When a friend won’t let you in, is it still a friendship?

I have a friend I can’t really call a friend anymore.

It’s not that she’s been mean, malicious, underhand or unfaithful.

It’s just that she never lets me in. According to her, life is always good. She parrots that annoying song from the Lego movie ‘Everything is awesome’. Her reply to every inquiry is: “Everything’s fine. All is great”.  Even when I can tell it’s not. Even when she was breaking up with her husband, when she got made redundant from a job she loved.

Even when her beloved mother got sick and died. She never admitted she was more than a bit ‘sad’, let alone scared, furious and untethered by grief.  Yet I could see she was.

It’s as if she can’t show any vulnerability at all.

Yet, she’s a good friend when I’m having a bad time. She bakes, she drops by, she’s kind to my kids, she listens to my woes. But when I try to do the same for her, it’s back to “I’m fine. All’s good”.

Friends are supposed to be vulnerable. Image: iStock.

She has clever ways of keeping closeness and intimacy. She's fun, flirtatious, strong, sweet and good. But the friendship is beginning to seem one-sided and unfair.

A number of us in the Debrief Daily office have struggled in friendships like this. One has a friend she once saw as a kindred spirit - both grew up in high achieving families, both were honest and forthright about life while never actually getting too bogged down in its bad times. But when her friend's business went belly-up and her career went sidewise, she couldn't acknowledge her deep disappointment and anger.

That's not only sad. I actually feel offended when a friend doesn't trust me enough to reveal her reality, her true self and her vulnerability.

But there's no point being cranky or sad. Because when this happens, eventually you realise it’s actually about them and not you.

Chances are, they can't admit weakness to themselves, let alone to you. Weakness is a failure they can't face.

I understand this in some ways. Sometimes we can't even admit to ourselves that we've married the wrong person or we're feeling lost and lonely. Admitting it to another person is a bridge too far. I had one friend who did admit she couldn't be open and why. It was such a rare moment of candidness it humbled me - and made me love her deeply.

"I feel offended that a friend doesn't trust me enough to reveal her reality, her true self and her vulnerability."

But those women who deny they even bat others away deprive themselves of deep friendship; they have to keep moving on to make new friends because the old ones need more authenticity.

Life is a power struggle. Friendship shouldn't be.

Real intimacies requires the ability to be honest with yourself and close friends about what's happening in your life.

So let's now hear from one who admits she closes others out. Not for games. Not for one up womanship, not for power - but out of fear.

"One of my biggest fears is to be pitied. I can’t stand to be felt sorry for or accept sympathy. If I wanted to get forensic about it, I could chart it back to my childhood, but I don’t want to blame anyone or my circumstances. No, the reasons for my steely resolve and the fact that I constantly close myself off to others as I try and resolve "the bad stuff" comes down to one thing: I don't like to burden others.

"My husband has probably seen me cry 5 times in 20 years. Maybe less. It’s not that I don’t cry, it’s just a very private thing.

"When we moved interstate some years ago, it was hard. Much more difficult than I anticipated. I hadn’t found a job I was comfortable in, I missed my friends and family desperately and for the first 12 months, I could have happily tucked my tail between my legs, admitted defeat and gone home. Did I tell anyone I felt this way? No, no I didn’t.

"I didn’t necessarily act like it was all rainbows and sunshine, but I also didn’t tell my best friends I was having a hard time with it. I didn't even discuss it with my husband. I do most things privately. I grieve, I worry, I manage and although I am fortunate to have beautiful friends who accept this about me, I can only image it is difficult to understand, and often for my husband, difficult to love someone like me, who doesn’t always get as much affection from me as he needs or deserves.

"I am, though, acutely aware of it, and am truly working on it."

When I hear this I have more compassion for my friend. It's her shit. I get it.  But I still can't get too close.

Helen Keller said "walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light".

I live in hope that one day she will let me walk in her dark.

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