Friends: From almost-sisters to almost strangers

April 13, 2011 | By | 14 Replies Continue Reading

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

My best friend of 18 years always called me "the sister she never had". We live in the same city and used to talk on the phone at least 5 to 10 times a day and got together frequently. About two years ago she and her husband began divorce proceedings. I tried to be a supportive friend. I read everything I could on divorce, bought her books (divorce as well as inspirational), sent her cards, dropped off little gifts at her house, took her to see her church pastor on a particularly rough day, etc. I truly, in my heart, feel that I was there for her.

 

About a year ago, my health began to deteriorate due to multiple autoimmune issues, rendering me homebound. About this time, my friend began disconnecting from me. I realized I was always the one calling her. The phone calls were always about her divorce issues, she never got around to asking how I was.

 

In December I decided to quit calling her. It took three months for us to talk again, and that was only after I sent her an email telling her goodbye and that she didn’t owe me any explanations, but that I recognized our friendship was over. She insisted it wasn’t and came over to talk. She told me that she had just sort of "shut down" lately and hadn’t really been doing anything or talking to other friends (though she later talked about her weekly Bible study she attended, her weekly girl scout meetings she led, etc.) I asked her if she was depressed due to her impending divorce and she adamantly denied that she was. I also asked her if I had done anything and she adamantly denied that as well. She said that we could choose to live in the past or move forward and she wanted to move forward.

 

I chose to let it go and called here and there to see how she was doing. Again, I realized she hadn’t called me once and the conversations continued to focus on her divorce. I have enough sense to let her go, as I realize that I’ve really been the only one hanging on.

 

I don’t understand what happened and guess I never will. We didn’t really involve our husbands in our friendship, so it wasn’t a matter of taking sides during the divorce or anything. She experienced her own health crisis in the past (which I was there to support her through), so I don’t believe that my health issues made her uncomfortable. I can only surmise that she just grew tired of me, particularly as I was homebound and had little to offer in the way of "giving."

 

She’s my son’s godmother and I don’t understand how or why she’s abandoned my son as well. I no longer want a friendship with her as she’s made it very clear that I don’t mean anything to her. I’m not foolish enough to put myself through this again. My question is: How do I finally let go? I’ve detached emotionally, yet feel like I need some sort of resolution in letting go. I’m not sure that involves having any contact with her though. Any ideas? Thank you for your understanding and support,

Signed,
Chelsea

 

ANSWER

Dear Chelsea,

After losing such a long and close friendship, you must feel a terrible sense of betrayal and loss.

 

You reached out to your ex-friend multiple times and she really let you down, especially given your medical problems. I don’t think you can "surmise" what happened nor would it be productive to do so. Continuing to ruminate about the friendship will only make you more depressed rather than bring about closure. Instead, try to reframe your thinking to allow for the possibility that it had more to do with her than with you.

 

Clearly, you can’t depend on her for resolution. It would have been great if she had been able to tell you what had happened at the time but either she didn’t want to or wasn’t able to do so. Given these circumstances, you need to bolster your resolve to stay away from a friendship that has turned out to be so hurtful. Moreover, don’t allow this emotional entanglement deter you from reaching out to and engaging with other people.

 

People change over time, sometimes in dramatic and unexpected ways. In fact, your ex-friend’s ex-husband may have experienced feelings similar to yours at the time of the divorce. It’s important to recognize that this happens far more often among friends than people realize or are willing to admit.

 

You may have detached yourself intellectually but you still seem emotionally attached. Hopefully, tincture of time will help heal your feelings of loss.

My best wishes for your health,
Irene

 

Related prior posts on The Friendship Blog:

Getting over getting dumped

A leap of faith: Dumped over religious differences

Obsessed by a breakup

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Comments (14)

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  1. Tessa says:

    I think your friend is extremely depressed and in denial about it. She also probably feels overwhelmed with her divorce and possibly with taking care of her children on her own (I don’t know if you mentioned her having children, but if she has them it makes a divorce so much tougher). Your illness and possibly being one more person who needs her probably feels overwhelming. The fact that she contacted you when you wrote her may mean that she’s not wanting the friendship to be over, but perhaps redefined due tp her new situation. How she’s acting isn’t nice, but she may not be consciously meaning to hurt you. She may be hurting so much herself that she’s unable to have empathy at this point. Either way, I’d give her some space and work on finding new friends who are there for you. Best wishes to you.

  2. Hildegard says:

    I also have had various experiences with lost friendships. We have to realize that life is a journey and I re-read the friends for a season, reason or a lifetime. There may never be closure and we just need to move on, wish them well and not carry bitterness towards them. As we age we also sift through friends which may have not been the supportive people we had when we grow and change. I had some really ‘meangirl’ friends when I was younger with low self esteem and when my self-worth improved, they could no longer one-up me and use me to feel better about their lot. I know I was a kind and caring friend so it is their loss. Great to have these sites to feel less alone!

  3. meryal says:

    haha don’t talk to people like that if i had a friend who just talk about him self only then i would leave the friendship

    its better to be alone that be stuck with a self absorbed person who only cares about himself/herself
    i can imagine the torture you go truh everyday and always pretending to like her conversation

    i had a friend like that he was so bad and self absorbed that after a few weeks of being friends with a lot of people, people started to hate him and avoid him

    my friends felt pity or him

    so they tried and pretended to like his conversation
    pretending to like all the car stories and his money
    bla bla bla
    pretending all the time and acting interested for like a week or month
    (they were hoping that he would change but he didn’t)

    my friends couldn’t take it anymore
    so after that they never spoke to him again

    to be honest he was a good speaker but he just sucks cuz all of the topic was about him him him him ,car car car ,money money money
    its all about him

    imagine talking for hours and all the topic was all about him and his money

    and i know for a fact that their all fake

  4. Helga says:

    I think people have a hard time just accepting that someone is a bitch and some part of you never wanted to see it. That’s the key to letting go. Tell yourself she is a bitch and move on. She was always a bitch and when you look back, I am sure you can see tons of instances to validate that. Once you admit that, you will be able to see people who are not bitches much more clearly.

  5. m4rc1n says:

    Problem is that making friends requires some social interacion. But how to intact with people when:
    1. You think nobody is interested in what you have to say
    2. You’re not sure if what you have to say is weird, stupid or offensive
    3. You have no idea what other people are interested in
    4. You never know if people are serious or making fun of you
    5. You think that you annoy people when you talk to them
    6. You never feel “good enough” to interact with anyone
    And so on, and so on?

    • m4rc1n says:

      Wrong topic. This was supposed to be in “why would someone have no friends”. Tablet is acting weird…

    • meryal says:

      dude don’t be dumb friendship is not about you
      friendship is about the 2 of you
      you don’t need to be interesting you need to be interested to other people

      since everyone wants to be friends with people who are interested in them

  6. Irene says:

    Thanks, Kris, for always being such an empathetic visitor to this blog and always saying the right thing to help others.

     

    Best, Irene 

  7. Kris says:

    Hi Chelsea,

    Ditto on all you said. I am thankful for the internet, which makes possible blogs and forums like Dr. Levine’s, in which people who don’t know each other but have very specific situations in common can share feelings and reflections, and give each other support!

  8. Chelsea says:

    Dear Kris,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I am sorry for the loss that you went through with your previous BFF. I agree that the feelings of betrayal are very strong. I never imagined that the person I trusted the most in my life would turn out to be someone who I could never trust again. I will never think of her the same way again, and that is sad. I’ve forgiven her in my heart, as I don’t want to carry feelings of anger or hurt towards her anymore, however she’s not someone I chose to have in my life. As you mentioned, there are many possible reasons she walked away, but I no longer care about any of them. We all have hard stuff to deal with in our lives, yet not everyone feels the need to intentionally lie and betray their friends. Thanks to Dr. Irene’s book, I am more aware of the signs of toxic friendships and feel more empowered to choose relationships that are healthier for me. Thanks again for writing. I wish you the very best. Love, Chelsea

    • Kkh says:

      Reasons? She left because you got sick. It’s that simple. Lots of people do that, it was no coincidence. She never was a true friend and your illness was the test needed. Sadly, true friendship is incredibly rare. Today’s friendships are overly casual, superficial and fake. People keep friends around for their own validation and entertainment but God forbid you get a real problem and they run, not walk away. They RUN. I keep to myself now because since most friends are nothing but fair weather bitches, were alone anyway. Alone in a sea of fake friends. But unlike them, I don’t need a bunch of fake friends to occupy my time. It it’s not real, I have better shit to do.

  9. Chelsea says:

    Dear Dr. Levine, thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my post. Your words really helped me and I am taking them to heart, including bolstering my resolve to staying away from her. I just finished reading your book and it helped a great deal too – particularly knowing that I’m not the only one going through this.

  10. Kris says:

    I am so sorry for the loss you have experienced, especially at a time when you really needed unconditional support from a long time historical friend.

    Ever since I experienced the unexplained loss of a BFF of some thirty years, I have realized that this kind of loss produces feelings of deep betrayal and pain that are seldom understood by others unless they have gone through it. I was left with an poignant enigma that would never be solved.

    Someone you have let into your intimate circle for so many years, to whom you have been so vulnerable, and whom you have trusted (with the tacit understanding she would always be there), has, unfortunately the power to hurt you deeply if she decides to walk away.

    I came across a recent U of Michigan study by social psychologist Ethan Kross, demonstrating that the same regions of the brain that become active in response to painful sensory experiences are activated during intense experiences of social rejection. The study’s subjects were people who had recently experienced a romantic breakup, but in my mind, unexplained rejection from a long time trusted friend is in some ways more devastating.

    Yes, there are many possible reasons for her distancing from you: the pain of her own divorce, her own internal changes that led to the divorce, her need to erase her history because it included her ex-spouse, the overwhelming self-focus that often follows the devastation of a divorce, and the distancing that sometimes occurs when a person does not know how to handle the scariness of another friend’s illness. Or some multi-layered combination of all of these possible reasons. Or something else altogether, that you don’t even know about.

    I am in no way attempting to justify this woman’s abandoning of a friend in need. I am simply saying there are a plethora of possible underpinnings, and although I also wracked by brain to try to figure out why my long term friend would abandon me, I know that in the end, the exact reasons don’t matter. This woman has not been able to continue on with your friendship for her own private reasons (perhaps even unknown to her). It is one of the sad, mysterious ironies of life that some BFF’s do not turn out to be BFF’s.

    Best wishes for your health and well-being. Be open to other friends, who may be more willing to give you the support you need.

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