The Friendship Doctor

Send in your friendship questions and quandaries and get expert answers and solutions

Could she be suffering from friendship fatigue? Could you?

it can feel overwhelming to keep up with all the "friends" we accumulate.


QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

I stumbled on your blog today, and wish I'd seen it before. I'm in my 50s; consider myself a good, loyal, and fun friend; and have had many friends, lost plenty, and held onto quite a few. Along with the ‘old' friends, I've made newer friends over the years too.

Lately though, I am feeling weary about friendship. That probably sounds odd. But I think I might need some kind of a break from friends, people, and all the effort and confusion that goes into relationships. Don't get me wrong--I'm not about to go live in a cave--and other aspects of my life (work, marriage) are going well.

I'm feeling a new sense of fatigue and frustration in many of my relationships with friends (and a number of my siblings). I'm not extremely extroverted. I need plenty of quiet time (I'm a writer), but I do need people, and my relationships are very important to me. I make time daily for my friends (and family and neighbors), think about my friends frequently, and am, generally, a reliable and responsive person.

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So what's the problem? Over the last few years I too often feel responsible for keeping many of my friendships going---despite trying to be alert to early signs that a friendship is becoming off balance and even deliberately seek out women who seem capable of mutual friendships, too many of my relationships seem to drift into ones in which I am the person who ‘keeps it going'.

I've been told that I'm energetic, intelligent, and well-organized. Is that the problem? I've been also told that I expect too much from others. Finally, I've wondered if I'm imagining all of this, and have asked others for some reality testing. The one or two people I've confided in have agreed that, yes, they too would be frustrated with some of my friends.

All of these approaches have helped, especially focusing on relaxing my expectations, and recognizing how different others can be in the time and energy they have for friends. Still, I get blue and down, and begin to think something is wrong with me, or with them, or with my whole notions of friendship. Especially when, as is the case recently, I could use more reaching out and contact and connection (I've been having some serious problems with an aged parent and my young adult kids).

I was raised to be very self-sufficient--both emotionally and in terms of taking care of my needs--and I've been told (too many times!) that I seem very competent and independent (this despite being talkative and frank about my feelings). It is very difficult for me to ask another (especially a woman friend) for help. I may be able to talk openly and expressively about my feelings, but it is next to impossible for me to ask someone for aid.

I really am not happy curbing my impulses to reach out to others, but I am tired of feeling hurt and, sometimes, used. Sound frustrating? Confusing? It all does to me. Can you help sort this out?

Thanks much,
Frustrated

 

ANSWER

Dear Frustrated,

I don't think you have a friendship problem, per se. You seem to have a pretty good track record of satisfying friendships but perhaps you've been spreading yourself too thin and need to focus on one or two of your most emotionally satisfying friendships.

You have a lot of pressures right now. You're working and, at the same time, struggling with the problems of an aging parent, sibling conflicts, and offspring who are "adults" but who aren't yet on a solid footing. I'm assuming that you work at home under the pressure of deadlines and if you're checking in with friends daily, that may be adding to your level of stress. With all the options for connecting with friends---texting, cell, email, social media, IMs, in-person---it can feel overwhelming to keep up with all the "friends" we accumulate.

At various times, each of us has more or less energy to work at relationships. While you don't need to go into a cave, perhaps you shouldn't be expending as much energy as you do trying to nurture all these relationships right now. Give yourself a break and spend more time relaxing alone, addressing your work and family problems (to the extent you can), and being with the person or persons who seem to best understand and support you.

If there isn't anyone you feel comfortable asking for help when you need it or simply feel down, perhaps you could benefit from some short-term therapy to help you get over the hump. One last suggestion: Find ways to lighten your load over the holidays and try to relax your tendency to be the perfect friend to everyone.

My best,
Irene

 

Related prior posts on The Friendship Blog

Saying no to friends: An interview with Dr. Susan Newman

Guest post: Friendship bucket fillers and bucket drainers

PATH: The less social approach to TMI

 

Have a friendship problem/dilemma? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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