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I thought we would talk, but not call it off.
September 20, 2012 6:55 AM   Subscribe

How to deal with the end of a 20 year friendship?

Someone I considered my best friend for years--we'd known each other since I was 15--became the sort of negative person I never thought he would be.

This is someone who was there for me during good times and bad, who came to my wedding, who always kept up with my family and was concerned for their well-being. But in the last few years, he went back to school for some reason (he has a film degree from his 20s but never did much with it) and his FB feed is clogged with talking about how nothing is as good as it was when he was younger, how he is smarter than the kids in his class, how he is smarter than his professor, mythologizing Nixon and the Cold War, and generally shutting down anyone who dares to contradict him in anything..

Whatever. He's my friend. I ignore most of it and only chime in when it's relevant or if I have something decent to add to the conversation.

But today he started making fun of me when I was "speaking French" in regards to someone else's status and I had just had enough. This isn't the first time he's done that to me--"You think you're so much better than me because you moved to Canada and now you speak French"--but for once, I was just tired. I emailed him with my concerns about our friendship and was promptly rewarded with a friend deletion and apparently a round of status updates that called me "a bitch."

This does hurt. I would never call someone names, I would rather talk it out, but what do I do?

Should I try and salvage this friendship or should I just let it go, wish him well, and move on?

I realize this is probably the dumbest situation one can have at the moment, but some advice would be nice.
posted by Kitteh to Human Relations (38 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Should I try and salvage this friendship or should I just let it go, wish him well, and move on?

Only a fool throws away a 20 year friendship. One does not have so many of those in one lifetime you know. Maybe your friend is that fool, but don't let it be you.

Give it some time and space. That's all.
posted by three blind mice at 7:00 AM on September 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


You may want to consider the possibility of a serious mental health issue.
posted by bardophile at 7:00 AM on September 20, 2012 [40 favorites]


To be clear, the possibility that your friend has a serious mental health issue.
posted by bardophile at 7:01 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Move on, either he'll refriend you when he's cooled down or he wont. Doesn't sound like you were getting much out of the friendship anymore anyway.
posted by missmagenta at 7:01 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


After twenty years, I think an "hey, is something up? Because you've been an asshole lately and that's not going to fly with me, but I'll help if I can" olive branch is worth a shot. Going back to school is rough, not having one's shit together is rough, and not being young anymore is rough. All three at the same time is probably one hell of a headtrip. Doesn't excuse him calling you (or anyone, really) a bitch, but in the heat of a life crisis, people do stupid shit.

Also, the personality divide between Real Life and Facebook can be so grotesque in some situations that I've gone ahead and removed good friends from my feed just to not develop a terrible opinion of them based on the dumbass things they say on the internet.
posted by griphus at 7:02 AM on September 20, 2012 [25 favorites]


Give it some time. All friendships go through this, I think. Friendships are just like relationships - but without the sex. Usually. Just take some space and in a few weeks or whenever you are ready, shoot a private message asking how he's doing. It will work out, don't let such a long friendship die; most of us don't have those friendships anymore.
posted by AbsolutelyHonest at 7:04 AM on September 20, 2012


It might not have to be a permanent split. Leave it for a while, six months, maybe, and then try getting in touch in a not-too-aggressive way, like texting or emailing. Maybe by then he will have come to his senses and you can patch it up, or at least there might be room to start talking again.
posted by scratch at 7:04 AM on September 20, 2012


I've seen this scenario play out so many times in real life that it's not even funny. Hell, my twin defriended me on Facebook during her last great depression (we're friends again). It sounds like your friend is going through some rough times and needs to either shape up or get help. He's obviously got issues and is alienating the people around him. You can offer the olive branch that griphus suggests because 20 years is 20 years...

However, it's been my experience that the best thing to do in these situations is step back and let him find his own bearings. When someone gets belligerent like this, only the tough skinned survive their "friendships", while people who get upset by being defriended on Facebook and called names will drown very quickly and become bitter enemies. It's not a pretty sight.
posted by patheral at 7:09 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is way more going on with your friend than you know or could imagine. He is having tough times whether it is because of the pressure on him to make something of his life, or his self loathing for not using his film degree or some other mental health issue.

I would send him an email that says, "I am sorry you delisted me from Facebook, but I still value your friendship. When you are ready to talk, please please contact me. Fondly, Kitteh"
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:11 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I use the "goodwill" evaluation. Each friendship I have builds up a certain amount of "goodwill" based on factors like how long we have been friends, how reliable they are, whether or not they have been there for me in a crisis (as well as the extent of their support), etc.

Each dick move the other person makes expends a certain amount of the goodwill reserve that they have built up. I don't have to tell them that (although if they're spending a lot of goodwill, I generally will give a warning like "I'm really not happy about this and I feel like it's damaging our friendship") but ultimately the goodwill is theirs, to spend as they wish.

Once they have spent all their goodwill, they are no longer my friend, and at that point I'll take punitive measures if they cross me. But until they've reach that point, I keep it firmly in mind that the good parts of the friendship outweigh the bad.

All I'm saying is, 20 years is a long time and one can build up a lot of goodwill in that time. If you're willing to throw all that away because your friend has been a dick for a couple of months, then your priorities seem a little unreasonable.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:14 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


After twenty years, I think an "hey, is something up? Because you've been an asshole lately and that's not going to fly with me, but I'll help if I can" olive branch is worth a shot. Going back to school is rough, not having one's shit together is rough, and not being young anymore is rough. All three at the same time is probably one hell of a headtrip. Doesn't excuse him calling you (or anyone, really) a bitch, but in the heat of a life crisis, people do stupid shit.

Actually, that's exactly what I did when he started in with the negativity. I emailed him saying that I don't know what's going on with him but his recent behavior was very nasty and unfriendly and it was upsetting to me.

Sorry. I will stop threadsitting. I wrote my AskMe in a frenzy and should have included that.
posted by Kitteh at 7:17 AM on September 20, 2012


Dudes, the olive branch WAS extended by Kitteh, and the friend responded by defriending on FB and making a bunch of nasty comments. RTQ.

I think you should let it go for a while and see if he cools down a little bit. Ideally he would contact you to apologize, but if that doesn't happen, I think it's not a terrible idea to approach again after a month or two or even three and see if he's in a better place emotionally.
posted by elizardbits at 7:18 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, he mythologizes the Cold War...now he's got one.

But what can you do that you haven't already done? You've reached out. You've told him that he was behaving unacceptably. He responds by calling you names and blocking you.

I'd reach out to the people around him (his family, maybe?), tell them what you're noticing and that it has you alarmed. Maybe they can help him seek help if that's what he needs. But you can't be around someone who acts like that now.

Your friend existed in the past. He's not there now.
posted by inturnaround at 7:25 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Amen to FB people not being like real life people, even if they're the same person sometimes.

But on the one hand, while it's true that 20 year friendships are rare and valuable, things happen. You've done all YOU can, it sounds like. Don't let a toxic person cloud your horizons, even if you've known them 20 years.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:30 AM on September 20, 2012


The only thing I'd suggest is getting together in person to see what's going on.

Facebook friendships aren't real friendships and interactions there aren't the same as real life interactions.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:32 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the best decisions I ever made was to start removing excessively negative people from my life.

It's sad to end a 20 year friendship, but people change in 20 years. People grow apart. Don't hang on to something just because it's always been a certain way. If this person isn't bringing any value to your life and is actually bringing you down, then let it go. You don't need to send some final email, just let it drift away.

Focus your energy on people who bring good things to your life.
posted by bondcliff at 7:35 AM on September 20, 2012 [26 favorites]


You never have to take back words you don't say.

Which is to say, you've got some time to think about this and let it be. In fact, you've probably got considerable time to think about this and let it be. I would give yourself that considerable time to think about the situation and what you want. Calm down about it, stop being blindingly furious (I would be!) about the "bitch" updates. When I'm not sure what to do, letting it sort of percolate through the layers of my brain for a while often helps. Wait until you're sure what you want to do. You don't have to focus on it ... just let it drift, think about it when you happen to think about it, but let the whole thing settle.

It sounds like he's unlikely to contact you soon (like probably not until he sorts through some of the bad stuff that's going on in his life that's making him act like an insecure ass), so you have the luxury of waiting until you know what you want.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:53 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think of friends from childhood as a kind of mystery box game of White Elephant. You pick your box completely blindly, and only get to open it up years and years later. Maybe you get something awesome! Maybe... not... And so then we all spend our early adulthood trading in our original gifts for better, more appropriate ones. Very few people keep the original treat that came out of their mystery box. But I guess my point is that there are two equally important phases to this game. The anticipation and build-up of wondering what your box contains - and then the bartering for something better or more appropriate if/when the box didn't hold something right for you. Don't beat yourself up because your box didn't have something that is right for you in it. You're not alone in that regard.
posted by jph at 7:56 AM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Kick him to the curb for the time being. If he approaches with a sincere apology, that may open the door for more discussion.

It seems he doesn't care about you or who you are, because he's too busy making assumptions about your motives and intelligence. Hang out with people who truly care and who listen to you without casting aspersions. I know it's painful, but he's not the friend you thought he was.
posted by SillyShepherd at 7:58 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If this were just a basic misunderstanding and hurt feelings I might have more to say on the subject of trying to salvage this, but no.

You raised some concerns. It sounds like you did this in a perfectly reasonable way and your concerns were justified.

His response was to cut you out of his life (or at least out of his Facebook friends) and then repeatedly call you a bitch to other people.

Not much to be done for that. The guy isn't hearing what you're saying so it's not like talking more would fix it. If I were in your shoes - and on some level, I have been - what I would do is let it go; either he'll cool down and sort of slink back eventually, or he'll go even crazier. I've seen both happen. In any event, it's out of your hands.

People change. They drift in different directions. Sometimes they go nuts. It sucks, but it's one of those things you have to let go of.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:04 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


One email -- "Hey, look, I didn't say what i said to piss you off, but it did, and I'm sorry for that. If you ever want to talk more down the road, call me any time. Best."

And then leave it. Leave the next move in the patching up to him. He may come around, he may not, but you've let him know the door is open - it is up to him to decide if he wants to walk through it. That's all you can do.

And yeah, it sucks. It happens, and it's not ever really anyone's fault, and it doesn't negate the good stuff that came before, but it still does suck and I'm sorry you're going through it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:30 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Friends come and go in waves. Some waves are short-lived, others last twenty years.

It's OK if this is a final split. You don't have to be friends with someone who's not nice to you, simply because you've been friends for a long time.

That said, I would take a break from this person for a few months, and reevaluate then. If there's a reconnection -- great. If not, there's a reason why not.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:35 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I may be different from the average, but I don't think history is always enough to justify maintaining a friendship with someone that is toxic, unstable, negative, rude, and hurtful. Yes, its been 20 years that you've known him, but the person he is now sounds very different from the person he used to be. You tried to handle it the grown-up way by contacting him privately and bringing forward your concerns. He in turn threw a hissy fit, deleted you off of facebook, and began publicly insulting you.

He isn't your friend anymore.

What exactly are you losing if the friendship ends? From what I read, nothing. You lose nothing.

If, one day, he approaches you and tries to rekindle the friendship in an adult, respectful way, then it is up to you whether you wish to explore that. I definitely wouldn't be doing anything to attempt to salvage this, though. He sounds like he has added nothing but frustration and toxicity to your life. Let it go, let HIM go, and move forward in your life with the actual friends you have.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:37 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Based solely on your description, it sounds like your "friend" might put you down in order to soothe his own self-esteem issues (from which he is clearly suffering based on the self-pitying FB posts, etc that you mentioned) - NOT cool. NOT a good friend.

Sounds like you two have 2 completely different ideas of what friendship is/should be. I happen to side with you on this one over him, but even if I didn't, even if it were him asking - two different ideas of what the same relationship should be never, ever turns out well.

Good luck.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 8:49 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have recently ended a friendship of almost 30 years. In my case, my friend suffers from PTSD and profound depression, and she had become verbally abusive to me and also suffers from the kind of mental distortions that make trying to talk with her about an exercise in feeling crazy. One example is that, when we happened to not be in touch for a few weeks, she decided that I wasn't speaking to her, and when I e-mailed her to suggest getting together for dinner, she blew up at me. It was hard to make the decision to cut things off, though now that I have done so it feels like I hung on too long. Years of goodwill and the hope that her difficulties would pass and things would get back to normal kept me hanging in for quite awhile.

It sounds to me like you have done what can be done at this point. Perhaps all that is left is to have whatever feelings of anger, grief, loss, or whatever that you need to have, and let time pass. It can be hard with a long-term friendship; I know that with my friend, we had reached the point where we'd been close for so long and been through so much together that it seemed inconceivable that our relationship could ever end. But things change in unpredictable ways. I'm sorry you're going through this; I hope knowing that it has happened to other people helps.
posted by not that girl at 9:26 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


You never have to take back the things you don't say.

This is worth repeating!
posted by Glinn at 9:41 AM on September 20, 2012


Even though I botched the quote!
posted by Glinn at 9:42 AM on September 20, 2012


I've a friendship of 45 years (!) that feels worse than on the ropes; the referee's counted to 8 and it looks like he'll reach 10. Much as you said: massive history, good stuff well in the past, a lot of snotty shoddiness over the last several years and my observations about all that were related clearly.

My choice was to relate that ongoing interaction or efforts in that regard no longer serve my best interests, are rarely pleasant or close to what friendship strikes me as being--abstractly or in the approach all my other friends take--and if there's some willingness to make some effort, I'm easily found.
posted by ambient2 at 10:28 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I may be different from the average, but I don't think history is always enough to justify maintaining a friendship with someone that is toxic, unstable, negative, rude, and hurtful. Yes, its been 20 years that you've known him, but the person he is now sounds very different from the person he used to be.

I unfortunately have been through this same situation with a childhood best friend. It sucked. He became an overweight, mean, drunk idiot who I had nothing in common with. I haven't spoken to him in 15 years or so, and I don't regret it at all.

I still value our childhood friendship, but I don't think the grown-up versions of us have any reason to speak to each other. There are a lot of people in the world to be friends with, and you should choose the ones that like and respect you. Life's too short to put up with abuse just because you've known the person for a long time.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:53 AM on September 20, 2012


When you two were buddies as kids, did you sort of feel like this guy's sidekick? His behaviour, as you describe it sounds typically narcissistic. If he feels superior to everyone, then he probably finds it hugely galling that you can outshine him or correct him publicly on FB.

It sounds like he's deep-sixed your relationship because it doesn't fit into his current worldview. I'd move on if I were you.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:02 PM on September 20, 2012


Are you kidding me? Don't give up relationship on the basis of Facebook... ever. Or text messages for that matter. If someone says it to your face, then consider it.
posted by jinkoh at 12:49 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"mythologizing Nixon and the Cold War..."
Perhaps your friend has made new friends who have altered his thinking. Nancy Davis's doctor dad changed Ronald Reagan from a liberal to a right wing anti-unionist. Your friend's animosity sounds defensive, maybe a symptom of depression.
posted by Cranberry at 1:05 PM on September 20, 2012


The 20-yr friendship is only valuable if it's bringing something positive to your life - its length is no reason to hang onto it if it's bringing you nothing but pain. Lots of people justify all kinds of shocking behaviour for reasons of friendship duration (and with families, blood), and frankly it's stupid. Long-term relationships (friends, family, lovers) must be based on mutual respect in order to be healthy.

I would back away from them and see if they come around later on but don't go wasting a lot of time keep trying to reach out to them when you've already done that and have been met with hostility.
posted by heyjude at 1:36 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you kidding me? Don't give up relationship on the basis of Facebook... ever. Or text messages for that matter. If someone says it to your face, then consider it.
The above is a good recipe to start into an abusive relationship/friendship/whatever. She reached out and was met with hostility and was called a bitch. To me, the message would be clear.
posted by SillyShepherd at 2:59 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are you kidding me? Don't give up relationship on the basis of Facebook... ever. Or text messages for that matter. If someone says it to your face, then consider it.

Jinkoh, did you actually read the question? The OP tried to talk to the friend in a good faith effort to address concerns about their friendship, and the friend reacted by deleting the OP and calling her "a bitch" on Facebook, for all to see. I don't understand how the friend's behavior is excusable in any context, medium, or setting. I also don't see how blasting someone over a social media network is less of a dick move than saying it privately to their face. At least in an in-person, one-on-one meeting the party under attack can defend themself and not be faced with public humiliation.

OP, I feel your reluctance to end the friendship. An old friend of mine became a negative, toxic, all around unpleasant presence in my life several years ago. After enduring her for a few years (for the sake of the friendship) I came to the realization that we're fully grown adults now. People change as they mature, for better or worse, and they tend not to change back. My friend had changed into someone I didn't like, she was no longer bringing anything positive to my life, and life is too short for unnecessary obligations like so-called friends who want to drag you down into their misery.

It does sound like your friend may be having some mental health issue or other major life crisis, but you can't figure out solutions for him if he won't acknowledge that he has a problem and won't take your advice or help. The best you can do is keep the door open for him if he ever does want to make amends. I'm sorry, I know from experience how crappy it feels.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:07 PM on September 20, 2012


I'm sorry you were called a bitch by your best friend of 20 years; that must have hurt. I think it might be worth a try talking to him in person or at least on the phone if only for your peace of mind. An e-mail isn't really the proper medium to discuss friendship issues. On the other hand, it sounds like tall poppy syndrome. Going to uni in an older age can be reaffirming or might be causing anxiety and in his case is apparently the second case. I'm sorry you have to deal with this.
posted by ersatz at 3:07 PM on September 20, 2012


Last threadsit and then I am going to start marking all these amazing answers you guys have wonderfully given me:

I do not live in the same place as my friend. He is in the South and I am in Canada.

I no longer have a home/mobile number with which to call him, and all previous times I have offered to call he has begged off talking to me.

I think the best course of action is let it lie for a while and perhaps attempt a neutral friendly email towards the end of the year.

Again, I thank all of you for your great responses.
posted by Kitteh at 6:45 PM on September 20, 2012


He sounds like an asshole. Sometimes people turn into assholes after a long time. Why have assholes as friends? Would he ever donate a kidney to you? Help you through a time of grief? Be there for you? No? Then screw it.
posted by discopolo at 2:54 PM on September 22, 2012


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