Ask Polly: It Seems Like My Friends Don’t Like Me

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Dear Polly,

I feel upset and disillusioned by how my old friends behave toward me. I am 27, in a friendship group of five women. One of the women is going to get married soon with all that entails. I feel like while everyone is kind to each other in the group and celebrates their successes and lives, I am overlooked and even ignored, often. It sounds petty, but if I post anything on Facebook, a couple of the girls often don’t “like” it, even though they meticulously like each other’s things. They haven’t even added my boyfriend, who I’ve been with for two years and who they have met several times. He’s a very kind and likable person, by the way, so there’s no reason for them not to have added him.

I don’t know if it’s as simple as jealousy (I am pretty successful in my career as a scientist) or whether I’m just not a very likable person. I try to be nice, and never disagree with or criticize them.

It sounds like a high-school problem, I’m sure, but our Whatsapp group chimes with incessant messages each week, and they never fail to raise my blood pressure. I always feel like they’re being saccharine sweet to each other and then when I write anything no one replies. And when we meet up in person, one of the girls in particular really gives off a strange vibe toward me and stares at me sometimes in an unsettling way.

It bothers me because I don’t know if I’m crazy but I pick up bad vibes and feel like they don’t like me … a feeling akin to paranoia about the people that are meant to be my friends. It seems unhealthy. Especially bad since they are old friends.

I also think it’s hard to make friends in adulthood, and although I’m not bad at it, there is something about having a friendship group that seems important to me. So I don’t feel like I can just let go of these friendships as I have done in the past with friendships that don’t serve me.

I don’t think there’s anything in particular I can do about it all, but your letter to the woman about reframing her perspective on what it means to be pretty really struck a chord with me, and I would love for you to reframe my perspective in a similar way.

Confused

Dear Confused,

My guess is that you’re out of step with these friends on a few different levels. You’re a scientist, and they’re the kinds of people who spend a ton of time liking each other’s posts. You refer to this process as “meticulous,” as if it’s something that happens in a lab and involves painstaking attention to detail. But they’re just casually messing around. You describe yourself as being “in a friendship group” — which is a pretty clinical way of summing it up, to be honest, whereas one of them might say she’s super-great friends with A, besties with B, and also hangs with C and D occasionally. Moreover, some random Facebook algorithm might just be the primary culprit here: They pop up on each other’s screens constantly, but you’re just out of the mathematical loop for one reason or another.

The point is, it’s not personal. These are your old friends, yes, but maybe it would soothe you to recognize that they don’t match you the same way they match each other. They’re not rejecting you, they’re just being who they are. When they act the way they act, it’s not a verdict on who you are.

That doesn’t mean that old friends aren’t important to you. You believe in maintaining these friendships, and that’s great. But you have to bring some of your own emotions into this picture and admit to yourself that these people bug you a little bit. You think they’re a little silly. Even when you’re in a positive state of mind, one of their gushing messages comes floating by and you feel a little sour. It’s not just a matter of feeling left out, either. You feel like you can’t quite throw out the sugary love the way they do. You can’t manage it. It feels fake. It feels fake because these friends are not really your people. You can hold onto this group, but you also need to make some new friends, people who make more sense to you, people who really do love your boyfriend and want to become friends with him, too, people who don’t sometimes stare at you like you crawled out of a hole in the ground.

There’s no reason to feel insecure over this. It’s something it took me years to accept, but the sooner you face it the better: Some people are just not going to cheer you on. Some people are built to ignore you, or to forget about you, or to feel lukewarm about you. It’s important to recognize, even as this hurts your feelings, that it has nothing to do with how attractive or charming or worthwhile you are as a person. You and your friends have shared history, circumstances brought you into each other’s lives, but you aren’t supposed to be best friends. The biggest mistake you can make is to define this as other people rejecting you. Because, just admit it: The ambivalence is mutual. A few of them are on the fence about you, and you’re on the fence about them. This is true for most old friendships. Hell, this is true for most friendships in general.

If you can try this on for size without getting too depressed about it, it might help to admit to yourself that truly honest, trusting, sharing, real friendships are rare and special and worth fighting for. You have to challenge yourself to make some new friends, as hard as that can be. Because the second you have a few friends who make sense to you completely, you’ll be able to put this particular friend group in its proper place, like a cherished but slightly outdated memento. You will be able to enjoy them for who they are, and not expect them to be better, less ambivalent, less frothy with each other, less uncertain about you. Don’t analyze the causes of their ambivalence, if you can help it. It’s irrelevant and it’s not really their fault, even. They are who they are. When you internalize it, you only hurt yourself.

So the first issue is that you need to make some new friends. The second issue is that even when you do find the most incredible, accepting, perfect friends in the universe, Whatsapp and Facebook and Instagram and Twitter might just convince you that you hate every last one of them, too.

In fact, at this very minute, millions of women across the globe are texting each other “That’s great news!” “Yayyyy!” “Soooo cute!” “Congrats!” “Amazeballs!” They are sending each other bursting-heart emoji and Champagne-toasting emoji and dancing-girl emoji. And as they send all of these gushing messages, their faces are flat, bored, a little tired. They are sick of this shit, honestly, but they’re keeping the gushy texting ball in the air because that’s JUST WHAT’S DONE.

The modern world has been pulled into a never-ending girl-party vortex from which it seems we might never escape. It’s like a virtual global bridal shower that’s been going on so long we hardly even notice how our mimosas have warmed to room temperature in our clutches and our delighted smiles have drooped into a kind of sad rictus of pain and dread. We “like” things and heart things and type “Hurray!” and “Right on!” and “Rocking it out, babe!” but what we really mean is “Hello, I see this matters to you” and “Hmmm, you have popped into view once again” and “Stubbornly, you continue to exist” and “I acknowledge your existence, albeit with some reservations.”

But why shouldn’t we feel MEH about this fucking nonstop living nightmare of torturous girl-o-rama gushing? (And nothing jacks up the manic, squealy, bursting heart emoji stakes more dramatically than a wedding, for fuck’s sake!) Let’s check in with reality for a minute: We are complex human beings with many, many sour emotions that come and go like the winds, yet we’re never allowed to leave the pep rally. We are bombarded by chirpy, self-laudatory interruptions, expected to drop everything and cheer at any second. I get group texts from truly great friends of mine that say things like “Cherry tomatoes from the garden!” and “Another amazing hike in Fiji!!” and sometimes it’s really nice and I love it. But other times, I want these globetrotting Martha Stewarts to stop interrupting my brainwaves with their incessant own-horn-tooting updates. I just don’t want my phone butting in with this shit when I’m trying to write the first word of the day and failing, or running late to a pesky doctor’s appointment, or just generally lamenting my inability to grow cherry tomatoes in my garden and let my child pick them and then photograph my gorgeous toddler and my tomatoes and my massive garden because I have a fucking job, people, and I have shit to do.

And that’s not to mention larger acquaintance circles sounding off about someone’s birthday or some minor holiday like it’s yet another chance to reaffirm our orgiastic love for each other via flaccid emojification. It’s nice sometimes, and I feel warm feelings about it. But catch me on the wrong day with this stuff, and my response to three bursting hearts in a text is CASH ME OUTSIDE DEN.

I choose to believe that I’m not the only abject dick in the world who feels this way. Some cultural trends like texting and social media are just objectively great and also hellish at the same time. Related, somehow: I never liked the term “sell-out” back when people used it all the time, maybe because I lived in San Francisco and knew a lot of people who chided you for having any ambition to do anything at all beyond wake up late and drink too much. But now no one calls anyone else a sell-out, and everyone and everything feels so thoroughly sold out that it hurts. The very concept of selling out no longer even exists for most people, because marketing and branding and retail — literally selling stuff — have been reframed as creative endeavors. How do you fault someone for selling out if their dream is to sell, sell, sell and sell some more? Meanwhile, though, half of the books out there are terrible, but the reviews read like press releases because everyone is patting everyone else’s backs in the hopes of boosting their own signals. And Jesus, it’s boring and also a little corrupt? Fuck these bad novels inhabited by one shining hero and a gaggle of douchebags and basic bitches (as seen through the author’s eyes), where all any of the characters want is money and status and fame. Fuck these badly written nonfiction books that have a loose theme and a bunch of shitty rambling garbage chapters that aren’t even essays, they’re just a total fucking mess. (And yes, I get it! Writing books is hard! But come on, editors! Learn to say, “NO, NOT GOOD ENOUGH, START OVER.”)

Personally, I don’t want to live in a universe of mediocre fluffers. Fuck zero standards in a sea of self-promotion. Fuck boring podcasts and boring people who don’t read. Fuck people who can barely write. Fuck quick takes. Fuck overnights. Fuck recaps. Fuck memes. Fuck 15,000 dumb Twitter jokes about the one thing that happened in the news today. I live right in the middle of all of this shit, and some days it’s totally fine. I’ve benefited from it, even. Everyone has to survive. But today I just want to say, “Ugh, enough already.” If only we could all just call it a day and grow some fucking cherry tomatoes instead and still survive. Grow some cherry tomatoes, and remember what it means to care about your work, to care about quality, even if no one else cares what you do either way. Remember how lucky you are to be alive, period.

That’s dark talk, but that’s the kind of text l like. I like complain-y, thumbs-down texts; explosions; and panicked, sweating emoji. I need an existential-crisis emoji.

You know why your friends don’t gush over everything you do? Because you’re a busy person and you have mixed feelings. You seem complicated and conflicted. To hell with them! You are conflicted. They seem saccharine because they are saccharine. Who needs that shit? I’m not saying dump them. But look, you’re a serious person with a serious career. Cut yourself some slack for not getting all the likes and hearts under the sun. My guess is that your old friends don’t want you to have any more than you already have. Who cares about people like that? Make some friends who have some interest in what you study, what you do, and what matters to you.

Sometimes people’s dumb social-media behaviors matter to you not because they really do mean something, but because the way those people act around you make it crystal clear that you can join their culture of saccharine shit or fuck off. You have to speak their language. You have to listen to their stories without being asked about your work, your day, your challenges, your concerns. So it’s not really that they’re not friending your boyfriend. It’s that you can only be a true friend to them if you become a part of their echo chamber.

So many people can’t be bothered to even notice anyone else. But when you dare to imagine good, new friends who can understand you and appreciate you, what you’re doing is not only opening the door to those (very real!) people, but you’re also opening the door to your own brilliance. You are saying I DESERVE MORE THAN THIS. You are saying I CONTAIN MULTITUDES. You are saying OUR WORLD IS BIG AND BEAUTIFUL AND MADDENING AND I WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE ALL OF IT.

We have to find a way to bring the sharp edges and troubling complications and glorious moments of joy into a world that communicates with a series of popping-Champagne emoji and eye roll memes. That includes daring to stand up for exactly who we are, enraged and frustrated and sad and hopeful and constantly contradicting ourselves. People who fear all of that are people who fear reality itself.

And this world is filthy with them. Let’s just say it out loud. It’s really disappointing. But it makes finding the people who care a lot, who believe in something, who can appreciate and enjoy and celebrate the sticky, confusing folds of real life, who dig deeper and try harder every day, all the more thrilling to know. Go meet some friends like that. Stick your neck out and be brave and you’ll find them, and you’ll be so glad you did.

Polly

Order the Ask Polly book, How to Be a Person in the World, here. Got a question for Polly? Email askpolly@nymag.com. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

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Ask Polly: It Seems Like My Friends Don’t Like Me