Long-Distance Friendship for Introverts
October 27, 2009 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Introvert Filter: please help me revive a friendship!

I have lost contact with an old friend, for no particularly good reason--I like this friend a lot, but I just never got motivated enough to call or write. My friend sent a couple emails, and I didn't reply to them. I kept meaning to write back, but I never got around to it, and now several months have gone by and I feel really guilty about it. It's especially hard for me to write back now because of the guilt, and because I don't know how to explain why I didn't write back before. This has gone on for several months and is only getting worse.

I feel like it takes a huge amount of energy to stay in contact with people, even when I like them. The longer I wait to reply, the harder it gets, until it seems nearly impossible. Yes, I know this is beyond normal behavior even for an introvert and procrastinator, but I don't think I can explain it any better. (If it helps, I'm a little like the author of this question, but she might not make sense either.)

Another factor to consider is that even when I manage to overcome my inertia and talk to one of my far-away friends, I don't necessarily manage to do it for another. This is just because I find it easier to keep in touch with some people than with others, and because some are more understanding than others of my not communicating (which has never gotten this bad before).

(TL;DR details: I was recently visited by another friend that I do talk to, who had stopped by friend #1's workplace. Friend #1 wondered what had happened to me, and Friend #2 felt awkward for having been in contact with me when I was ignoring Friend #1. I also feel awkward about emailing Friend #1 and claiming my behavior was nothing personal, when in fact I wasn't ignoring other people.)

I really want to email my friend. Unless my friend is extremely angry at me, which I doubt, it's worth whatever unpleasantness I'll have to endure; I just want to minimize that unpleasantness as much as I can. (I already know it's my fault and I deserve it, so please don't rub it in.) What should I say? Should I try to be honest even though it won't make sense? Should I lie? (I think there are times when a white lie really is better than the truth, but what lie would work here?) If your friend emailed you after a long disappearance, what could (s)he say that would minimize your negative reaction?

One final note: please do NOT say things like "just say what you said here, because anyone who's REALLY your friend will understand." Real people aren't perfect like this, and I'm not sure I'd even want friends who are endlessly forgiving.) Thanks for reading!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Email. Say, "I miss you. I know that's my fault. I do this thing where I isolate myself sometimes, and don't know why. Can we get together anyway?"
posted by misha at 11:55 AM on October 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

I really want to email my friend.

So just email your friend. You are over thinking this way too much. I have some people I don't write to for weeks or months at a time. And others I talk to much more frequently. IF you friend is annoyed and doesn't write back, then maybe reflect on what you can do to rebuild things. As it stands, you seem to be operating under the assumptions things are in a worse state then they probably are.

I have one friend in Paris I write to every couple months. And I wrote him completely out of the blue after not speaking to him for years. I recently wrote a friend I hadn't spoke to in something like 5 years. (Maybe longer?) He was glad to hear from me. Honestly, it's an email. What exactly is the worse case here?
posted by chunking express at 12:07 PM on October 27, 2009

You could be me! You ask several times how to explain. Instead of explaining, maybe just concentrate on apologizing instead? Make it very simple and brief, and then just go on with your letter.

Many, many personal notes start with an apology for not writing sooner. It's not just you.
posted by fritley at 12:07 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I do the same exact thing, and it's becoming increasingly common as my friends and I get older. Simply apologize for losing touch, reassure them it's your bad and nothing personal, and then ask if you can get together. You will be surprised how many friends will roll with that. For those that just can't, then it's probably best to let the friendship fade because you will always be disappointing each other (them because you don't keep in touch, & you because you can't avoid the guilt).
posted by katemcd at 12:13 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't go overboard with apologizing. Maybe a quick 'Sorry for taking so long to reply. So, how about those....."
posted by chunking express at 12:21 PM on October 27, 2009

You've used the setup of (not) replying to email, then used the phrase "talk to my friend". Does it matter to you what the medium is? I like sending short emails and having long phone calls. If you hate the phone, maybe this wouldn't work for you, but, I would suggest calling your friend. On the phone.

When you're drafting an email, you're psyching yourself out, convinced that they will care that you've "been ignoring them", so you try to find a way to apologize profusely. Maybe they don't care, and the apology will just look awkward. Maybe they care, but for a different reason, for example, they don't feel ignored but unimportant. Just call, and stay positive:
If they don't answer, leave a voicemail, and say you just felt like calling since it had been ages since you've been in touch. (positive, let's talk!)
If they answer, apologize for not emailing - but they'd understand how hard it is to get a whole long catching-up email written and sent, and you've stopped waiting for the perfect day, and just given them a call. (positive, let's talk!)

If you do like the phone, you are perfectly justified to say that you stay in touch better over the phone than by email. If that's not true, don't say it. But even if you're emailing, you can use a similar approach and not get bogged down: "It's hard to know where to start since it's been so long, so I'm keeping it short" Don't feel like they need all the news that's been with you, just tell them how you are right now. The less you're convinced it's a big deal, the less of a big deal it is.
posted by aimedwander at 12:27 PM on October 27, 2009

My friends and I tend to make a joke out of this. E-mail contact drops off, and when one of us wants to restart it, we just send a note that starts with something like "Sorry about the delay, I was trapped in one of those e-mail non-reply shame spirals... What's new with you?"

Nearly everyone has done it--let an e-mail go un-replied-to for so long that you reach the point where you feel so guilty about not responding that you feel paralyzed... which in turn makes you feel even guiltier--so most people are able to forgive it.

Offer a sincere but non-self-flagellating apology, then say something nice about your friend. It's easy to forgive a delayed e-mail if the person says "I was thinking about that [awesome] [thing] you [did/made], and thought I'd send you a note to say hi and see what you were up to these days."
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:34 PM on October 27, 2009 [12 favorites]

I suspect that a lot of the concern you feel over this is strictly on your end; you are thinking about how long it's been since you contacted these people and now it has become a Thing. And you are thinking about how you are going to overcome this Thing and how nervous dealing with this Thing is going to make you, when the reality of it is your friends probably aren't much thinking about it at all.

I have people whom I love, who I fall out of contact with for months or sometimes years at a time, then one day one of us will send a message, and it's like "Oh hey, there were a bunch of things I've been meaning to tell you about..." and we'll correspond for a couple of weeks, get caught up, and then go back to our lives. Others I'll reconnect with and fall back into being really close and talking to them weekly.

Basically, I'd just suggest not making too much of a big deal out of it when you do finally reach out. Just send them a message with some kind regard or funny link, and add a little note at the bottom, something like; "It's been a while since we've talked, how's things?"
posted by quin at 12:34 PM on October 27, 2009

I fail to understand why your friend wouldn't be glad to hear from you. If they're your friend, it means they want to interact with you. If I was in Friend #1's position, I'd be more likely to be concerned, or to think that I'd done something wrong, than to be angry.

Write them back immediately. Apologize briefly for not replying earlier; if you feel like it, you can insert a small explanation. Something along the lines of "I'm sorry I haven't been in contact lately. I've been feeling shy, and I the other day I realized I hadn't talked to you in a quite a while." should be fine. Then go into other things: "How are you? How's work? Friend #2 mentioned you were working on X. How's that going? Hey, here's something funny that happened to me the other day: [insert short anecdote]. It reminded me of the time you and I [insert short reminiscence]. Anyway, we should do lunch sometime. Next weekend, perhaps?"

The next time you see them in person, you can apologize again, so they know you really mean it, and then drop the issue for good.

You are overestimating how unusual this is, and how rude it seems to someone on the receiving end. You are not Friend #1's sole link to the world; you're just one of several or many friends that he has. He may be disappointed that he hasn't heard from you, but in the grand scheme of things, this is incredibly minor. Chill.
posted by Commander Rachek at 12:35 PM on October 27, 2009

Oh, and I should add: please don't lie. Lying sucks. Being lied to sucks. This is not worth lying about. I'd bet your friend would agree.
posted by Commander Rachek at 12:39 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

God, I do this too sometimes, and it does feel really awkward to explain and it gets harder to write or call the longer you wait. So you are not alone in this behavior, and I agree with the above that if you do lose friends over it, it's probably better that way because those friends will likely be disappointed in the future. It's one thing to beat yourself up about it, but you have to recognize that this behavior is incredibly hard to change (I haven't found a way), and that it's better sometimes to work around your weaknesses than to continually be frustrated trying to change yourself.

This is what I would say: "I'm so sorry I haven't gotten in touch with you sooner, and that I didn't reply to your emails. I really miss you and I would love to catch up with you. Please let me know when we can talk or meet up. I hope all is well and I am looking forward to seeing you again soon."

If they press for a more concrete explanation for the radio silence, you can try to be as truthful as possible, saying you're sorry, it's nothing personal but you sometimes find yourself withdrawing from people and it's very difficult to come out of that, especially because you worry friends will be angry. Just say you hope they understand and their friendship means a lot to you.

If that's not enough for them, there's not much you can do, and it's best you both move on.
posted by JenMarie at 12:39 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I usually say something along the lines of "Hi! I'm the lazy asshole who never replied to your last email. What's up?"

That's usually all it takes.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:15 PM on October 27, 2009 [17 favorites]

this is really a non-issue. all of my friends and i are like this. we're lazy. other things come up and the email falls off our front page and we forget. this is especially true with long-distance friends where it's not like you were making weekend plans and the email required a prompt response.

"hey, sorry i never responded to your last email." is a good enough first line.

posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:25 PM on October 27, 2009

Facebook has been making it easier for me to keep up with friends.
posted by theora55 at 3:03 PM on October 27, 2009

You know what? It's not just you. We're all in the same boat. This is what Facebook leverages, because it allows you the illusion of maintaining contact with old friends, even though all you're doing is posting a 15-word update once a week.

If you want to get back in contact, then send an email. Say "Hey, sorry for the long silence! I've been crazy busy! We should get together for lunch, how's your next week looking?"

In other words, 1) Acknowledge that the long silence was your fault, 2) reassure them that it had nothing to do with them, 3) then move briskly on to "business."

I maintain in-person friendships like this: at the end of each time we meet up, I whip out my calendar and set a date to meet up with them again.

For some friends, I do this in their presence, because they too are crazy with the scheduling. For others who might find it weird or off-putting, I wait until I'm home, then write myself a reminder to "Email John Doe re: setting up a lunch date" on November 10th. It sounds kinda OCD, but it's the only thing that works for me.
posted by ErikaB at 8:01 PM on October 27, 2009

Do you use GChat or AIM? I am not a phone person and don't particularly like sending long rambling emails that sound like those newsletters you get at Christmas from relatives. I've maintained several really great, long distance friendships mostly through communication via GChat. I like that it's more casual and random than sporadic phone calls or emails, which tend to be just recountings of the Major Things Going on in Life.
posted by kookaburra at 10:36 PM on October 27, 2009

Seconding Facebook. I'm the same way and FB helps me manage casual connections with people. Instead of thinking "I haven't emailed him for 6 months and at this point I need to write something long and meaningful and personal with a heartfelt apology," I can just occasionally post an update or comment on something he posts.

If I DO get around to writing that long email, I don't have to start it with "sorry for taking so long to get back in touch" because we've been (casually) in touch the whole time.

And friending them on FB will send them a nice automated reminder that you want to get back in touch but you don't have to write it.
posted by mmoncur at 3:41 AM on October 28, 2009

Same problem, no solution, just sympathy. Apparently, plenty of us have the problem. The guilt thing has only been an issue for me with family. I suspect in my own case that some sort of low-level depression may be at the root of the isolating behavior. It doesn't really seem to fit ordinary introversion, as I read it.
posted by Goofyy at 8:57 AM on October 28, 2009

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