• Handling Breakups

A one-way friend breakup

December 10, 2013 | By | 16 Replies Continue Reading
How to cope when a friend drops you without an explanation

QUESTION

Hi,

I became really good friends with my neighbor; our daughters are the same age and adore each other. She says she suffers from depression and social anxiety. She is a very lovely person. I would often invite her for coffee or to do something with our girls, and she often has said “no.”

After a while, I was hurt by this and we talked about it. She reiterated her struggles with depression and anxiety. I was finding it hard to believe, as she seemed to make time for work, church, and other friends. I broke down in tears after she called to say she wouldn’t be joining me for our BBQ.

We spoke that day and then after that, things cooled off. A few weeks later her husband had a party at home and we were not invited. I removed her from my Facebook because I was so upset. I regretted that and wrote her a letter making up so technical excuse about FB. I wrote that I would love the chance to talk about our friendship and asked if I had done anything wrong. I did not hear back. I left it and in a way felt relieved the whole guessing game was over.

I have never struggled with a friendship so much as I did with this one as she never wanted to do anything but wanted me to continue asking. It’s been six months now and yesterday I met her husband and kids in the street and we spoke. I told him that I did not know what had happened and that I missed his wife and hope she was ok. He suggested she pop over and talk it out and that he would mention that we spoke. I texted “hi” to her today. I have not heard back. What more can I do? I don’t know what I have done wrong. I am finding this hard to let go of because I don’t understand how someone wouldn’t have the decency to even let me know why.

Signed, Susie

ANSWER

Hi Susie,

First off, I really relate to your question because I had a similar experience: A friend I care about deeply started refusing my invitations to get together and blamed it on depression. Depression does make it harder for people to socialize, which is unfortunate since maintaining close relationships is one thing that can ease the pain of depression. It’s a terrible cycle, and your friend might in fact be caught up in that cycle, even if she’s able to fulfill other social obligations.

After a while, my friend stopped contacting me altogether, though, like you, I knew she was seeing other friends. I strongly felt I *deserved* an explanation. After a while, another friend gave me a dose of much-needed tough love:

“For whatever reason,” this second friend said, “she doesn’t want you in her life right now. You have to accept that.”

It wasn’t easy to accept, but the truth is that we don’t always get explanations in life, and other people do have the right to stop seeing us if they no longer want to. I can’t say I’m totally over my own one-way friend breakup, but it does get better with time.

One thing that strikes me in particular about your letter is your statement that your friend wanted you to keep inviting her to things even if she often refused. I wonder if she said that directly or if that was an assumption on your part? It’s very hard for people who are in the beginning stages of friendship to say, “I don’t want to become closer to you.” So it’s possible that while your neighbor does in fact suffer from depression and anxiety, she used those struggles to politely turn down the volume on your friendship without directly insulting or hurting you. Of course, you’re left hurting anyway, so if that was her strategy, it wasn’t ultimately effective.

It really doesn’t sound to me as though you did anything “wrong.” So while I know only time will heal this wound, I’ll say to you what my friend said to me:

“You must accept that she doesn’t want to be your friend. Don’t keep reaching out to her. Try instead to focus your energy on your friends who are only too happy to accept your kind invitations.” 

Just as with romantic relationships, sometimes we get fixated on friends who are “hard to get.” Stop trying to “get” her and instead enjoy the ones you already have.

Signed, Carlin Flora

Author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are


*Carlin Flora is a friend and colleague of the Friendship Doctor.

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Category: How to get over a breakup

Comments (16)

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  1. joan says:

    A friend and I were very close. We leaned and depended on eachother for company, advice, favors, etc. I may have missed a few verbal hints, but it seems to me, all of a sudden she stopped calling and didn’t accept my calls. I felt so rejected, confused, aolne, and abanded. I hoped that I didn tdo anything to offend her…
    When we bump into each other, she’s very friendly…but only listens to my conversation . When its her turn to talk…she is evasive and then disappears into the world.
    I realized that I MUST HAVE offended her in some wayand she would rather avoid me than express her feelings.
    I blame myself for the lost friendship.
    Now …while writing this, I realize ANOTHER girlfriend BEFORE THIS ONE also cut off contact. I thought her husband may have been very controlling and didn’t allow her to have friends. OR…
    He may have been predudice. Thinking along THOSE lines made it easier for me to accept the loss. Now…I realize…its becoming a pattern .
    A girlfriend that I grew up with moved far away. Thru the years we’ve spoken on the phone and visited each others homes. Lately, we BOTH have been leaning and depending on eachothers phone calls encouraging eachother to get thru the day. We understood that we were actually needing eachothers support. As she decided to stay with the love of her life, she no longer needs my support, but his. Now she won’t call or keep in touch . I asked her what happened. She said she needs to fix herself before she can help me.
    I wasn’t USING her. She felt better so didn’t need ME anymore.
    I’m happy that she has someone else to go to for support, and it makes me AGAIN, realize that I should not try to be friends with ANYONE because the CONTINUED REJECTION, LOSS AND GRIEVING process is emotionally draining.
    Even my own grown up daughter does not want to be around me.
    I have a thousand AQUAINTENCES that express how ” wonderful” I am. How “fun-loving, out-going, caring, talented and intelligent ” I am. I DON’T BELIEVE THEY HYPE! I guess, after they get to know me…they find out different.
    I have decided that ALL of these failed relationships mean that I have some social or psychological issues. I need to accept it and
    LEARN TO STAY AT HOME, ALONE.

    • joy says:

      No. please don’t do that. Take the time to do things that you enjoy……without your insensitive friends. Take some classes, join some clubs, etc. Eventually, you will find some people who appreciate you for who you are. There are lots of selfish people out there.

  2. Denise says:

    Hi Susie,

    You are not “a desperate and lonely person” being “much too pushy”
    or “so intense”

    I do agree “When someone is depressed, they don’t go to parties with “other people” but not you. This “depression” was too selective to be true.”

    You made a few reasonable attempts and got excuses or silence. I suggest letting yourself feeling hurt for awhile then moving on and being aware of and ready for genuine people really interested in you.

    I relate to your experience because I had a similar experience. I met someone about 2 years ago and we hit it off very well. When I left the temporary position 2 months later, I suggested and hoped we stay in touch. Although I was very disappointed and confused that we didn’t, I thought of a few plausible reasons, gave the benefit of doubt, and decided to have no hard feelings. If I see the person again, I’m willing to be friendly and positive, and depending on the vibe I get, will say that I’ve missed talking with him. (I know, different dynamic with guys, but still)

    • Jujuu says:

      Hi all, I have been on the other side of this exact situation and I have to disagree about the party-going.
      Being depressed means that you can only handle so much of people and also some people are easier to deal with than others when you’re down. As much as I love some of my closer friends- if I’m trying to not be too inward-oriented I tend to not want to be around the ones that I usually bare my souls too. Also they would ask me personal questions, whereas acquaintances wouldn’t. So going to a party with people you trust but that don’t intrude, even if well-meaning, is much easier to handle than an intimate gathering with close friends. I think if you’re depressed but trying to get well and trying to have social interactions again, you have to make decisions for your own well-being, even if others don’t quite understand it. If you care about your friend that has depression- then let her get well at her own pace…remember that if she doesn’t get better, the illness is indeed terminal.

      • Shaz says:

        I was going to say the same thing – it’s easier when you’re depressed to be around people who don’t get too personal. I have a friend who is depressed and she has really cooled off our friendship but goes for coffee with other people. I realise this is because I’m an empath and people tend to spill all to me.

  3. Bobbo says:

    “other people do have the right to stop seeing us if they no longer want to”

    all things being equal, this is true.
    however, the reason we often feel aggrieved by people letting us down is that, in the course of all friendships/relationships/whatever, we engender a kind of obligation toward each other – a basic duty of mutual care and respect, if we are not to be simply using each other.

    if we are rebuffed by a stranger we may be disappointed.
    but if we are rebuffed by a friend, we are also likely to feel aggrieved.
    the difference is that the friend, unlike the stranger, is breaking with that mutual duty of care.

  4. sessho says:

    I do not know if ‘Susie’ will even read all our comments here but frankly, dear Susie, you sound like a desperate and lonely person who is deluded about this non-existent friendship.
    Since you are struggling, why keep trying when she is NOT responding?
    It’s obvious that she is FAR from being close to you as you are willing to admit to yourself.
    I’m gonna be really harsh here.
    She is NOT the only ‘friend’ to make, out there.
    Stop feeling sorry or confused and find new friends being less eager and more wiser!

  5. Marisa says:

    Let this woman be. You are being much too pushy and she clearly does not want the relationship to go any deeper. Just be friendly when you see her and stop trying to psychoanalyze the situation. I do not believe she wants anymore of your advances. Crying because she would not attend a BBQ? That would put me off as well. Stop being so intense. Focus on other aspects of your life and let this go. She does not owe you a detailed explanation.

  6. Amy says:

    Depression is a serious medical condition that’s hard for people to understand. Serious, debilitating depression and anxiety are even harder for people to understand, even if they are familiar with mild to moderate manifestations of these illnesses.
    A friend who is so severely depressed she has trouble leaving the house does not have to capacity to be an equal friend. She simply doesn’t have enough within herself to give. She can barely take care of herself.
    You can decide that being in such a relationship isn’t worth your time/energy and such a decision is perfectly legitimate. You need not feel guilty for such a decision.
    You can also accept the relationship on the terms of what her depression will allow, meaning that the effects of her illness will interfere with your relationship at times. This is not a reflection on you or your importance or how much she cares about you. Depression and anxiety are not choices.
    If your friend had cancer, and couldn’t come to events or be there for you because she chemo tired her out, or she was in the hospital because her blood counts dropped, you probably wouldn’t personalize that. For people with debilitating depression, their constraints feel just as monumental. Unfortunately for people with mental health issues, people are rarely as empathic about their conditions.
    Again, I’m not saying or implying that you’re wrong or insensitive to walk away from the relationship. Only you know the limitations you want to put on your friendship (and feeling like you get nothing in return is legitimate). I’m simply trying to help you understand that depression/anxiety are not choices your friend is making.

    • Jarod says:

      Amy, I actually suffer from moderate depression myself. Yes, it can be hard to see people and do things. However, based on the (limited) info provided, I feel the friend was using depression as an excuse.

      When someone is depressed, they don’t go to parties with “other people” but not you. This “depression” was too selective to be true.

      Now if the friend was avoiding people altogether, I would agree with you. However, she was “caught” socializing with others, and frankly, I’m angry that she used depression as her scapegoat to avoid a single person.

      • Bronwyn says:

        I’m in agreement with Jarod here, and I think he illustrated a point I was trying to make. I’m very aware of how disabling depression and social anxiety can be, but social anxiety is frequently being used as an excuse for people who simply can’t find a more graceful way out of a situation.

        Who the woman socializes with may be her business, but the fact that she IS hosting social gatherings isn’t consistent with what she has said about herself and it’s transparent enough — especially when you post parties on a public forum — and pretty insensitive. It also does a disservice to those who are truly struggling.

        There’s always a flavor of the month when it comes to maladies. There was a comedian years ago who did a routine about how everyone was hypoglycemic. These days, the maladies are more of a psychological nature.

      • Amy says:

        Perhaps you’re right, although severe and moderate depression manifest themselves differently. People with major depressive disorder often have difficulty getting out of bed, bathing, caring for themselves etc. They can be almost catatonic. They sometimes need to be hospitalized because their symptoms are so severe. They may have less horrible moments, when they can be pushed to attend an event. I work in the mental health profession and I’ve seen such severe, persistent depression. I’ve people with anxiety who desperately wish to attend functions, even go as far as to dress for the occasion, yet are too debilitated by their conditions to attend.

        IF you’re right and she’s using her depression as an excuse, I’m angry too, however I won’t assume that based on one person’s perception of a situation. There are two sides to every story and we just have one side. I’m not saying the writer isn’t objective, but the writer has made some assumptions, as we all do when we don’t have answers.

        If this friend had cancer and cancelled because she wasn’t up to the occasion, yet went out another day with other friends, I doubt the writer would personalize this and I’m merely suggesting anyone can use illness as an excuse, but we’re more likely to empathize with the person who has the physical, concrete illness that we can see. I have a lot of breast cancer survivor friends, so I use this as an example because I’ve had cancer and I’ve had depression. I played the cancer card to get out of a party, the hostess didn’t question me. I’m quite sure she should have if I had said I was too depressed to come and I’d never had cancer.

  7. Bronwyn says:

    It sounds to me as though you’ve been putting all the effort in from the beginning, trying to make this friendship happen, but it never fully gelled. The fact that your daughters are friends does not mean you have to be.

    I think you’ve put a lot of effort out there, but it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. Still, knowing you would be aware of her party is kind of an unforgivable slight. It seems to me a lot of people are borrowing heavily from the DSM these days to make excuses for bad behavior. “Social anxiety” has almost become trendy, and it also seems to me that the people most often using it as a reason are those that haven’t even been diagnosed. It’s kind of unfair to those who truly do suffer from these conditions to throw these terms around so casually.

    I do agree with Carlin that we often become fixated on people who really don’t seem to value us. It just isn’t worth it and a lesson many of us must learn at some point. It’s often hard to be on the receiving end of this behavior from someone who is perceived as wonderful by others. But this person isn’t being wonderful to you.

    The one thing I probably wouldn’t have done was discuss the matter with her husband. It may have put him in an awkward position and I can’t imagine if he mentioned the situation to his wife that it would have done anything to improve the situation. If she truly was feeling pressure, that may have just upped the ante. And honestly, it doesn’t seem far removed from telling someone’s parent that they won’t play with you. I’m sorry if that seems harsh, but that’s how it struck me.

    I once had a friend drop me because I addressed the issue of her repeatedly failing to follow through on plans we’d made. Part of what she once said was that, “I’m a wonderful person.” I didn’t take it as necessarily bragging at the time, people who perceive themselves as wonderful don’t like hearing that their behavior isn’t wonderful. Sometimes the people who have a reputation of being wonderful maintain that persona because no one ever calls them on their less than sterling behaviors. When someone does, she gets distanced. There’s an awful lot of narcissism going around out there, too.

  8. Nayo says:

    Hi Susie,

    Speaking for your neighbour-friend, when you are dealing with anxiety and depression it does not take much to start to feel overwhelmed. When things get bad, just day to day functions are challenging. So when someone adds to the stress and starts pushing your buttons, triggering more anxiety, avoidance is a safe haven.

    I can understand how this may be difficult for those to understand who haven’t had to live with depression and/or anxiety. Or know what it’s like to avoid simple general interaction. Sometimes the relief of not having to deal with social situations feels so good, and when ur feeling bad, down, sad, at least you get the joy of “relief”; temporary as it may be.

    From what you’ve explained, I know I would probably simply avoid you too if I could. I have a “friend” who did what you described to me. I have avoided her because I just don’t want to deal with any conflict. I see her on my facebook still and sometimes I think about messaging her but don’t, simply to avoid undue stress. Try to give her space and if you would like a friendship with her, be gentle if and when you do interact. You may want to send her a message telling her you miss her, point blank, and that you’re sorry if you’ve upset her. Tell her you would love to see her and chat again, but only if and when she’s ready. Basically, set it up so she knows you’re ready to let this little mess go and just want to have fun. If SHE wants to talk about it, let her, if not, let it go.

    Has your children’s relationship been affected? I hope not, that would be unfortunate. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it does not affect the children.

    Good luck!

    Nayo

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