Should I end this friendship?
April 7, 2021 6:48 PM   Subscribe

I have a friend that sometimes takes weeks to respond and reply to my text messages and sometimes they forget to reply. Lately, I have been feeling ignored and I am not sure if I should simply end the friendship or wait it out. I have confronted my friend about it, but they said that they were sorry but too busy to reply and needed to focus on their studies.

This friend is entirely dedicated to their university studies, and sometimes, I feel that all they care about is studying to achieve good grades (a relative and another mutual friend of theirs also thinks our friend is a perfectionist with their university studies). I know friends come and go, but I do enjoy their company when we do meet and text. This friend has also asked to meet a few times during covid, but I did not want to risk it, just in case, and perhaps, this is why my friend is taking forever to respond these days - but this friend pre-covid has also taken forever to reply and respond. I am not sure if it is worth keeping this friend if they have not replied to my texts in two weeks, as well as older texts from more than a month ago. It seems that this friend always spends time studying constantly - which is great, but it makes it difficult to socialise at times. Should I wait it out, or perhaps end it, or simply appreciate and respect when they do respond, even if it takes months? I feel like this friend can be self-absorbed at times, forgetful as well, and only seems to respond on their terms. Yet, I understand that university studies are difficult and not easy for everyone. This friend also has a difficult time making and keeping friends as well from the past. We are in our late twenties in university as mature students.

What should I do?
posted by RearWindow to Human Relations (28 answers total)
You don't have to End A Friendship all dramatically. Just stop expecting to get texted back. Distance yourself emotionally from this person who cannot be a good friend to you. If later on down the line they come back to communications and you want them in your life again, awesome. And if not, that's also fine. In short: you should do nothing.

There's just nothing to be gained by making Ending The Friendship some big active thing. How do you expect that to go? "Dear Friend, I am choosing to end this relationship due to your failure to text me back." They're not texting you anyway. Unless you would use that action as a means to bait them back into being your friend? That's kinda shitty. And gosh, especially right now when no one in the world is mentally at their best? Guilt trip city.

Let the friendship fade out. Move on. It sucks, but it's part of life.
posted by phunniemee at 6:59 PM on April 7 [52 favorites]

It doesn’t sound like you have to actually *do* anything. If you stop reaching out, your friend probably will not reach out and that will be that. I’d suggest behaving as though the friendship is over— focus on building other friendships and participating in activities you enjoy. If this friend comes up for air and asks to hang out, you can decide at that time if you want to meet up or not. You don’t have to decide once and for all right now.
posted by erloteiel at 7:03 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]

I have nearly 2 decades on you, and from what I've learned, it's better to keep good friends close to your heart - even if you never get enough time to see them or share with them. It makes the world a little easier to know that there are good people out there, who may also think of you and wonder how you are doing - even though they feel they have lost touch and it would be too difficult to call up and reconnect and have to explain why they haven't been social in a long time. If this is a person you enjoy when you do meet up, and you get good vibes (not deceptive or deflective), then you don't have to "end" it - but you may have to move on with your life - and in your heart, wish them well. At least then, it is open for the possibility that one day you may again cross paths - and either reconnect with joyous celebration(!), or simple affection and fondness of a long lost friend, or you may not... all are possibilities. At this point, you may just want to leave the ball in their court when it comes to actual communication and contact - and if you decide you need to feel upset about their lack of contact during this time, then that's okay too! ... I just have not discovered any good reason to confront an acquaintance/friend in this regard - unless I felt that that person was seriously down and you feared for their wellness or safety. If this friend isn't being a friend to you whilst you yourself are seriously down, and you need someone to come to your aide - then I'd consider whether you are communicating this clearly and/or whether you might seek other ways to help yourself (but I didn't get this from your Ask - I just sense that you are feeling melancholy about someone you admired and respected, but feel slightly rejected by).
posted by itsflyable at 7:05 PM on April 7 [35 favorites]

Roni will end soon and University not that long after. Reach out late summer or fall, whenever you've both been vaccinated, and catch up in person. In a few years, when they don't have the beast of academia on their back, you may grow closer again.

So many people are cruising on empty now. Assume they're trying their best and written communication adds a level of stress and hassle that they simply cannot handle at the moment. It's not a slight on you.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 7:07 PM on April 7 [8 favorites]

Your friend doesn't sound so bad to me. Really, this is what happens to many people as time passes: Other priorities will come into their lives and they can't devote as much time to friends, especially those aren't part of other obligations that would necessitate meeting up.

You just have to downgrade their friend level to "someone who maybe I'll see when our schedules align by fate" in your mind and spend less time thinking about them. If it ramps back up, cool. If not, it's just ... life.
posted by Seboshin at 7:08 PM on April 7 [23 favorites]

I see no reason in ending it formally-- as in a friendship breakup. It's up to you on how you would like to proceed if they do reach out. If they do contact you, and you feel like hanging out, then go ahead and enjoy. It sounds like you're aware that it's might not be a personal rejection since they have been known to have difficulty in making and keeping friends, and they are very busy at the moment with school.

If this person is very focused on their studies and achieving they may see friendships or responding to texts as something that is getting in the way of their goals. Whatever is happening, know that it probably has little to do with you. They might be overwhelmed.

I have been wishy washy with some friendships in my youth. My rule as an older adult is to keep friends and give them the benefit of the doubt always (if they are otherwise decent human beings.). We can all be self-absorbed and forgetful at times.
posted by loveandhappiness at 7:11 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]

Why do you need to "do" anything? It sounds a bit like you want to punish your friend for not being the friend you want them to be by dramatically ending the friendship, but this person is barely engaging with you anyway. It sounds like they have already told you and shown you what kind of presence they want to be in your life. It's your choice to accept it or not.
posted by sm1tten at 7:15 PM on April 7 [7 favorites]

Also consider: is there some other way aside from text message you could be communicating with this person that would be easier for them?

I have one friend who *only* texts and she is a great and wonderful person and it makes it worth it to text with her, but I do chatty texting with literally no one else in my life. I am much more often on Facebook messenger and on Signal and on Discord and I have to make a special point to send things to her and respond to her messages. It would be so much easier if she used literally anything other than straight SMS.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:29 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]

I will preface this by saying that optimally, a good friend should be straight and prompt with you about saying that they just have a lot going on and then consistently make an effort to check back in once they have bandwidth. It's too bad that your friend isn't doing that. That said...

This may be difficult for you to consider, but perhaps it's possible that them not showing up for you right now is really the best way that they can be a friend? What people seem to not want to admit about others who are in the thick of it is that you'll likely be lose interest in someone who presents their life as one-dimensional. It's fine to admit this. Most people are like this, there's a reason your friend has trouble maintaining friendships beyond her non-response patterns.

Your friend who's preoccupied with school right now? When you keep asking "hey what's up" and the only answer they can honestly give is "nm, studying," you're likely losing interest in them. They're boring for living their life exactly as they need to right now. They are not interesting enough for you right now, and you may well forget that they were ever interesting enough for you underneath all the boring stuff they're dealing with right now. And guess what? They know they're broadcasting their boringness when they respond to you, and they know how it corrodes the way that people perceive them. They know, and it's miserable and punishing.

The thing is, they don't owe you their interestingness, and if they're smart enough to know that showing up as their real self right now will just weaken the friendship then they may feel that they're doing everyone involved a massive solid by retreating until they can be whole humans again. No one wants to be rejected for taking care of business, and as a fellow mature student I'd be surprised if you don't have some sense of how being in school can place you at odds with your peer group.
posted by blerghamot at 7:46 PM on April 7 [10 favorites]

It feels like you're projecting a lot of your own expectations onto your friend's behavior to me. There can be a myriad of reasons someone isn't texting back and not all of them are because they don't value your friendship. You could ask them about it if you want, or you could just let the friendship take its natural course.

If you don't feel like reaching out, then don't. As has been already said, there doesn't need to be some dramatic flameout for the friendship that burns bridges, you can just let the embers die on their own, perhaps to be rekindled later, when both of you are in a good place to do so. Make other friends in the meantime if you feel you need a different quality of company.
posted by Aleyn at 8:30 PM on April 7 [6 favorites]

You do not need to send them a termination of contract letter. Let this one phase out.

Covid is still influential and this person's study is very meaningful to them. You honestly may hear from them again, but don't put your life on hold for another person.
posted by firstdaffodils at 8:31 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]

Sounds to me like your friend is placing their university studies first, and that sounds pretty reasonable to me, when it 1) tends to be expensive, and 2) those grades and skills can impact their life after university in a pretty major way.

It sounds to me like you either are in a much easier course of study, have a much easier time with studying, or place a lower value on studying. If you were to pressure your friend to study less to socialize, that would be you NOT being a good friend.

This era will pass. You might still find yourself as friends if you can restrain yourself from the drama of "needing attention right now!" But honestly, this is why a lot of friendships don't survive university and growing up; some people are ready to focus on responsibilities like school and job and family, and others are focused on socializing.

Good friends, true friends, can go weeks or months without talking, and then pick up right where they left off... if they're both mature enough to recognize that each have lives and responsibilities. That isn't something you plan, though - it's something you realize happened, after decades of knowing each other.
posted by stormyteal at 8:54 PM on April 7 [7 favorites]

There's this absolutely beautiful Tyler Perry/Madea bit about friendships and lovers that I think is appropriate here. Definitely recommend watching the whole thing but a partial transcript hits the high points.

"Some people come into your life for a lifetime and some come for a season. You've got to know which is which."
"I put everyone in my life in the category of a tree...some people are like leaves on a tree... when the seasons change they wither and die, they’re gone...Some people are like a branch on that tree...they’ll make you think they’re a good friend and they’re real strong but the minute you step out there on them, they’ll break and leave you high and dry...but if you find 2 or 3 people in your life that’s like the roots at the bottom of that tree you are blessed...When you get some roots, hold on to them but the rest of it, just let it go. Let folks go."

So maybe your friend is a wonderful human being and maybe they were a leaf or even a branch to you for a while, but they're not your roots and it's time to let them go. They might grow from a leaf into a branch, as Madea says, at some point and that's okay. Just let your friendship go on standby right now and live your life as much as your friend is busy living theirs.
posted by librarylis at 9:58 PM on April 7 [7 favorites]

they said that they were sorry but too busy to reply and needed to focus on their studies

A good friend would take that perfectly reasonable explanation at face value.
posted by flabdablet at 11:16 PM on April 7 [21 favorites]

I might've felt like this was rude when I was in school myself, but now that I'm forty and all my friends and I have busier lives — and, by now, many of our relationships span a decade or two — it's really not a big deal. Over the pandemic, this has felt clearer than ever. My friendships that need constant tending have kind of fallen away in the past year, while the ones that are an easy slow burn have really thrived, or at least felt extra tender and valuable recently. If your friend is someone you can connect really deeply with when you do connect, cherish that! If they're someone you're just casually glad to see, downgrade them to an acquaintance you appreciate, but let them take the lead in pursuing a friendship and enjoy the times when your paths cross by fortuitous happenstance.
posted by knucklebones at 11:29 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]

There are some friends who will probably always be a bit flakey in such matters. Different friendships have different rhythms. However, since you other wise enjoy spending time with this person, why not pause reaching out to this person until the term is over?
posted by oceano at 11:29 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]

I cringed so hard at your ask, for being on both ends of this. I think you're probably feeling a little lonely and hurt and want more from your friend, and you can't get it. But everyone else already has put it really well -- you aren't entitled to any form of interaction in the way that I think you want from this friend, but you can want it from others who are /able and wanting/ to give it and are looking for the same. The key thing is able and wanting, because like consent, it only really feels as good as wanting to willingly give.
posted by yueliang at 12:39 AM on April 8 [5 favorites]

One of our middlest went for, and achieved, a PhD pre-pandemic. It significantly changed her availability in her 20s. We were very patient, focused more on summer and winter, and now that we are on the other side, it’s much much better. Pandemic-times are an extra layer of challenge, especially if it plays against your friend’s learning style. Think on how you would like the friendship to be after the degree. It’s well and good if you can give some space.
posted by childofTethys at 4:40 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]

I think this friend might be slow-fading you. I would stop reaching out and let them reach if/when they'd like to contact you.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:48 AM on April 8

Dude, not everybody is good at texting! It sounds like this friend has never been great at texting with you, so why are you taking it as a sign of lack of interest in your relationship only now?

Like, how did you get to be friends with this person in the first place? If you've historically connected most in person, well they keep asking you to hang out in person but you keep rejecting that as an option! They may well be just as frustrated with you as you are with them! Have either of you attempted to reconnect by any communication methods other than texting or IRL?
posted by gueneverey at 6:00 AM on April 8 [10 favorites]

This friend also has a difficult time making and keeping friends as well from the past

This sounds like a them problem, not a you problem. Stop taking it personally, focus on friends who reach out more.
posted by Omnomnom at 7:52 AM on April 8

This friend has also asked to meet a few times during covid, but I did not want to risk it, just in case, and perhaps, this is why my friend is taking forever to respond these days - but this friend pre-covid has also taken forever to reply and respond. I am not sure if it is worth keeping this friend if they have not replied to my texts in two weeks, as well as older texts from more than a month ago. It seems that this friend always spends time studying constantly - which is great, but it makes it difficult to socialise at times. Should I wait it out, or perhaps end it, or simply appreciate and respect when they do respond, even if it takes months?

I have a lot of issues on this topic. I seriously do not think your studies are so involving you can't respond to someone once in a while. They still sleep, eat, and go to the bathroom right? Take breaks once in a while? Talk to their mama on the phone if she calls? And does this person act like this ALL the time, even when school isn't in session? Are they somehow still always studying and too busy to talk during December break? I mean, it's probably just them not caring a whole lot/not prioritizing friendship maintenance.

What you can do--and what I am pretty much doing--is kinda passively ending it in my heart. There's no point in actually trying to say anything to them about my hurt feelings (I note it didn't do you any good when you told them what problems you were having and they said they were just going to do what they want anyway), and sometimes when people pull shit like this, then you know you don't match on expectations. I'm just stopping contacting them and well, if they EVER want to contact me again, then we'll see. (But you know if you get to that point, they never will, right?) Just kind of write them off in your heart, but if they ever surface six months later, or after their degree is finished, or whatever, maybe give it a chance. But definitely lower your expectations of how much of a friendship there is going to be.

If you've historically connected most in person, well they keep asking you to hang out in person but you keep rejecting that as an option!

Um....Covid is going on. There are extremely good reasons to reject hanging out in person. Not everybody is comfy having a socially distanced hangout in the park with masks on, and I note that it's very easy to start encroaching on the six feet of distance while attempting to do so because it's awkward and unnatural to stay that far away. I haven't done it a whole lot myself and it hasn't been the world's most fun when I've tried. I continue to have problems with the "I connect better in person" crowd, i.e. we're not connecting. We'll see if this improves after my all-clear date, but it's legitimate to say no to in person these days.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:34 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]

With friends I value and am close to, it is important to me to respect that I am only one facet of their lives, and also to trust that they care about me even if we are not in touch all the time. In fact I really appreciate many of my friendships where we may only catch up every few months or even longer. I don't know how old you are, but as you get a bit older you may well find that being more easy going and understanding will be important to keep hold of friends as you all move in different directions in life.

Another thing I find is that it is helpful to keep texts as a low-key supplementary form of communication, with more proper connection occurring in phonecalls/zooms/letters/emails. That way I really feel like I'm having meaningful interactions with my friends, and it doesn't matter so much if they don't reply to my animal meme or random observation pinged over text.

However, if I'm texting in order to set up meetings and my friend keeps repeatedly ignoring me or blowing me off, I might take a mental step back and wait for them to get in touch. Again though, I usually try to think this is because of their life circumstances and not about me. If there's something going on in my life that I feel I really need support for, there's usually another friend who I can turn to. So making more friends can be good for taking the pressure of one friendship, especially if it is sadly starting to feel a bit one-sided!

Short answer: friends are great, people have shit going on, I rarely think cutting people out of my life is beneficial unless they are being actively harmful to me, and patience and compassion are worth cultivating.
posted by Balthamos at 9:35 AM on April 8 [12 favorites]

Another vote for trying to accept this friendship for what it is. I've had some friendships over my life where, when I was with the person, we always had a really fun and meaningful time together- it was a genuine connection. But otherwise, the person was flakey, and I might only end up seeing them once every couple of months. That's not a friend you can lean on, nor a friend to make travel plans with, but it can still be a person you enjoy having in your life. COVID makes everything extra hard right now - I'd just reach out to this friend once you feel comfortable hanging out in person again.
posted by coffeecat at 9:52 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you have a preference mismatch. They prefer in-person and have approached you to visit in-person several times during the past year, which you have declined. I realize it's pandemic, but there are ways to visit that are low-risk (outside, both masked, physically distanced), though you may not have found that comfortable which is absolutely fine. You, on the other hand, prefer text and are continuing to try to engage them in texting even when they've told you that they're unable to respond to texts due to intense school priorities. By the same token, totally fine. They've been clear with you about their abilities and they may be the type of person who finds texting impersonal, exhausting, and anxiety provoking. You have to allow for the fact that a lot of people strongly dislike texting even if you like it.

You both seem unwilling to engage if it's not on your preferred terms. That's fine and maybe it's an incompatibility which will make maintaining a friendship difficult even though it doesn't have to be. It would be fine for you to accept that they don't like texting and will never respond to texts the way you prefer. I have a number of friends who don't respond well to texts and that's fine. I don't take it personally and find other ways to communicate with them. If you find it intolerable that they don't respond to your texts right away and you can't get past it, it's time to let this friendship fade. You don't have to send a "break up" message, you can just stop holding your end of the rope. But, I'd also consider this an opportunity for you to be a bit more flexible in how you maintain friendships and would encourage you to not be such an absolutist about people who aren't good at or don't like texting being rude, bad friends.
posted by quince at 1:49 PM on April 8 [9 favorites]

I've been dealing with similar situations a lot during this pandemic, from multiple friends, and I want to tell you things I wish someone had been around to tell me:

It sucks. It really, really sucks, and I'm sorry you're dealing with it. Your friend isn't being the friend you want them to be right now; and even though you know, rationally, that covid and studies are mostly to blame, that doesn't change the fact that you want the attention and time of this particular friend and they're not giving that to you. It's lonely and alienating and painful.

I know a lot of the common advice for this is to be understanding, to work on yourself, people have their own lives, etc. And that advice is entirely right and valid, but it still sucks! Sometimes you just want someone to meet you on the level that you're giving to them, and when they don't, it can feel like they're not holding up their end of the friendship pact.

What should I do?

I agree with phunniemee: lower expectations and distance emotionally. Sometimes anger (not at them, but at the injustice of it all) helps this process go more quickly. Possibly grieve the friendship you thought you had but obviously don't anymore. If/when they text back, it'll be a nice surprise. But you've already done so much work; the ball's in their court, now. If they want to rekindle a friendship then you can approach it like it's something new, with boundaries and those previously-lowered expectations.
posted by lesser weasel at 1:26 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]

I have been your friend (not literally, but you know what I mean). I truly value the friends who gave me space during those years of my life -- inviting me to things but not taking it hard if I couldn't make it.

If your friend's program of study is one that involves deep work and focus, texts are a horrible way to connect! The damn phone buzzes and you lose your concentration and it's so frustrating. If you don't want to meet in person (fair enough!) see if you and your friend can schedule a phone date or zoom date.
posted by basalganglia at 2:54 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]

I have a theory that friends sort themselves into "texters" and, well "less-responsive texters" (among other vague spectrums of course).

If very quick responsiveness via text message and being in constant text communication is important to you, then it's totally fine to drift away from this friend - sounds like you could just stop texting her and that would work?

It doesn't sound like she's a bad friend just because of this trait. My friends and I go radio silent/don't respond to texts all the time. It's just not a big deal to us. We have deep, decade-long, sister-like friendships and we understand we're busy.
posted by amaire at 11:01 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]

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