HerTake: When Friends Let Us Down

HerTake: When Friends Let Us Down

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!

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Dear Nina,

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.

Good luck!

Nina

 

Dear Nina,

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!

Nina

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34 comments

  1. Allie says:

    Love these questions and answers. Number two hit home, because I’m still hurt by the lack of sympathy expressed by some friends after the loss of my brother last year. It’s baffling that some people just don’t get it, but I guess the won’t until they experience a similar loss.
    Allie recently posted…The Drama of Running AwayMy Profile

  2. Woo wee are you GOOD at this, Nina. That was my first thought (which parallels Annie’s comment above). I wondered what kind of advice I’d have given and really wasn’t sure. You’re a natural and are already helping so many others.
    Melissa crytzer fry recently posted…ForgivenessMy Profile

  3. I think I’ve been on both ends of the first advice seeker’s letter… and your reply has helped me understand better what might have happened. Looking forward to more advice Nina — thank you.
    julia munroe martin recently posted…Saturday SixMy Profile

  4. I agree with your responses to both of the above situations, Nina. I think what your advice has in common here is that people can be disappointed when they expect to be treated the way they (think they) treat others.

    Of course we should expect to be treated with politeness and common decency; but when a person hopes that someone else’s help or sympathy will take a SPECIFIC shape, he/she is bound to be let down.

    I have a dear friend who regularly shares with me her disappointment in others – therefore, I know exactly what her expectations are and labor to meet them. Her needs, however, are quite different from mine. She feels strongly that in times of celebration or sadness, friends must make personal phone calls and visits, send gifts immediately, etc. I, however, would feel overwhelmed by this. Invaded, even. I’m not wrong. She’s not wrong. We’re just different.

    If I were grieving, I think I would want privacy; and in times of joy, I know I want to be in the moment, not worrying about hosting or thanking or being appropriately grateful.

    I guess the bottom line is that we are better off giving others the benefit of the doubt, not looking for opportunities to be hurt. I believe my friends and family love me and I believe they know I love them back.

    That goes a long way toward my own happiness and hopefully, theirs.
    julie gardner recently posted…The Heavy BagMy Profile

  5. Pam says:

    I agree with you in both cases…Certainly a thirty year friendship can survive a couple of rough years. All relationships ebb and flow, I think. And regarding #2.. You said it perfectly! It’s so hard to remember that when we are going through something she was, it is all consuming, and yet, your friends may not (in this case, do not) understand AT ALL. And that is not their fault. They just don’t know. The way you reach out to a friend who has just had a baby before you have kids versus after you’ve had kids describes it perfectly.
    Pam recently posted…It Gets EasierMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      You know, I didn’t say that about the all consuming aspect, but I had thought it while I was responding and sort of had to cut somewhere. But that is so important. We are all very wrapped up in our stuff, and most of us are happy to help in any we can. Some of us need helping knowing how to help, but once we’re asked will do ANYTHING. The testing never works for me, personally, I mean when I am tested, I will fail. No question. And I will also not really want to be so close anymore.
      Nina recently posted…Friendship Advice: October ColumnMy Profile

  6. Dana says:

    The second question reminded me a bit of a conversation I just had with a close friend. The second anniversary of her mother’s passing was coming up, and she commented on how she feels so lonely that day because no one remembers. It was her way of reaching out and asking for acknowledgment, and I gave it. I didn’t give it the year before, because I didn’t realize that she was looking for it. I thought she would rather be left alone on such a difficult day. I’m so grateful that she told me what she needed so I could be there for her.
    Dana recently posted…Teen drivers don’t know everythingMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Good for your friend for telling you. Also reminds me how one of my best friends had to tell me exactly what she wanted from me while she was going through some medical problems. I loved her even more after for knowing that I would WANT to know, and that I would need to know because I’m not good at sleuthing to read minds. Just tell me, and I will be there. And I was there, and we were both happy that I got it right.
      Nina recently posted…Friendship Advice: October ColumnMy Profile

  7. I loved how you specified meeting people where they’re at in the second question. I have a friend who is amazing at calling and remembering and being there for her friends. I am not. And I have to tell you, I was thrilled when she forgot my birthday because she could finally understand my point of view – that forgetting does not mean I don’t care.
    Jennie goutet recently posted…Jesus. Rock Star.My Profile

  8. Tamara says:

    I could never write an advice column.. because I’m too immature. True story. I would tell people to just forget about the rudeness of others..
    Sigh.
    Anyway, YOU did well. With the first, I was thinking that sometimes such things happen and they have little to do with the hurt party, and more to do with the craziness of life. Or even mental illness.
    The second one hits home because it’s amazing how people can surprise you both good and bad. And again, sometimes they just don’t know what to do.
    Tamara recently posted…Raindrops on Roses.My Profile

    • Nina says:

      You do NOT strike me as immature, Tamara! You are so thoughtful and reflective in your writing, and I’m sure you are when dealing with people. Yes, I do TRY (not always easy) to assume that I do not have all the facts, and that I need not take everything so personally. I guess my advice comes from that attempt in my own relationships. I still need constant reminders for MYSELF.
      Nina recently posted…Friendship Advice: October ColumnMy Profile

  9. Nina,

    Your advice is practical. I especially loved your response to question #2. It took me a long time to realize that how another responds to a crisis in my life isn’t about me, but more about their own insecurities. When my father died, friends that I expected to hear from didn’t necessarily show up in the way I expected. I held on to that anger for some time, but then realized that it had nothing to do with me, but how uncomfortable these individuals might be confronting the issues of mortality when they are barely out of their twenties. A definite learning lesson and so I really appreciate your response.
    Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri recently posted…Never Forget Your Own InsignificanceMy Profile

  10. Diann says:

    Nina, I love your very wise take on things, which I’m almost hearing as: Cut people slack and assume they’re doing the best they can. (Plus, a little, Try to see from their view.) It can be very difficult to do that, but your words are a good reminder.

    • Nina says:

      I think that is my theme. . . and it’s because I always need to remind myself, too. It is VERY easy to get wrapped up in our own views and issues, which is what everyone is doing. SO I do think it makes a different to step out of our own view if possible. Thanks, Diann!
      Nina recently posted…Judging a Writing ContestMy Profile

  11. Wanting an Explanation

    Excuse me, a guy coming through! 😉

    I’ve had the same thing happen. My friend who stopped showing initiative with me contacted me one day to meet up. He had been out of touch for a while and I had given up on him. He seemed concerned because I had stopped contacting him. It no doubt alarmed him because I’m very outgoing and at the time arranged lots of social events. I guess my silence was a wake up call. He told me that his absence was partly to do with his girlfriend. He is also a writer and perhaps got into that bunker down phase mentality.
    Andrew Burgon recently posted…Heads Up: A Guessing Game That Videos the Clue GiversMy Profile

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