I’m in my mid – 30s and have a problem that I’m wondering if it’s common. I have had a wide group of friends since I finished school and about 15 of us have been close since then. Until 2020, my entire social life was dominated by this group, and I spent all my disposable income (sometimes having to borrow) going on everything from 21st in other parts of Ireland to bridal parties and weddings abroad. There were also expenses for travel, gifts and, to be honest, some not great moments.
When Covid came and we could not socialize, I discovered that I was very relieved, and I could spend money on extra courses and on improving my language skills. But now that Covid is over, the carousel of social events is starting up again and I feel under enormous pressure to participate and my excuses for not going are thin. I’m getting some suspicious questions and comments.
I suffered from poor mental health in my late teens and early 20s and this group really meandered around me and took me through these tough times, so I owe them a lot and I feel so guilty to feel like I do now . I know they would have my back again if I needed to, but my resistance is almost physical now and I have a hard time texting back or not coming up with an excuse for not participating in things. I have made some new friends from the classes I attended and I think these friendships are not burdensome and when we meet I try to find places where my old group would not see me. The whole thing is very stressful.
The reason why this is so stressful is because friendship is so important to us and the idea of giving up a support system that took you through difficult times is of course full of conflicting emotions. Still, you can not ignore your reaction to the fact that things return to the way they were before. Like everything else, there are changes in friendship and maybe more in group friendships, and maybe there are some people in the group who hang on to old times and certainties that no longer exist. It may well be that others in the group feel like you but they are afraid of the rejection or isolation that may result.
The first thing you should do is acknowledge that long friendships are very important and especially those that are stuck for you in tough times, but then also acknowledge that this very way of socializing (via major social events) has survived its time and change is inevitable. The question is whether it is possible to maintain connections that are not all group-related and whether some members of the group will take this personally and react badly to you. You obviously feel that you will get a negative reaction by talking openly about how you feel, and it is this fear that goes through your body when you receive an invitation from the group. When you get this reaction, your response is to withdraw and hide and of course the rest of the group can read this as disapproving or disapproving and then you think you were right from the beginning.
True friendships require that we put effort into them, take risks in letting our friends into our inner worlds, and that we prioritize friendship over other things. Obviously, these things have not happened during Covid and without this attention things slip and the bond of friendship can weaken. You say you know that this friendship group would stand by your side in the future if you needed it and this speaks to something solid in its base. It may be possible for you to maintain the friendship while not continuing in the round of social group engagement. But how can the group know about your desire if you never tell them? So the next time you are invited to an event, maybe answer more honestly and say no but open an option like a coffee. Alternatively, you can be proactive and ask to meet one or two in the group that you feel more connected to and see what a real conversation can deliver.
We often try to hang on for too long with something that was good but that is beyond its purpose and it causes stress. The trick is to be aware of the longing (for the past) while accepting what is happening now and being brave enough to face it. This is demanding but true friendship requires effort and getting beyond the blocks – if your new friendships are to grow and become lifelong, they will also face difficulties that will require you to take the step so that this current experience will be valuable to you. .
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