Dear Thelma: Why do my friends treat me like dirt?

  • Family
  • Thursday, 31 Oct 2019

Friendship is a matter that surely has been long debated and agonised over, yet here I am, knocking on the door for answers once again.

I am a highly introverted person with the tendency to close off my emotions to the outside world, resulting in numerous accusations of being aloof, arrogant and being an emotionless robot without a “life”. The few friends I have made were all in the same class or school as I was.

(Personally, my friendship policy is to have quality over quantity, but as of now I do not think I have either.)

The people whom I regard as friends, do not seem to treat me as one. I say this because I am socially constipated, and cannot truly tell if they are using or manipulating me, or not.

Here are some situations, so please be the judge:

1. Being constantly alert in sending pictures or short videos (not more than five minutes) or messages to a group of friends (W, X, Y, Z) as supplementary information or because those things are relatable to them, yet being ignored seven times out of 10. Lukewarm responses for the other three times.

2. Inviting W, X, Y, Z out numerous times to hang out/participate in an activity, to be refused each time as they claim to be busy. Yet they post pictures of themselves doing said activity with one another on social media, a day or two later.

3. Carrying on a conversation on an interesting topic or a debate, only to have friend (B) not reply eight times out of 10, claiming they “forgot” to reply.

4. Messaging friend (A), to only receive a reply in about 20 working days, even though they are online most of the time.

5. Hesitant in offering help for small tasks (e.g. delivering documents which are on their way) when I ask, although I hardly ask for their help anyway, as I am a perfectionist. They mostly offer loads of advice – without the actions to back up their words.

A few things to note:

a. I do not call them since most, if not all, of them have expressed an aversion to it and prefer messaging.

b. As their tastes in almost everything are modern, and mine are as old as the hills, I have spent months or years researching about their interests so that I carry out conversations with them.

c. I tend to listen and give prompting responses but will express myself more freely and elaborately in debates.

d. They mostly warm up to me or speak to me when they are in need of help for a matter resolved. (They would start with innocent but insincere greetings and, after a few polite exchanges, ask me for a favour or something. After that comes the profuse thanks, exaggeration of appreciation, a few more exchanges – and then silence once more.)

Am I being selfish by not being satisfied with what I have at the moment? If this is what it means to be “friends”, I am better off without them, since that was my reality during those bleak childhood years and most of my teens.

Rather than friends, I can honestly say I prefer the company of writers and composers long dead. Alas, my family labels me as a reclusive nutcase and is in favour of sending me to a therapist (which we cannot afford, and I will lie through my teeth to).

Should I start making other friends even though all that I have made so far are cut from similar cloth, with the reasoning that all humans, being gregarious, must have a social life?

Or should I indulge in giving up the concept for now – at least until a decent human being appears – and go back to the mellifluous words and notes of the past?

Et tu, Brute?

I can see you have spent a lot of time on trying to communicate, but your approach is problematic.

The main reason you’re not connecting is that the people you talk to have different tastes than you. As friendship is based on having things in common, trying to build a friendship without such a foundation is difficult.

But frankly, your attitude makes it even harder. For example, you send texts and videos that you think will engage them, but you make it clear these don’t interest you. My dear, people aren’t daft. They can tell you’re not sincere.

Then there’s your anger and frustration coming through. While it’s a natural reaction to rejection, they will have picked up on it. And as friendship is about enjoyment, it won’t have helped.

As for the next step, seeing these people don’t want to talk to you or meet you, it’s pretty clear they aren’t interested in being friends. That’s OK because you have little in common.

A sensible approach would be to find people who do share your interests, and to engage with them sincerely. I am very curious why you haven’t taken this route as it is the obvious one.

As you didn’t see this and you say you were lonely as a child, it suggests that difficulties in connecting are a lifelong issue for you.

You ask if friendships are necessary. The answer is yes. We are social creatures and we need to connect for our mental health.

Isolation is linked directly to depression, anxiety and increased risk of suicide. As an extreme point, consider that solitary confinement is considered a mental torture for a reason.

Friendship isn’t just a matter of mental health; it also makes life sweet. And, although your letter doesn’t mention it, if you lack communication skills in other parts of your life, it’s likely you will create obstacles to career success.

If you are interested in marriage or a lifelong partnership, poor communication skills will cause trouble there too.

Therefore, I agree with your family: If at your age you lack skills in this area, it is sensible to talk to a professional.

However, you state that you will sabotage success by actively lying. I really don’t get that. As you have been beating your head against the wall for years, I strongly suggest you drop the ego and get some help.And there are lots of affordable options, including free sessions run by NGOs, so look around for sessions that suit your budget.

If you are determined not to reach out, you might try reading some books and have a go at making positive change yourself. It will be harder than working with a pro because we tend to find it quite a challenge to see ourselves clearly. Also, you may find it hard to find information that is culturally appropriate.

However, if you want to try, the basics of making friends are quite simple. You find people who share your enthusiasm, and you spend time on those activities together. On that foundation, you must also add sincerity, respect and kindness.

Once you have that in a package, you grow a friendship from there.

Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help.  Email or write to Dear Thelma, c/o StarLifestyle, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11, 46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR FULL NAME, ADDRESS AND A PSEUDONYM. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views. 

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