I just found out that three couples, who I thought were really good friends of ours, are going away together with their families for a little vacation at the end of August. When I learned about this news, sort of accidentally, I was devastated. I would have assumed that if they were planning a trip like this, they would have invited me and my family.
I am feeling very hurt, but this is not the first time that I feel like people let me down. It seems that, most of the time, I develop a friendship with someone and I think it’s a great friendship, and ultimately that person lets me down. I could probably say the same about family members. Somehow, there is always disappointment waiting for me somewhere down the road.
I’ve gotten to the point where I’m thinking that I shouldn’t look to make such close friendships anymore, because I don’t want to be disappointed again and again. I’m so tired of the pain. Maybe I should be like some of the loners I see around, who never seem to get to close to anyone and just do their own thing. I can understand why they don’t want to risk getting their feelings hurt when eventually a friend doesn’t do the right thing.
But I am a sociable person by nature and so I’m not sure how this will work out for me. Sometimes I wonder whether I take the whole thing too seriously and keep my expectations too high. But when I think about it honestly, all I’m expecting is for others to consider my feelings. Is that too much to ask?
I just don’t know how to deal with the repeated hurt and disappointments. How do other people deal with it? I’m guessing I’m not the only person who experiences this all the time. Or am I?
When you get close to someone and allow yourself to feel vulnerable to that individual, you are always taking a chance that the person may at some point disappoint you and leave you feeling quite devastated. But it’s a chance most of us take, since most of us are sociable creatures and yearn to feel connected.
What makes me curious about your letter is the fact that it sounds as though disappointment is the more likely aftermath of one of your relationships, rather than an exception to the rule. Hopefully, you don’t just jump into any relationship that comes your way, but rather take the time to get to know a person slowly in order to determine whether or not this is someone you feel has the makings of a loyal buddy.
We all make mistakes when selecting friends. Every honest person will admit to some “doozy” friendships that ultimately bit the dust! Sometimes, certain things are just not obvious for a long while, or someone needs to be put to the test (which is a situation that life ultimately creates) in order to show their true colors. Sometimes they rise to the challenge and sometimes their inability to stay loyal becomes very clear. The question is, why do you make so many mistakes in this area? Why do so many of your relationships end in failure, rather than an occasional one here and there, which is more typical? Figuring that out is the key to getting the “friendship thing” right moving forward, rather than giving up on friends altogether, which, for someone like you, would be like giving up water.
So let’s analyze a bit here. The first question you must answer honestly is whether you interpret your relationships with others the same way they interpret their relationships with you. For instance, you mention the three families who are traveling together and left you out. Yes, that hurts. But is it possible that they have been friends for many years, have taken yearly vacations together long before you knew any of them, their children overlap in ages, their husbands are old buddies, and it seems to work on many levels, and so, though they may all like you very much, it didn’t seem like a natural consideration to include you? Are you able to give them the benefit of the doubt and understand that sometimes being included just doesn’t make sense?
When you feel disappointed in general, is it possible that maybe you keep the bar way too high, and that your expectations are unreasonable and no one would ever be able to consistently meet your expectations? Do you set the stage in a way in which everyone is bound to ultimately fail and disappoint you? Do you believe that no one is really “good enough,” and so you create a scenario in which you can prove your theory to be correct?
You also need to look at the type of friend you are to others. Do any of your actions leave anything to be desired, which might cause others to back away or act defensively in some ways? Is it possible that you let others down in things you do or say and they are reacting to you?
Are you trying to be a friend to everyone — invited to everything, in touch with the world — thereby leaving no time for fewer but more meaningful friendships that require more time and a different level of commitment?
Friendships take effort and work. And they need to be nurtured. But a good friendship shouldn’t feel so hard or so threatening. I think you need to look within, decide whether there are areas that you need to reevaluate and work on, and take a different approach moving forward. Hopefully, these efforts will produce satisfying results in the future.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.