Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 11, 2011

Mary and Kate have been friends ever since their kids were born, thirty years ago. They have lived through divorces together, troubled children, remarriage, aging parents, and difficult interpersonal times. “I am not sure I would like Kate now,” Mary says, “but since I have been friends with her for so long, I guess I am not going to end our friendship now.” Mary explains that she has trouble with Kate’s personality, but the longevity of their relationship means something to her. “It sounds like you need Kate to remind you of where you have been.” I say, thinking about why that continuity is important to Mary. “Yes, that is part of it, ” she responds, “but I also treasure the fact that we have grown up together, in a way.” “You mean you feel like siblings,” I say, inquiring about Mary’s thinking about her relationships. “Yes, that is exactly right. I did not pick my siblings, and so at this point I am not picking Kate either. Having said that, I am glad she is in my life so we can share old times.” I begin to think about how long-term relationships can develop family feelings of feeling trapped, yet still appreciative, of the opportunity to have that much history with someone. “You choose your friends, but as time goes on, it sounds like you have lost sight of the optional aspect of this relationship, such that now it feels like you are enduring and not choosing.” I say, highlighting her point that she values the friendship, but she does not feel like she would choose it now. “Yes,” Mary says, with the enthusiasm of recognition. “Kate is not always very nice to me. Nor is she generous with me. She seems to be self-centered and not as deeply interested in my life as I would like her to be,” Mary explains her disappointment with the relationship. “I can see how that makes you feel alone in the relationship,” I say, finally feeling clarity about Mary’s issues with Kate. “Yea, I do feel lonely. I feel the relationship is tilted towards me being interested in her, so there is not as much reciprocity as I would like.” Mary says tearfully, as if to say, her relationship with Kate is like so many of her relationships, where she feels the pain of the unevenness in the interaction. “I am sorry it is so hard,” I say, reaching out to her sorrow. “Thanks,” she says, with a tone of deep sadness.

4 Responses to “Friendship”

  1. Jon said

    A long term friendship can be a very valuable thing indeed; however, it is most valuable when it is requited, reciprocal, and mutually rewarding. Mary is in part defined by her friendship with Kate. It seems that the friendship had indeed been most valuable. Sadly, it also seems (at least in Mary’s mind) to have become less valuable. Is it possible for Mary to talk with Kate about the changes in their friendship? One would hope that the friendship could withstand and benefit from such introspection. If not, perhaps the deep part of the friendship sadly becomes a thing of the past.

    • Shirah said

      Yes, a long-term friendship, by my eyes, is both valuable and rare. The reciprocity varies over time, and deciding how long to withstand the imbalance is often the challenge. You raise an interesting point when you say that Mary, is in part, defined by her friendship with Kate, in the same way that Mary, like most of us, are defined by our family of origin. Mary, by her account, does not feel that Kate would be open to what I call a “process” discussion where they talk about the dynamics of their relationship. As you allude to, the desire for introspection has to be mutual, hence Mary’s frustration with that lack of mutuality. Yes, the friendship persists, but the quality changes. Kate might feel the quality improved, but Mary feels the quality has gone down. The next chapter, perhaps as they age together, might be different. It is hard to say.

  2. Shelly said

    I agree with what Jon has to say. He seems to have seen right to the heart of the matter. What a shame that Mary cannot tell Kate what she is feeling inside to balance out what would otherwise be an almost perfect friendship. That kind of friendship is so rare. It might be interesting to explore how Mary feels about her siblings and her family of origin and how her friendship with Kate fits in with it.

    • Shirah said

      That is a good point to relate Mary’s disappointment with Kate, to her feelings about her other long-term relationships, her family of origin. As so often happens in relationships, when Mary is ready to talk about her relationship with Kate, Kate is not in the same mental space and not open to such a discussion. This dynamic could see-saw, as the timing could be sadly off. The issue of timing allows hope for the future, as maybe they will synchronize in their desire to look at their relationship. It is hard to say, but something to dream about. Thanks.

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