Tell Me About It: It hurts to feel ignored and avoided, and causes feelings of loneliness
PROBLEM: I’m a male in my early 30s, with a loving partner and a decent job. However, I can’t help but feel I am missing something. Specifically, I find that I lack any strong, platonic friendships, beyond my family. I have a large group of male friends who I know since we were teens, but in recent years the bond seems to have diminished.
I understand this can happen as we grow older, but I often feel actively excluded, or marginalised, as I know several of them regularly meet up without me and have relationships as strong as ever. I have raised this concern before with some, but they dismiss my feelings as false. I also know many think I can be negative or outspoken, and this has led to some arguments in the past, so perhaps this is a reason they avoid me.
It hurts to feel ignored and avoided, and causes feelings of loneliness. My fear is that I will grow older and further apart from my friends, with only my partner to confide in.
I want to know how I can address this issue and these feelings.
ADVICE: It seems that, in general, male friendships need to hang on an activity. Once you leave education and flat sharing, it can be difficult to keep up the easy, natural connections and effort has to be put into organising to meet. This can be difficult as it can reveal a need or vulnerability that can be mistaken as weakness but, in fact, it is the opposite; it requires courage to ask to meet someone without an agenda.
That you have already spoken to some friends about feeling left out is encouraging but this needs to be followed up with organising to meet them. It is likely they feel awkward with this type of conversation so you might alleviate these fears by creating an event – a hill walk, a swim in the sea or a five-a-side game (when circumstances allow). This allows relationships to be re-established and, when your friends become more comfortable, you can bring up the discussion about male friendship.
The pandemic has stretched many friendships as the usual supports for keeping them alive have disappeared
You say that you are aware that you can be negative or outspoken and this self-awareness is a great start to creating some change in yourself. There is nothing wrong with having strong opinions but perhaps it is worth noting if they silence or hurt other people. These are your friends and they need to know they can be accepted even if they hold polar opposite views to you. Once this can be established, you will also feel accepted for your perspectives and discussions need not be feared.
Some rules around this might be helpful. Firstly, you need to listen fully and try to understand as best you can where the other person is coming from. This will allow you to speak appropriately and with knowledge of the state your friend is in.
Secondly, focus what you say on what the other person needs to hear and, in this way, you will not overstep the mark or cause undue hurt. Of course, you must be truthful, but blurting out truth without kindness is simply point scoring and does nothing to help the other person listen to your point.
You want your friends to hear you out, to demonstrate care and solidarity for your friendship. Do you do this yourself? Whatever we give out we usually get in return, so start this process by demonstrating interest in and loyalty to your friends. Your sense of hurt and rejection may make you negative and resentful and this will play out in your interactions unless you acknowledge it and let it go fully.
You have a loving partner to back you so taking that risk with friendships is less daunting than it might otherwise be
You have come to understand how important friendship is to our lives and how lonely we can feel without it. The pandemic has stretched many friendships as the usual supports for keeping them alive have disappeared. We no longer have movies to go to or events to celebrate and people can feel awkward about making a phone call with no reason behind it other than to chat. In some way this might be the opportunity to move some acquaintance-level connections to deeper friendships by taking the risk of making that connection.
Of course, the risk is of rejection but the outcome of not taking that risk is further loneliness and the longer we do not reach out, the harder it becomes to break the habit of withdrawal.
You have a loving partner to back you so taking that risk with friendships is less daunting than it might otherwise be. Think of the positives: you will become more open and caring with your mates and also more tuned in to who you are speaking to – this should also have positive effects on your work life and the negativity that seems to underlie your engagements may lessen over time.
That you care enough to write for advice shows just how important this is to you, so honour that importance by taking action and organising to meet your friends.
Do not be daunted by setbacks, it may take many attempts before you all settle into trusting and supporting each other.