Social etiquette question
May 29, 2020 5:31 PM   Subscribe

You're becoming friendly with someone in a non-romantic context. They communicate with you fairly consistently when you send messages. Then their response pattern changes significantly. What are the rules about this scenario?

This is a work person who was building a friendship with me, or so I thought. The last few weeks their responses have been sparse compared to before. It might not be about me, but if it is about me I'd like to know what I did to cause the shift. How do I go about getting that information?

At what point is it socially acceptable to say something to the effect of, "I was enjoying getting to know you before, and now our dynamic has shifted and I'm not sure why. If it is something I have done, I hope you'll give me the opportunity to address it, because it seemed that we were previously on a path to friendship and I am disappointed to see that it has changed as you seem like a cool person with a good heart. If that change is intentional on your part I can respect it better if it is made explicit as right now I can't tell if you have pulled back on purpose or are just busy with other things or what."

So, I would obviously pare that down a lot. Suggestions on exactly what to ask or how to express this issue are very appreciated, if there's a socially savvy way to even do that with someone that isn't necessarily invested in a meaningful relationship with you..

Is that ever ok to ask an acquaintance who was previously sending friend signals and then stopped for the reasons behind that change? I have no idea what I could have done but my social skills can be off, so it's very possible that they are withdrawing based on something I did. It is hard enough to make friends in a new place without this kind of ambiguity and confusion. If they are trying to avoid me and can make it explicit then I will stop trying to engage them on that other level but without clear communication I'm stuck and anxious. And of course if I did something, that feedback would be useful in not doing this to myself again.
posted by crunchy potato to Human Relations (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You send a picture of a cute dog meme and say hey hope you're good!

This 99% has nothing to do with you, but if you send anything remotely close to what you wrote out above, it will start to be.

This could be as simple as your friend started watching Space Force and would rather spend their free time tuned out on the couch for a few days than put mental energy into texting anyone.
posted by phunniemee at 5:41 PM on May 29 [84 favorites]

I think at the most I might say something like "Everything okay? I haven't heard much from you lately." But it's probably better not to say anything. I definitely would not say something along the lines of what you suggested- if I heard that from someone it would make me uncomfortable. Is there any chance that they think your interest might be romantic, even if it isn't? (That message you suggested would make me think that was the case if I got it!).

Everyone's stressed out right now. I wouldn't read too much into it, and give them the opportunity to take the lead if they've been pulling back a little. Don't push.
posted by pinochiette at 5:43 PM on May 29 [35 favorites]

As someone who has a lot of internet friends my reply: I haven't seen you around lately but I hope you're doing well. Then I'd stop sending any messages for awhile.

I feel like a super long-winded reply would make it even more awkward since not sure how I would think of a proper reply that didn't seem like I was ignoring the asker.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 5:58 PM on May 29 [11 favorites]

I think the first thing you should do is check in to make sure they’re doing OK. That’s something that friends do for one another a0nd would be a good way to continue down that road. crono_rabbit’s suggestion above seems about right.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:05 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]

Let it go. Continue to be friendly but don't force it. It may have nothing to do with you. Or it may be your behavior or personality - and that's OK. However, nobody wants to explain why they don't like someone. Friendships form or they don't so maybe "it's not you" and they'll come around or "it is you" and a friendship isn't in the cards.
posted by shoesietart at 6:09 PM on May 29 [23 favorites]

I'm assuming your communications are text and/or email. I don't know what's going on with your acquaintance but I know that I frequently drop in and out of communications with people via these channels. As do they with me. I was just texting last night with a former colleague who I really like. We check in every few weeks and it always feels good to connect. That's all I want from the friendship. I think she'd say the same thing. Maybe that's all your acquaintance wants.

When someone sends me a 'you ok?' type of communication, it makes me prickly. I wish it didn't. I know they're coming from a good place. But if it's not someone I'm really close with and with whom I've shared something that warrants that type of question, it just feels burdensome, like I have to spend time demonstrating my ok-ness. I used to have a friend who would regularly reach out to check in if everything was ok with us 'because I haven't heard from you in awhile.' Yeah, that friendship died out pretty quickly. I was happy with a B level of communication with her. She wanted an A level and it was clear that I would be failing her with anything less.

I'm not saying not to reach out. Definitely reach out if you want to communicate with this person. If it were me, I'd keep it low-key. Start with something you-focused - 'Check out this pic of my oak leaf hydrangea! Who knew I had a green thumb?!' Then, step away from the keyboard and let the person respond. Or not.
posted by MissPitts at 6:35 PM on May 29 [25 favorites]

I, too, am anxious in my friendships and I'm (more than a little) awkward at times, so tend to assume the worst on my part. I'm also quite direct and blunt with people, so ymmv. If you want to be friend with this person, and the vibe previously seemed agreeable, I would send a text with, "Hey! I miss chatting with you. I hope everything is okay." It feels super vulnerable to put it out there like that, but it also means you're not creating a narrative for their side - you'll probably learn a lot from their reply.
posted by VioletU at 6:45 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]

I think being newish (or workish) friends means that, until you are better friends, if at all, you don't have a "What about our relationship?" conversation. I think it's fine to stay in touch for a little bit, send a few notes, presume something may be going on and that it's not about you. But especially in non-work times, and especially in these weird times, I'd keep it pretty casual.

Basically, it would be too bad if you had done something that made this person not want to be work-friends for you, and unlikely. But it's not a good response to make them tell you what that was just so you can know for next time. That can be super frustrating for the semi-clueless (which I also am) but I think that's better than trying to have what most people would consider a confrontation.

So you asked about the rules. My rules for me are to try to follow people's lead more or less. Unless I have any other reason to believe otherwise, I'll send out a few feelers if I feel like something might be going on (not about why they've been less-communicative, but just friendly overtures) and if I don't hear back I assume it's either something up with them or something not clicking with us. And, my pep talk to me is that I am who I am and if someone doesn't want to be friends with me, it's better that we not be friends. With better friends, obviously there's room for a lot more give and take, ebb and flow and "Hey sorry if I hurt your feelings" sorts of things. But new friends? Not so much.
posted by jessamyn at 8:09 PM on May 29 [11 favorites]

This is a coworker, so even if you were in the beginning stages of friendship, I think you have to err on the side of treating it like a work relationship. What you’ve suggested is too intimate and imposing for the workplace, even if you soften the approach. Personally, I’d hang back for a bit. See if they initiate contact. If not, send something light that doesn’t require a ton of effort to reply to. Times are extremely tough right now and it’s hard for a lot of people to behave normally.
posted by kapers at 8:22 PM on May 29 [14 favorites]

At what point is it socially acceptable to say something to the effect of, "I was enjoying getting to know you before, and now our dynamic has shifted and I'm not sure why. If it is something I have done, I hope you'll give me the opportunity to address it

oh god, never.

of course everyone thinks of saying something like this when it looks like a friend is preparing to become an ex-friend! it's only natural. but no do not say it or anything like it. especially do not say the part about hoping they'll give you the opportunity to address it. not only is that not a good request to make, it sounds like the kind of thing you would say after a bad performance review, or in anticipation of one. and it feels very twisty, like if they don't want to be friends any more then that somehow means they are withholding from you an opportunity to justify your merits.

If they really have had a change of heart about wanting to be closer friends, if they're not just busy or distracted, I think you have to simply let it be. I don't think any friendship has ever been saved by sending this kind of message to someone, no matter how you edit it down.

If there's a week or two of silence it is fine to say Hey, how have you been, how's everything going? through whatever channels you used to use. either you'll get a friendly answer or you won't, and that has to be your guide.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:36 PM on May 29 [31 favorites]

If this was a very long, established friendship or a established romantic relationship and the drop-off was pronounced, I would say something along the lines of "Haven't been hearing from you lately, ashes you OK?" But not with a new friend or not-even-a-friend for all the reasons stated above. It's too much.
posted by schroedinger at 2:53 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]

Imagine they just got dumped or their dog is sick or something. Do you think it will help or hurt your friendship more to come into that situation and say "Are you avoiding me?? Why??"

Alternatively, if they ARE avoiding you, there is no universe where that message does not make it worse.

Just keep engaging, without demanding they account for their whereabouts.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:35 AM on May 30 [9 favorites]

I have made the, "Hey, I was enjoying getting to know you. What's going on?" mistake more than once, having obviously not learned my lesson the first time. It's definitely not a good idea. Resist the temptation to contact the person again, or, as others have suggested, keep it super light. "Hey, did you see the thing? Wasn't that crazy?" It's a tricky balance between acting like you're not at all fazed by how the other person seems to have pulled back, while at the same time being very aware that they've pulled back.
posted by emelenjr at 4:16 AM on May 30 [12 favorites]

I would very rarely think it a good idea to send that kind of message (even the shorter/calmer version) to a new friend, even more rarely during a pandemic, absolutely not when it’s also a coworker.

I’m sorry this is so stressful - ambiguity sucks, especially for those of us who are bad with social cues. But I think you have to just meet your coworker where they are right now, keep it to less frequent non-heavy texts with maybe a “hope you’re doing okay,” and let it be. This is a weird time; a lot of people are really struggling, and a lot of the “rules” of normal interaction are suspended.

For whatever it’s worth, if I were your friend this would actually be a good sign that you’ve moved from the colleague to friend bucket in my head. Coworkers have to get responded to ASAP for professional reasons. Friends get the actual comfortable version of me, which includes ebbs and flows in conversation as the mood strikes, but that conversation when it happens is genuine and heartfelt instead of obligatory.
posted by Stacey at 4:42 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]

Nope. This is foremost a coworker, secondarily a friend. You need to treat the relationship professionally.

Also for context, I have a couple of former coworkers who are friends and we don’t communicate very often unless there’s something to say — so one of them I’ve been chatting with a lot because i’m pregnant and she just had her 2nd baby so she’s kind of shifting to “mom friend” as well as former coworker friend. The other we just don’t have as much to talk about but that doesn’t mean there’s a problem in our relationship, it’s more like i’m checking in every so often to see how she and her fiancé are holding up in the pandemic, we chat for a bit, and then stop for a while.

Part of adult friendships is being ok with them waxing and waning because people are busy, and might have a lot going on, and you might not be the right person to talk to about it, and that’s fine. If they’ve got something going on - OR they’re just busy!! - friendship communication typically picks back up!
posted by DoubleLune at 5:03 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]

Echoing everyone else in that what you’ve got is a little too intense. In this case I’d probably drop something like “Haven’t heard from you in a while, just wanted to make sure everything was ok? Let me know if there’s anything I can help with!”

That opens up the path for them to tell you if they’re angry at you if that’s the case “Actually yes!! You can stop [whatever]” Or, much more likely the situation actually has absolutely nothing to do with you and the above lets them know you’re still there, still care and they can reach out if they want.
posted by cgg at 7:35 AM on May 30

I’ve found that when I feel the way you do (which most of us experience), 99% of the time it’s something that’s going on with me and really has nothing to do with the other person. (And in the few cases when someone has approached me with something like your message, it’s been at a time when they’re going through life struggles unrelated to me.) So I would use the anxious energy and drive you’re feeling right now and turn it inward. I know a lot of us have been feeling less anchored by personal ties now that we’re all so separated due to the pandemic - could that be it? Is there stress going on in other relationships in your life that’s causing you to shift focus to this one?

Lastly, this is very dependent on your workplace/industry, but this would never fly at my job and if a coworker sent this to me it would seem highly odd and probably end any potential of a friendship outside work.
posted by sallybrown at 9:44 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]

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