Friend’s ret­i­cence seen as a prob­lem

Star Tribune - - ADVICE & GAMES - E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@wash­post.com.

I have a friend who is not good at ex­press­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity. We’ve been best friends for three years and only once has she opened up to me about trau­matic life ex­pe­ri­ences — and only then be­cause we forced our­selves to talk about emo­tions by play­ing “Feel­ings Roulette.” She never asks for emo­tional sup­port, even for small is­sues, though she’s great about giv­ing me sup­port when I need it.

Her ret­i­cence makes me feel un­com­fort­able, awk­ward, and too needy when I ex­press vul­ner­a­bil­ity to her.

It also makes me feel un­sure about the state of our re­la­tion­ship, like we’re not as good friends as I want us to be, though I know she con­sid­ers me her best friend and loves me deeply.

Ob­vi­ously I don’t want to pres­sure her into shar­ing more than she’s com­fort­able with, but the cur­rent state of af­fairs makes me re­ally un­happy. I want to be even closer with her; I want to help her, to demon­strate my love for her by giv­ing her emo­tional sup­port and care when she needs it; I want her to be vul­ner­a­ble with me. What can I do?

Dear Carolyn:

With apolo­gies to Darth Vader — the need is strong with this one.

First thing I imag­ined was a sig­na­ture on her let­ter: Why Won’t She Just AC­CEPT Me?? But that’s funny be­cause she wouldn’t write to me. That’s not how she works.

I can say this with­out know­ing her be­cause that’s what you’ve told me she has been telling you, over and over: Gut-spilling is not how she works. Ex­cept while play­ing “Feel­ings Roulette,” which sounds as pru­dent as the Rus­sian one.

Carolyn says:

The dif­fer­ence be­tween my take and yours is that you see her gut-re­ten­tion as some­thing bro­ken in her that you want to fix for your own ben­e­fit. And therein lies your need­i­ness: Does she need help, or do you just need to be help­ful?

What you see as “not good at ex­press­ing” might re­ally be “not ex­press­ing.” Maybe talk­ing isn’t her way to feel bet­ter or process her pain bet­ter or en­joy your friend­ship more. Maybe she and her demons shake hands and agree to dis­agree. Not ev­ery stoic is a com­plainer whose pipes are clogged.

Maybe, of course, she is blocked. But whether her ret­i­cence is healthy or un-, the up­shot is that you want to show af­fec­tion for your friend the way you want to show it. By pry­ing her open. Ew.

If your mo­ti­va­tion is love for her, then please di­rect your en­ergy to giv­ing of your­self in the form she most ap­pre­ci­ates. Con­sider that it’s the com­pan­ion­ship you pro­vide her, the trust you place in her when you show your hon­est self, the re­spect for her ways that you demon­strate by not pres­sur­ing her to talk.

If th­ese did in­deed put the “best” in your friend­ship, then maybe the way to im­prove on it would be for you sim­ply to trust that. As in, like her as-is; trust that she either likes her­self as-is or will tell you on her own timetable and in her own way that she doesn’t; and trust your­self to be lik­able, too, with­out hav­ing to earn it through amaz­ing feats of sup­port.

7. I’m laugh­ing at clouds so _____

8. I never knew my heart could sing, I never _____ 9. Taller than the tallest tree is, that’s how _____

An­swers:

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