Do I reach out or not?
January 27, 2017 2:58 PM   Subscribe

I had an argument with an extremely close friend. I want to know if I should reach out, or if this is over and I should let it go.

My friend and I had an argument over a facebook political action group I started in the aftermath of the election.

I got significant pushback when I said something that could have been misinterpreted by some people in the group (particularly those who didn't have much exposure to social justice issues). She brought the issue to my attention, and gave me some advice on how I should handle it. I fundamentally disagreed with her advice, so I didn't take it.

She was angry with my decision not to take her advice, and so we didn't speak for a while.

When she reached out to me a few days later, we had a ferocious argument over instant messenger. However, I couldn't respond until a couple of hours after her last statement -- during which she apologized for some of her more problematic statements -- because I had to get some chores done.

When I returned to the computer afterward, I saw that she sent me a half-dozen other long messages. These messages were completely out of character for her. In some of them, she threatened self harm; in others, she revealed some very personal and sensitive things. She ended the conversation with a message in which she told me to stay away, “for your own good”.

I contacted my friend's husband and told him that I was extremely worried for her. He promised me he'd watch her, and offered to update me on the situation. I sent her a couple of follow up messages, but in the next week she deactivated her Facebook.

Mutual friends have said that I should reach out to her. Her husband says she may need time. I don’t want to reach out, because it’s clear she doesn’t want to talk to me. If I send her another message, she might consider it a stalkerish move.

But this freaks me out because we were so close. We used to meet every week for almost seven years with very few exceptions. We've traveled together. We've done projects together. I just -- did -- not -- see -- this -- coming.

The thing we fought over is an issue that’s extremely important to me — I’m a woman of color and she’s white, so that played a real issue in the particular conversation we had — but I want to talk it over with her at some point. When we had that argument I really thought I was talking to a different person than the one I’d known for ten years.

I know she’s under no obligation to reach out to me, ever; but I'm stuck in this weird limbo because I don't know whether she wants to end the friendship or not. I'd like to talk to her before I make any decision either way, but if that may never happen, I'd like to move on as soon as possible. What steps, if any, should I take?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would wait a few weeks and then send her an "I miss you" type message seeing if she wants to talk or get together. If at that point the answer is still either silence or no, move on. Now, consider it a cooling off/need a short break period.
posted by AugustWest at 3:05 PM on January 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Her husband promised to update you, you might as well wait until you have more information. If he says she needs time, give her time.
posted by fox problems at 3:12 PM on January 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Give her time and accept that that might mean forever. Sounds like she's going through some shit and her husband told you to give it time.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 3:15 PM on January 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would listen to what her husband said, as I assume he will know how she feels much better than mutual friends, even close ones. It sounds like you have both been shocked by the vehemence of the argument, so cooling off on both sides would be a good thing. She sounds from your description as if something personal was triggered in her by the row and you sound hurt, so give it a little while.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 3:16 PM on January 27, 2017 [8 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're going through this.

It looks like this one is on her. If her husband knows you were worried about her, then she has access to that info, and the ball is in her court, whenever she decides to pick it up.

These times are corroding the best of us. After the election, I got a long angry email from one of the nicest people I could know, and I realized immediately: any work-related mistake of mine is not, in fact, what this email is about. I let it go.

This friend of yours needs to face up to her behavior and how she is doing. Possibly this is an explosion of bad temper due to white fragility; possibly she needs mental health assistance; possibly both. Again, the ball is in her court.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:17 PM on January 27, 2017 [25 favorites]

Give it time. As noted above, people are extremely fragile right now and I've noticed friends fighting at the moment mostly because they can't do anything about what's really upsetting them-- particularly when it comes to politics. If you do anything, a hand written card which says "Whatever the discussion, I still love you," makes it clear where you are and then the ball is in her court.
posted by frumiousb at 3:32 PM on January 27, 2017 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I'd wait a bit, and if you don't hear from her, send a handwritten letter reaffirming your side of the friendship. Obvious (except that it isn't), but apologize honestly for your role in the argument. Then leave it.
posted by cnc at 3:40 PM on January 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't give up on such a long and close friendship. From what you said, it sounds like only a small part of her reaction was about what you actually argued about the rest and the rest was about other things going on in her life where this felt like the final straw. You don't know the rest of the story but know that there is a probably more might help you let go of some part of your own legitimate hurt about what happened between you.

I think electronic communication is not helping you here. I would send a physical card saying something along the lines of: I'm sorry you are hurting. Whatever our disagreements, our friendship matters to me. I would like to [usual meeting thing] when you are ready. This leaves control of communication in her court but reassures her that you still care and you want to work things out. Plus the physical card is out of the ordinary and sends a message that you put extra effort in reaching out while not creating an expectation of an immediate response.
posted by metahawk at 3:43 PM on January 27, 2017 [20 favorites]

I'd like to talk to her before I make any decision either way, but if that may never happen, I'd like to move on as soon as possible. What steps, if any, should I take?

It may help to think through what you'd need from her to continue your friendship. Or, if there are different configurations that it could continue (I.e. maybe you stay friendly, but not as close).

By having a general template of what you need and why, you may be more comfortable with staying in limbo, and it may start the process of moving on. The relationship didn't end because you didn't do X, but because she didn't do Y once the ball was in her court.
posted by ghost phoneme at 3:46 PM on January 27, 2017

Can you send her a card? A straight up Hallmark "thinking of you" card from the drugstore?
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:48 PM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

A card in the mail was my thought as well. Just "I'm sorry, things are terrible right now, I hope you're doing okay" and leave it at that.

And then you move on assuming it is a permanent end to the relationship. It's up to you to make your own closure, grieve it, learn whatever lessons you can find for yourself in this, and focus on moving forward.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:05 PM on January 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Right now, in the world, it's like there is a loud, anxious background noise all the time. Calm people are jittery. Sane people feel unstable. People who were anxious to begin with are being pushed to the edge of greater anxiety. This seems possibly relevant given the subject of your argument.
I am not trying to excuse her behavior, or suggest you need not worry about her mental health. I'm just thinking the social context lately, for some people at least, creates an atmosphere of intense feeling around things we don't feel (for good reason) we have control over. We can't control the executive order slashing the agency we care about, but we might flip out when someone else represents it in a way we feel isn't quite right. It's a kind of magical thinking, sometimes...the anxiety and rage go in the wrong direction.
I don't know your friend, and I'm not saying this is really what's going on. But I know I'm going to give some people who have flipped out at me a kind of Trump amnesty.
posted by flourpot at 4:36 PM on January 27, 2017 [10 favorites]

Yeah, I had a very close friend just terminate our friendship out of nowhere (and he said a bunch of really cruel things about me, too) two days ago. People are raw and in a lot of pain thanks to the political landscape. I'd give it a little time and maybe reach out in a few weeks. In my situation I won't do that because my own friend was so cruel to me, but YMMV.
posted by sockermom at 4:41 PM on January 27, 2017

As a white woman, I want to say that you are being really generous with your forgiveness here (reading between the lines and making a few assumptions based on what you wrote). That said, the post-election period was and continues to be hard for a lot of people. I had some friends and colleagues who acted in really uncharacteristic ways, and in a couple of cases, things have not gone back to normal with them.

I would give it more time.
posted by lunasol at 6:06 PM on January 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

One of the things I hate about this age of social media is that it's so hard to actually find the space to grapple with your privilege. I grew up incredibly anxious and was taught to never feel comfortable taking up space. Liberalism worked because I'd always agree that I was a terrible privileged white woman and please just point me in the direction so I can do the most good for others. I can take up space on behalf of others.

And this is a terrible way to live. It turns out you need to actually deal with your shit or you end up stuck in your bed unable to be a productive member of society, much less help all the people who have less privilege than me.

I have to be very careful around conversations that admonish white women to check their privilege. Its the same language men have used to put their women in place, and for me personally it triggers that shame for expressing needs and taking up space. And it's not that I don't agree with the principles and activism behind it. But I have to withdraw and engage in a lot of self care to avoid derailing the conversation with my anxiety attack or becoming a useless depressive lump. I feel guilty saying that, but that's just my reality, and owning up to it is my part of trying to be a better human.

As a woman of color, you don't need to manage her anxiety or feelings. And I think her pushing you away and deleting facebook, along with her husband recommending space, is acknowledging that fact. But as a friend, it would mean the world if you found the compassion to notice my reaction was clearly about more than X, and did I want to talk about it or otherwise clean the slate?
posted by politikitty at 7:24 PM on January 27, 2017 [19 favorites]

I came across this article on post-election stress in women a couple of days ago and wish I'd found it sooner. It explains a lot about the possible underlying reasons for the tension and sadness so many of us are going through right now.

It sounds like this person has been important to you for a long time. I'd suggest cutting her, and yourself a little slack and leaving things be for a few weeks. If, after you've had a break, you still miss her and think there is something worth fighting for you could send her a card with a note saying that you are sorry for the way things went the last time you were in contact and would like to hear from her if she wants to get in touch. Then leave it to her, and be guided by what she says when and if she gets in touch.

In the meantime, be kind to yourself, focus on the things that are important to you and surround yourself with people who share your values and who make you feel safe and appreciated. Her behaviour is a reflection on herself and whatever she might be going through right now, not on you or anything you did or didn't do.
posted by rpfields at 7:24 PM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sounds like she has some things to sort out. If you really care about her, let her do that while being open to connect with her if she contacts you, and if she doesn't give her the space and reach out in a few weeks/months. Life is weird and non linear. Especially these days. Allow for it.
posted by Vaike at 7:52 PM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't know if something like this would be helpful, but here is a link for BC's Trauma-Informed Practice Guide. There's tips on how to use more trauma-informed language that reflects the person's skills rather than 'what's wrong with them', how to establish safety, and more. It might serve your group well in navigating trauma-triggers that come up for well-meaning people who are tackling their share of the human condition (the essence of which was reflected in your friend's outburst, I would bet).

I'm not at all suggesting you are responsible for coming up with a solution for your friend's problem. I definitely agree with others to give your friend time and space to deal with her problem herself. But to help you cope, maybe give yourself a timeline: if she doesn't reach out again in 2? 6? 12? months, you're chalking this as a loss and moving on. I really hope your friend figures out how to come around though.
posted by human ecologist at 8:50 PM on January 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

How old is your friend? I ask because, while a post-election overreaction is definitely a possibility (it's one I find myself having to guard against!), the description of the long personal messages threatening self-harm, etc., sounds like someone who might be having an acute episode of something, perhaps mania. You've known her for a good while so you'd probably know if she already had a diagnosis, but if you two are in, say, your early twenties there may be mental health issues at play that would complicate any attempt at reconciliation.
posted by praemunire at 9:06 PM on January 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

first, i'm sorry. it's so stressful to have a fight with a friend and especially when it's over an issue that is important to you, and she doesn't seem to get it. I'd say you are well within your rights to decide that this relationship is completely over.

And yet.

Dr. Phil, in his infinite wisdom, says that "relationships need heros." And while that television dude has said a lot of mighty big BS in his time, I think that this time it actually makes sense. Sometimes, even if you know you were completely in the right, and she was totally out of line (and then took things several steps way further out of line), your heroic action and patience and bigger-personness is needed to save the friendship, or to help that person. Now, if that feels like retriggering the trauma you went through, or it isn't worth it, or, just, "screw her", then TOTALLY you can just walk away. You have already reached out to her husband (very compassionate of you, by the way, thank you). But if you can, in a week or so, reach out to send her a card or something, then at least you would know you have done a deed that wasn't required of you but that could save the friendship, if that is something that you want.

I also just want to possibly suggest that, depending on who her husband is, may not totally be equipped to watch out for her, or to update you. Maybe he forgot that part about updating you, maybe he feels shy, maybe he just doesn't know how much you are thinking about it, maybe he wouldn't know what to do. So I wouldn't necessarily assume she thinks the ball is in her court (since you have checked in with someone close to her who might not have passed on the message.)

In short, it sounds like you are trying to be a really good friend despite macro and micro aggressions from a national and also interpersonal level. Thank you for that; we all need good friends like you in these ridiculous and terrifying times.
posted by andreapandrea at 9:32 PM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would reach out with messages of support. You genuinely care for this person. I miss you and hope you are OK. Here's an amusing thing I thought you would like. We can argue about issues, but our friendship can grow as we learn. . Be honest. Keep it short and don't require responses.
posted by theora55 at 4:52 AM on January 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

The husband has the full story, and he's telling you to give it time. Why wouldn't you take him at his word? He lives with the person you had this conflict with, he's in the best position to know her preference regarding the friendship. Also, that this person de-activated the platform you were using to contact her, that's another clue this person wants no contact. I suspect her husband is being nice to you when he says "give her time," but he's leaving open the door in case his wife changes her mind. It's not his place to inform you the relationship is over, he's being a polite mature adult.

From your description it sounds like your friend is going through something. It also that you were condescending towards her and others, that you left her twisting in silence on instant messenger during a disagreement when things got tense, which heightened her distress (I've read your question 3x and it seems to indicate you stepped away from the computer in a huff and your friend kept messenging as though you were still online.) Then you called her husband out of concern, but really it looks you were demeaning her agency by appealing to the authority of her husband over her - or maybe this is how it looks to her?? Your question starts off with you justifying your actions before you get to the conflict, so I'm guessing there is an entirely different side to this story you maybe kinda don't want to face. If the reasons for the conflict are stripped away, it doesn't look like you acted all that admirably. Even if you were right about the other stuff, the way you handled interpersonal stuff with your friend was less than ideal. There is almost never a need for a "ferocious" argument, something you disclose you fully participated in.

Human ecologist linked to a guide on communicating about traumatic issues, and that sort of thing might really help.
posted by jbenben at 7:35 AM on January 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Everyone has basically said all that I'm thinking here, but this reminds me of a situation I was in several months back / am still dealing with, so here goes.
A. I found it helpful to tell my friend, "even though I disagree with your behavior (/substitute X thing here: thought processes, political alignment, etc) I still love you. I do not need to approve of everything you [do/think/believe in] to love you." I love people because of their 'flaws' or differences [this is of course subjective], not in spite of them. It helps to remind people of this, I think.
B. If your friend felt attacked, this might be why she withdrew so hard. Is race a big part of this defensiveness, and if yes, how can the topic be reframed to seem less pointed? You don't have any obligation to make accommodations for white people, but she is your friend; you can decide how forgiving of her perspectives you'd like to be.
C. Do you think it's possible that she became entangled with multiple intense online dialogues with other loved ones or just other people? That might be part of the reason why she deactivated FB. It's totally possible, and so it likely does not all come down to you, which might be a bit of a relief.
D. Agreed totally with this And then you move on assuming it is a permanent end to the relationship. It's up to you to make your own closure, grieve it, learn whatever lessons you can find for yourself in this, and focus on moving forward. It's really difficult to let go of close relationships!! Especially, if you're anything like me, if you feel as though you could have done something differently during the course of the intensity that would have altered the outcome. I found that for myself, a way to work through it so as to decrease the likelihood of something like this happening again, I take full responsibility for what happened (even though any of us are only 50% of the equation) during the course of the disagreements. I can always be a better communicator, a better listener, more empathetic, more diplomatic, etc. This totally might not work for you, I get that! (Note: I am not saying blame yourself!)
E. This might not be to the point at all, but maybe it will make it hurt less; do you need someone in your life who is at risk of harming themselves actively, do you need someone in your life who is on a different political wavelength or at a different stage of their political-awareness journey than you are? Do you need a friend who can't forgive you after an argument? Me personally, I need friends who are willing to let me make mistakes, as a friend, intellectually, etc. It's not to say that my friends should enable my bad behavior if I am doing XYZ, but that I need my friends to realize that I am imperfect and that I deserve loving compassion, too. Does your friend let you make mistakes, genuinely forgive you, and see you as you are- a flawed person who is still worth complete love?
F. I support the idea of giving this lots of time. Love can survive several months and come out the other side stronger. It might be painful. But necessary.
G. Any conflict like this is an opportunity to learn as much as you can. I don't think that wise people are born out of being perfect, having untroubled lives, and never having to navigate conflict. This is a chance for all parties to become a bit wiser.

I am also really sorry you're going through this. This is exactly why I am not on social media- these kinds of things would be really all too common for me as sometimes I am unable to stop myself from taking the bait. Your friendship is not the first to be at risk because of our current political paradigm. Our society is going through the wringer. I wish you all the best, and I hope my points were clear and appropriate.
posted by erattacorrige at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Is it reasonable for me to be frustrated with my...   |   How much of a down payment should I save before... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.