Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I have a group of girlfriends that I enjoy spending time with. The problem is, anytime we get together it’s because I organize it. I’m a little tired of doing it all, and if I don’t, then we go months without seeing each other.
What’s the best way to handle this? I miss them, but feel that they don’t miss me. I just want to be shown a little love!
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– Always Organizing
DEAR ALWAYS ORGANIZING: Maybe they are showing love, their way, by showing up.
In other words, I think the “best way to handle this” is to avoid comparing them to you. You participate in a friendship by cruise-directing. Other people have other ways. Some stay in touch regularly by phone, some by forwarding things they think you’ll like, some by keeping your secrets, some by always being there when you’re in crisis (but maybe not so much when everything’s fine). Etc.
Try recalibrating your expectations — based not on what you give, but on what you get. Then ask yourself how much effort you are willing to give in exchange for what you receive. Avoid the facile extremes: Don’t just suck it up and keep planning, or harrumph these friends out of your life completely. Instead, weigh the details carefully.
For example: Can you fully embrace that organizing is in your nature but not in theirs, and take new, knowing pleasure in being their cruise director? Or, do you need to cut back to bring yourself to a place where you won’t feel resentful? Say, instead of planning something once a week/fortnight/month, would you feel better about doing half that? Maybe your arrangements can tap into friends’ strengths a bit more, too, instead of running entirely on (the fumes of) yours.
Or are you really just through counting on people who don’t share your way of showing friendship? If so, then start making a conscious effort to find compatible friends. You can always keep organizing the occasional gathering of the old crowd as you make this transition.
Re: Always Organizing:
I am the friend who never organizes things but generally shows up when I am invited. But I am also the friend you can call at 1 a.m. to take you to the ER. Why don’t I organize things? Primarily because I am by nature a homebody and loner. Add in a crazy interpretation of the “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” guideline: In my world, I mostly want to be left to my own devices, so I assume others would want that, too.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Thanks for this. I do think it’s worth some effort to meet your friends where they are, emotionally speaking, and just talking about this stuff can accomplish a lot of that. For example, saying to your plan-making friends, “Hey, I appreciate that you make these plans. If it were up to me we’d never do anything — not because I don’t care, but because my default is not leaving the house.” Then remind them how they can depend on you.
Presumably good friends will know this about you already, but that can have a lulling effect, where you don’t think to bring it up because you assume you settled it years ago.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living