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?
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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?
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