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When A Friend is Unreliable: You Can’t Count on Her!

Published: March 2, 2022 | Last Updated: April 5, 2022 By | 9 Replies Continue Reading
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When a friend is unreliable, it can be very disappointing, and consistently breaking appointments can be a friendship-killer.

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

Last year, I reconnected via Facebook with a third cousin, named Judy, who I hadn’t seen since high school. Our immediate families didn’t interact much but she and I attended the same high school. Since we were a grade apart, we hung out with different crowds.

Now, we’re both in our 40s, both married 26 years (we got married 3 months apart), and both have teenage children. For months, she was on my Facebook page and we chatted occasionally. When a high school get-together was planned, she invited my husband and me to dinner at her house for the first time with some of her friends. We didn’t know what to expect but she was very warm and friendly and we had a nice time.

We continued to see each her, with husbands and without, and emailed and talked on the phone. But I soon realized I was doing all the initiating. I backed off and didn’t hear from her (other than on Facebook) for four months. Then someone on Facebook was being really rude to her and I came to her defense. I had hesitated to step in but she’s my cousin and I felt protective despite the distance I was feeling from her at the time. When she sent me a note saying how much she loved me, etc., I was stunned.

I called and told her how confused I was because I never hear from her. She said she’s terrible at staying in touch and her siblings always yell at her about it. From that point on, we reconnected and started doing things together again. I was making most of the effort but she made some. I am fine that some people are leaders and other followers but in my opinion the follower has to make some effort for it to be a relationship. Do you agree?

Our birthdays were coming up in November and we agreed to celebrate them together. Judy suggested a weekend somewhere. At the time I was thinking dinner/pedicure type outing but I was game. We made tentative plans and she never got get back to me. When I inquired a month later, she apologized and said she was trying to figure out how to pay for it. I knew they had money problems but this was her suggestion so I figured she had worked it out.

She suggested we do a nice dinner with our husbands instead, and I agreed. Weeks went by and I didn’t hear back. When I inquired, she said her husband couldn’t get time off work (he was working a 2nd job). So I suggested we go ourselves as it was already well past our b-days. I heard nothing and then we were talking on her wall about something totally unrelated on Facebook and she said, “Let me know when you want to go out.” I said “Sunday works for me,” and then she dropped the whole thing.

This time I didn’t follow up as I had had ENOUGH after this b-day thing dragging on for months. I was tired of always following up with her when she didn’t get back to me. I was so hurt that I decided I would let her ask me to do something next.

I get very mixed messages from Judy. She always says, “Love You” in her communications and I do believe that she loves me. I had really hoped she’d become a close friend because I felt an immediate connection with her and she feels like family. I had a wonderful time with her last year when she invited my daughter and I to her house to bake for Purim with her and her daughter. The girls seemed to have a good time but haven’t stayed in touch.

Judy has an older sister, who lives out of state, who I have also reconnected with. She was complaining about Judy so I decided to bring up the issue of Judy not staying in touch. She said that Judy rarely calls her either, and she does almost all the staying in touch. She told me that it’s not me, it’s Judy, and this is just who she is.

If I didn’t feel like Judy was “family,” I would have given up on her. I feel a strong connection despite her almost total lack of effort to stay in touch. Sometimes I feel like I should just move on and forget her and delete her off my Facebook. I do think if I deleted her on Facebook she would be very hurt and I don’t want to hurt her. There are now also other family members from both my side and her side who are connected on Facebook, so if I were to delete her it would be complicated because I also added “her people.” We also have mutual friends from high school.

Do you think there is any hope for this relationship or do you think I should just move on and give up on her?

Thanks,
Paige

ANSWER

Dear Paige,

It is always nice to reconnect with someone who is part of your history. Judy grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same schools, and knows the same people (and family) as you do. You enjoy her company and had high hopes.

But you have found two major flaws that are troubling and could be friendship killers. It can be very frustrating and disappointing when a friend is unreliable:

1) Your cousin makes plans she doesn’t keep, and,

2) She doesn’t keep up her end of the bargain.

Some people are nice to be around — but inconsistent, unreliable, and hard to corral into getting together. I can’t begin to guess why Judy is this way.

As I see it, you have three options:

  • You can maintain the relationship but modify your expectations. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks and according to her sister, Judy has always been this way.
  • You can talk to Judy about how you enjoy her friendship but how frustrated you feel to be left in the lurch when she doesn’t follow through. Tell her she may not mean to hurt you, but you can’t help but take it personally.
  • You can simply end the relationship and ignore her on Facebook.

My thoughts:

Unless you are willing to accept her the way she is (which doesn’t seem to be the case), you need to lay this out honestly for Judy (option #2) and tell her that as close as you feel, you can’t have a close relationship unless you can rely upon her at her word. To meet her halfway (given that her personality may be difficult to change), you can initiate the get-togethers from time to time but require that she follow through.

You make a distinction between what you would tolerate from family as opposed to friends, suggesting you make allowances for family members that you wouldn’t make for friends. I’m not sure that distinction is meaningful in this instance. If you didn’t like Judy, you wouldn’t want to remain connected, family or not.

Unfortunately, if you can’t work this out, you may have to give up but I wouldn’t go the extra step of removing her from your Facebook page. As you suggest, that seems unnecessary and spiteful.

Hope this helps.

Best,
Irene


Other posts on The Friendship Blog about dealing with unreliable friends:

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Comments (9)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been through this too. I made a friend at work who I thought I had a lot in common with but our “friendship” (or whatever it was) ran pretty hot and cold. One moment she was really friendly and the next I wouldn’t hear anything from her. We would e-mail each other 20 times a day or I’d e-mail her several times and she may not reply at all – or reply with one line. This “friend” seemed most interested in my friendship when I was granting her favors (surprise, surprise!)

    To complicate matters we had a friend in common at work who she was always hanging out with. I wouldn’t have cared or even have known much anything about it, but the mutual friend had an office next door to me and the walls were thin so I was privy to all their goings on. A few times they included me when they went places but then randomly just stopped inviting me. Of course this made me feel jealous and hurt because I’d done nothing wrong. (I felt like I was in junior high school again.)

    The last straw: Me and the Unreliable Friend went out a few times with our significant others. It was fine. Then she started making plans with me and cancelling at the last minute. It happened several times – and either she’d give no excuse at all or some really stupid excuse. (At those moments it was like she had never learned social skills. Most people understand that you can make up a white lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. She wouldn’t even bother. Her excuses would be like, “I’d rather talk to my boyfriend on the phone tongiht.” Her boyfriend who she lived with 24 hours a day.)

    I stopped making plans with her or replying to her e-mails. She noticed. She randomly e-mailed me friendly messages out of the blue – some of them really long. I was wary but would reply in a guarded friendly line or two. I eventually decided to give her another chance.

    On a lark I invited her and two other friends to lunch. The Unreliable Friend suggested a time and place Everyone agreed to go. Then the day came and the Unreliable Friend inevitably cancelled at the last minute for no reason and then so did her minion in the office next door. Needless to say I never hung out with her again. (Ironically the Unreliable Friend had invited me to a party at her house that same week. Like I said, hot and cold…)

    All of this really hurt my self-esteem. I was forever wondering what the deal was but she wasn’t the sort of person who was open and honest so I never felt I could discuss it with her. One day I decided to just remove this stress from my life and end the friendship. I sent her an e-mail telling her how she’d hurt me, how she was rude and how she didn’t treat her other friend the way she treated me. In that e-mail I said we weren’t friends and I didn’t want to keep in touch with her anymore. In retrospect I think I over-reacted – I should have just let it fade and not kept in contact anymore. But I was hurt and I wanted her to know it – I wanted her to be accountable. (I mean, who acts like that?!)

    Now I wish I would have never taken her seriously. We could have never been real friends – she was too selfish and immature. I was disappointed and it’s made me wary of making new friendships.

  2. Paige says:

    I’m the original poster. If Judy was not my cousin and everything else was exactly the same, I would have let this go months ago. I would have never given this situation such serious consideration. It would have just naturally faded.

    • Margaret says:

      It sounds to me like she is a nice person but she may be suffering with social phobia. Give it a google. Living with anxiety and depression can cause this type of behaviour as well, and few people will tell you the truth because of stigma. More simply, she may just lack confidence. I think the best approach is just to maintain the FB connection with her, and just accept this might be all she is able to offer right now, for reasons of her own that I suspect has nothing to do with anything you have done wrong. I get the feeling she’ll really appreciate your friendship online, even if she is not in a position to meet up with you yet, because she is warm with you. Hope that helps you somewhat 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks. It took me a long time to get here but it finally clicked. No more bruised knuckles!! ;D

  4. Anonymous says:

    This happened to me as well … the invite then a no show, many times. The eggshells, couldn’t talk openly … I can relate. In my opinion, these are people who don’t want to be responsible. They are consistenly inconsistent. You shouldn’t feel badly about things not being able to work out. It takes two. The desire to do so has to come from both people. There is great effort that has to be made to be a good friend and the level of intimacy is what sets one friend apart from another. My new motto is “when someone tells you who they are, don’t ask them twice.” You are doing the right thing for you.

  5. Staying in touch, or not, is always a hard decision to make. This one would seem easy, if it weren’t for the bond of kinship. And families make everything more complicated than they need be, just ask my readers http://www.myhonestanswer.com/category/advice/families/

  6. Anonymous says:

    I loved your post! Very insightful. I’ve also learned the hard way that trying to “convert” another person to my view of friendship can be an exercise in frustration. I think your guidelines are right on–respect, authenticity and reciprocity–R-A-R–(rare), but essential. Not to mention that continuing to knock on the unanswered door is hard on your knuckles. 🙂

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hi..I like your thoughts…I too have had to recently back off from a close friendship. Im sure my own expectations to a certain extent played a part, but what did I expect? Reciprocity, respect and authenticity…just as you had stated. My friend used to tell me, I should have no expectations, then I would never be disappointed. It got to the point that I walked on eggshells with her, couldnt talked open and honestly and felt I was always the one calling or extending invitations….and if she agreed to the invite, there was always a good chance she would cancel for some reason or another…It all just became too much work. I feel free as you say…yes, I feel bad things cant be worked out right now, go back to the way it once was, but I have to beleive that I feel this freedom for a reason…I can only assume Im doing to right thing for me.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’ve had almost this same thing happen with a family member and a more recent friend. I realized that I had to let go of my expectations. Also, I realized that I was looking to be validated by these people. I wanted them to know how much I cared and I was angry when I didn’t feel their caring in return. Words are powerful but they don’t mean anything without the actions to support them. We must also recognize that we are not in control of other people only ourselves. In letting go, you free yourself from the power you given over through your expectations. However, it still hurts.

    I now look for three ingredients when I am entering any relationship … mutual respect, authenticity and reciprocity. If either is missing then so am I. We all need to be validated. Sometimes people don’t know how to validate because they’ve never been validated. Give love genuinely and purely but don’t give your power away. There are times when we must settle for loving from afar.

    I love this blog. It’s helped me so much through these particular relationships. I often suffer from guilt that maybe I haven’t done my part. Now I realize that we must allow people to rise to our expectations. When they don’t we can’t take it personally. What we can do is look around for the open doors where love resides. Go there instead of continuously knocking on a door that no one answers.

    be well.

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