What is it that people want when they give you the silent treatment?
May 1, 2014 6:40 AM   Subscribe

I am currently getting the silent treatment from a friend/my roommate. I know that I offended her, and I have apologized, but she still just sort of glances at me when I come in a room and then goes back to doing whatever she was doing before. I have never encountered this kind of behavior from anyone before, and I am not sure how to respond, or if I should respond.

There has been a lot of tension building in this relationship for the past month or two, eminating mostly from some issues I have been having with jealously over her growing relationship with another girl in our housing who I never got on very well with but felt forced to hang out with because she lives with us and because the friend who is giving me the silent treatment (let's call her "Betsy") decided she liked her. Basically, I have been kind of depressed and anxious in general lately and that plus the uncomfortable social situation added fuel to my insecurities and I started to get really nervous about whether I was being included in group activities with the people in our shared housing. I think I may have asked for reassurance from Betsy that things were okay with us one too many times; I didn't really realize the extent to which I was stressing her out. I think basically the more insecure I got, the more pressure she felt and she had started actually avoiding me a little and had started being kind of critical of me for small things. I brought this up in the last conversation that I had with her, basically acknowledging that I had been super insecure lately and saying that she shouldn't feel pressure to hang out with me, but also that her criticizing me for small things (in this case, my diet) the last time we hung out had kind of bothered me.

In any case, this came to a head last weekend, when I had planned a dinner for my birthday. Betsy sent a message at the very last minute saying she couldn't come with no explanation of why, and I flipped out and sent a message accusing her of not wanting to be friends anymore and expressing anger and bewilderment at her cancellation. It was kind of an awful night, and I started crying about the situation in front of my friends a couple of times. Betsy later wrote me a message in which she expressed anger over the accusatory message that I had sent, but said she had been stressed out and tired that night and that is why she decided not to come, and that she didn't want to fight with me. I sent a message back saying I was sorry for the angry tone of my message but that I had felt angry and bewildered. Nevertheless, I shouldn't have responded in that way, and I should have given her more credit for being my friend. I then took responsibility for the general state of affairs and acknowledged that I needed to work on some things. Well, she responded to that kind of angrily. I sent back a message apologizing again.

Since then, I keep seeing her in the hall and she basically ignores me. It was really bothering me the other night and so the next morning I sent her a message saying that I wasn't mad about the birthday party anymore, and that I hadn't realized the extent to which my behavior was bothering her/how I had been stepping on her boundaries, but that maybe we could please at least try to be polite to each other or something since we still have to live together for another month or two. Well, I just saw her in the hallway and still the same behavior, so I am thinking I didn't find the right thing to say.

I have been feeling very distressed by this situation the past few days because it feels like if I wasn't so insecure and anxious about everything it would not have come about. Her treatment of me makes me feel like there must be something terribly wrong with me and that is why she has to resort to these tactics. Obviously, I do have some issues and there is something about this whole situation that has magnified them to an extent that I have never experienced before. Appointment with the therapist is set up already.

The thing is, I am not sure what to do about Betsy. Should I just accept the silent treatment and get on with my life? The longer this drags out the more I am starting to feel angry instead of repentent. I am starting to feel like she is being immature and is not a very understanding or sympathetic person, and like I don't really want her as a friend if this is how she treats people when they try to communicate openly about a situation and when they express discontent with being treated badly. I kind of feel very little desire to prostrate myself to her and try to make it better, though I recognize that I kind of drove her to it. I have said what I could think of to try to make things better, but none of it has apparently been the right thing. Maybe I should have just accepted everything she said in her first email and not been mad about the birthday party. I don't know.

Any advice for how to handle the silent treatment? Especially when you have to live with it? From my description of the situation (which misses a million details that would explain more fully how it got to this point) does it seem like I have not been repentent enough?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just act normally. Don't ignore her, just treat her normally and politely. She wants a reaction out of you, she wants you to feel bad. Don't give her the satisfaction. It actually will ruin it for her if you act totally normally as though she isn't giving you the silent treatment. Live exactly as you would normally. Be in the same shares spaces the same way. Don't leave the room when she does just to avoid her. Be normal. She'll get over it eventually. The silent treatment is hard to keep up for a long time.

The silent treatment IS immature and manipulative and I totally agree that you may want to reevaluate whether someone who behaves this way is someone you want to be friends with. If she needs time and space from you she can be a grown up and communicate that. Seriously. This is junior high level stuff.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:49 AM on May 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

It may not be about you. She has a new relationship, the end of the semester (assignments, finals), moving and other stuff you are not aware of on her plate. Give her space and stop putting your expectations and needs on her right now.

Also, never send emotional messages over txt/email. Do it face to face. Good for you in seeking help with your anxiety. I hope it helps.
posted by saucysault at 6:51 AM on May 1, 2014 [9 favorites]


It's a shame that you are roommates, because what you both really need right now is some space. She needs time to stop being angry, and you need time to stop being angry, and you both need time to figure out how you feel about this friendship without having to see each other constantly.

So, I love my brother. My brother had been living with us for nearly a year while he was trying to get on his feet. By the end of that, for several good reasons that I will not get into here, I was SUPER annoyed with him almost constantly, but I didn't want or need to talk about it and knew I'd be over it before long. While I was annoyed with him, I could barely talk to him. It wasn't exactly the silent treatment, but it was close, and I am sure he could tell that I was not happy. Through this, though, I still cared about him enormously and knew that it would pass. And it has. Especially now that he's moved out, but that's beside the point.

Which is all to say that it may be fine, and it may not be, but only time can tell. Do not push. Do not keep apologizing. Calm down, step back, go do some things you like doing and work on YOU rather than working on what other people think about you.

Also, therapy sounds like a really good idea. If I had a friend who needed that much reassurance and flipped out at me when I couldn't make it to something, I'd probably back off, too, and at various points in my life that backing off would have been permanent unless the person was a REALLY close friend who had only recently started needing a lot of reassurance. On the other hand, I pretty much never skip a friend's birthday celebration if I can help it at all.

Good luck, and seriously, worry about you first.
posted by hought20 at 6:52 AM on May 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

From my description of the situation does it seem like I have not been repentant enough?

It is interesting that this is the question on which you hinge everything else. Being repentant or sincerely sorry doesn't obligate anyone to accept your apology or to mend a relationship with you. It sounds to me like she was faced at each interval with a lot of drama followed by high-angst explanations about the drama. This isn't necessarily a question of "finding the right thing to say" except maybe less. It's quite possible she just doesn't want to deal with angst and drama right now. Or at all.

If you want to take one more run at this, I would use your words and say to her, in person, "I'm sorry for everything that happened lately. I understand you're unhappy about the last few days and if you need some time to accept my apology, I understand."

And then leave it at that, while understanding that she doesn't have to accept your apology or your friendship.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:54 AM on May 1, 2014 [34 favorites]

Your feelings are valid but it sounds like she may be exhausted by the whole conflict, and the silent treatment is her way of shutting down and disengaging. Especially if you only have to deal with each other for a few more months, it may just not seem worth it to her to keep hashing this out one way or another. No, she's not being polite or mature in going about it this way. But your best bet is probably to be, for lack of better phrasing, "warmly removed"--smile if you see her (knowing she may not smile back) but nothing beyond that. No good can come of pushing this any further.
posted by lovableiago at 6:54 AM on May 1, 2014 [16 favorites]

Oh, and I meant to add, about my brother: Living in a space with someone you're irritated with can be really, really hard to deal with. Like, you don't want to talk about it all the time, and if it was someone you didn't live with, the thing that irritated you wouldn't even be an issue. So her silent treatment of you might be super childish, but it also might simply be a coping mechanism for dealing with someone they are mad at while also having to live in the same space.
posted by hought20 at 6:54 AM on May 1, 2014

It sounds like she is trying to set a boundary with you.. She is done with emotional discussions and drama and your expectations of how she is to think and feel and interact with you. It sounds like you want things your way (supppper close friendship), and won't accept her way (space and boundaries). This is the only way she has to assert herself and protect herself from your deluge of intense thoughts and messages towards her.

The way you describe this sounds like a bad unrequited crush, not a platonic friendship. Please just leave her alone for the rest of the month, you don't want a restraining order to follow you out the door. Try to get out of the house and stop trying to get a reaction of any kind from her, she is trying to avoid being the object of your obsession and is no doubt very uncomfortable.
posted by cakebatter at 6:55 AM on May 1, 2014 [53 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're experiencing this.

Leave her alone. She obviously needs space. This is not about you or whether you've been repentant enough or anything like that at this point. You've said your peace and Betsy can decide how to handle it moving forward. Be cordial and friendly, smile, etc. but do NOT push her to talk or to spend time with you.

It sounds like having more things to focus on in general would be good for you. It sounds like you were a bit insecure and that you unknowingly put some responsibility for your sense of security on Betsy. In the future, feeling insecure is nearly always a good indicator that you have some internal work to do. Spend some time getting to know yourself and learning how to feel secure without the assurance of others. Insecurity can lead to controlling behavior - not wanting Betsy to befriend this other girl and being upset with how she chose to spend her time alone instead of coming to your party are examples of this. This is not really friendly behavior and your friends will therefore distance themselves as a result.

I am NOT saying this is all your fault. Betsy has agency here and could have talked to you earlier. She could choose not to freeze you out now. But you have no control over Betsy's behavior, only your own, so that stuff is pretty immaterial at this point.

Also, in the future, emotionally charged conversations should only be had face-to-face when everyone is well-rested and fed and sober just as a general rule. Text is not the right medium for this stuff. Neither is the phone.

My advice to you now is to get busy with something else - pick up a hobby. Leave Betsy alone. Focus on yourself and your happiness. Look forward to moving in a few months. Be open to talking to Betsy if she engages with you but also be open to the possibility that she might not want to ever do so. The book How to be an Adult in Relationships might be an excellent read for you at this time too. It focuses on romantic relationships but I think the advice on what to expect from others and how to be accepting is very very helpful for all relationships, including friendship.

Take care of yourself. I'm sorry this is happening.
posted by sockermom at 6:57 AM on May 1, 2014 [10 favorites]

I agree that to some degree the silent treatment is immature, but on the other hand it's a perfectly legitimate way of not making things worse.

I'm in the middle of yet another silent session with my mom, who made a really uncalled for comment in an attempt to give me advice about my pregnancy. (JUST SAY NO.) The issue here is not what she said, but the fact that even though she apologized, she doesn't seem to get what she did wrong -- i.e., she thinks it's because she always says the wrong thing, but she needs to just shut up and listen.

Holding a grudge because of the slight from last Monday is stupid and petty; I agree on that. But it's the larger pattern of behavior that kills me. She's already tried to email me twice with chirpy little emails asking how I'm doing, and even though my husband says I should just pretend nothing is wrong and get on with things, I just can't do it. That's how things always go, and that's what my mom is counting on... and that's why things ALWAYS suck with her. I need to break the pattern.

Thing is, I just don't have the energy to have that argument/discussion/whatever AGAIN. Being silent is a middle ground between getting myself wound up in anger, trying to fix things or (again) pretending nothing is wrong. I think about things and try to figure out what I need to do to keep this relationship going.

Because my relationship with my mom, like Betsy's relationship with you, isn't going away right now, and there are really a limited number of ways to deal with that.
posted by Madamina at 7:00 AM on May 1, 2014 [15 favorites]

The thing is, I am not sure what to do about Betsy. Should I just accept the silent treatment and get on with my life?

You answered your own question very well here, but this sort of thing is not easy sometimes. You still have a lot of attachment to her despite the bad feelings, so it won't be easy to accept and move on with your life without some sadness. Anger stems from overwhelming sadness, it's easier to get angry than to feel the sadness sometimes. I wouldn't get to caught up in the anger and angry exchanges but focus on the sadness you felt by feeling rejected. Don't exacerbate the sadness by being so hard on yourself, you did nothing wrong! This sounds like a loud and clear message you need to give yourself unconditional acceptance and let Betsy deal with own feelings, as she has the right to do. Everyone goes through the hardship of friendship rejection, you're not alone and will be OK.
posted by waving at 7:00 AM on May 1, 2014

No, don't "repent" more. You've given a sincere apology, she knows how you feel, and that's really all you can do, except trying not to do the things you regret in the future.

On the other hand, you have been kind of putting your feelings onto her at every opportunity. Communicating openly is a good thing, but at this point she probably feels like any action she takes or any communication she has with you will lead to having to deal with an emotional outpouring from you, and after what's been going on I don't blame her for shying away from that. She's probably just got emotion-fatigue from getting a series of feelings-loaded messages from you over a relatively short period of time.

You need to give her some time to allow her to realize that you are capable of backing off and that she doesn't need to rudely fend you off this way. Spend a few days being polite but not outgoingly friendly to her; do lots of stuff outside the apartment. Eventually she should realize that you're being mature about this and she isn't.
posted by ostro at 7:00 AM on May 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think there are a couple of possible reasons, and it will depend on the person to a certain extent.

Some people do use the silent treatment as a passive-aggressive way of making you feel bad, and yeah they are just trying to make you feel worse. Those people might make a huge dramatic show of ignoring you - I had a housemate who would very ostentatiously hold a screen up against her face when I walked into a room so she didn't have to see me. There is no point interacting with these people, they are just trying to get a reaction. Grovelling more is just rewarding them and they will do it more.

Some people who are still really angry will refuse to speak to you because they are still so angry that if they speak to you they are worried they will blow up. Those people are actually trying to preserve the relationship and you just need to wait for them to calm down and come to you.

Finally, some people are just through with the relationship and don't want to interact anymore. Those people might say hi or might not, but will shut down anything more than superficial politeness. You can't force them to be friends with you, and your best bet is to show them that you aren't a source of drama any more by backing off.

No idea which of those your friend is. There have definitely been times when I've been mad and people continually apologising actually made it worse because it just added fuel to the fire, especially if they were apologising for completely the wrong thing or apologising in a "sorry and here's my explanation for why my actions are actually all your fault" way (NOT saying you're doing that, but some people really don't realise that that is not an apology). So to be honest I would be polite but give her plenty of space and see if she approaches you in a week or two.
posted by tinkletown at 7:06 AM on May 1, 2014 [14 favorites]

Sometimes, people give you the silent treatment as a form of punishment, so that they can make it even more clear that they're angry or upset or disappointed or whatever. In those cases, it's sort of a passive-aggressive thing. It's a deliberate decision to give The Silent Treatment.

But sometimes - and this is what it sounds like in your case - the silence doesn't come from a decision to punish, but from a lack of desire to engage. It sounds like she's not withholding her interactions with you purposely, but just doesn't want to talk to you right now.

I am starting to feel like she is being immature and is not a very understanding or sympathetic person, and like I don't really want her as a friend if this is how she treats people when they try to communicate openly about a situation and when they express discontent with being treated badly.

It probably wasn't ideal that she flaked on a birthday dinner, but it absolutely did not warrant a freak-out angry accusatory email. This is not how she treats people when they try to communicate openly or express discontent with being treated badly; this is how she treats people when they overreact and become difficult to deal with. It does not make someone unsympathetic, or not understanding, to have a breaking point in dealing with drama.

The initial offense that started all this was that she had the temerity to be friends with someone. This caused you to become jealous. It led you to ask her for reassurance - too many times, as you acknowledge. I understand that you were depressed and anxious, but that was on you. At every turn, you kept making it her problem.

I don't think it was great of her to criticize things about you like your eating habits, but not everyone deals with situations like these in an ideal way.

Betsy is not giving you the silent treatment as punishment. She is just sick of this.

Normally I'd say to leave this alone entirely, but the situation seems like it warrants an acknowledgement that her feelings and reaction are valid. You could probably stand to drop her one last email - something very very short - saying something like, "Hey, I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry for these past few weeks (or however long it's been). I'm not proud of how I've been acting. I've been dealing with anxiety and whatnot and it wasn't fair of me to make that your problem. I've made an appointment with a therapist, because I don't like being this way and I want to make changes. In the meantime, I understand that you need space and that you don't want to deal with me right now. I wouldn't want to deal with me, either. You don't have to respond to this or anything. I just wanted to send a message and say, again, that I'm sorry, that I understand, and that you should take as much space as you need."

And then leave it alone. If she doesn't respond (she won't) or if her behavior doesn't change immediately (it won't), do not make it her problem. Do not try to talk to her about it more.


Any advice for how to handle the silent treatment? Especially when you have to live with it?

Acknowledge to yourself that she has the right to not want to deal with you right now. Respect that right. Don't push the situation. This is a time when you should be worried about you, not about her. Work on yourself. Either she'll come around or she won't; it's out of your hands and you won't improve the situation by trying to get a tighter grip on it.

I know this is tough, but therapy is the right choice and you should stick with it. Good luck.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:09 AM on May 1, 2014 [24 favorites]

Betsy isn't your friend. Friends don't bail on important events by text message at the last minute without explanation. Even "I'm too tired" would at least show some effort. I can't even fathom doing something like that to even my least-close friends.

The rest of the drama is irrelevant, though by apologising over and over you are probably validating her overblown (and probably mostly unjustified) sense of indignation.

Move out, and stop worrying about whether this person wants to speak to you or not. Life is too short. And while you may feel like you need to have a good one-on-one conversation to clear the air, my advice is that it really isn't worth it. That sort of thing only works for rational adults, and you two are not acting like rational adults.
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:09 AM on May 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

This is a dynamic that you need to break, or it can recur over and over again. (You- clingy; them - frustrated and maybe rude; you - sad and dramatic; them - withholding; you - angry)

At any point in this dynamic, whether it's when you feel yourself getting clingy or when you feel sad and dramatic, you should withdraw and dial it back. Focus on something else, don't focus on your feelings about the person. Otherwise, what will happen is what is happening now - you'll wind yourself up, your feelings will churn and churn, and presently you will create a big dramatic mess. And then you'll feel ashamed and nothing will improve.

Your insecurities and sadnesses are not the same thing as how your friends are treating you. You can be, for instance, confident and optimistic and still be treated badly by friends; you can be sad and clingy even though your friends treat you perfectly. When you find yourself getting disproportionately emotional about friend stuff, you need to look honestly at what is underneath that rather than focusing on the day-to-day of the friendship. Someone who is a casual friend - even a good casual friend, like a friendly housemate - isn't someone where it's a good idea to be really emotionally enmeshed with them, care super-strongly about their social life, care deeply about what they think of you, etc. You're pouring too many feelings into this relationship for some reason - you need to figure out what that reason is. Whenever you find yourself getting really wound up about a comparatively casual relationship, it's a good idea to look at why and then to dial it back. (By "really wound up" I mean "thinking about it a lot, getting obsessively anxious, making demands on their time, feeling like they owe you something emotionally, etc")

Long ago, I used to get into this dynamic. Oh, heck, I didn't really stop getting into weaker versions of this dynamic until I was almost thirty. I'd get waaaaaaayyy too invested in casual friendships, read way too much into minor interactions, get upset, introduce drama where there should be none....and I wouldn't realize that this was what I was doing, because I was hurting too much to understand that while some of these people were huge jerks*, I was the one triggering a lot of problems.

What helped me was to recognize the....almost the flavor of the emotion when I was getting really invested. Like an emotional smell, like an emotional texture, there was a certain way of feeling that was the "ooh, I am getting too wound up and full of resentment and this isn't about reality, it's about me" feeling. When I recognized that, I learned to disengage.

I also learned, as I have related elsewhere, to feel totally unafraid of dropping people. If a social dynamic was terrible - whether or not it was my fault - I was gone. I stopped being afraid of being alone. I felt emotionally confident that I could leave - it wasn't just that I knew intellectually that I could leave; it was that I felt comfortable leaving, instead of feeling like if I missed this party, this social scene, this conversation then something terrible would happen and I would be lonely forevermore.

What worked for me after some stupid drama was getting some new habits. I went for a long bike ride every evening. I went exploring the area. I allowed myself a certain amount of flouncing to motivate myself. "Well, clearly these people Are Just Terrible, I will just have fun Myself because they are Too Terrible". After a month or so, I felt a lot better and started to forget why I'd even cared about the whole thing in the first place.

Another mental trick that helps me when I'm being upset and clingy is to think "How do I want to look back on this in six months? How do I want to remember my role here?" Recently, someone was a total jackass to me and I would have been entirely justified in making a scene. But I knew that making a scene about this person - who is cool and popular and manic pixie - would just create pointless drama, work my feelings up, etc. So reminded myself several times "I would rather look back in six months and say that I swallowed my pride and covered for Manic Pixie Jackass than made a scene and caused problems for this project". I also thought "when I look back, I would rather consider myself someone who was focused on the project and not on their own feelings; I would rather look back and say that I was selfless than drama-causing". This helped me to manage my feelings and not make a fuss. And now it's just a funny story that I tell about this girl and how awful she was.

The point is, it's good to remind yourself of the long term when you're getting all worked up about feelings in the moment - it can really encourage you to keep a lid on drama and Feelingsbombs.

*Sometimes, you can get in the habit of seeking out shitty friends - so maybe you're bringing the drama, but they are also big jerks. Ending the emotional over-investment can also be a process of learning what kind, healthy people are really like so that you can seek them as friends. I used to have mean, competitive, put-down-oriented friends, and this did not help me stay on an even keel in friendships. Also, mean people can seek out vulnerable friends so that when the vulnerable friend flips out and brings the drama, the mean people can be all like "see, I told you she was crazy" and feel like they are superior.
posted by Frowner at 7:21 AM on May 1, 2014 [28 favorites]

Agreeing with all of the above, and adding that maybe there are issues (related or unrelated) that she wants to discuss but isn't good with conflict or confrontation and she feels that appearing to act friendly would be dishonest or phony.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:23 AM on May 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Being your friend is primarily a gift or a favor, not a long-term contract that you have the right to enforce via hectoring. I'm over simplifying it to make an important point: you make and keep friends by adding to their lives, not by attempting to control their behavior or acting like you're entitled to their time and energy.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:39 AM on May 1, 2014 [16 favorites]

If I were Betsy, I'd be so over all the drama that my silence would be a cue to you to back off and give me space.

Roommates can be friendly, but it doesn't mean that they're your friends. They are also not your property, and nothing will drive people away from you faster than being possessive and jealous. Even if you are/were friends, this kind of behavior puts a lot of social pressure on people and it's really not fair.

What you should strive for is to enjoy all of your relationships, exactly where they are. Don't press for more intimacy especially if people are giving you cues that they'd rather not be intimate with you. If Betsy and the other roommate hit it off and are better friends with each other than Betsy was with you, then you need to learn to accept that and to either move on, or be okay with Betsy liking someone more than you.

Your anxiety is not something that is anyone's responsibility but yours. Constantly asking for reassurance from people, especially people who may not have invested in you, as much as you've invested in them, strains relationships. People may want to continue to be friendly with you, and to watch The Bachelor with you, but they honestly don't feel that "really, you're my BFF and I like you as much as I like the other roommate, if not more."

You sound young, and kind of needy, if you acknowledge that, perhaps you can step-back in the future and learn to define different levels of relationships and to be more appropriate in your behavior in them.

For now, give your roommate her space. Stop trying to engage with her so earnestly. Be superficially nice and pleasant, just as you normally would to anyone.

I hate to say it, but you may have lost this friend. Some of us find these intense emotions very disconcerting and off-putting. We may be shitty that way, but that's who we are.

I'm sorry you are in such an awkward situation, but the best thing to do now is to keep yourself, to yourself while you're at home, until you all move, or get new roommates, or whatever is going to happen in the next couple of months.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:42 AM on May 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

I don't think Betsy knows how to deal with your behavior in a productive way and is shutting down and I don't think it matters if she means to hurt your further or not she probably isn't a good friend for you. Give her space to the degree possible and treat her in the meantime with measured politeness.

This situation seems to me like one where neither of you behaved well. You need to figure out why you feel so insecure, and whether you're shifting other insecurities onto your friendships, but I don't think you should beat yourself up about this. Betsy knew you were feeling insecure and skipped your birthday without any explanation at the last minute.That's not a very nice thing to do and not the type of friend you need in your life.

However, you need to think about your reaction and instead of getting angry when things like this happen in the future take it as a sign. Friends who treat you like that aren't good friends for you because they're only going to make you feel more insecure, and for good reason and the only part of this dynamic you can change is your own.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 7:45 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

The thing is, I am not sure what to do about Betsy. Should I just accept the silent treatment and get on with my life?

Yes, because there's nothing else you can do. For someone who is Done with emotional drama, being on the receiving end of what she perceives as more of it (in the form of repentance from you) will not make it all better. She may be acting immaturely, but she gets to keep being mad or Done or whatever and there's nothing you can do to change that. You have to stop looking to her for approval or closure or whatever and turn your attention elsewhere. It sucks when this happens with someone you live with.
posted by rtha at 7:48 AM on May 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Give Betsy her space for now. Say hi when you see her, but do not attempt to engage her beyond that. Sometimes, when a person is upset (or even just minorly irritated) with someone else, they start getting irritated by everything that person does. You know, the "Mom, she's breathing on me!" thing. If Betsy's currently in that stage, the only thing you can do is keep enough distance until she gets over it. Paradoxically, though, if you avoid her too much, that can also prolong the resentment. You want to get the message across that you're still cool with her, but you won't pursue anything. I have no idea if your friendship with Betsy can be salvaged; right now just aim for peacefully coexisting.

I hope this doesn't come across as too cutesy of an analogy, but this kind of situation reminds me of the Dogs Annoying Cats with Their Friendship video currently going around the internet. You'll notice how a lot of the dogs are jumping excitedly or rolling around in submissive postures and not really paying attention to the cats' body language, and it just ends up pissing off the cats. By repeatedly asking for reassurance, and by sending multiple state-of-the-friendship messages to Betsy, you were inadvertently doing the same thing. Even if you are insecure about friendships (and believe me, I have been there), broadcasting your insecurity in social situations almost always backfires, making you even more insecure. Practice approaching friendships like a cat: sit a little farther back, sniff cautiously, observe what the other person's doing and move closer or back off accordingly. It gets easier with practice.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:49 AM on May 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

To answer your direct question, asker, what is it she wants, I think it's likely that she wanted you to care enough about her that you wouldn't have called her on her weaksauce bullshit when she cancelled on you at the last minute with pretty much no defensible excuse and a poorly given social reason. Yes. I have problems when people do this. I wish they'd just say, "Hey, sorry, but I'm just not feeling up to it." instead of making you feel badly about having gotten irritated about it. It's a very passive-aggressive game she seems to be playing.

What she wants from you now that you're both angry is total victory and your abject apology and likely humiliation. As you proceed to not give this to her (my recommendation), as long as she's angry about it you'll keep racking up points on the doesn't-care-about-Betsy scale.

One hopes that when she stops being angry and gets over herself that there'll be something salvagable there that you both value. If not, find a new friend and a new roommate. Or maybe figure out how you yourself can moderate your behavior and build a bridge. But to be honest the kinds of passive aggressive behaviors you're describing in Betsy give me a rash and I vote for you finding better friends.

But then I've had a lot of "friends" make impositions on me lately so I may just be projecting.
posted by kalessin at 7:53 AM on May 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

Just the other day I was still angry. The person had apologized a few times and I'd accepted but the feelings weren't gone. It took another day and until then I was quiet and couldn't look them in the eye that much. When I was over it, I told them.

So, apology doesn't mean it's instantly over.

Then I have family members who do it for punishment. Those people I just ignore and carry on with my life. They're not so upset, they think they're teaching me a lesson or something, for the 'egregious' error of whatever I did, like be 10 minutes late or whatever.

In your specific case, you dumped a lot of anger on her (from her pov, out of nowhere) and now she's withdrawn. Well sheeat, son. I've ditched friends because they couldn't handle their anger and saw me as a convenient punching bag. Maybe she is doing this to you. And maybe she needs more than a 'sorry but' apology but an actual "wow I have issues and I'm taking them seriously" apology. It sounds like this kind of stuff is kind of common for you. You've got some drama.

She called you on your shit, and you feel bad. This is normal.

She may even be tired of your shit and has shifted into 'tolerate' mode.

Talk it out with your therapist and figure out how to own up. She may never like you again and that's her prerogative but at least you're learning about yourself & owning up.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:00 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Should I just accept the silent treatment and get on with my life?

Yes. That's the easiest, simplest and ultimately best thing for you to do. There's nothing that you can draw someone out when they've decided that they're done with you. They have to make that decision for themselves, and any interaction from you will only drive them further away. Giving someone the silent treatment is the ultimate sign of them not wanting to have anything to do with you. Arrange your thinking so that this person is dead to you, now, so you can let go. The silent treatment is actually pretty easy to handle, just return like for like. If Betsy is actually being passive-aggressive, you'll be depriving her of winning. If she's not, then you're wasting your time trying to reconnect.

Any advice for how to handle the silent treatment? Especially when you have to live with it?

You're living with the perfect example of how to handle this. Behave exactly as your roommate is doing. Don't attempt to interact. Don't badmouth her to people. Don't be passive-aggressive. This person no longer exists, as far as your concerned, so what is there to be passive-aggressive about?

Your emotions are entirely valid. However, they are also YOUR emotions, for YOU to deal with. They are not someone else's responsibility.

You sound like an Anxious person. Betsy is behaving in an Avoidant fashion - her criticising you and not wanting to hang out with you were warning signs that she was heading in the Avoidant direction, and you responded by ramping up attempts at connection, the way an Anxious person would. So she took the final option, as it were, of pretending that you don't exist. There's not an easy or simple way to make this better again. She's giving you a very big hint - take it.

Use the time and energy you'd spend on this making some new friends. Avoidant people like Betsy will always push your buttons, just as you push theirs.

I don't really want her as a friend if this is how she treats people when they try to communicate openly about a situation and when they express discontent with being treated badly. I kind of feel very little desire to prostrate myself to her and try to make it better, though I recognize that I kind of drove her to it. I have said what I could think of to try to make things better, but none of it has apparently been the right thing. Maybe I should have just accepted everything she said in her first email and not been mad about the birthday party.

This is pretty much perfect, but don't make your emotional life so much about other people and what they're up to. That's a hell of a yoke to chain yourself to. It's OK to feel what you feel. It's also OK for other people to feel what they feel too, though, and other people's feelings are no more your responsibility to handle than your feelings are other people's responsibility.
posted by Solomon at 8:03 AM on May 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Betsy hasn't been your friend for a very long time and you are really really pushing things and making this worse for yourself. I know you can't quite see this, or else you would not have done it. I know! But this is the truth.

I would ignore you, too, in these circumstances just to get away from all of the drama and attention you have been focusing on me.

By not standing in Betsy's shoes, it's very easy for you to justify continued pleas for friendship, drawn out apologies, the occasional flare-up, more apologies.... Wash, Rinse. Repeat.

The hot second you felt like reacting to Betsy with the above sequence of feelings and actions was your neon flag message to step waaaay back and re-evaluate the entire situation.

The friendship as you knew it with Betsy (the super closeness) was over (at least for the time being) when the dynamic between you changed due to Other Roommate. This was not necessarily the other roommate's fault, but stuff changed, and you did not flow with that change.

Everything changes. Control is an illusion. Apologizing and then "demanding" that things go back to the way they were is never going to work for any of us.

Your friendship with Betsy is probably over, but New Friends are coming into your life.

That's the way it is! Stuff changes, but New Stuff (relationships, opportunities, adventures) are always about to show up in your life.

The longer you mourn what has just passed, the longer it takes for the new stuff to show up.

Honor Betsy's choice to move on (silently & internally! stop contacting her) and re-focus on yourself and your goals and responsibilities.

Clean your space. Re-organize your closets. Pay bills. Go back to yoga class or running. Read that book you've been putting off. Finish the semester with all work and projects completed on time and to the best of your ability....

Whew! What a lot of activity!!

By the time I got to the end of writing out that awesome list of stuff for you to do, I forgot all about why I was writing the list in the first place. You will too:))

Once you engage with that list (or similar, really, you should make your own list) you'll have met a lot of new people under circumstances that make you look good and feel good about yourself. It will be almost certain friendships will result.

You're neither alone nor unlovable right now. You're just a bit stuck. Get out there, do good things for yourself and get unstuck.

That is all. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 8:06 AM on May 1, 2014 [16 favorites]

An apology isn't an apology unless it contains a promise to not do the bad behavior you did previously. You're still being disrespectful about boundaries. Why on earth should she forgive you and return everything to normal? You've got work to do on yourself right now.
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:30 AM on May 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I HATE the silent-treatment nonsense! I find it immature and unhelpful, because it doesn't help anything get resolved. It's super passive-aggressive. But that said, part of the reason I hate it so much is cultural.

See, I grew up in a loud, boisterous, very close family where we would always talk out (or shout out!) issues until they were resolved. We had a no-going-to-bed-angry rule when I was little. Now, that sort of thing doesn't work for everyone; if people don't argue well, or if they have anger issues and need time to cool off, fine. But basically, where I come from, the silent treatment would indicate "I'm too angry to speak to you," and it would be one step below disowning you for life.

I had never, ever encountered it from an adult.

And then I moved halfway across the country, and I was suddenly living with a fair fraction of people whose family tradition was that you never ever shout. To them, shouting was the too-angry-to-contain-myself, I-hate-you response rather than an expression of annoyance or emphasis, and the silent treatment (at least for a short period) was just an indication of annoyance. It was the "polite" way to deal with things. Needless to say, it led to a huge number of misunderstandings, and I still hate hate HATE the silence thing because I feel like I need to fix it, even if it's not my fault.

I think that's what you're dealing with, and I'm really sorry to hear it. It's super uncomfortable and gets under your skin, I know. But maybe it will help to realize that it's at least partially a cultural (or at least familial) difference, and not something you can or should fix. Good luck! Mostly I think you just need to wait it out and remind yourself that it isn't your fault.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:46 AM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

The quickest way to make a big deal out of something is to make a big deal out of it. You all seem like you're in an emotionally charged situation and it's best to just back off each other and reset for a while. One time my roommate and I took a 15 hour drive to Memphis and back from PA and nearly killed each other. We got home, looked at one another and said "I love you, but I am not speaking to you for a few days". 10 years later we're still best friends. YMMV but in my experience friends often need space from one another, friends who live together even more so. And if she really continues to be passive aggressive towards you, then this isn't a friendship worth cultivating.
posted by picklesthezombie at 8:52 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Okay, full disclosure, I didn't even read your question below the fold - I came in to answer based on your title.

I'm the silent-treatment-giver in our house. What I want, or what I am waiting for, is usually one of two things. I'm either waiting until I am no longer so so angry that I can calm down and act civilized and not angry/sarcastic/snarky (thereby avoiding further escalation or damage), or, I'm waiting to come up with the courage to speak a truth that I am afraid to speak.

In the former case, a lot of times it comes down to me having to accept that a particular situation is just how it is and how it's going to be, and that, no matter how angry it makes me, if I'm not prepared to make a drastic change in my life (such as leave the relationship, if I'm feeling that angry), then I damn well better come to terms with it and get over it, because I know from long experience that you can't change someone else.

In the latter case... what am I afraid of? Depending on the situation, maybe I'm afraid the truth will hurt the other person in a way that I'm not prepared to hurt them, or in a way that I don't think they can handle or process very well. Or maybe I'm afraid that if I admit something painful, they will hurt me in a way that I'm not ready to deal with.

So, the short answer is, I'm waiting to get over myself, and once you've apologized, there's really nothing more you can do about it but wait, quietly, go about your business, and not further escalate the situation.

(And now that I've gotten that all out, I've taken the time to go back and read the question - yes, when I act this way at home, my SO definitely gets more angry and more resentful, because he's a very talk-it-out-and-move-on person. I can see the POV that it's immature to act this way, and I actually agree to a point and I can understand that you would be angry in your situation. My POV is that the fear is very real for me, and I need the time to process it, and I haven't yet figured out how to speed up that process. My answer stands; once you've properly apologized, all you can do is go about your business. You've fulfilled your part of the social contract.)
posted by vignettist at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I could've written a question almost exactly like this this my senior year of college (20 years ago, oy, so at least there was no text messaging). It's good that you've realized that seeking reassurance from people as a coping mechanism for your own insecurities is something you need to work on. I just want to emphasize, as someone who didn't really get this until I was much older than you, that it is truly futile and usually counterproductive. You're trying to keep someone close, but you're pushing them away instead.

Some people will react to this sort of insecurity with empathy (probably people who have experience with anxiety themselves), some will be irritated, and some will, unfortunately, react with anger. It's like you've put a "kick me" sign on your back and the latter group will line up to kick you. It seems like a weird reaction to another person's display of weakness, but I think it's on the same spectrum of behavior as bullying. I'm not saying Betsy is bullying you--she obviously isn't--but some people react to weakness with aggression. Betsy bailing on your birthday party, picking at you, and reacting angrily to your apologies all read as though she's the "I'll go ahead and kick her" type. That doesn't justify your own inappropriate handling of your anxiety and insecurities, but I do think it means you should just let her go. Don't act any differently around her, but don't apologize again and don't try to talk it out again. Most importantly, learn to recognize in yourself when you're putting your own insecurities on other people and learn to stop yourself.

(The ending to my own saga with my college roommate/friend who gave me the silent treatment is that I moved out, and we didn't speak to each other for about a year, including through all senior year/graduation stuff even though we were in the same social group. It was incredibly awkward. We ended up working together and had to speak to each other in a professional setting. We gradually became friends again and remain friends to this day, but it's a very suface-y friendship. We have a lot of fun together and I value our friendship for what it is, but I also accept it for what it is.)
posted by Mavri at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Awhile back, I found myself in a situation that had a lot of similar elements to yours -- a friendship that had, for various reasons, changed after having previously been very close, complicated by the fact that both the other party and myself had some difficult things going on in our lives, and we each had history that made our reactions to each other mutually unfortunate.

I encountered cases where I felt slighted by my friend's behavior, including with regard to what I perceived as blowing me off socially, or expressing interest in an event and then flaking. On one occasion I flipped my shit in a most unbecoming (and improper, I will say) way as a result of an incident very similar to what you describe. In trying to apologize for the bits that were my fault and discuss the overall problem, I dug a larger hole for myself (and arguably, my friend helped a bit with the digging in certain ways). There wasn't a silent treatment aspect to it, but there sure was a lot of lack of successful interaction.

Like you, I felt pretty much exactly like "Her treatment of me makes me feel like there must be something terribly wrong with me and that is why she has to resort to these tactics. Obviously, I do have some issues and there is something about this whole situation that has magnified them to an extent that I have never experienced before." And I did go to therapy, over this and some other issues, and it was very helpful. I also read a lot of Internet advice on this subject, much of which is very condemnatory of the "too-attached" party in a way that I found to reinforce the sentiment you express -- that there was something terribly wrong with me, essentially, that was pervasive, persistent, and that indicated that sane people should kick me to the curb wherever encountered. This is not a healthy perspective, to say the least. I recommend being very, very careful about Internet advice on this subject.

At some point or another, proximal to some relatively minor incident the details of which I now entirely forget, I decided that I was officially Done with this person -- that I didn't know whether or not they wanted to interact with me, I rather suspected "not", and as a result I was just going to deal with them politely and neutrally in the course of the common activities we were involved in and not do anything that was a social move toward them. So no starting conversations, no invitations, et cetera -- I didn't turn my back to them, but I figured that if any interactions were to occur between us then they were not going to originate from me. And I stuck to this resolution.

In my case, after about a month or so the person in question started originating conversations with me, and then explicitly invited me out to dinner, and we went on from there. Had this not happened -- well, as I said, I was Done, entirely prepared to not interact again, assuming I probably wouldn't, and okay with that. We've now, I think, basically gotten over the rift and are persistent friends if not necessarily the most high school sleepover intimate sort. And I will say that the only thing that made it possible on my end to do that was the fact that I could point to where the person could clearly have gotten out of my life had they wanted, and here is the distinct action where they chose not to do that.

That is not to say that this will happen in your case, by any means -- your friend might be entirely over it, that does happen. But you still get the benefit, because you've gotten out of it -- there's definitely no benefit in continuing to hang around someone who wants nothing to do with you. If they do reach out -- and they might not, by no means get attached to the notion that they will because that spoils the entire thing -- then you will have the benefit of a reference point that you know they're moving towards you, not just not moving away quickly enough, that they are to some extent opting into interaction of some sort (or that they're not, and you're not pushing it). For me, at least, that was the bit that was necessary to unwrap myself from around the axle.

So, in short, I'd build a bridge and get over it. If you have alternatives, housing wise, I'd pursue those. Find some other friends and hang out with them. Or hang out with yourself, that's a great thing to do as well. If this person wants to deal with you, they probably know where to find you. If they don't, they don't. Whatever. If you find yourself thinking that you're a bad person, find something else to think about. If you find yourself reading about how you're a bad person, find something else to read. Go frolic in the sunlight or something, and just let this whole thing go.
posted by sparktinker at 9:37 AM on May 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't assume so blithely that she's "giving you the silent treatment". You've emailed her some emotionally-dense stuff, and maybe she's just not sure what to say. The two of you talking would require quite a bit of caution and emotional effort, either to dig into what's been going on, or to spend energy dancing away from talking about what's been going on. I could totally imagine that she's not interested in starting/continuing an emotionally dense dialogue, but she feels awkward saying polite nothings, she's got nothing to talk to you about (like dinner or plans for the weekend, or mutual friends) just because the two of you aren't really wanting to spend time together. She's got very little to say to you, and that's okay. That doesn't necessarily mean that she's really angry, or that she's actively avoiding speaking to you. Just give it some time, and try not to take her silence personally. The less affronted you are by some quiet time, the less awkward the silence will be, and the less effort it will take to break the silence and start talking again.
posted by aimedwander at 10:39 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Many thoughtful answers here. I've only ever given the silent treatment once, and it was when I was 21-years-old and in college. It was in the context of me having just ended a romantic relationship with a guy - I used the silent treatment as a last resort after he had been bombarding me with voicemails, emails, letters, calls to my friends and family because he refused to let me go and would not leave me alone.

So I suppose I would tend to see the silent treatment as a tool younger, more introverted (?) people might use when they have had their boundaries disrespected by someone they used to be close to - and have gotten to a point where they feel like they desperately need to get someone with a big personality/who needs a lot of validation to STFU and leave them alone.

Which is, respectfully, exactly what you should do. Continue to leave her alone.
posted by hush at 12:22 PM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Read up on aggressive and defensive stonewalling (different motivations - interesting one to punish, one to protect self). Steve Becker LCSW has written about it.
posted by tanktop at 1:32 PM on May 1, 2014

It sounds like she's already broken up with you.
Look, when she decided to bail on you on your party, she knew it would upset you. By doing it anyway, she was making perfectly clear without saying it that you have no claim on her presence, her friendship.

Before, she's probably been reassuring you even though she wasn't feeling it anymore. She felt like she had to act like a friend, not because she wanted to but because she would otherwise set off another deluge of angsty conversations and headache. When all she wanted was an easy loose friendship. And she had to act not just like a friend but like the image of idealized friendship in your head.
At some point it became a chore and an obligation. And she got angry, because why should she have to deal with this? You have no claim on her.

So she already didn't feel like being at your birthday and miming closer friendship than she was feeling. But she realized that she had to go to your birthday or risk another "state of the friendship" argument and she thought "fuck it. I don't care for a friendship on those terms. I am making this unequivocally clear." And she ditched you in the worst possible way.

Everything that followed was basically more of the same. And what she wants but is not expressing for whatever bad reason is for this friendship to be over.

She doesn't want you to change or talk about changing or anything. She just wants for that relationship to go away.

That's my theory.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:55 PM on May 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have struggled with anxiety and reassurance-seeking. One of the most valuable lessons I learned about these things came from a close friend after we'd been through a rough patch. I kept apologizing for my part in the ordeal, and finally she told me, "Stop apologizing. You're not really apologizing to me. You're apologizing to make things better for you."

I thought about it, and she was right. I was repeatedly apologizing because I wanted reassurance - I wanted her to tell me it was OK, all was forgiven, and we were fine. My apologies were more selfish than genuinely remorseful.

I've also learned that seeking reassurance doesn't do me any favors in the long run. The most important skill you can develop for your own peace of mind is how to reassure yourself, not rest everything on others' opinions of you. Seeking and receiving reassurance (positive and negative) is a vicious cycle that only breeds more anxiety.

So, do your best to stop apologizing and try to sit with your anxiety instead of immediately seeking reassurance. It's really difficult at first, but the confidence you'll gain and the anxiety you'll lose make it worth the effort.
posted by mingodingo at 4:34 PM on May 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

Your insecurity and the way you flipped out on your birthday is all on you.

That jealousy comes from feeling that you somehow 'own' your friend, which is hugely disrespectful.

You emailed Betsy and asked her if you could "please at least try to be polite to each other or something since we still have to live together for another month or two". Ignoring you and your drama is probably as polite as Betsy can bear to be at this point.

Living with someone who she knows is always stewing away, obsessing over her, whipping themselves into a new emotional peak and planning the next outburst, must be a nightmare for Betsy.

If you can at all, try to channel your energy into doing what you promised you would - taking responsibility and working on your issues. Leave the poor girl alone for now.

If you can't do that, move out as soon as possible.
posted by Catch at 4:44 PM on May 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

I've been Betsy in a number of friendships, with people who I thought and still think are amazing (I just reconnected with one and am tearful about it, lol) but who were in a really bad mental place, and at the time I couldn't deal with the reassurance-seeking because it kept getting out of control for both of us. When I behaved like this after the kind of protracted drama you're describing, it was, like a lot of other posters are saying, shutting down and not knowing what to say, or needing time to give the kind of thorough response the situation (and the friend) deserved. Not a punishment or a manipulative attempt for more repentance or groveling, or whatever. The anxious/avoidant stuff people are linking to is spot on.

It sounds like Betsy processes her feelings more slowly or differently than you do. She has also had a close friendship of hers disintegrate into drama, and that's traumatic for anyone. Let her have enough space to process this. If she escalates by being shitty or aggressive to you, disengage, but give her some time initially.

BTW, I do regret not handling this better-- I think going radio silent is unfair and unnecessarily hurtful-- but at the time I didn't have better skills and I don't know that Betsy does either.

When this happened, I could tell that my friends were in a huge anxiety/self-blame/reassurance-seeking spiral, did not blame them for their behavior because (like with you) it was obviously part of a much bigger anxiety issue, and wanted to help them, but at the same time I honestly did not know how to interact with them without setting it off, and triggering a huge angst/guilt spiral of my own. It was exhausting and awful. I hated seeing my friends in pain and hated that I was, through minor things like being stressed or needing sleep (like Betsy cancelling the party), triggering them into that pain. At the same time... I needed to sleep.

It sounds like you are interpreting Betsy's actions (the other friendship, the party, and now the silence) as her PURPOSELY AND DELIBERATELY validating or rejecting you, when in fact she is probably also confused and upset and doesn't know how to make you feel less insecure without being put in that incredibly high-pressure emotional caretaker position again. What I "wanted" from the other person in similar situations was NOT apologies or groveling or repentance for doing a wrong. It was reassurance that they would be OK, that they would work on the root of that deep fear of rejection that was making them lash out, and that they would not be holding me responsible for maintaining their emotions/happiness, and that we wouldn't be going through the incredibly painful "are you really my friend" cycle again.

I really wish you luck, and I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:27 PM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Caveat: this is me talking about friendships that deteriorated with people who I cherished and cared for and very much wanted to remain friends with, but did not know how to do that without setting off our mutual issues. If Betsy starts actually being /actively/ mean or cruel to you (not just passively declining events, or going quiet, and that being interpreted as her being mean) disengage and drop her. Your being full of drama does not mean she's entitled to treat you badly.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:46 PM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

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