I’ve been trying to find a way to articulate these feelings into a blog post for a while. Different iterations of this post have sat in my drafts folder for over a year. I touched on some of the feelings in my post last year, Confessions of a Serial Non Replier, but after a really good chat with a friend this morning (thanks Sam!) I think I’ve found a way to explain this.
I’ll start by saying, I’ve been really hard on myself about this for a long time. I’ve felt like a bad friend, piled on the pressure to do ‘better’, but fallen short of my self imposed expectations – queue another shame spiral. I’m trying to be more open and honest about these feelings with my friends because make no mistake, I ADORE my friends. I value their friendship, I love them with every fibre of my being, and I crave their company. But I think my friendship needs and capabilities are different from most peoples.
The problem, on the surface, reads like textbook commitmentphobia. A message appears in my inbox “Hey girl, it’s been a while, when can we catch up?” or “I miss you! Let’s Facetime this week” and it’s like instant panic. I never thought something so small could trigger a fight or flight response within me, but it does. Any time any of my friends suggests meeting up, a facetime, a phone call, I get the dread.
And on a smaller scale, just replying to messages is draining. Your text asking how my day is, your text asking if I’ve caught up on that tv show we both love, your message on instagram forwarding me an account you think I might love, all of it fills me with the fear.
And I’ve felt SO guilty about this for so long. What kind of friend dreads messages? Ignores them, feels panic when someone tries to make plans? And it hasn’t gotten easier in the current climate, if anything the need to be present for your friends is greater, and I get that. People are stuck at home and they want to chat to their friends. I get it I really do. But I’m not like that.
It’s not that I don’t love you, because god I do, I’d do anything for you. And it’s not that I don’t want to see you or talk to you, because I do. For the longest time I felt so guilty, like something was wrong with me, like a terrible friend.
But recently I’ve realised, it’s not your fault but it’s not mine either. I exist day to day with such a small amount of energy, much less than the average person. Chronic illness gives me a shoestring energy budget, I have less energy in my day than you do in an hour. And I have to share that energy throughout every area of my life, from the big things like work and socialising and maintaining my relationship, to the little things like getting dressed in the morning and putting a laundry load on. Some days my energy levels max out after getting up, dressed, and making breakfast.
So expecting myself to be able to maintain a ‘normal’ input into friendship is unrealistic. Each text I read is another drain on my oh so precious energy supply, each reply written is energy I don’t have to make myself dinner or write a work email. We don’t acknowledge it really, but these seemingly small acts of socialisation all require energy, and when you’re already running low, it can be tough.
And in my ideal world, where I’ve accepted the limitations my health puts on my energy levels, I’d much rather use my carved out social time to dig deep with you. To message you and say hey let’s catch up, be able to pick up the phone and spend an hour really being present with you. And I can’t do that when I’m replying to your instagram DMs and casual texts. I wish I could, but I can’t.
Friendships should be 50/50, and when I feel like I’m always responding to contact, not initiating, it’s really hard. I want to reach out to you, let you know I’m missing you, I saw this and thought of you, I want to chat to you about this. But I can do less of that than you, so right now I’m busy trying to to do the bare minimum to keep up with you.
I want to be your friend, but to do that I need you to accept something of me. I want to dig deep with you, be here to talk when you need me, pick up the phone and catch up in a way that feels restorative and happy. I don’t want to associate our friendship with negative feelings of guilt and exhaustion. But to do that I guess I need to accept something, and I need you to accept it too. I can’t be there for you all the time. I need to not speak to you for a while. I need our catch ups to be wholehearted and less frequent, rather than regular and surface level. If you need a friend to help you with something, or who you can see every few months and they’ll give you their all, I’m your gal. If you need someone to talk to all the time, I’m so sorry but I can’t be that for you.
Realising all this feels like a weight off my mind. Getting to the bottom to why I really can’t reply to every message means I can stop feeling guilty. Setting boundaries in a friendship is so important, and I guess mine are stricter than most. But at my worst when I’m not setting my own boundaries and trying to show up for my friends in the way I think they want, it effects my physical and mental health. If I’m talking to you every day, that energy comes from somewhere else, and that means I’m not working, I’m not moving my body, I’m not observing my own needs for rest and quiet, I’m neglecting my relationship, my chores, even my own personal hygiene. At my worst at the beginning of the pandemic, I wasn’t getting out of bed, because every ounce of my energy was going into talking with my friends, making sure they’re doing okay with these big changes going on.
I’d love to be that friend that’s always there. But the reality is I can’t be. And I really hope that you know if you truly need me, I’m always at the end of the phone. But I can’t be your everyday company, and I hope you can respect those boundaries. I love you, and I want to be my best self in our friendship, and I can only do that with space and distance. Give me the space to harvest the energy to miss you. I want our friendship to be carried by happiness and positivity, not weighted in negativity.