In this month’s HerTake question, Nina answers a letter from a woman who says her inconsiderate friends often cancel plans or change the plans last minute. Is this an expected part of being an understanding friend or does this letter writer have especially inconsiderate friends in her life?
This week’s essay was written by one of our So Glad They Told Me anthology contributors, Hannah Harlow. It’s about how one of her friendships was affected by a miscarriage. – Allie
“Tell me about your miscarriage,” Pia said.
“What about it?” We walked the bricked Cambridge sidewalks pushing my sleeping baby in a stroller. She already knew how shattered I had been after I miscarried my first pregnancy at 14 weeks—what sort of details did she want?
“Like, what happened exactly?”
Pia had always been my husband’s friend, really. They were best friends in college. Shortly after I met my husband, I needed a place to live and Pia had a room open for six months in her Brooklyn apartment. I was new to town, a little lonely, often lost, and Pia took me in. She took me to parties and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer with me on the weekends as we ate cereal straight out of the box. Pia asked lots of questions, seemed genuinely interested in whatever I had to say. She introduced me to her parents. She made me laugh. Then the six months were up, I moved into a new place, and Pia gradually went back to being my husband’s friend. I didn’t know how to change that.
But occasionally it would just be us again and it could almost feel like old times. Pia and her husband had just started trying for a baby. Nothing had happened yet, but Pia was convinced something would.
“I want to be prepared,” she said.
So, I cautiously explained what had happened during the D&C. As Pia leaned in her curly dark head in that familiar way, I went on less reluctantly, because Pia could draw out the joy of sharing things you rarely talk about. She made you feel special for your experiences just by wanting to know about them. She’s one of the best listeners I’ve ever met. So I told her how the doctor inserted seaweed in my vagina, how bad the cramps were. I explained how my husband missed all of it, because he was stuck in Ethiopia on business with no flights home for days and how sick we felt over it. How the doctor had given me the drug Versed, how he said it would make me forget, but I remembered everything. I remembered gripping my mother’s hand while I stared at the whites of the ceiling, and I remembered the pain. What I didn’t tell Pia was how I held it all in until the doctor walked out of the room and then I burst into tears in my mother’s arms. She held me tight and whispered, “You’re so strong.” I thought, what other way is there to be? Because isn’t every woman who has ever gone through this strong?
“But now I have my son,” I told Pia. “So will you. Someday.” But I regretted it as soon as I said it. How could I know? What if it never happened for her?
Pia miscarried. Then she failed to get pregnant again, through three years of trying, through years and multiple rounds of IVF, and probably more that I don’t know about. Because we stopped seeing each other. We stopped talking.
During this same time I conceived and gave birth to our second beautiful, healthy son. We were grateful for everything we had, but that didn’t stop Pia from not wanting to come around anymore.
I even helped facilitate our distance—I didn’t call or text or reach out in any way. I felt guilty for our good luck and guilty for abandoning her, but I thought it was for the best. I missed her. But I understood how she felt. If I were her, I wouldn’t want to hang out with me either.
The day the doctor told me he couldn’t find a heartbeat, he handed me a prescription and I took it to CVS. The line at the pharmacy wound down the aisle of diapers and wipes and bottles and pacifiers. I thought, you can’t be serious. I stared at the baby things and tried not to weep. I wanted nothing to do with babies or their paraphernalia.
This was the cosmic response to lost pregnancies, it seemed. Suddenly there were babies everywhere: when I showed up to receive a haircut from a new and very pregnant stylist; when friends announced their pregnancies; every time I took a swig of wine and thought about what that meant, or didn’t mean.
As Pia struggled to conceive and I kept my distance, my husband continued to text and email and occasionally visit her. “I’m going to Pia’s, do you mind?” he’d say. “I think it’s hard for her to visit us.”
What he didn’t say to me was, “You’re not invited.”
I would say that I knew, that I understood, because I did. I knew Pia had shown strength in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I knew friendships don’t always travel in a straight line. But what I didn’t know or understand until then, as I cared for and loved our two utterly perfect children, was how much it can hurt to be so happy.
Hannah Harlow has an MFA in fiction from Bennington College. She recently had an essay appear in the HerStories Anthology, So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood. Her writing has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Day One, Synaesthesia Magazine, failbetter, and elsewhere. She promotes books for a living and lives outside of Boston with her husband and two sons. Find her online at www.hannahharlow.com or on Twitter: @hhharlow.
In this month’s HerTake question, Nina discusses what to do if you think a friend is purposely ignoring your posts on Facebook. Have you been on the receiving end of a digital dissing? Have you ever purposely withheld likes and comments from a friend? Let us know what advice you have for this month’s letter writer.
I’m confused by one of my friends who is great in person, but ignores me on Facebook. Yes, a modern “problem,” but one that does affect our relationship or at least how I view our relationship.
First, some background: I met “Jana” in a support group as we were both going through infertility. We hit it off and have been friends now for eight years. (By the way, we both have babies so it all ended well.)
When we’re together, just the two of us, whether in person or on the phone, we have a wonderful time connecting, and I feel like she’s one of my closest friends. But then she completely ignores me on social media. We are friends on Facebook and Instagram, and I see that she likes and comments on (seemingly) everybody else’s feeds but mine. I also write a personal blog that I know she reads diligently because she mentions things she’s read there, but she has only commented on my site twice in the last eight years.
You gave some great advice a few months back that if you look for something on Facebook, you’ll find it. So I don’t go looking because it makes me feel really bad, but we do have about 10 – 15 common friends/ acquaintances, and I see her generous comments often, just never on anything I’ve shared.
The strangest thing is that she recently said to me that an acquaintance was doing this to her. I was so shocked I said nothing, but now I’m wondering if I should ask her about this, or just ignore it and pretend I don’t see all the other activity going on?
I have thought that maybe she doesn’t want to be associated with the infertility and wants to move on, but she’s very open about it, as am I, and many of the other friends were in the same situation.
Do you have any insights? What do you think is going on?
Tired of the Facebook Freeze
Dear Tired of the Facebook Freeze,
I think others will relate to your dilemma whether or not they’ve felt the cold shoulder from a friend online. It hits on themes about one person feeling she’s making more of an effort; speculation about another’s motives creating (or on the precipice of creating) a schism that may not be based on truth; and a problem in a friendship seeming like one person’s inability to deliver when the real problem could be an unreasonable expectation in the first place.
I have so many thoughts that I’m going to organize my answer into subheadings. And to make sure I was thorough, I consulted four of my trusted blogging friends and two non-blogging friends. Are you ready? Let’s go!
Option #1: Blame the Facebook Algorithm and Let it Go
Blaming the Facebook algorithm allows you to accept the possibility that Jana is not purposely ignoring your posts. Even with the (scary) amount of time I spend on Facebook, I miss tons of what my friends share. I think it’s likely that as more time went by without Jana liking or commenting on a post, Facebook stopped showing your posts in her feed. For those not aware of how Facebook’s algorithm works, it shows you what it thinks you want to see based on what you’ve ‘liked’ in the past. That said, the algorithm is ever-changing and secretive so nobody knows for sure.
I like the idea of giving Jana the benefit of the doubt considering that your friendship is solid face-to-face. One of my blogging buddies added: “There’s a friend of mine from college who writes genuinely interesting posts, but lately I haven’t seen him at all in my feed. I had to consciously seek him out, and still, he is not regularly in my feed, even though we have numerous mutual friends.” In other words, you cannot assume Jana is purposely ignoring the posts.
Related to the algorithm: You can also make a point of visiting Jana’s page more often. One of my non-blogging friends said, “I think the writer of the question should shower Jana with positive comments and likes without expectations of the same. If nothing changes, then she should stop going to the hardware store for raisins.” Meanwhile, I’m now adopting that fantastic expression!
Option #2: Be Direct
From another one of my blogging friends:
“If Tired of the Facebook Feed deems Jana as a good friend and is concerned about her lack of comments on her FB/blog, why not cut to the chase and ask her directly about her silence? I realize that may cast TotFF in a needy light, but I sense she is probably spending oodles of time speculating on this. If this friend is ‘close,’ perhaps it might unearth an underlying conflict that requires a discussion.”
I think that’s good advice if option #1 is too hard. However, if you’re going to ask Jana directly why she doesn’t interact with your posts online (whether on the blog or on Facebook), you need to soften that accusation with a hefty amount of self-deprecation about how her friendship in person should be enough, but you can’t help noticing her comments on mutual friends’ posts and worry it’s personal that she doesn’t comment on yours. There’s no way to say something like that without sounding overly needy of her attention. That doesn’t mean you can’t bring up the issue, but be aware of how you word the question. Also note that you may get her to start liking your posts, but you could find yourself wondering if she’s doing so with a level of obligation that will eventually lead to resentment on her part, which brings me to my next point.
How Much Interaction is Reasonable to Expect on Facebook?
I don’t have a precise answer to this area of etiquette. (Who does?) But I bet that whatever any of us expect from friends on Facebook it is too much. We’ve already covered that many posts on Facebook get missed despite best intentions. But let’s say we do see all of a particular friend’s posts? Are we expected to like every single one? Comment on every third one? Share one post a month from a friend’s business page? There are no rules and assuming our friends even see our posts is a recipe for disappointment. I can think of a few times I have asked friends to share a post, but I specifically asked them to do so. There was no beating around the bush. Those who were comfortable shared, those who weren’t into the topic or even the idea of sharing posts likely did not. No problem on my end.
Now let’s factor in the point that Jana is a “real life” friend. Here’s what my non-blogging friend had to say about the situation.
“Facebook is a forum to connect with people I wouldn’t normally connect with in person. If I have someone’s number, I’m sending texts or emails, not writing comments on Facebook. I never expect a friend to comment on Facebook about something unless I’m promoting my business there and they have committed to helping in some way. It doesn’t bother me if my local friends don’t help by sharing a post because I often let at least five days go by before I check Facebook. I don’t expect anyone else to be checking frequently.”
My same non-blogging friend added something extra important: “If Jana seems to ignore invitations to communicate outside of Facebook—doesn’t want plans, cancels, doesn’t return phone calls, doesn’t ever ask how you are and never initiates contact—then that is either someone who doesn’t want to be friends or is not a good friend.”
TotFF, I think that is a KEY point. And the flip side is true, too. If Jana is behaving like a good friend in all those ways, I think option #1 is the way to go. What happens offline wins every time!
Regarding the Blog Comments
My blogging crew and I agreed that you cannot expect non-bloggers to comment on the actual website. Since Jana mentions reading posts, we would all consider that above and beyond any written comment.
The Danger of Writers Looking for Friends’ Approval
Two of my blogging friends asked a version of the following point: “Why is TotFF so focused on this particular friend commenting? I do think it’s a thought saddled with some quest for approval and perhaps TotFF will never receive it from this particular friend.”
And now, TotFF, I’m going to tell you the hard truth. You have to force yourself to forget about winning Jana’s thumbs up online. I say this as someone who was, once upon a time, overly fixated on hoping a particular person (or two) would show enthusiasm, or at least positive thoughts, about my career path. You have to ask yourself why Jana’s lack of digital support is bothering you so much. Does her lack of acknowledgement mirror any doubts you have about what you’re posting? Do you feel any competition with some of the other people who write posts that she publicly likes?
Oy vey, people. Social media is complicated, isn’t it? TotFF, I know that many others have been where you are. I bet some have also been on the other side purposely withholding likes and comments from others so we know it’s possible Jana is doing the same to you. I vote for option one, but I’d love to hear other points of view, and I’m sure TotFF would, too.
Good luck and I’m sorry you’re feeling bad about this relationship right now,
We’re always looking for new reader questions for Nina! If you have a difficult friendship situation that you’d like advice on, fill out our anonymous contact form.
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In this month’s HerTake question, Nina answers a question from a woman trying to forge a friendship with a sister-in-law who seems to only have an interest in a civil relationship at best. We love that our community helps each other in the comments section. Don’t be afraid to add your two cents.
What is the expectation level of friendship within family? And how do we deal with disappointment when it’s clear that no friendship is likely to emerge from a family relationship?
My brother-in-law got remarried about a year ago, and I was really hoping that I would be friends with his new wife. I made a lot of effort at the outset, calling and texting and giving presents, but my overtures were met with a cold politeness (at best), and, at worst, hostility. If it were just a potential friend or acquaintance, I would move on and stop trying, but since it’s family, and we live in the same town, I don’t feel that I can just brush her off (even though she is brushing me off).
What’s worse is that I see her being friendly to other people, I hear about how nice she is from others, and it’s really hard for me to not be hurt by the feeling that she is choosing to connect with other people but not me. She never calls, never texts, it’s all very one-sided and very unsatisfying. Also, we seem to look at the world very differently, so even on the rare occasion when we talk, it’s very strained and awkward.
How do I balance the difficulty of “doing the right thing,” which is to keep being friendly and not burn this bridge, but managing my feelings of aggravation and disappointment.
Wanting a Friendly Family
Dear Wanting a Friendly Family,
Your question will touch on a sore spot for many readers since we can replace sister-in-law with mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, and any other familial relationship. How many of us hold onto expectations for our family members and inevitably feel frustrated and disappointed with the wide disparity between our expectations and reality? Too many of us, I’m sure.
My gut reaction is that recalibrating your expectations to something more reasonable is the first step here. “Wanting a friendly family” is a workable and commendable goal. Wanting to be friends with your family, even with the new members married into the crew, is probably reaching too high. I wonder if it would help you to expect less from your sister-in-law if friendly rather than “friends” is the goal.
Your question made me think about my three sisters-in-law. I feel a close and special friendship with all three of them, but those relationships developed over many years and there were some lows for us, too. It took maturity, empathy, and changes in behavior for all parties involved to rise above the fray. And the four of us live in four different cities!
Back to your sister-in-law. There may be all sorts of reasons she is not responding to your attempts at forging a friendship. She may not like your husband. She may have grown up in a family where one does not have good relationships with in-laws or with siblings. She may not “get” how a close family works. She may feel overwhelmed by the new family or by marriage.
I admit that it would feel less like rejection if you were hearing bad things about her. It’s human nature to feel better about ourselves if we have confirmation that the lack of chemistry is truly about the other person. But I want you let yourself off the hook even though you’re hearing she’s sweet towards others. You’ve done what you can so there’s no reason to worry if there’s something about you she doesn’t like. You’re not going to change for her so there’s no reason to over-analyze. Remember: your new goal is friendly not friends.
As a special bonus answer, I reached out to a wise friend of mine who has had a tumultuous relationship with her sister-in-law for many years. She read your question and here’s what she wrote back to me.
“Oy, Nina, you would think I wrote this myself, right? I believe actions are more important than reactions. So if it’s in the letter writer’s character to always show up pleasant and happy, then that is how she should show up. After many years of trying to create a better relationship with my sister-in-law who clearly had no interest in the same kind of connection, I woke up and said, ‘I have a village. I have people who are my friends. I have people who are my family. Sometimes it’s both. My energy is better spent investing in the relationships where it’s reciprocal and stop forcing it where it’s not.’ I decided that as long as the dynamic with my sister-in-law is polite enough for my husband’s family to eat dinner together, then I’m being a good partner in this.
The one holding the cards, in this scenario the sister-in-law, isn’t the only one who dictates the boundaries. When I made the commitment to just show up with a smile on my face but gave up hopes of anything whatsoever from my sister-in-law, that is when my sister-in-law started being nicer to me. She appeared at more family events like my kids’ recitals or birthday parties. She made more conversation with me at family get togethers. The commitment I made to myself was this: I am not going to play the victim. I’m responsible for what I bring and don’t bring to this relationship. My feelings were definitely hurt at times. That’s just life. Ya, know? You get through it. You stop being petty. You move on. It’s literally flipping the switch from reaction to action, which is a good lesson to learn in all relationships.”
Isn’t my friend smart?
Bottom line: You don’t have to be friends with your family. It’s noble you tried, but at this point it seems it’s best to be friendly and keep the door open as you never know what the future may bring. I’ve seen family crisis bring family members closer, and while I hope it doesn’t take something like that for you, it’s good to have the idea in mind that relationships can change in time. You keep being YOU, but keep your expectations of others reasonable.
Good luck and report back if you can.
Nina (and Nina’s good friend!)
We’re always looking for new reader questions for Nina! If you have a difficult friendship situation that you’d like advice on, fill out our anonymous contact form.
Today's guest post by Galit Breen is about teaching children about technology.