Friend suddenly distant and short with me, how to handle it?
September 16, 2019 10:54 AM   Subscribe

My dragon boat team is on a trip to Ireland for a race. There are three of us who are the same age (in our 30s) while the rest of the team ranges in ages from 40s-70s. We have a great group and were all looking forward to this trip to have fun and enjoy one another's company. Prior to the trip, my friends who are my age (I'll call them D and S) for short, were all texting each other and had good rapport. I was especially friends with D; we sit together on the boat and had been texting on and off getting to know one another. She, D, S, and I have even hung out a few times outside of dragon boating. We're now halfway through our trip. I'm not sure what I did (though I think it's due to my horrible social skills), but D has become noticeably (at least to me) less friendly and distant with me.

Before our trip, she and I would talk, have conversations, engage with one another. We went to a church together, and would walk together, laugh, etc. Then, starting about 2ish days ago, she suddenly became distant. If I talk to her, she'll give me only short answers but not carry on on a conversation. She'll barely look in my direction when talking. She won't approach me or look at me when I speak up during the conversation. She's only doing this with me. She talks to everyone else, and will go off with S and I will suddenly be the last to find out about the plans.

I'm devastated and have been pouring over what I could have done to make her mad at me. It's not like we were BFF, but we were well on our way to becoming good friends (at least, I thought we were) and I hold all of my dragon boat team members in high regard since it's my primary (pretty much only) big social group outside of work and family.

I have this horrible feeling in my stomach that it might have been one (or a combination) of three things that put her off -- 1) my social anxiety; 2) my inability to effectively manage my hearing loss; and 3) the fact that some of the other ladies on our team know that I've been dating and announced to my surprise that they were trying to set me up with another member of the team. Elaborating on those points...

1) Social Anxiety: I live alone and am not used to being around so many people at once, 24/7. I'm constantly worried about whether or not people like me and if I'm fitting in with the group. I tend to giggle/laugh at everything, and just go along with the group instead of giving an opinion. Maybe that is coming across somehow to her as me being clingy and shy and unable to hold my own? She has also mentioned on her social media that she has anxiety and had shared with me some of the anxieties she has over text, but I don't think she has social anxiety and we've never formally talked about it. Unfortunately it's taken me 5 days to get myself together. I've had some moments where I would apologize profusely for every mistake I made or say things like "I feel like a baby because I can't open this ketchup packet" or take what were supposed to be friendly jabs from the group seriously. At one point D and I had walked to the race site together but later she said she had walked by herself. I reminded her that I had been with her.

Another time, I was counting cash for the group and everyone was watching and offering to help and giving suggestions. They were of course friendly and well-intentioned but it made me overly anxious and I got shaky and on the verge of tears and I said too quickly that "I can handle this!" etc. I wonder if all of that just added up and now she's mad at me about it because I come across as clingy and insecure?

2) Hearing loss - I've had a hearing loss since I was 6 and wear hearing aids. They've all known about this since before the trip, but I didn't adequately prepare them for the extent of it. We're all staying in the same Airbnb and it's been a real challenge to understand them. During our boat practices or just hanging out in town it's never a problem. The more comfortable I am with people, the less likely I am to wear my hearing aids because I "know their voices". I overestimated my comfort level with all of their voices and was resistant to wearing my hearing aids at the beginning of the trip. This led to me not being able to hear what was being said or being slow on the uptake (although most of that slowness and not hearing was due to social anxiety/preoccupation with whether or not they collectively liked me. I just blamed it on the hearing loss). Now, 5 days into the trip, I'm finally wearing my hearing aids at all times (like I SHOULD have done at the beginning). But I feel like it's too little, too late and D might be annoyed because she thinks it's just too much to talk to me now?

3) Dating/match-making - D and I are both actively looking for a partner and are on dating apps. We've been sharing stories. Earlier in the trip we were updating each other on what was going on. I had also told some of the other older women on our team that I'm actively seeking a partner. I didn't tell anyone that D was also searching, because that feels like overstepping. So me, D, S, and a few of our older dear friends were hanging out in one of our AirBNBs the other day when one of our older friends revealed to all of us that they were trying to set me up with another male member of the team. They said all of these nice things about me and him and how they thought we'd be good together. I felt flattered that they would look out for me in this way, but also bad because I know D is looking for a man, too, and I don't know if I should have also said that hey, D is also looking for a man, could you set her up with someone, too? I didn't say anything because it didn't seem like it was my business to do so and I don't know if D wants everyone to know she's looking. This was the point when D started to get distant with me, so I'm wondering if this could be it? I had no idea that they were trying to set me up with someone or that they would announce it. :/

I also consider that she could have other things going on that have nothing to do with me. But if that's the case, why does she only ignore me and talk to everyone else?

I'm supposed to be enjoying the trip to Ireland, and we have 3 more days to go. This includes two day trips. Our group is now down to 4, with D, S, me, and one other friend whom I'll call R. We had planned for the four of us to hang out and do these day trips. But it's hard to enjoy it all when one person seems to be actively ignoring you. All day today (and yesterday and the day before that), D has only talked with S or R, and directs eye contact only to them. She's been distant and short with me. S and R both talk to me normally.

I'm not sure what to do at this point. I feel so alone and full of anxiety. Scared. I can't bring it up with S or R because we're trying to have a good time and we're not close enough to discuss these things. I don't want to ruin their trip. I feel like it would be too soon to bring it up with D. I don't have actual confirmation that she's mad at me, but from the way she has been acting, it sure seems that something is up. For now I'm just trying to be friendly and keep my distance.

I don't know why it hurts so much. It actually feels like physical pain in my gut. It's not like we were BFF. But we were on the way to becoming friends and then I had to go and screw it all up because I'm horrible socially (as you can see from my theories above). If I knew how to better manage my hearing loss and social anxiety so I could have come across as more confident, put together, and less "child like", this whole thing could've been avoided. Again, the problem might not have anything to do with me, but why would she only ignore me if that's the case?

So should I just let all of this go and try to enjoy the trip, even with her mad at me? How do you deal with the pain of being actively ignored and you can't even bring it up with anyone? If I were to bring it up with her and apologize while we're here, what's the best way to do so without making things worse? It's awkward also because we have to share a room, too. D, S, and I are sharing and she's only really talking to S. :/ I'm really a mess and could use some help!
posted by starpoint to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This was the point when D started to get distant with me, so I'm wondering if this could be it?

Almost certainly, yup. There's a good chance that D is interested in the very dude they were trying to set you up with. You might bring it up casually in conversation, if possible, that you aren't really interested in him after all and see if that thaws things a bit.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:02 AM on September 16, 2019 [7 favorites]

I think your only option here is to bring it up to her. It doesn't have to be confrontational, you could come at it from an angle of concern for her welfare. Like "hey how are you doing? We haven't spoken much on this trip and I just wanted to check in and make sure everything is okay, happy to talk about anything you need to". It could be that she thinks she did something wrong and is embarrassed or something, and has nothing to do with anything you may have done. There's no way to know. Just talk to her.
posted by greta simone at 11:03 AM on September 16, 2019 [8 favorites]

There's no way you can know that your friend is angry with you. Your account of the apparent turning point would make more sense of events if they were attracted to either the male member of the team or to you, rather than if your friend were angry with you.

I can't imagine anyone rationally believing that you had a responsibility to start matchmaking for them and holding against you the fact that you did not intuit this.

Most likely she's attracted to the person they were trying to set you up with and she just feels weird and embarrassed. The only thing you can do to make it better is ask her why she seems to be struggling to socialise with you.

Don't think you have apologise for anything unless you actually find out you did something that you regard as wrong. You might choose to apologise to smooth ruffled feathers, but it's not your responsibility.
posted by howfar at 11:04 AM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

What Rock Steady said is most likely it. But there needs to be a little voice in your head pointing out that this person's reaction is their problem, not yours. It reveals a lot about them, including that they probably aren't worth putting a lot of time and effort into being friends with. So focus on the others, the ones helping you, and do your best not to lose any sleep over D.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 11:10 AM on September 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: You might bring it up casually in conversation, if possible, that you aren't really interested in him after all and see if that thaws things a bit.

I know I'm not supposed to respond to answers, but I wanted to clarify a detail that I had left out -- I'm not at all interested in the guy they had tried to set me up with, and I did say that I had not paid much attention to him. I thought that implied that I wasn't interested in him. But maybe the message was not clear enough. :/
posted by starpoint at 11:17 AM on September 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Could you send a text-

“how are you? I miss chatting with you, wanna get up at 8 tomorrow and grab a coffee?”

If they say yes or offer a counter suggestion like lunch, things are probably cool.

If they say no,
“Ok cool.
Just checking in, are we ok? I’m feeling a vibe like something is off with us... maybe I’m just being neurotic lol? But if anything is weird, or if something I did was hurtful, I hope we can talk & fix it, because I really value your friendship!”
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:18 AM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

It would concern me to meet someone in their thirties who behaved this way over any of the things you describe. D is behaving extraordinarily badly. If she's a decent person, she will at some point realize that her feelings overwhelmed her and made her behave in an adolescent manner and she'll be embarrassed.

I bet it's the dating in some way - either she is interested in the person/people you're being set up with or else she is peeved that the other people are trying to set you up but not her. It's unlikely that she'll admit this.

I think that you can either take her aside and say, "I've noticed that you're upset with me. Was it something I did? I'd like us to be on good terms and value your friendship" and then see what happens or you can just let her alone and try to have as good a time as possible while (and this is the important part) not blaming yourself.

It is childish and weird to act like this, especially over multiple days (it might be forgivable if it were just an hour or so of pique) absent some extremely obvious and significant conflict. Like, I acted like this once when I was twenty - over relationship stuff! - and even at the time I knew I was behaving unacceptably and felt ashamed.

Focus on not blaming yourself and salvaging as much as possible as you can from the trip.
posted by Frowner at 11:20 AM on September 16, 2019 [18 favorites]

Use your words. Nobody here can see inside her head to tell you why she’s mad, only she can, so ask her. “Hey, D, did I do something to upset you? I’m sorry if I did.”

Either she’ll tell you and you can talk it out, or she’ll be embarrassed by you calling her out and will snap out of it, or she’ll continue in the huff, at which point you have no reason to feel bad - you tried to reach out and put things right and if she refuses, she can stew in her own bad feeling, you’ve done your share of trying to put things right.
posted by penguin pie at 11:28 AM on September 16, 2019 [7 favorites]

Also- D is being HORRIBLE. The main sign of a cool person is that people who are behaving reasonably around them should be able to feel comfortable. D is a shit and is responsible for her own behaviour, you didn’t screw anything up.

If I were you, I would probably try to stretch out of my comfort zone to try to make peace with D just enough to enjoy the rest of the trip, and then avoid her forever after.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:29 AM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: >Also- D is being HORRIBLE. The main sign of a cool person is that people who are behaving reasonably around them should be able to feel comfortable. D is a shit and is responsible for her own behaviour, you didn’t screw anything up.

I just wanted to note that I don't think she is a horrible person. I didn't write this post to bash her or to put her down (I hope it didn't come across this way). :/
posted by starpoint at 11:31 AM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Honestly, traveling with friends is hard. She met just be having some trouble handling your social anxiety and hearing problems and need a bit of a break. When you are at home there are natural breaks built into your relationship. When traveling you are living together 24/7 and it can be overwhelming. Little things magnify. Give her whatever space she needs for a while. When you are back home have a non-confrontational conversation with her and let her know that you would like to reconnect.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:33 AM on September 16, 2019 [20 favorites]

I'm not at all interested in the guy they had tried to set me up with, and I did say that I had not paid much attention to him. I thought that implied that I wasn't interested in him. But maybe the message was not clear enough.

Ah, fair enough. Another possibility might just be that they were a jealous of the positive attention that you got from the rest of the team, and it's even possible that your lack of interest is itself the problem - if they are interested in that person, the fact that you are turning down an opportunity they would be happy to have can be frustrating.

As others have said, this isn't exactly the kind of behavior you like to see in a travelling companion, but some folks need some time to simmer down after being upset before they can discuss it rationally, and depending on the situation, they may not have had the chance to do that in such close quarters. I am always inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I might wait until tomorrow and then try to find an excuse to be alone with D and bring up the situation gently.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:33 AM on September 16, 2019

My guess is that you’ve been a bit irritating and they need space but you’re stuck together on a trip. This happens! There are some people I love dearly but would be unable to travel with.

I definitely wouldn’t bring it up. I’d ignore them and talk to the other people. If possible I’d go out alone or with one of the people who’s been more pleasant.

This is hard but it’s not necessarily about you doing something “wrong”. Traveling with other people is notoriously hard and can be difficult on relationships. I’d try my best to relax and give them as much space as possible.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:33 AM on September 16, 2019 [20 favorites]

I think your anxiety might be what’s coming between you: which really means her intolerance of your anxiety. It’s pretty easy to hang out with someone in short bursts—practice, church, over text, etc—but traveling together on an extended trip is a different story. You don’t say much about her own personal quirks in the question, but maybe she’s just not that nice of a person or someone who doesn’t have patience or empathy for others? Thus, she views anyone else having a less than great time while traveling as a drag on the fun of the trip. She might typically make friends with very independent and outgoing people and not be used to someone who has social anxiety.

This is not your fault and I would try not to see it that way (although I do think your experiences on this trip would give you some things you might want to work on if you’re in therapy or some idea of how you prefer to travel in the future). See it as learning more about a potential friend.

I would not address this at all while still on the trip. That will make things exponentially more awkward not just for you but for the whole group. Get home and give yourself a few days to reflect, and then send her an email or tell her over coffee that she hurt your feelings during the trip because she treated you like an unwanted tag-along instead of as a friend and member of the team.
posted by sallybrown at 11:34 AM on September 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

In addition to her maybe not being that nice she may find anxious and/or dependent behavior unpleasant if she had a parent who was inappropriately dependent or who made his/her anxiety your friend’s problem. There are some personality types that remind me of these kinds of unhealthy dynamics, and I find it very hard to feel “trapped” with them. Again, totally fine people who I would never travel with.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:39 AM on September 16, 2019 [9 favorites]

Also she doesn’t come across as terrible to me. Perhaps it is because I also express social anxiety by avoidance and not being able to avoid an anxiety provoking interpersonal situation would really stress me out.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:53 AM on September 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

Maybe she finds your anxiety suffocating and needs some space.

It probably isn't that she "hates" you or she's "not that nice." Traveling with people is hard, it's easy to feel suffocated. When you're already overwhelmed (and traveling is overwhelming! there's a lot to take in), you maybe don't want to deal with someone who needs a lot of hand-holding and is tense.

If she wants space, give it to her. See how things are after the trip. She'll probably be friendly again once she's gotten a breather. If she's not being friendlier within a month or two of the trip ending, then you can ask her what's up and take things from there.
posted by rue72 at 12:00 PM on September 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

Feeling hurt and anxious because someone might be upset with you is perfectly rational and normal. Some of us are more vulnerable to other people's feelings and opinions. Even if that person is not your best friend or particularly close to you. So step one: it's normal and understandable for you to feel upset and worried. Step two: these feelings don't have to define or control you.
It seems as though you have been thinking and worrying about this a lot. Maybe because you are scared you are doing something wrong without realising it. The only way you can be sure to know what is going on with this person is to ask her, and that might not be the best thing to do,as it could make the situation even more awkward.
Try to give yourself the forgiveness you would extend to someone else for possibly making a mistake (I can tell from your question that you are a kind person). Try to avoid stewing about this mystery, find kind ways to distract yourself when you notice you are going over it all again in your mind. Someone said "Other people's opinion of you is none of your business".
posted by Zumbador at 12:01 PM on September 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Ah, man, as a fellow sufferer of social anxiety you've got my sympathy here. It's such a rough thing.

My take is that you're overthinking this based on too little information. What you actually know here is that D was engaging with you in a friendly way before, and isn't now. There's no way for you to accurately guess why D has suddenly distanced herself. Like SLC Mom above says, maybe she's just tired after several days of travel and letting herself be irritated by things that would never bother her at home.

I catch myself doing this kind of speculation all the time, and virtually every time when I apologize for whatever I thought I did was wrong, I discover that it didn't bother the other person at all.

Nothing you've described as a possible reason for D's sudden distance strikes me as being your fault or out of bounds. My instinct is always to apologize as if I've done something wrong, and I'd say to resist that here.

I'd say the best thing to do would be to keep being friendly and proceed as if nothing is wrong. Maybe focus your attention hanging out with S and R and having a good time for the rest of the trip. Don't be unfriendly or anything to D, but don't try to pursue her. If she needs a little distance, let her be a little distant. Maybe she'll come back to being friendly after the trip. Maybe she won't, which would be sad but not a disaster or some kind of reflection on your worth as a person.

You did not screw anything up here, you did nothing wrong.
posted by JDHarper at 12:02 PM on September 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am on team "traveling in groups is hard and people need space". She might be talking more to other people because she feels more comfortable around them than she does around you - that's ok, and it's not a problem you need to try to fix.

I also have social anxiety, and the thought processes you laid out are very familiar to me. Do you have any techniques you've practiced in therapy to deal with your thoughts, like mindfulness meditation?

For the rest of the trip, I would spend some more time doing things you know help you manage anxiety, alone as much as you need. I would talk to my other friends that were behaving normally. I would be cordial to D and acknowledge her, but otherwise let her drive interactions, which she may not want to.

A week after the trip ends, I'd invite the group to go to pub trivia or something together and invite D along. If she ignores the text, you'll have an answer and you'll know to give her space. You haven't done anything wrong.
posted by thelastpolarbear at 12:24 PM on September 16, 2019

Imagine if a friend was acting this way to someone else. I think I'd see it as a sign that something is up and ask the friend about it — "everything okay?". The fact that it's happening to you makes you feel like it's your fault and it's your job to fix it. But you can reach out to your friend just like in the first scenario — "everything okay?" She could be stewing on her own anxieties, feeling upset about something but feeling silly about it and not know how to talk about it.

Break the seal! Talk to her.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:39 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

It could be any one or all of the things suggested or something completely different. Just give her space, have a good time chatting to your other two companions. She may come round of her own or not. But wait to re-assess until you’re all back home and have had a chance to recover from the trip.

As an introvert I will say that after 3-4 days I would reach my upper limit of tolerating any group or friend I am travelling with. And I would absolutely need half a day alone to reset. That could be me setting off alone to do ‘thing’ or sitting out an activity with a book. This would be especially necessary in shared accommodation where you can’t just close the door to your hotel room to get alone time. This includes travelling with people I am close to and travel well with. So it may be a lot more about them than you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:01 PM on September 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

So as not to abuse the edit window - I know I need this alone time so I make it happen before I reach the point where I can’t cope with people any more. She may be surprised by how she feels and as you’re the person she is normally closest to and has spent most time with on the trip she may feel this more keenly with you than the rest of the group. She’s not managing her reactions very well though, whatever she is reacting to.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:08 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, I feel for you! Being on the receiving end of the silent treatment is nerve-wracking. I've been there, and I've been on big team trips, but not at the same time. I've learned to give myself some space on team trips, especially after the race - it's possible D needs more solo time than she realized, or that the matchmaking made her feel weird about how the team sees her, or who knows.

Please take care of yourself! I really hope you can enjoy the rest of your trip.
posted by mersen at 1:08 PM on September 16, 2019

a trip away from home is the easiest time to have a friendship accident and the very worst time to try to get someone into a big sit-down conversation to fix it.

any advice about how you have to talk to her -- know, and remember, that you don't have to do anything right now and I believe in my heart that you really, really shouldn't. Your anxiety pressures you and makes you believe that something has to be done, that if something is wrong, you have to take steps to fix it or it'll get worse and worse. but this isn't true. this is almost never true in interpersonal situations where nobody has done anything verifiably intentionally wrong. as anxious people, when people are annoyed with us we become more anxious, and -- and trust me because I am not specifically accusing you, but implicating all of us -- when we are anxious we become more ten times more annoying.

if she is annoyed with you for any of the little reasons you went into such detail about, the best way to let it wear off is to give her space (psychic space, I understand about the room-sharing). the only thing you know for certain is that she doesn't want to talk to you right now. but she hasn't started an open fight with you. this is GOOD. this is not the time to test and poke and ask and ask to see if the friendship is broken, let alone try to repair it. treat it as a bruise in the relationship that needs not to be touched for a few days.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:55 PM on September 16, 2019 [12 favorites]

As a severe introvert, I tend to have a nasty negative reaction when I feel like someone has latched onto me and become dependent without mutuality. Open neediness where the proper context hasn't been established is not something I cope with well. It's something I'm ashamed of, actually. I wonder if something like that isn't going on here.

In which (or similar) case, the best option is to give her space on the rest of the trip. After the trip, you can try inquiring gently with her whether everything is okay. Wait til after the trip to avoid trebling the awkwardness if there is, indeed, a problem.
posted by praemunire at 3:26 PM on September 16, 2019 [18 favorites]

No matter what is going on with her, you should think very carefully about whether you want to remain friends with a fully grown adult who cannot manage her own introversion/stress/anxiety around clinginess enough to be pleasant and normal with you most of the time on a trip. Giving the semi-silent treatment over a period of days, with no explanation and no apology, is not good adult behavior.

Additionally, it makes things really awkward for the other people on the trip; they also have to deal with D very obviously ignoring you.

D is in her thirties. It's her responsibility to know herself well enough and manage her own behavior well enough that she is not simply unable to treat a co-traveler normally. Being "annoyed" with another adult, especially a friend, to the extent that you are obviously and visibly rude to them over an extended period isn't some peccadillo or something that you should just accept as a justified response to your "clinginess" or "awkwardness" or whatever.
posted by Frowner at 5:19 AM on September 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

The only way you're going to find out is if you ask.

I think people are being too harsh on D, here. It doesn't sound like she's being rude, she's just not being buddies. Most advice about putting distance between oneself and a former friend involves doing exactly what D is doing: be polite but don't actively engage.
posted by schroedinger at 10:21 AM on September 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Hello, fellow paddler here! A few similarities between us: a great db family, social anxiety, and a friend who gave me the cold shoulder, which I beat myself up about for far too long. In my case, I confronted my friend about her rudeness, she lashed out at me, and we no longer have a relationship. But I'm glad I spoke up because I didn't want to continue guessing at if I had done anything wrong. I am confident I did not and the experience helped me learn to stick to my principles and not put up with what was, quite frankly, a shitty friend.

I agree with the advice to talk to D, but also to wait until after the trip so you can both get a little time and distance from each other. Try to enjoy the rest of your trip; this is something future starpoint can tackle, realtime starpoint is in Ireland and has too much Guinness to attend to. Hold hard for now!

If D's rudeness dissipates or if you decide it's not worth your energy to try to salvage a friendship with someone who behaves as she has, great. Let it run.

If you want to address it, you can see if D is open to an honest talk. If she turns down the invitation or brushes you off without any change in her behavior, time to move on, but rest easy in the knowledge that you acted maturely and respectfully. Paddles up, take it away. This is still your team and your sport to enjoy.

If she wants to talk about it, hey-ho, time to put your weight over the boat, dig deep into that catch, and Use Your Words.
posted by notethisbean at 1:26 PM on September 17, 2019

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