I’ve gone through some combination of these steps with friendships/relationships where I’ve felt some imbalance in terms of how often I reach out and how much reciprocation I’m feeling in return. I think everyone goes through this at some point or another. A friend of mine joked saying “well I’ll give you this – you’re a pro at cutting off people”. Maybe. But I think I’m a pro at letting go when a relationship starts to really hurt the people involved. Most of these are guidelines related to dealing with people you still want some contact with, but the relationship feels like it’s disintegrating due to some kind of power imbalance within the interaction. Mind you I’m not the best person by any means to ‘advise’. I’ve been accused of being too clingy and overbearing as well as being too stand-offish and aloof – so read at your own risk! 😛 In all seriousness, most of my friendships and relationships seem to be healthy and reciprocal in nature. And I mean I would still advocate some of these steps for especially tense situations where their presence in your life is causing you harm.
Also, wordpress hates me so I can’t put spaces between each point. This truly causes me some severe heartache.
- Limit/Cut off avenues of communication. This can include deactivating your fb instant chat, preventing yourself from receiving notifications when they post, etc. If you’re not good friends with them anymore or if things are really tense and you need space in more obvious ways, you can remove them from your friendslist and/or block them on skype, facebook, twitter, etc. I’ve deleted phone numbers in the past and redirected emails from certain people to “spam” or “archives”.
- If someone accuses you of immaturity, being overdramatic, etc in an effort to dismiss your efforts at withdrawing OR communicating, this person is not only not your friend now: they literally probably never were. Boundaries are important to assert personal space, to reclaim self-pride even. And at the end of the day, we look for empathy and understanding from our friends, not accusatory messages that dismiss our feelings.
- Delete old messages if and only if you are brave. I usually archive old messages so I do not have to see them in my inbox. Such a complete deletion can be often traumatic as you lose a lot of the good times which you may be able to reflect on later.
- Value and respect yourself. If this person did not reciprocate feelings of affection or reach back out to you, sometimes that can lead to some really awful feelings of lack of self-worth. You might wonder why they don’t consider you worthy of their time. Remember that you have a lot to offer people, and that if someone doesn’t want it, that doesn’t diminish what you had to offer. 🙂 You are still good and kind, and indeed, there are probably others who will value what you can offer them. Sometimes it takes a while to meet these people – but a good deal of self-respect and self-evaluation is internally located. I think good people in our lives trigger these feelings and can certainly help us along our journey to have good self-esteem, but there’s a difference between being around those who can help us with this and relying explicitly on others to make ourselves feel ok about ourselves. Valuing yourself can take shape in strange ways. For me, I generally find dressing up a little, writing, cooking awesome meals for/with friends are all ways to affirm my own worth – both to myself and to others.
- Surround yourself with people who DO value your communication, and the ideas you have to offer. Find value in them too. Instead of chasing after people who don’t see you as worthy, focus on the relationships where others make an effort with you. Give people who are in your life a chance to offer you the best of themselves…and offer them your very best in return. 🙂
- Confiding in people can be tricky. Avoid people who tell you that your feelings do not matter because you weren’t “in a relationship with them”, or that what you’re feeling is insignificant in light of ‘actual’ relationships. Or at least, do not talk to them about how you’re feeling. Feelings are feelings. People can feel strongly about friends in their lives or even crushes! In some ways, unrequited affection within friendships is even more terrible to deal with precisely because you feel unwanted, dismissed, under-valued, and in many cases, really gross about yourself…and because everyone seems to think friendships are less important than romantic or sexual relationships. People who scoff at your feelings can exacerbate these negative thoughts. Some people will tell you to remain hopeful. Others will laugh at you. But the best listeners are those who do exactly that: listen, support, reflect (instead of deflect), and try to give you insight about your own feelings rather than advise you as to what to do.
- Resist the urge to contact the person. If this person cared about you as strongly as you do them, they would also make an effort that matches that level of caring. Indeed, they probably are already reaching out in a way that matches how much they care – that may be less than how much YOU care, but that’s ok. In any relationship or friendship, the amount or nature of communication is always determined by the person that wants the least out of the relationship – because anything else is unfair and cruel. If this person does not feel the way you do, that’s ok! Your feelings aren’t wrong. But overwhelming them with your crap would be unfair to them. Besides, do you really want to be a burden to them? Gross, right?
- Be gracious to yourself and to this person. If they communicate with you, be civil. Be kind. Be positive. Be generous. Laugh. Smile. Be cautious too in terms of how much of yourself you give – maybe save private stories of vulnerability for people who have proven that they will not take advantage of it. That’s not to say this person has necessarily taken advantage of it, but maybe, until you feel you can trust them a little more, stay silent about these parts of yourself. But do not be hopeful or pretend to yourself that it’s anything other than them being nice in the moment. Until or unless they explicate their “niceness”, it’s them being civil and decent – which is actually really great in and of itself and deserves courtesy in kind. In that vein, also don’t be snarky, rude, or act as though they owe you anything – they don’t. It’s ok to keep communication on their terms, and eventually, you will feel less helpless and more in control of the situation as your own feelings dissipate. If you feel that talking to them is taking too much out of you – you can set terms as well and say “Hey, I’m sorry but today’s not really a great day– can we catch up later?” That’s a perfectly reasonable way to get out of a conversation you don’t want to be having without letting them know it’s about them. If being gracious is too much, then it’s better to back away and redraw boundaries. You don’t have to be buddy-buddy-friendly with them right away if that hurts you because you want more from this friendship/interaction than they can, or want to, offer.
- Start doing things you love and are good at. Do more of these things. One way to really value yourself is to pour yourself into things you know you are good at and to get even better at them. It’s gratifying and lets you love yourself! For me, this is writing, poetry, and music making. Sometimes chemistry. Sometimes sketching.
- Learn to say and respect your own “No”. I’d sometimes get into weird dynamics with friends where I’d reach out a lot, and the friendship was so much on their terms that even when I felt uncomfortable enough to stop reaching out, they didn’t approach me. The few times they did, I felt compelled to say “yes” since otherwise we weren’t seeing each other anyway. Take note: this is a terrible relationship dynamic. I resist doing this nowadays because my time is also valuable, precious, and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Similarly, I shouldn’t be taken for granted. 🙂 Valuing the power of saying “no”, when you normally say “yes” also helps recalibrate relationships to terms that are more equitable to everyone involved.
- Be present. Enjoy moments for what they are. Rather than cultivating expectations for the future and worse, obligations for the future, I am working on cultivating a freer kind of trust in my friendships. It’s not always easy, but being present helps me value the friendships I have, and it also lets me withdraw in positive ways, reflecting and cherishing good moments with good people that may or may not ever be repeated!