The slow
February 27, 2018 9:12 PM   Subscribe

I think my oldest and closest friend is doing a slow fade on me. I feel very sad and bitter whenever I think about it, which is often. How to cope, particularly when my existing and potential friend pools are quite limited? (for a bevy of reasons, detailed within)

I have known friend for over 20 years; we currently live about three hours from each other. Over the last several years, I've noticed they don't reach out to me when they have big, dramatic things happen in their life. (Beloved pet dying, family member illness.)

The reverse is also true--for instance, my spouse and I recently had a series of pretty wretched things happen to us that he posted about on Facebook. My friend left a "sad" icon but did not reach out to me about it. By way of contrast, my spouse's friends called, texted and even sent us a sympathy card with a sizeable gift card in it. I heard nothing from my friend, and when I sent them an email a couple of weeks later with a link to a book I thought they'd like they sent a perfunctory response and didn't mention the mildly traumatic thing.

Another sign is that friend no longer wants to seem to hang out with me alone. We get together a couple of times a year, and friend will always bring their spouse--if spouse is not available then friend will not want to get together. The spouse is okay, but they talk constantly and friend sits there smiling and laughing appreciatively. I really don't get a word in edgewise, neither of them ask me anything about myself, I don't get to hear from my friend, and the whole exercise is tedious and sad.

Before this, friend and I had a very close relationship--talking all night, sharing really personal things with each other, having two hour phone calls, etc.

I feel as hurt by all this as if I were being broken up with. I'd like to maintain a civil relationship with friend because our spouses seem to get along really well and it's nice to have someone to hang out with in a lighthearted context a couple of times a year. But even in these contexts now I'm starting to feel resentful.

The solution, I suppose, is to just make more friends, but I struggle with anxiety, sensory issues, and the need for a ton of down time outside of work. I'm in therapy, and have tried various activities to meet people, but the band of people I'm friendship-compatible with is very narrow at this point in my life.

I've done the fade out on my own from pretty much all my other friendships, because they were made in a time when I was not particularly emotionally healthy and pretty much all of them were abusive in some way. Other friendships have faded when friends moved far away.

The thought of trying to make a new friend or friends is exhausting, and besides, I just want my old friend back--but they aren't coming back.

Have you weathered the dissolution of an important friendship, and/or made new friends later in life despite dealing with extreme shyness, introversion, awkwardness, tiredness, etc?
posted by whistle pig to Human Relations (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Your friend sounds very similar to my SO.

I have already seen what happens as people drift inwardly into their own lives and how that ruins friendships. It's sad. When we talk about it, my SO is momentarily sad for a moment, but in his self-awareness states that he's content with his relationship with me and his family. He doesn't call his once closest friends when big things happen in our lives and they don't really call either, at least not anymore. They used to reach out but they probably got tired of his slow fade and withdrew. Now we might get an annual roundup of what's happened when someone is feeling particularly bored. And then social media satisfies most idle curiosity anyway.

I'm going to end on an extremely depressing note, but I haven't been able to make new friends either even though I am the kind of person that will try. There are scores of Reddit threads of people lamenting the same thing. Google "I can't make friends after college" and you will be in good if depressing company.

Post-grad folks that still want friends are out there, but we're such a small group and so spread out that you're very unlikely to find someone in close proximity. And besides, meeting someone over the internet who happens to be down the block just doesn't feel the same as the friend you're grieving now.

I think it's best to realize that for most people, friends were simply a surrogate family group as we traversed adolescence, college, and dating. Once people settle into marriage and kids, they just don't care anymore. They become friends with their kids' parents if they have to. They got the family group they were subconsciously seeking. Us weirdos that want friends and family ties throughout all stages of life just have to deal.
posted by ticktickatick at 9:33 PM on February 27, 2018 [33 favorites]

I'll come in with the opposite take, although I want to say that everyone has different experiences making friends, and if it's harder for you then that doesn't make you a less likeable or worthy person - humans are just all different and interact in different ways, and it's a whole part just the luck of the draw whether you get easy-to-friend people falling into your life.

However, I've moved cities a few times and managed to make new, close friends in each place. I just moved 6 months ago and I already have a few new friends in my new village. It is TOTALLY possible to do, but there are some things that make it easier:

- Having a partner who is sociable! My SO skews more like you, finding it a bit tougher to form friendships, but because we attend events mostly together, we do a team approach where I tend to do the small talk bit and he gets involved in the conversation when he feels comfortable. That's a totally fine way to do it, and if you can do it with your partner, it doesn't mean you're not a good friend-maker, it's a valid approach.

- Practice. Social skills take practice just like a musical instrument, or keeping a second language fresh. If you feel like you're not great at small talk, do it with the bank teller, the supermarket till person, the postman. Ask them how their day is going and if it's been busy. Comment on something nice - I love to tell someone when they have really great nails for example, the lady in my post office had mermaid glitter the other day, so we chatted about that and she said that there's nothing like sorting mail to ruin your manicure! I enjoy conversations like that, but even if you don't, you may find them less stressful if you get a bit more used to them.

- Try not to lean on one friendship too much. You mention "fading out most of your other friendships" - it sounds like that was well worth doing as they were not good for you, but it is possible that perhaps it might have been detectable to your friend in question here - that they perhaps felt uncomfortable being your one remaining close friend? I personally would. It's a lot of responsibility and not everyone wants that. What I think is worth doing if you can, is having a little handful of people who you enjoy and trust, so that if one can't be there for you (and there are always good reasons why that might be the case) someone else can.

Keep the faith. I have old friends I've known for 20 years, and I have dear friends I've known for 3, and I love them all in different ways. You can do it - take a deep breath and forge ahead!
posted by greenish at 2:49 AM on February 28, 2018 [8 favorites]

The only post-college friend hacks I've managed to hit upon:

-mere exposure works, you've just got to be merely exposed to each other a bloody lot and there's less forums for this after college. Certain occupations work (police and fire fighters seem to be ultra BFF-y). Some hobbies work too, but the more niche the better. I took a short course in a very specific woodworking skill and the long-termer hobbyists using the studio sometimes holidayed together (!) at woodworking camps. These were adults of ages 25-80s, the median age was about 55. Other mere-exposure situations can work too, like buying member's seating for a favourite sports team so you're there with the same fans all season.
-very regular attendance at a dog park with your dog
posted by hotcoroner at 3:18 AM on February 28, 2018 [10 favorites]

You should definitely continue trying to make new friends, but you could consider having a honest conversation with your old friend about your desire to continue the friendship. Long-distance friendships are hard to maintain and sometimes they morph into a weird dynamic through no fault of the parties involved.

You may never be best friends again, but perhaps you can find a niche in each other's lives that is more authentic and meaningful than what you're doing now.
posted by toastedcheese at 6:06 AM on February 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

The part that stood out to me is they don’t hang out without their spouse - is their spouse maybe particularly needy? If they live three hours away, that means any visit will have to mean 6+ hours at a minimum away from the spouse. Particularly if their spouse is male, this can be a problem - men often have difficulty negotiating new friendships and tend to lean more heavily on their spouse for interaction.
posted by corb at 6:15 AM on February 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is two problems really, grieving your old friendship is the first. It would totally be OK for you to do something honouring the strength of the relationship in the past, but acknowledge that she seems to be moving on. Maybe spend some time writing a letter that you don’t send or having a little candle ceremony.

The second problem is that you recognize that you need more friends in your life. I disagree that there some kind of cut off date for friendship. I’m 47 and I have a great group of friends and I suck at a lot of friendship. But I know where I suck. I’m good at meeting people and asking them to hang out those first few times but after that I need help maintaining. So I make friends through regular activities - book clubs, exercise classes, workshops, volunteering, etc. You can find your tribe! It’s out there.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:06 AM on February 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

Do you have a hobby? Get one, get one you are passionate about, not an "activity" because you want to meet people, something you truly enjoy doing. Then go & hang out with other people that are passionate about it. You are doing it the wrong way around. Even more points if the hobby is one that involves people having to talk to each other, like board games (D&D can be great for this if it's up your alley) or a creative project. Or just volunteering regularly somewhere. The trick is constant, regular low pressure exposure to people.

Going once a week for 6 months is how you start to make friends, not to a couple of activities and no bam instant friendships. You have to go through the energy draining stages of being acquaintances first, these tend to be less energy drains & more energizing if you both have a topic you enjoy talking about as an easy bridge to conversation.

I am very like you say you are personality wise. Moved to a new country in my 40's had no friends, dragged myself to D&D every week. Spend the first three months having panic attacks in the car on the way home thinking of all the horrible social mistakes I'd done, but every Wednesday I'd go. I liked the game & had fun playing & slowly got to know people. now 4 years later I'm running a weekly D&D group and see people come in like us come in to join & do my best to make them welcome. Find your D&D. Then give it time to work. Yes you will feel uncomfortable for a while, and that sucks, trust me I know, then it won't & you'll look forward to going. If the first thing hobby or group you pick doesn't work, keep trying. You got this.
posted by wwax at 7:45 AM on February 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

I totally sympathize.

From what I've seen it's entirely typical for close friendships to fade once one friend gets married. For all kinds of reasons, but they all amount to the same thing in the end.

Sometimes the friendships come back in a different form once the other friend gets married, IF the spouses are compatible. And even more so if there are eventual compatible children. (Incompatible children are a final death knell, but compatible children are a huge boon and can really make a second friendship phase possible.)

It hurts like hell, I know, and I'm sorry. Try not to feel badly used by your friend. It isn't meant to be a rejection of you. It's just a life phase thing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:13 AM on February 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Something that's noticeable in your telling of this situation -- and maybe this is just an oversight, but maybe it is significant -- is that you are upset that they didn't reach out to you about your traumatic situation and also upset that they didn't reach out to you about their traumatic situation. If they're supposed to reach out to you both when they need help and when you need help, when are you reaching out to them?
posted by jacquilynne at 8:16 AM on February 28, 2018 [19 favorites]

We get together a couple of times a year, and friend will always bring their spouse--if spouse is not available then friend will not want to get together....Before this, friend and I had a very close relationship--talking all night, sharing really personal things with each other, having two hour phone calls, etc.

I feel as hurt by all this as if I were being broken up with.

The juxtaposition of these two things raises to me the possibility that spouse felt your friend was invested in their relationship with you in a way spouse was jealous of. I'm not saying you or your friend thought of it in anything like those terms, but I could imagine this kind of relationship, followed by this kind of response, being indicative of the spouse feeling like your friend was having an emotional affair with you. Just suggesting that as a framing that will maybe help you cope, because this may be less about your friend's feelings toward you and more about their working on their relationship with their spouse; again, I'm not trying to state you actually did anything wrong or inappropriate.

... heard nothing from my friend, and when I sent them an email a couple of weeks later with a link to a book I thought they'd like they sent a perfunctory response and didn't mention the mildly traumatic thing.

If I had prior knowledge that a friend had recently gone through something wretched, and then I heard from them in a way that did not broach the thing, I would take that as a clear indication that they did not wish to discuss the thing with me, and I would respect that wish by not bringing up the thing. Your friend really may think they are meeting your expectations here, or even that you're pulling a slow fade on THEM since you didn't bring up the thing that you know they know about.
posted by solotoro at 8:30 AM on February 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

I know how much this situation sucks, but it might be worth thinking about it from this perspective:

You know, if someone who was once close with you stops reaching out to you when bad stuff happens to them, maybe it's because they've learned that you're not responsive in the ways that they'd prefer.

Similarly, if you have a bunch of not-so-great stuff happening in your life and that's the bulk of what you post on social media, they might assume that you're too preoccupied with your own stuff to be a good friend right now. They may also not want to engage beyond the emoji level because they don't want to deal with the cascade of your life issues. Not only that, but it's hard to hang out one-on-one with someone like that because there's a good chance of every interaction turning into a therapy session.

These things work together to make maintaining friendships when you're going through stuff very difficult. You have to consistently bring more to the table than your own problems and be someone your friends can trust to be present when they're going through something.

If you don't want people to fade on you, put more of an effort into getting your emotional support needs met outside of your friendships. Lean a bit more on your therapist, your cats, your stuffed animal collection, whatever. Regardless of how you make friends, it'll make you a more pleasant person to be around.
posted by blerghamot at 8:32 AM on February 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. I am definitely more hopeful about new friends now.

blerghamot, that's an interesting point you raise. My friend has been through terrible things in the last several years. I've tried to be there by sending cards, traveling to visit, etc. I also definitely strive to avoid dumping on them. I have stopped reaching out to them and sharing bad news because of the lukewarm response I got when I did. I get a strong sense of pulling back from them, like they will maintain the friendship but only at a distant arm's length.
posted by whistle pig at 9:41 AM on February 28, 2018

What if something notgood is going on in friend's relationship with the spouse? Like what if spouse is a jealous monster? In case that's the deal and given that your spouses get along well, I would go on the assumption that something in the spousal relationship is having a chilling effect on your friend. I would step up the light, no-stress "as couples" interactions and then try to carve out niches in those events where you and friend hang out without the spouses--but short and sweet and still light no-stress: not anything big that would scare off the friend or make the spouse suspicious, and I wouldn't come out and ask, "Hey, is your spouse maybe terrible, is that what's up?" I'd do as you've done with the Big Life Events stuff--not expect sharing from the friend and not share overmuch yourself, since the friend seems not to be capable of much emotional support either way just now. In case friend's in trouble of some kind but doesn't think it would be safe to talk about it, it would be helpful to friend for you to just be around in a nonthreatening way, increasing, possibly, the opportunity to get aside and confide. You may never find out what the issue was, or it may turn out that friend is fading on you because the glorious spouse to end all spouses is the only person on Earth worth friend's time (and it's not exactly unlikely: this spouse-obsessed friendtype definitely exists). But you don't know, so it's probably best to assume the friend could be in some kind of trouble and make yourself as available as possible. A side benefit is that it might dissipate the resentment.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:58 AM on February 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

First whistle pig, I just want to say that what you're going through sucks, and can be so painful. I wish there were more understanding in our culture of how important friendships can be and how much it can hurt when they end or taper off!

I'm a pretty different person from you, so take this with a grain of salt, but I am someone for whom friendships are really important, and who also doesn't tolerate toxic friends in my life. That said, a few things:

- If friendships are important to you, you have to be willing to put effort into building new friendships. Honestly, it's a life-long endeavor. Friends will come in and out of your life and most of us just can't say "ok, I've got one friend, I'm good" and expect that person to fulfill all of our friendship needs. I think the idea that you can't make new friends after college, or after 30 or whatever, is total bullshit. Yes, it's harder. But it's definitely possible.

- I do also get that it's harder with social anxiety. But I think you can make it easier by putting yourself in situations where it'll be easier to meet and build relationships with people like you. That's the thing about making friends as an adult - it's not quite as easy as it is in school, but you also get to make conscious choices about who you're going to befriend. You're not just falling in with whoever happens to be nearby and is most similar. If your compatibility band is small, that's ok! It is for most adults.

- I would suggest you spend some time thinking about the kinds of people you want to make friends with. Think about the things you like to do, the kinds of conversations you like to have with friends, the qualities that are important to you. And think about how you can put yourself in situations where you will be able to build relationships with (not just meet once or twice) people like that. I have a friend who is geeky and creative but also really likes to party - she's gotten involved in her local cosplay scene and has made a ton of new friends. Another friend is more introverted and spiritual, and has gotten really involved in her Unitarian Church. Things like that, situations where you will come into repeated contact with people who share things in common with you are the best ways to make friends.

- I think one really important thing about adult friendships is accepting that they ebb and flow. People's lives take different turns, they go through periods where they have different responsibilities and priorities. My best friend lives 1500 miles away and we talk MAYBE once a year. Our lives are wildly different - I'm single and live alone with a career and business that takes up a lot of my energy, and I travel a lot; she has three kids, is a stay at home mom who homeschools and rarely leaves the state because of the three kids. We went through a bit of a rough period in our friendship when our lives started to diverge, and I think there was a period of a couple of years when we didn't talk at all - I later found out she had a major family crisis during that time and I didn't know until years later! But I still consider her my best friend because we get each other on a deep level, and when we do see each other, it's like no time has passed. I think there's something really special about a friendship where you can accept those ebbs and flows and still care about each other and be ready to be close again when the time is right. That's not every friendship though! Some friendships just ebb, and it's painful, but it leaves room to bring other people into your life.

As for this particular friend, have you actually tried to reach out to them and see what's going on? I wouldn't harp on it, but I don't think there's anything wrong with sending an email or text or calling to say something like "hey, I miss the talks we used to have, would you be up for chatting sometime soon one-on-one?" It might not work, but it very well might. You might find out that they're just overwhelmed with things going on in their life, or don't have the energy for a long-distance friendship (which is what you are now - three hours is a long way) - or maybe there was some sort of miscommunication and you can patch it up. It can't hurt to give it a try if this friendship is important to you. It's an emotional risk for you - but emotional risks are what it takes to have real emotional intimacy, right?
posted by lunasol at 12:06 PM on February 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

In my mind, there are two possibilities:

1) Friend could not sustain the intensity of your friendship once their spouse entered the picture because friend doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth.

2) As someone mentioned above, maybe friend’s spouse is jealous of your relationship. It sounds like you guys were really close; maybe spouse felt threatened by that and asked your friend to dial back your relationship.
posted by delight at 2:34 PM on February 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m sorry if this is totally presumptuous but you have tried keep things gender neutral but refer to your spouse as he. Is your friend a guy married to a woman? If so, then:

Before this, friend and I had a very close relationship--talking all night, sharing really personal things with each other, having two hour phone calls, etc.

Is there the possibility that your friend’s spouse has maybe put down some boundaries with the friendship between the two of you? I know you’re adamant that you guys are just friends and 3 hours apart, but just wondering if this sheds a bit of light on your friends behaviour.

It sounds like they are trying to define your relationship differently and yeah that is hard, but to be honest they sound like they’d be good “couple friends” if you gave that a chance. It is easier than trying to make new friends from scratch or staying resentful of a relationship of the past.
posted by like_neon at 8:03 AM on March 2, 2018

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