My friends never visit me

I moved to L.A. and they always say they'll come but I'm left here all alone

Published December 23, 2010 1:20AM (EST)

Dear Reader,

I think I'm taking tomorrow off so this would be an excellent time to say that it's the holiday season now in case you haven't noticed and consequently I'm writing a lot about Christmas and if the word "Christmas" is getting on your nerves it's getting on my nerves too but not being a public school official I use the word anyway even though many things that are not Christmas are also happening this time of year and though it probably would be better and more honest and responsible to name them all I just refer you to a couple of sites to refresh your memory and your spirit, and mine as well.

I mean, it's a nice word, "Christmas," and has nice boyhood associations for me. 

But if you feel left out or ignored by all this Christmas hoopla, well, first of all, you're not alone, and second of all, aside from the other official holidays (can you believe that Festivus has now made it into the pantheon?) there are larger planetary phenomena that we can all share in whether they have institutional recognition or not. I mean, there's magic in the sky. I'm no more a pagan or a Buddhist than I am a Christian, but when I walk outside into the winter storms, and when I feel the day shorten and shorten and the night lengthen and lengthen and then finally reverse at the solstice, I feel a stirring that has nothing to do with politics or religion or culture and has everything to do with being a child of this strange and marvelous universe.

In this we share.

So. Speaking of magic, as I say this, I am in my office with the door closed, listening to Artur Rubinstein play Chopin's mazurkas, and though it's cold and rainy I have the window wide open because the poodles are farting in their sleep.

Such is life. Greetings to you all. I hope you get some time off to chill out and warm up.

Dear Cary,

I have a very perplexing dilemma and fear I'm not handling it well.

Five years ago, I moved away from my Midwestern hometown to pursue a new career in Los Angeles. The last five years have been exciting, stressful and a roller coaster; my longtime partner (who moved here with me) dumped me once we arrived, and the job for which I made the move didn't really turn out to be what I expected. I'm also deeply in debt from school loans and credit cards, and my job doesn't pay very well. I went through some very dark times soon after I arrived here. During that time, I relied on my support system -- friends here, friends and family back home -- to see me through times when I was pretty fragile.

I've bounced back nicely. I'm renting a tiny apartment on the cheap, got good consolidation loans for most of my debt, and I'm dealing with my job better every day. I've made new friends, and taken up new hobbies, and have mastered the art of living and getting around in L.A. I'm proud that I weathered the move, the breakup, the horrible job, and adjusting to living here as well as I have. I even started dating someone, and it's going well!

Here's the problem: Since the move, I have flown home to visit a few times -- on my own, with my own (scant) money. I'm ecstatic to see my friends and family and it's well worth the cost each time. However, my Midwestern loved ones do not come to visit me. Several of them have "promised" ... and only one has actually come to visit. Two that bought plane tickets canceled at the last minute. Others have come up with dates/schedules but then never actually bought a ticket. Everyone seems to have big talk, then an excuse. Over and over. For a couple of years now.

Cary, I'm so tired of being jerked around. I am terribly homesick. The fact that I really want to show off my new, freshly repaired life with the important people I miss makes this really difficult. I even offered to pay for a ticket for one of my best friends to fly out and spend a weekend, and she agreed enthusiastically, and then she canceled a week before. These are friends and family who love me; we talk frequently and they are all well aware how badly I want them to visit. But, this I'm-gonna-come-visit-you-just-kidding-no-I'm-not game is taking an emotional toll on me.

I've been vacillating between angry, irrational thoughts (they all hate traveling, are passive-aggressive and cheap; how dare they; it's not fair, etc.) to totally insecure thoughts (nobody loves me; nobody cares; I'm gonna go eat some worms) to just being baffled (why won't they just reciprocate? I visited them. Is there something I don't know?). I'm trying to be respectful that people are so "busy," and have complicated lives, but there's a limit to what is acceptable and what is just plain inconsiderate.

I'm starting to lose sleep. I wonder if I'm overreacting. I wonder if I'm just being a big baby. I wonder if I should fire off an angry e-mail to all of them, letting them know my feelings are getting more and more hurt every time this happens. I'm usually more confident and self-possessed than this (I'm 39). I know I need to do something, but I'm stuck. Your thoughts would be appreciated!

I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry

Dear Lonesome,

I suggest you use this time around the holidays to telephone your friends and chat with them, warmly and at length. It will cheer you up.

Stay off the topic of when they are going to visit. Don't beg, don't plead and for sure don't fire anything off. In communications, anything that can be fired off probably shouldn't be. There should be a test. If you're firing it off, don't.

Just connect with your friends and the people you love. Don't ask them to come out. Don't make any plans or demands. Just chat and enjoy chatting. What you need is your friends in your life. If they aren't there, you can still have that emotional connection.

In fact, the emotional connection can be even better sometimes. There's nothing quite like a long phone conversation.

"What a many-splendored experience it once was to talk on the phone," writes Virginia Heffernan in a wonderful Oct. 31, 2010, essay in the New York Times magazine.

It is different talking on a cellphone. It's not quite as pleasurable as the analog line. There is no heavy phone to cradle, and the sound is cold, not warm. Still, you can connect with the people that matter to you, in real time, and hear their voices and the way they breathe.

As to your desire to have more people visit you, after reconnecting emotionally with the people who are important to you by calling them and having long, engaging conversations, I suggest that you be very strategic and coldhearted in a campaign to make them come to visit you.

What I mean is, you have to actually make it happen. This may mean finding an attractive flight. It may mean forcing your friend to give you a schedule of when it would be possible to come. It means getting down to the actual logistics of the thing and making it happen. It may mean putting things on a calendar and making reminder calls. It may mean, as it often does in sales, overcoming objections and resistance and obstacles.

It is a sales campaign. You have to complete the sale. What you have done so far is get people interested. You have gotten them interested but you have not brought home the sale.

It may seem to you that you should not have to bring home the sale. It may seem to you that the people who are supposed to be your friends ought to undertake all this on their own. But the truth is that they have not succeeded. So they need some persuading and some logistical support. You need to nail down dates and times. So keep at it. Don't take a vague expression of interest for a commitment.

Maybe what's really bugging you is the emotional effect of their failure to follow through. This may have more to do with their own personalities than with any desire or lack of desire to visit you. Take me, for instance. My friends move away and I promise to visit them but I don't. So I have been trying, lately, to stop promising to visit. Because I just feel terrible when I do that. But I'm not very good at visiting. In fact, in certain ways, I'm a really terrible friend. I am. I always feel like I have no money. It's just one of those silly things. But I have found one thing that works: making a reservation. Definitely. Making a reservation works. Paying the money for a ticket works.

So this holiday season just call your friends and rekindle your friendships. Then, later in the year, get to work on them. Whatever works. Later in the year, if you can get them on the phone and then get them to log on to an online reservations system and make a reservation while you are on the phone together, that would be good. Some people need to do the reservation thing with someone else there. It's hard to do it alone. You start thinking about all the money you're spending, and you get tense, and if anything goes wrong with the reservations machinery, you can get upset and say screw the whole thing. So if you can walk somebody through the process while you're on the phone together, that might help.

And also, please, for me, just get over your feelings of insecurity about this. Know that your friends love you. They love you and they miss you and they wish you were home and they also wish they were visiting you but they just can't quite get it together. They need a little help. That's your job. Your friends matter. Stick close to them.

Make it happen.

January 2010 Creative Getaway

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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