• Handling Breakups

Friendship on hold

Published: July 28, 2014 | By | 23 Replies Continue Reading
What do you do when someone else puts your friendship on hold?



I’m feeling really sad because my closest friend who’s more like a sister to me has put me on hold indefinitely. I’m not clear where I stand. She’s given me one of those strange ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ type of explanations, saying she loves me very much and that “if and when things change for her,” she will be back in touch.

We have been very close for several years, although because we don’t live close to one another, most of our contact is by phone, email, Skype etc. We have shared interests, I always thought we had similar values (her behavior towards me suggests this may not be the case) but we have shared a lot of emotional closeness, personal information and an awful lot of laughter. My children absolutely love her.

A few years ago, I supported my friend through a painful marriage breakup and more recently, the death of her mother. Within the last year, my children and I have been diagnosed with a life-threatening health problem and on top of this, I developed some fairly serious mental health problems. My friend was initially a valuable source of support during this horrible time. She then had some problems of her own and it was around this time that I noticed she had begun to distance herself from me.

Initially, I was understanding but as time went on, she became more distant. I asked if there was a problem and was reassured there was nothing wrong, she was just struggling to deal with a few things in her own life. I have to admit that as she moved away, I chased. By ‘chased,’ I mean “continued to get in touch.”

The volume of contact wasn’t excessive but I confess that after being blanked a few times, I gave her a piece of my mind about how inconsiderate she was being. She responded angrily, telling me to back off and saying she needed to be left alone to deal with her issues. She said she cares about my family and me, and said she would be back.

I took this really badly, I missed the ‘care about you and will be back’ part and focused on the ‘leave me alone.’ I felt very rejected and still do. I understand she has problems but let’s face it, don’t we all? Her problems aren’t stopping her going to work or socializing with others, then posting about it on social media, which I found extremely hurtful. I’m not saying she shouldn’t be doing these things but I can’t see why they’re incompatible with being at least polite towards a loyal friend.

Her attitude towards me when she has been in contact has been rather frosty and she has become very secretive about how she is spending her time. She’s entitled to keep that information to herself but it hurts to know that she has no time whatsoever for me.

In summary, I feel I’m being asked to do the impossible – reconcile a terrible loss and experience all the sadness of a friendship that’s gone, but at the same time hold out hope for the possibility it will return. I’d almost rather she let me go, at least then I could get on with grieving and then focus my time and energy elsewhere. I feel she’s hedging her bets or holding me in reserve, which feels unfair. And I can’t say anything because we aren’t in contact.

Any tips on how to deal with a friendship that’s been put on hold?



Hi Jenna,

Yes, feeling like a friendship is on hold can be very painful especially if someone other than you has made that decision. Although it may not feel that way, the ball is now in your court. You have the ability to change things by accepting that, for whatever reason—whether it is her, you, or the chemistry between you—you and your friend can no longer have the relationship you once had.

Your problems—mental, physical or family—may have placed too much strain on this relationship given the circumstances of your friend’s life. Chasing her and continuing to get in touch with her probably exacerbated her feeling of being burdened by the friendship. I suspect her telling you that the friendship is on hold was her way of trying to create distance and set boundaries without hurting you (or at least trying to minimize the hurt).

Back off, as she asked you to, and stop following her on social media as well. She has the right to have a life of her own and have relationships with other people. Try to nurture other friendships that are more reciprocal and forget about this one for now.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Comments (23)

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  1. Constance says:

    Hi everyone,
    I have found much of what has been posted to be very useful and comforting. I have felt quite low recently over a close friend distancing herself from me as well. We had only been friends for about a year and met through doing a mutual job. I had lived in town longer than her and we became friends shortly after she arrived. In the beginning she seemed extremely enthusiastic about doing things together and it was wonderful to have a good close friend around. Over time it felt like we had been friends for many years and not only a few months.

    About a month and a half ago she changed. It felt as though it had happened overnight, but maybe there were signs that I didn’t recognize. I have looked back and tried to remember whether or not there were any red flags but I come up with nothing each time I try to recall. She told me that she “needed time” and had her own “issues” to deal with. Initially I respected this, but the worst part of this scenario is that we share a living space. If we lived apart, it wouldn’t be so hard. She speaks and behaves normally towards others at work and towards our neighbors and any friends who come visit her in town, but she is cold to me and other people have asked why she is avoiding me. I told her that I care and that I am here if she needs me and I have tried to remain pleasant despite feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome in my own home.
    One other friend told me that this had happened to her before (with the same friend) and that it might be my friends way of “protecting” out friendship and resuming it later on. I don’t know what to think. I feel like I’ve been thrown away.

    I’m really confused and I’ve been trying to deal with this. It would certainly be easier if we didn’t live together, but moving out isn’t an option at this stage for other reasons. Any insight or tips? Thanks.


  2. Geetisha says:

    Is ‘needing a break’ a way of calling off a friendship? I was not too bothered by it until now. I do feel betrayed since my best friend chose her boyfriend over me just because he had a problem with our best friendship. she then told me that she needs a break. Its still hurting me but I agreed we both needed it to know where our friendship stands in all this. I know I took the right step but.. did I just lost her over a guy?

  3. mara says:

    I have been the friend that has needed space and time to myself and just not having the energy to be a good friend. It doesn’t mean I didn’t care about my friends or wish them well. But I was not up for being social, I didn’t feel like talking about my life, I didn’t feel like fielding questions on my life, and I didn’t really feel like hearing about theirs either to be honest. I didn’t have the energy to listen to complaints and I wasn’t in a good place to hear a bunch of positive things either. I didn’t want to burden anyone else, or take away from their happiness, or be negative, or down, or discuss, so it was easier to just put a shield around me. I did lose friendships or have strained friendships because of it. I was okay with that. The people I’m still friendly with didn’t push. They understood I was having a rough time and didn’t judge or make demands. Social media is tough b/c I still did have a sense of pride and want to maintain my dignity, not be all depressed or go dark completely, so I would on occasion post something here or there that was positive or fun. I didn’t feel that way inside. I’m sure some of my friends felt miffed that I couldn’t make time or be there for them but apparently could go off and do something fun or be somewhere with someone else. It was just for show and to save face.

    Every situation is different of course. I know some people probably felt I was not a good friend or wished I could be there for them, but I could barely take care of myself and I had to protect myself first. Sometimes people struggle more than they want to confide, even to a close friend. Take your cues from your friend. I think it’s good that she was honest with you and said she was dealing with her own stuff. She trusted you enough to tell you that. I pulled away from some friends and tried to make it seem like I was fine and having fun with my own life to save face, because I didn’t want their judgment or for them to be invasive. If she felt she could be honest with you, that’s a positive.

    If she has been a good friend over the years, it’s really nice when a friend just checks in to say just thinking about you and hoping all is well. Have a great day. or something without really expecting anything in return. those are the friendships i cherished and picked up on again when i felt in a better place.

    • mara says:

      I really don’t think you can gauge what’s going on in your friend’s life from her social media posts. Lots of people tend to just put their “best selves” out there. I sometimes would put my limited socializing on display to “prove” I was out there having fun and doing things and seeing people. It shouldn’t matter, but it did to me. I wanted to look like I was doing okay even if I wasn’t. It’s a lot easier to fake it with and for acquaintances that for close friends who know us too well.

      This might not apply to your situation and your friend, but I know I put on the charade even as I was pulling away from friendships. Ironically I felt less shame looking like a bad, selfish, rude friend than i did about being viewed as depressed, unhappy, and miserable. I didn’t want my friends or the world to see me like that. I would have rather they viewed me as flaky, selfish, self-absorbed. The truth is I really was none of those things.

      I’m sorry you are going through your own struggles. Ideally your friend would be there for you, but from what you described in her own life and the comments she has made to you, she may just not be able to handle it. When you pushed or called her on it, she put up the barrier. I felt such a relief when some of my friends backed off. I just couldn’t deal with the friendship demands, or how bad I would feel if I didn’t feel like doing something or calling someone back, I got so much stress and anxiety and it was better for me to not have to deal with it sometimes. It really was about me, not them.

      I think you have to go on with your life, don’t wait for her, but don’t burn the bridge. Acknowledge that life is challenging for people and people respond and react in different ways. Sometimes all we can do is the best we can do at the time. You may reconnect again at some point, but you can’t push. Let it go for now. Move on with your own life, wish her well, I’m sure she wishes you well too, and maybe at some point the friendship will be in a good place again.

      • Sophie says:

        Mara — You’re so right about social media posting, and I am glad to see that a few people have noted that social media is NOT the way to judge what is going on with a friend. Many studies have shown that Facebook users “stage manage” their posts, which means they deliberately present a more positive image for their lives and activities.

        When my mother with dementia was gravely ill — in and out of the hospital several times — I took a break from social media. Do do otherwise, I would have felt as if I were violating our family’s privacy while we were struggling with Mom. I was depressed then too! So — I didn’t want to paste a “happy face” on my Facebook posts, nor did I want to create a sense of drama at my poor mother’s expense.

        All said and done, I think social media postings should be taken with a grain of salt, and not the litmus tests for our friendships.

      • Alice says:

        Hi Mara and Sophie,

        Thanks for the words of wisdom on social media, it’s easy to forget sometimes that it isn’t ‘real life’ and we can show whatever face we want to the world (or not, if we choose to have a break).
        I think what I find difficult to understand is the idea that if I’m such a wonderful (something she reiterated just before she disappeared) then why do I presently rank below almost-strangers in terms of priority? I realize this sounds selfish and it probably is, but I’m really struggling with it. I understand I’m probably harder work than random people on twitter and that’s not the same as proper conversation (ie deeper level stuff close friends have and you mentioned, Mara) but it’s very hurtful. I wish I could switch my feelings off and just let it go. As far as she’s aware, that’s what I’ve done as I haven’t contacted her but it has been several months now and I’m beginning to worry that it’ll never be normal ever again. It probably won’t. Maybe the issues are mine but I would have thought after so many years of closeness I would get the occasional “hi, how are you?” Alice

        • John says:

          It’s been a year. How did your friendship turn out Alice? Very curious because I’m going through the same thing you described with a dear friend.

      • John says:

        Thanks Mara. I was planning to have a talk with my BFF and find out why she suddenly backed off for the last several months even though we’ve been friends for over 10 years. After reading your comments, I guess it’s best to just wait.

    • Lauren says:

      Thank you for this! I am experiencing a distancing with a friend who I love dearly. My heart has shattered into a million pieces. Reading your perspective has shed a whole new light on the situation for me. I really appreciate it!

    • Shaz says:

      I too have been this person. Grieving the loss of a parent and people dumping their emotions on me to the point I have cut some of those people out of my life because they were flippant and completely trivialised what I was going through. I had social anxiety for a long time and just couldn’t engage with people as I used to. At the same time I was meeting new people who wanted nothing from me and arranging fun things to look forward to, to pull myself out of the funk I was in.

  4. Denise says:


    I’d like to comment on a few of your points.

    “Her problems aren’t stopping her going to work or socializing with others, then posting about it on social media, which I found extremely hurtful. I’m not saying she shouldn’t be doing these things but I can’t see why they’re incompatible with being at least polite towards a loyal friend.”
    — agree with you that it is strange that she can socialize with others and then post it, but you’re excluded. If people choose to be with some and not others, it is personal. I’m with you.

    “…hold out hope for the possibility it will return.”
    –Yes, it could happen, but for now it sounds a little like being on pins and needles, just waiting and wondering.

    “I’d almost rather she let me go, at least then I could get on with grieving and then focus my time and energy elsewhere. I feel she’s hedging her bets or holding me in reserve, which feels unfair. And I can’t say anything because we aren’t in contact.”
    –Feeling like someone is holding you in reserve sounds really uncomfortable. I think you’ve made your hurt clear to her and what you want. It’s good that you have other people and interests you can turn to. I wouldn’t continue to let it get to me so much because unfortunately peoples’ behavior towards us doesn’t always make sense. If she contacts you again, go slowly.

  5. Laura says:

    Sounds like your friend had her own issues and just can’t handle yours on top of them. I would take Irene’s advice and leave her be. It sounds like if you do, there’s a chance to reconnect in the future, but let her come to you.

    I’m going to guess you’re stalking her on social media. It’s so hard not to with such easy access but likely only makes you feel worse. Try to focus on reciprocal friendships and get our with these other friends when you can. It will take your mind off of her and over time your pain won’t be so intense.

  6. bronwyn says:


    If you’ve already apologized, you’ve done all you can. I’m glad you have other people to explore your interests with.

    You’re probably correct about contacting people when you’re unwell; on the other hand that’s the time we most feel the need to reach out.

    If you had a previously open relationship and then she became more closed off, I can understand why that may have seemed especially difficult, whatever her reasons.

  7. Alice Fletcher says:

    Hi, I’m Alice not Jenna not sure how my name got changed!! Anyway, Thank you Irene and everyone else who replied. Your responses are really appreciated. I think those of you who suggested I might be being was being unreasonable were correct. In my upset, I was focusing on my own problems as the priority and mentally downgrading hers as less important. (Although to be truthful, I don’t actually know what they are, which was part of the problem for me as we had always shared stuff like that. The fact she couldn’t tell me led me to believe it was personal). Anyway, regardless of that, it was wrong of me to trivialize her issues. It was also wrong to suggest she was being ‘secretive.’ In my eyes, at the time, that’s how it looked but taking a step back I think the idea she was putting boundaries in place is probably more accurate. I think our friendship has been characterised by blurred boundaries for some time. Perhaps instinctively she needed to redraw them, which I must now respect. It helps that I’m getting better (mentally speaking) so things are less cloudy. Perhaps I should beware contacting people when I’m unwell as I’ve learned things often look different later!

    I’ve decided to take the opportunity to invest more time in other things / people. I have a number of other close friends, some of whom I’ve known for over 20 years. Funnily enough, the problems I’ve had with this friend haven’t cropped up with any of the others so I’m wondering if there’s something specifically about this friendship that is problematic? Certainly my other friendships aren’t as close but neither do we have these boundary issues. Maybe that’s a lesson in itself.

    I have already apologised for my behaviour and she thanked me. I’ve not contacted her since and neither have I heard from her. I’m still sad, I still miss her and I realise part of what happened was because of me. What I will say is it would have helped if my friend had been more open about what was troubling her (specifically in relation to me, I mean!) I did ask several times and each time was told it was something else. But that assumes we live in an ideal world and sadly, we don’t and she probably had her own reasons for not saying. Maybe my angry response was justification in itself. Time to focus attention on my own life and see what happens.

    Thank you Irene and all of you for replying xxxx  


    • July says:

      Alice, Im going through kind of the same thing with a dear close friend. Your post has helped me so much,realising we also had blurry boundary issues. And also not we were not really saying the “whole trhuth” to each other surely to prevent heated discussions. It’s never a good idea to persue too much, I came to accept this. I’m also wondering does she feel like I have abandonned her , and at the same time I don’t want to push.. This is eating at me.. But I just decided to focus my atention on my own life, and try to let things settle.
      Thanks , July

      • Alice says:

        Hello there July,

        It’s awful, isn’t it? You have my sympathies. I think Irene’s advice on here along with everyone else’s, ie to let it go for now and see what happens was really helpful. I haven’t contacted my friend since and at least by doing nothing I know I’m not making it worse! Plus I’m investing in my own life. I’m still sad and I hope she comes back but I’ve realized that can’t be on her terms alone, it’s important to me that we discuss what happened in a non blaming way and also tackle the boundaries stuff. I think if that happens, our friendship can enjoy a new lease of life. But we will see! Good luck to you in your situation xxx

  8. bronwyn says:

    I think that perhaps all her energies were going into managing her own crises — after she had been supportive to you — and you giving her a piece of your mind may have been what exacerbated things. Your statement, “I understand she has problems but let’s face it, don’t we all?” did make me wonder if you really do understand that she was experiencing problems of her own and when you gave her a piece of your mind, things just reached critical mass for her.

    Have you ever considered an apology? She was there for you; you were there for her, but your expression of anger may have made her feel that you considered your problems the priority — and of course, they were for you, but she was struggling with her own. If you have a means of reaching her, I would recommend this step and then suggest just stepping back.

    When a friend is on Facebook, it is hard to ignore her activities. I don’t know if there’s a way of hiding her without unfriending her, but perhaps you could change her settings so you’re not following her activities for a while. Constantly monitoring her is only feeding your anxiety about this.

    We all make mistakes in friendships. I don’t know if this is what happened in yours, but if you take the step of apologizing, you’ll know you’ve done all you can.

    Good luck at pursuing new friendships and I hope you are able to find ways to make your mental and physical health problems more manageable, so that you know, you are more than the sum of your problems.

  9. Sophie says:

    Your letter to Irene hit home with me, and I really understand how you feel. But in my case, I was the one who had to distance myself from a close friendship that was very important to me. It was a heartbreaking situation — and I still feel sad about it.

    I became friends with a woman from work who also lived in my community. We had children the same age and they became regular playmates. For a while, this friendship was mutually supportive and great. However, after her painful divorce, my friend became extremely needy and called on me constantly for help. In the meantime, she was diagnosed with a mental illness. Her behavior had become erratic, and at times, very frightening to my whole family. My son was too young to understand — and my husband and I felt it was better for us to limit our contact with the family after a few worrisome episodes.

    At the time, I was grieving the sudden loss of a dear parent. But in her own pain, my friend didn’t seem to see what I was going through and she demanded my full attention for her many crises. When I was busy with my family or work and couldn’t “be there” for her, she would create a lot of drama — sometimes scary drama — to get my attention. One time, for instance, she drove herself to the emergency room in the middle of the night, then called me to come and pick her up. (She had family members who could have done this.) Sadly, I couldn’t handle her troubles along with mine — while trying to work and raise a family.

    My friend wouldn’t give me a breather. So finally, and with deep regret, I had to end that friendship totally. She moved away a few years ago, and I do hope that one day we can talk and get closure on what happened.

    Of course, I am not saying this is your situation at all. I have no idea what your medical conditions are, but I thought my story might help you understand from a different perspective. Sometimes, when friends are going through hard challenges at the same time, it is necessary to create space and boundaries. I hope you feel better and find a good way to recover from your loss. There are so many good tips for you here.

    • Laura says:


      Your story reminds me of one of my own. I had to break things off with a friends because of substance abuse. I’m not one to duck out when things get rough (I have another friend who is a recovered alcoholic for over a decade and I stood by her side). What happened in this case was that my kids were involved and saw things kids should not see because of her using before we got together with our kids. Your mention of kids brought the whole thing back. This friend also lied to and manipulated me. That I can get over as I know it’s the disease, but my kids is where I draw the line. They were old enough at the time to understand what was happening explained at their level. They were 8 and 11 at the time. This friend did send me an apology (which is one of the 12 steps) but I was afraid to get involved again. I still miss her very much 9 years later, especially around Easter, as we got together every Good Friday to color eggs with our kids.

  10. Amy F says:

    As Irene suggests, I would stop following her on social media and try to move on. I think her point about setting limits and trying not to be hurtful is probably accurate. I know you’re feeling hurt and rejected, although perhaps you can reframe those feelings into something more useful.
    One sentence that jumped out at me was, “She’s becoming secretive”. To me it sounds like rather than secretive, she’s established boundaries and she no longer wants an all encompassing relationship with blurred boundaries. That might be a healthy thing for her, and you’d be taking her needs about what you want. I would feel uncomfortable if a friend of mine felt she needed to know everything about my life all the time.
    You can only control your part of the relationship, so if you can do an honest autopsy of the friendship, you might learn things that can help you in your future relationships. Only look at your part in the friendship, not what she’s said or done, because you can only control you. Try to look at yourself in a nonjudgmental manner, because the object of the exercise is to learn, not to beat yourself up or feel bad. Look at your communication, expectations, needs, demands, behaviors. What have you done well? What might you improve? Have your words accurately helped you achieve the desired result or have they been a hinderance?
    Having more that one close friend is helpful, because puts less stress that best friend relationship, since that one relationship doesn’t have to fill all your needs.
    Good luck.

  11. tanja says:


    I am so sorry for your loss. It must be difficult as well with having a life threatening illness. I wish I could give you some advice on what to do that would help. However, there is no good advice. Sometimes, you have to make the decision to “let go”. I, personally am not a confrontational person, so when I get the vibe that someone doesn’t want to be “close” anymore. I don’t ask why, I just don’t bother anymore. I have had a friend since high school. With in the past year, she has moved, closer actually to me, but she stopped calling me and when she did move, she changed her number and did not tell me, especially considering how much we use to talk over the phone. Well, last week end a mutual friend visited from the States and got us all together. It was the first time, I saw her in a year. We were friendly and nice to each other. But, she did not offer any information on her move or her new number. I did not ask because I got that vibe. So, I have it in my mind that we will only see each other on a yearly basis because of our mutual friend. No one wants to talk bad about the other, so to our mutual friend, I have not said anything and I know she has not said anything about me to her. I guess my group is pretty quiet in that respect and we don’t talk about each other behind our backs, not even to share our worries or concerns. But when we do get together, we talk, tell jokes and laugh and play with each other’s kids. But, I miss the way we used to talk. I have to say that being married with children, I don’t grieve the way I used to when a friendship ended. I kind of chalk it up to a learning experience and stay quiet about it, except to my husband. But, I put on a happy face when I see them and it is always good to see them even as little as she will allow me to see her. But, sadness is still felt on the odd moment when I have time to think about it.

    I suggest writing about it and keeping a journal and writing in it every night before bed. Night times, just before bed, may be the times, I think about it the most and that is when I write. I suggest meeting new people and socializing. What if you joined a support group for people with the same life threatening illness that you have? If you haven’t already. Perhaps, you have a community website for people to get in touch with each other in your area, like a mom’s website? That could help.

    I wish you all the luck in the world. I hope this helps.

  12. blgrn8 says:

    I agree with Irene, painful it might be. Pushing it into something that is less than reciprocal, natural, spontaneous, and warm can only make things harder. I’ve told people that hope is NOT always a good thing; that there are different types of hope that should be tempered with realism and self-respect. Perhaps this pause in the friendship may just be temporary – we can’t really know or predict the future – but I think you should start grieving the loss (I’ve been through something similar and just recovering while I navigate the “what now” aspect of the shift and loss) , learn the lessons and accepting that things are what they are, and move forward, by leaving this behind.

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