When to Stop Saving the Friendship

When to Stop Saving the Friendship

If a friend starts pulling away while claiming nothing is wrong, how far would you go to save the friendship? How far should you go to get an answer about why she is no longer interested in being friends?

Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.


Dear Nina,

I became friends with another woman in my community two years ago. Our kids went to the same camp and we instantly hit it off. Over the past two years we’ve spent tons of time together individually, with our kids, and with our spouses. We even took a trip together with our kids (sans husbands). We used to email or text almost every day and saw each other at least once a week, often more because we’d walk together several days a week.

Lately I’ve been getting the brush off from her. Over the last few weeks, she’s stopped initiating plans. We still see each other often because our kids do several of the same extracurricular activities and we have mutual friends who get together once or twice a month for dinner and other activities. When I do see her, she’s very polite, but completely disengaged. It’s a stark contrast to the connection we had before.

I asked her in person if everything was okay and told her I was getting the feeling she was upset with me. She sidestepped the question then redirected our conversation to other surface topics. Later, I texted her reiterating the vibe I’m getting and admitted that maybe I was being oversensitive and needy. I asked if everything with okay with her, thinking maybe she’s going through something. Again, she talked around the question then said, “I wasn’t upset with you when I saw you today. I was actually upset about work.” She never directly answered to tell me if she’s been upset with me before that day though because honestly the cold vibe started way before the “work” explanation.

I don’t know how much this plays into what’s going on right now, but we’re about as opposite as you can get. I’m more emotional; she’s more logical. I’m drawn to literature and arts; she’s drawn to science and math. I enjoyed this aspect of our friendship a lot, but now that something doesn’t feel right between us, I realize that we probably approach conflicts like this very differently. I feel the need to address issues when they arise, and she clearly doesn’t want to.

Is there anything else I can do to address her coldness, or have I done what I can? Is she just politely brushing me off and clearly doesn’t see the value in discussing it with me? I guess I’m most scared of this. I’m starting to doubt the depth of our friendship, and I feel silly for thinking we were ever “close” friends. My husband says that I need to move forward and accept that this might not be the friendship I thought it was, but I’d still like to salvage it if possible. I don’t know if I can discuss it with her again. I’ve tried to bring it up twice and her responses (or non-responses) make me feel bad. It feels like I’m asking her for constant reassurance, and I don’t want to be that person. Do I stop trying on my end? I feel like I’m losing friend, and I’d like to at least know why.

Thanks for your insight.

Just call me Needy Nancy!


Dear Needy Nancy,

 In last month’s question about whether to unfriend an ex-friend on Facebook, I heard from a woman who was equally frustrated about a close friend’s unilateral decision to end a friendship without an explanation. The two women had been best friends for thirteen years before the letter writer’s friend starting fading away in the same way you’re describing.

But what happened next is something I would like to help you avoid. The letter writer spent the next five years attempting to communicate with her former best friend with the purpose of hearing what had gone wrong. She never quite got the answer she was looking for, and I’m not convinced that hearing a list of reasons would have made the end of that friendship any easier for the letter-writer. We (as in most people) generally do not like getting left behind and no explanation makes the abandonment more palatable.

I have a feeling that there is nothing your friend can say to make you feel better about her decision to cut you out of her life. The reality is that you’ve invested time and emotional capital into the friendship and her sudden decision to fade away feels like a rejection. And I’m not making light of your feelings. I think many woman would agree (including me) that the rejection of a friend can feel significantly worse than a romantic breakup. In a monogamous relationship it’s understood that we can only have one special partner. But in friendships we can have many close relationships, even several “best” friends. It’s easy to obsessively ask yourself, “What’s wrong with me?,” when a friend, who can have many friends, decides to cut you out of her life.

You’ve asked me and yourself an important question: Is there anything else I can do to address her coldness, or have I done what I can? It sounds to me like you’ve done what you can. It really does. We simply do not get to decide how another person behaves, nor do we get to decide the fate of our friendships. Your friend certainly has her reasons, and I bet only some of them fall on your shoulders. If she’s not returning calls or answering questions directly when you see her in person, then your only other choice is to write an email or a handwritten letter explaining your hurt and disappointment. But you should only do that knowing you may never get a response, or at least not a satisfying response. She may not tell you the truth. Or, more likely, she will tell you her truth, which could feel far from your experience of the friendship.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try one last time to talk things out with her, but I am urging you to keep your expectations low and to use it more as a chance to potentially learn something useful for your other friendships. I happened to read two personal essays in October about dealing with the end of friendships and both illustrated how we can learn from our part in the endings, even if we’re the ones left behind. Check out Laura Turner’s, “How Do You Grieve a Friendship When You Never Wanted to Let it Die” in Jezebel. I also liked Kaitlin Ugolik’s, “How I Realized I Was the Toxic Friend,” in Refinery29. I would read all the comments on both pieces, too, which are full of women (and some men) commiserating about being the friend left behind. Most of us have been there.

There is one area where I hope to alleviate some of your worry. You said, “I’m starting to doubt the depth of our friendship, and I feel silly for thinking we were ever “close” friends. My husband says that I need to move forward and accept that this might not be the friendship I thought it was . . . ”

 I only agree with half of your husband’s statement. Yes, I think you have to accept that the friendship as you knew it (and by the way, it was a really intense one in my estimation) is over, but that doesn’t mean this friend was not a close and intimate person in your life. It doesn’t mean that the friendship was fake. I want you to decide that two truths can exist at once. Yes, you two were important to each other and the two years you had together mattered to both of you because of the depth of the friendship. But also, the friendship as you knew it is ending and it rightfully hurts.

Finally, “Needy Nancy,” I’m sorry you’re going through this loss. It is most definitely a loss and it’s okay to wallow in the pain of it for a while. But then (soon!) you have to look up and notice your other friends and think about the potential of future friendships. Each relationship, even the ones we can’t save, offers us the chance to grow and change for the better. And remember that this one friend drifting away does not make you an unworthy person.

Thank you for sharing your experience here. I have no doubt that many readers will relate.




Readers: How have you successfully moved forward after the end of a close friendship?

**Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience released last week! You can buy a paperback or e-book here.

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  1. Bryce Warden says:

    Ugh….I hate that this happens and of course it has happened to me. One was a long ago co-worker…we used to be close and then she flipped the off switch. I wrote her an honest letter, apologized if I had done something to offend her….no response. More recently a friend for nearly 20 years hasn’t returned a text…she also acted very distant when I had a family crisis a year and a half ago and acknowledged her off putting behavior at the time. In reviewing these relationships I can see where I may have stumbled a bit as a friend….nothing malicious just human error. Then I reflected on stories they had told me about their past. Each of them had difficulty maintaining long term friendships. One had lost several close people in a relatively short period of time when she was a teenager and I think that made relationships hard for her. The other simply has a bad track record regarding long term relationships even with family members. It is sad to loose a friend regardless of how it happens.
    Bryce Warden recently posted…Keep on Truckin”…….Part 7My Profile

  2. susie q says:

    My personal feeling is that once you ask “is there anything I’ve done wrong?” and the person denies/refuses to answer, it’s over. You’ve demonstrated a willingness to talk, listen and perhaps change, and the other person doesn’t want to bother or invest the time.

    I noticed that a friend seemed distant and asked her if I had done something wrong. She denied it, gave me many excuses (all true) of things going on in her life. But after that, she began actively avoiding me when we were out in large groups. It hurt, but I wasn’t going to ask again. She obviously had no interest in working on the friendship. So now we are superficial when we meet at group events, and I’ve stopped trying.

  3. Caryn says:

    First, I want to say that I hope my comment does not sound like I am minimizing the hurt feelings and rejection the letter writer is feeling. And I also don’t mean to ignore her gut feeling that her friend is brushing her off. But to play devil’s advocate, if this has just been happening over a few weeks, perhaps the friend really is going through something unrelated to their friendship. Maybe it is truly a situation at work, her family, husband, etc. And maybe it’s something she does not feel comfortable talking about right now. I’d be curious how in their two-year friendship the friend has handled going through “stuff”and if she usually likes discussing it. Now I in no way thinks this excuses hurtful behavior and that is something the letter writer definitely has every right to feel upset over, whether this is truly a brush-off or not. But just throwing it out there that maybe she waits it out a little longer. We all need space in friendships from time-to-time, especially if we are preoccupied with other circumstances in our lives. My best friend and I sound a lot like this friendship — I want to discuss my feelings over the weird look I got from a stranger at a gas station and my best friend barely talked to me about her divorce. I think there is something to the letter writer’s hunch that she and her friend handle things differently. And I also think that we all (myself VERY much included!) have a tendency to make something about us when it isn’t, especially when we are hurt.

    I am sorry the letter writer is going through this and I can tell the friendship is important to her. I hope the situation gets resolved in a positive way soon!
    Caryn recently posted…Weekend Reads And ListensMy Profile

  4. Dana says:

    Nina, I think your advice is great as are these comments. Is it possible the friend is going through something she’d rather keep quiet about? Maybe. Also possible is her bowing out of the friendship. I’ve been thinking lately about two friendships that ended – one more gradual and the other more jarring. Both hurt, and both remain mysteries. Sometimes we just will never know another person’s motivations. My advice would be to try to move on while remaining cordial. Hard but necessary. Also, know you’re not alone!
    Dana recently posted…Mothering Through the Darkness: Anthology of the Postpartum ExperienceMy Profile

  5. Dana says:

    The quest for “why” is a frequent theme in friendships that have ended. It’s so difficult to let go of a relationship when you don’t know why it happened, and I think you addressed Nancy’s issues perfectly.

    I also thought your point about romantic (monogamous) relationships vs friendships was excellent, and one I had never thought about before.

    I hope Nancy can get the closure she needs, and if she can’t, I hope she is able to move on.
    Dana recently posted…Not all time sucks are created equalMy Profile

  6. Dyane says:

    Nina, your answer is, to use my new fave word, amazesauce!!!
    And your various followers’ comments rock as usual too.

    It made me feel really sad to read about “Nancy’s” rejection. I was surprised at how much I reacted to reading about her experience. Through her writing she sounds like a special, articulate person who cares about people. And I think that it’s her friend’s profound loss to miss out on continuing their friendship – that’s my gut feeling – but of course none of us know all the details on both sides, and with all due respect to Nancy (who I obviously like!) I could be missing something.

    I especially appreciated how you encouraged Nancy to move on and value the friendships she has.

    I don’t know if I can honestly say I’ve ever successfully moved forward after the end of a close friendship. I haven’t had that many close friendships that ended, but the ones that did end seemed to crash and burn.

    I’m definitely interested in reading other readers’ answers to your question as I’m grappling with a friendship *I* ended. It became very unhealthy/toxic and while it wasn’t that long of a friendship, it was overly intense for about a year. I continue to see this person at our kids’ school and seeing her even fro a distance triggers me.

    We haven’t spoken face-to-face yet since our friendship ended, but it’s only a matter of time I’ll run into her where I can’t scurry away like a freaked-out mouse. Even knowing that I made the right decision in ending our friendship, without one shred of doubt, doesn’t make simply seeing her easier for me. I’m hoping that I become much less reactive when I run into her in the years to come.
    Dyane recently posted…Author Marie Abanga’s “Darling Dyane, My Heroine”My Profile

  7. Allie says:

    I agree with Caryn’s comment. I also think Nancy needs to let it be. I know this sounds harsh, but they’ve only been friends for two years, which isn’t really that long. The “friend” obviously doesn’t want to talk about it, and as sad as that is, that’s her right. Nancy will begin to heal, once she accepts that. If the “friend” is going through something, she’ll contact when she’s ready – and if she doesn’t, than obviously the friendship wasn’t that important to the “friend.” And Nancy is better.

  8. As always, Nina, you have managed to get to the heart of a complicated (painful) matter with thoughtful, kind advice.

    I think you’re spot-on and even agree with your determination that the relationship was, in fact, intense and real; I’m not one of the parties involved, but I can imagine that while the initial “differences” between the two women worked and even appealed to them both, eventually their disparities might have grown too difficult for the one to manage and now she’s bowing out.

    Of course this is merely speculation, but your assessment was realistic and your advice practical. I hope that by keeping her expectations low (and or letting go entirely) Nancy will be spared further heartache.

  9. Sarah says:

    I like Dana’s thought to “try to move on while remaining cordial.” Yes, it’s difficult but it seems as though the woman (if she does want to end the friendship and it’s not something else) is willing to do so in a “cordial” way. And, right on, Nina. Sometimes you really do need to just feel the pain for a bit then “notice your other friends and think about the potential of future friendships”.
    Sarah recently posted…Blogiversaries, Blog Birthdays, & Post PartiesMy Profile

  10. LC says:

    Sad story, and great advice, as usual. I’d like to add one thing that may be helpful: I sort of know both sides, I’ve been “abandoned” by friends, and a few years ago I’ve also been the one that pulled away from a close friendship because I realized it wasn’t doing me good. I didn’t talk about it to the friend in question, mainly because I was a coward :-(, partly because I feared she wouldn’t understand – after all she hadn’t done anything wrong – and partly because I didn’t realize the full amount of problems at the time.
    So: If Nancy’s friend were able to, and wanted to talk to her honestly, she probably would have done it by now. Maybe she doesn’t dare, maybe she doesn’t even really know a reason for her hurtful behavior. I wouldn’t wait for explanations, maybe there are none.
    I like the idea of talking one final time, or writing a letter, and just describing how Nancy feels about all this, without demands or questions. Even if it doesn’t get answered, it my help to find closure.

  11. Paula says:

    This is good advice Nina! Not everyone we’re friends with is going to be in our lives forever. But that doesn’t mean that the friendship wasn’t true and real while we had it. I have a group of girls that I’ve been friends with for almost 20 years. Some I am just as close to as when our friendships began and few I only see a few times a year. Time and life have made it harder to be close, but I still have all the good memories of our times together.
    Paula recently posted…Write those end of the year posts nowMy Profile

  12. Tamara says:

    I so understand this – “It’s easy to obsessively ask yourself, “What’s wrong with me?,” when a friend, who can have many friends, decides to cut you out of her life.”
    It’s so strange! So different from romance. So intense and powerful.
    I had this happen somewhat over the last few years with a friend who just dropped out of my life. I think she dropped out of life in general. I ran into her over the summer and she was very pleasant and we spoke and it turned out, she just completely changed her life. Dropped art and blogging. Dropped meat and dairy. Dropped her husband..

    Basically what I’m saying is that I think it had VERY little to do with me.
    Tamara recently posted…In Too Deep.My Profile

  13. Kristin Shaw says:

    i love your wisdom, Nina. You are a sage woman – I agree with everything you’re saying, and it’s helping me move past a friend who dropped me suddenly not too long ago too. It’s so confusing, because it makes you doubt yourself – aren’t I a nice person? am I not? Thank you for this.
    Kristin Shaw recently posted…Weekend favorites – November 13My Profile

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