Questionable Advice: Why Are My Friends Drifting Away?

Questionable Advice (3)

Questionable Advice #2: Why are my friends drifting away?

The only advice column that gives you more questions than answers.

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From Across The Pond, in a response to a weekly newsletter:

Hi Kara

I’m from the UK. I’ve never replied to anything like this before but I’ve been enjoying your emails since I signed up, so thank you.

I’m intrigued to look within and answer your 3 questions, so here goes:

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1. What is something that you wish was different in your life?

I wish I was more motivated to lose weight and be fitter.

2. What is something you are feeling unsure of in your life?

After a few disagreements with friends I’m unsure if I’m to blame, or maybe I’m actually just asserting myself for a change. I have definitely become more socially awkward as I’ve got older, most close friends eventually drift away. If I’m completely honest this leaves me feeling flawed and unable to maintain positive relationships.

3. What is something in your life that fills you with joy?

Holidays with family, just been away for the weekend and it was lovely.

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I hope that wasn’t too deep. As I have never done anything like this before I’m uncertain of what is and isn’t acceptable.

I like the way you write, so I look forward to hearing back from you.

With wishes that are fond

From across the big pond

Hi Across The Pond,

First and foremost, thank you for sending me this email and giving me the privilege to know a little bit more about you and your story. It’s not too deep at all; it’s a beautiful glimpse into another person’s experience. I say beautiful because being vulnerable requires enormous courage. Every time we’re vulnerable, we help model it for other people. Please believe that your email will serve as an inspiration for me and others to be more vulnerable – because it’s true.

Now, onto the Questionable Advice.

I’m an extremely awkward hugger. Ever since I was young, I’ve struggled with where to put my arms, if I should rub or pat the back, and how long to hold an embrace (less than a second? One whole second?!). I’d like to blame this awkwardness on my lanky arms and taller-than-average frame, but I think this would be a lie. I have a distinct memory from age thirteen when I decided to train myself how to hug – because I was that uncomfortable with it.

Fast forward a couple of decades and my hugging ability has not improved much. There are about three people in my life who hugging feels natural. Everyone else? Physical awkwardness at its finest.

You might be wondering, Across The Pond, why I’m telling you about my hugging abilities (or lack thereof) when you asked me about friends drifting away. There’s a point, I promise.

You see, the more I question my physical awkwardness, the more I can evaluate how it manifests itself in my life. Those who don’t know me might receive my physical distance as distaste or standoffishness. However, those who do know me have learned that my half-hearted hugs don’t correlate with my true feelings for them. And I’ve learned to convey my true feelings for them in non-physical ways. (Like a nice written message, for instance.)

Across The Pond, you cite that you’ve become more socially awkward as you’ve gotten older. I can hear you questioning if this is a cause for your friends drifting away (amongst other reasons). “Awkward” is one of those vague terms that we use as a catch-all, and I think it might do you some good to more clearly define this social awkwardness for yourself.

What are you feeling “awkward” about? How does “awkward” manifest itself in your actions? Is your “awkwardness” not conveying your true intentions? (If so, this might be a cause of friends drifting away.)

Now, most logic would point to you building more social skills with age and experience, so clearly something is behind it. (Although listen, we all can agree logic’s not usually in control). I wonder if your evolution to “awkwardness” is less about your social skills and more about what you want in life.

This leads us into the second central conflict that arises from your letter: do you want to maintain your friendships? Or are you okay that your friends are drifting away? You say that you’re not sure if you’re to blame for the disagreements, or if you’re just asserting yourself for a change. “Asserting yourself” indicates a pretty intentional act, and the fact that you’re considering it is worth noting.

I don’t hear you saying, “All my friends are leaving me.” Instead, I hear you wondering, “Am I trying to make them leave?” Then, of course, it’s followed by a wave of guilt, shame, and self-doubt. (Oh, how fun it is to be humans!)

Let’s pretend you can put your guilt, shame, and self-doubt into a temporary box – just for a few moments. (You can’t, of course, but that’s why we’re pretending.) Then, I want you to evaluate your relationships as objectively as possible. Consider the friends who have drifted away. Are you sad about their loss, or was it time to move on? Do you feel guilty because you want them back in your life, or because you feel like you should want them back in your life?

When I was eighteen years old, I became closer to a friend than I ever had before. I was going through a pretty dark spell, and I confided to her about everything. Rarely did a few hours go by without us communicating in some way.

Now? I probably talk to her a few times a year. At first, this made me sad. How could I lose touch with someone who meant so much to me? But, over time, I learned to shift my mindset. Instead of regretting that my friend drifted away, I appreciated what was. She gave me so much when I needed it most, but that doesn’t mean she needs to serve the same role in my life now. We’ve both evolved. At one point, our values and hobbies deeply overlapped. They don’t now, and that’s okay. Sometimes, friends drifting away is a part of life.

Could this be the case for you? Have your values changed, and no longer match your friends’ values? Do you want to do different things with your life?

On the flip side, maybe you didn’t want these friendships to drift away or change. Perhaps tensions and disagreements are getting in the way, and they are inspired by insecurities and anxieties. I wonder if your struggles with losing weight bleed into any of your relationships. (I only say this in reference to your citing that it’s something you wish were different.)

If this is the case, I encourage you to step back and look at your patterns and social awkwardness. Are your actions aligned with your feelings, or are your friends simply feeling half-hearted hugs? Are you as vulnerable with your friends as you were with me in this email? Could a lack of vulnerability be causing your friends to drift away?

There’s one sentence in your email that I want to draw your attention back to. You say that you spent a lovely holiday weekend with your family. I’m sure you wrote it as a brief response. However, I see something powerful there. I see proof that you can maintain positive relationships.

Sure, you might think that family relationships are easy because it’s family, and you have to be family, and yada yada. But I could tell you countless stories of people who don’t have positive relationships with their family, and who haven’t maintained those relationships.

Look more closely at your positive relationships. How do you present yourself in them? What do the relationships that you have maintained say about what you need from others? And, of course, are you meeting the needs of these people?

I don’t know you or your friends or your family. I don’t know what social awkwardness looks like for you (or if you’re the most socially awkward person in the world). I don’t know if you’re the cause for your friendships drifting away or not.

I can confidently say this. Your joyful time with your family shows me that you can maintain positive relationships. Your willingness to be vulnerable and reach out to me shows me that you understand the importance of vulnerability. You have the courage to do so. And the questions you’re asking yourself means that you’re open to self-growth.

Three beautiful qualities, I might say, that are paramount in creating meaningful relationships.

Big hugs,

Kara

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Questions for you to ask yourself about your friends drifting away:

  • What does “socially awkward” feel like for you?
  • What does “socially awkward” look like in your actions?
  • Does your “social awkwardness” express your true feelings? If it doesn’t, how else can you convey what you’re feeling?
  • Take an inventory of the friends that have drifted away. Which of these relationships do you wish you still had? Which are you willing to let go of?
  • Take an inventory of your current friendships. Which of these relationships are most meaningful to you? How can you put more energy into them?
  • Consider your typical weekly routine. What would you want from a friend in terms of time, communication, etc? What is important to you in a relationship?
  • Do you know what the needs of your friends are? Have you put as much effort into each relationship as you expected to receive?
  • How have your values and interests evolved? What’s important to you now that wasn’t before? What used to be important to you that no longer is?
  • What are your values now? Does your life align with these values? Do your relationships?
  • What patterns emerge from the disagreements you have with friends? What behaviors do you repeat? (This one might be tough to answer because you’re emotionally invested. It might be helpful to talk it out with someone else or write in the third person to distance yourself.)
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