A reader asks whether to “open the door” to a long-term friendship after it’s fallen apart.
Hi Dr. Levine,
One of my dear friends abruptly ended our 20+-year friendship via text on my birthday nine months ago. She was hurt because I could not make it to her last minute birthday dinner. At the time we had plans to spend the day together to celebrate our birthdays a few days afterwards.
When I told her I could not make the last-minute dinner she had planned because I had committed to help someone with childcare, my friend made no mention of being upset. And we reconfirmed our plans for two days later.
When she texted me on my birthday, she had many horrible hurtful things to say such as she had better friends who made time to come to her birthday dinner, and she stated that I was always too busy with my career, kids, spouse and animals. She began to personally attack my spouse and me, and was completely out of line.
Now, I know this friend was always in the habit of lashing out at people. It seemed she was in some sort of conflict with someone at any given time. I always looked past this, as she never directed any conflict towards me. My family and other close friends would question why I was friends with “a person like that.” I often had her back, always tried to see past the negative and highlight the wonderful qualities. I loved her like a sister and thought we would get old and wrinkly together.
Nine months ago, on my birthday, I felt as though she had driven a knife into my heart. I was very careful to not personally attack her in retaliation. I remained assertive throughout the text attacks on my birthday and the following days. I drew the line when she was downright disrespectful. I texted her saying I would not allow her to bully me like she often bullies others. This resulted in her telling me never to call her again. It has taken me seven months of mourning to finally be at a place of acceptance. The last two months the thoughts of a lost friendship have been manageable.
Two evenings ago, I received a Facebook message from this friend. She asked if I would be willing to talk. She stated she had been having difficulty accepting her decision to walk out of my life and would like to have a conversation. She mentioned that if she didn’t hear from me that she would understand. She mentioned how sorry she was for hurting me.
I am struggling to process my feelings around this. I know in my heart that I will always love her, however, our friendship can never ever be what it was. She is not a safe person. She attacked me personally, so brutally, I just simply cannot open that door again. I am torn, should I respond to her? Re-open the door? Give her a second chance, although this seems like a foolish decision? Any insight on what the best approach would be from here.
Trust is fundamental to any friendship. If you don’t feel safe and secure with a friend, you can’t have a close, intimate relationship.
Although you witnessed your friend bullying others and weren’t happy about it, you say this was the first time she viciously lashed out at you. I suspect she may have been holding back hostility and simply lost it over the birthday situation. Many people are sensitive about birthday disappointments but it sounds like your friend’s response was out of proportion. Moreover, she should have apologized after her temper cooled down, rather than many months later.
Even when a relationship is imperfect, as most are, it takes a long time to get over being dumped by a long-term friend. I’m not surprised that you were mourning its loss for seven months. But since you made no effort to contact her during this time, you decided you wanted to end the friendship, too.
The decision about whether to re-open it and make yourself vulnerable again is a difficult one. Temperament and personality are tough—if not impossible—to change so it’s likely that your friend’s negatives will remain constants.
I’m quite sure your relationship can never be the same as it once was. You’ll be more wary and less trusting as a result of this conflict and after the long period of estrangement.
Since it will be virtually impossible to resurrect the friendship you once had, your choice now is whether you want to open the door to a more distant relationship with this friend or simply let it go.
Hope this helps.
Previously on The Friendship Blog:
- I’ve mourned her loss once; should I give the relationship a second chance?
- Can you rebuild trust after shutting someone out?