A bad trip
June 21, 2018 7:52 AM   Subscribe

What do I say to a friend who will guilt trip me for falling out of contact?

Back story: I was good friends with Anna 5+ years ago. We went out several times a month and hung out at each other's houses. She wasn't my best friend, but she was a good friend.

Then life happened. I got pregnant, moved to the suburbs 45 minutes away, started working two jobs to make ends meet. Anna was always emailing about wanting to come out and see me, or meet on the occasions that I went into the city, but she always wanted to hang out during the week (terrible for me because I worked evenings) and always had other plans on the weekend. I totally understood! Young parents are not much fun to hang out with.

For a time, she sent me emails about once a month about getting together, but she was always busy that weekend, and always said "let me get back to you about another weekend" and then never followed up. At that time, my life was crazy busy and I did not have the mental resources to play email tag, so finally I just stopped answering.

Last week I got an email from her about meeting again. In the meantime she's had a baby herself and wants to get together and catch up. But she replied to the last email from a year ago, saying, "I asked what day would be good for us to meet but you never replied :(((((((( "

My question: On the one hand I would like to see her and her kid. If it weren't for making me feel bad, I'd be really happy to see her! On the other hand, people who guilt trip me make me feel anxious and angry. How can I say that I want to see her but that I don't want any bullshit about not keeping in touch?

Complication: She's kind of touchy, which is originally why I just ghosted instead of saying, "Look, I don't think you really want to see me, and I don't have the energy to see you, please stop emailing me."
posted by lollymccatburglar to Human Relations (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ha! The formatting slightly different on the post preview , so maybe it's not obvious that those are a bunch of frowny faces.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 7:55 AM on June 21, 2018

YMMV, but I have let go of friendships with people who don't understand that life happens and sometimes humans have periods of days, weeks, months, and yes sometimes a few years, where responsibilities are so taxing and stressful that socializing takes a backseat. I am too old and frankly too busy with my family and close friends who understand this fact and are delighted when they do see me to waste any time on people whose friendship comes with a hefty guilt tax. Last week I saw a friend I haven't seen for over a year because life happened. We caught up as if no time had passed, and it was a joyful reunion. I am making time for her in the coming month because: more of this, please. The letting go of guilt has radically improved my life and my self esteem. Hugs to you.
posted by pammeke at 7:57 AM on June 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

If you do want to see her, I'd ignore the dig (for now), and try to read it as super lighthearted, which may be the way it was intended. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Start a new email chain so all the backstory is erased. I'd say something like 'congratulations on your new baby. If you're up for it, I'd love to meet up. I'm in the suburbs on XYZ dates, or in the city on ABC days. What works for you?

Keep it lighthearted, and ignore any drama-creating text. If you find that she puts out further guilt, or can't let the past go, then it may be time to ghost again.
posted by hydra77 at 7:59 AM on June 21, 2018 [27 favorites]

Ugh, I hate that. I had a friend who I eventually stopped calling because every conversation started with a ten minute lecture about how much I sucked at staying in touch. No thanks!

If you want to see her, I'd respond with something light like, "Yeah, life gets pretty busy. How about next Sunday at noon?" If she responds any way other than accepting or suggesting another day/time, disengage and maybe block.
posted by Aquifer at 8:01 AM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think it is absolutely fair to reply to that email and say, "Hey, Anna, I'm so excited to see you again, but I'm terrible about staying in touch lately. If that is going to be a problem, it might be tough for us to reconnect." If she is touchy about it, problem solved. If she's cool about it, then great!

I also think it's possible that -- assuming that email is the extent of her guilt-tripping -- that she's not even really guilt tripping you? I could see that reply as just a kind of gentle reminder that the ball is in your court? It's always tough for me to get a real understanding of what someone really means in a text or email, so maybe put forth a little energy to meet her in person again and see if you click or not.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:04 AM on June 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

I don't get the sense she was guilt tripping you. I think it was a clumsy attempt to reestablish contact. If it were me, I would meet her and then from that meeting decide whether it is a friendship worth pursuing or not, but I would not judge her on a bunch of frowny faces.
posted by AugustWest at 8:11 AM on June 21, 2018 [30 favorites]

Seems like the kindest thing to do is to acknowledge your part in letting the friendship drop, and not accuse her of anything. Like, "I can't believe it's been so long! I'm sorry I never got back to you - it felt like we were always playing email tag and I guess I just gave up." See where it goes from there - if you get into another round of email tag, or if she's a jerk about you not responding to her, then you can reevaluate.
posted by mskyle at 8:25 AM on June 21, 2018 [18 favorites]

Yes, I mean, it's actually pretty awkward and painful to be the one proposing meetings that the other person somehow has never time for. I will only do that twice or three times before I conclude that the person doesn't actually want to see me. (You describe yourself as ghosting her, so there was something to that in this case.) So, allow for a little awkwardness here. If she continues to poke at it, you can say something...but when I feel super-defensive about something, it's usually my conscience niggling at me at least a little bit. I like mskyle's script.
posted by praemunire at 8:33 AM on June 21, 2018 [12 favorites]

You know this person, so I trust your reaction, but this doesn't sound super-guilty-trippy to me. What I would do is, now that she's been through some of the same experiences and busy-ness herself, to gently turn it around a bit on her. "Yeah, sorry about ghosting, but you understand how crazy things can be with kids and work and all that." If she's touchy, reassure her that you didn't lose contact because of anything personal. You can even be self-deprecating if you think it would help, saying that it's not a strength of yours.

It does, however, sound like she's expecting you to do most of the work. Maybe that's because she really is busy, but that's something I'd think about before re-establishing the friendship.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:39 AM on June 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oof, that comment would also rub me really wrong. Rude.

How can I say that I want to see her but that I don't want any bullshit about not keeping in touch?

I would assume good intentions here, if possible. Can you convince yourself that she was trying to be cute or playful, and that no guilt-trip was intended? But if she makes any kind of dig about this again, either in-person or over email/text, nip that shit right in the bud: "I'm really happy we've reconnected, but I can't deal with these comments about how busy I've been over the past year. Can we agree to just put that behind us?"
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:44 AM on June 21, 2018

Sometimes my friends have done that almost exact move as Anna in an awkward attempt to remind me that *they* weren't the ones who dropped the ball in an ambiguous situation of tag tag tag ghost. It's almost like they're doing the little guilt trip thing not to make me feel guilty but rather to show that they never wanted to lose contact. They deflect any responsibility for the months of missed connection, which is irritating, but it's really less like an attempt to make me feel bad and more like a cutesy one-upmanship over who misses who more.
I do find it irritating but not enough to end a friendship when I would kinda like to see the person and her new baby. In your shoes I'd write back something like "I know! We kept missing each other! Frustrating!" , suggest a date and let it go.
posted by nantucket at 8:45 AM on June 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

Could you say something like...

"I'd love to see you and BABBY and catch up. I'm sure you know, now that you have a baby, how hard it is to plan ahead. I find that if plans aren't solidified in about 2-3 emails, I just don't have the energy to keep at it. Let's try and get this hammered out. [list of dates/time and restrictions on your availability - e.g. no evenings]."
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:50 AM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

sculpin, that seems unnecessarily harsh. The OP did propose several weekend dates but her friend always had other plans. She was also not making connecting a priority.

OP, I would meet up. Hopefully now that she's had a child she'll understand that life happens a bit better and perhaps you'll have more compatible schedules (I recommend brunch).
posted by peacheater at 8:52 AM on June 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

I like cranberrymonger's suggestion. But I also agree that close friends should be able to (lovingly) express frustrations with one another. It sounds like you have some resentment over her not making more of an effort to visit you on your terms, due to being in a hurricane of busy, and so her expressing *her* resentment is extra irritating to you. She probably has no idea. Do you want to gently bridge this gap or does it seem like too much work? If it seems like too much work, maybe you actually don't have the bandwidth for this friendship right now.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:56 AM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

I read "she was always busy that weekend" as meaning, "she was always busy in the weekend immediately following her email," because in my circles that's what that means. If the OP really did propose weekend dates that were far enough in advance that Anna might reasonably be expected not to have plans, then I misread.
posted by sculpin at 9:00 AM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a ridiculously busy single mom of two with a fulltime job and a consuming hobby and therapy every week and a new house. I have to turn down a LOT of offers to hang out. I haven't yet left anyone hanging with an email unanswered, though. I feel like you're not living up to expected social politeness standards, let alone holding up your half of the relationship in terms of reciprocity.

What I do when I get such an email is check my calendar for the next month. If I have a suitable slot, I reply to them offering that time (and note a tentative engagement in my calendar). If I don't have anything for the next month, I write back saying, "So sorry! I am swamped with baby/work/life etc. Can't hang out anytime soon. How about I get in touch with you next month and see if we can make this happen?" [Note: I could just offer to make a date with them more than a month out, but it doesn't tend to work for casual friends 1-1 (works great for groups).] And then I send myself a reminder to check back with her next month. It shows up on my gmail inbox 4 weeks from now, so then I get to contact her and say "HEY! How about Tuesday!"

If this is a friend I don't actually enjoy hanging with, then my responses will be cooler and less promising from the start. "Sorry, I'm really swamped, the baby ate my life. Hope you are well!" - and if they contact me again, I just repeat the same thing until they go away.

Feel free to steal this workflow. Don't let emails just go unanswered.
posted by MiraK at 9:02 AM on June 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

Hi, you're not a bad friend if you let emails go unanswered and you definitely didn't "fuck up," but you might be incompatible with her as a friend and with some of the answerers in this thread, just to let you know there's a wide range of what's acceptable here. My friends and I accept that we are all ridiculously busy people, that sometime texts and emails get lost along the way, and that losing track of them or allowing a lot of time to pass before we meet up in again is in no way a reflection of our love and affection for one another. To me, a friendship is supposed to be easy and relaxing and fun. I definitely have no desire to add to the weight of obligations in the lives of my friends.

Having said all that, I am hypersensitive to being guilted, and I didn't really necessarily read that in her email although I might feel differently if it came to me personally. I don't have a problem being blunt with people in these situations--when we met in person, I'd just say something like, "God, I'm ridiculously busy and crap at keeping up with/meeting people, so don't take it personally." I'd say that if they don't accept it, I don't need the drama, but I've just...never had that happen? I guess I'm friends with people who are all like me.
posted by tiger tiger at 9:14 AM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Your discomfort is because you do feel guilty and that's ok. It's ok! You ghosted; you had your reasons, and it's not a giant thing, but it is a thing that happened.

Suggest a couple of times to meet up. If one of them works, great. When you meet, you can follow the excellent script above along lines of "I'm sorry we fell out of touch, we played tag for so long I gave up." Better not to let it fester.

If neither of them works, respond to say "sounds like our schedules are too busy right now, I hope we can reconnect another time" and leave it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:21 AM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sounds to me like Anna has been doing a lot of emotional labor over the years to try to keep your friendship going

Last week I saw a friend I haven't seen for over a year because life happened. We caught up as if no time had passed, and it was a joyful reunion.

This might be one of those cultural splits, like Ask vs. Guess or Church of Interrupting vs Church Of Strong Civility. I think there are quite a lot of us living happily in Camp Low Maintenance and we tend to look askance at much of the Sturm und Drang that seems to go along with membership in Camp Constant Contact. For us, the mark of true friendship is mutual minimisation of emotional labor rather than some kind of attempt to apportion it "fairly".

I have friends of thirty years' standing whom I haven't caught up with for well over a year but would instantly drop everything for if they needed me to, and I know for a fact that the same is true of them for me. I frequently think fondly of them, and I'm sure the same goes the other way as well. Whenever we do meet up, it's bloody wonderful. But we don't subscribe to each others' newsletters, and that suits us all just fine.

It's ok! You ghosted; you had your reasons, and it's not a giant thing, but it is a thing that happened.

Here in Camp Low Maintenance, ghosting is not a thing.
posted by flabdablet at 9:39 AM on June 21, 2018 [28 favorites]

I think the best way to handle guilt tripping is to just own the thing, like "oops, yeah, I guess I dropped the ball there!" Admitting fault in a way that indicates that it's not that big of a deal does wonders for evaporating that sense of defensiveness. I see the appeal of counter-guilt-tripping her ("seemed like we both were busy so I gave up"), but I think that perpetuates the tension.
posted by salvia at 9:49 AM on June 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you don't really like her very much. You have permission not to see her again.
posted by grouse at 9:51 AM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

You know, let's just let go of the blame game, shall we? If you ask me, you did your best. It sounds like she'd ping you, you would reply, but when it got down to specifics, she wouldn't commit. I've been through this with others also. You're not a bad person. You're a busy person.

Here's what I'd do. I'd say, "I'm sorry we haven't talked in a while. Let's make an effort to get together. Here are the dates when I'm free." Suggest a few different options for activities.

If none of those dates/times work for her, ask her to make some suggestions. If none of those work for you, then you can suggest either just catching up on the phone, or pick a date so far in the future that it hasn't been spoken for yet.

I think that's as much as you can be expected to do.

It gets frustrating to pin down a friend who, again and again, just can't seem to set aside time in their schedule. If you go another few rounds of "how about this time?" "Nope, how about this one?" "Nope", then eventually it's okay to throw up your hands and say, "well, we can never seem to manage a mutual time. What should we do?" Or suggest just catching up on the phone.
posted by cleverevans at 10:20 AM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you really do want to see her again and rebuild the friendship, call her on the phone. It's hard to interpret tone in emails, especially with people we haven't seen in a while.
posted by ProtoStar at 11:16 AM on June 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ah, yes, I personally belong to Camp Low Maintenance (Communications Division) too, and have a number of friends from the same camp. The note I wrote above is when you KNOW your friend is from Camp Answer All Emails Or Else. Cross-camp friendships do exist and can be rewarding; I work to accommodate my friends from Camp Answer All Emails Or Else because I can, and because I know how many accommodations I get from all my friends when I am stranded in other inconvenient camps, e.g. Camp I Broke My Fucking Fingernail And The Universe Is Out To Get Me, which is only open at 3 a.m. for some reason.
posted by MiraK at 11:24 AM on June 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure what it is about that message that's making you feel bad, because it does look to me like she was picking up where you left off. It's the kind of thing some people do when they feel quite comfortable with the person in question. I'd venture to say that she's not responsible for how you're feeling on this one, because it really does not seem like she was being malicious. It could be you're feeling a little bit responsible for dropping the ball on this as well?

I'd give her the benefit of the doubt, if she's someone you really do want to see, and try to find a mutually acceptable time to meet. If that doesn't work, suggest catching up via phone. She does sound like many of my friends - extroverted ones who always have plans and are well-meaning when they reach out in this way, but very rarely follow through. It doesn't make them bad people, it just means they navigate their social lives differently than I do, and there's an unspoken mutual understanding that we are different in that particular way.
posted by Everydayville at 12:00 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think that we often spend a lot of time overanalyzing our own responses to people and getting wrapped up in our own anxieties and self-conscious feelings that we forget that other people do it too. I think that the advice to assume best intentions and go from there is good. You've been out of touch for a long time and so putting a lot on an email exchange that can easily be read multiple ways isn't helpful. Try to meet with her and see how it goes. If it doesn't go well, then you have your answer for the future about whether or not to remain in contact with her.
posted by acidnova at 1:42 PM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

If it weren't for making me feel bad, I'd be really happy to see her! On the other hand, people who guilt trip me make me feel anxious and angry.

Maybe make it clear to your friend that she is not to provide you with any negative feedback or input to the friendship. I don't believe that all people "know" this, or that expressing what appears to me to be either disappointment or hurt feelings, towards another person, creates feelings of anger and anxiety in them, or takes them on a "guilt trip."

How can I say that I want to see her but that I don't want any bullshit about not keeping in touch?

Why do you even want to see her if you do not want to keep in touch?
posted by OnefortheLast at 4:20 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why do you even want to see her if you do not want to keep in touch?

Because, as people detailed above, some of us maintain rewarding and warm friendships with only sporadic contact. Camp Low Maintenance here.

I have a few friendships of that nature that I maintain with occasional chat messages between occasional in-person meetings because I somehow find chat a lot easier to manage than email. It's quick and doesn't require my undivided attention but lets someone know, yeah, I am thinking of you and I haven't forgotten you--I wonder if that would work for your relationship with this friend?
posted by tiger tiger at 6:46 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a member of Camp Consistent Contact (doesn't have to be every day, but every few months? make an effort at least!) a friend I haven't spoken to in 5+ years wouldn't be considered a friend anymore but more of an acquaintance I have warm feelings toward based on our shared history. I move around a lot, often to different countries, so if we don't put in the work to keep up with each other it's very likely that I may never see or speak to the other person ever again. If I was Camp Low Contact that'd lead to a lot of social isolation for me, which I really do not enjoy.

(I understand that other people might not really feel like they need social contact and consistent emotional intimacy, but I do! I'm kind of feeling the need to defend Camp Consistent Contact here. I want someone to talk through breakups and work stresses and idk, our latest TV/book obsession together. Do Camp Low Contact people only call up their close friends when bad things happen every couple of years? I'm not married but if I ever am I also do not want to subsume my emotional needs into the household! Having a community of people upheld through occasional texts or replying to each other's tweets is really helpful!)

OP, if you do want to be friends with this person, what kind of friendship do you want with her? The kind where you meet up maybe once a year or once every two years for a catch-up conversation? Do you want your future kids to play together, or an emotionally intimate connection, or just fun times every once in a while? Maybe you can gently/lightly communicate that if you reply: "Oh jeez yeah I never see people these days! I'm so busy I only have free time like once a year ): But let's try for mid-July? I'm going to be really busy after that but I'd love to catch up!" I'm also adding my voice to the chorus of people saying that :((((((( doesn't feel like it's meant to guilt-trip to me but the kind of joke about being needy I'd make with a friend.
posted by storytam at 11:11 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well, you did leave her hanging last time so why not simply acknowledge that?

Hey, I know I left you hanging last time, sorry!

That's all you need to say.

Then you can meet up and go from there.
posted by M. at 11:37 PM on June 21, 2018

Yes, I mean, it's actually pretty awkward and painful to be the one proposing meetings that the other person somehow has never time for. I will only do that twice or three times before I conclude that the person doesn't actually want to see me.

Maybe I didn't make it clear enough in my question, but this describes my situation, not Anna's. For a period of about a year we exchanged emails that all went like this:

Anna: Hey, it's been so long, let's get together, can you meet this week in the evening?
Me: No, I work evenings, but what about this weekend or the next, any day, any time?
Anna: Oh, I can't, I've already got plans both weekends!
Me: Ok, well I'm always free on the weekends, so let me know when you have a free day!
Anna: (never replies)

Next month, the same exchange. After awhile I stopped replying, because clearly she didn't actually want to see me.

Anyway, there are a lot of really good answers here, but in the end I think that flabdablet has it. I am definitely Camp Low Maintenance and I find it difficult to deal with people in Camp Constant Contact. It's really helpful to think of it in those terms, and I think Anna and I can have a rewarding friendship as long as I make it really clear that I can do X and maybe stretch it to Y, but please don't expect me to do Z, I am just not a person who does Z, Z goes against my very nature.

Thanks everybody!
posted by lollymccatburglar at 6:15 AM on June 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe I didn't make it clear enough in my question, but this describes my situation, not Anna's

Ah ok, disregard my comment please, I read that part carelessly.
This maybe seems more a case of how some friendships don't transition easily between high and low maintenance.
Perhaps even her checking in to make hypothetical plans which never occur is her low-key way of keeping in touch?

I will only do that twice or three times before I conclude that the person doesn't actually want to see me

I think praemunire's thoughts here are a good rule, if she flakes on establishing concrete plans 2 or 3 times, feel free to let it go sans guilt. Maybe you can reconnect later when life isn't so hectic for the both of you.

 In your shoes I'd write back something like "I know! We kept missing each other! Frustrating!" , suggest a date and let it go.

nantucket's script here is a perfect way to acknowlge her comment, giving in the benefit of doubt, and clearly avoiding any drama by it.
posted by OnefortheLast at 4:18 PM on June 22, 2018

Oh huh. It sounds more like she was the flaky one. Like you're saying you prefer inconstant contact, but it actually sounds like you did what you could be as available as possible.

Maybe it's not that you feel guilty, just that you're annoyed that she made the accusation because she's the one who flaked, not you. (If so, I totally sympathize; I would be extremely annoyed!) But anyway, still, yeah, give reconnecting a shot but don't knock yourself out (or be too surprised) if she can't actually make a date.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:42 PM on June 22, 2018

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