Thilde in her home office [Provided by Thilde] see Welcome Miss T, our new advice columnist
Thus far, Dr. Mathilde (Thilde) Weems has explored issues that often affect us all: wanting to give up, idealization of the other, and letting go of friendships. Today, she explores a common dilemma: interpersonal dynamics and falling for the player.
Please send questions to [email protected]. Teal Thilde writes; “Don’t be shy, send in your quandary and/or suggestions for movie and book reviews related to psychology. Kindly refrain from political stuff.”
Dear Miss T,
I am friends with a player type of guy, but not sure if he is capable of a true friendship. How can I find out if he is really a friend or trying to reel me into a game like he does with other women? Can we have a true friendship? If so, how?
There is a lot I like about him. He’s hot, world traveled, lived abroad, funniest guy I ever met, easy to talk with, usually available via text, smart, helpful and sweet at times.
We used to be co-workers and then had casual hangouts. He wanted more but without a commitment, but I wanted the commitment first. He got distant when I voiced where I stood.
Later, he got a girlfriend and when they broke up, I was the friend whose shoulder he cried on. We became friends again, texting mostly. He says he doesn’t want a relationship.
Then, when his close guy friend got interested in me, my guy quickly called and asked to hang out, but still spoke like we were platonic. So it seems plantonic from his end, although it was odd he called to hang out at the same time I had plans with his friend.
For some reason, he doesn’t mention other women anymore or ask for advice about them. He says he wants to hang out, but doesn’t seem in a hurry to do so. He is friendly via text messages
I think but am not sure he’s running a game — is he a real friend or just stringing me along? As part of a game? I don’t understand the nature of the friendship. He gives me nice advice via text. When I ask what he would like in return, he says I don’t have to do anything. But then he’s not eager to spend time with me.
I want to cut him free but aren’t sure if I should or not. I’m thinking to totally drop the friendship if that’s what it is or whatever this is. The problem is he comes across as a very sweet and caring friend at times — and actually is it seems — so it gets confusing.
— Keepin it Real NOT reel
Dear Keeping It Real,
The short answer to your question is: No. You should not be friends with the player. It’s time to move on to other interests and expand your social circle, but more on that later.
The long answer is well, complicated. First, we shall start with the wisdom of Harry Burns, played by Billy Crystal in Rob Reiner’s 1989 film When Harry Met Sally, who stated, “men and women can’t be friends.” Furthermore, the best way to make a man disappear, poof, into thin air, is to mention the word, “relationship.”
Actually, before we really get into it, we should define our terms. Friendship, in my humble opinion, involves a balanced flow of give and take, reciprocity, shared interests, and honesty if you’re lucky. Romantic relationships may have a basis of friendship and typically involve commitment, physical intimacy, mutual attraction, emotional attunement, and shared vulnerability: ideally “securely attached.” Lovers are, well to be honest, I’ve never known what a “lover” is, some vague notion from the 1970’s, “casual sex” I guess. Lust and limerence are separate topics beyond the scope of this question.
This guy, our “player,” is not a friend, he is “some guy that you know.” But, how does one evaluate a new friend? The charismatic charmer is so dynamic, witty, worldly, and sprinkles flattery in all the right places until you actually need or want them, and then they are no where to be found. This guy that you know, avoids responsibility, wants emotional support from you without reciprocating, engages in push/pull dynamics, and has the nerve to be possessive. He engages in “bread crumbing,” giving you just enough attention to keep you hooked then pulls away. You never know when you may get the good stuff back, so you hang on just a little bit longer, waiting for something that never comes. We call this intermittent reinforcement and it’s deadly when it comes to addiction.
The thing is, we humans are wired for connection. Interpersonal connection elicits all sorts of feel good hormones, oxytocin and dopamine being the most popular. But, attaching to the wrong person who is unable to reciprocate and will never own his own stuff, is likely to create a very hurtful situation, where you will never feel fulfilled. He, however, will get “his,” have his cake (and then some), discard you and leave you with the bill. A person like this has strong narcissistic traits. How do I know? Because in your description of him, he has little regard for your feelings. After telling him that you wanted a commitment, he still wanted to carry on and give you mixed signals. This person may have little ability to self correct, self reflect, or see others beyond the scope of objects to be used. Pain and confusion have no place in healthy friendships between adults.
So, given all that, why would a smart independent woman fall for a player? The answer lies in Attachment Theory. Herein lies the academic portion. John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist, pioneered research in this area in 1951 by studying the nature of bonding between mothers and their infants which led to the observation of attachment styles and later “Attachment Theory.” Bowlby stated that attachment occurs when there is a “warm, intimate and continuous relationship with the mother in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.” Research on these attachment groups was later further expanded by Mary Ainsworth, Bowlby’s colleague, to look at adult personalities and relational styles.
Theoretically, if you had a a parent or care giver that was unavailable, addicted or abusive, they may have groomed you to put their needs first and seek approval and validation from them in order to feel good or loved. The role of a parent is to mirror the child, encourage them, and provide structure and secure boundaries. Many of us had parents that may have fallen short in some areas. Today, we call it “attachment trauma.” When we meet a person who feels “familiar,” our early attachment patterns and wounds get pinged. We may be conscious of a repetitive pattern of relating, but if only one person is conscious of these patterns and doing all the “work” in the relationship, then there is unlikely to be any growth or change. The goal is to become a “secure” relater and form secure attachments. The healing comes from the relationship itself: an emotionally corrective experience. Some people achieve this with a therapist. Others are lucky to find this in adult relationships.
I would advise getting to know yourself. What are the things that you enjoy doing? Perhaps you can take an interactive class, volunteer, exercise or develop spiritual pursuits. Avoid bars and online dating. The more people that you get to know, the more you will learn about yourself and relating to others. Take your time.
Miss T’s third question and answer Miss T looks at friendships, then and now
Dear Miss T,
When I was a freshman in college many moons ago (1981), I had a fantastic roommate who I adored. We managed to stay friends for years after we went our separate ways in life. We now live in the same city, less than 5 miles apart. She is married with two children, a prestigious job, and from the outside, a successful marriage. She also lives in a very upscale part of town. I on the other hand, remain single, and have been struggling financially for a few years working for a nonprofit in an increasingly expensive city.
A few years ago, I began to notice a rather patronizing pattern to our friendship.
Of course I recognize that people’s children, spouses, and jobs come first, so sometimes we single gals fall to the bottom of others’ priority lists. But it went on this way for years. Where her life took on an air of importance and grown-upness, I remained single, childless, and a renter.
One day I woke up and realized that the only reason we still had a friendship was because I was doing all of the work to keep the friendship going. So I tried an experiment. I stopped. I just stopped. I didn’t call. I wanted to see if she would even miss that I was gone. That was about five years ago. Needless to say, it was rather eye opening.
The hurt and disappointment has festered for years. So much so that I tried to reach out and reconnect in ways such as mailing a card and letter just keeping it light, then dropped off a package of memorabilia, and never received even a thank you note or “how you been?”
Now I’m just a walking big ball of resentment over this. And it’s eating me up inside.
I would like to clear the air and communicate my feelings. I’d like to tell her that I miss our friendship but I worry it may be unrequited. She’s made it plain as day she’s not interested in keeping our friendship alive. I cherished her friendship but it hasn’t been reciprocated. I know these things happen in life, but I’m truly hurt and feel angry that somehow she is living a fuller more legitimate life, and I’m not. How can I let this go once and for all? I’m guessing she hasn’t spent any time at all heartbroken as I am. It just hurts. And I’d like to not feel so much resentment towards her out of jealousy or feeling less than.
Having a hard time letting an old friendship go.
Dear Hard Time,
Often in our lives, we meet people and circumstances bring us together (ie school, work). Many years later, circumstances may change, we may grow apart and life may take us in different directions with various trappings and labels. I would imagine that you are grieving the loss of connection that you both shared at a different time in life. You are in no way “less than”, however, you are in different places and have made different choices. For that reason, you may not be a good “fit” for each other now, as perhaps you value different things and experiences. Just because you don’t make as much money as she does, doesn’t mean anything really. Most likely, she is preoccupied with maintaining all that she has in her life (bills, husband, house, unruly kids, country club drama, etc). The bottom line is this: do not take it personally in any way or waste any time comparing your life to hers.
I would suggest the following ritual: think of what you shared, describe the connection that you had, how it felt, give it colors and sounds. Remember the laughter and the smiles. Take that good feeling and in your imagination, send it to your friend with a psychic “thank you”. Then, release her like a butterfly, letting go of all expectation and negativity. You may find that this simple act of “catch and release” gratitude may attract more friends into your life who’s lifestyle and sensibilities are a better fit with yours. Be kind to yourself!
Miss T’s second question and answer Miss T gives sage advice in her second answer
Dear Miss T,
From afar, I am in love with a journalist in my town. I read all his insightful articles and see him always talking around town whether at an art gallery, a museum, a sporting event, a literary talk, a chic restaurant, a celebrity mixer, a parade or a political rally.
While he’s often surrounded by a bevy of the most beautiful women of our town, I’m not sure he’s in a serious relationship. I think he’s the lonely brooding artist type. I am pretty sure he’s not gay.
My problem is that I am a shy girl. I don’t have the nerve to approach him and wouldn’t know what to say. Do you have any stalking suggestions?
The clues to the answer are in your question. Let me just say, first off, that stalking is illegal and is unlikely to end well. You describe him as a charismatic and moody social butterfly who enjoys the attention of women. Regardless of whether he is “available” or not, it appears that you have already put him on a pedestal from which he can only fall. We all have the tendency to idealize those whom we don’t really know. The problem with that is that fantasy can become obsession. It is possible that he has ignited your imagination which could stimulate your own creative expression. In that sense, it’s a good thing to feel alive. Maybe you are a writer also? Start journaling. Get out and meet other people.
I would suggest that the next time you see him in public, say hello and tell him that you admire his work. Observe his response and take it from there.
Miss T’s first question and answer Welcome Miss T, our new advice columnist
Dear Miss T,
My problem is unrequited love. I publish a community magazine. I am losing money in the venture. I have to beg writers for submissions. While we have a loyal readership, friends and families barely read the articles, only under duress. My self-image is suffering. How do I get out before my heart is broken to bits?
We all suffer for our art and our passion. I for one work harder than anyone I know and make zero money. Oftentimes, we wonder why it even matters or does anyone care or see us. Rather than “get out”, it’s time to double down. Perhaps you should appeal more to the narcissism of your contributors. Find out what their passion is and ask them to write about it. Provide a framework, an organizing question and limit the time spent on it. Encourage them to share about topics big and small that offer wonder and the impetus to keep going in their own lives.