If your offer of close friendship is rejected, it's probably not personal.
Anyone who has learned a foreign language will be familiar with the concept of false friends. For example, to an English speaker, the French word actuellement looks like it means actually, but in fact it translates to currently.
False friends can also exist in real life. They are also best avoided.
I’ll never forget the first time my friendship was openly rejected because it would require more effort to maintain than the person was willing to invest.
The year was 1996, and I was visiting my pal Steve in Seattle who worked for a Tech Giant. I remember asking him questions such as ‘What is email?’ and ‘What is the internet?’
Oh, those innocent times!
I liked one of Steve’s friends, so when it was time for me to leave, I offered to swap phone numbers so we could keep in touch.
Don’t you have email? he asked.
No, I don’t.
OK, don’t worry then.
In other words, my offer of friendship was rejected because it would take time and effort to maintain. To him, my friendship wasn’t worth that level of investment.
At the time, I felt hurt. However, as with nearly everything in life, I realise that short term pain is necessary to prevent long-term drain. Insincere connections, false friendships, can be energy-sapping. They drag on painfully, and all to maintain appearances and garner the approval of others.
One Way Love
(Ten points for the first person who can name the famous Swedish singer who sang a song of this title.)
Most of us are familiar with the concept of One Way Love, especially in our younger years. We fall for someone either in real life, or conceptually, and create the story in our heads that this person is ideal for us. We do whatever we can to try and make that story a reality and make that person like us. We end up feeling hurt and rejected when our affections are not returned. In truth, what we are doing is creating an outcome in our heads, then trying to manipulate the story in order to achieve that outcome.
This is widely accepted as unhealthy behaviour, and normally ends in disaster. It’s the same with friendships.
It’s not personal
Throughout my life, I’ve been a people-pleaser. I’ve wanted to be close friends with some top people that I’ve met, then I’d take their rejection personally. I’d feel as if it were me, Andrew the person, who was being rejected. Finally I have come to learn that it’s probably not me who is being rejected, it is my offer of friendship. It’s not personal.
It took me a long time, until I was way into my 40s, before I begrudgingly came to the following conclusion:
You cannot be close friends with all the friendly people you know.
For decades I couldn’t understand why some friendly people that I really liked and admired didn’t return the attention I invested in them. Finally, it dawned on me that those people probably thought I’m a likeable enough person, but they already had a full and nourishing social network, and there simply wasn’t the space in their lives for someone new.
Social media peddles the myth that we really can maintain meaningful friendships with everyone. One well-known platform even uses the term friend to encompass friends, family and acquaintances. Some people are friends with people whom they have never even met or had a conversation with.
People like myself have ended up driving themselves crazy trying to maintain meaningful friendships with all these people. But our primitive brains are simply not wired for this.
We all need our support network. In order to maintain that real and nourishing network, we need to invest time and energy into the people who populate it. This does not mean quick, simple, easy blanket bulletin broadcasting on a social media platform. This means investing time in actions that value the individual, be it a phone call, a personal visit, a postcard, or even just a text to say that they are in your thoughts. There are even friendships that are so solid, you might go months or even years without speaking, then when you do catch up you can just pick up exactly where you left off. This requires keeping a place in your thoughts for that person. I don’t know about you, but my thought capacity is restricted. We can only physically interact in a meaningful way with a limited number of people; we have to draw the line somewhere.
Really, it’s not personal
I still find it tough when people that I really like don’t want to return the same level and intensity of friendship that I’m willing to offer. I have recently moved to a new area where I am fortunate in that I already have friends here, but I also appreciate that most people who live here already have their own networks; they simply don’t have the space in their lives for close friendship with anyone new. And that’s more than OK.
While that can be a little tough to deal with, it’s way, way, better than false friendship.
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