Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where cads, cats, and Caps alike sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about feeling dissatisfied with our friendships.
With the exception of my wife, almost every relationship in my life often leaves me melancholy.
My friends are the most important people in my life, as my relationship with my family is strained (at best). My frustration and sadness stems from the fact that, while my best friends are my highest priority, for most of them, family comes first and foremost. And even once you get down to friends on their top ten lists, they have other friends that quite frankly just outrank me.
I don’t take this as a personal slight, which I’m certain it isn’t, but it makes me feel really damn lonely sometimes. I know how much they love me, but I feel that I love them more, perhaps even to the point that I smother them, because I have no one else to turn to. I also know that I could broaden my friend pool. While maybe it’s selfish, I just want to be closer to the people that I’ve already chosen in my heart.
How do I deal with the fact that my best friends might not love me or need me as much as I love and need them?
Loved, But Not Enough
If there’s a human being alive today who hasn’t felt like this at some point, I’ve certainly never met them. So, first, take a moment to feel the relief that you’re not alone.
Unfortunately, I have some bad news. No one, not anyone, will ever love you exactly the way you want them to.
I don’t mean that they won’t love you, or that it won’t be amazing and wonderful and kind of frightening, the intimacy you can develop with another person. But we all carry this sort of Platonic ideal in our heads, the Best Love that we’re waiting for someone to give us. But if we cling too tightly to that concept of what the perfect friend or lover or parent is, and the way they’re supposed to feel about us, or express those feelings, we can never fill the gap we’ve so carefully preserved. It’s not that we’re a puzzle with a missing piece that we might still find, one day, if we just remember to look under all the couches and behind every bookcase. It’s more like a puzzle that has one piece from a totally different picture—no matter how you twist it, try it, turn it, force it, it’s never going to fit into the space you have.
The thing is, though, you’re not a puzzle; there’s no one right way to make you complete. The fact that your friends don’t love you First and Best and Most the way you believe you love them doesn’t mean that you can’t be whole without that. In fact, I think that, as long as you cleave to the thought that only when you are someone’s highest priority will you feel truly loved, you can’t be whole.
Your letter notes that you feel like you’re in the second tier among your loved ones in part because your friends put family first. That tells me that you don’t, and there’s probably a very good reason for that. Whatever that reason is, I’m sorry. When you look at your friends and yearn to be their closest confidante, I think that’s what you’re really crying out for, Loved. You’re looking for a relationship you’ve never had from people who have. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for the envy you feel observing your friends’ comparatively happy families.
Where there is, though, is you. You! Special, beautiful, weird and wonderful you. What you need more than anything else is to find some love for yourself, LBNE. You crave the validation of your friends because the scars you carry have taught you that you’re not good enough, that you haven’t earned the kind of love you’re begging for. It’s not that you need more love from your friends; it’s that you need more love from yourself.
We’ve talked about therapy a few times in this column, but I haven’t yet recommended it to a reader. I’m going to change that now: Loved, you need to make an investment in yourself, and ASAP. A lot of people avoid therapy because it feels strange, and entitled; like paying someone to listen to you whine for an hour at a time because you can’t handle your own problems. But that’s not it at all; a therapist is like a guide on a critical journey. Don’t think of a therapist as a paid sympathetic ear; they’re your Yoda, your Dumbledore, your Gandalf setting you on the right path. You still have to put in the work— they’re just there to show you the way.
What I’m saying is that you feel disappointed in your relationships because your own love and self-respect isn’t enough to keep you afloat, and it feels like all your friends are tossing their life-preservers to people who are more important than you. What you need to recognize is that you’re not drowning in the first place. Only once you can feel the solid ground that is your own sense of self-worth can you enjoy your friends without comparing your relationships to anything but themselves.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.