Question: I have less of a current problem and more of a preventative question. I was recently accepted into the university of my choice, but it is halfway around the world from all my friends and family, and I have never been very good at keeping in touch with people. Instant messenger and Facebook help, but I still seem to fall out of contact with people fairly quickly if I can’t phone them and hang out every once in a while. It won’t be exactly feasible to fly back to Bali except for holidays. Do you have any tips on how to keep long-distance contacts intact aside from emails every so often with a “So my biology class is being a biology class. How are you?”
Dr. ZZ: Facebook is a lifesaver, through which you can remain connected to friends and family in a fun, light-hearted way without becoming completely immersed in the details of their lives, nor they in yours. It isn’t going to provide you with deep, meaningful connections with absent people, nor will it substitute for proximity and regular hanging out; but it can help keep those avenues of communication open.
Build in an expectation from the start that your relationships will change when you move away. People move on and create new memories without you; it often falls to the person who has left to keep communications open. Your friends at home will still have each other, and while they will miss you, they will also change and grow while you are off changing and growing. These relationships will ebb and flow. Your goal isn’t to keep them exactly the same, it’s to leave the light on and the door open; so that you can step back into them when you come back home.
Congratulations, by the way, on getting accepted to the university of your choice. It’s going to be absorbing, and it will provide you with a brand new crop of friends and interests to throw yourself into. It will go by fast.
Question: My former best friend got into a relationship and distanced herself from me for about 4 years. Now, the relationship has ended explosively, she is trying to turn me back into her best friend ever, and I just can’t do it. She genuinely doesn’t care about my feelings or my needs when she has a need or an upset-even if it means disregarding my stated desire for sleep, for boundaries, for not being interested, or for not wanting to talk about something.
Recently, she told me that she would get depressed and paranoid if I didn’t make the effort to chat her up every so often. It doesn’t count if she initiates the conversation; the clock starts only when I seek her out.
I have no problem talking with her; I just don’t want to have it mandated by her threats. She seems to be incapable of handling her emotions when she feels hurt or abandoned. Nothing else matters except that people put down everything to make her feel better.
I don’t want to cut her off from my life entirely, but I don’t want to be “best friends” with her because I honestly won’t trust her not to cut me dead if her feelings and I were on the line. Is there any way I can stop being her best friend and still be a friend without hurting her feelings?
Dr. ZZ: It’s not fair of this friend to saddle you with the responsibility for her emotional well-being. Her threatening to be depressed if you don’t come through is basically her deciding in advance that she will react negatively. She indeed seems to be seeking to manipulate you into doing what she wants.
Sadly, there is no way to not hurt her feelings when you have whatever conversation you are going to have with her about this. Your choices are: 1) Say nothing and feel continually annoyed while she feels depressed and paranoid because she needs something you don’t want to give; or 2) Speak up and tell the truth, which may end the friendship, or may be the turning point that helps you reset your interactions along more honest and equitable lines.
Without the truth, the friendship is going to end anyway in a spectacular argument with a lot of hurt feelings; so you might as well choose honesty. Choose to handle your conflicts with her on a case-by-case basis (rather than all at once). Say things like, “Okay, I’m done talking about this. Sorry! We’re going to have to either leave this subject, or one of us needs to leave the room.”
You may also want say something to her about the two of you not connecting like you once did, and about your not feeling as close to her as you once did. It’s not going to land well. She will probably get very upset and accuse you of hating her. You do need, however, to create more separation from this person, not to have a long heart-to-heart where you end up more intertwined or apologetic for standing up for yourself.
So let her talk and get upset, and hold your ground. She’s asking for way more than is healthy for you to give. Be respectful of the fact that all this will probably be painful for her to deal with; so tread gently for a while. But don’t let yourself get sucked back in. You’re not responsible for how she feels about herself. Period. Keep your cool, settle in for a few uncomfortable weeks, and pat yourself on the back for confronting a challenging situation and for standing up for your own needs.
Dr. ZZ has a Ph.D. in Counseling and a doctorate in Natural Healing. Drawing on a background of over thirty years as a professional therapist, she offers self-help in the areas health, relationship and personal growth. All queries are answered by email and, if they appear in print, are subject to editing. Please email your questions : <email@example.com> All identifying information is kept strictly confidential.
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