Dealing with the pain of a friend breakup that I'm not sure is happening
June 6, 2019 1:26 PM   Subscribe

One of my oldest and dearest friends (who I do have some sexual history with) has apparently stopped wanting to interact with me, and it hurts so badly. How do I manage this especially with the uncertainty of what is actually happening?

One of my close friends (we'll call him Adam) has become pretty cold to me. We live in different states, so we've always had times when we haven't talked as much, but it's always been just like old times whenever we hang out again. I am a bisexual woman. In the past, Adam and I hooked up a few times - three times in college, and once after college (so about 4 times over the course of 7 years). We have not had any kind of sexual relationship in over 8 years, including an extended period where we lived in the same city. Any kind of sexual or romantic relationship has decidedly ended, and we've talked about it and are much, much, much happier being platonic friends.

Over the past two years, we have both begun serious relationships, and we both have partners we love dearly. The first time he visited my city after he had begun dating his current partner, "Susan," we had arranged to grab brunch as two couples, but he and Susan flaked out at the last minute - we saw each other at a larger happy hour thing briefly. He and I hung out at our college reunion, and we had a wonderful time. Recently, Adam and Susan came to my town for a large event, and he didn't let me know he was going to be in town for a week. I found out after mutual friends had asked if I had seen him while he was here. That stung badly, and I texted him briefly about it, but it basically boiled down to "we were SUPER busy, but we'll see you a wedding next month." The wedding happened, and at first it seemed like everything was normal and fine and we all hugged, but he didn't talk to me over the course of most of the reception, and when I sent him a text saying, "Hey, great seeing you, and Susan - sorry we didn't hang out more!," I got no response.

It's one of those things where I wish he would just be like, "I don't want to be friends anymore. We had a time in our life where we were super-close, but I don't want you in my life anymore." Or something. Just closure. But I don't want to be overly dramatic or cause tension in his happy relationship or assume more than is there, so I just feel stuck with this grief.

This hurts so badly - like, this is a person who I thought would be in my wedding party someday. I thought he would be my friend for the rest of my life, and I thought he felt that way, too, and it makes me feel like I am some kind of fool for thinking our relationship was much closer than it was. It almost feels worse than a breakup, and I just feel stuck with this grief and have no idea how to talk to anyone about it.

Any advice on navigating this, whether trying to talk to him one last time is appropriate, how to deal with mutual friends, anything is appreciated.
posted by socktothepuppet to Human Relations (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I am a woman who likes to have platonic men friends, but it is difficult to maintain these friendships if they have women partners. I've heard, "she's been cheated on before me so doesn't want me to have women friends" and other such things. Could it be that?
posted by DixieBaby at 1:31 PM on June 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

I think he's focused on Susan and for whatever reason feels the need to put you in a more distant friendship ring.
posted by nikaspark at 1:31 PM on June 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

Friendships ebb and flow. This is painful, but if you can reach out occasionally with friendly well wishes (and no drama), this period may pass. Hugs.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 1:35 PM on June 6, 2019 [11 favorites]

I suspect that Susan has jealousy issues and has told him not to be friends with you. I personally think that is awful behavior, when people act that way; but it is very common.
posted by sheldman at 1:35 PM on June 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

And if it were me, I would ask him point-blank if that is the reason - even with the risk that he would never answer, or would answer with some other (possibly false) reason.
posted by sheldman at 1:36 PM on June 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another vote for "it's likely Susan feels threatened by you and asked Adam to limit his contact with you".
posted by sunflower16 at 1:37 PM on June 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Why are we all blaming his girlfriend? It's equally possible that he decided "wow, I feel like my relationship with the OP is a little too close now that I am dating Susan, and I am going to dial it back--but I don't really know how to be direct about this with her, so I'm going to just fade." Or it's equally possible that he's madly in love and busy and isn't responding to anyone's texts. There are infinite possibilities, and you will likely never know which one or combination of them caused this.

But also, the reason he is doing this doesn't matter. You have the facts: he is not responding to you, and is not reaching out to you. His actions tell you that he does not want to see you. It absolutely sucks when someone fades on you like this, especially someone that you were once close with. But the "I don't want to be close anymore" text, if you ever did receive it, would not offer closure. I submit that there is no such thing as closure: the desire for closure is essentially a rhetorical device that allows one to keep a relationship alive. And that makes sense, this is a thing people do, because it is heartbreaking when a good relationship changes on us and we're left without it. I am really sorry.

Friendships do ebb and flow. All changes are not forever. But they also need to be treated as if they are forever, because their ebb and flow is unpredictable and impossible to steer. It sounds to me like it could be useful for you to do some kind of journaling on this friendship and what its end means to you so that you can work through it. I'm sorry you're hurting, you deserve to be treated better than this by a friend, and his treatment of you says nothing about you and everything about him and his limited ability to handle the feelings he has or had about his friendship with you. Doesn't make him a bad person, but it does mean that this is how it is.

You were not foolish to enjoy his friendship and it is not foolish to miss him. Take care, and please do something nice for yourself today.
posted by sockermom at 1:47 PM on June 6, 2019 [112 favorites]

Best answer: I think he's just majorly sucked into this new relationship and doesn't have a ton of time for all his old college buddies right now. It's possible that he doesn't want to be friends with you anymore, and it's possible that his girlfriend is a jealous weirdo who had forbade him from interacting with you, but there's nothing in your examples that makes me think those are the only possible explanations. It's hard to make time to see everyone you know when you are visiting, weddings are chaotic and not ideal for long talks, he has a heavy-duty newish girlfriend, none of these things are specifically about you but they all explain why you haven't talked much lately.
posted by cakelite at 1:48 PM on June 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Something similar happened to me for reasons the other comments suggested. What made me really sad about it had nothing to do with the Susan in the situation, but rather that the Adam didn’t value our friendship enough to make it non-negotiable. On the other hand, I also understood because if that’s the love of his life then she’s the one who’s non-negotiable, not me. It just really does hurt that someone you think of as an un-removable part of your life is able to cut you out of his. All I can say is I think it’s totally normal to be hurt about this, and maybe wait it out for a while just in case it’s not what you think it is.
posted by sallybrown at 1:52 PM on June 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

I could not possibly improve on sockermom's answer.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:53 PM on June 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I thought he would be my friend for the rest of my life, and I thought he felt that way, too, and it makes me feel like I am some kind of fool for thinking our relationship was much closer than it was.

One of my favorite breakup songs has these lyrics (slightly paraphrased):
I said things that turned out to be untrue. When I said them I meant them. Don't you go thinking I never loved you.
Just because you're no longer close now doesn't mean that what you had 5 or 10 years ago wasn't just as important to him then as it was to you. Or that he didn't intend for it to last a lifetime either. We can't predict in what ways we will change in the long term, and how that will affect our relationships.
posted by serathen at 1:54 PM on June 6, 2019 [30 favorites]

I’m not sure it has anything to do with you. Friendships do go through on/off periods. At times when I haven’t responded to people I care about, it isn’t because I suddenly hate them. It’s because I’m consumed with petty daily responsibilities, unfortunately. He could have a million things going on. Even if he does want space for the sake of space, is that so bad? You’ll be around when he comes back. Or maybe you won’t. But the key to not being in pain is not making it about you. You’re not THAT special, right? And neither is he!
posted by amodelcitizen at 2:08 PM on June 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I mean, instead of assuming all of these things about his motives, you can always reach out and say "I've been feeling lately like you're not as invested in this friendship as much as I am anymore. This isn't on you, I just want to know what's up so I don't hurt my own feelings by assuming you don't want to be close anymore." Make it about how you feel, not criticizing the actions themselves because, honestly, it could be he has no idea how he's making you feel and assumes everything is cool.

It requires you to be as vulnerable and honest as you have been here but, do you really have anything to lose if he's going to ghost on you forever on his on accord regardless?
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:08 PM on June 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

He and I hung out at our college reunion, and we had a wonderful time.

Was the reunion before or after Susan? I’m trying to figure out if a) he’s distanced you completely since meeting Susan - or b) does he only distance you when he and Susan are geographically close to each other?

It’s simplistic, but ‘a’ above implies that he just isn’t into the friendship. ‘b’ implies that Susan is keeping him on a leash.
posted by doctor tough love at 3:39 PM on June 6, 2019

It might not be anything to do with Susan, but it's a hell of a coincidence in timing if not. Here's a question I haven't seen anyone ask: do you think that perhaps Susan is threatened by you because you're bi? Like, Susan feels either some kind of biphobic/queerphobic discomfort, or feels threatened by some aspect of your history with Adam. Given that your mutual friends seemed surprised that Adam and Susan hadn't told you when they were in town, it sounds even more like this is a Susan issue because Adam hasn't been telling people about it.

If it were me, I'd start by talking to mutuals and kind of sounding out what you get and don't get from that, talk to your partner about what he's observed, and then decide whether you want to talk to Adam about this. This may or may not get you anywhere, but as stated by others: you have nothing to lose.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:52 PM on June 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Totally what sockermom says.

Some people just move on. They look back with fondness or affection or whatever, but they move on to new relationships and let the past ones lapse. This was a big surprise to me.

From the perspective of someone now in my sixties, I still marvel that certain people are gone from my life while other unexpected ones are still around. Over a period of several years, I was puzzled and hurt by the long slow fade from someone who I just knew would be a dear lifelong friend. I'm also a little embarrassed that I didn't take the cue sooner. The intense relationship formed when we were both younger and single just wasn't sustainable once we were paired up with other people, at least not for them.

It really hurts. You may not be there yet with Adam, but at some point, quietly and graciously accepting that it's in the past and letting it fade might be the way to go.
posted by MelissaSimon at 3:59 PM on June 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

I (a woman) had a friend do this (a man) with a similar background- casual hookup then great friends. The friend breakup was painful and made me feel really disposable. I later learnt (from a mutual friend) it happened because he realised he had strong romantic feelings for me, I was in a serious relationship and clearly just not that into friend in a romantic way, and so friend went no contact for his own stability and the health of his new relationship. He's married with kids now, we almost never talk. His wife knows how he felt about me, and the way our friendship ended gave it a "tortured break up" vibe from his perspective which means he'd be unlikely to get back in touch cos it'd feel like messy ex texting than old friend texting, and his wife understandably has no desire to emotionally coach him through any messy ex feelings.
posted by hotcoroner at 4:06 PM on June 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Don't investigate this, whatever you find out won't make Adam want to be your friend, and he'll be rightfully annoyed if he finds out you were prying.

For my part, I've made myself scarce when exes-who-are-now-friends started seriously dating someone and the SO and I didn't mesh. It gets easier with time, and some of those folks I'm now friends with the SO as much as the original friend, but you're probably looking at a scale of years. Maybe a decade. Invite them to big group things once in a while, send a holiday card if that's a thing you do, and let it rest for a while.
posted by momus_window at 4:22 PM on June 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

It strikes me in reading this questions and others, men often ditch women who were their emotional labor partners, after they meet someone who provides that to them. Sexual or otherwise.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:46 PM on June 6, 2019 [44 favorites]

‘b’ implies that Susan is keeping him on a leash.

It doesn’t matter what his reasons are for doing this, it’s happening and you can’t change that. I do not understand why everyone is blaming the girlfriend. Adam is making a choice to ignore you. He has agency. No one else is forcing him to stop talking to you. I think it will be easier for you to move on if you accept that Adam is doing this and he’s clearly made up his mind, than if you try to blame someone else for it.
posted by a strong female character at 5:19 PM on June 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

From my own experience, what MMD said above rings true. I’ve been a non-partnered emotional caretaker a few times for men who disappeared when they got an actual girlfriend. I feel like a sucker every time and it’s something I’ve learned to avoid — painfully.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:29 PM on June 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

It strikes me in reading this questions and others, men often ditch women who were their emotional labor partners, after they meet someone who provides that to them.

I needed to get this cross-sitched onto a throwpillow, it's so true. Something to consider.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 5:38 PM on June 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

I think the commenters above have all hit upon the most likely situations, but I’ll throw this into the mix just because I haven’t seen it posted here yet. The times in my life when I have pushed my close friends away, it was when I was depressed. I didn’t want to hang around the people who knew me well because they would be able to see through my fakeness. I didn’t want to burst into tears over drinks. I didn’t want to admit I was considering suicide. I was exhausted and didn’t want to make any effort maintaining relationships. At least with people who didn’t know me as well, it was easier to do.

Plus one to telling him that it feels like he’s backing away from your friendship, and asking him if it’s intentional. One of my friends did that to me, and it woke me up to the fact that I was hurting people who didn’t deserve to be hurt, and did actually help me recover.

I know what this feels like from the other side, too. My best friend has been pulling away from me for a couple years, and he finally just admitted that his PTSD is making it hard for him to maintain our relationship. It fucking hurt. But I’m grateful to him for telling me so I could stop worrying that it was something I’d done wrong.
posted by greermahoney at 6:29 PM on June 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

don't know which is more misogynist, rhetorically degrading what OP clearly describes as a meaningful and valuable friendship into "emotional caretaking" and "emotional labor," or the out-of-thin-air fancies about "Susan" being some jealous controlling bitch with her man on a leash. this based exclusively on "Susan" being a woman's name, and we all know how women are.

but I do know that indulging in these fantasies does not make normal women feel better about losing a friend. OP, if you were his friend, not his unpaid therapist-servant, you know it. you know what he was to you. losing a friend is a sad thing but not an embarrassing or an undignified thing. a friendship is worth something. outsiders rewriting a male-female friendship into an obviously dismal and exploitative thing that was never worth much anyway just passes all bounds of decency unless that is actually true. and only you would know.

How long ago was the wedding and your last text? If it's been less than a month or two, I wouldn't conclude anything yet. I would give it another two weeks, text him one more time, and if you hear nothing back a second time, give up then. but not before. It is possible he's consciously finished with his end of the friendship, rather than just being busy with being in love, but it would be easier to tell if he'd been in love before without this happening. has he, or is this the first/most serious relationship he's had since knowing you?

I don't think it is ever a good idea to force a confrontation in order to make someone say out loud that they don't want to be friends anymore, not unless there's a possibility of some misunderstanding that could be cleared up. it does mean that getting over a lost friendship takes longer than getting over other things, and that it takes longer to be sure you've lost it. it is painful but I don't think there is much to be done about it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:42 PM on June 6, 2019 [17 favorites]

In case this is helpful: my strategy for maintaining these kinds of friendships (with former lovers) over the long term is to befriend the new partner. I have a dear old friend (college boyfriend) whose wife is okay, not someone I would be friends with otherwise, but I like her enough and also know that being friendly and sincerely friends with her makes it a million times easier to be friends with him. I’m no threat at all. It’s also the case that women in straight couples often end up making more social plans, so being pals with the woman can facilitate planning.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:24 PM on June 6, 2019

I have (had?) a friend since middle school. We dated, but like 20 years ago at this point (and nothing major ever happened between us). We also lived together, absolutely extremely platonically for a while for a few years. We were close.

He moved out because he met a woman that he then got engaged to. He got married.

I was not invited to his wedding.

Was all of that super weird to me? Yeah. I mean, I was going through a particularly bad time when he was forming this relationship and so I ... sort of get it. But I also know this isn't necessarily about me. And that's OK.

Was I hurt? Yes, very much so. Does it change how I feel (or felt) about him? Not really. I kind of thing we'll find each other again some day. But I also feel like if this is what he needs to be happy now, then I'm going to be OK with that.
posted by darksong at 7:34 PM on June 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really feel for you because the same thing happened to me (except with my ex who I also saw as my absolute dearest friend). It sounds like his new partner isn't OK with him having close woman friends. It sucks. I'm someone who friend-zones people really easily but I have come to understand that other people are not going to know that about me and they are going to be suspicious because 'you can't be friends with someone you have slept with!'.

I find it extremely sad.
posted by thereader at 7:45 PM on June 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Quick answers to questions that have been asked:

1. We've each had partners before while we've been best friends - however, those partnerships took place when we were in the same city as each other, so maybe it was easier to navigate it all?
2. Reunion was after first time I met Susan and she wasn't there - the subsequent times seeing him have been weird.
3. It really was a friendship with a lot of mutual love - we both got each other through some of our worst times in our twenties/early thirties, and we grew up parallel to each other.
4. I am so, so, so happy he has found Susan - truly. This is a man that wants to be married and start a family, and I think Susan is a fantastic partner for him - she's smart and caring.

Honestly, it sounds like the friendship is just at a different stage than it was in, and that's fine - it happens, and stuff changes. It just hurts to lose someone who has been a part of so many big things/who I think is awesome/who I love a lot in a friend way.

Special shout-out to sockermom - that was really exactly what I needed at this moment, and it helps so, so much.
posted by socktothepuppet at 8:34 PM on June 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

You've gotten a lot of good answers here, but I just wanted to say a few words. For many years, until my mid-30s, the vast majority of my casual friends, and a few of my close ones, were men. I "paired off" with a guy (cis couple) at 27, fairly early for our crowd, but I made a concerted effort to stay in touch with my men friends. My SO fully supported me in this--I explained when we got together that if I got rid of my male friends, I would have almost no friends at all! Despite my efforts, my male friends dropped out of sight one by one as they got married/shacked up, and that was that. Now we're mostly down to a few emails a year, even with the ones who are in the same city. It's hard.

My mantra is from the Carter Family--"I have changed/ With changing seasons." I try to wish them the best and I look forward to hearing back from them once their relationships are better established and their kids, if applicable, are a little older. Just this week, someone whom I thought had totally forgotten about me is mailing me a cookbook! So keep the door open. I'm not saying I'm as old as the hills, but I am turning 42 next month, and those friendships from early adulthood are becoming even more important to me as time passes.
posted by 8603 at 8:14 AM on June 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I found it helped to read some stories by others who lost friends, like ones from the compilation The Friend Who Got Away.
posted by salvia at 9:58 AM on June 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I wanted to chime in to give you a virtual hug, and to say that this doesn't just happen with friends. It happens with significant others, husbands and wives, everything. The deepest relationships are all subject to this, and it takes a lot of patience and skill to handle it. You sound like you've got your head on your shoulders. You're grieving, and if you have the will (and fortitude) you can accept the uncertainty as a practice. It's probably not an end goal, that kind of acceptance. It's a practice. A daily one. Maybe even a moment-to-moment routine that you build up. I'm going through this with my soon-to-be ex-husband, who one day not too many months ago exited my life, suddenly and without explanation or notice. You, and I, can take the high road. Sometimes I think that's the best we can do: let the present moment remind us to do unto others, you know? Your character is yours and yours alone. It speaks volumes that you are feeling this with such heart, and if nothing else this internet stranger smiles knowing that people like you are out there.

There was a recent post about ambiguous loss, and another mefite introduced me to the concept in a recent ask of mine, and I think it might do you some good to revisit that idea.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:31 PM on June 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

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