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December 12, 2012 4:27 PM   Subscribe

Am I being friend-dumped? (small wall of text and some itty bitty snowflakes)

Help me socially advanced MeFites!

I have a friend who basically stopped speaking to me and my three friends in our friends-group and don't know how to proceed with this situation. We are professional and independent women in our 30s.

Here's the background, I am 1 of 4 of friends that compose our friends-group:

Friend 1 - One of my closest friends ever. We've been friends for six years and know everything about each other and are tight. This friend is hilarious, sarcastic, super laid-back and is one of the most generous and caring people I know. Our friendship is totally laid back, we kind of always just pick up where we left off and sometimes go for stretches without seeing each other due to life/work/travel/whatever, but we get each other and it's awesome.

Friend 2 - Met through friend 1. This friend moved to our city from the opposite coast about a year or so ago. We're new friends, but the two of us have become closer because we're both actively working on the friendship between us. She's also sarcastic, sweet, but can be flakey sometimes with plans but that's mostly due to her crazy work schedule. Friends 1 and 2 are close as well.

Friend 3 - The friend this question is referring to. Friend 3 and I have been friends for about 3-4 years and were about as close as Friend 2, but the difference is that this friend didn't actively work on developing our friendship as I'm doing with Friend 2. This friend however, is such a loving, warm, gentle, nurturing person with a total heart of gold. Friends 1, 2 and 3 are all close.

So. Here's the issue I'm having.

Friend 3 had a pretty horrible and untimely death occur (sister passed from drug overdose). This was very shocking. Naturally, me, Friend 1 and 2 reached out to Friend 3, and offered her unconditional love, help - we kept her house running while she was away, watched her pets, offered to bring her food, offered to run errands for her or drive her to places, whatever she needed, no questions asked. She barely took any of us up on these offers, even when we showed up unnanounced at her house to just give her hugs. However, what we learned from all of this is that her coping mechanism is to completely withdraw, and withdraw she did. In fact, in the past 6 months since this occurred, we've barely heard from her and it's upsetting. Me and Friend 2 have been calling/texting/emailing, pretty much stalking her on a weekly basis, sometimes daily for the past few months, just to check in to make sure she's ok and...nothing. Radio silence.

About a month or so ago, I somehow managed to crack the shell and she was responding to me. Her answers were all one word answers and she claimed she was fine and committed to various plans. But then she systematically blew off any/all plans that she said she would attend. Meanwhile, we found out that she was acting normal as can be on Facebook to other people that have more distant friendships with her than we do, including going out with them on the town, etc. As a friends group, we've talked about it and we're upset. We've tried being supportive and there for her and she's blowing us off completely. If it wasn't for the death, we would seriously think that she had friend-dumped us and would move on otherwise.

Well, this week me and my other two friends received a random group email from her in which she apologized for being distant. It was short and didn't seem too sincere, but basically just said that she is sorry for blowing us off and being distant when we were trying to be good friends. I'm not going to lie, I was actually pretty upset when I saw the email - I don't know how to respond. Obviously, I want to support her and continue with our friendship. However, in thinking back to even when things were good between us before the death, I made all the plans and kept our friendship rolling. I'm feeling really hurt that she totally blew all of my attempts at hanging out together off. She blew off my sympathies. She blew off my offers to help. All of it, and I'm feeling upset and angry that she feels that this one apology email will fix things. Friend 1 is furious and wrote back to the email that she's upset and confused by all of this behavior. Friend 2 has not responded, but we had coffee and she is really upset.

Please help me figure out this friendship. Is she not invested? I don't know how to respond to her. What I would like to happen is for us to be friends and to both actively work on our friendship. However, I feel this might be one-sided, or if we patch things up she's going to continue holding us all at arm's length. Is it worth it? Has this happened to you?

Any advice is greatly appreciated.
posted by sockorama to Human Relations (49 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Your friend is grieving a loss. Please be patient with her. Please weigh your hurt at being "blown off" against her hurt at losing a sister to a tragic death, only six months ago. I would suggest taking her cues, and backing waaaaaaaay off, and just letting her know you'll be there whenever she is ready to re-enter the friendship circle.
posted by nacho fries at 4:33 PM on December 12, 2012 [23 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so far - I don't mean to threadsit, but I just wanted to add that of course I know she's going through a traumatic loss. I guess what we're confused about is how she is acting like nothing is wrong to other acquaintances and it almost feels like she's taking it all out on our friendship? We're confused and worried by the erratic behavior. She is in therapy.
posted by sockorama at 4:37 PM on December 12, 2012

However, what we learned from all of this is that her coping mechanism is to completely withdraw, and withdraw she did. In fact, in the past 6 months since this occurred, we've barely heard from her and it's upsetting.[...] If it wasn't for the death, we would seriously think that she had friend-dumped us and would move on otherwise.

I'm not really clear how this isn't clear to you. Her coping mechanism when she's in pain is to distance herself from the people she's closest to (i.e., the people she'd have to talk about her feelings with). This is not undone by the fact that she's putting up a brave front on Facebook or is socializing with people she's not as close to (i.e., people she won't have to talk about her feelings with).

She is going through serious grief and a significant loss. I understand that she's not showing it the way the three of you think you would show it under the same circumstances, and I understand that you miss your friend, but I would gently but firmly suggest that your putting pressure on her to be an equal partner in your friendship unit is unrealistic, unfair, and somewhat lacking in empathy.
posted by scody at 4:37 PM on December 12, 2012 [85 favorites]

Ugh. If I were your friend, knowing how I respond to stress and problems and how I want the people around me to act, I would have a really, really hard time being around you when you had done things like call me repeatedly and show up at my house unannounced when it was pretty clear that I wanted to be alone. That would have made every day so much harder for me -- not knowing at which moment I would have to deal with people who I pretty obviously don't know how to deal with, always having to be on edge. The fear when the doorbell rings because I'm not prepared to deal with anything and you're making me do things that will make me worse.

We've tried being supportive and there for her and she's blowing us off completely.
Again, I'm speaking as me and from my experiences, but it sounds like you failed, HARD, at being supportive, and instead became a source of stress. I talked about my reaction to my well-meaning friends during my depression before (2nd comment), and you sound like the friends that I have no regrets about dumping -- even though they were doing what they thought was right and are very nice people -- they couldn't give me what I needed, and would never be able to understand that.
posted by brainmouse at 4:37 PM on December 12, 2012 [42 favorites]

You actually describe your behavior as "pretty much stalking" - and I would have blacked your eye if you showed up unannounced when I'd made it really really clear that I didn't want contact - so I'm a little surprised that you think that she might possibly not feel overwhelmed, annoyed, and frustrated with you.

Look, it's clear you and your friends were trying to be helpful, but you weren't and aren't respecting her space or her grieving process at all. Back way the hell off and stop trying to get her to do what you think she ought to do. It won't work, it's actively hurtful to her, and it will eventually get you friend-dumped if it hasn't already.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:38 PM on December 12, 2012 [15 favorites]

Ugh, I'm sorry if I was your friend I'd be avoiding you too. You know this person withdraws when they're upset and then you show up at their house - which is normally a safe place for people - unannounced? Oh my god I would never speak to you again if you did that.

You screwed up, you should probably apologize for showing up without warning, and then let her decide if she wants to communicate again, and let her do it in her own time.
posted by FritoKAL at 4:40 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm feeling really hurt that she totally blew all of my attempts at hanging out together off. She blew off my sympathies. She blew off my offers to help. All of it, and I'm feeling upset and angry that she feels that this one apology email will fix things. Friend 1 is furious and wrote back to the email that she's upset and confused by all of this behavior. Friend 2 has not responded, but we had coffee and she is really upset.

I hate this stuff. First of all, quit talking amongst yourselves about how awful Friend 3 is. Second, the point of "sympathies" and "help" is to make your friend feel better, not to guilt her when she doesn't respond in the way that you would like. If your friend senses even a fraction of what I am getting through your question, she's probably feeling totally uncomfortable grieving around you because you are making demands on her behavior and expressing frustation when she doesn't comply. She's probably sought out people who are putting less pressure on her to act a certain way.

Why are you forcing this issue to the forefront during such an awful time? Step back from the drama and rethink the meaning of "friend."
posted by murfed13 at 4:40 PM on December 12, 2012 [38 favorites]

She blew off my sympathies. She blew off my offers to help. All of it, and I'm feeling upset and angry that she feels that this one apology email will fix things. Friend 1 is furious and wrote back to the email that she's upset and confused by all of this behavior. Friend 2 has not responded, but we had coffee and she is really upset.

It's not about you. Any of you. Respond with "I'm here if you need me", and then back the hell off. Your constant pressure is imposing a further burden on your grieving friend. You need to give her time and space.

You are upset because your grieving friend is not taking the time to make you feel better. Think about that for a second.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:45 PM on December 12, 2012 [48 favorites]

Best answer: Also sometimes it's hardest to be around your closest friends when you are hurting because you are scared of the floodgates opening and just having your feelings overwhelm you. Close friends are sometimes a reflection of yourself, and if you are trying to escape yourself for the moment, being with people you aren't that close to can be easier.

Give her space. Write one last email saying something along the lines of "Thanks for your last email. I know you're still grieving and I understand your need for distance. But I love you and hope that you know I'm available to talk, or just to have fun, whenever you are ready".
posted by greta simone at 4:50 PM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

Your question about whether you are being dumped as a friend should really be: How can I support my friend who recently lost a close family member?
posted by nanook at 4:52 PM on December 12, 2012 [14 favorites]

I suffered a loss 6 months ago so I know what your friend might be feeling.

In relation to this very situation I spoke up, which your friend probably isn't able to do. I told my supportive friend that I needed her to back off and leave me be for a while. She said that was fine and that she'd be there when I needed her. A few weeks past and I contacted her, told her I was ok but not to keep asking me how I was all the time.

Now that a few more weeks have passed I realise what a difficult time that was. I have made it out the other side and things are looking up. It was a dark time when I just wanted to be left alone.

I suggest letting your friend know that you're available when she needs, thank her for the email and then back off. She will join you when she is ready. You have been a great support in those first few months but now is the real grieving time, and often people just want to do that in peace.

Good luck with it all!
You sound like a great friend.
posted by Youremyworld at 4:54 PM on December 12, 2012

So, your friend apologized, and this upsets you?

Do you know how many times in my life anyone has apologized to me? I could count them on the fingers of one hand.

And you're upset because the apology isn't "sincere" enough to make up for six months of not paying as much attention to you as you want, when she's grieving a serious loss? Of her sister, who is 50% related to her, in tragic and sordid circumstances?

And all this time, you *knew* she would prefer to have space, and yet you acknowledge yourself that the way the group handled this was intrusive.

Here is what you say: "No, I am the one who should apologize, because I knew you needed your space to grieve, and yet I kept contacting you in ways that were intrusive. I really value your friendship and want to support you in whatever way you need. So, I will do whatever you want, whenever you want me to, and I will leave it to you to contact me whenever that time comes."
posted by tel3path at 4:57 PM on December 12, 2012 [30 favorites]

Look at your title for this post. It says a lot about your perspective, doesn't it?

I think it is you and Friend 2 who need to apologize for not giving her space, tell her you have figured out how intrusive your reaction must have felt, and explain it is because you were not perceiving that the help you were offering felt to her like being overwhelmed. Tell her you two are backing off and waiting with whatever help, support, assistance or anything she may want going forward, but you promise you will let her ask you in her own good time. And then do it -- back off and wait.

It's good you were willing to be actively caring. But you have to be sensitive to what people want and need. When she said no, you weren't listening. So do better in the future.
posted by bearwife at 5:02 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I cope with extreme stress exactly the same way as you describe your friend. I withdraw to the point of not answering text, emails, phone calls, and even my door. The harder people push, the less I want to be around them. I realize it's hard on people who care about me but it is crucial for me in order to deal with whatever situation I'm trying to handle.

The "normal" behavior you see on Facebook or with casual acquaintances is simply your friend operating on autopilot. They're easy, controllable interactions with little or no exertion required. She's saving her strength for her internal grieving process and, to be honest, hanging around with people who "borderline stalk" her or show up unannounced at her house probably requires more fortitude than she can handle right now.

Speaking as someone who is just like your friend and has friends just like you, please back way off. Drop her an email or note saying, "We miss you but understand you're going through a tough time. We're a phone call away if you need us, but realize you want your space. Let us know when you want to get together, whether that's six days or six months from now. Until then, we'll be thinking of you every day. Hugs to you."

Then let her call you when she's ready.
posted by _Mona_ at 5:07 PM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

I don't think you're being friend-dumped. And I don't think Friend 3 is being a bad friend.

Have you ever experienced a crisis of the magnitude of the one Friend 3 is dealing with? I ask because, if you haven't, you have no basis to understand what she's going through. I can tell you that this kind of grief is completely unpredictable -- no one, not even the one grieving, can know how it will make one act. Friend 3 withdraws as a coping mechanism. Fine. You probably have a coping mechanism too (maybe you don't even know what it is), and if you're ever in a crisis, I hope your friends will respect it.

Friend 3 has acknowledged your attempts to be supportive and has apologized for being distant. You need to give her some space now. Supporting someone means giving them what THEY need, not what you need to give. Friend 3 knows you care about her. Let her grieve how she needs to grieve. This isn't about you or your friend group.

Stop showing up at Friend 3's home unannounced (rude at the best of times), stop gossiping about her with Friends 1 and 2, and stop creating this drama that she really doesn't need right now. Respond to her e-mail to accept her apology, remind her that she can call you if she needs anything (but don't EXPECT a call), and then apologize to her for coming on too strong. If you truly care about her, you'll wait as long as it takes for her to be ready to socialize with you again.
posted by Boogiechild at 5:12 PM on December 12, 2012

Your script:

Hi friend,

Thanks for your email. I want you to know that I understand that you may need some space right now, and I will not take it personally if I don't see you for a while. Whenever you feel like you're ready, just give me a ring - I will be happy to hear from you.


Or just internally decide to stop considering this a close friendship and stop trying to contact her or making her a major focus of your attention and conversations.

In either scenario, stop making demands on her attention. Back off completely.
posted by prefpara at 5:13 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

You've overstepped the mark. Text, send a card or gift, but don't rock up to her house unannounced and don't get irritated when she don't respond exactly how you want her to.

Back off. This isn't about you.
posted by heyjude at 5:22 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you being friend dumped?
It doesn't sound like it, no.

Should you be getting friend dumped?
Oh holy hell yes the apology you would have got from me would be, if I retained super human self control, to block all of you on facebook/email/phone and put up a sign on my door saying GO AWAY SOCKORAMA
posted by jacalata at 5:23 PM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]

I think that maybe after the shitty, selfish, entitled email sent by Friend 1, Friend 3 could rightfully be reconsidering her friendship with the entire lot of you.
posted by elizardbits at 5:23 PM on December 12, 2012 [28 favorites]

> I guess what we're confused about is how she is acting like nothing is wrong to other acquaintances and it almost feels like she's taking it all out on our friendship? We're confused and worried by the erratic behavior.

The stakes are lower with her acquaintances; it doesn't take as much to seem "fine." She gets to feel like a functional person despite being traumatized, and they don't know her well enough to push harder.

There's a much bigger risk of vulnerability with close friends. They can tell when you're faking it. They'll ask questions.

Maybe she's not ready to fall apart in front of someone. Maybe she's afraid of what she'll say. Maybe the things she's thinking aren't things she's totally ready to deal with. Maybe she feels that she's got to keep herself pulled together to take care of others who are non-functional with grief right now. Maybe she's numb and/or having panic attacks.

> However, in thinking back to even when things were good between us before the death, I made all the plans and kept our friendship rolling.
> Please help me figure out this friendship. Is she not invested?

You're not acting very invested, considering you're angry and feeling dumped and questioning whether it's worth it to bother being her friend anymore because she's not putting your feelings first while going through a traumatic loss. (I don't even know what to say about retrospectively judging her for the past friendship dynamics as well, except to suggest that you put yourself in her place and consider how you'd feel about such an accusation.)
posted by desuetude at 5:25 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I went through a huge loss and pretty much did the same thing. Acted fine on Facebook because it takes me zero brain power to interact there, and I'm in control of what I say, without anyone challenging me, or worrying that I'll space out in a conversation, or realizing that I have nothing to offer a normally paced conversation, and could care less about whatever stupid drama you've had with a coworker or a lost purse in a taxi or whatever. My risk, for anything, is virtually zero there. And it's actually therapeutic - I can interact a bit, keep up with a few things in the world, and not feel completely isolated.

Friends who were demanding to know how I was doing, all the freaking time, were well meaning but exhausting, overwhelming and far too stressful.

Keep being present in her life, but in the background. One low stress activity for me was a movie with the promise of not having to chit chat for hours afterwards.

Don't forget it's the holiday season which is 5000x harder for folks who have lost a close family member. Especially when it's a recent, traumatic and emotional death like losing a sister so early in life.

Life isn't always like Sex and the City. People take way longer to bounce back than half a season.
posted by barnone at 5:27 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Six months is a heartbeat in terms of grief. Add the holiday season to that and the grief intensifies.

Each of us deals and heals differently. The key to this is for you and the other friends to realize the grieving friend is not in need of the style support you are offering. She may appreciate the love behind the actions, but the type of support is not what she needs at this moment.

Her Facebook postings are not of any bearing to her relationships with you three.

Just dial it back a few notches. Send cheery notes, make occasional offers to join you, but without expectation. Just keep the door open. She will step through the threshold when she is able. There is no timetable - it is what it is.

Truly being there for someone often means putting your needs/ego on the back burner for a bit. This is one of those times.

You all have good hearts and wonderful intentions. Her needs just don't mesh with your actions at the moment.
posted by cat_link at 5:30 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone - and even thanks for the more critical of responses. This makes total sense - I wasn't respecting her boundaries and need to back the eff off.

This was her email (verbatim) though, which I think kind of confused us? Ok, ok...on re-read, it did seem sincere and I'm being a jerk. But we've received other "I'm sorry" emails in the past for minor things. I think we're just confused by the "I need you" and the "I don't want to be around you" disconnect from her words versus actions? How do you handle this? Just offer to be there to put it on the table and then back off? Thanks again everyone. I really appreciate it.

Dear [Friends]:

I miss you guys. I know that I have not been around or reached out at all and don't really expect much from this email. All I can say is I am sorry. It turns out that dealing with [Sister's] death was a lot harder for me than I thought. I like to play the tough guy but truth is I am not. I closed that chapter of my life last week by going home and finishing cleaning out her house. It sucked, but I never have to go there again.

I have such major regrets about shutting everyone out during this time. Not only because I miss you, but because I really needed you and was so wrapped up in being strong that I completely neglected myself and all of you. I am sorry.

I am trying to turn this all around now and while I can't take the last several months back I hope that you all will give me another chance. I love you guys.

posted by sockorama at 5:34 PM on December 12, 2012

Best answer: Wow. Bluntly, I don't see how you took offense to that email. It does not read as insincere to me. My reply, if I cared about her, would be:

Oh my gosh, hon, why are you apologizing? You've been through a terrible loss, and I absolutely understand that, and I also understand that you need to grieve and heal in whichever way feels best to you. But please know that I am so happy to hear from you, and I am always here for you when/if you want to reach out -- and once you are ready, I would love to spend some time with you. I've missed you terribly. Whatever you need, just let me know.
posted by artemisia at 5:36 PM on December 12, 2012 [25 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry, but you are so majorly in the wrong here that I can't even begin to describe it. The fact that she felt she had to ask your forgiveness for her dealing with her grief is unbefuckinglievable.
posted by elizardbits at 5:41 PM on December 12, 2012 [69 favorites]

Best answer: Her e-mail is lovely and heartbreaking. I must admit, without assuming that the other three of you have become mutually reinforcing malcontents about it, I cannot understand your reactions to it at all. The fact that you find it insincere is utterly baffling to me, and your dismissive classification of it as "random," when it's obvious to me that this is a pouring out of her heart to the absolute utmost degree she can muster, is really confusing.

She is apologizing, she is telling you why she shut you out, she is telling you she knows she neglected her friendships with you and reassuring you that it wasn't because she didn't care for you and want to see you. She's telling you she hopes that period is over, and she is telling you she wants to go back to more closeness with her.

What more do you want? What about this is unsatisfactory? Are you telling me someone wrote back to her with a *nasty* email about this not being enough? This? Because ... that's really troubling, and calls for your friend who wrote a snippy response to apologize, like, A LOT, right now.

I really ... I am trying to be sympathetic to your position because I originally read you as simply missing her signals, but now I'm really feeling like you and your friends chose to work yourselves into a lather about how you were supposedly being mistreated, and you're having trouble retreating from that position. Let it go.

It was grief. Her reactions weren't about you. She reached out to you. The straightest talk I can muster? You've got to let this go, the lot of you, and hope she's understanding about the errors you've already made.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:43 PM on December 12, 2012 [34 favorites]

Sockorama, I would probably ask a mod to remove that email. It's extremely personal and if she's a mefite or stumbled upon this question searching grieving the loss of a sister or something this friend dumping would no longer be a hypothetical.

I'm going to be charitable and assume that some weird group think has worked you and your friends into an unreasonable frenzy. This email is not remotely confusing or insincere. This is miles away from erratic behavior. I really don't want to keep piling on, but you and your friends are really coming across as inconceivably heartless.

The meaning of her email is pretty clear. Dealing with her sister's death has been awful, and she couldn't handle maintaining her close friendships and grieving at the same time. Yet, at the same time, she cherishes you, and wants to start reconnecting with you now that she's had some time to heal. It's a process.

Sock - Is there something else going on here? Some repressed issues with your group and Friend 3 unrelated to this episode? Issues with the deceased sister? Anxiety about losing your extremely well-defined friend-group? Because otherwise your reactions here are, for lack of a better word, alien. I know she's in therapy, but maybe you should consider it too.
posted by murfed13 at 5:58 PM on December 12, 2012 [17 favorites]

I suffered a great loss when I was a young adult. I went to work and just worked -- it was such a break from what was happening to be there -- and I managed to be on "autopilot" with people I was not close to. It was actually a huge relief to be with people who didn't know me well. It was extremely hard with my close friends, as they wanted to comfort me and be there for me. It was really hard -- it's almost as if I had to help them cope with my loss. All that comforting and talking made me uncomfortable and very drained.

I didn't withdraw as your friend did -- but I sure as hell wanted to sometimes.

Please give her some space. This is about her and her needs right now. It seems like you two are good, caring people -- but this is something you probably won't understand unless it happens to you.
posted by Lescha at 5:58 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

About a month or so ago, I somehow managed to crack the shell and she was responding to me. Her answers were all one word answers and she claimed she was fine and committed to various plans.

You didn't "crack the shell", you broke her down, and when she finally responded curtly you couldn't take the hint.

Well, this week me and my other two friends received a random group email from her in which she apologized for being distant. It was short and didn't seem too sincere, but basically just said that she is sorry for blowing us off and being distant when we were trying to be good friends. I'm not going to lie, I was actually pretty upset when I saw the email

It wasn't a "random group email", it was an apology she sent to the three other people involved in this situation. She apologized for her coping mechanism, and felt bad that she let down people she thought were being good friends. Not only isn't that sincere enough for you, it was actually upsetting? What more do you want from her?

Is it worth it?

Not for her.

On preview: All three of you responded negatively to that email? That's fucked up. I can't believe grown-ass women are acting like this.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:58 PM on December 12, 2012 [29 favorites]


I'm sorry, I don't enjoy making you feel worse, and I can tell you're not a bad person, but... holy shit. What Room 641-A said, a million times.

I am really struggling to understand this. I think you and your other two friends have behaved atrociously.

Apologise profusely, and leave her the fuck alone.
posted by Salamander at 6:18 PM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

The Last Psychiatrist had some things to say about death and mourning just a couple of days ago that might make applicable reading.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 6:34 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

All three of you need to apologize to her.
posted by Sal and Richard at 6:53 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

I too withdraw when things get stressful. And regular texts/e-mails/visits from friends would really compile my guilt for not feeling able to be around them/interact with them.

I think if I were her, I would really appreciate getting e-mails/texts of things that bring a smile to my face and remind me of why we're friends, with no expectation of a reply. Not daily, but maybe once every week or two. It gently reminds her that you're still there, you care about her, and you're not mad at her for withdrawing. I think maybe even prefacing it with some sort of, "Hey, I know this is a really tough time for you, but every once in a while I see things I think you'd enjoy. No need to reply, just thinking of you!" would help her feel at ease.
posted by hannahelastic at 6:58 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is nothing about that email that is confusing: it is gracious, generous to you, and very open about where she is right now, and that she appreciates you and is trying the best she can with what she has.

I have had a lot of death this year, even in the past month. I dropped the ball on several commitments and other things. That email is the one I would like to send to many people, for variations of closeness or tasks I wanted to finish and just got derailed, and instead just lay down on the couch and cried or looked at my dog and told the dog not to get sick or anything and then cried on my dog. Or I had things to do that I needed energy for and people who were not my close friends--but rather my family--for whom I needed to be together and okay and able to do what needed to be done without losing it or making it about me and my needs. I can only step up for so many people's emotional needs at once.

And the thing is that I didn't lose either of my dearly loved siblings, and the deaths were not wholly unexpected. Still, I have had to be a new person with new roles and step up in new ways. I still have to go to work and take care of the rest of my life, too. I am tired, and I don't know if I can have the right feelings or face or expression or amount of socializing for the people around me who have set of expectations such as those laid out in your post, who show up at my house without warning, or text me until I have the right response. I am trying, believe me.

These are not people whom I could tell with all honesty that I--not having dependents besides pets--did nothing but play Angry Birds Star Wars all weekend and sleep. I would like to be believed if I say that it's not that I like Angry Birds Star Wars or light socializing at work more than my close friends, that I miss them and I'm trying and this is simply slow. I guess being taken at my word is something I expect from my close friends.

It's not that I don't understand the worry part of it from your side. I am an anxious person. Sometimes when my friends are going through hard times, I will know intellectually that they are busy and doing the best they can. I know that I myself react similarly--needing space and rest and to figure things out or just to be New Me and get on with things--yet I'll still worry that their silence is a judgment or rejection of me. But I cannot think of anything that would relieve and reassure me at my most anxious and rejected-feeling more than a kind message such as the one you've received. Moreover, I don't expect to receive that email from my friends in hard times, because I've learned that my anxiety and reactivity in relationships are my own issues to manage. They are doing me a kindness and thinking of me and my feelings/worry at a time when they have a lot on their minds.

I want you to realize that until this question, it never occurred to me at all that your friend's email, especially as quoted, could cause offense. I don't think you are intentionally being unkind or ungenerous. I do think you may want to consider...I don't know, maybe not therapy for certain...maybe reading up on interpersonal relationships/communication....maybe some introspection or mindfulness....maybe practice extending the benefit of the doubt when you are having trouble relating to a situation....maybe examine how you and your friends participate in relationship/friendship dynamics and reinforce each other. Perhaps try coming up with some different responses or ways of framing situations that are more neutral or assume a bit more of others, or practice derailing negative cycles that feed each other when you're with your other friends. I don't think the model you have been using is very constructive, and it seems inflexible, given how different people are in their responses and needs. I don't think your current model is contributing positively to being the kind of friend you want and intend to be.

It was wise not to write an email the way Friend 1 did: I think that hesitation may have saved your ass. At this point you can apologize quietly to your friend, shift your thinking about the situation and possibly-to-probably keep the friendship with someone who cares about you very much.

In the future, I think you should figure out what kind of response will make a painful situation easier and kindest for the close friend going through the hard time, and if it's possible for you to give that response, even if that doesn't feel genuine and sincerely representative of your feelings. These are good times to "fake it til you make it." It's okay to have those frustrated feelings and internal reactions, even if they aren't fair: feelings are feelings. It's how you manage the feelings and how you behave and treat your friend that matter. From now on I would also find a way to manage your worries about this friendship (or any friendship, really) that doesn't involve talking them over with Friends 1 and 2, because that seems to have contributed to the negative cycle here.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 7:20 PM on December 12, 2012 [13 favorites]

Its a really horrible and powerless feeling watching someone you care about go through a terrible time. I know I often find myself wishing there was something I could do to fix things for a loved one who is hurting. The human brain is a strange and twisty thing and sometimes that frustration can turn into victim-blaming - sometimes it's easier to believe that we have control over our lives than to acknowledge that sometimes the universe just sucks, there is no fairness and horrible, unfixable things happen,

You sound as though you care about your friend and very much wanted to help and support her, but I wonder if when she didn't let you support her in the way you wanted to, whether you didn't end up diverting some of the anger at feeling powerless to help her into anger *at* her - "If she would only let us support her she wouldn't feel so bad and we wouldn't have to see her in so much pain". Maybe she would have felt better for opening up to you - she seems to imply that in her email. But not everyone finds that easy and she was struggling to cope with a hard situation already. Possibly she also wouldn't have felt better for talking about it at length, it doesn't always help everyone.

Too be blunt you and friends 1 & 2 seem to have taken her tragedy and made it all about you and how upset you are that when she was going through a hard time she didn't live up to your expected standards. I think it came from an initial place of caring, but I do think you need to re-examine how you ended up blaming her for this situation.

I too am surprised you found her email "random" and insincere. It reads very sincerely to me and I wonder if you aren't feeling rather defensive on realising that rather than support your friend you have actually ended up being an additional strain on her.
posted by *becca* at 7:34 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

She is grieving. In order to be a good friend, you need to do whatever SHE wants and needs, not what you want. You are in the wrong here, you were being pushy, you were making it about your needs rather than her needs.

A while back, my friend A's father died (very young). I called her every month or two, to tell her I loved her and missed her, and if there was anything I could do, I was there for her. It took her over a year to call me back - it just took that long before she was ready to interact with her friends again. Six months is short; people process grief differently, and it's not uncommon to want or need time away from your friends.

I think you should write to your friend, sincerely apologize for not supporting her, sincerely apologize for being pushing, and tell her you will be there for her in any capacity she wants, anytime, but you won't push her any more. Email or call her every once in a while, or send a card, but stop pushing her.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:53 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your poor friend deserves so much better than what you and your friends have given her. Pasting her email here is an awful violation of her privacy. Please ask the mods to remove it.
posted by Mavri at 7:59 PM on December 12, 2012 [28 favorites]

When I lost my high school boyfriend of four years to suicide, I withdrew for two and a half years and then moved away (my friends had been OUR friends). This is her sister, lost to a tragedy. Others above have told you how to respond: "the door is open, I'm here for you." Leave the lines of communication open. That's honestly all you can do until she reaches out.
posted by dean winchester at 8:29 PM on December 12, 2012

However, in thinking back to even when things were good between us before the death, I made all the plans and kept our friendship rolling. I'm feeling really hurt that she totally blew all of my attempts at hanging out together off. She blew off my sympathies. She blew off my offers to help. All of it, and I'm feeling upset and angry that she feels that this one apology email will fix things. Friend 1 is furious and wrote back to the email that she's upset and confused by all of this behavior. Friend 2 has not responded, but we had coffee and she is really upset.

It sounds like you're punishing this woman for past issues in the friendship and using this event as an excuse to let some of that unhappiness you felt come out. While you are convinced, all three of you, that you have been awesome friends and that this woman deserves to get punished for not realising how awesome you are, you have not been awesome friends. You have done what you think she would want without ever considering her feelings and when she sends an incredibly nice note (and it is a very generous and kind note; reading it otherwise takes some doing), one of you sent a snippy reply at a point in her lifewhere she is, no doubt, feeling horrible. (I am not, however, dismissing that you acted as you did mainly out of a sense of kindness, but that doesn't excuse blaming her for not responding as you wanted her to.). I'd suggest that maybe you and friend 1 and 2 should either not hang out for a bit because this is not bringing out the best in any of you or, at least, stay off the topic of this friend if all you can do is talk about how awful she is.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:24 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

This was her email (verbatim)

You've chosen to cloak yourself in anonymity by using a sockpuppet account, yet you feel free to expose your friend's private thoughts for all to see by posting that email?

There are some major boundary issues at work here, both in your original post, and in your follow-up. It might be worth sitting down with a counselor, or at least doing some deep research and reading on the topic of healthy boundaries.
posted by nacho fries at 12:41 AM on December 13, 2012 [11 favorites]

I am stunned that you would post her email here -- a fragile, gracious message, from someone going through an absolutely crushing time to people who have failed to support her in precisely the way she needs. It is a terrible invasion of her privacy and you still do not seem to comprehend that she has legitimate boundaries that you are callously disregarding. Please ask the mods to remove it, and please consider how out-of-bounds your behavior is. I don't know what your real motivation is here for behaving this way to someone who is so vulnerable, but some soul-searching is in order.
posted by scody at 12:43 AM on December 13, 2012 [27 favorites]

I'm sorry, but seriously?

One of your closest friends suddenly and unexpectedly lost her sister.
She is extremely upset over it and she pulls away while she tries to process it. Despite your having described her as "loving, warm, gentle, nurturing person with a total heart of gold", you think this is somehow about you and you think she is being unkind to you.
You and your other friends push and force and intrude upon her, refusing to allow her to grieve as she needs.
You, albeit unintentionally, convince her she isn't "grieving right" because she isn't gushing emotions at you or involving you enough.
You make her feel so bad about not grieving the way you want that she actually APOLOGIZES for it, and you and your other friends take offense to it??
And then you post her extremely personal, tragic, and raw email on the internet for anyone to see with the intent to show people why it was offending?

None of this, not one thing that has happened, is okay. You have made your friend's sister's death about YOU and how YOU feel, and totally forgotten that it is about HER and how SHE feels. I understand that seeing your friend so upset and grieving is hard, and it can make you feel helpless, but you guys are not handling it right. You have compounded her immense grief with now guilt because you've convinced her she's been a bad friend. You guys are not acting like friends. The fact that you took any sort of offense to the email she sent her three closest friends (NOT random and NOT to a big impersonal group like you were implying) is tragic and speaks to the depth of your mishandling the situation.

Man up, apologize to her, apologize for being totally unsupportive, apologize for making her feel like she is doing something wrong, apologize for taking her already absolutely awful situation and making it worse. Tell her she is allowed to grieve in any way that she needs, and that you will still be there for her when she needs you, even if that isn't for months. So yes, after you apologize you should tell her you are here for her and then back the hell off.

I don't think you are a bad people, I am guessing the root of you and your friends' utter failure to support your grieving friend comes from your feeling helpless and wanting to make her better. I think you just kept pushing at her in ways that you figured you would want if you were going through something so horrible, and you never paid attention to all the signals she gave you that she needed something totally different.

I do think you owe her one gigantic apology, and you should probably spend some time thinking about how you guys made her feel through this. If you take everything people have written in response to your question here to heart you have a real chance to do some major growth so that next time a situation like this comes up you'll be more able to handle it.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:18 AM on December 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

Please, please ask a moderator to remove that email - I do feel that it is a very strange set of priorities to disguise your own identity while airing this deeply personal message.

For what it's worth, I was bereaved as a young adult, which all happened quite horribly and suddenly. There were people in my life who found it hard to deal with my grieving.

It is hard enough struggling with grief and loss without also feeling like a hopeless, uncaring, useless friend/family member. It took me a long time (including therapy) to come to understand who was the asshole in that particular scenario.

Yeah, surprise. It wasn't me.

I hope that the three of you take a moment -- a long, honest moment -- to take a good hard look at what you've been saying to her.
posted by raena at 5:25 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, all I can think is that you haven't been through the death of anyone close, and especially not the kind of shocking death that your friend has. You and friend #1 and friend #2 kind of sound like friends from college freaking out because people in their group are starting to get married and move into different phases of life. Your friend is moving to a place you (thankfully) have not been.

I agree with other people that you probably mean well, but you have totally lost perspective. Her behavior seems totally unexceptionable to me, and yours just seems terribly off. It seems like you have lost sight of your friend, and what is going on with her, because you're obsessed with this picture you have of your friendship. And this is the reason I'm chiming in-- it sounds to me like the drama among the remaining three of you has become a way of life. It's saturating your perceptions. The thing about this drama is that you could drop it and walk away from it tomorrow. I agree with lesbiassparrow that you probably should, at least for a while. Just for your own sake.

It's not like nobody ever responds inappropriately to death and illness among their friends. Friends and family members who are seriously ill have told me all the time about wildly inappropriate things that people have said to them, often with this exact problem of making it about themselves, or trying to control the situation. Seeing someone in this kind of situation is scary as hell and the impulse is to make it better somehow and it is very very common to wind up doing stuff that doesn't help at all. But you and your friends have worked yourselves into this kind of self-righteousness about it, which I think you would be hard put to sustain alone.
posted by BibiRose at 7:09 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, all I can think is that you haven't been through the death of anyone close

This was also my read. When my (divorced) parents died within six months of each other, just before I turned 30, almost none of my friends had had a parent die and most of them had no idea what the hell to do with me. I didn't withdraw completely, but I really only wanted to hang out with people who understood through experience what I was going through.

A few just dropped off the face of the earth for a while. Another few poked me (very gently) to come to dinner, or to let them bring some takeout over/do grocery shopping for me etc., but they really let me take the lead in how much interaction and what kind I wanted. Anyone who pushed me got the lockout.

When a friend does something that hurts you, I think it's generally okay to bring it up with the friend. But sometimes it's not all about you. Sometimes it's not about you at all.

You and friend 1 and friend 2 seem to have a very weird (to me) dynamic happening that's not healthy for the three of you or friend 3. You all need to step back and really look at what you're doing and what you did. And you owe friend 3 a huge, huge apology.
posted by rtha at 7:51 AM on December 13, 2012 [11 favorites]

Me and Friend 2 have been calling/texting/emailing, pretty much stalking her on a weekly basis, sometimes daily for the past few months, just to check in to make sure she's ok and...nothing.

This isn't being supportive, this is being burdensome. It may be the kind of support you and your friend group offer is just too full on for her. She very likely has absolutely zero capacity for dealing with anything and while I know you are just trying to help, I don't think you realise that you also demanding something from her with all of that contact.

So you know, just back off.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:22 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Much of what I could say has already been said in this thread, and said very well, so I won't repeat it.

Instead, I'll offer a spot of practical advice, and recommend that you read Slamming Open the Door, a collection of poems by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, chronicling the events following the murder of Bonanno's 21-year-old daughter Leidy in 2003. To my mind, it's one of the best illustrations of how grief does not necessarily "make sense." Grief happens as it will, no matter the intentions of the grieving, or, especially, of the people who would care for the grieving.

Generally the poems are at their most powerful when read together, in conjunction with each other, but one of them, a chronicle of absurdity, stands on its own:

What Not to Say

Don't say that you choked
on a chicken bone once,
and then make the sound,
kuh kuh, and say
you bet that's how she felt.

Don't ask in horror
why we cremated her.

And when I stand
in the receiving line
like Jackie Kennedy
without the pillbox hat,
if Jackie were fat
and had taken
enough Klonopin
to still an ox,

and you whisper,
I think of you
every day,

don't finish with
because I've been going
to Weight Watchers
on Tuesdays and wonder
if you want to go too.

posted by bakerina at 10:24 AM on December 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

I have one friend in this life who is closer to me than anybody else. Our mothers met when they were each pregnant with us. We have been closer than sisters since we were born. Everyday growing up if we weren't at one another's house we were on the phone for hours. Today we are as close as ever although we live in different cities.

13 years ago she lost her sister to a shocking car accident, it was the worst accident the police claimed to have seen, it was all over the local news before the family even knew it was Sophia in the car. It was sudden much like your friends sister.

My friend withdrew considerably, not just from me, but from society at large. In the 13 years since her sisters death I can still count on one hand how many times she has approached the subject with me.

I broadly agree with all the comments here that suggest you be patient with your mate. She could be like this for a very long time yet and she will never ever really recover from this. Death is something we all deal with in different ways. All she needs to know is that you're there for her when she needs you. I wouldn't put any more of your thoughts in feeling like the friendship is too hard because she's not around to hang out or doesn't call back enough at this point. It could take her alot of time to want to join that part of the world again. It's more a matter if you'll be there for her when she's ready or not.

It's such an awful horrible thing to have happened. The world can be so unfair. Wish you all well.
posted by Under the Sea at 2:07 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think what may have happened is that you 3 friends have still been communicating and discussing #4. During that time you have probably created a false idea of the truth, that just kept getting reinforced by talking/guessing/imagining how she was being. This led up to a buildup of frustration on your part, but at that point, everything you were discussing had nothing to do with what was really going on, and what #4's real needs were. You all were projecting your own needs onto her.

A friend and I just did this to a third friend. We weren't even conscious of the fact that we were doing it. All of a sudden I became aware that my friend and I were almost engaging in some sort of primal, pack/tribal mentality of ostracizing the third person and we were 'creating' a story that was not really reality.

(as soon as we realized this, we stopped, of course.)

You just need to step back and look objectively at the situation again. I am sure your compassion and sympathy will gain clarity.
posted by Vaike at 9:06 PM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

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