I have a friend whom I’ll call Cindy. I really like her a lot. She has a great personality, I always feel so good when I’m speaking to her because she makes me feel so good about myself, she’s fun and funny, and I truly value the time we spend together. She always seems so sincerely excited to see me. I think I can spot a phony and she just doesn’t seem at all like a phony.
The problem is that when we are together, usually because we bump into each other at a simcha or in some other social environment, we hug and kiss and act like two best friends who haven’t seen each other in a million years, but then, after such an encounter, Cindy is MIA. When I try calling her, she doesn’t pick up her phone and you can’t even leave a message for her because her mailbox is always full. It’s the most frustrating thing in the world.
When I make several attempts to call and connect and I have such a frustrating experience, I stop and wonder whether I imagined that whole thing. I go over in my head our last encounter and question whether I made more of it than it really was. Maybe she wasn’t so happy to see me; maybe she didn’t say all those kind words to me about how happy she was to see me and how much she likes me. It is kind of crazy-making. I just don’t know what to make of the whole thing.
And then I ultimately start feeling some anger towards her, or certainly resentment. What kind of friend never reaches out or picks up a phone? And I promise myself that the next time I see her I won’t fall under her spell and start feeling an attachment all over again. Because I want to protect myself from getting hurt over and over again. But somehow the same pattern continues and nothing changes.
So my question is whether you can give me any insight into such a person. I’m thinking that maybe if I could understand her better and understand why it happens, I could stop feeling so hurt and disappointed again and again and just try to be in the moment and be able to enjoy the moment without having any expectations.
I think many of us have Cindys in our lives, and for those of us who have had your exact experience, we understand what you are going through, frustration and all. Yes, it is crazy-making to get such contrasting messages from an individual. It’s hard to know where the truth lies, which moment is real and which moment is not, since the disparity between the two experiences is extreme.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Cindy truly cares about you and is sincerely thrilled to bump into you and spend some special time together. In the moment, it’s as real as it gets. For if it wasn’t, you no doubt would have picked up on her insincerity a long time ago. Fool me once, fool me twice … but fool me every single time?
So what’s up with the Cindys of the world? I can only offer theories, nothing more. I think that many individuals who behave this way may suffer from issues that they keep hidden from the world, and most people don’t have an inkling about their struggles. For instance, although this is just a theory, it’s possible that Cindy suffers from severe depression or anxiety and therefore lives her life quietly and in the safety of her home a good deal of the time. For special occasions, people like her muster the energy to get out of their comfort zone and probably are truly thrilled to connect with those people for whom they have fond feelings. Their extreme excitement in the moment is real. However, once they return back home, they fall back into their previous feelings of isolation.
Or, there are those people who have serious social anxiety. The thought of going out with friends in general is stressful and they’d rather take a pass on unnecessary socializing, even though they have very warm feelings toward certain individuals. The anxiety around making plans is too great for them to ignore.
Then you have those individuals who are going through difficult times and feel they can’t face people because it takes too much energy, or maybe they just want to avoid any uncomfortable questions. Perhaps they are living in a horrific marriage, which is very draining and they want to hide because of their need for privacy, their feelings of shame, and their lack of energy because of all that they have to contend with. There could be other difficulties holding them back as well — money issues, a chronic illness, a challenging child.
My point is that we don’t know what is going on behind closed doors. We can see someone dressed up with a big smile on her face at a simcha, and have absolutely no idea what they will be going home to after the simcha and how unbearable their lives may be on a regular basis, which precludes them from engaging in typical social behavior.
Therefore, it’s so important not to judge or jump to conclusions. Of course, you miss Cindy when she goes MIA for long stretches of time. But hold on to those positive moments that you are able to share when she does surface. Don’t question them or deny them. Accept the love and kind words that are offered to you. Maybe this is as good as it will ever be with Cindy, or maybe someday things will change. But I suggest you give her the benefit of the doubt, assume she has good reason for retreating the way she does, and, finally, as you put it, “enjoy and be in the moment.”
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 email@example.com or 516-314-2295.