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When to let go of a friend

November 24, 2012 | By | 7 Replies Continue Reading
There’s no set answer as to when to let go of a friend; sometimes, we aren’t given the choice. Often, communication can help avoid that painful juncture.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

Last year, one of my friends became ill suddenly. She is single and was unemployed at the time. She ended up moving away and is currently living with her parents to recuperate. We still speak occasionally but the distance is a challenge, as you can imagine.

This situation prompted me to re-evaluate my relationship with a couple of other friends. I dumped another one as she never paid me back for a concert ticket I bought for her two years ago.

The other one was harder to ditch because I thought she was a decent person and I had believed we were good friends. Last year, her two cats died within six months of each other and she was sad. She canceled several outings we had planned, attributing it to the cats’ deaths. Last Christmas, I decided to give her some space so that she could better process these deaths and I didn’t contact her for six months.

Well, the summer comes around and I email her to ask when she wanted to get together in order to catch up. No reply. I emailed her again around two weeks later. Still, no reply. Then about a month after that, I invited her to get some drinks with me for my birthday along with a few other friends of mine. Still crickets. I was angry at this point because for the past few months, I’d see her post updates on Facebook saying that she was at the beach with so and so, at a concert with somebody else, etc. So I knew she was no longer distressed about her cats. For some reason, she had an issue with me. So I defriended her.

I’m still not completely over it, because I don’t have a large circle of friends, unlike her, with her 600 Facebook friends. I am introverted and in the past, I was shy and was socially anxious. I never did have a large circle of friends so losing friends like this is a huge deal to me. Actually, I tend to hang on to friends that aren’t good for me for longer than I should because it isn’t always easy for me to make new ones. A small part of me feels like a loser for being unable to hang on to these people even though intellectually, I know that I did the right thing in dumping them as they either used me or did not have the same expectations.

Signed, Mandy

ANSWER

Hi Mandy,

Sometimes we need to decide when to let go of a friend and sometimes the decision is made for us, either implicitly or explicitly. Your letter discusses different situations with three friends. I assume you have grouped them together because they all occurred around the same time and, in each case you lost someone you once considered a friend. Given your difficulty in making new friends, I understand how this can feel like one big loss and lead you to question your own behavior and involvement.

It’s sad that your first friend is sick and unemployed but she is fortunate to be able to count on family to help her through this difficult period. It’s understandable that these circumstances and distance would change the nature of your friendship. Hopefully, you can still stay in touch and help support her recovery. This setback may even draw you closer.

In the case of the friend who didn’t pay you back for the concert ticket, I suspect that there must have been a combination of factors that led you to let go of this one. (I hope you didn’t wait two years before reminding her of her unpaid debt.)

It seems like the loss of the third friendship you described was the one that left the most questions in your mind, understandably. This was a case where you have no explanation of what happened. While it is normal to be sad about the loss of a pet, your friend’s non-responsiveness to you many months later suggests that this friend dropped you and has little interest in resurrecting the friendship. Not every friendship lasts forever.

While the circumstances in each of these situations are different, one common thread may be lapses in communication. Rather than waiting six months after a non-response, you probably should have checked in sooner with your Facebook friend. Given what happened, it probably made sense to stop following her life on Facebook.

When you are upset with a friend or don’t understand her behavior, as was the case with the friend who lost her cats or the friend who didn’t repay you, it’s important to check in and talk about things before anger or distance builds up on one or both sides.

Losing three friends over a short period of time can be rattling to anyone and doing “post-mortems” like these can be helpful in moving forward and easing self-doubts.

My best, Irene

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Category: Disappointing friends, RESOLVING PROBLEMS

Comments (7)

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  1. Kris says:

    Thank You. Your words helped me a great deal. I am 37 years old and I don’t have many friends. All of my friends that I’m closest too live in other states. I live in a state with my husband and my child who was born a little over a year ago. I’ve tried to make friends but they don’t stick. I struggle with being super outgoing. I’m not one to invite people to events because I don’t go to many myself. No one really invites me anywhere either. I feel like I call people who I want to be my friends and extend my hands by giving and trying to be present, but I don’t feel that people really reach out to me. Maybe it’s me. I’ve lost potential friends because during the process of developing the friendship, I have felt closer than they felt and trusted them with a part of my joking personality that I thought they could handel and they couldn’t. I’m a girl that jokes like a guy sometimes and most girls can’t handle it. My sensitivity factor is kind of low. I’m working on that. But anywho thanks for the words. They have helped me look at things in a different way.

  2. jacqueline says:

    Very well-written and thought provoking post, Amy!

    • Lauren says:

      Hi, I just wanted to add a brief comment . I read that in England, the early education teachers are being advised to encourage the young children to develop a fair sized group of good friends, rather than developing and focusing on one or two BFFs only. Apparently, the group friendship idea results in a lot less hurt feelings, and encourages the youngsters to be more open minded, and to be more willing to overlook others behavior and /or shortcomings and to be more inclusive, rather than exclusive regarding friendships. Nobody is perfect. Sometimes friends drift in and out of our lives, and then drift back in again. Actually, this doesn’t seem like too bad an idea for adults also.

  3. Mandy says:

    I don’t expect closure. Those people are gone. They weren’t my only friends but my circle of friends has gotten smaller because of what happened. All this is particularly troublesome to me as I am introverted and I can sometimes feel lost in the shuffle around some extroverted friends, like what happened with friend #3. I’m positive she’s barely given me a second thought during the last three months since I dumped her (or we dumped each other) yet I think about what happened often and sometimes castigate myself because if I had developed the social skills around the same time that everyone else did, I may not be going through all this now. Intellectually I know all kinds of people have friendship problems but since I don’t have as much experience with this like a lot of other people, this affects me a lot harder.

  4. Mandy says:

    You’ve given me a lot to think about.
    I’m in my early 40’s now but growing up, I was shy, insecure and socially anxious. I kept people at arms length and so, my relationships with other people tended to be superficial. Even though the shyness and social anxiety abated by my late 20’s, due to my painful early experiences, I still lag behind socially to some extent and I still have trouble confronting people when I feel they’ve hurt me or done or said something I don’t like or agree with, because of my fear that I will no longer be liked. I’m still a work in progress when it comes to interpersonal relationships and sometimes I feel ashamed or angry at not learning certain things about navigating them when I was younger. I’m not sure that I agree that I only see friendship in black or white terms. I used to when I was younger and was more emotionally unstable though. I also have learned over the last 15 years or so to temper my high expectations when it comes to other people, but again, I have work to do in this area. Until my late 20’s, I was the type of person who rarely initiated get togethers and rarely invited people out anywhere because I felt that if they said no, then it meant that they didn’t like me and didn’t want me around. I realized at that point that my passiveness may have turned off some people who may have otherwise wanted to be my friend because they may have felt that I didn’t like them when my shyness, social anxiety and lack of social skills was what got in the way. I believe friendship should be about trust, fairness and reciprocity but if someone uses you or ditches you without explanation and won’t communicate with you, there’s no other way to interpret their actions and you can act accordingly.

    • amy says:

      I think we’re all works i progress. I think you’re being too hard on yourself by expecting that you should have learned lessons 15 year ago, because we all learn so much as we mature and live through different periods of our lives. I’m also in my 40s. I’m learning about my relationships all the time, though fortunately less by mistakes than I used to, LOL.

      I’d hate to see you lose out by making assumptions or decisions that don’t need to be made. If you think your friend’s ditched you, it hurts no one to back off from the relationship and then to welcome it back at some point.

      I find not *knowing” to be very hard when it comes to relationships. I had a hard childhood too and sometimes when my emotional resources are tapped out, believing the harshest about myself comes naturally. Additionally I’m single and w/o kids (by choice) so sometimes I forget about the dynamics of people’s familial relationships being more urgent at times) Just recently I felt hurt because I hadn’t heard from a friend and she hadn’t responded to me when we we previously communicated at least weekly. Turns out she was going thru a divorce (she caught him being a serial cheater), her middle school kid was in rehab, she sold her home (due to divorce), moved–no wonder she didn’t have time to return a text. I thought she may have written me off, but it turns out she appreciated that I hadn’t pushed matters. I would have loved to have been there for her, but I don’t think between lawyers, realtors, frequent trips to the rehab for family therapy, and just doing the grocery shopping, she didn’t have an ounce of energy or time left.
      We’re close again. We spent black friday doing retail therapy for the first time since before she had kids.
      Stay strong and try being okay with not knowing all the reasons (w/o jumping to conclusions) because if you look back in 5 years you might just find out you have no idea what the other person was going through.

  5. amy says:

    Hi Mandy,

    I’m curious at what your definition of “friend” is.
    I believe friendships come in all shapes and sizes. My philosophy is that longterm friendships ebb and flow. Sometimes one friend is needier, and the equality balance is skewed–like when I had cancer, I was less able to give of myself because my energies were needed to get through surgery and chemo. I recognized this and did the best I could to be the same person I was before treatment. I’ve been on the giving part of the imbalance too, during the marital crises or kid crises with my friends. Sometimes friendships are build on imbalance, like with mentor relationships. I’ve got a few younger friends where I’m a big sister/maternal role–I’m more likely to treat for lunch or pay for tickets and not be repaid (or to expect repayment), but that’s okay, because the relationships mean more to me that the cost of a meal. I get as much as I give in those friendships, because not everything is quantifiable in dollars and cents.
    One of my dearest friends never invites me out with her friends for drinks and to party, which is fine with me, because that’s not the nature of our relationship (and I don’t consider that a good time). I’m the first person she’ll call if she needs to talk and the first person she’ll call when she’s in town (she moved two hours away) because the dynamics of our friendship play out over long lunches (and a margarita).
    My cats are my life. I am still mourning for one of my babies three years after his death…and I go to the beach.
    I’ve had a friends I lost touch with for a decade only to resume stronger.

    You seem to be viewing your relationships in terms of black and white thinking. Friends or not friends. Ditch or keep. Follow my unspeaken rules or begone. I wonder how your communication with these friends is in terms of dealing with hurt feelings. Do you say, when X happens, I feel Y? Do your friends know the rules you’ve made for remaining in your life?

    Dump is such a strong word, and I wonder if the feeling of rejection or rejector is as strong as the word? What is involved in “dumping”? Does the other person know she’s been de-friended.

    I’ve only ever “dumped” one friend, and that due to overt cruelty. She told my abuser I had spoken out about him molesting me because as retaliation for something her paranoid thought I did. (I didn’t see that coming, she was bipolar and went off her meds, didn’t know she was bipolar). I refuse have that drama in my life. If she apologizes, I will accept that, but she cannot be in my life.
    I’ve distances myself from people who weren’t healthy to have in my life, but I still talk to them at get-togethers.

    One of the biggest gifts of wisdom I’ve learned is to manage my expectations for other people. It’s helped me be happier with myself, and with other people. People are imperfect and they have stressors in their lives that I don’t always know about. That doesn’t make me less important to my friends and I need to trust that the people who care about me still care for me even if I can’t see or touch that caring during a particular time.

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