For years I've been saying to my online friends, "Real life comes first." Translation: If we're chatting and a friend comes to visit or a spouse needs personal attention, or some other interpersonal, face-to-face social opportunity arises, we need to end our conversation and tend to the people who are present in our lives. I'm not negating the importance of online friends. I'm just stressing that people need to be with people in real time. It's healthy. It offers things that cyberspace relationships cannot. It's real.
That doesn't mean that I don't want our conversation to continue or that I don't feel a bit lonely when the other person leaves. It just means I want the best for people I love, and spending time talking with me online when they could be with another person in real life, is not "best".
I realized last fall that my "in-person" people time was not as abundant as it should be. I began spending more time with Darrin and Adam, and inviting DJ to lunch more often. I spent as many weekends as possible with Tabitha, and I tried to connect with friends in Utah when I visited Tabitha, as well. I also began to make more friends in my hometown.
There were a couple of women who have repeatedly invited me to parties or lunch or just to take walks with them. I began accepting their invitations. And it was fun.
One of the women, Holly, seemed particularly interested in spending time with me. We talked often. She asked many questions about Tabitha and my boys. She wanted to know about my interests and ideas. And she was willing to share her personal information, as well. We spent quite a bit of time together. Darrin even consented to having date nights with my friend and her spouse.
This week Holly and I hit a snag. I've written about the difficulties with PTSD that cropped up over the past month. Granted, since I've eliminated the prescription culprit from my life, managing that particular monster has been much easier, but I still have moments that I don't handle things as gracefully as I would prefer.
Since I've spoken with Holly a great deal over the past year, she's aware of my stance on communicating boundaries and relationship needs. She knows I don't pick up on hints (which is sometimes because I miss them and other times because I choose not to notice they've been dropped). She understands that I'm more comfortable when someone tells me things with words, rather than hoping I'll draw a situation based conclusion. And one of the reasons I feel close to Holly is because she's been very careful to make certain I understand the nuances of our friendship--she spells things out for me. Often I've already figured things out, but it's a great relief when my conclusions are reiterated by her. She's very good about making sure I know we're on the same page.
I thought this happened because Holly was aware I have PTSD and wanted to make sure I was comfortable. It turns out that this is just part of her personality. She's a verbal person. I know this because I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was having difficulty managing PTSD symptoms. She looked at me quietly for a moment, then to my surprise, she changed the subject. I assumed she just didn't want to talk about me at that time, and didn't worry about it.
This weekend Holly asked if she could come talk to me. I was happy to have her visit. I enjoy being with her. But I was unprepared for her words. She told me she had personal experience with loved ones who had PTSD. The experiences were not positive. Holly has done a great deal of research about the disorder, seeking information of how to support and be of help to her loved ones. She let me know that trying to be a support person had left her feeling sad and helpless much of the time. She wished that she could make things better or that she could ease pain--but she couldn't.
Holly let me know that she's not ending our friendship, just drawing a boundary. She would like to spend time with me, talk with me, but she would prefer that I find support for times when PTSD is difficult, in other people. She feels ill-equipped to fill that role. She asked if I was okay with that. I said I was. People fill all sorts of roles in the lives of their friends. She's my "chat and go to lunch" friend. I told Holly I didn't need more support people for when PTSD was difficult. I had plenty of those in my life.
And that was a lie which was completely unfair because she had been honest with me. But I couldn't bring myself to say, "Well, I hoped you might be a person I could talk to when I felt sad, but I understand where you're coming from and it's okay." I knew if I said that she'd feel guilty and I might end up losing what friendship I have with her. I don't want that.
In addition to that, there is a part of me that feels very happy that she was honest, she told me something that was probably difficult for her to say, and she let me know exactly where I stand with her. She did this BEFORE I looked to her for support which is so much better than having someone in your life you believe can be of support, but who really isn't in a place, emotionally, where they can provide it. The result of this is that the person disappears when you desperately need a bit of reassurance. And Holly didn't skirt the issue. She knows people with PTSD can be needy. She let me know that my needs must be filled elsewhere.
Naturally, I feel some embarrassment and disappointment. No one likes to have someone they like and admire say, in essence, "You have the potential to be needy and when that happens, I'd like you to go elsewhere." It sucks. But it also lets me know exactly where I stand in our friendship. And it's what I need to hear. I don't have to guess. I don't feel uncertain or insecure. And I won't make a mistake and try to talk to her when I need someone to help me through a time when PTSD issues are overwhelming.
The timing of all this was very bad. My huge family was here this weekend. They were civil, even cordial, so it's not like I had a horrible experience with them. But I felt stressed, and hearing the words from Holly (while I absolutely appreciate her honesty), at the same time was not easy. But I'm beginning to believe that for me, good timing doesn't really exist, so it would be well for me to learn to roll with the punches.
I'm also understanding that it might be a good idea to figure out what I'm looking for when I seek out friends. I didn't realise until Holly bowed out, that I actually was looking for a friend to support me when I lacked strength to manage PTSD on my own. Probably it's best not to have that ulterior motive when I seek social interaction.
Still, I have to give myself props for attempting real life. I don't love looking for friends. It's sort of like dating with no end game involved, and I don't like it. But I'm doing it. Yay, me.