Sometimes, people that I think of as close friends because of how long I’ve known them and the things they’ve helped me with decide to totally cut me out of their lives without warning and without explaining why they’ve done it. I can’t become a better friend or person if they don’t tell me what’s wrong, so what am I supposed to do in situations like this? It hurts and leaves me distrustful of everyone for a long time whenever it happens.
I don’t know you, so I can’t say with any real confidence what is going on. But I do know one thing that I’ve seen happen over and over with a number of people, so I’m going to describe it in case it is applicable.
I think it might be worth taking a look at what happens when people say no to you, and seeing if maybe the way you react is creating relationship problems.
Here’s a thing that might be happening (I don’t know you, so I can’t be sure, but I’ve seen this happen with other people):
- It’s really hard for people to say no to you because of the way you react when other people don’t want what you want
- But you have a lot of really good qualities, and people like you a lot
- So, in the medium term, people put up with not being allowed to have appropriate boundaries so they can be around you
- But, eventually, this becomes intolerable
- And when people reach the point of not being willing to put up with it anymore, they’re not inclined to discuss it with you
- Because it would involve having the kind of confrontation they’ve spent your whole relationship carefully avoiding
This might not be you. But, if you think it might be, here’s some things to look at:
When your friends say no, can it be ok, or does it always upset you?
- For instance, if you want a friend to go to a movie with you, and they say they don’t want to see that one, can you see that as ok, or does it always feel like a betrayal?
- When you invite your friends to so something, and they’re busy or have conflicting plans, can you see that as ok, or does it always feel like a betrayal?
- Friends don’t always want to do the same things, and it’s normal for friends to say no to suggestions for getting together. If it *always* upsets you, there’s a problem.
- There are legitimate reasons to be upset when friends don’t want to do something, (or especially when friends cancel plans without a good reason.) But if you’re *always* upset when friends say no to things you suggest, there’s probably a problem with your expectations.
Can you think of recent examples in which a long-term friend said no to you, and you didn’t get upset?
- If not, it’s likely that you have problems accepting no for an answer
- Because friends say no to each other all the time for all kinds of good and even important reasons
- And that’s part of what maintains good relationships and allows people to try new things
When your friends say no, does it ever stick, or do they almost always end up doing what you wanted anyway?
- In good friendships, people can and do say no to each other regularly.
- If when your friends say no, they almost always apologize, back down, and do what you wanted, something is wrong
- Friends need to be able to say no. Friends need to be able to hear no.
- It’s ok if sometimes it turns out that something was more important to you than your friend initially realized, and your friend changed their mind once they realized.
- But if that happens all or most of the time, it’s an indication that you probably should work on learning to take no for an answer
- If this is happening with all or most of your friends, you’re probably making it difficult for people to say no to you, and that’s probably making it hard for you to maintain relationships.
- (Not an absolute indication, because it’s also possible that a lot of people in your life have trouble saying no for reasons that have nothing to do with you. But if you notice this pattern, it’s worth seeing if there’s something you can do about it.)
What happens when your friends don’t want to do things for you?
- If you ask for a lot of favors and almost no one you consider to be a friend ever says no, that’s a sign that something might be wrong
- Because there are a lot of things that it’s ok to ask but not ok to assume the answer will be yes
- And if your friends don’t ever say no, it’s very likely that it’s because they feel like they can’t
- If people who do say no tend to end up crying, apologizing, and doing the thing you asked them to do anyway, that’s a serious red flag
- It might be that your friends are manipulative and like to make you feel bad about asking for things, and don’t like to say no - that’s a thing that happens, and a possibility that it’s important to take seriously
- But it also might be that you’ve made it really difficult to say no, and that it’s causing relationship problems, and it’s also important to take that possibility seriously
How do you react when your friends don’t want to share some aspects of their life? For instance:
- Do you expect to meet your friend’s coworkers and get hurt and offended if this doesn’t happen?
- Do you get upset if your friends don’t want to answer intimate questions about their sex life?
- Do you get angry if your friends don’t want your advice about their personal life?
- Do you expect your friends to listen to your theories about their medical condition and follow your plan of treatment?
- If you’re having these kinds of reactions, something is wrong.
- Friends don’t share everything with friends, and people have the right to keep their private life private, even if their friends want to be part of it.
- Friends also have the right to have other social relationships that not all of their friends are included in (There’s a good article on Geek Social Fallacies that explains why).
When you apologize, does it usually result in you getting your way?
- A real apology means acknowledging that you have done something wrong, that you’ve stopped doing that thing, and that you will try your best not to do it again in the future
- There are other kinds of apologies that are more about either manipulating others or submitting to someone’s power over you
- There are all kinds of situations in which using those are legitimate, but not between close friends. Apologies between close friends should be genuine.
- Some kinds of apologies are really about making it hard for people to tell you when you’re hurting them
- I wrote about that some before
- If when you apologize in your personal life, people tend to feel guilty for making you feel bad, and then do what you wanted anyway, something is wrong
If any of this sounds like you, it’s probably really important that you work on learning to take no for an answer. Other people, even friends who care about you very much, have all kinds of legitimate reasons to say no to you. If you can accept that as an inevitable part of a relationship, it will make it a lot easier to have and keep mutually good relationships going.
As I said, I don’t know you, and it may well be that this isn’t the problem, or that it isn’t the main problem. But this is a very common problem, and it might be worth considering.