Trying to not burn that bridge
February 4, 2014 3:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm pushing away a (formerly close) friend and don't know how to stop. Please help.

Ok, long back-story... I lost my Dad to cancer two months ago. The last months of 2013 were... I don't even know how to describe that experience, the closest I can come up with, it felt like drowning. It was scary, and exhausting, and very very lonely.

Friends were supportive to varying degrees and there was only so much they could do... but in the last weeks of Dad's life, a formerly not-very-close friend became closer, calling often and having me over for tea/dinner many late evenings after coming back from hospice. We'd been part of a friend group for about a year before that, and seeing each other once or twice a week at group events, so we knew a lot about each other. But I really got to know her better last fall.

Her support, and friendship meant such a lot to me, and she's a great person. She shared a lot about herself. She had lost a parent too, a few years ago, and we found so much in common in our experiences. I thought of her like a sister almost.

So... then my Dad died. The first week or two after he died were, paradoxically, much easier for Mom and me than the months before. He wasn't suffering anymore, we were all catching up on lost sleep, and things got easier at work.

Almost exactly at this time, my friend got involved in a new project, which, though enjoyable, and not very strenuous in itself, was taking a lot of her time. She also became less communicative, going from texting every day or two, to not really reaching out to me personally during the next two months (I was still getting the group messages), and not always returning calls. I found myself really missing the closeness and connection but also afraid to appear too pushy/needy, and I felt embarrassed about how much I missed her, and how much I wanted to hear from her. (I mean, come on, I was not a teenager crushed by her BFF ignoring her, right?) But I felt lonely. I did call/message her a few times myself, too, but it seemed obvious after a time that I was more interested in frequent communication than she was. Intellectually, I also knew that some of it was the fear of being alone, and some of it was grief, and that I didn't really NEED to see her all the time, and that we probably needed to dial down the sharing-and-texting all the time anyway. But it was difficult, and sad, and embarrassing, and I missed her a lot.

We still saw each other at group events and over time, I started feeling really awkward around her. We had a few conversations where she asked what was bothering me and I was honest about my emotions, and I told her I knew it was my problem rather than hers, but it still put a strain on our interactions. She told me she was more introverted and that she didn't need to see her friends as often, and she needs a lot of alone time, that the frequent texts/calls were out of character for her but she'd wanted to support me back then, and of course I get it, or at least I should get it. I see my other friends much less sometimes and it's always been fine!

I am ashamed of the amount of hurt and resentment I feel, and have a hard time even being around her, even though I try to be friendly. But I can't bring myself to call her like in the old times, I'm acting distant at the weekly group events, and even though we agreed to meet up this week, I am more nervous than glad. I'm just so, so embarrassed, and like there's this weird power imbalance now, where I'm really vulnerable and she's the patient and understanding cool friend.

So, I guess, my question is - how do I get back my sense of proportion, and my sense of humor, and bounce back from this? How do I get over the embarrassment and sense of rejection? Please don't be too harsh with me if you can, I don't know if I can handle tough love right now. I'm mostly looking for tips on how to fake it until I make it, I know one day I will wake up and be my friendly self again. Hopefully.
posted by SecondSock to Human Relations (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is all wrapped up in the grieving process. You lost your Dad just two months ago, so the whole world seems entirely different, because it is...he's no longer in it.

I think this is just the thing you're focusing on right now. I'll bet your friend doesn't feel that you're being necessarily all that odd. I would get together with her, but then just cool things a little bit and regather yourself. You're don't have to keep the same emotional intensity at all times, and right now, I think you need to focus a little bit more on yourself.
posted by xingcat at 3:40 PM on February 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

You are dealing with alot of loss. It makes emotional sense that this is impacting you bigger than it may have at other times with other people. Also, it could really account for many of your feelings. Grief does weird things to social relationships and how people relate to others.

I think the easiest method is to dial down and keep on working at it. I might say something along the lines of "you know, things have been really wonky recently with everything going on and I don't feel like the real me anymore. Can we go out and have some fun?"

In addition, be patient with yourself.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:40 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If she is your friend, then you should tell her what you posted her.
posted by Flood at 3:54 PM on February 4, 2014

I reached out to a not-close friend in a similar fashion when her grandmother was sick. When she died, it triggered latent grief over my own grandmother's passing, and I had to pull back a bit to process things. So it's possible that her withdrawal has nothing to so with you. Treat yourself gently.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:01 PM on February 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

This sucks and I totally would feel that weird embarrassment you're feeling. But, it sounds like she was pretty straight with you when you shared your feelings:

"She told me she was more introverted and that she didn't need to see her friends as often, and she needs a lot of alone time, that the frequent texts/calls were out of character for her but she'd wanted to support me back then..."

So how would I bounce back from this? By pretending in my mind that she was some kind of health care worker who's job it was to reach out and help me in my time of need. That perspective might make the sting of her backing off feel less personal to you.
posted by wxysock at 4:19 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm mostly looking for tips on how to fake it until I make it,
and I think this is a great idea, and probably the most effective. No need to keep hashing this out with her. When you see her at the group events, and you feel yourself acting distant, make a little bit of extra effort to connect with her (draw her into a conversation, for example). Remind yourself how much you appreciated her support and how much you enjoyed getting to know her better.

I feel like there's a word for this, but basically it sounds like she is the kind of friend who can be very supportive in a crisis, but is not necessarily the kind of friend with whom you'd share your every day life. There's room in our lives for all kinds of friends, in my book.

And if it really begins to feel like a lot of effort to fake it with this person, pull back and give yourself a break. I'm sure if anyone could understand your need to do so, it'd be her.
posted by sm1tten at 4:30 PM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

When my dad died, I noticed that most people's reactions to my loss had a lot more to do with them and their own stuff than with me. Especially the people who weren't close friends, who I felt comfortable just asking for help. Some acquaintances opened up to me in an intimate way. Some dropped everything to help. Others kept their distance and never brought it up.

In the case of your friend, your father's situation may have triggered major emotions. Or she may be someone who tries to "save" people she deems to be "in crisis" so you were her first priority for a while, but no longer. Maybe she was uncomfortable at the intimacy that was happening and wanted to cool off. Whatever the case, it probably has nothing to do with you. It also doesn't necessarily mean she's a bad person, although it sounds like she's currently not equipped to be the kind of friend you need right now.

Right now, you are looking for support while you grieve your dad. I'm going to suggest that you seek out a grief support group in your area that is run by a professional, and/or reach out to any spiritual community you have ties with. This is not to replace help and support you are receiving from friends and family, but to widen your circle of community. I think if you get that support you may find it easier to deal with your questions about friendships. Wishing you the very best and hoping you give yourself lots of caring and patience as you deal with this life-altering experience.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 8:18 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Please don't be hard on yourself. Losing a parent can be one of the hardest things we ever face and you're still processing that. This friend supported you through the first segment of it, but you're not through grieving and yet she's not as there for you as she was in the first segment of it. Of course you crave and miss her support. Of course you wish it were there as much as it was.

Don't be embarrassed, but if she can't support you as much now as she did before, you have to just remind yourself to be glad the universe sent you her friendship for those terrible months last year, and try not to be angry at her for not extending the same support through this chapter.

Hopefully, before long you will a little more healed, it will all be slightly less raw, and you won't associate her as closely with your pain and grief and need. When that happens, you can have a different kind of friendship.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:27 PM on February 4, 2014

Thank you very much for the answers so far. I think I might have over-stressed the grief issue, sorry about that.

Just to clarify, I am not really asking how to get support. I think I have a strong support network right now. The question is more about how to get out of this emotional mess, and not burn the bridges with this friend, which is what will happen if I keep brushing her off and acting distant which is unfortunately what I am doing right now.

Because, to be fair to my dear friend, she never brushed me off when I wanted to meet, not a single time. From her perspective, because we talked about this, she still regarded me as a close friend, and couldn't understand how I could possibly feel rejected, because we were seeing each other all the time, and talking all the time, just that 90% of the time it was me initiating things. So, in all fairness, the problem seems to be 99% my wounded pride. I know what I need is time but I am actively hurting the friendship in the meantime and I want to stop.

I wish we could just start over and have fun together again, BFFs or not.
/end of threadsit.
posted by SecondSock at 10:26 PM on February 4, 2014

it sounds like she is the kind of friend who can be very supportive in a crisis, but is not necessarily the kind of friend with whom you'd share your every day life.

This is the kind of friend I am. I am busy and stressed out and overtaxed and easily exhausted by people I don't have very much capacity for the regular maintenance most friendships (particularly in my experience friendships between women) seem to require. However, in a crisis I will drop everything to be there however you need. If you are having a baby, I'll come for the birth and to be your post-partum doula. If you are in hospital, I will visit you daily -- twice a day if you're short of visitors! If you are laid up, I will spend a day cooking to stock your freezer for you.

People are individuals and there is no One True Model for friendship, so I've always just looked at it like I have different friends suited for different needs. Some of my friends are great for unloading, others are good at problem solving, others are people I know I can call on when the shit hits the fan, one friend is perfect for shopping with, etc. I think being able to pull from a variety of people to get your needs met is a healthy thing to be able to do.

So, in all fairness, the problem seems to be 99% my wounded pride.

I... do not understand this. I don't get where pride enters into this. Are you thinking that you misunderstood the friendship and the lowered communication level must mean you like her more than she likes you? Because that's not what she seems to be saying to you. Embarrassment seems like an off-piste response to me, is all.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:38 AM on February 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

I wonder if the wounded pride part comes from having built up a delicate rapport in which you felt safe to be vulnerable with this friend... only to discover that it was a choice for her to be supportive, while being in a grieving state is not a choice for you. There's a power imbalance there to be acknowledged and handled mindfully, for sure.

She told me she was more introverted and that she didn't need to see her friends as often, and she needs a lot of alone time, that the frequent texts/calls were out of character for her but she'd wanted to support me back then, and of course I get it, or at least I should get it.

To be told this after an extended period of frequent emotional support would leave me feeling that I can't trust this person to be straight and real with me (ummmm coming with you to hospice, and then suddenly MIA -- yeah, that is mixed messaged-behavior). I would guess that she wanted to be helpful at the time, but struggles with her own boundaries when it comes to helping people, and so when it came to the real moment of grief support she pretty much flaked out. I would also have wounded pride too for developing a trust for someone who has now shown their capacity to switch it off when it suits them, and that they're perfectly fine doing it while you're still in the crux of your particular situation.

I agree with others that her behavior has a lot more to do with her own stuff than with you. The most courteous thing would have been for her to own it, e.g. "I'm sorry Secondsock, but I'm afraid I'm having too many of my own issues coming to surface to be able to support you further at this time. I need to step back, and hope you will continue to find good support through this." (that way you could have known clearly at the time that you needed to really focus elsewhere for support)

Continue to be gentle with yourself and mindful of the fact that you're in the grieving process, and continue to observe (from a wiser distance now) where the limits of your friendship with this person actually are (in order to satisfy your own need for assurance that you won't be dropped like a hot potato in a sensitive situation by this friend again). I say this keeping in mind that neither you nor her really did anything "wrong" -- grief just is a tricky territory to navigate, that's all.
posted by human ecologist at 12:43 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow. So your friendship was built around processing your loss. And now that the immediate emergency is over, she pulls out. And you find out she saw her part more as first aid than as part of mutual deep friendship.
I understand feeling mortified, and understand the power imbalance.

Normally I would suggest not talking about feelings any more. All the important stuff has been said and talking it out again would just lead to her pulling back and you feeling worse. Normally I would suggest going out and doing something fun. Like going to the movies, or shopping or ice skating. Anything that discourages introspection and helps you have simple fun together, build a new rapport.

But if your friendship was always based on talking about feelings I am not sure that would work or feel awkward.

Ultimately, if this mess is too hard on you right now, don't be afraid of limiting contact with her for now, like you would do after a break up.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:26 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful responses. They really helped.

Not sure if anyone's still reading but here's my little update.

Friend and I are taking a break right now. Not officially, it just happened this way - neither one is contacting the other and we are cordial but distant when we bump into each other.

The break has been very helpful for me - I still have moments when I feel sad and pitiful but more and more days when I wake up and think "now, what was my problem, again?"
I have come to terms with the fact that she will not be my bestie, and can actually imagine having a more casual friendship with her some time from now. I also see that this has, in a sense, little to do with her and more with the pain of losing Dad forever. At some point, I kinda made her into a substitute parent figure or something, and when she pulled back I kinda had a prolonged panic attack. Or something.

I think my lesson from this is that sometimes the only way to not burn a bridge is to take a break before too much resentment builds up on both sides. And not to share too much before first figuring out what needs to be said and what doesn't.

I know I hurt her feelings, too, in the process. Right now I can't do anything about this but I hope the good she did and does will catch up with her.

Again, thanks everyone.
posted by SecondSock at 12:04 PM on February 11, 2014

This is another update from the OP.
Several months later, we are friends - again. The tension is gone. It was very, very hard for me to get over the feeling of rejection and loss. I needed a lot of time to grieve the feeling of stability and comfort I associated with this friend and their support. Looking back, I want to give old me a hug. I was in so much pain still from my Dad's illness and I had so much stress at work. I wanted to cling to my friend for comfort at the exact same time when she needed space. My poor friend, she also needed my support, in the form of leaving her alone, which was something I couldn't understand at the time.
It took months for the ice between us to melt, even though we were both trying. Looking back, I know what I should have done differently but I also realize I probably did the best I could. But it got better, and we are friends again, and I wanted to write this update before the thread got closed.
Thank you Metafilter.
posted by SecondSock at 11:53 AM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

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