The Problem: My Friend Doesn’t Ask Me About My Life!

“It’s their fault for not asking me about my life…”

I have this strong memory of being at a cafe a couple of years ago with 4 of my close friends.  In an attempt to invite us all into more sharing and connection, I said, “Let’s go around the circle and say one thing that feeds us in our group friendship (i.e what we currently like and appreciate), and one thing we want more of from the group (i.e what need we have that isn’t being met or how others could support us more meaningfully.)

The question was popular and everyone shared really beautiful things– affirming each other for how their lives were enhanced by our friendships, and bravely sharing how it could be even better.  It was super touching to hear each person share what would feel good to receive from the group, ranging from understanding for always talking about the same problem in one life to asking for more encouragement as another struggled with her marriage.

I was thinking ahead to what I would share and decided to be truly honest and share that would feel good to me would be to have them initiate asking about my life a little more… I felt that I often I did that for them, but didn’t always feel like they asked about me as frequently.

Does your friend talk too much? Maybe it's your responsibility to talk more?

Does your friend talk too much? Maybe it’s your responsibility to talk more?

The whole afternoon ended up being hugely ironic in that right before my turn everyone got distracted and the conversation ended up veering in another direction.

I felt hurt, but was certain that surely, at some point, one of them would realize that I hadn’t yet had my turn.  I kept waiting for one of them to ask me to share.

No one did…. and in the car on the way home I licked my wounds.  I remember feeling pity for myself, frustration toward them, and disappointment in how the relationships clearly weren’t that fulfilling and mutual.

In transparency to what I felt back then, I blamed them. They were clearly selfish, caught up in their own lives, and unable to fulfill my needs.

But in the middle of my pity-party where I was certain that I was the amazing friend and they were the problem… clarity hit me.

“It’s my responsibility to share what I want to share…”

I’m always grateful when my voice of wisdom can still be heard over my ego… I’ve done my very best in recent years to give her as much permission and practice in speaking loudly to me.  So while in that car, I remember trying to hear her above the whining of the little girl stomping her foot in my head…which required stopping my defensiveness and blame long enough to listen:

“Shasta… you know they love you and care about your life.  No one is maliciously trying to ignore you.  You’re making this way bigger than it needs to be. They would feel horrible if they knew they hurt you. 

Besides, you could have handled it differently, too.  You could have said, “Hey before we talk about x, let’s finish our sharing first,” or “Before we go, I wanted to make sure I was able to tell you guys about what you mean to me…” And deep inside you know that they would have loved to have heard you and then you’d be driving home feeling grateful for the friends in your life instead of licking imaginary wounds.

Not imaginary because they don’t count… your need to be in friendships where you feel heard is super important and I’m so glad you can articulate that.  But it’s your job to ask for what you need.  And honestly, to have the chance to share about your life doesn’t require them to ask about it, it only requires that they receive it when you decide to share.”

By the time I got home I knew that I could have handled that in a way that would have easily benefited all of us far more than me sitting there quietly as though I were testing them.

Friendship doesn’t mean we don’t disappoint each other sometimes… it means we’re in relationships where we can trust each other to speak their needs– and I hadn’t done that.

Speaking Up

While in a fantasy world someone might just guess what’s important to us to share, in the real world, the chances of someone asking all the right questions are pretty slim.

As a pastor I remember one woman accusing the church of being shallow after she had attended that prior weekend without anyone finding out that she had been dying inside from the knowledge that she had suffered a miscarriage the week before.  My heart broke that she hadn’t received the support she craved. And I also knew that she could have shown up in a way that ensured she got what she needed.

It’s nearly impossible to know what’s going on in each others lives unless we volunteer it.  It’s not the job of our friends to ask us about work, our marriages, our families, our holiday plans, and make their way down the list… only to have us then feel hurt that they neglected to ask about our health.  You get the idea.  If we have something that needs to be shared… then we need to share it.

Likewise, if we have a friend who calls us and then just talks and talks and then has to go; maybe we can take that as permission to call her and share our lives with her?

Or, if a friend has a habit of going on-and-on about her life, we can certainly experiment with saying, “I always love how freely you’re able to share… I need to learn from you because I always feel like I get home without sharing much…” Or, “Hey before we’re done with dinner, I wanted to be sure to tell you about what happened at work this last week.”

We can offer up our lives.  It makes it no less sincere; nor means they care any less.

Less important than being asked something is whether we’re all sharing– whether that happens is as much my job as theirs.  I don’t need to be asked in order to share.  I need to practice offering myself up, being willing to take the space, being willing to be vulnerable– whether it’s initiated by me or them.

Now when I sit in circle with women, I take responsibility to share more.  While I’m still a fan of women being more aware of asking questions and showing interest in each other, rather than filling the space themselves, I also know that most of them don’t do it maliciously.

I know that our collective friendship depends upon it– the relationship will start feeling lop-sided if I don’t speak up and own part of the space.

I know that it’s my job to reveal, not their job to guess.

I know that vulnerability isn’t as dependent as much on the question being asked, as it is on the answer that is shared.

If you have relationships where you feel like you’re always the one doing most of the listening and question-asking, I challenge you today to consider how you’ve contributed to that imbalance and what you can do to show up in a way that builds the relationship and better supports you.

That’s not to say that they don’t have more to learn or that they couldn’t do it differently; but we can’t control them, we can only change how we show up.

 

 

This entry was posted in "Toxic" Friends, Difficulty & Challenges, Maintaining Friends, Personal Growth/Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to The Problem: My Friend Doesn’t Ask Me About My Life!

  1. Cindy La Ferle says:

    Shasta, you are very kind. But I have to throw in an opposing viewpoint.

    I’ve noticed this problem more and more in the past 10 years. Frankly, I think people really HAVE gotten more self-preoccupied, self-absorbed, and self-referential, generally speaking — and our culture has made it acceptable to put yourself first. (It’s all about me!) I partly blame blogging and other social media for encouraging individuals to “have their say” at the expense of others. At the risk of sounding like an old person, most people I’ve met could use a Dale Carnegie course in learning how to be a better (more compassionate) friend.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Cindy–I agree! But to blame them doesn’t help us get what we need and I’m ultimately about how to connect in meaningful ways, not just to figure out who’s to blame. And it’s far more effective to recognize that we play a role in letting the relationship become imbalanced, right? Even if it’s self-absorption– it’s going to play out MUCH better if we say “okay let me make sure I share” than to accuse her of talking too much. The truth is, we all do some parts of friendship better than other parts– and if someone talks too much we may not be able to control THAT, but we CAN control US and how we react in those moments?

      • Cindy La Ferle says:

        Very true. I would never accuse a friend of talking too much. But when I need a listening ear, I make sure I choose people who are good listeners. Thankfully, I do know a few 🙂

  2. I agree that we need to take responsibility for ourselves and speak up sometimes, but it’s also the responsibility of a friend to ask how you’re doing too. Relationships go both ways and shouldn’t be about one person trying to fight for talking time over the other. I have a friendship in the exact instance you mentioned above. She’ll call me to talk and talk about her problems, then when it’s my turn, she has to go. If I try to call her and talk about myself, as you suggest, she’ll screen the call. If I can get a word in edgewise, or say hey I need to tell you something, I’ll get about three minutes of her half distracted attention before she “has to go”. To have a good friend, you need to be a good friend and that means asking those around you about themselves not just hogging the spotlight.

  3. Gloria says:

    This is a very good subject. I have experienced this quite a bit. First, I am an excellent listener because I am truly interested in what they have to say. People in general loves good listener. But sometimes when I start to share the table gets turned at some point to themselves again. I’ve had a third person (friend) in a group that had to redirect it back to me because she was interested. That doesn’t happen very often. And you ‘re right Shasta, it isn’t the other person to ask the right question. I do not think people are unkind, just unaware. If this happens too often, I can see how easy it would for an individual to just be close mouth because he or she can not get a word in edge wise. It is frustrating. Sometimes people just have a lot to unload and they need a good listener and that is what friends do.

  4. Liz Lucero says:

    My BFF is a real talker. She even admits it sometimes. Mostly it doesn’t bother me but occasionally it does. Like when I’m talking and she interrupts and doesn’t listen to what I’m saying. I will say “I’M TALKING”. She apologizes and let’s me finish talking.

  5. Tina says:

    Hiiieee Shasta,
    One of my best friends probably dominates 90% of our conversation. No matter whether I tell her I have some real issues it always comes back to her. So years ago I decided there was only one sure way to handle the situation ….. listen. I realized she relied on me to listen and give her feedback and advice and also understood my girlfriend wasn’t very good at doing either. I’m an attorney and so listening is essential to my profession and my friendships. We fill an important role in each other’s life. I love to feel needed and she loves to feel accepted. Everyone has a role in their different relationships whether it’s with family or boyfriend or girlfriends. Once we recognize our niche, or more often niches, in a particular relationship and recognize the niche, or niches, a girlfriend fills for us we are in a position for having a completed and complementary relationship.
    Tina

    • Tina, I think you make a very good point, we each have a niche. I guess what i”m looking for, though, is not very popular with people. I want a deep connection where we can talk about life, the meaning of life,philosophical insights, a sharing and a kind of caring. I’m always disappointed. Am I asking too much? If a friend has a problem, of course I want to hear, and listen and support and comfort her the best way I can. Unfortuantely some people use their problems as a way to dominate the conversation and keep the focus on themselves. They drone on and on. Quite frankly it gets boring. People say I’m “too deep” and “too serious”. My problem is I don’t want to talk about people in a negative way, I don’t like gossip. I’m not into the past either. So do I have an agenda that’s too limiting? I like to have girly conversations about fashion and sex too not just deep philosophical stuff. I d love to hear some ideas any of you might have.

      • ShastaGFC says:

        Katherine– I’m with you 100%! So the questions I ask tend to be more open-ended: what is one high light and one low light in your life right now (to make sure we’re not just complaining and to help us go deeper, letting the other person pick what is most important to share.) And I’ve found that it’s far easier to go deeper and more philosophical when time isn’t short or infrequent. When we’re all sitting in my living room for a long evening– we always go there. Part of it is temperament, too. Only 20% of the population is what Myers-Briggs classifies as those who like to talk about abstract stuff (ideas, politics, religion, feelings) whereas 80% prefer (and get more energy from) to talk about concrete things–what they see, touch. Have you taken the MBTI? Your second letter is probably N?

        • Kristina says:

          What an excellent opener to conversation, Shasta! Also the last sentence about 20% enjoying talking about ideas. That explains a lot. I am one of them. : ) And it helps to know that many, I guess, are bored or not energized by these conversations. Thanks!

      • Jenn says:

        Katherine, I don’t think you’re asking for too much! I would like the same and like you, I find it really hard to find that give and take in relationships. I think mostly for me it’s because most of my friends are married and have children and I don’t, so they may think their lives are more interesting and busy than mine so they never ask me what’s going on with me. I do volunteer tidbits but it tends to go back to their kids, husbands, vacations, school events on and on, so I suppose my single life is dull for them I think ? It’s depressing ;-(

        • Jenn, thank you for your response. I am married, but I have no children. I don’t have an “exciting” life style. I guess people assume I have nothing to say. I have a lot to say but it’s not about the state of my health or what so and so did to me. Maybe the point is there is nothing better than connecting with another and having satisfying give and take conversations. I’m tired of people who only want to be a victim. Also people who want to brag about themselves. Again, I am willing to have compassion as well as celebration with and for my friends, but I am not willing to be only a thing that listens. I try to assert myself and also set boundaries as graciously as I can but conversations alway revert back to either victimhood, some horror story that happened in the world or how impressive they are. Yes, Jenn it is somewhat depressing. But there has to be a good friend out there for us somewhere. Thanks for reading this. I’d like to keep the conversation going.

          • Cindy La Ferle says:

            Katherine, I agree — this is a very important conversation to keep going, and many thanks to Shasta for making it possible. My hope is that others who read these comments will begin to think about being more “reciprocal” in their conversations with everyone they know or meet.

            Just last week, a longtime acquaintance saw my husband and me at a local shop. She came over and chatted for more than a half hour — talking ALL about herself, her new job, her good fortune … It was a monologue! She’s a charming person — but after she finally left, we realized that she hadn’t asked us a single question about us. (And this is typical of her, we realized.) People like this seem to be looking for an audience or attention or approval — not friendship.

            Sadly, we find this to be more common lately. Maybe we should try to have compassion for them, but people like this leave you feeling so empty. On the positive side, after a few encounters like the one I mentioned, I am inspired to try much harder to ask other people how THEY are, and to aim for real sharing with the people I know.

  6. Patricia says:

    I absolutely agree with this post. I am a good listener, when I slow down enough to listen…unfortunately this doesn’t always work well. If I go for coffee to hang out and chat, that’s what I do. It’s not that I don’t care about the other person but I think it’s more the activity. I have a lot of energy and sitting is kinda boring after about an hour. On the other hand, that is typically what other women want to do, go to dinner, sit and talk. I want to hike through the woods or take a long walk or just get up and move. To me interconnectedness isn’t about sitting and comiserating or gossiping, it’s about making each moment an experience. It’s not really being inconsiderate but many people just don’t have the energy. Maybe it’s not as much that we don’t want to listen or be a good friend, it may just be that we have different likes and needs.
    The other thing I have found is that self professed good listeners, once the conversation turns to them, don’t say much about themselves. Introversion is great but you definitely have to take responsibility in making sure you are not participating in the problem. There are gentle ways to interject yourself from passive listener to interactive coparticipant.

    • Cindy, I love your distinction between people who just need attention and approval and people who want a friendship. This makes it clearer to me about one of my friends. I see now she isn’t looking for a friend i.e. reciprocity, she’s only looking for attention and approval.

      Patricia, yes you do have to take responsibility. Intoverts may not have anything to say about themselves sometimes but they do have something to say.

      The whole thing things to come down to actively seeking a friend like joining a club whose interests match your own. But even there people dominate. As mentioned earlier some people don’t realize that dominting a conversation is a faux pas. Friendship has been a lifelong puzzlement for me. I’m just now taking rsponsibilty for it. Thank you all for this dialogue.

  7. Kristina says:

    Great topic. I had this experience at a recent meet up I like going to. We went around the room to “share” and two women in particular shared on and on and on. When it was my turn to share I decided to make it short because the other gals shared so long. Even THEN they remarked and turned it back onto them! Sometimes this bothers me but this time it did not. It didn’t bother me this time because I realized they need to talk and that is why they are taking the stage. It could be loneliness, too. I think people who have little chance to share often just spill out too much at a time. So it didn’t bother me and I decided to listen and I was OK with that. But I do understand being annoyed when your needs are not met. For some reason I wasn’t annoyed the last time…probably because I sensed a need these women had. Oh, also, I think they had no idea they were monopolizing things. I think loneliness can do that. Make you oblivious.

    • Kristina says:

      I’ll be honest here. After writing my last post I realized something. I have been that woman who talks too much about myself especially in my youth. I guess that is why I am forgiving of the women I came across. When I did it I think I just needed to talk…perhaps was a bit needy for someone to hear my thoughts. I had no idea of my social faux pas. I like to think I’ve grown a lot since then…I think I have. Part of my growth came when I experienced being the one who is around someone who is self absorbed. Not fun. So I quickly changed because I don’t want to be THAT person. I actually LOVE to listen to others now, learn about them, give them an ear, figure out what makes them tick. I really love to do this. It increases my understanding of others, gives them a gift and takes the focus off of myself. It also diminishes my ego. When I give I am less lonely and I feel good about that. So glad I have awareness now. That is probably why I was OK with the women taking the stage.

  8. Kristina says:

    Some self-absorbed people are simply needy and/or lonely and need to be heard. Often they are clueless as to how they are coming across. Some are truly narcissistic and need it to be all about them. I give the needy ones a break. The narcissists I keep my distance.

  9. Karen Eilerman says:

    Shasta,
    Wow, you hit the nail on the head with this one. This is a problem that I have had for years, and as a matter of fact, it caused me anger at a particular friend which caused me to lash out a few times, and eventually we went our separate ways. I have always wondered if and how I could have found the right words to express myself and be heard. Now with this knowledge gained from your blog I plan to apply it to the situations in which I still have this problem. Thanks so much for sharing!

  10. What are those gentle ways to make yourself heard?

  11. Ruth says:

    Some people are narcissists and it doesn’t occur to them to ask questions. They have no curiosity about you nor will they follow up on an ongoing issue for you. If one person doesn’t ask questions of anyone, or only asks them of certain people (who she may want something from) then the fault may be with them. If all don’t ask you Qs but they ask others, then tweak your behavior, jump in. Or ask them why not?

  12. Tami says:

    Hi Shasta,
    As always, your insight is so refreshing and right on. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your perspective. And I agree. This particular issue has been a big problem for me. I have a friend who will call and talk for 72 striaght minutes (after about the fifth time she did this, I actually checked the clock LOL) without a peep to me about me! Thinking she might just need to be heard, I listened. But this continued. Finally, I would peep up and say, Well, we are doing ok….blah blah and share something on my heart. She would interrupt me and turn it back to her dilemas. When I finally told her I had to go she completely ignored me and kept talking! I have to say this HAS effected our friendship. I stopped taking the calls. I know she means well. But as a few comments wrote above, it can be very self involved.
    Now, I have learned how to navigate the conversations. As I feel bad to completely cut her off. And if I need to clean out my closets while listening to her talk for 43 mintues before saying hi to me, well then, I have accomplished something! 🙂
    Tami

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Tami– that’s a beautiful approach to try to not make it all or nothing…. but if it feels THAT lop-sided I’d definitely want to make sure that you feel like a) you have other friendships in place where you’re talking and being heard and b) that either she fills your cup in other ways that keep the relationship feeling mutual OR that you simply acknowledge that she’s not a close friend (which mutuality is requirement of) and is rather someone you love and will stay in her life out of choice b/c you have other friendships and have extra love to give her. In other words, we don’t want to confuse people who need things from us as friends…. we can be friendly to them, love them, and even serve them, but they are not our close friends UNLESS we feel that in the relationship as a whole– there is mutuality. Do you feel like you get other things from her that make it meaningful?

    • ShastaGFC says:

      I should also point out that I’m completely willing to say to a friend like that, “I love you, I want to keep building a meaningful friendship with you… but sometimes I feel like I’m not getting heard. I need to make sure that we’re both getting time to talk and share and listen and support. What would you suggest we do that could help ensure that we both have protected time to talk?”

  13. cathie says:

    Actually it IS their fault that they didn’t ask you about your life. Your statement about sharing what you want is not related to that issue. They were at fault, not you. Yes, speaking up would technically solve the problem by making them take note, but don’t take responsibility for your friend’s shortcomings and twisting it to make it seem like its your fault when it is not. You’re covering for them and that’s wrong. You deserved better.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      But Cathie– friendship isn’t abut fault-finding as much as it is about two people sharing lives in meaningful ways. We ALL have faults so we can’t just end any friendship with anyone who has a fault. And I’m not talking about the extreme here, my friends do usually ask a lot about my life, and are always interested when I tell them, and are filled with love for me. That we aren’t all as attentive about initiating questions or asking questions isn’t something I need to go around keeping track of anymore. Does that make sense?

  14. Cindy La Ferle says:

    I think it depends on what we want, what we’re looking for, in our friendships.

  15. Renee says:

    Thanks for the kick in the pants–in a good way. 🙂

  16. mehs1952 says:

    All friendships are not equal. We all have one or two friends with whom we can share our most intimate thoughts and who really listen to us. But most of our friendships are much more limited but not necessarily less important. Some of our friendships seem to be one-sided because the other person has a different perception of the relationship than the other person. One woman may need many surficial friendships because she doesn’t want that one intimate sisterly relationship so that each one of her friends fulfills a different need for her. If you are lucky you have one girlfriend who fulfills all your needs and expectations but you still have girlfriends who may need you for specific needs. We should accept those friendships and find the joy in what they have to offer although it is not everything we are looking for. Your friendship with one person may feel onesided but she may really need what you have to offer and maybe that litttle bit can blossom into a real friendship with a little understanding and nurturing. Maybe it won’t blossom but the effort to make that connection will always make you a better person.

  17. Ushma says:

    I truly needed this article today….my best friend and i are childhood friends and i really love her but i always feel like her life starts revolving around her boyfriend every time shes in a relationship…. So she was at my house yesterday anx she told me all about her bf and how she was so happy. I listened so carefully and was so happy for her but as soon as i started talking about my life she literally didn’t listen to me. She started texting anf even though i repeated myself twice, no response. I’ve told her that she should listen to me more but she just doesn’t. What should i do??

  18. Pingback: No less sincere | ChristineWilkinsonCoaching

  19. Shasta – You are just the kind of person I look for as a friend and find SO rarely. I would have LOVED it if at one of my outings someone ELSE for a change did what you suggested to go around the table giving each person a chance to share something! I hardly make good friends anymore because the conversations are always one-sided with me asking them all the questions and hardly ever an interested reciprocation. It totally sucks. If I had been at that table, you had better believe I would have reined-in that conversation and made sure you had your chance. When that did not happen, I think you proved even more how cool you are by looking for the change you can make within yourself, and not blaming others for not seeming to care. That’s the right attitude. At the same time though, let’s face it, constant one-sided, self-absorbed conversations are a total drag and indeed, show great narcissism and lack of caring by others we call friends. Those friends need to learn FROM YOU, not the other way around. Peace. Keep on caring and being interested in others!

    • Cindy La Ferle says:

      I find myself wanting to spend less time with self-absorbed friends. Of course, I will lend heart and ear to a friend in need. But when it’s “all about them” all the time, well, it’s time to move on. Friendship should be reciprocal and have a heartwarming balance. I am tired of selfish conversation. The one good thing about self-absorbed friends is that they make ME examine how I talk to others, and how well I listen to others. I believe social media has created a lot of “all about me” people with a one-sided attitude about relationships. Such a shame.

      • ShastaGFC says:

        Do they make it all about them even when you ask them to listen to you? To me, that’s worth telling them what I need as I don’t think most people mean to be rude, but we are all “self-absorbed” in life to a certain degree and sometimes we’re just not always as aware as we want to be but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to love others well…. But certainly if you feel that your friends repeatedly can’t reciprocate then it’s obviously not meaningful and doesn’t need to be maintained!

    • ShastaGFC says:

      I would have loved to have had you around that table! 🙂 And while I wish I could say that I didn’t blame them at all, it took me swallowing my pride to show up differently. So hard to do sometimes, huh? I think that people like you and me will make a bigger difference when we not only model how to ask questions, but when we help our well-intentioned friends by telling them what we need: “It would mean a lot to me if you asked questions about my life as that’s how I feel like you’re interested in me.” I’ve discovered that the more honest I am, the more eager others are to step up. Thank you for your kind comments– and thank you for being a great friend to many!!!

  20. Sal says:

    I have friends (I think they are friends!!! ) who do not contact me for 5-6 months (is that a friend???) I have a friend who will send me a message and I reply and there is never a reply back (is that a friend ???)

  21. Sally says:

    I agree that we should offer up things about our lives and take responsibility for making sure our voices are heard. But I also think that there is something to say about being aware of the fact that if you don’t ask your friends about their lives, you are essentially showing them that you could care less about what’s going on with them. It’s pretty difficult to emotionally connect with someone who never asks you about your life because it feels like they just don’t care.

    I have a friend that has literally never asked me a single question (not exaggerating) about my life and doesn’t know really anything about me, yet she refers to me as her best friend. She doesn’t even talk too much either, that’s not the issue. I always ask her questions about her life (because I’m truly interested and want her to know that) and I offer up things about my own life a lot too, but always unprompted. It often just feels like I’m being used to fulfill her need for a friend who will listen and show interest in her without her really having to do anything in return. (And yes, at the end of the day I know that I allow this to go on and I am responsible for allowing such a one-sided friendship to continue. I could just end the friendship because I don’t feel valued, but a part of me just accepts that this won’t be a deep friendship. We have fun together and that’s about it. I’m just using this example to make a point).

    I guess I’m just trying to say that showing interest in your friends lives by asking questions is vital to a deeper emotional connection. Part of being a good friend is showing that you value other people enough to ask them about their lives.

    • Well said, Sally! My theory is that social media networks, including Facebook, encourage people to blab about themselves, rather than have real conversations and exchanges with other people. We are losing the art of genuine conversation — and we now live in an “all about me” world. It’s impacting friendships.

      I have several friends like the one you mention — friends who talk about themselves incessantly and never ask how I am doing. I enjoy them to a point, anyway, but I truly treasure the few dear friends who actually have two-way conversations with me and show they care by asking sincere questions about my life.