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Dropped by a friend, now I need to respond and I am stuck on an emotional hamster wheel
April 21, 2012 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I got lost in post-divorce crazytown when I was dropped by a friend. We are in our 40's but it feels like a teenage nightmare. Now he's checking in and I don't know how to respond!

I made a really good friend at work about a year and a half ago. We communicated almost every day including nights and weekends. The tenor and type of our communication varied according to fluctuations in the relationship: at the least he’d send links to articles about stuff I am interested in or drop by my office, and at most we spent Christmas Eve together because it was my first, post-divorce, without my son. The connection we had meant a lot to me.
Then about a month ago, he was uncharacteristically rude and snippy to me. This followed a period in which he faced some dissonance between his perceived importance at our workplace and his actual importance. As his closest friend, I had to (delicately and sensitively) bring him some of this information. Therefore, I chalked his behavior up to job stress/irritation with me and let him be. But when I waved and smiled at him a few days later, he gave me this barely disguised smirk. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, decided to tread cautiously by not contacting him, and figured I’d hear from him eventually. But I didn’t. I was/am hurt angry and confused. He doesn’t have many friends at work and has a rep for being emotionally tone-deaf and a black and white thinker. ( On the other hand, I am known as being very intuitive and a people person. In some respects we were the office odd couple.) I figured he didn’t want to be friends anymore, didn’t know how to end it gracefully so he just stopped talking to me.
And then he emailed me this week saying he hadn’t seen me in a while and asked how things were and how my father is (recently metastasized cancer).
This is crazy, but I don’t know how to respond. My first impulse was to write back with a list of all the things I’ve been doing and answer the questions literally. My second was to write back saying that I am still hurt by being dropped and that I am not ready to make small talk. My third was to ignore the email altogether because I don’t want to resume communication and then get dumped again. These options correspond quite nicely with my desire to 1) maintain the friendship 2) let him know he hurt me 3) be pissed off. I am working to try and be more vulnerable as I spent many years hiding in a marriage. On the other hand, I don’t want to set myself up for more mistreatment. But also, I still like him and wish we were friends. What’s my best course of action?
posted by Fierce clam to Human Relations (21 answers total)
 
He sounds like a jerk. You don't need friends like that.

On the other hand, you don't need enemies at work, either. I'd write something brief and polite, and work on distancing yourself. "Things are ok, dad is hanging in there, thanks for your concern."
posted by J. Wilson at 9:52 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my experience, conversations via text can tend to go more badly more quickly than conversations in person because we can't see the other person's body language and facial expressions.

Meet in person, somewhere public but quiet, and tell him you're feeling unsettled by what appeared to be him backing out of the friendship. Then ask him what was going on with him, and listen.
posted by rtha at 9:53 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Hey friend, honestly, I am still feeling hurt and angry that you were giving me the cold shoulder. You are still important to me and I would like to maintain the friendship, but I'm kinda still bugged, and feel like you may do it to me again and I don't want to go through that. I would love to know what was going on with you during that time. Let's meet for coffee."
posted by Vaike at 9:53 AM on April 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Could you explain this a bit?

As his closest friend, I had to (delicately and sensitively) bring him some of this information.

What do you mean, you "had to"?

If I'm understanding you, he may well feel betrayed by you. If you were the one who "had to" inform him that his self-perceived importance was higher than his actual importance, it's understandable that he'd feel betrayed and humiliated. Friends don't really do that.

So be glad he's reaching out and trying to repair the rift.
posted by jayder at 9:58 AM on April 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


Not sure, but from what you wrote, it looks like the freeze-out started when you told him that he wasn't doing as well at work as he thought, or some variation of that. Perhaps he withdrew his friendship because he was embarrassed about that, or upset with you for telling him or how you told him, or one of those resenting-the-messenger things. And after a period of time, he got over it, or realized he was taking his upset out on how he was acting towards you.

On preview, what jayder said.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 10:00 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


This followed a period in which he faced some dissonance between his perceived importance at our workplace and his actual importance. As his closest friend, I had to (delicately and sensitively) bring him some of this information. Therefore, I chalked his behavior up to job stress/irritation with me and let him be.

Is it possible you weren't as delicate and sensitive as you perceived yourself to be? Or that, even if you were, he wasn't in a place to be able to hear it? If you value the friendship and want it to continue, you'd have a lot to gain by apologizing for "any misunderstanding" even if you feel you did nothing wrong.

You yourself know from time spent "hiding" in your marriage that people do things to other people without understanding the consequences. If you feel you can forgive him without rehashing it, that might be your best course of action. He sounds like a good person to have on your side.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:00 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I still like him and wish we were friends.

Be compassionate. Step up and be the bigger person. Ask him how he's been doing and tell him you've missed his friendship. Open the door to having the conversation you want to have.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:03 AM on April 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Oh hi pet/X, I missed seeing you around last week. Figured you wanted some space.Đad's coping as well as can be expected." Short, sweet but leaving catch-up initiation to him.
posted by honey-barbara at 10:05 AM on April 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let it slide. He was probably hurt and embarrassed and h took a couple of weeks getting over it - it sounds like he may have handled the situation in line with how his personality is, and maybe you read into it a little which is in line with how you described your personality. Anyway, now he's trying to get things back on track, and I would go back to being normal. Maybe at some point later you can address it with him (it hurt my feelings when you didn't talk to me for three weeks!). As long as he doesn't make a habit of it, I think good friends are allowed an occasional lapse of acting like you'd expect them to.
posted by mrs. taters at 10:24 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I should have said that I don't think he dropped your friendship so much as he needed some space - he reached back out to you after a few weeks.
posted by mrs. taters at 10:26 AM on April 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Meet up with him again and put it all on front street. Say that his friendship means a lot to you, but that you felt hurt by the way he treated you. And that you should talk stuff out when things bother you (this is advice for you both) You'll know how to proceed from there.

In the future, just ask someone what's up instead of assuming he moved on.
posted by inturnaround at 10:42 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'd cautiously try to pick it back up. Good friendships are worth getting past the occasional awkward events, and it sounds like that's what he's trying to do.
posted by ead at 10:43 AM on April 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sounds like you hurt his feelings and he decided he needed some time off. Don't make yourself the victim here.

Respond and say that you're glad to hear from him, and that you'd like to catch up soon, when is he free to get coffee/drink?

Even if you're miffed about his absence, these sorts of things can get brought up and laid to rest much faster and with less effort in person. It's surprising what you will be happy to wave away and forgive when you sense genuine concern and friendship coming from someone across the table from you. Or, if you don't feel it, then it can save you the trouble of hashing it out in text form.
posted by hermitosis at 10:51 AM on April 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


TBH it doesn't sound like he dropped you, it sounds more like you mutually stopped talking to each other.

Looking at things from his perspective, you told him basically that he's not as important as he thinks he is (I struggle to see how that could be delivered in a way that wouldn't hurt and completely deflate his ego) then you stopped talking to him/contacting him.

You say he smirked, maybe he meant to maybe he didn't. Maybe he smiled but got a stomach ache or twisted his ankle as he was walking and it came out like a smirk. Maybe he was trying to smile but he was still butthurt about what you said to him and it came out wrong. You seem to have placed huge importance on a single barely disguised smirk.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt, decided to tread cautiously by not contacting him, and figured I’d hear from him eventually. But I didn’t.

But you did, just now. Its only been a couple of weeks - you're both equally to blame for the no contact but he's reaching out so if you want to stay friends, reply just like you would have before this little "tiff".


In the future, just ask someone what's up instead of assuming he moved on.
QFT. This whole thing could be a misunderstanding, he could be thinking you were giving him the cold shoulder. Or maybe he was avoiding you for a couple of days and then couldn't think of anything to say or was too shy/afraid to restart the chit chat and was hoping you would.
posted by missmagenta at 10:53 AM on April 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


Additionally, your rough patch is only spans one month. That's not very long to be abandoned for, a few weeks can go by fast when you're keeping busy or deciding how you feel about stuff.
posted by hermitosis at 10:53 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I recently had to tell a good friend it was NOT COOL to show up at a weekly potluck with his hors d'oeuvres still in the box, frozen. He got super offended and avoided me for two weeks, and now we're back to normal except he's stepped up his culinary contributions.

Some people don't take any criticism well. Sounds like your friend's finally over it. If you can forgive the tantrum, things between you will probably snap back to normal.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:22 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Of all forms of mis-communication, silence is the most common." I read that somewhere and it's always turned out to be true. I agree with the others who say to at least find out why your friend didn't get in touch with you. You might find it was all a misunderstanding and renew your friendship without hurt feelings.
posted by patheral at 11:44 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the reality check, mefites! I just emailed and said I was happy he wrote and I hoped we could meet and catch up soon. To clarify about the work thing: the Dean announced to a group of us, as part of a larger conversation, that my friend's project was going away under a re-org. He's sensitive about being excluded (and he is excluded a lot), so I told him what the Dean said. I felt I "had" to do it because not doing it and then having him find out I knew all along would seem like more exclusion. Maybe I was wrong. In any event, once again, I am grateful to you all for your sage advice. Mefites rule.
posted by Fierce clam at 1:20 PM on April 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Then about a month ago, he was uncharacteristically rude and snippy to me. This followed a period in which he faced some dissonance between his perceived importance at our workplace and his actual importance. As his closest friend, I had to (delicately and sensitively) bring him some of this information.

Putting some imagination into this, could it be that you and some people decided he had a problem, you told him, after which he might have gone to his boss (or some others) to double-check your "advice," and found that people didn't feel the same way, thereby putting you on the outs? I smell Dwight Schrute in here somewhere.
posted by rhizome at 3:15 PM on April 21, 2012


To clarify about the work thing: the Dean announced to a group of us, as part of a larger conversation, that my friend's project was going away under a re-org. He's sensitive about being excluded (and he is excluded a lot), so I told him what the Dean said. I felt I "had" to do it because not doing it and then having him find out I knew all along would seem like more exclusion

well fine, but he's entitled to go away and lick his wounds. Don't assume it's about you, in other words.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:44 PM on April 21, 2012


Is it really an emotional hamster wheel? Is he really a black and white thinker? When you say "uncharacteristically rude and snippy" do you mean just a little bit, or a lot? Has your relationship really fluctuated?

I only ask because your post is SO tactful and delicate that I can't tell what's really going on: whether you are reading a lot into small things that don't necessarily mean anything, or whether you are understating his behavior because you don't want to be unfair to the guy and/or don't trust yourself (or maybe that's just your communication style).

The way you phrase your post and the "dumped" tag make it seem like this was more than an office friendship, that it was or was moving toward being a romantic relationship... is this the same guy you asked about last August? The one you had a crush on?

I was in a (romantic) relationship where, if a more than a day passed and I didn't hear from my SO, it really always did mean that something was wrong - that she was purposefully not contacting me because she was annoyed with me. Or if we were out together and she seemed distant, it was never in my head or unrelated to me: she really was trying to signal her loathing of me brought on by her displeasure with something I'd done recently. And because she was a really emotional/depressed person, sooner or later that hurt turned into despair and then rage and then she'd blow up at me, and chastise me for not realizing that something had been wrong.

(And in fairness, very often she did tell me that something was wrong, but it didn't sink in/I didn't understand the seriousness of the situation.)

Since leaving that relationship I have been a lot more paranoid about everything! Instead of automatically assuming that a small action has no meaning, I'm a lot more likely to see it as a purposeful attempt to signal something to me.

It sounds like you might have this problem too; on the other hand, there are people who really are signalling something when they ignore you. Is he that kind of person? I guess that's the question I would ask about this. You've known him a year and a half and talked to him nearly every day, so you should be able to figure out if this is normal, purposeful, hurtful behavior on his part (meaning it will be repeated) or if it was very out of character for him (meaning it probably won't be). You are just trying to keep yourself from being hurt again, after all.

Or, what mrs.taters said.
posted by subdee at 8:03 PM on April 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


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