• Handling Breakups

An Ambivalent Friendship

Published: August 13, 2015 | Last Updated: March 18, 2022 By | 22 Replies Continue Reading
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When two people begin to feel ambivalent about a friendship, it may have run its course.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

To make a long story short, I have a friend that I have known for over 11 years. I even had the honor of being a bridesmaid in her wedding. Months ago, I started noticing a shift in our relationship.

I was the one always initiating contact, not like being needy, but if it had been a few weeks since we’ve seen each other, I’d ask if she wanted to do anything and she always seems ambivalent or noncommittal.

We used to hang out a ton and even when she got married, we still hung out. I guess a lot of it was due to the fact that I hit it off, friendship-wise, with her husband, which I know is very difficult for both the wife and husband to be friends with someone. So, I have counted myself very lucky to be friends with both her and her husband.

Because I have been the one usually initiating contact, I decided to just give it a break and see what happens. A month went by, two months, three months and I didn’t hear a thing from her. I guess in a way, I did this to see if the friendship was mutual or to see if the friendship was more one-sided. Her response showed me it was more one-sided.

I actually took time to ask how it was going and she responded in what seemed like in a short and abrupt tone (in a text message) that it was fine and that she was busy. Nothing more than that and nothing less. So I read between the lines and didn’t say anything more.

A month later, she asked how I was doing and if I wanted to do anything. I was ambivalent and used the “I’m too busy” excuse. Sometime after that, I became very depressed and it lasted for about 3-4 months. Sadly, I didn’t feel close enough anymore to even tell her what was going on. I felt like she wouldn’t really care at all.

We eventually did meet some time afterwards and I actually had the courage to finally tell her what was going on with me over the past few months. I thought she would actually care. Sadly, she was very nonchalant about it and I ended up regretting even saying anything to her in the first place.

To make a very long story short, (there’s a lot more to this that would probably be a 10-page paper), we still go months at a time without communicating. I might also add that there is another married couple that she and her husband have made a pact to see them every other week. They would rearrange their schedule around that special time, so I knew not to even ask to do something if that was the day they were hanging out with them.

Just recently my friend sent me a text and asked how I was doing. I contemplated whether or not I should reply. I stupidly replied and actually took time crafting my response. I actually shared what was going on and there was no response for two days. Now I feel, what’s the point of her asking how I’m doing?

Because of how the friendship has turned and the lack of sincerity of the friendship, I feel that it’s time to move on. I know what it takes to have a balanced friendship and I’m just tired of the lack of sincerity in this friendship. I guess what got me was how no matter what, they would always make time to this that other married couple every other week, no exceptions.

If I were to end this, could I do it silently? I ask, because she probably wouldn’t even notice. Thanks for the advice.

Signed, Donna

ANSWER

Dear Donna,

This friendship sounds like it has reached the point where both you and your friend are ambivalent about continuing it—yet, reluctant and sad about decisively ending it.

Situations like this are very common because it’s tough to let go of friendships that were once close and meaningful. Over the course of eleven years, you must have shared a good part of your lives with each other although you each experienced individual changes and transitions as well.

As you began to sense that your friend was pulling away (or preoccupied with other people and things), you realized you couldn’t always count on her to reliably be there for you, whether it meant scheduling a get-together or understanding your bout with depression. The problem wasn’t her making new friends, per se, but not having enough time for you.

Even though it sounds like this ambivalent friendship has run its course—and reached a point where you were counting on it more than your friend—there is no need to formally end it. My suggestion would be to redirect your efforts towards nurturing other friendships that feel more reciprocal as you recover from this loss.

If your friend contacts you again, you will have the opportunity to decide whether or not you want to accept the friendship on its new terms (as opposed to what it was in the past). If she doesn’t reach out, you’ll know she’s decided to move on.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: HANDLING BREAKUPS

Comments (22)

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  1. Laura Derkson says:

    I know what it’s like to lose a best friend. In 1991 I met Katrina. We were friends instantly. We went shopping together every week. And then we would go to my place for tea. We enjoyed every moment of it.

    I was slightly envious of her. She had a job. I didn’t. I was on income assistance, trying to find work. She had a driver’s license. I didn’t because of a visual impairment. She lived on her own. I still lived with my parents. But I never felt angry or jealous.

    Then suddenly she met someone. They started dating and eventually got married. Things started to change. She stopped phoning me. I’d phone her and say, “Phone me. Phone me.” But she wouldn’t. She said “I’m busy,” over and over again.

    Maybe if I had backed off a bit, we wouldn’t remained friends. Hindsight’s 20/20, but reading what you said this doesn’t always work. I understand how you feel.

    She disappeared. I can’t even find her name and number in the phone book. I just hope she’s okay.

  2. Jess says:

    Thank you firstly for your ability to be greatly vulnerable Donna and so honest.
    It is easy here to give the wrong impression; as we have no eye contact. What could be taken as an insulting reply to your upset(which I really ‘hear’); could just be a misinterpration with the way something is written..
    Or someone not having English as 1st language/be of a different culture & taking it the wrong way. It is an emotive subject this!
    My experience with an upset; is opening up and exposing my vulnerability and it is often to a person who may not have the necessary empathy & I am then doubly uoset.
    I feel this whole matter of frienshio can be very influenced by Expectation. When these feel dashed then my “rights” move in and then I get annoyed. The “how dare they?” “How could she?”
    Having such close friends brings vulnerability and taking risks of being hurt when we open up our hearts to be friends and then maybe to love them.
    My safety valve..if it helps must be to not become too hooked on the one person but to have several good friends and self partner myself.
    I too have been there and know the hurt of feeling it is not as lovely as it could be or used to be. When I do Voluntary work and want nothing in return I feel less attached. You see I struggle with Codependancy and people pleasing but I now am trying to work on my inner and outer boundaries. Who am I and what boundaries and values do I have which I will I try not to allow to be violated and which outer ones are open for more negotiation. Ie my inner boundary could be kindness to Me and then them. Self loving always 1st. I used to see Self love as real weird but now I see it as mecessary. Younprobably do this anyway?…just saying what Im trying to work on…as got same things that have happened to me.
    All the very best
    .

  3. tanja says:

    No need to say anything, just move on. Try to make other friends. I agree that there is no need to formerly call her up and tell her. I have done this as well. Let go of friends that were not recipricol. One friend actually contacted me nearly two years later and I did not respond because by that time, I did not care anymore and I got use to life without her.

  4. SincereHeart says:

    Im in exactly the same situation myself Donna – I think. What you wrote, I can relate to so easily. There’s someone I thought was a friend, but just not being consistent enough that the cracks are showing in the exterior.

    Like you, I’ve tried talking to them about it, to make sure I haven’t done anything wrong, make sure they’re OK, but their nonchalant attitude is rather tiresome. They don’t see there being any problems whatsoever.

    It sounds like you’re in a similar situation. Your friend thinks everything is OK but makes no effort, but you can guarantee when you see her in six months or whatever, she’ll be bubbly and fun.

    I don’t know what to do with these people, but I don’t like them stealing my time and energy. A relationship has to be somewhat reciprocal for me. I also can’t get out of my head, the thoughts fraud, fake and on your terms. It doesn’t seem genuine. It seems more polite and friendly than it does true friendship.

    But of course your friends responses make you confused, so it’s difficult to accept that a friendship has run it’s course. I have no easy answers. Im trying to just give them extra rope at the moment and backing away slowly.

    • Maggie says:

      Hi there, I can totally relate to this as I have been very upset by a friend of 20 years continually (latterly) changing plans and leaving me high and dry, to the point that I effectively snapped and told her what I felt. I knew there was no come-back from that but the friendship had effectively run its course. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, the sad thing is that I felt she was only friendly while her son was growing up (as I had a son a lot older) so she could ask me advice from time to time. I was more like a sister to her, which you would have thought would have made us closer.

      I think that sometimes friendships are lop-sided, one side does all the caring and organising, and is more sensitive to the needs of the other – while the other side is happy to take this and remains more passive in the relationship. This starts to show over time; towards the end of my friendship, I remember emailing and pouring my heart about my husband’s heart troubles and also my son (who is suffering from SIBO and was unable to eat – losing lots of weight) – and I got no response. I do think that she was consulting her office-friends on how to reply to me, as I never got a response over the weekend, which tells you a lot about our relationship! I always maintain that a friend would have realised how upset I was and would have sympathised, but unfortunately that was not the case!

      In these sort of situations it is best to let go and move on, and forgive each other for how things have ended up. We parted on good terms, and I have now made new friends and re-visited old friends I had neglected, which is good. Friendships should make us feel good, not tired and drained. You will have fond memories of your time together, but also will have more time and energy to put into meeting new and interesting people – and if your friend does contact you, you will be in a better place to consider what your response will be.

      I have no doubt I will never hear from my friend again, as she did all the petty things like block me on FB, Twitter etc, and obviously told mutual friends her side of the story so they blocked me too, which did take a bit of getting used to but I am over it now! Sometimes distancing yourself from a situation helps you to see it for what it really is, and realise that you were right to move on.

  5. GraceW says:

    I agree with the commenter who said it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing friendship. The original complaint was that the friend in question wasn’t initiating contact as often as the OP yet when the friend DID initiate contact, she was rebuffed. Her attempts have been downplayed. Friendships do wax and wane over time and if you can find a way to roll with it (mixing metaphors here, sorry), the friendship can survive. It won’t be the same as it used to be, but it can still “be.”

    You say there’s more to the story, so maybe the friendship has indeed run its course. It happens. But don’t blame the friendship’s demise on her lack of effort when she has made effort.

  6. Jared says:

    In my experience, constantly having to initiate contact starts to feel like a chore. It sounds perfectly reasonable to pull back and see if they contact you.

    This sounds like a friendship that has weakened over time. I’d let it go.

  7. Mary says:

    Hi Donna,

    You know perhaps your friend had marriage problems and didnt want to tell you about it. maybe somebody said something that wasn’t true.
    You said you were friends with both of them. Have you ever thought of picking up a phone and calling him to ask straight out if shes upset with you etc. I say that because clearly shes not going to tell you.
    Usually but not always, married people mix with married friends.
    Many women see a single girlfriend at threat– especially if hes been running around with somebody else. Whatever it is– shes changed. I get it. That hurts.
    You obviously really cared about your friendship with her. Thats to your credit.
    I can also understand what you said about not contacting them for a while- just to see if they cared enough to bother to ask why. You did that because you were starting to wonder what was wrong- if anything- what was going on – why was it only you who made contact– were you just now a pain in the neck they tolerated– or did they really care as you did. Got it.
    Probably wasn’t on their radar without them trying to be hurtful tbo.
    Things do change when somebody gets married and to a degree your replaced as a number one buddy.You sound like a loyal and solid friend with real feelings.
    Honestly, Donna i would just try to make a few new single friends so your not a third wheel.

    If she wants you – she knows whore to find you. Remember she might have problems too. Go out dear and just have fun while you can.
    You sound like a nice person- and nice ones also get hurt.
    If you were not nice lady — you wouldnt care .
    Also its THE most common thing in the world to be dumped after a friends married. Dont blame yourself- dont blame her. That part of your life’s over, but better days and friends ahead for you.

    • Mrs. Chen says:

      Oh, I don’t think Donna should call the husband… Regardless of her friendship with him, he’s always going to be loyal to his wife, as he should. I think it would make a bigger mess out of the situation.

      Donna — it’s clear that your friend does not value you to the extend you’d like. And you are angry about it. So I think it’s time to move on. You sound like a very nice person, so I am sure you’ll be able to find friends who will reciprocate your friendship.

      • Mrs. Chen says:

        Mary, I heard you the first time. I just wouldn’t counsel Donna to involve her friend’s husband.

        She is losing two friends who are ONE unit. He knows Donna through his wife. And if he values his marriage, he is going to defer to his wife on this matter.

        And if it’s “his doing” then clearly her friend is choosing her husband’s side, as she should because they are ONE unit.

        In any case, as I said, Donna should just move on.

      • Mary says:

        Mrs Chen
        I also heard you the first time. Your entitled to your opinion , and I am entitled to mine. Of course, she will move on. Goes without saying.

        Mrs Chen please dont use the word counseling, find that annoying. I am not counseling anybody. Its a conversation online nothing more. Also, pls do not tell me what to say think or do. The lady asked for peoples opinions, because shes hurt and confused. She said shes friends with both.
        Frankly, if it were me- id ask them both – but i am not her .
        As I said, your fully entitled to your opinion to post to her what you think she should do.

        You not entitled to dictate however telling me what advise i can give her, nor anybody else.

        • Mrs. Chen says:

          Mary – of course I am entitled to my opinion! There was never any question about that. Just like I am entitled to my opinion of your counsel (or “conversation online nothing more”).

  8. Diane Z says:

    I think that LW should stop trying to keep this friendship going as it seems to cause her much more pain than pleasure.

    I just read some nasty catty comments, to which I want to respond. It is entirely reasonable and justified to decline to participate in a relationship where a gal has to initiate all (or most) or the contact. It doesn’t mean that she needs reassurance, is insecure, or requires external validation. Jeesh! Sounds like a previous commenter is calling people psycho-babble insults. Declining to be the one who always initiates contact just means that a gal prefers balance in her relationships, and having to initiate all or most of the contact feels out of balance to her.

    I believe that testing a relationship that feels out of balance is the best thing that a gal can do. The LW was confused and uncertain, so she took a step back and waited to see what would happen. LW’s question was answered – when she stopped initiating contact, the relationship stopped. To say that LW changed the rules of the game makes no sense to me – is the other person so fragile and delicate that she can’t be expected to rock with life’s changes? If the LW initiated contact, is she somehow forever stuck in that role and not allowed to stop? I think not! LW is allowed to change and conversations about “our friendship” rarely work out well.

    To say that some people are naturally initiators seems like trying to use nature or psychology to justify bad behavior, as in “I don’t have to initiate contact or otherwise treat you well because it’s unnatural for me.”

    I don’t think that LW needs to “learn more effective ways of communicating and practice.” LW was quite effective in finding out what she needed to know – this relationship has become one-sided.

    I don’t think that the friendship was savable without LW accepting behavior that she finds hurtful, and who wants a friendship on those terms? I agree with Irene that this friendship seems to have run its course. LW doesn’t need to formally end it. She just has to stop initiating and the relationship will end.

    • IBikeNYC says:

      My feelings exactly, but beautifully put!

      I couldn’t agree more.

      I mean, at what point are one’s OWN feelings “allowed” to count?!

  9. Sandra says:

    Donna, here’s another possibility. Maybe you could stop viewing this particular friendship as an “all or nothing” relationship. It sounds to me, as Irene said, that the closeness you once had together has run its course. Life often takes old friends in different directions, and we change as we get older, or get married, etc. Sometimes our preference or comfort level with certain friends changes too.

    Over the years I’ve had friendships that have changed like this. And that doesn’t mean we don’t care about each other anymore, or that there’s anything terribly “wrong”. But it does mean that we simply cannot keep the friendship at the same level it used to be. I know this can feel awkward.

    When I went off to college, I lost touch with a lot of high school friends who went off in different directions. In recent years, I got back in touch with one of those friends from the past. We had been very close in school and had a lot in common then — and we still have a few things (and good memories) in common today. But I just don’t feel as close to her (or her new husband) as I feel toward the friends I made later on at key times in my life — without her. But she wants us to be BFFs all over agin — as if nothing had changed, and as if nothing happened in the years we never saw each other.

    The way I am handling this might be of help to you. I am compromising. Rather than “cut off” or end my renewed friendship with my old friend, I am trying to keep this friendship at a pace and level I am comfortable with. That means not being available to her all the time — but enjoying her company periodically over an occasional lunch or dinner. She may want to have more contact than that, but that is what I am sincerely comfortable with right now. I have other friends I enjoy more, and I need to spend time with them as well as my family.

    Maybe your friend wants to keep your friendship — but just at a different level of closeness. Perhaps she is going through changes, or has grown in a different direction, and doesn’t want to invest in your friendship in the same way she once did. Hope this is of some help to you.

    • Amy F says:

      I’ve had the same experience with friendships waxing and waning in closeness and frequency of contact, especially long term relationships.

  10. Amy F says:

    Rather than having a conversation with her about initiating contact, you chose to play games by changing the dynamics of the relationship of you being the more frequent contact. You gave her a test without telling her the rules of the game, and then felt hurt and angry because she didn’t respond the way she hoped you would. She didn’t even know she was being tested. Then you drew conclusions. Her only participation was by not responding to your challenge to prove you mattered. When she did text her, you acted tersely, but never told her why. You also compared your importance to another couples based on quantity of time.

    Lack of healthy communication of needs and feelings can be a detriment to relationships. In a sense, your approach set you up to be disappointed and set her up for failure. To me, that’s a lot of unnecessary drama and angst. And work

    Another way to handle the situation could have been telling her how you felt and seeing how she responded afterward.

    I’ve learned some people are naturally more initiators as part of their personality. Some people become myopic when they’re busy or stressed and don’t think to initiate contact, I’m guilty of that. Some people need more reassurance of their importance, others feel more secure and need less frequent external validation. Certainly personality styles don’t mesh as friends, even if they like each other.

    If you know what you need, you can evaluate whether this is something you want to be more flexible about, or something you want to keep. If you’re happy testing friends and not telling them, then you don’t need to change your approach. If you’re not satisfied, you can learn more effective ways of communicating and practice.

    Good luck.

    • Someone says:

      What you said in your 5th paragraph really makes sense, and I think, may be the key to approaching and evaluating issues in our relationships with others.

    • Someone says:

      Sorry, that would be the 4th paragraph , the one that starts “I’ve learned some people are…” Full of gold and wisdom!

    • Sandra says:

      Amy — I really like what you said about the “initiators” vs those who don’t initiate. Makes perfect sense, and I have friends like these that are wonderful when I slow down and take the time to seek them out.

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