MY FRIENDS HAVE LET ME DOWN
I’m in my late 40s and feel let down by my friends. One in particular, my so-called best friend, has really disappointed me these last few years. I’ve been through some difficult stuff, like the breakdown of my long-term relationship and subsequent depression and she’s just not been there for me. My problems seem to bore her, and I’ve realised I can’t rely on her when the chips are down. We met in our 20s, used to be really close and do everything together, but now we’re just not on the same page. I have other friends, but I’m not sure I have that much in common with them either and they seem to be busy with their own lives. I feel so hurt and let down and also so jealous of people I know sharing photos on social media of themselves on nights out and holidays with girlfriends – no one invites me to anything like this. I long for this kind of closeness. I’m embarrassed to discover that I need new friends. How do I do this? It’s like being a teenager again.
I do feel your pain but it’s a massively big ask to expect the friend you made at twenty to be your BFF two decades later. Long friendships often drift apart over time and connections made in your twenties are based on a cluster of shared interests – work, music, social life, politics, arts – which inevitably shift as we age. Some friendships develop into something richer but it’s not always a given. Friends have different roles too – some are pure party animals and others are our personal first responders when life deals out lemons.
That said, a question. You say that your best friend hasn’t ‘been there’ for you but – hand on heart – have you been there for her? Friendships work two ways – when life sucks, supportive friends are usually the ones that you have similarly helped back from the brink. My point being that you have to give freely to get something back and I sense from your letter that you perhaps haven’t done that. Maybe you have been not exactly ‘boring’ (as you feel) but self-obsessed or at least dominating the conversation with your own preoccupations – and depression is an illness that can easily allow that. Old friends can deal with this for a while but not with continual one-way traffic. So I understand you feeling self-conscious and lost right now, but you’ve realised a crucial truth – we need other people, friends make life sweeter and friendships can last in a way relationships often don’t. So they need nurturing.
The next step then is to start the work – and it is work – that comes with the making and sustaining of friendships, probably initially by slowly and tentatively rekindling the old ones that have dwindled. This time around try to be more the friend you would like to be and don’t let it drift (even the odd Whatsapp works in letting them know you’re thinking about them). Instead of being passive and waiting for invites, arrange something yourself. It’s noticeable that those people with the widest circle around them are the ones who carefully nurture friendships.
You will also need to find ways of cultivating new friendships, most likely through shared interests. It’s a cliché but for a reason – (ACAT as I always say – All Clichés Are True) – any kind of charity or voluntary work will help you count life’s blessings and give you a focus so you stop feeling sorry for yourself. It can also ease the way into making new connections if you are out of practice. Whatever you do, you can’t make new friends by being inactive – they simply will not come to you. Of course you have to make yourself vulnerable in the process – hence feeling like a gauche teenager – which is particularly tough after the loss of a partner. So take it slowly and in the meantime, on days when you are having a wobble, do limit social media which makes us ‘compare and despair’. Instagram is absolutely not (ital) your friend when you are feeling lonely. And good luck.