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Friendship question

(24 Posts)
expotition Thu 14-Apr-16 17:06:01

Longtime lurker, first-time poster - hope this is the right place for this thread... and sorry if it's too long!

Most of my close friends live a long way away and I am not so close to my friends where I am, most of whom I met through kids of similar ages, but would like to be closer to a couple of them, including this one. We were seeing each other most weeks, with the kids, and friendly but not really close.

One of the things that holds me back from being close to people is a traumatic backstory that makes me feel when people don't know about it like there's a distance between us - because it is relevant to current things in my life & so I feel like I'm being dishonest if I keep quiet - but equally it's too personal to want to tell everyone. Anyway, a few months ago I steeled my nerves and told this friend about it. I guessed she would understand, given I'd heard her make courageous & empathetic responses to similar situations.

Talking to her made a huge difference to my self-esteem and acceptance. She said all the things that I hope I would have the intelligence and compassion to say to someone else in my situation, that for some reason don't work when you are saying them to yourself. But I think the conversation raised demons for her, that I wasn't present enough at the time to be able to listen to properly. Shortly after that conversation she suggested a trip away together (with our kids but not partners) and I thought that would be a good chance to tell her I felt bad and that I'm here for her if she does need to talk about her stuff.

We haven't had any opportunity to talk to each other one-on-one since that conversation. I did say thank you profusely in my Christmas card to her and am now wondering if that was uncomfortable / over the top. The trip hasn't happened (she mentioned it once but has never suggested any definite dates or asked me for any, and I feel like it would be pushy to invite myself in case she's gone off the idea). Our weekly meet-ups have stopped happening too - when I suggest meeting up with the kids she's usually doing other things. The last time I texted her she said she couldn't make it because she was going away with some other friends and their kids - the trip she'd suggested to me.

I feel upset and confused. Do you think I've hurt her and/or been rude or stupid? What should I do - e.g. back off entirely and stop suggesting playdates, or tell her how I feel (would probably have to be by text, which isn't ideal, unless she will make time to meet me without kids), or what?

nicenewdusters Thu 14-Apr-16 18:15:34

Your post really resonates with me, and I would like to give you my considered response. However, just about to go out for a bit so will reply as soon as I can. Didn't want you to think that nobody has read and wanted to respond as yet.

expotition Thu 14-Apr-16 19:41:20

Thank you, that's very kind - I am going over it in my head but it's not helping much!

AristotlesTrousers Thu 14-Apr-16 20:34:48

I can really relate to your dilemma, expotition. I have similar problems with my own relationships - a backstory that needs to be told in order for people to know me well. It must have been really hard to open up to your friend, and I admire you for doing so.

Is it possible that after you'd told her, you maybe (without realising) backed off a little because you were worried you'd overstepped the mark? (Btw, I don't think you did - it sounds like you'd thought a lot about confiding in her.) Or maybe your friend felt that you might be embarrassed and wanted to give you a get-out in case you felt you'd revealed too much.

It's difficult to advise without knowing the nature of what you disclosed, or your friend. It's possible you may have triggered something for her, and you might find out one day.

I don't know whether you should contact her or not. If it were me, I'd probably leave the ball in her court and wait for her to get in touch, whilst wishing I had the nerve to just ask her. If you think for some reason that the friendship might be over, then I suppose you have nothing to lose by asking her anyway, and you might find some answers, or even be able to carry on where you left off.

On the other hand, it might be the case that you're overthinking the whole thing, and that if you just carry on as you did beforehand, then you might find you had nothing to worry about, anyway.

nicenewdusters Thu 14-Apr-16 21:09:05

Hi again. Your post touched upon a subject that I have struggled with all of my adult life. I suffered a very traumatic bereavement in my early teens which has affected many aspects of my life. As you say in your post, when you are establishing friendships with people, omitting a very significant part of your history feels dishonest. However, you can't and don't want to divulge such personal information to someone you don't know very well. Then, as time moves on, it's harder to say anything because it will be a bolt out of the blue, and you feel they may wonder why you didn't say anything earlier. It's a classic Catch 22 situation.

I have found, sadly, that most people don't know how to react to what I have told them. Some say virtually nothing, perhaps a mumbled Oh that's awful, then our friendship carries on and it will never be mentioned again. This is very hurtful, as I feel it diminishes what I have shared with them. I know that I would, and do, act very differently when people share difficult situations with me, but I have to accept that it's because, unfortunately, I have a greater insight into their experience.

As a general rule therefore I don't tell people about my experience. It involves white lies here and there, not joining in certain parts of conversations etc. The very few friends who do know about it and talk about it/mention it are so special to me, as I feel they know the real me. I can talk freely, and without editing, about my past.

It's hard to guess from the outside if the information you shared with your friend is at the root of her not contacting you. You may have drifted apart anyway. If it is that she cannot deal with what you have told her, then perhaps she is not someone with whom you would be close anyway, so better to know now. If you haven't met one-to-one since the chat, she can hardly hold it against you that she hasn't had a chance to share her "demons" with you.

I wish I had some good advice to give. I've come to the conclusion that some (lots) of people just don't want this type of info to intrude upon a friendship. It's too messy for them, they don't know how to deal with it. Some people, even if they've never been touched by anything similar, can sympathise/empathise and their friendship is extra special because of it.

I try not to blame people or feel angry with them, but it is very hard to deal with people glossing over an issue in your life that you have chosen to share with them.

springydaffs Thu 14-Apr-16 21:33:18

oh I do feel for you flowers

I also have a traumatic life event (ongoing) that leaves me feeling very lopsided. I can't tell people about it but, like you, it is a crucial fact about my life - not least because it makes sense of why I am so 'lopsided'!

ime it is rare that people can handle it and, like you, if I do get to the point of dipping in my toe and outlining the situation, people generally back off. Which hurts.

I wonder if people with eg HIV know something about this? About what to do, how to approach it. Tbh I've given up telling people, therefore getting close to people. I have to keep things on the surface. I'm seeing a therapist and that's where I get to talk about it.

springydaffs Thu 14-Apr-16 21:35:53

And I know a few people in a similar-ish situation - a kind of support group.

expotition Thu 14-Apr-16 21:44:09

Thank you both, it's good to feel I'm not the only one struggling with this sort of thing. It really is a dilemma who / when / how much to tell and especially because I get scared of derailing the thread of the friendship, iykwim.

I think Aristotle may be right that I just don't have enough information right now. I guess I need to trust her to share or not share per whatever feels safe for her. I will probably back off a bit right now, because I feel like I'm constantly knocking on her door to be told she doesn't want to come out to play, but I might suggest something sans kids in a month or two. And wait and see! Patience with uncertainty is not my strong point... 😏

Hugs to both of you for your own difficult stories. I hope we all find ways to be more peaceful with the things that we are dealing with!

expotition Thu 14-Apr-16 21:52:49

Sorry daffs, cross posted. Yes exactly. Mine is not ongoing but has ongoing consequences which make the story not entirely mine to share, so it's tough to know what is okay. I was in therapy but tbh didn't really address this issue, and therapy isn't practical for me at the moment. I journal a lot though so should probably look at this in my journal.

I guess it's a bit like coming out. I'm just really grateful to my friend for what she did say at the time, which brought me more peace than anyone else's reaction had, & I guess partly I'm worrying about what that may have cost her. Because too often that empathy comes from hard personal experience, and is very emotionally draining.

Hugs for your trauma.

nicenewdusters Thu 14-Apr-16 22:21:14

Expotition - I think your phrase "derailing the thread of the friendship" is spot on. Friendships, especially those you described with other mums of similar aged children, have a certain flavour to them. Often it's all quite light and fluffy, good times out with the kids and evenings child free to let your hair down. Divulging a massive part of your back story that may be traumatic, upsetting, triggering etc, seems to some, I would guess, like not quite playing the game.

I think it's really sad that so many people are probably in the same position as the posters on this thread. It's a shame we can't have a special little mark on our foreheads, one that means you can tell me and I can tell you and it'll be fine !!

nicenewdusters Thu 14-Apr-16 22:26:41

Springydaffs - I often notice your kind, thoughtful posts on other threads. I do derive some comfort from the fact that my own experience has, I think, made me more in tune with other people facing difficulties in their lives. I imagine your empathy and approach comes from a similar place ?

springydaffs Thu 14-Apr-16 23:49:42

Thank you nice! That's very encouraging - especially as I've been particularly lopsided lately and feel I've been posting rubbish (can't seem to get to the point...). Never mind!

Yes, I suppose if you've dipped below the line, gone to the depths, you do get to recognise when others do, too.

I am a huge fan of peer support. If yous can find others who have experienced similar it is a great relief to spend time with them - even if you don't talk about The Thing, it is so freeing to be in the presence of others who know exactly what it's like so you don't have to explain. Plus you are accepted as a rounded human being, not just someone who has had A Terrible Thing happen to them.

nicenewdusters Fri 15-Apr-16 16:06:27

Yes, you don't want to be defined by The Thing, I know what you mean, but it's so refreshing to be amongst others similarly affected.

I don't think personally I'll ever find the answer to this dilemma in my own life. For me it was an event, not ongoing, but that has shaped my life in all ways possible. I am largely at peace with it, I speak with my immediate family about it and that's enough for me.

I accept that most of my friendships will, for me, always be missing a large part of that which has defined much of my life. But I find that easier to accept than to constantly navigate who to tell, when, how much, how do they seem to be reacting etc.

I hope your period of lopsidedness begins to even out some time soon x

springydaffs Fri 15-Apr-16 17:09:31

Thank you nice (again!).

I've been thinking lately about not being defined by it - because, in reality, I am defined by it as it is ongoing. It is a huge fact about my life (sorry to be vague) - but does it have to be the top story? It feels like the top story - but I have to live; and perhaps putting it in a box [marked The Thing] might be a way forward.

Perhaps those who have had A Terrible Thing as a past event may feel they are not giving due respect to it by filing it away. Perhaps we feel we have to 'hold it' somehow in the present. Plus there is the fear of denial - which I feel, anyway.

I wonder what is the healthy balance on this: yes it happened/is happening but where to put it?

I'm musing about this because is it really important that people know about it? Is it disloyal to not inform them - or does it preclude intimacy if we don't let them know what happened - or that something happened? Perhaps we could say something big happened - if we feel the need to address it at all - but we're not going to go into detail. So maybe that flags up there is Something...

The lopsidedness is, of course, grief. As with any grief we want to honour what we are grieving. So hard when we feel compelled to keep quiet.

nicenewdusters Fri 15-Apr-16 17:50:48

Springy that sounds very painful.

I really understand so much of what you're saying. I was discussing this topic today with a member of my immediate family, also affected by The Thing. She said that it can only ever be of such importance to us. That even the most empathetic person cannot feel the significance of our event. Therefore, as long as we hold it to ourselves, truthfully, we are not being disloyal to the past, and pretending nothing has happened.

This was an event that happened over 30 years ago. We were both still on the brink of tears.

We don't normally have such heartfelt discussions on a wet Friday afternoon, but I saw her by chance and this thread was on my mind !

hostinthemaking Fri 15-Apr-16 18:03:52

I know the situation you describe exactly. When i even divulge part of my backstory - tip if the iceberg- I can gauge from people's reaction to the rest. Like mentions up thread some people don't react, some over emphasise and some look as if they don't know how to react. My history is traumatic but it doesn't define me , it refines me. My dc have always known about and they don't treat me any differently beside they don't know any different. Other people however have a perception of what people who have experienced what I have, should be like. I would say that's their problem and not mine. It doesn't cast aspirations on what I am like now: human beings are resilient and can overcome adversity. I have never used the past as a hook to hang my self pity on and some people can't deal with that.

springydaffs Fri 15-Apr-16 18:10:24

You have others in your life who are going through it, too, nice. Many don't have anyone and are alone with it. Hence, probably, the need for closeness and sharing with others. Except others can't hack it...

I'm not at all surprised you were close to tears when talking about it. This stuff never goes away imo flowers

Years ago I was listening to the radio in the car and a woman was talking about an appalling, actually agonising, loss some years before, never resolved. She said it was a huge crater in her life and she had to be careful not to go near the edge of the crater; that she had to keep on living, not least for her children. That stayed with me - I remember exactly where I was in the car; it was 'a moment'.

expotition Fri 15-Apr-16 18:31:43

It's really tough. Yes to not wanting to be defined by it - for me (though this may just be the nature of my Thing) I feel like not being able to talk about it means it's imposing more limitations on me & thus defining me more than if I could talk freely about it.

And yes to the disconnect between who you are and other people's expectations of a person who has been through what you have. Perhaps that's partly why it feels dishonest not mentioning it - and perhaps one of my ways through this will end up being if I can feel that it really isn't / wasn't life-defining... Then I will be able to talk about it more naturally, but also not worry about the fact that people might look at me differently if they knew - yes they might, but that's neither a reason to tell them nor a reason not to tell them.

springydaffs Fri 15-Apr-16 18:35:18

Then there are the people who know about it and treat you like a poor broken thing hmm

Actually, I am a poor broken thing but I don't want to be treated like it

nicenewdusters Fri 15-Apr-16 18:36:15

Host - I love that you say your experience has refined, not defined, you. I've never thought about it that way. I've also never used what happened to me as the proverbial hook. In my case it seemed disrespectful to the person I had lost. I always felt I wanted to live my life as well as possible, because they didn't now have the chance to live theirs.

As you say Springy, I am very fortunate to have people in my life to share this with. We've all reacted to the loss in different ways, and that itself has sometimes been problematic. Your retelling of the story with the lady and the crater, that's chilling, no wonder you remember it.

I do remember occasions when I couldn't catch my breath, when it all seemed over whelming, and you feel there is a void you shouldn't enter in your mind or else you might not be able to come back.

I'm glad for the insight that my experience has given me, but I'd swap it in a heartbeat for the person I lost.

springydaffs Fri 15-Apr-16 18:48:27

Yes, nice, I'm sure your different reactions can have been problematic - I didn't mean to suggest it's all been plain sailing - please forgive me if it looked like that! One hears of this often: when others react differently, the conflict and hurt this can cause.

springydaffs Fri 15-Apr-16 18:49:47

Absolutely. I'd rather be a cow in a field. But there we go.

nicenewdusters Fri 15-Apr-16 19:27:10

Springy - it didn't come across that way at all, no apology necessary.

I can also see that my event was public, so to speak, the fact of it having happened was not a secret. However, the circumstances and who it involved are what has made it so hard to casually mention during my life. It's the kind of tragedy that people push to the back of their mind.

I think having an experience that is uniquely yours, which by it's nature is something that was meant (probably by others) to stay hidden, is completely different.

hostinthemaking Fri 15-Apr-16 21:20:05

Nicenewdusters that phrase resonated with me when I read a biography (Janey Godley) and she has had an awful life but the best revenge - for want of a better word- is a life well lived. She said her past didn't define her but refined her and that struck a chord.

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