Welcome back to HerTake: Practical Tips for Modern Connections, our advice column with Nina Badzin! Today Nina answers two more questions from readers about challenging friendship situations. We’d love to have you add your own thoughts or suggestions in the comments!
I have known “Jane” for over 30 years. We became good friends in elementary school and remained close at separate colleges and when we lived in different cities for years after. She was one of my bridesmaids, and I was one of hers.
When she moved back to our home city after I’d been living there for a few years, we spent a lot of time together. After a while, though, she seemed to “fade back” from the relationship, to use your terminology from last month’s responses [http://www.herstoriesproject.com/hertake-ninas-first-column/]. She called less, all the while I heard that she was making plans with mutual friends. We did go out to talk about it, and she genuinely appeared to be in the relationship and sensitive to how I was feeling. However, following that conversation, she seemed to “fade out” and stopped returning calls and even stopped coming over to say hello when we would see each other out. Eventually, I needed to move on. Even though it was a very important and special relationship, there was no reason to keep that type of negative emotion in my life. Then just as I started to move on, she reached out for plans. We had a nice time (as couples) at dinner and she has begun initiating more communication.
Now I’m not sure how to proceed with the relationship. Do I confront her about the two years that we missed? It’s hard to include her now as if nothing changed. I would also love to know if there was something I did to make her fade out in the first place.
Looking forward to your two cents,
Wanting an Explanation
Dear Wanting an Explanation,
I understand the deep desire to know if there was something you did to cause the fade back and eventual fade out. It’s only natural to feel hurt, frustrated, and simply curious. Considering that “Jane” did not seem to close herself off to everybody, then it is certainly possible that yes, she felt you did something specific that made her want to create distance. Or perhaps something about the childhood friendship you and Jane shared was making it hard for Jane to establish her place back in town.
However, I would like to offer another possibility, which I’m not just saying to release you from the worry and wonder. Although what I’m about to say does not make the outcome less hurtful, perhaps the change in the relationship had nothing to do with you at all. You didn’t say whether Jane has kids, or works, or what her life circumstances are, but I think it’s safe to assume she has some–circumstances–and the details of those likely factored into her inability or lack of desire to keep the relationship active during those two years.
That was all a long way of saying that you will never know for sure why she created that distance for two years. And no, I wouldn’t ask her directly. I can’t imagine anything good will come from that conversation, and I suspect she would not tell you the full answer anyway. As far as I’m concerned, a friend who has faded back and even out gets one more chance. (Two strikes you’re out, not three.) It’s worth giving Jane, a friend for over 30 years, the benefit of the doubt to assume that she had a good reason and wasn’t simply being cruel on a whim.
Ultimately you have to ask yourself a question: Do you want to be the kind of person who puts yourself out there? If you do, you will get hurt sometimes, but there are rewards, too.
I’ve had cases in my life of friendships that are stronger now after a break. Nobody is perfect, and it seems Jane feels she made a mistake, or at the very least misses the friendship. Sounds like you’ve missed her as well.
As a final note, I admit that my gut reaction is a little self-centered in this case. I don’t live in the city where I was raised so as I read your question, my first thought was what a gift to rekindle a friendship with so much history. Jane knew you before you were married, she knows your family, and truly every part of you. Take the long view and err on the side of forgiveness. It may not work, but I believe it’s worth a try.
My husband recently had major surgery. It’s not the first time our family has dealt with a health crisis, unfortunately. That said, each time I am both deeply touched and disappointed by the responses of close relatives and friends in our social circle. Some of these same friends are very content to call on me when they need information or a favor. My question is this: Can you tell an adult friend they hurt you and expect the relationship to survive? I don’t believe my expectations are unrealistic–a phone call, a text, regular checking in during crisis time, and certainly no less than we would do.
I work full time, have three kids, a busy household, etc. But these are time-sensitive matters and people need support. Saying, “Let me know if you need anything,” is not helpful.
What to do?
Analyzing Friendship During a Crisis
Dear Analyzing Friendship During a Crisis,
Let me answer your direct question first. Yes, you can tell an adult friend she hurt you and expect the relationship to survive. This doesn’t mean you will get the response you want. In your case specifically, as long as your expectations are truly realistic, then I think a conversation is possible. If there are a few very close friends and relatives you have in mind, I think it’s fine to say something along the lines of, “I’m feeling lonely and isolated as my husband recovers. I know everyone is busy, but it would mean so much to hear from you more a little more often.”
The other part of your question I want to deal with is your disappointment in these friends and family members because I’m not entirely sure that your expectations are as fair or as realistic as you stated. I say this to help “release you” from the disappointment, not to shame you at all. I totally get what you’re saying about noticing how some friends step up so seamlessly as compared to others. It’s hard not to notice.
However, your friends that are saying, “Let me know if I you need anything,” have probably never been in your situation. They quite honestly do not know what would help. Maybe you have to answer the question case by case. “I just love to know that you’re thinking about us,” is a perfectly fair thing to say.
I would be careful, however, not to create what I call “friendship tests” based solely on how you would treat someone in a crisis.
Maybe you are especially good at regularly checking in or generally knowing what to do at the right time (like bring a meal). Also consider that what you want in a crisis is not what everyone wants. I have a friend who does want constant checking in when something is going wrong. Part of the reason I know this is that when I’m dealing with “stuff” on my end, she calls and texts more than anyone else to ask how I’m doing. The truth is, I find all the extra texts and calls overwhelming and over the top. But, that’s me.
Another situation that comes to mind is how differently I offer to help a friend who had a baby now compared to the way I offered ten years ago before I had four kids. Ten years ago I likely would have said, “I want to see the baby” along with “Let me know if you need anything.” Now, I ask a friend to pick a date for me to drop off dinner. If my friend is having a second or third child and her older kids know me well, I ask her to pick a Sunday where I can have the older kids for the day. I make those specific offers because I found them incredibly helpful and supportive when I had babies. Anyone who would have expected me to make those offers ten years ago was probably expecting too much.
My conclusion: I would not be disappointed with any particular friend until you have specifically communicated what would be (reasonably) helpful and she has still failed to step up. More importantly, try to feel an extra dose of appreciation for the friends who have really been there for you, all while giving the other ones a bit of a break. Hopefully the members of the latter group are good friends in other ways.
Hoping for healthier months ahead for your husband and your entire family!
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