Dealing with loss of friendshp
February 13, 2014 7:24 PM   Subscribe

How do you deal with a complicated loss of friendship that has no possible resolution?

For several years I had a very good friend. This was the type of friend I spoke with and saw on a daily basis. We are both in our late 30s and in a doctoral program so we have very flexible lives. Much of our lives revolved around going from one coffee shop to another working, discussing research, life, and also relaxing such as dinner, shows, etc. This was my life for the first three years in our program. I considered this person the person I trusted and cared about the most here.

A little over a year ago, this person suddenly and very abruptly stopped speaking to me, it felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath me, I never saw it coming. I tried to ask what was going on, but each time the discussion turned into very upsetting and hurtful arguments where this person became very upset with me. I was told that I should know why they no longer speak to me, but I don’t.

Throughout the last year and a half, I have tried to resolve the issue, and when it was clear that there was no way to resolve it, I tried to suggest we simply be cordial to each other, since we are in the same program and have mutual people in our lives. Each time I tried to discuss this with this person, there was no resolution or agreement of cordiality.

There was also a lot of gossip that there was more going on between this person and I, which was heightened significantly when our friendship abruptly ended. At times I wondered myself, but technically we were only friends that happened to spend a lot of time together and I cared about this person deeply.

I have been left with the aftermath: the loss of a friendship I cared deeply about, the gossip, and the uncertainty of still not knowing why this person I spent so much time with won’t speak to me. And it simply hurts. And I deal with all of this while having this person still present in both my work and social life, although they still will barely interact with me when we are in the same setting.

Having never been in this type of situation (I’ve never lost a friend, I’ve only had the “drift apart” occurrences) and having never been the topic of intense gossip, I don’t know how to deal with this. I am left feeling insecure about what people are saying about me and just simply sad over the loss of friendship. What should I do about this and how do I interact with this person? How do I get over the gossip? How do I get over the loss?

Would appreciate any advice. Thanks.
posted by lullu73 to Human Relations (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It may take me a few questions to tease out a useful answer for you, so here's the first one:

At times I wondered myself, but technically we were only friends that happened to spend a lot of time together and I cared about this person deeply.

What do you mean by technically?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:36 PM on February 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you have mutual people in your lives, maybe ask one of them what they think the problem is?

Or, if you and the other person feel comfortable with this, maybe have your mutual friend ask ex-friend specifically, "Hey, I thought you and lullu73 were friends, but you seem to be avoiding them now. What's up with that?"

I feel like the issue is going to turn out to be that this friend of yours had romantic feelings for you that were not reciprocated OR feels that you had romantic feelings and does not want to got here with you, though. That's the vibe your question is giving off, honestly.
posted by misha at 7:37 PM on February 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To answer both of your questions, I would say that I am not certain if there were romantic feelings. It was implied at times, but never stated directly. For me, the friendship meant more than if there were feelings. Also, for me understanding if that was the case isn't as difficult as trying to figure out how to deal with this loss which has been so sad for me, and how get over the gossip which has been so stressful. Thanks again.
posted by lullu73 at 7:58 PM on February 13, 2014

I pretty much had this exact thing happen to me. A person I'd been best friends with for YEARS suddenly (to me) stopped speaking to me and wouldn't/couldn't tell me why. Mutual friends couldn't really tell me why. I tried numerous times to call, email, write her actual letters, ask mutual friends to plead my case (I kind of cringe now thinking back on all this) to no avail. She simply didn't want to know me anymore.

For years, I tormented myself about what I'd done wrong, what I could have done differently. I finally came to the conclusion that there wasn't one dramatic episode of wrongdoing, it was probably a lot of little things that she and I just viewed totally differently. People are weird.

Don't play into any gossip or drama. If someone brings it up to you, decline to discuss it. If you see this person, be polite and pleasant but not overbearing. I'm sorry you're going through this. If someone doesn't want to be your friend anymore, you really can't talk them out of it or change their mind. Eventually, you may come around to the fact that you wouldn't want to be friends with someone who would turn on you like that. There's really nothing you can do but conduct yourself as well and as maturely as possible.
posted by Aquifer at 8:01 PM on February 13, 2014 [18 favorites]

...and having never been the topic of intense gossip, I don’t know how to deal with this. I am left feeling insecure about what people are saying about me....

People like to talk. When you do the right thing, they talk. When you do the wrong thing, they talk. Best way to not let it get to you? Ignore them.

What should I do about this and how do I interact with this person?

Why not surprise this person and ignore them better than they ignore you?

How do I get over the loss?

Like the many, many losses we all face at some point or another? Not always getting over it but more like accepting/resigning to it. I'd be more concerned about keeping my dignity intact (when I look back in five years, not for others) than any gossip or person. If someone does not treat you right, you need to treat yourself better.

Walk away. Now, and for good.
posted by xm at 8:14 PM on February 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Here's what to do:

Be cordial when at the same function but stay out of contact with him; continue not to talk to him. Again, be cordial. Don't make eye contact with him, don't talk about him with other people.

If people are gossiping about you, let them. It's tempting to try to do story control but it never works out. People who are worth half a damn to you are people who know the truth and won't gossip. Everyone else, just be cordial to them when you have to be in contact with them.

As for how to get over it: Give it time. Let yourself be sad. If he won't give you any indication at all of what upset him so much and if he won't even broadly hint at what you did to upset him even when you spend a year and a half trying to sort it out, I think we can safely say that this was a matter completely beyond your control. So just sort of give yourself some time to grieve. In time it'll get better.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:15 PM on February 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

His reasons are his own. Accept that and move onward with your life. It's his call and he's made it.

If someone asks you about him you only say "I haven't run into him lately. I hope he's doing well." Later. Rinse. Repeat. Be polite and be positive. If you run into him it's the same thing, polite and positive, but uninterested.
posted by 26.2 at 8:48 PM on February 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm going to let you in on a little secret that will help you all the days of your life from here on out. Are you ready?


Please, digest that. Really process it.

The only person whose opinion of you that matters is your own.

I want you to reframe this entire thing. Since you did nothing wrong, that's the end of it. I want you to hold you head up, flip the script, and emerge stronger and more centered in your belief in yourself.

I want you to give zero fucks about all of this useless drama!!

First of all, this is distracting you from your goals, so that enough is reason to rise above it and pay it no more energy. This situation you are worrying about, the act of worrying in and of itself, is NOT enriching you in the slightest.

Second of all, the more worry and attention you give it, the more it will stay a topic of gossip. The quicker you drop this from your mental repertoire of topics, the quicker others will drop it.

I'm older than you. I know right now you're reading this thinking, "But, but, but!" Hear me when I tell you there is nothing more or less to this situation. Life experience proves to me my prescription to you for dealing with this is the right way out of it.

Lastly, go ahead and get comfortable with the Unknown. We can never ever know what is going on with someone else. Period.

Oh! PS - If I had to guess, I'd say it is highly likely someone else in your program backstabbed you and lied to your friend about something you supposedly did or said. Your ex friend has showed poor character, even if this is not what happened, so you are better off putting your energy elsewhere, in any case.

I could go on here about the politics of competition and the pitfalls of pursuing career goals in a viper's nest type of environment, but why bother?

Next time, be colleagues yet resist friendship. Be professional and cultivate relationships outside and away from your work life.

The bonus for doing this? You'll have a much more varied and fulfilling life experience!

Best to you.
posted by jbenben at 10:13 PM on February 13, 2014 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Whatever happened, it wasn't anything you intentionally (or perhaps even accidentally) did, and so it isn't really your fault. Even if it were your fault, his unwillingness to have a cordial conversation -- or even state the specific thing* you supposedly did to cause it -- absolves you of much of that responsibility. The core thing is that he wants this to be your relationship now, and there isn't anything you can do about it (even if you knew what the root cause was, he doesn't want to fix this, therefore there is no fixing to be done.)

So now what? Well, you move on. If you had lost this friend in an accident or to an illness, it would hurt but you'd move on. He's made himself effectively dead to you, so grieve and move on. When others speak of him, speak as of the dead: respectfully, kindly, but not at all at length, and no speculation about the present state of his affairs. If someone asks you what happened between you, you can truthfully and thoughtfully answer "I have no idea, but I don't dwell on it", then move on with the conversation.

If you encounter him, ignore him unless impossible, then be cordial. Obviously if he's standing there you can't treat him like a dead person, but you can treat him like a ghost; something to acknowledge and perhaps avoid pissing off until you can escape, but not someone to talk to or get to know better or try to solve problems with or bring back to life.

Best of luck. You'll recover, as soon as you stop trying to figure out what caused it all, and just accept it as a tragedy that you'll move past soon.

*being angry at you and saying "you know what you did" is something kids outgrow, not something adults do
posted by davejay at 10:21 PM on February 13, 2014 [9 favorites]

The fact that this (guy?) is so unwilling to even discuss or resolve the issue tells me that this person is horribly emotionally immature, and you do not want someone like this in your life, regardless of the nature of the relationship. Whenever someone just flat out refuses to discuss a 'wrong' you've done them, something fishy is usually going on. Especially when they act all dramatic like you've done something unforgivable when you know you haven't. In cases like these, it's almost always about the person looking for an out, manifesting some unforgivable lie and throwing it in your face so they can escape cleanly without being the 'bad guy.' It sounds like this person is too weak to tell you to your face that they want to disconnect. It sounds like they're a typical squirrel. A loser. I agree with some of these responses in that you should drop it. Hold your head high, be polite, and don't act submissive or strange. Just go about your business and make a new friend. Laugh and be merry. This person has already wronged you, don't give them any satisfaction by acting mopey or sad. As for the gossips, half of it is probably imagined by you, the other half, F them!
posted by OneHermit at 11:02 PM on February 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Time will help take the sting away, some. It’s likely that you’ll soon have distance on your side too, as your situations change, is that right? In the meanwhile, hang onto actions to get you through interactions. I like the above thoughts.

I think it might be expected (though hurtful; no doubt it must have added to your pain) for a tight group to pick up on and speculate about the intensity of the friendship and its end, but it’s been a year and a half – do you sense the gossip’s cooled at all? Have you held back from others because of (understandable) mistrust? It’s unfair that this person’s ended things in such a callous and abrupt way, and that on top of it you feel you’re stuck with a kind of stigma. Forget that. You’ve done nothing wrong.

If you’ve been more reserved than you were, it might be people are responding to that, a bit. Behave as though you could take their words and actions at face value, and don’t look deeper. Show up at events and smile through them, and most people will fall in line.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:05 PM on February 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Been there, done that, still hurt/bitter about it in retrospect. (Although mine didn't have a tinge of romantic feelings screwing anything up.)

Don't put mutual friends into this. Really, just don't. If they were equally your friends and your (ex-)friend's friends, then it's unlikely your ex-friend would be completely candid to them about the reasons for breaking up if he was unwilling to be candid to you. And if your mutual friends are more your ex-friend's friends than yours, they're unlikely to be straight with you and/or they may be betraying the ex-friend's confidance by telling you.

Be cordial in public, but mentally write off this guy. Perhaps you or he could extend the olive branch later in life, but for that to work he'd have to be willing to be frank with you. He's not willing to do that, at least not right now.

Take care of yourself and grieve. It is a loss.
posted by Zelos at 11:06 PM on February 13, 2014

Why are you still friends with shit-stirrers? People who are still discussing this, even though it happened eighteen months ago, are people who aren't good for you. Don't interact with people who aren't good for you. By exposing yourself to more gossip, you're making it more and more difficult to let go of the situation. People gossip as a way of socially interacting, and there's not very much at all you can do to stop it. It's just what people do. The best/only thing that you can do about it is to not be around it, as that will give the gossipers impetus to find something else to talk about. If there's nothing going on for them to talk about, they can't talk about it.

Ultimately, you can't control gossipers or shit-stirrers. They are going to say what they say no matter how you feel about it. What you can do is control yourself. Behave in an adult fashion and know that that's rather too boring for them to talk about. You can drive yourself mad trying to control the flow of information, but it's like a river. You can only control a little bit of it. If people are muddying the river then maybe it's time to climb your way out of it.

You can still be cordial even though the other person isn't being cordial. If you ever have to be in the same space, just don't interact unless you have to. Gossipers will love the two of you having a fight. Treat this person like you would treat someone waiting in a bus queue with you. Polite and civil, but without any extended explanation.

It sounds like you need to follow the grief process. You also need as much time apart as possible, and that includes not having other people remind you of what went down. Also have a read of this recent thread about someone who was friend-dumped.

It's not much comfort, but things don't always end cleanly, especially when dealing with something so complicated as another human being. I agree that this individual didn't handle things in the most adult way, but people aren't always at their best when they're upset about something. If I were to speculate, I'd suggest that this person saying that you should already know what was wrong was their way of trying to arrange things so that they don't have to have what would be a very unpleasant conversation where they say something to you that will likely hurt you a lot.

I had to cut a friend out of my life a while back, and while I wasn't particularly fond of this person, I still didn't want to actively hurt them. It might be that this individual feels a similar way. I don't feel good that I had to be explicitly clear about how I felt about my ex-friend, at all. In an ideal world, we could have drifted apart without having to set fire to the bridge - I don't think that her knowing exactly how she upset me made her feel any better about things.

Right now you need to focus on yourself and do things that make you feel better. Maybe that's making some new friends, maybe it's taking some time to really ask yourself why you're still attaching yourself to this.
posted by Solomon at 12:04 AM on February 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

It sucks and you'll have to grieve it and that's it. As for this person, rise above pettiness and be cordial to him/her.

Stop tormenting yourself about it. For whatever reason this person has stopped being your friend, and it's awful, but my, what a Drama Llama! Who does this? Who just stops talking to someone and drops them? If this person WAS such a good friend, then this person would speak to you about whatever it was rationally with you.

You are well out of this.

What you remember and enjoyed about your friendship, is no more. Pretend that the person died, because it sounds a bit "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" your friend has been replaced with a cold, nasty pod.

So mourn the death of the friendship, and move on.

This will also kill the gossip. Once you stop wringing your hands, and getting dewey eyed and upset when you see this person, you'll become uninteresting to others. The longer you pine away, the more the gossip will escallate. Starve the whole thing of oxygen.

Become busy with other things and other people. Nurture new friendships, find new interests, focus on your dissertation/research whatever. Date. Volunteer. Read novels.

Eventually, you'll look back on the good times fondly and shake your head, "Gosh, what a shame about Pat, too bad that Pat got turned into a Pod-Person." And you'll feel nothing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:34 AM on February 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I am not certain if there were romantic feelings. It was implied at times, but never stated directly. For me, the friendship meant more than if there were feelings.

Fwiw, though, I don't think friends get to ignore these kinds of signals. Once one friend is pining after another it sort of makes it hard to be around them. Do you miss your friend so much that it makes you realize you might be interested in them as a partner? If so there may be a chance. But for future reference, if someone else is falling in love with you and you don't reciprocate, it may be a bit unkind not to pull back and spend less time together.
posted by onlyconnect at 7:00 AM on February 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I wanted to say thanks for all of your good advice and thoughts on this matter. I'm taking it all in and to heart. I appreciate you all taking the time to help provide ideas and reflections. This has been one of the most difficult things I've ever been through and your help is greatly appreciated.
posted by lullu73 at 7:37 AM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

You really shouldn't concern yourself with gossip. Even if people are talking about it, genuinely they don't care. And if they think they care, they're fooling themselves. Think celebrity gossip, does anyone genuinely give a crap? Nope. People just talk about it so they don't have to think about their crappy lives, jobs, relationships, etc.

My coworker was once in your shoes. When asked she'd answer: "I have no idea. I tried and tried to figure it out and nothing. So.. Yeah, I don't know". *shrugs*

I've cut off a friend in my grad program. It never occurred to me to be uncivil or not courteous, though, since we had to still take classes together, be on the same campus, etc. It is pretty weird that this person is acting so immaturely. Maybe he/she did have romantic feelings for you. Maybe he/she doesn't want to tell you his/her motives because it might hurt you, as in some integral part of your personality. Who knows. The best thing you can do is to occupy your times so that you do not allow yourself to think about this. You know, get new hobbies, join a club (running/walking groups are great!), study in different places so you don't think about former friend.
Best of luck to you!
posted by Neekee at 8:01 AM on February 14, 2014

This happened to me as well. Only there wasn't an abrupt ending. She was angry at something I'd done but, despite my asking what that was, she only said "You should know." This was a platonic but close 30 year relationship. No matter how hard i tried, she refused to tell me.

It took me a while but I realized that she was being incredibly controlling and like most relationships in my life, in hindsight I knew she had always been controlling in one way or another (just not this bad). Finally, I decided that was it. The friendship was dead but not because of anything I'd done (that doesn't mean I wasn't guilty of doing something to hurt her; it means there was nothing I could do to fix things). After a very vitriolic email from her, I told her not to ever write me again. I thought long and hard about this and I am far from cavalier about my friendships. I value them greatly.

Two months later she sent a Xmas package to my children. Unsolicited and she never told me or asked me if I would be open to that. I thought about this and never gave it to them. They were fairly young. I simply did not want to engage in this passive-aggresive behavior.

A couple years later, after a horrific subway accident in my city she wrote an email asking how things were going. She never mentioned the accident. I wrote her back, told her never to contact me again, and to never ever send my children unsolicited gifts.

The bottom line (which took me a long time to get to) was that I realized I would never be able to trust her again. And we had been friends for so long, there was no other type of friendship that could survive.

As many have said here, you've tried to make things better. But your friend is unwilling to participate. You can't be friends with someone like that. It takes two people to have a great relationship. So, on this level you have to accept what is. Mourn the loss, yes. But also be aware of this reality.

Having gone through this, I know how much it hurts. And I'm sorry for your pain. Sometimes relationships suck. But other times they are amazing and supportive. And I hope you find a supportive relationship again.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 9:22 AM on February 14, 2014

I've been party to something like this a few times. Every single time it's been because the parties wanted very different things from the relationship and it all just got too painful and imploded. From what you've said, I'd guess something like that was at work here -- especially because it can be really difficult and embarrassing to say things like

"Even though you've never asked me out or tried to kiss me, I'm getting a vibe that you are into me and it is making me uncomfortable because I don't reciprocate that / because I don't want to be party to you cheating on your significant other."

"I have a massive crush on you and though I want to support you as your friend, it hurts too much to listen to you talk about your dates / new relationship."

"I have a significant other and don't want to cheat on them, but I'm starting to feel really close to you in a way that is confusing me."

"I like spending time with you, but not THIS much time. You've gotten way too demanding and I need you to take a giant step back."

...even when those are the true explanations for why the friendship had to end.
posted by shattersock at 11:00 AM on February 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

:( As a teenager I had a romantic idea that friendships would be my constants. This has seldom played out. Some people can be philosophical about this stuff, others are more agonised by it. I tend to fall into the latter category. You sound like a caring and reflective friend... what greater traits can a person offer a relationship? It's shit and it probably hurts a shed load. It would be good if you had someone far away from the tangles of it to talk to, to grieve to.

This shit really knocks your faith in people and in trust. It can come back slowly, in time and safe places.
posted by tanktop at 2:16 PM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was told that I should know why they no longer speak to me, but I don’t.

I've had a couple long conversations with different people similar things have happened with (You know what you said to x!), and each time I've managed to slowly drag out an actual answer from the person it's turned out that it's due to some sort of almost conspiracy theory type line of reasoning that I could never have manged to imagine.

Sometimes that sort of discussion can be good for damage control, but it's not the sort of thing that makes me want to be friends with the person.

You are surprised by how this person acted, but it's entirely possible that they are the sort of person who has ended multiple friendships with people who "should know why" they aren't friends any more. All you can do about the gossip is try to stay positive and not let it get to you -- if anyone brings this up to you, your reaction should be something that will reflect well on you and avoid making it seem like you harbor negative feelings.

Sometimes the people we care about don't care about us. Best to know that, so your time is free to find people who are able to care about you back.
posted by yohko at 3:36 PM on February 14, 2014

You know, the ultimate 'revenge' for a loss of friendship (or breakup, or any possible jerk who treats you poorly) is acting with utmost grace that you can muster with all energy and passion, not saying a single bad word to them or about them or defiling them in any way, nor stoking any of the gossip or drama going around, and walking away.

I promise you that the person won't realize what hit them. If they are paying attention to you, they will have no clue what to make of this behaviour. And they will likely be the ones then posting a second question here to ask what it all means...

If you visualize the above scenario with 100% sincerity (vs any drama filled fantasy encounter that we soooo love to stab ourselves with over and over again), you can even begin to feel better within minutes. And if you actually do this, its a win-win scenario for you.
posted by xm at 7:32 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I want to thank everyone. I’ve never asked a question online so this was a new experience for me. Reading through these ideas really helped me understand how I feel and what I should focus on. A few things I learned from thinking about your advice might be helpful to others in similar situations so I outlined them below.

I’ve learned that understanding why this happened isn’t as important to me as figuring out how to move forward. I spent too long trying to figure out why; it’s nice to recognize that I’m moving past that. Aquifer, I want to thank you for sharing your own experience. The thought of how this person “simple doesn’t want to know me anymore” really helped me recognize how true and simple this is in a lot of ways.

There were many people who reminded me that doing my best to resolve this is something I can and should be proud about. This really helped me see that all I can do is ensure that I can be proud of my actions and keep my dignity, maturity, and respectfulness (as xm, davejay, others discussed).

Thank you all who addressed how to interact with this person now. The advice of treating this like a death has been particularly helpful, not only in how to deal with my own feelings, but also how to address this person if they come up in conversation for any reason. Also, this helped me realize that I need to think of this as a death of a friendship and go through the grief process, and that it is natural for me to be sad at times with this situation.

For those of you who addressed the gossip, thank you. I think that cotton dress sock really nailed it when you said how hard it is to feel like I’m stuck with kind of a stigma and how I pulled away from people, you are correct. Others discussed this may be in my own head, which is probably somewhat true, so thank you for reminding me of that.

Perhaps one of the hardest pieces for me at this moment is learning how to trust people again. Since I remained very closed-lipped about the problem and I pulled back from people, it left me very socially isolated and as a social person it has been very tough.

This is perhaps what I need to focus on now. What happened between me and this person is in the past, done, and very private. I did all I could to work it out and stay mature and respectful, but there’s no possible resolution. So I think at this point trying to figure out how to trust people again and build friendships again is perhaps the best thing I can place my energy on at this point. That and focusing on my work, which took a big hit last year because of all of this and is very important to me.

There’s a lot more here I could discuss, but I don’t want to make the post too long. Best wishes everyone and thanks again, you’ve all really helped…
posted by lullu73 at 11:07 AM on February 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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