Is this friendship over?
November 23, 2008 7:52 PM   Subscribe

Is my best friend growing apart from me, or is she throwing herself headlong into a seriously unhealthy relationship?

Here's the background:

I've been friends with this girl - lets call her Betty - for a little over five years now. We've been calling each other best friends for three. The transition from college to the real world (a year and a half ago) was surprisingly easy on our friendship. Although we both moved to opposite sides of the country, we called each other constantly. Both of us have been through some fairly tough times, and we've always been there for each other.

Betty was depressed for the past year and a half. She would call me up constantly for reassurance or just to talk about what was going on in her life. She would frequently apologize for "making the conversations all about [her]" but I told her (and meant) that I was happy to be there for her when she needed me and that I was sure she would do the same for me.

The thing is, I'm no longer sure that that's true.

This past summer (at the end of July) Betty fell in love. This is her first real relationship - she's never been in love before. At first, I was really excited for her. The first few weeks after they got together, she called me all the time to give me updates and ask my advice.

Then she fell off the face of the planet. No contact - she didn't call me, she didn't return my calls, no e-mails, nothing. At first I thought it was pretty normal beginning-of-a-relationship infatuation. But it's been four months now and things have descended into a really painful mess.

My list of complaints:
~ No phone calls. We went from 2-3 phone calls a week to maybe 1 phone call a month. (To clarify, we talked this much both before and while she was depressed.)
~ When I told her that I understood her needing to talk less, but would like for her to acknowledge that she'd gotten my calls with a text message or something, she did this exactly once and then stopped.
~ When I went to visit her two months ago (we live in cities about four hours apart), we went to her girlfriend's apartment the first night and she asked if I could walk home to her place alone so she could stay there. The next day, I told her that I wanted us to stay in the same place, so she invited her girlfriend over the next night and they had loud sex while I tried to fall asleep.
~ When she came to visit me a month ago, she brought her girlfriend and she ended up spending half the weekend with her.

I've told her that I'm upset by this several times. She says that I want too much of her and that I'm giving her an ultimatum, although all I've really said is that I feel like she doesn't care about me anymore and that's not okay with me.

Complicating things is the fact that we're part of a group of friends. I live with another very close friend of mine, lets call her Wilma. Wilma & Betty are also pretty tight - Betty stayed with Wilma for three months last year, when Betty was unemployed and feeling really depressed, and Betty and I were both bridesmaids in Wilma's wedding this summer. Anyway, Wilma had a really rough summer this year - a mixture of academic panic and delayed grieving for her father - to the point where she couldn't get out of bed sometimes. Betty called her twice and both times just wanted to talk about the girlfriend.

This weekend she came up for a Thanksgiving gathering of friends. She decided to stay with another friend without telling me or Wilma this, and when she did come over, she purposefully avoided being alone with me and/or Betty. I am at the point where I am ready to stop trying to stay friends with her. I have two questions though.

First, and most importantly, I'm worried about Betty's relationship with her girlfriend. It's not just me and Wilma who have felt like Betty's "dumped" them - our other friends have told me on occasion that they wish they were as close to her as they used to be. I also know that Betty isn't doing any creative writing anymore, which has always been her biggest passion. Lastly, she's been having trouble with her family, which is not surprising since they've never exactly been accepting of her being gay, but in the context of also not writing and growing apart from her friends, as I said it makes me worried.

It seems to me that a good significant other would be worried by their partner dropping everything else in their lives in order to be with them. I don't know if the girlfriend is just kind of oblivious to what's happening, or if she's encouraging it. I know next to nothing about her - I've only met her twice - but Betty did tell me early on that she (the girlfriend) had once cheated on a partner. I also know that for her birthday this year she's planning a sex party and that Betty is uncomfortable with that but apparently it's still happening. I don't want to jump to conclusions about the girlfriend but not knowing anything about her, I worry that she could hurt Betty.

Also, whether or not the girlfriend is good people, it's entirely possible that the two of them will have a bad breakup and she won't want to see Betty anymore. If Betty dumps all of her old friends and interests to be with her, that would be devastating. Betty was bulimic in high school and had suicidal thoughts once our first year of college, and I'm honestly worried that she would try to hurt herself if she breaks up with the girlfriend. She told Wilma that she doesn't call us or visit us because when she's not around her girlfriend or talking to her girlfriend she gets depressed.

Secondly, if I do decide to just give up on the friendship, should I do it quietly or should I send Betty an e-mail or leave a phone message telling her that's what I'm doing? The latter option seems sort of drama queen-ish but at the same time, Betty and I have always tried to be very honest and upfront with each other and this would be the most upfront thing to do. Also, I guess part of me has this fantasy that if I tell her we're not friends anymore she'll be so shocked she'll start trying to fix things. And I guess part of me wants to hurt her like she hurt me.

But on the other hand, if she really needs me, I want to be there for her. If she hurt herself because she didn't think she had anybody to turn to that would be the worst thing ever.

Sorry for the length of the question. As you can see, I'm going around in circles. So, hivemind. Any advice? Am I overreacting? Am I being a doormat? Am I right to be worried about her, or am I just being jealous?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Your friend is in what I call a "couple cave" - the intensity of new love is so overwhelming and wonderful that it is skewing her priorities, analogous to a drug addiction. Having been in such a couple cave before (the most intense was with my first serious boyfriend), I can only say that I just wasn't thinking about things from the other person's point of view.

Her response to your attempts to talk about it sounds like defensiveness - deep down, she might realize she isn't being a good friend but doesn't want to change her behavior.

I don't have good advice for you. Sometimes this goes away and people come out of it and become a good friend again - I have had this experience with several close friends in the past. Sometimes it doesn't go away, in which case the person isn't much of a worthwhile friend anymore.

I don't think you should "friend break-up" - you have communicated your needs. Either she will at some point start to respond to them, in which case you can grow closer again and mend the damage that has happened, or she won't, in which case you should just get on with the rest of your life.
posted by mai at 8:04 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Betty doesn't sound like a great friend; you've given a lot to her in terms of love and support and she's treated you unfairly. We've all had friends like her; we feel obligated because she's got issues and we end up getting treated pretty badly.

I would let Betty go without an incident (the "closure" you'll feel won't fix your hurt feelings and the hurt it will cause her will make you guilty). I have a strange feeling that she'll come crawling back at some point (most Bettys do) and you can decide what you want at that point in your life.
posted by scabrous at 8:32 PM on November 23, 2008

This is almost the exact same kind of situation that I've been going through lately with one of my closest friends. We were friends for two years, but then as soon as he started dating his current boyfriend, he gradually began increasing his distance from me. In the beginning of their relationship, I only got to hang out with him if his boyfriend was there too, but then it only got worse from there.

I think it's one thing to say that friends grow apart, but in this case, he was the only one moving away. I kept calling my friend and sending him emails to let him know that I wanted to hang out, even if it meant that we would only get to do the occasional lunch or dinner meeting rather than our usual routine of watching tv shows and movies together several times a week. But every single time I reached out to him, I got nothing in return.

Actually, no. I take that last part back. There were occasional instances when, for whatever reason, he would send me a short email or text message to say hi, but he would never actually follow up on making plans to do things, even if it were to simply say that he was interested in doing something with me when we both had the time.

Like you, I struggled with the issue of how to end things with him. Should I send him one last email to let him know where I stood, or should I do it quietly? I went back and forth over this for a very long time, but ultimately, I left things as they were and walked away. It's something that other friends told me to do a very long time ago, but as I'm sure you can understand, you can't just say goodbye and move on overnight from a friendship that you've invested so much time and energy in, no matter how shitty your friend treated you towards the end of it.

So to answer your questions in your closing paragraph: No, you are not overreacting. You can only be a doormat if you decide to let yourself be one around your friend. I realize that you want to be there for her in case she hurts herself, but whether or not she does this is NOT your responsibility. What is your responsibility is making sure that you surround yourself with friends who value you as much as you do them, and from what you've written here, it really sounds as though you'd do well to get away from Betty ASAP.
posted by sabira at 8:33 PM on November 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'll leave other people to commiserate about what a jerk Betty is. Clearly she hasn't learned to negotiate being in love with being a good friend, a crisis most people navigate in high school or early college. I will go out on a limb and posit that like a lot of younger gay people, it's been somewhat harder for her to figure out dating while in college, which would be an understandable platform off which she would fall headfirst into her first full-blown relationship without maintaining her priorities. This is her first time having tons and tons of sex and love and romantic attention. Maybe you shouldn't begrudge her these few months so readily, and just let her be a selfish, lovesick ninny for a bit.

I don't what know necessarily what's worrying you about her relationship right now, other than the attendant factors of Betty's personality (bulimia, depression) that can be triggered by a number of stress factors such as a break-up. Betty has a right to risk heartache in order to be in a relationship, and you do admit that you know next to nothing about this girlfriend except that she's apparently turned into a black hole for Betty's attention. Shall we wager that Betty's absentia speaks more of herself than her girlfriend?

Maybe your relationship is over, maybe not. Betty might wake up from the bliss-coma of sexin' and call you, where she will apologize profusely, thus surmounting the aforementioned love vs. friends dilemma. She might undergo a break-up that will devastate her, and her self-absorbed nature in all probability will send her running to the friends she once leaned on so heavily before the new girlfriend. Then it's your decision to embrace or reject her. Some of the best friendships have flourished when one person could have wiped another person from their life and yet did not. But that's neither here nor there.

Or you guys are just growing apart in the wake of adulthood and romance. Plenty of Shakespeare's comedies are about people (mainly women, come to think of it) putting aside their friendships for the "adult" ties of marriage, and while I find that sacrifice depressing, it's a relatively normal rite of passage for many folks today. If you feel through with her, and I don't get the impression you're at that point quite yet, then let her go. Otherwise, just wait without holding your breath. Nurture stronger friendships in the meantime.

The hardest thing about a friendship break-up is that we have much less social coda in place to tell us how to recognize break-ups and then grieve, no "She's Just Not That Into You: Friend Edition" to read. Friendship comes with less crises over cheating and sexual complications and differences over religion and raising kids, etc etc, so "drifting apart" feels like an indictment of your character. We've all been there, and you've done your absolute best to let Betty know that you want her in your life. If she doesn't want you in hers, then in the parlance of the friends who will be by your side when other people reject you: "You're better off without her."
posted by zoomorphic at 8:46 PM on November 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

From the guy perspective.... There may be hope.

A lot of the original and follow-up rang true relative to a male friend; not so much the depth of life challenges we've each faced, but fundamentally similar in terms of being really good, caring, helpful, genuine friends. In relatively recent times, a couple things--he met a gal, embarked on his first serious relationship and disappeared. He later said that he figured he'd meet someone at some point, told himself he wouldn't be the person who falls in love and ignores his friends... and he was that guy.

Two, he's always tended toward what strikes me as the obsessive/paranoid side--refused to ride a few miles in an old convertible I had for fear of injury, uses Purell constantly, says he'd never visit Africa for hygeine-related reasons, etc. As I've tried to gently note, feels like he's become more that way than less, that it might be giving serious thought to the prospect it's not healthy. He seemingly wears his mindset cheerfully, like a badge of honor.

When last I saw him, I met the gal, who he'd known for about 1.5 years and it was a little off-putting. He was physically real clingy, looked at her beaming like a 7-year-old with a new puppy and there were, I dunno, 10 pics of them together, in their small one-bedroom apartment.

That was five months ago. Four months ago, I've moved from four hours away in a car to about 16 hours by plane (and he knows it's been a challenging time in a strange part of the world). I've tried to keep in touch via e-mail, using calling card, have heard damned little other than "Work's been nuts." (And it has been because he's as obsessive with that as anything. He probably stands a good chance of being a C-level exec at some point with a big company.)

Over the years, he has become much more someone who will grind 60 hours in a corporate role, wants the promotions, pricey car, etc. I've never been much that person in a corporate realm or otherwise. If anything I've become less that way over the years--more fed up with greed, materialism, better living through amassing crap. So, yeah, in a lot of ways, we have "grown apart."

My response was along the lines of... people have time for what they want to have time for, that it was challenging to take him seriously when he contends he doesn't have 20 minutes per month to communicate.

At this point, I've said all I have to say to him, though my sister has noted that long-term friendships go through phases.

If his approach changes, sure, we've become more different over the years far more than we've become more similar, but I'd like to think there's enough in common that this may be more a warped phase than The End.

Sounds like you've said and done all you really can. Let it breathe, see how it goes. If it doesn't go, relating the above has reminded me how not-good these things can feel. I hear your frustration and sadness all too well. In terms of thought, nothing other than the "phases" hope (and all the cliched things you know) comes to mind.
posted by ambient2 at 11:43 PM on November 23, 2008

I want to just add that I really do believe that Betty was a great friend before this. When we were first friends, I went through a period of depression and she was one of the few people to try and get me out of it. For instance, for my birthday that year, she came and dragged me out of my room for a small dinner party she made for me.

We lived together for two years and she would cook me dinner when I was stressed or down. Last year when I decided to quit my job and move across the country, she spent hours going over the pros and cons with me and supporting me. I can't even list the number of times she's talked me through a problem I've had or the small heartfelt gestures she's made.

I say cut her some slack. I think that Betty is probably still a great friend, she's just a great friend who's in her first relationship ever and also in love for the first time ever and so she has a lot less time to talk on the phone and write stories.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:27 AM on November 24, 2008

As a lesbian, I've found that same-sex best friendships and same-sex romances often don't mix well. An unfortunate aspect of such relationships can be jealousy. That's what your reaction sounds like.

I'm not saying you are sexually attracted to Betty. But you called yourselves "best friends" for years and she relied on you for emotional support. Now she's lost in limerence and you feel dumped. But, you weren't lovers. She's not cheating on you. Don't dump her.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:38 AM on November 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

My sister has noted that long-term friendships go through phases.


Also, I 've been through something very similar with an old college friend (actually, the similarities are sort of eerie - roommates in college, her first relationship, mental health issues), and, unfortunately, things got worse after she broke up with her girlfriend instead of better. We don't talk anymore and it's sad, but this is a normal part of life and I hope you don't think this reflects some failing on your part.

OTOH, I've had friendships that went through periods of distance, where we were able to pick up where we left off. Actually, I somewhat turned into the distant friend when I was in grad school, but lucky for me, my friends were patient with me and they're still my friends.

I don't think there's any need to "break up" with her. I know you're feeling hurt, but I don't see what good that would do. Instead, you might consider sending her an email saying something like "I know you're busy right now, I understand, I just want to let you know I'm there for you." Don't let her abuse your friendship, but do try to be there for her when she reaches out, as she probably will at some point.
posted by lunasol at 5:47 AM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would be paying attention to the timing here as well. The first few years out of college are often a time of a great reshuffling of friends. Really all that you know is that she has a girlfriend and that you have been shut out: you don't know what other friends she has made or what new life she may be building for herself that has no room for you.

Personally, I would let the whole thing drop. She has quite clearly signalled a lack of interest right now, so there's not much else you CAN do.

She'll come back when she's ready, or she'll become one of those college friends you never see any more. Everybody has them...
posted by tkolar at 6:27 AM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Carol Anne is right to point out the shifty underpinnings of your friend's relationship as a woman dating another woman, which might really nuance this current stretch of silence that would otherwise just be a story of two friends growing apart. Lots of people in the gay community can be a little suspicious of a newbie's old, straight friends, who are seen as clueless left-overs from a formerly stunted life. It's the gay version of when a kid's new friend smirks at her old clan: "You don't need them." Betty is a fledgling in this community right now, and she might feel the need (her own or via outside pressure) to prove her loyalty. She might just be googly-eyed and preoccupied with this new-found world of acceptance and inclusion. You're on the East Coast, right? So Betty's probably somewhere in CA or the other West Coast cities that have really active-but-insular gay communities.

Also, I can't emphasize enough how lonely many gay people feel during adolescence/college years when they haven't figured out how to put one foot in front of the other when it comes to dating. A lot of them feel totally unsexed, and they despair that they're not gay, just undesirable and doomed to be alone. When they finally do meet someone special, the euphoria isn't just love--it's relief.

It's hard, but I wouldn't take this personally. The best people can become irresponsible jerkfaces when gripped in throes of a first romance. You're putting really adult (and understandable!) expectations on someone who's reveling in a new phase of life that you might already take for granted.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:24 AM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

But on the other hand, if she really needs me, I want to be there for her. If she hurt herself because she didn't think she had anybody to turn to that would be the worst thing ever.

Wait it out. You care about her. Just put the friendship on hold. Keep trying, keep trying to talk to her and just accept that right now she's totally distant and yeah, it's probably due to her relationship, but she might need you some day and you want to be there for her if she does.

Don't worry about it, just let it breathe.

(zoomorphic's first comment is spot-on and like what I wanted to say, only better.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:34 PM on November 24, 2008

Pebbles said that sometimes Betty says things to Pebbles or her girlfriend such as "Wilma and Shaun Uh want to be in contact with me 24/7" or "they hate [Betty's girlfriend]".

I'm just one data point, but from what you've written here, I kind of agree with Betty. It seems to me like regardless of what you say to HER, your post here makes it seem like you want her to call her alot more than once a week, and also that you don't like her girlfriend for some reason. If you say to her "Blahblablahblah call once a week!" and "Blabhlabhlabhlahblah your girlfriend is nice!" you may still be giving off a totally different vibe that she's picking up on.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:32 AM on November 26, 2008

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