I have a friend, Jen. I met Jen when I was 12 and we were friends until we left school at 17 when we went our separate ways. As kids, my perception of Jen was that she was a high achiever, super happy (all the time), loving family, parents happily married, she was innocent, had lots of lovely innocent high achieving friends. I liked her but knowing her hurt so much. So I picked on her, teased her. I was very unkind at times. I was happy to see the back of her when school finished. When I was in my late twenties I got back in touch with her. I wanted to apologise for how I’d treated her. Turns out she’d become a therapist. And she didn’t remember school like I did. She said she found me very funny. That a couple of our other friends make her very unhappy but she always liked spending time with me. She thought I was cool, interesting and had good taste in music and apparently a depth to me that she wished she had. I told her that depth is called trauma and we laughed… sometimes it’s all you can do! So since leaving school she had a breakdown and then spent a lot of time working on herself personally and then went into the job of helping others. She was pleased I’d got in touch with her. We’ve been good friends ever since, talked at length about life at school, our childhoods, adulthood… therapy.
So, I haven’t seen her in four months. The past 5 times we’ve arranged a catch up, Jen has cancelled. All different reasons. Two of the times she told me she was burnt out and very tearful and just couldn’t see anyone. I know she has a tendency to avoid. To withdraw and move away. I know she’s been depressed.
We arranged a catch up for today and this morning Jen cancelled an hour before she was due to be here. I had a feeling that she would cancel. I was gutted. I felt totally rejected. In her text she said she’d woken up feeling awful after a hard session with her therapist the previous day and was too tearful and fragile to see anyone today. Normally I ignore how I feel and just reply with something that I think will release her from any guilt she might feel. I end up saying that I hope she feels better soon and to get in touch whenever she wants. Because I know she identifies with an avoidant attachment style and I’m disorganised/preoccupied. I don’t want to hassle her, push her away with my neediness. But the truth is it hurts so much when she cancels. I can’t help but think it’s about me. She doesn’t want to be my friend anymore but is too ‘nice’ to tell me. I’ve had a couple of friends ghost me so it’s totally plausible she would want to leave. It triggers me in the same way I get triggered when Anna, my therapist cancels. Painful.
Today I did something I’ve never done before in this situation. I told her the truth. I sent her a message back saying, ‘Jen, please don’t withdraw from me. I accept you no matter what. Maybe push yourself into the discomfort of letting me be with you today. I can come to you, even just for an hour. You don’t have to be any particular way with me. I’m personally finding it really hard to deal with all the cancelled catch ups. Xx’
She replied straight away saying that I was right and she’d come to me.
She was at mine for 4 hours. We had an amazingly honest, authentic time together talking about everything that’s going on with us both. I told her how much it hurts when she pulls away from me. That I need connection. I need regular contact with my friends. I need to see that people want to be around me. That I’m not too much for them. She said that she’s been cancelling everyone, including her therapist until the session yesterday. She was so glad I had sent that text and so glad she came to see me. We talked about how hard it is to just sit inside ourselves. To ‘be’ in relationships. To figure out life. We have different attachment styles but there are overlaps. We both overthink. We both worry too much about what other people think. We both think we’re not good enough.
Today we were vulnerable with each other and we were each accepted by the other. I started to cry when talking about an early memory of one of the many times my mother rejected me. I’d not shared that memory before and I’ve not cried in front of a friend before. We both did something outside our comfort zone today.
We were honest and authentic. It was scary. Unfamiliar. But it was so worth it. I feel closer to her. She has seen that even in her most difficult times, she can still offer something to people and she can be accepted. The 4 hours was peppered with the usual laughs and jokes that only we ‘get’. In between the more serious conversations.
When the desire to run and hide washes over you… get curious… experiment with changing that behaviour (within a safe relationship) and move closer.
We are broken in relationships and we heal in relationships.