Dear Carolyn: 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?
— Why Won’t She Just TALK to Me??
Why Won’t She Just TALK to Me??: 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.
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.