My Friends Are Trying So Hard

On asking for what you need, or not

The biggest myth about love is that it turns everyone into a mind reader.

That’s what Rachel DeWoskin, one of my favorite writing teachers, told us in the creative non-fiction workshop I took with her at NYU in 2010. She was talking about romantic love, and made us laugh when she detailed a hypothetical scenario to prove her point.

If I wake up in a terrible mood one day and the one thing I really want is flowers, I should tell my husband. Because if I don’t, I’m not guaranteed that he will know to bring home flowers that night, and he will not understand why I become furious because flowers were really the only thing that could turn my day around, and we will inevitably fight, and it all could have been avoided if I just let him know what I needed.

I think about the flowers all the time. It’s been eleven years and I’m still thinking about the flowers. Incase you’re not familiar with my heart or my brain or my writing, I’ll spell it out: I subscribe to the theory of the flowers. You have to tell the people you love what you need. You cannot fault someone you love for not being a mind reader. If I wake up in a terrible mood one day and the one thing I really want is flowers, I should tell my husband. Yes. Of course.


My friends are dreaming about me.

One friend texts me to say we were at a creative writing retreat together last night. You filled me in on ALL the queer gossip, they say. It was juicy! Another friends texts me that I was raising pink and purple butterflies in a bathroom last week. It was confusing but also somewhat lovely, she says. Still another friend tells me he has been dreaming about giving me hugs. Someone else found us in Montana, at Glacier National Park: you’d given up on your hiking boots and were going barefoot to great success, just fyi! And another says she dreamt of getting on a plane to visit me; she ended up at her old summer camp instead.

I tell my friends who tell me their dreams what Lidia Yuknavitch told me in a writing workshop two winters ago. She said she believes when we show up in each other’s dreams, we’re traveling for real. If you see me in your dream tonight it’s because I’m really there, because I’m wandering over time and space and brains and reality to meet you in the middle of the night. By the same logic, if I see you in my dream it’s because you traveled all that way to see me.

But I haven’t been dreaming of anyone since my dad died. My mind is closed off; no visitors allowed.

My friends are feeding me.

In Massachusetts, my mom’s friend set up a meal train for our family.

(I almost start crying when I type the word family because for me, that word has always meant four, and now it means three. I’m not sure why I need you to know how sad that is, but wow, that’s fucking sad, isn’t it?)

For every single night in the month of January we have dinner delivered to our door. Sometimes it is a home cooked meal and sometimes it is a surprise delivery and sometimes we’ve been gifted a DoorDash gift certificate and so we made the choice about what we wanted but still, we do not have to leave the house, we do not have to think too much. Thinking is bad, I have learned. The less thinking you do the better. Dinner does not have to be about thinking in January; because of our friends, everything comes to us. Near the end of the month my mom says, I think I am ready to start cooking for myself again. I am about to go back to Portland and I can’t imagine cooking for myself again.

I text two of my best friends in our group chat. I hate asking for things. I type then delete then type then delete then finally settle on:

I have a rly big favor to ask… I am feeling rly stressed about making myself food… I'm worried it will be jarring to come back to Portland into quarantine and have to like, take care of myself…

B cuts me off before I can continue.

I would be DELIGHTED to feed you!!!!!!!!

A responds a few minutes later.

Oh my God Vanessa, I was already planning on feeding you when you come back. And we’ve already talked a ton about the MANY ways we want to try to take care of you.

I’ve been back in Portland for more than a month now. I still have not had to make a meal for myself. B and A organized an entire meal train. Everyone who loves me in this town keeps bringing me food.

My friends are trying so hard.

I know it. I can feel it. They want to help me. I am not talking about their limitations, or even the limitations of friendship. I believe in friendship like I believe in asking for the flowers.

Why is it so hard to let my friends love me through this pain?

Here is an incomplete list of things my friends have done since my dad died two months ago: water my plants, mail my mom a rose quartz necklace to help heal her heart, send me flowers, send my mom flowers, make me meals, give me their mom’s phone number so we can have a long distance consult because she’s a physical therapist and my butt is hurting from sitting in a bad desk chair for too many hours, accept texts about my dad out of the blue, ask me to go on a walk, show up at my house and just sit outside with me, listen to me wail in my car late at night, grocery shop for me at Trader Joe’s, gossip with me, send me two babkas from Zabar’s, gently bully me into increasing my online security because it is a source of ongoing anxiety for me, drive me to OHSU to get blood drawn, ask if they can hug me, gracefully accept when I say we cannot hug yet because it’s not safe, send me memes, tell me how handsome my dad was when I share photos, design a thank you card for my mom, find the perfect leather briefcase I can gift my brother… I could go on.

I’m not trying to brag. I am trying to show you my friends are not the problem. Friendship is not the problem. But why is there no solution to this feeling, this space I have never inhabited before where the people I love who want to love me can somehow not manage to meet my needs, no matter how fucking hard they try.

Is this need simply unmeetable?

It’s tempting to call this a “me” problem, but I’m not self-centered enough to pretend I am the only one who has ever had trouble asking for what I need while grieving, or even figuring out what the fuck that could be. It just sucks when I have spent my life talking about and believing in the magic of friendship, to learn that sometimes the sparkle of the thing is not enough to save me. Sometimes I’m really just completely alone in my pain.

I tell my therapist that none of my friends understand me or what I need and she asks if I’ve tried telling them.

I don’t want to have to tell them, I say, looking away from her face on my computer screen.

She nods. I know, she says. But you should try it. You should see what happens when you tell the people who love you what you need.

I don’t even know what I need, I counter.

So tell them that, she says.

At the end of therapy I sign off and look around my messy bedroom and maybe I text my mom or maybe I send a work email or maybe I go for a walk but I do not text any of my friends.