Dealing with being friend-dumped?
July 21, 2009 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Over the past year, I have slowly been dumped by a friend... I think? Should I just let her go? How to deal with the hurt feelings? What questions should I be asking about my own role in the breakup?

Not long ago, a friend, let's call her Lisa, stopped returning most of my communications and started breaking plans with me. A lot. We are both very, very busy, but it's gotten to the point now where we haven't seen each other in at least six months.

I know that Lisa suffers from depression, and I believe that she has isolated herself not just from me but from certain other mutual friends. Part of me thinks that this is a symptom of that depression and that I should go out of my way to let her know that I care. Then again, I kind of think I have already tried to do this, perhaps ineffectively, and I need to let her take responsibility for her own mental health, if that is even at issue. How do you know when to stop trying with someone?

I keep telling myself that it's probably Lisa's deal, not mine... She has has at least two intense friendship breakups (which involved arguments and a lot of venting to me on Lisa's part), so it seems like she my have a pattern of idealizing-and-rejecting people. There's also various social entanglements that might have bred awkwardness between, though it didn't feel that way to me. There's also the possibility that we got busy, didn't see each other for very long, and then just drifted apart...

This question, and its responses, had me feeling paranoid and even sadder, but it also made me wonder what I could have done to trigger the breakup. To me honest, I am somewhat loud, kind of a social butterfly, certainly have a vast supply of other imperfections. If I were like "Kelly," how would I know? What should I do to better myself from this experience?

Now that I'm coming to terms with the fact that she just might not be into being my friend. Whatever the reason, I feel angry, hurt, rejected... How can I deal with these feelings? How can I keep a a sense of unconditional positive regard toward this person that I do like, actually?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you really care this much about the friendship, you need to ask her if she still wants to be friends. That the ONLY way you can know for sure. You can overprocess all you want, but there's no other way to know for sure, especially if there's depression is involved.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 11:46 AM on July 21, 2009

Yep. Just ask, and don't think of it as a breakup. Sometimes friends drift away, and then come back -- and sometimes they don't come back -- but with friendships there need not be a defining line as there is in a relationship.
posted by davejay at 12:03 PM on July 21, 2009

I was depressed many years ago, and (when I started coming out of the depression, actually), I cut myself off from a lot of people. For me, this was absolutely the right thing to do. Certain people I just couldn't handle, for a wide variety of reasons -- including just not "feeling it" for no reason whatsoever. Did those friends do anything wrong? No, of course not, they were all very good people, I just didn't want them in my life anymore. And as nice as the idea of "ask her if she still wants to be friends" is, I would have (and did) lied directly to the faces of those people if they asked me if I was "dumping" them. And even given that I "dumped" these people, several of whom were really fantastic people who in some ways I liked a lot, I have never had any desire to re-connect with any of them.

I have ALSO gotten very busy and distracted and not talked to people I legitimately did want to be friends with for periods of 6 months or more. When I realized I'd been rejecting the calls and returned the voicemails in several months but actually did want to talk to them, I called.

Now that I've written this, I don't know if it will be helpful at all... I suppose my point is for me it was always honestly an "it's not you, it's me" sort of situation. So please don't think you did something "wrong" or messed things up just because of her actions.
posted by brainmouse at 12:06 PM on July 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

Please don't ask if she still wants to be friends. That puts her on the spot and feels incredibly passive aggressive.

If she was interested in being your friend, but had an issue with a specific part of your personality, she should've brought it up with you. If you're paranoid about maybe doing something specific to trigger things, try asking another trusted friend if there's anything you do that sets them on edge. Beyond that, overanalyzing what could have been or should've been will just drive you insane.

Beyond that, the far more likely cause is simply that you weren't compatible as friends. You don't have to be "unconditionally positive" towards this person. You can acknowledge that they were a good person and that you like them, but that things didn't work out and that sometimes she flaked on you and that she did stuff that hurt you. Those two things aren't mutually exclusive. You'll probably come to terms with the way things panned out much better if you don't try to force yourself a certain way.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a friendship doesn't have to be everlasting and forever for it to have been a good friendship. Treat it like you would the end of a relationship - you had a good run, but things didn't work out. Don't beat yourself up over it, don't obsess over it - unless there have been significant hints that you did something to alienate her specifically - and try to see it as a good thing that happened and ended, rather than a break-up.
posted by Phire at 12:07 PM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

OK, I guess I just don't understand why good friendships require a certain amount of communication maintained at a particular level. You say she is depressed, you're both busy, and you aren't seeing or talking to each other as often as you used to. But has the quality of the communication dropped off? Are your conversations abrupt an awkward? If that's the case, maybe you guys have grown apart. If it is really just about the frequency, I think good friendships can totally power through that, if you're the kind of person that doesn't require that friendships adhere to a schedule (that is not a putdown, BTW. Some people need consistent contact. That's OK.) I have a great friend that was a former housemate that moved to NYC. From talking and hanging out all the time, we talk and hang out maybe once or twice a year. Other than that, nothing has really changed. He is still a good friend and we still really enjoy each other's company when we are together. Circumstances have changed, but the reason we are friends still exists- it wasn't dependent on proximity. Since you are speaking in terms of quantity and not quality, maybe you should step back and evaluate your friendship in those terms, and see if that has changed as well.

Depressed people often still care and still like their friends. They just don't always have the impetus to return calls or leave the house. So if you know she suffers from depression, it is probably a not a case of her liking you any less. It is just overwhelming for her to do anything about it.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:14 PM on July 21, 2009

Please don't ask if she still wants to be friends. That puts her on the spot and feels incredibly passive aggressive.

Huh? That's the complete opposite of passive aggressive.
posted by ShooBoo at 12:19 PM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Please don't ask if she still wants to be friends. That puts her on the spot and feels incredibly passive aggressive

What? Asking the source directly what's up is NOT being passive aggressive. At all.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 12:20 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Saying "is something wrong, are you okay?" is fine. Saying "do you still want to be my friend?" kind of sucks. How many people do you know that would, realistically, be totally at ease with saying "No, I don't"?
posted by Phire at 12:24 PM on July 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

This happened to me nearly two years ago, and it still hurts like the dickens when I think about it. Stop trying to rationalize it, and stop trying to figure out what your role was in her alienating herself. Odds are it wasn't you at all - maybe it's her depression, maybe it's a change in life circumstances, maybe it's her wanting to be friends with a different "type." Whatever it was, shouldn't she have talked to you about it if it was something you could have changed?

Try to remember the good parts - like any erstwhile relationship - and move on.
posted by chihiro at 12:51 PM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

In retrospect, my differerntial reading of the situation as compared to that of Cat Pie Hurts and ShooBoo seems like a pretty classic case of Ask vs. Guess culture.
posted by Phire at 12:53 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

How can I keep a a sense of unconditional positive regard toward this person that I do like, actually?

By trying to remember that you never know what will happen down the road. Perhaps one day your paths will cross again, or she will seek you out. Old friendships wind up being renewed all the time as people grow and change. Or perhaps later on you will learn something about her that will shed light on all this and allow you to relax what's left of your grip and let her go.

Though I sympathize with the doubts you are having about yourself, there's nothing you can do about that but do what you (and most other people) are already doing: being the best friend you know how to be and always looking for ways to improve.

For what it's worth, I drew a couple of Tarot cards while considering your question. The card I drew to describe your current relationship is the Five of Swords, which indicates a breakdown in communication which simply cannot be overcome. I think this describes your inability to come out and just ask her, as other commentors have recommended. But that's a two-way street, and the card I drew for her seems to support your theory that she is suffering some kind of serious problem, perhaps depression, that's impairing her judgment. It might be tempting to imagine that she thinks you've wronged her or "stabbed her in the back", but that's probably much too literal an interpretation. In reality do think that the card points toward her being trapped in a paranoid or fatalistic mindset that prevents her from reaching out or even accepting friendly gestures.

If there's nothing you can do to help her right now, then perhaps she has really done you a huge favor by retreating -- often our problems make us incredibly indecisive, selfish, difficult people to know. For whatever reason, she decided she was unable to be a good friend to you and went away to do other things. The card I drew for you, The Chariot, seems to say that now is the time to be looking and moving forward, not backward. You've learned all you can here, it's time to venture out and make some new friends.
posted by hermitosis at 12:57 PM on July 21, 2009 [6 favorites]

Saying "do you still want to be my friend?" is blunt and tactless to be sure. It's just the terming of it as "passive aggressive" that puzzles people. The core of "passive agressive" is that you don't honestly address the problem. It's not synonymous with "iconsiderate." The passive-aggressive response is to say to the friend's face "No, nothing's wrong" while refusing to ever return calls or emails.

On preview, that "ask vs guess" is a great link to a discussion I missed.
posted by tyllwin at 12:59 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I were you, I'd focus on spending time with friends who return my calls and don't cancel the plans we make. I'm not trying to be cute. For some reason, this person doesn't want (or have time) to be your close friend right now. It hurts when feelings are mismatched like this, so I'm not trying to say this will be emotionally easy. But I think the thing to do is to find new ways to meet the needs this friend met--did you meet up for lunch and vent about work? did you go to movies your SOs didn't want to see?--whatever they were. Contact this woman as frequently or infrequently as you'd like (perhaps e-mail her once every couple months and see if she responds?), but also reach out to other people who can make up for her absence. Don't just ruminate on what went wrong in this friendship, or how to win her back. She hasn't come out and said "I want to be friends with you, but you keep doing X, Y, and Z," so unless you have a pattern of alienating friends, don't take this as something that needs to be thoroughly autopsied.

Also, this: She has has at least two intense friendship breakups makes me think that the way to go with this person is not to push for a big State of the Friendship discussion/argument. Pushing her to tell you exactly why she's been avoiding contact might lead to a big blow-up that won't be easy to patch up. It isn't impossible to rekindle a friendship after a huge "I don't want to be friends anymore!" fight, but it's definitely easier to call someone up in 6 months or a year and say "Hey, long time no talk" rather than "Hey... remember when we said awful things to each other? That sucked... um... I'm sorry."
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:11 PM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I had a friend who had drifted away to the point that I sort of thought things were going downhill. I was ok with it but wanted to make sure. I sent her an email that said "hey, just wondering how you are doing, if you are interested in being in contact, email me back. I kind of think you aren't, and that's ok, but I really think you are great...". Anyway, I never heard back. Done. I was glad I wrote the email.
posted by sully75 at 1:22 PM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

i lost pretty much all my good friends in a flurry a couple years ago. i tried to hang on to the friends that weren't directly involved in the flurry, but my depression and anti social behaviors made me feel worthless in the friend role. i cut everyone off and moved to oklahoma with nary a word. i guess for me, the people not directly involved were still too close to my big hurt. every time we hung out there were reminders of the friends i no longer had. it was just too much. it was like i lost all my close friends and the people who were acquaintances were just not close enough to me and too similar to those i lost to keep making the effort. my depression and cagey-ness was made worse by trying to fake it 'til i made it. i feel badly for never explaining to those people why i had a hard time but at the time i couldn't really do anything else at the time.
posted by nadawi at 1:27 PM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

oh, and to answer your back up question - the people who tried desperately to remain my friend could have done nothing to fix me or make me a better friend. i felt stuck, and worthless, and unable to do any of the things to make myself better while being reminded what a leper i was. it was more like my first group of friends lost was the huge break up and the second group i pushed away were the people who tried to be friends with everyone, no matter what the circumstance. much like after a bad break up, i just couldn't go to the same bars and have the same conversations without feeling like a dump truck was being sped over my heart.
posted by nadawi at 1:31 PM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

As others have said, friendships fade in and out. It's the nature of life and relationships even when we aren't busy or depressed. Clearly your relationship with her is on the fade out part of the spectrum right now, but if you don't make a huge deal about it and move on there will be an opportunity to pick up where you left off in the future when things have a better chance of fading back in. My advice is to send out feelers every once in a while if you want to and leave a space open for her to get back in touch with you when things are going better for her.

I've done this--I've sent emails basically saying, "Things have been crazy and I miss you. Let me know when you'd like to hang out if/when things calm down a little."
posted by Kimberly at 2:10 PM on July 21, 2009

As a person I know once told me, "Every beer loses its fizz."
Sometimes they get it back. Sometimes they do not.
Friendships fluctuate. Wasn't it on the blue that I read that we lose half of our friends every 7 years?

It seems that often "coming to terms" with something is just making your mind think about it differently. Some people can do that themselves once they put their mind to it. Some need help from others, friends or counselors. Which are you?

I just tell myself that I like this person but what I have to offer doesn't seem to be what they need at this time. It may never be, but the world is a big place and it will be okay. i may just be able to delude myself easily.
posted by Seamus at 2:13 PM on July 21, 2009

This happened to me a couple of years ago. In my case, someone I'd been hanging out with met and developed a pretty strong friendship with someone else. For a while she'd hang out with both of us, separately. I hinted* a few times that it's be cool to meet the new friend and hang out together, but she never suggested it. After a while she started canceling on me outright. I eventually just stopped making contact and let it go.

Looking back, I think she just found new friends that jived with her better than I did. Even so, it still hurts because I thought (and think) that she is an awesome person and I hate that we didn't click better. C'est la vie, but also teh suck, you know?

If it would make you feel better to contact her one more time, just to see, I think you should do it. If the friendship isn't failing, then she might like the opening to reconnect. If she's not interested in maintaining the friendship anymore, least you'll know it wasn't because you didn't try.

*Yes, I am very non-confrontational. We both were/are. No, I don't really think the hinting caused the eventual cut-off.
posted by elfgirl at 3:52 PM on July 21, 2009

Hey OP, since so much of your sense of Lisa is that she suffers from depression, have you considered that you may be (unwittingly?) acting paternalistic towards her and that she might be rightfully distancing herself from people who might cause her to be depressed by treating her like a child who needs her emotional and/or social meat cut for them?

Look at the second or third paragraph, which I would paraphrase as, "...[p]art of me thinks it's just her depression and that I should take it into account, and the other part of me thinks I've already done that." Well gosh, I guess you've covered all the bases, then, huh? Defining your entire relationship in terms of how much you've engaged with what you think is her depression?

Something to think about.

P.S. I've been on both sides of this fence, and it can hurt just as much to give up a friend than it does to be abandoned by one. All in all, and it doesn't happen to me very often, but it's been much easier to dump friends who constantly make me feel like an idiot, that's for sure.
posted by rhizome at 5:02 PM on July 21, 2009

comment from someone who would prefer to remain anonymous.
Rhizome’s response I felt was very harsh as someone who identifies with the Lisa in this.

Anon, you did nothing wrong and it's simply insecurity that has you reaching for a personality trait in you that might have led to this in the absence of communication on this with your friend.
If my pretty painful experience is anything to go by I'm not sure she's ready yet for that discussion.

After a pretty unusual life-history I made a group of friends some time back who encouraged me and challenged me to live a life I *thought* I wanted to live. To sample things I thought, profoundly believed, would make me happy, but were very different from the life I was leading. I gave it my best shot and have so many good strong wonderful memories of that time, but ultimately it wasn't for me and a few bad experiences in particular made me quite profoundly depressed. I began to engage in some incredibly self-destructive behaviour, mostly of the emotional kind.
So I withdrew from that scene and in doing that I lost the good friends as well as the ones who were using me for their own ends.

Nadawi's experience really resonates with me and I found myself withdrawing from everyone who could see into me in the way a good friend can, even a friend I’ve had since I was 4 years who had nothing to do with this episode of my life, and who actually counselled caution. Anyone who could spot that I was "fakin' it till I could make it" was jettisoned, which must have been painful for them and the thought saddens me more than I can say. But in this completely interconnected internet world of Facebook and twitter I follow and see with great pleasure them doing things and enjoying life and making new friends and that helps. I assiduously follow them and worry about their low moments, cheer their successes, sometimes I even get up the courage to leave a note, but not a lot.

I'm in the rebuilding stage now and I still, years on, have not managed to reach out in any meaningful way to those good friends.

The reasons are various and complex but maybe they'll help you understand your Lisa.

I feel guilty that I have let them down, I feel I mustn't have been that person they liked if I could withdraw so completely, I feel I failed to be the person they encouraged me to be, I feel I'm probably still battling with the black dog and over-identify them with a painful period of my life, by getting back in touch I'll re-open wounds. A silly (to others) but important point for me , my financial circumstances have changed quite dramatically since and I feel bad I can't afford most of the life-style these friends take for granted (but of course, don't want them to know how bad it is! sigh!). I feel slightly intimidated by their expertise in the things they tried to introduce me to and since those tend to be the conversation fillers when we have met it’s more difficult for me, so contact became more and more sporadic and I wasn’t able to articulate (even to myself) the complex mish-mash of feelings. The more I see people who have their shit together the worse I feel about myself. But among all those confused feelings ultimately I feel I'm not yet in the headspace to even begin to re-establish communication. In a way, if I'm not sure who I am and what makes me happy, how can my friends be? There is nothing any of them can do right now until I allow them to help me.

I hope this helps
posted by jessamyn at 7:10 AM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try being a really great, really low stress friend - send an email every week or so the friend would enjoy (music, youtube link, humor, great photos). Send a "thinking of you" card by mail every month or so. Call and leave the occasional cheerful "Haven't seen you in ages; hope all's well" message. Try this for 3 - 4 months, then re-assess.
posted by theora55 at 9:36 AM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's really hard to tell what happened without both sides of the story. You & Lisa have probably got completely different perspectives of what happened and why she decided not to be friends with you.

I recently "broke up" with a friend in a similar way (refusing to make plans or only making non-committal "yeah...we should do that...sometime..." plans; ignoring any IMs or emails; being "busy" whenever she wanted to talk or do stuff) but only after I'd tried to explain why some of the things she did bothered / offended me (and she chose to keep doing them because she thought she ought to desensitize me). I chose to just cut all the ties I could when I realized that she didn't respect my boundaries after I tried to nicely lay them out for her and that for whatever reason I just felt annoyed and stressed out whenever I spoke to her or had to do things with her.

The one thing I do see in common with your post & this girl is that I know that she sees me as a depressed self-saboteur (her exact words to a mutual "friend"), though her opinion isn't based on any actual signs of depression, but rather the fact that I just don't like to do the same kinds of things she does (sorry, I just don't like karaoke!!!). Do you try to "help" her with her depression in any way? Could this be unwanted/annoying to her?

In the end, what could have fixed this friendship was if she had respected my boundaries, and when I stopped making plans with her, for her to just give me some space. Instead she kept asking me if I was mad at her, if I was sick of her, if I didn't want to be friends anymore. WTF do you say to that? I lied. Part of my need to "break up" with her was a need to stop having long, emotional discussions with her, so to admit that I just don't like her anymore would have just opened a brand new can of annoying worms.

You say that you are loud, energetic...maybe it's just tiring to her? Maybe she sees this as annoying or overbearing. It's not a negative reflection on you (unless this happens to you a lot), but some people are really low key and just like low key friendships.

And sometimes people just don't make you feel good, and the beauty of being an adult is getting to choose who you include in your life and to eliminate people who make you feel bad for whatever reason.

I wouldn't pry as to why she's not friendly with you anymore or to try to get an explanation or a conversation out of it. Perhaps for some closure, you could write her a note or leave her a simple message: "I just wanted to say that I am a little sad we're not friendly anymore. I realize we may have just grown apart, but if you ever want to hang out and chat, or if there is anything you want to get off your chest to me, I'm here to listen." Then just let it go. People are weird animals with weird reasons for stuff.
posted by tastybrains at 10:20 AM on July 22, 2009

« Older "Rules of Thumb" and "Instincts" of the Human Mind   |   California beach camping? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.