals. If we’re the ones having to bend all the time, no wonder we get so tired.