Too busy, needs space, or friend dumped?
October 5, 2011 9:13 PM   Subscribe

My best friend stopped talking to me without explanation. How long do you wait until you give up on a friendship?

Not quite 10 years ago, I met S during my first semester in college. We had tons in common, became very fast friends, and roomed together the next semester. One of the many ways that we're alike is that we both lack the passive-aggressive behavior that seems to plague many of my other girl-girl friendships. We were close all through college, even when I moved away for grad school, and until recently, rarely went more than a few days at a time without some kind of contact. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding earlier this year, too.

She is now a very busy employee of a large corporation, in a city far away from where we both grew up. I love the city that she lives in now, and arranged to spend a month working at a hospital there in hopes that I might have a better shot of landing there for residency. While I was excited at the prospect of spending time with S and her husband, I was there for professional reasons. I spent much time with the two of them on weekends, and they were very gracious hosts, in addition to having the same fun that we always had together. I stayed in my own place in the city and really only saw them on weekends until right before I left.

Before I left, I shot S a text to let her know that I was heading out. Got a "drive safe!" in return. That was the last that I heard from her, now going on 2.5 months. I've called, texted, emailed, face booked, and nothing. While I was there, I didn't appreciate any particular tensions. In fact, at my going-away dinner, they offered help should I end up in the city, how much fun it would be to have me around more, etc. The only thing I can think of is that at some point while I was in town, S covered me for something when we went shopping, but when I tried to write a check to cover it before I left, I was told not to worry about it.

I'm very apprehensive about this. I take friendship pretty seriously (because of some lingering social traumas during my teenage years), and I'm worried that I might have done something to inadvertently destroy this relationship, but obviously, I have no way of knowing what I might have done wrong if she won't return my calls. I stopped calling for a few weeks, to see if it was space that she needed, but I haven't gotten any response from her... I know that it's still possible that she just needs her space, but couldn't she just tell me that? The adult in me says to screw it, give up, and move on. Even if that was the case, though, shouldn't I know if I did anything wrong, or if she feels that we've just grown apart? How do I get over being friend-dumped?

Also, I bought her and her husband a rather nice gift but can't remember their house number to send it... I'll be in her city soon, and I can't decide if it would be weird or inappropriate to drop it off with a card thanking them for their hospitality (and also enclosing cash to cover what I owe, because I'm intensely uncomfortable owing anyone money, especially if we arent on good terms)?
posted by honeybee413 to Human Relations (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Find her house number on the internet and mail the gift and the check. Wait to see if she replies in some way to thank you. If not, wait a few more weeks and send an email asking her if there is anything wrong or if you did something to upset her or her husband. But, it sounds like to me that she is friend dumping you for some reason and that even if you start back up communicating, it will never be the same. It could be for any reason too btw. Maybe she feels she is in a different life stage being married and living far away. Who knows.

Even if you did something to inadvertently destroy the relationship, good friends let each other know if they are pissed off. Something is odd on her end in my opinion.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:19 PM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

This seems kind of fishy to me and I wouldn't be so quick to write it off as a friend-dump before getting even a smidge of evidence. I would try to contact the husband directly or any mutual friends you have just to make sure your friend is OK.

I don't think it would be weird to drop off the gift and the card, and include something about "Hey I haven't heard from you in awhile. I miss you! Keep in touch, okay?"
posted by bleep at 9:22 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe whatever is up with her has nothing to do with you. Maybe it's completely unrelated to your stay in their city.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:23 PM on October 5, 2011 [15 favorites]

Yeah, so, I have a dear friend who lives a few hours' drive from me now, and the last time I saw or heard from her was last November. I thought for sure I had done something wrong to make her not like me. A few weeks ago her husband (also a longtime friend) contacted me to let me know her cancer has returned with a vengeance, hence the radio silence.

Just saying, it might not be about you. Don't write her/them off yet.
posted by palomar at 9:29 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you tried a , "Is everything ok? I'm worried." message? This might get her to reply if she is just busy or caught up.

Is she normally a sensitive person? It's possible you offended her (through no fault of your own). Unfortunately, with close friends who I really care about, I can get let down easily even by things that mean nothing. Has she acted in this way before?
posted by bearette at 9:32 PM on October 5, 2011

Can you not look up their address based on their name? Or perhaps you have other mutual friends who may be able to give you their address?

At any rate that is just one small part of your concerns. In your description you have given no reason that a friendship of 10 years should collapse. Having said that, it is sometimes difficult to know when you've crossed over some imaginary line and inadvertently offended someone - so much sometimes that it is friendship ending. That is not to say that anything you did was all that wrong or terrible BUT it may have been misunderstood.

It is tempting to try and resolve all of these difficulties and understand what the root of them was so that you can move on or back to the sense of normal that you had before some real or imaginary event came along and ruined all your fun. Maybe your friend has changed a bit now that she is married. She may be working during the week days and has only the weekends to wind down and relax. Perhaps she felt she had no down time when you were over on the weekends or worse yet maybe her spouse felt that you were robbing them of the little time they had together especially given that they are fairly newly wed. Maybe there was a little concern about money that you owed but for some bizarre reason she wasn't willing to accept your money when offered.

People are strange. It sounds as though you've made a very honest effort to try and figure out whatever may have led to the distance between you. I think when you make a very close friend, a BFF if you like, you have a sense that there is a bond that joins you forever that no one can destroy. You want the relationship to be like it was when it was at its peak but sometimes this is not sustainable.

Friends are important, especially ones that fit into the best friends category. Perhaps sit on your thoughts for a few more weeks and think about where you'd like to be with this friend. Honestly, I don't think money or presents are necessary as that really isn't what friendship is about. If the shoe was on the other foot would you care of you got a present or money from her? Perhaps she isn't ready to address what is bothering her. Perhaps she just wants a little space so she can concentrate on her spouse for a while. Maybe her spouse is jealous of you.

Keep the door open for her to contact you. Will there be opportunities over Thanksgiving or Christmas for you to be in the same circle of friends or environment? If so consider approaching her with open conversation to see how she is doing. Let her know how good it is to see her again and get a sense of where she is at. You should be able to sense how far you can push that conversation.

Sadly, I lost touch with my best friend from childhood a few years ago. I still haven't figured out exactly what happened but I tried my best to make things right. It came down to her taking a different life path than me. Not a better path or a worse one but one that just built distance between us. There was a subtle shift but it was palpable. I still think of her and the good times we had growing up. So many years of our lives are woven together but as we grew older she simply drifted away from me. I married, had children and moved to a number of places around the world. She remained in the city. It still hurts to loose such a good friend but it was also so difficult trying to hold something together that wasn't the same great friendship as when we were younger.

Don't be angry, try to get over the hurt, don't give up yet. Wait a while and see what happens.
posted by YukonQuirm at 9:37 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had something similar happen with a close friend as well. When I finally heard from him it turned out his dad had died after a protracted illness, and the rest of his time was filled with raising his newborn son. Don't write your friend off.
posted by Gilbert at 10:16 PM on October 5, 2011

You don't mention if you already knew her husband prior to this visit. Was he flirtatious with you, by any chance?
posted by Scram at 10:23 PM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

I agree with palomar & Gilbert - this sounds to me as if some huge thing has happened in her life and she either isn't able to contact you or just doesn't have the time and energy for you right now. Especially if she's had a bereavement or illness or her marriage is on the rocks. Under those circumstances it can be difficult and exhausting to interact with someone who doesn't know what's happened, even just to *tell* them what's happened. Is she active on any social networking sites at all - has she changed her patterns of interaction in general, not just with you?

Do you know any of the other bridesmaids or any other mutual friends well enough to say "Hey, I haven't heard from S in a while and I'm a bit worried. Do you know if everything's OK?" If you do, i'd do that. Otherwise I'd drop her a note telling her you're worried about her. But please don't assume it's a friend-dumping just yet.
posted by andraste at 11:25 PM on October 5, 2011

It sounds like while you were in town you went out of your way not to impose too much on their friendship (unless it was every waking moment during every weekend while you were there)... When you went out did you treat them to dinner once in a while, or at least pay your own portion, or did they cover you every time? I doubt its them paying for everything if you're worried about them covering one purchase, but its something to consider.

Was the thing they covered an expensive purchase? I mean, are we talking hundreds of dollars, or just a nice dress when you went out shopping together? Unless it was a terribly expensive item, its probably not that either. Especially after a decade of friendship.

Did anything happen that might be misconstrued as you flirting with her hubby?

If none of those things seem likely, I think its probably safe to assume that she's just busy... Still within the first year/newlywed phase, working a busy job, possibly dealing with other household/local type issues that have her distracted. Maybe she's pregnant, or the water heater exploded, or hubby is having some kind of issue, or they've just got a lot of stuff going on... Maybe casually poke at other mutual friends to see if she's been keeping up with them (needing the address to surprise them with a gift is a good reason to contact friends without seeming like you're fishing for info... just a quick "I've lost the address and wanted to send a surprise.. have you heard from them lately and do you have the house number?"

Unless you've been sending her texts and messages every day asking why she won't talk to you, I'd call a week or so before you head up again letting her know you'll be in town and want to treat them to dinner as a thank you for the time they spent with you during your stay there. Make it a nice evening out. Don't expect them to entertain you during the trip or anything, just a dinner... and maybe an afternoon out with her if you have time while you're in town and she's not busy.

When you see her face to face again, thats the time to ask if everything is okay... let her know you've been concerned by the lack of contact but didn't want to intrude on her time if she was just busy... and ask if there was anything you might have done to upset them.

My opinion, she's probably just busy. It takes a lot more than "oh forgot to pay me back for that $50 item" to kill a decade long friendship :)
posted by myShanon at 11:55 PM on October 5, 2011

If you've been good friends for 10 years and can think of nothing you might have done, even inadvertently, to make her give you the cold shoulder, I don't think she's just dumping you. In my experience that kind of thing doesn't happen without a reason, and usually there's some prior warning--tension, long periods of silence, etc.

You mention you're Facebook friends, and I think a key factor is whether or not she's still active on there. Is she posting regularly? If so, and everything seems okay, then I would start to worry that you're being blown off. If that's the case, you're probably not going to hear from her on why, as hard as that is to accept. (And it's a pretty shitty move to drop a friend like that, for the record.)

If she's not active on FB, I agree with those who said it sounds like something big is going on in her life. Realistically, this probably has nothing to do with you. Sometimes things come up and our friendships take a backseat to them--death in the family, illness, marriage troubles, even job crises.

If you have any mutual friends don't hesitate to ask around, see if she's okay. As far as when to give up? I don't think you should give up on the friendship until you've been given a reason to. Don't be pushy, but let her know you're worried and that you still want to be friends.

From there the ball is in her court.
posted by metaphorik at 12:01 AM on October 6, 2011

I don't think it's about the money. That sounds like a topic that you worry about in every situation, and so now that something has gone wrong, it jumps out at you in your memory. Most likely it's something else entirely, and maybe something that has nothing to do with you.
posted by salvia at 12:44 AM on October 6, 2011

Are you friends with the hiusband as well as the wife? Can you email him and say 'I wanted to send you and S a gift but I haven't been able to get in touch with her? What is your house # and by the way is S mad at me or something??' Hopefully it's just a misunderstanding or some sort.
posted by bquarters at 1:01 AM on October 6, 2011

Further clarification:

We’re all part of a pretty tight network of friends, so I’m close with her husband and a lot of his friends as well. I’m not sure it’s a great idea to poke around with mutual friends, because I don’t want to create a lot of long distance friend drama, or start any other fires that will be difficult to put out. I’ve only confided in one other person in the group about my concerns, and he’s actually S’s husband’s closest friend, but I haven’t asked him to get involved beyond that. She’s a relatively private person, and the only reason I usually knew about stressful stuff going on in her world was because we talked pretty regularly. She doesn’t tell a lot of people a lot of things.

Bearette: I sent a text of about that flavor a few weeks ago and didn’t hear anything back. She’s not normally very sensitive, and in the past, we’ve been the kind of friends who can riff on each other, tease, and nobody gets offended.

YukonQuirm: She’s unlisted. They bought the house about a year ago, and I don’t think many people have been to visit. There are a few people I could probably ask, or heaven forbid, I could call her mother, but I feel like that might raise some questions.

Scram: No, I’ve never been flirtatious with her husband and he’s never been that way with me.

myShanon: The amount that I owe is less than $30. She’s still active on Facebook, and has taken a couple of weekend trips to visit friends over the past few months.
posted by honeybee413 at 4:22 AM on October 6, 2011

Can you use google maps to find her house number? Is it distinctive enough a house?

Also, "I want to give S and Mr. S a gift, I forgot their house number -- I think it's 63 Forrest Ave, but I'm not sure -- and I want it to be a surprise" is not going to raise any questions.
posted by jeather at 5:08 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

there could be a million reasons why she has broken off contact and I can almost guarantee that none have anything to do with you. Sometimes when things change in your life you don't want a friend's opinion of you to change with it until the change becomes inevitable. Just be there for her when she comes around.
posted by any major dude at 6:42 AM on October 6, 2011

I've been going through a really stressful period in my life that has resulted in me withdrawing from all normal activities and not responding to many friends when they reach out. Yet I have been able to post to FB, visit my best friend occasionally and on the surface seem to be holding it together. My best friend, the person I do turn to when I have a rare moment to catch my breath is the person that has been the least demanding on my time and I treasure her for that.

Another friend, who actually knows all the various stresses in my life, has annoyed me to no end by constantly contacting me "How is [stressful event] and [stressfull due date] and [stressfull thing]? Contact me ASAP! Let's do [obligation] the day before [stressful due date]. I haven't heard from you, are you mad at me?" I recognise that she is reaching out from the goodness of her heart and I keep reassuring her I am not mad but at this point she has become another source of stress and guilt. I am unlikely to contact her over people that have just left me alone over the past year.

So if you have been contacting her it may be backfiring a bit - maybe try easing off and let her contact you when she is able. If she is shutting down due to stress/events in her life then making this about you is not productive at all.
posted by saucysault at 8:41 AM on October 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

Sometimes friends just get crazy. I'd try to get over the friendship -- In my experience, when friends start getting weird like that, pushing you out of their life, cutting off contact and making you sad and crazy... Those aren't nice things to do to someone without explanation. You're probably better off without her in your life.
posted by custard heart at 9:04 AM on October 6, 2011

Pretty much every time something similar has happened to me either they had a hugely bad life event or the boyfriend / husband told my friend he found me attractive. A surprising number of men are idiots that way! In either case it is a temporary situation.

Having said that one time a long, long term friend of ours turned out to be in jail then rehab and no ones heard from him since! We had no idea. So there's that.
posted by fshgrl at 11:12 AM on October 6, 2011

One of my closest friends stopped talking to and refused all contact with me for two years. We have since reconciled. In those two years, I was devastated. I tried to contact her by every method I knew, from tearful voicemails to pulling her aside after a mutual friend's wedding (disastrous), even offering to fly to out-of-state to visit her (I didn't). We'd been close enough that I knew something was wrong with her, but I couldn't help her if she didn't talk to me.

Eventually I realized my failed contact attempts were only keeping my hurt fresh and I had to move on. But I didn't want to give up on the friendship completely. Here's what I did to stay sane, which may be helpful for you. This book helped me a lot. I hope that your friend's just busy and you don't need any of our advice, because none of this is easy.

- What your friend is doing has nothing to do with you. It's likely that she has something(s) going on in her life taking up her time that doesn't involve you at all. Even by the marginal chance that she's reacting to some action of yours, she's the one who's chosen to react by cutting you off instead of talking to you.
- Alert her that you are pulling back. Send a brief email/letter saying you love her, you're worried about her, but you'll respect that she doesn't want to talk right now, and you'll be happy to hear from her when she does. Then stop contacting her. I wrote my friend lots of letters that I never sent. Instead I sent her simple 2-sentence emails (with my updated contact info) or snail-mail cards on her birthday and major holidays wishing her well, and that was all. She never replied in any way until year 3.
- Remove her from your daily life. Take her number out of your cellphone, put photos of her out of sight. Stop following her on Facebook if it hurts to see her active there: if you don't want to defriend her entirely, filter her entries out of your default view. You're not forgetting her, you're keeping salt out of the wound.
- Talk to your friends, especially your mutual friends, but don't make them take sides. They're going to realize something's wrong anyway, so be honest that you're hurt but you're leaving the ball in your friend's court. Try not to bring her up unless they do. DON'T badmouth her to them or let them badmouth her to you. (One regret I have is venting my frustration to a mutual friend by verbally bashing my estranged friend.) Do not, DO NOT ask your mutual friends to carry messages from you or report to you about your friend's behavior. Be a good friend to them, too.
- Consider whether your hurt or your friendship is more important to you. Before we reconciled, I decided that my friend couldn't possibly give an acceptable excuse for how she'd hurt me--so I wasn't going to ask for one. If I couldn't forgive her anyway, the friendship wasn't worth saving to me. Are you willing her to forgive her eventually, or will she have to keep making it up to you indefinitely? Is worth it to be friends again with someone you may never again entirely trust? Are you willing to be less close friends with her than you were? It's not fair to either of you otherwise; make a clean break while you can.

More than a year after my friend and I started talking to each other again, she told me that when she'd withdrawn from me, she was drowning under a major depressive episode. My attempts to reach her made her feel horrible for being a bad friend, making her even more depressed and withdrawn. She got treatment, but she couldn't face dealing with the rift with me while she was recovering because the guilt she felt for treating me badly was so bound into her depressive thoughts. She hadn't deserved my forgiveness, and I didn't know she'd needed it when I gave it to her, but we wouldn't be friends now if I hadn't forgiven her then.

During these same years, I commiserated with another friend (call her Jane) dealing with a friend of hers who'd cut off contact for no reason. Recently it's come out that Jane's friend had been in a relationship with a controlling, abusive boyfriend who restricted her access to and communications with friends and family. Jane's infrequent but concerned messages helped sustain her friend until she managed to leave him.

The situation with my friend or Jane's friend may not be analogous to your situation. Sometimes your friends turn away from you because they're actually assholes. But sometimes people turn away from their friends when they actually need them most. Try to figure out which way is going on here.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:32 AM on October 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

she told me that when she'd withdrawn from me, she was drowning under a major depressive episode

This. And the fact that in general, people drift away or lessen contact with distance. I have only seen friends stay close over long distance on rare occasions. And if either party is depressed, it becomes almost impossible. I withdraw from local friends when I'm depressed.

While I was excited at the prospect of spending time with S and her husband, I was there for professional reasons.

Some people aren't good at phone or facebook or email. And family, career, and people you see regularly will eventually always come first. You scrape up what energy is left at the end of the day, and *then*, only then, do people are are good at phone or email spend it there. You just said in the sentence above that you put career before friendship. I'm very aware that you didn't mean it like that. But that's what came out. And like it or not, that's how it works for most people.

One of my dearest ever friends moved away two years ago. All rare the contact has been on her side. I feel guilty about it, and I miss her like a hole in the head. If she asked me to move and be her family, I would do it in a heartbeat. But I'm not her family, and I understand that, and as a result, I spend my very, very limited energy here. I wish I had more time and energy. But I don't.

Now I don't know what your friend is thinking. But she is married, and you said she has a busy job. I'd like to state, for the record, that after a few years, I see very, very few people stay close long-distance, unless they're family, or they spend all their time playing WOW. Even the WOWers usually get married eventually, or have kids, or something like that. Nothing you've said makes me think "Gee, her friend must be pissed off at her." Unless there's something you haven't said, it sounds like normal sadness, and little bit of paranoia.

As for sending her a check, no, I don't think it would be offensive to pay her back. Maybe odd, but not offensive. Just enclose a thoughtful note or card that says "I really appreciate you covering me when I was visiting. Take your husband out for dinner on me!"
posted by thelastcamel at 10:07 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had several friends whom I've heard nearly never heard from after they married. Some people feel that married people should only be friends with other married couples, which always seems like a sad way to limit your life but I guess it's what they want.
posted by yohko at 1:30 PM on October 7, 2011

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