Over the weekend we went to Providence for a friend’s birthday party. We hadn’t seen these friends in a while, because apparently every few years I need to go into a self-imposed witness protection style hibernation in which I don’t speak to or communicate with people I care very deeply about for YEARS. Literal years. This is not the first time this has happened and I’d wager it will not be the last and it is a behavior I am puzzled by and ashamed of.
I’ve been trying to diagnose how and why it happens and the best I can come up with is that it is often triggered by a depressive episode. The specifics of this are hazy to me, but what I think happens is that I enter a rough patch mentally which causes me to retreat, and when I realize I haven’t spoken to someone for a while I start to feel guilty. The guilt manifests as: “Oh no. I haven’t called in a while, person is probably upset with me, if I call now person will chastise me for not calling, therefore I will retreat further into my little cocoon.”
It’s shitty, it makes me feel bad, and as I realized this weekend it also makes my friends feel bad. I am not actively trying to ignore people, I just reach a point where I think it’s too late to engage and give up altogether out of fear. I should stress that these are people I like! A lot!
On the way home from the party, Derek and I were discussing our friendships and how I feel like, on the whole (there are very specific instances where this is not true) we both can be relied upon when we are needed. If a friend lets me know they need help, I will drop what I’m doing to help. Whatever it is, I will gladly and happily help. (I have helped so many people move in my lifetime and I don’t even own a truck.) The problem is, they have to ask. Because I’m lousy at everyday friendship–checking in when everything is fine, sending along notes to see how people are doing–I don’t discover help is needed until it is explicitly requested.
There’s a part of me that tries to defend this behavior with: “Well! They could be checking in with me too, you know!” This is a cop out on my part. Relationships are not one-sided and I almost always lean heavily on other people to engage with me. I have never been the person who calls up a friend to see if they want to do something. Mostly–and this is pathetic–because I think people either don’t really like me or are mad at me. (I should say, this is a possibility, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider I assume this about people with whom I’ve been friends with for decades.)
The last couple of years have been hard. For everyone. For me. When I spend time with people I care about, it makes it feel less hard.
So. What to do? How to overcome this fear of rejection? It’s going to feel weird for everyone involved, but I think I need to start scheduling friend check-ins. If I pay my bills on the 10th of the month, maybe on a rotating basis I need to check in with my friends on like, the 11th. Put them in the calendar. Make them a priority. Ask people to do things. Invite people to our house. Don’t freak out when they say no. Ask again.