Reaching out to an ex friend when they've told you not to
April 14, 2021 9:19 PM   Subscribe

My longest, closest friend has dumped me, or at the very least, has declared we are on a break. This whole situation has completely blindsided me, and while I understand this is mostly out of my control, I want to do the right thing and let my friend know they are important to me. I have been told to respect their boundaries by not contacting them, and I totally will if that's the right thing, but I can't help but feel like I should try one last time.

The shortest possible story is that Friend was upset by something I did, didn't bring it up with me, and by the time I reached out they were furious and their mind was already made up. I had no idea they were upset and had no idea my actions* had hurt them, but I of course apologized (a lot) because I value Friend and also understand that sometimes people can be hurt by things regardless of your intent. Ultimately, Friend did not accept my apology, or believe that I had acted without any intent of harm or malice, and told me they needed space and that I need to respect their boundaries. I said I would give Friend space but was not just going to let our friendship go because they are too important to me.

So, I obviously hear what Friend is saying, but a huge part of me can't help but wonder if there is a way I could reach out just one last time, to say I care for them and understand they don't want to talk to me, and I will not bother them again, but just to say I have thought a lot about the issues raised, am trying to learn how to do better in the future, and I love them. They have an important day coming up and it doesn't seem right to me to not send them some kind of acknowledgement of it.

Am I just going to make this worse if I reach out? Is it disrespectful/harmful to give it one more try? Will Friend simply feel more justified in ending our friendship if I don't reach out? I know even if I do reach out, that may not help to mend things faster, if ever.

throwaway email:

*I think it's worth adding my offense here was not by saying something mean/racist/sexist/xenophobic/otherwise objectionable and justifiably worth ending a friendship over. Think more like failing to be supportive or communicative in the way Friend needed.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (64 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I am on the side of your friend in this instance. You know they don't want to hear from you, so I'd think that reaching out at this point would only upset them. Give it a few months to let the situation cool down before contemplating this.
posted by Alensin at 9:25 PM on April 14 [38 favorites]

Don't reach out. Respect her wishes and wait.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:25 PM on April 14 [7 favorites]

Please respect your friend's wishes. If they want to reach out to you they know how to find you.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:27 PM on April 14 [6 favorites]

If I told my friend that I needed a break from them and to give me space and they ignored that, any reservations I had about ending the friendship would be gone and all they’d do is confirm that I’d made the right decision. We would definitely be over at that point.
posted by Jubey at 9:30 PM on April 14 [62 favorites]

Just one more thing:

*I think it's worth adding my offense here was not by saying something mean/racist/sexist/xenophobic/otherwise objectionable and justifiably worth ending a friendship over. Think more like failing to be supportive or communicative in the way Friend needed.

This sounds like you're already minimizing the reasons why your friend has requested a break. It sounds like you're suggesting that their request is "unjustifiable" but that's not your call to make.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:34 PM on April 14 [30 favorites]

I have been told to respect their boundaries by not contacting them, and I totally will if that's the right thing, but


So, I obviously hear what Friend is saying, but

posted by bashing rocks together at 9:37 PM on April 14 [29 favorites]

It's one thing if you just haven't heard from them, or engaged in an argument, then didn't speak (without any mention of limitations).

You can let the person know you care for them and their perspective by allowing space. Do it in place of reaching out. You won't regret it.
posted by firstdaffodils at 9:39 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]

"Justifiably"? Your former friend doesn't need any justification for deciding to end the friendship.

If they told you not to contact them, don't, simple as. If at some future point when perhaps they have had enough space they contact you again, either apologize for your actions/lack thereof, or ask what you did wrong and listen well enough this time that you could write this question from their perspective. Right now you seem very defensive about the part you played in the demise of the relationship.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 9:39 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]

The best way to show you respect them is to accept their POV and respect their boundaries.

I think if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see that reaching out is really for your benefit, not theirs. You want to reach out because you miss them, you want absolution, you want to feel like a good friend. But the only hope of being a good friend is to do as they’ve asked.

Also, if you’re still arguing that they’re not justified in ending the friendship, then you truly are not in the “I’ll do anything to learn and improve” mindset you describe.
posted by kapers at 9:43 PM on April 14 [32 favorites]

You said, "I said I would give Friend space but was not just going to let our friendship go because they are too important to me."

So, Friend already knows that this is important to you and you don't want it to end. So, there is nothing that you need to say that Friend hasn't already heard. Trying to say it again is not going to help and it will come across as a lack of respect for their request for distance. So, instead of helping things, it will certainly make things work.

I know this is hard to swallow - it feels like if you could just get them to see it your way everything would work out. But right now, Friend is doing what they think they need to do and they are not interested in having to talk about this with you. I'm sorry but agree with the others that you need to deal with your feelings about this on your own and let Friend decide when they feel ready to talk about things (if ever).
posted by metahawk at 9:48 PM on April 14 [18 favorites]

Look, I've been there and it sucks. As much as I wanted to talk to my friend--in my case I didn't know what I did wrong, and still don't--looking back I'm glad that I respected her wishes. It didn't ultimately save the friendship, but I still think it was the right thing to do and never regretted it, and it's what I would want (and frankly expect) a friend to do for me.

She's told you what she wants, she has the right to set that boundary and have it respected.

You're getting a pretty clear message from others here, so I'll just add that you might have a lot of unpleasant and unsettled feelings here without anyplace to go. Those painful feelings are real and understandable, and you can and should figure out a way to deal with them--but not in a way that involves your friend.
posted by jameaterblues at 9:53 PM on April 14 [17 favorites]

What Jubey said.
posted by flabdablet at 9:59 PM on April 14

If you try to contact your friend, they will probably just ignore you and refuse to talk to you anyway. So while I understand the urge to want to try, there isn't any point.

I'm sorry things blew up and you didn't have a chance to save the friendship.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:44 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]

I would respect their wishes and not contact them with anything of substance. If their upcoming important day is say a birthday, I would send a two word email or text, Happy Birthday. Nothing else. No explanation, no apologies, no anything other than a simple Happy birthday.
posted by AugustWest at 11:02 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

I would respect the boundary. I'm not sure what the friendship was like before but if this seems like it was a minor incident to you then it might have been the straw that broke the camel's back. There may have been other times when Friend was upset with you and they kept quiet about it but this time it went too far for them.

There is nothing you can do at this point other than respect the request for space.

Do you share any friends in common? If you want to pass on a birthday card (or whatever the event is) you could hand it to them. I would discuss it with friend-in-common first though so they could put out feelers.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 11:14 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]

Think more like failing to be supportive or communicative in the way Friend needed.

Um, this is absolutely a justifiable reason to end a friendship. Everyone values different things. For some people, reaching out when there is a crisis or challenge is an expression of love, concern, care and attachment. So not doing those things, looks like not caring. Or not being attached. And for someone that expects attachment behavior that can be pretty devastating.

I would end a friendship over a failure to show concern and care for an obviously difficult time before I would end it over biased or entitled language. You can educate a friend who is being dense about social consciousness/justice issues. You can't really educate a person into showing up for you in a way that feels meaningful. I had a miscarriage and you knew it was happening and you didn't even text to check on me? If I am the kind of person that needs my people to show up as my people and you didn't bother, I will need a break, because you basically abandoned me in my time of need. People show up or they don't. And if they don't, then a person may feel betrayed. Why would you want to put yourself in the position of having someone do that to you all over again?

I understand wanting to give a sign of life as I would want to do the same, but you probably shouldn't.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:27 PM on April 14 [17 favorites]

I think people can be really hidebound / rule-driven about "don't reach out if they've asked you not to!" but I do think it's probably right here. This doesn't sound like an off the cuff kind of "go away!" or something that she might consider to have worn off by now. It seems like she told you quite strongly to respect her boundaries, after a bunch of argument, and it's probably something she felt really strongly about and that she's already mad at you for failing to do in the past.

If it has been, like, years then I would say some short message that's about her and the day and not about your friend breakup would be appropriate... but for now I get a vibe that's more... "how can she miss you, if you won't go away?"
posted by Lady Li at 11:33 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]

I know it's not fashionable to set aside the issue of boundaries, but let's say we do and say it's acceptable for you to reach out one last time. Consider:

The kind of people who unilaterally end friendships are generally not the kind of people who can be swayed by "one last conversation" when they've explicitly made it clear they don't want to have it.

What's fair or correct or good behavior aside, what is likely is this won't get you any closer to your goal, and will in fact move you further from it. Let it lie.

My editorial comment is that people who unilaterally friend-dump you have invoked my First Law of Relationships: If they don't want to be with you, you don't want to be with them.
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:55 PM on April 14 [45 favorites]

When you end an important friendship for any reason it takes a fair bit of time to work through it. Sometimes after that time the friendship can be repaired, sometimes not, but I think it is best to leave someone alone to do that, if they want to.

If you have mutual friends you can let it be known that at any time they can reach out to you and you are sorry, but beyond that it is wiser to leave it.

(I say this as someone who has ended a friendship over something that was to me appalling in terms of supportive actions, to the person less so.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:18 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]

This person has already told you what they need. Reaching out just one more time will almost certainly do more harm than good, and you should take a long, hard, honest look at the reason you want to reach out. Is it to help them feel supported? Or is it to make yourself feel better? When someone you care about cuts you off, it's very tempting to try to assuage your fears that they might forget about you or realize they're better off without you by trying to insert yourself back into their life (I speak from experience, I know this is painful!).

This is also a good time to remind yourself that people get to end friendships whether you find their reasons "justified" or not.

I said "almost" in the first paragraph because there are some people who do (figuratively or literally) walk away just to see if you'll follow them. You know better than we do if your friend is this type of person, but since they made it clear they needed space and wanted their boundaries respected, it doesn't sound like this is the case here. And if you're not sure, err on the side of respecting their stated wishes. It shows more respect for your friendship, and is also more defensible if it comes to that. If it were you, would you rather hear "I violated your boundaries because I didn't believe you really meant them" or "I didn't reach back out because I was respecting your boundaries" ?
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:46 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]

The kind of people who unilaterally end friendships are generally not the kind of people who can be swayed by "one last conversation" when they've explicitly made it clear they don't want to have it

This. Like - I actually find these sudden friend breakups to be beyond bizarre, but also, some people engage in them and if those people treated friendship as a serious, semi-permanent thing, they wouldn’t be friend breaking up in the first place. Let them go, find new friends who don’t do this.
posted by corb at 1:02 AM on April 15 [20 favorites]

Please don't. It's sad for both of you that things are where they are, and I do feel for you, but this doesn't sound like something you can fix.

However much you want it to be otherwise, if you reach out, Friend won't think "how kind that anonymous is thinking of me even after I pushed them away". Friend will think "oh no, something from anonymous even after I made it so clear I wanted them to leave me alone". They may not even read it, and if they do, what it says will be secondary to the fact of its existence.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:30 AM on April 15 [11 favorites]

They have an important day coming up and it doesn't seem right to me to not send them some kind of acknowledgement of it.

it absolutely sucks that you have to sit this one out, but it's possible that your friend was feeling anxious about this upcoming day, and didn't want to have their feelings about you complicating that day. I'm sure it does feel wrong to miss it, but they have been clear about what they want, it is kindest on that day to follow their guidelines.

I have seen a few of my friends drift apart, and sometimes it's not a particular action that breaks the friendship, but more of an energy mismatch, The more extroverted person thinks everything is great, the introvert feels a lot of pressure that they don't let on about until they decide it's too much. Sure, better communication the whole time would have prevented the blowout, but the basic personality mismatch would always be there. This may feel like a shock to you, but your friend may have has been feeling some discomfort for a while, and not telling you about it. Let them have some cooling off time, and maybe reach out in a year or so once life has settled down a bit. Right now, we are all stress balloons ready to pop, and your friend needs some space. Your kind message of continued friendship is going to be much better received once some time has passed.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:42 AM on April 15 [15 favorites]

Once, I was in a relationship where I felt my needs and desires were constantly minimized. This person cared deeply for me, so deeply that they couldn't hear me when i said i didn't feel respected or valued. I said I needed some no contact space to just listen to myself and stabilize so I could think clearly. I didn't want to end the relationship forever but I couldn't see another way and needed time and space to sort myself out. They simply couldn't respect it. They didn't honor my need for space. They felt entitled to blow past that boundary because of how much they wanted the relationship to continue as it had been. I don't know if the relationship would have survived if the space I'd asked for would have been provided. I may have just been done no matter what. But I'll never know because the lack of respect for how I was feeling and what I needed gave me no choice but to end it for good.

On the other side of the experience, in a different relationship, it wasn't going the way I wanted. I kept asking for something they didn't want to give me. I decided to draw the line: I want this thing, you do not, so I think we need to part ways and be done. They were shocked and hurt. What I really wanted was for them to show up at my door and say, noooo I do want this, I'll give you whatever you want to keep this friendship alive. This person respected my boundaries instead. I was devastated. Eventually I reached out and we talked it through. He and I are now married and have an incredibly powerful bond.

I guess the moral of the story is, you can't go wrong respecting someone's boundaries if your aim is a relationship based on true caring and affection. The only thing you have to lose is control, which feels great in the moment, but cant ever compare to the fountain that is a friendship based on mutual respect and trust.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:19 AM on April 15 [29 favorites]

Will Friend simply feel more justified in ending our friendship if I don't reach out?

It's not impossible, but even in that case you'd still both be better served giving each other space.

I think it's usually a good idea to take people at face value in these matters - not because I think there's never a discrepancy between what people want and what they say they want, but because if there is, space and time and alone to sort things out are still the best option for everyone involved.
posted by sohalt at 2:23 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]

I really wouldn't pass any card or message via anyone else or any other form - the only thing you can currently do is make the situation worse (by trying to make contact in any way). This sounds like it was relatively recent, and you need to do what was asked if you respect your friend and their wishes.

If you want to fight for the friendship, do it by fighting your own impulses, not by making gestures in defiance of what your friend asked - it might still not be enough but it is your only positive option right now.
posted by carbide at 3:30 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]

I’m so sorry this has happened to you; it sounds really painful and confusing.

But I agree with the consensus here; the way to show your friend you are listening and you do care is to do what they have told you they need. Don’t reach out. Give them space. They have already made the decision that they don’t want you to be part of their big day, and you can honor their wishes by giving that to them.

If you want, you could write a letter about your feelings and their big day and save it in the hopes that you can eventually give it to them if they reestablish contact, but otherwise you have to let this one go.
posted by Stacey at 3:41 AM on April 15

To recap: your friend is upset because you didn’t do something they expected you to do. Your plan to rectify the situation is to... not do something they expect you to do. Put this way, does your plan sound like it will work?
posted by kevinbelt at 4:01 AM on April 15 [6 favorites]

As someone in your friend's position right now, the only thing I would want to hear from you is a complete apology and an explanation of how you have changed.
posted by wenestvedt at 4:22 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]

Think more like failing to be supportive or communicative in the way Friend needed.

Personally, if this is actually a good assessment of what happened, perhaps you're just not compatible in the way good friends need to be. I can't fathom ending a friendship because of something like that. So my instinct - which is "it would be ok to send a greeting card for their big day but not to reach out over text/email" - is probably wrong.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:02 AM on April 15

When someone tells you “no”, at some level they’re taking care of themselves.

Respect that your friend is taking care of themselves.
posted by Sublimity at 5:11 AM on April 15 [7 favorites]

Mefi has spoken: Honor your friend’s request. Do not send any communication even for the upcoming special day.

Instead think about: A. the reason you failed to give your friend support; B. the reason you are failing to support Friend's explicit request.

To deconstruct the problem, please note several instances right in your explanation where you deny the validity of your friend’s feelings with the words “but” and “and” to justify what you need, not what they need:

I said I would give Friend space but was not just going to let our friendship go because they are too important to me.

So, I obviously hear what Friend is saying, but a huge part of me can't help but wonder if there is a way I could reach out just one last time . . . but just to say I have thought a lot about the issues raised, am trying to learn how to do better in the future, and I love them

They have an important day coming up and it doesn't seem right to me to not send them some kind of acknowledgement of it.

If there's any chance of resuming the friendship, respect the request now. Reflect on the ways you will be a more supportive, respectful friend in the future to this or any other friend.
posted by Elsie at 5:15 AM on April 15 [8 favorites]

You have been told to respect their boundaries.

Respect their boundaries.

I would be very, very angry if I told you not to contact me and then you did anyway.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:18 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]

Your friend has likely dumped you, calling it a break. The stated reason isn't necessarily why, but they have decided to move on. In any relationship, when 1 person says Leave me alone, you must do that, both because you have to respect boundaries and because it will not be effective.

So the issue remains, How do you cope with the loss of your friend? Keep busy if you can, and when things ease up, go out, do Meetups, take a class, volunteer; that's how you meet new people. You grieve and move forward. You may not ever really understand why/ why this happened. If Friend returns, be cautious; a person who will walk out on you once may do it again; it's kind of cruel and sometimes a way of exerting power. We have only your perspective, though. I'm sorry this happened to you.
posted by theora55 at 5:41 AM on April 15 [7 favorites]

When I broke up with a partner, he asked for no contact after a week or so. I agreed because that was not up to me. Exactly one year after that request, I emailed the person and we rekindled our friendship. Not our romance, because that was never going to happen. But we became good friends again, which was delightful. I encourage you to delay contacting your friend since your friend has asked you to leave them alone.

if there is a way I could reach out just one last time, to say I care for them and understand they don't want to talk to me, and I will not bother them again, but just to say I have thought a lot about the issues raised, am trying to learn how to do better in the future, and I love them.

Maybe? Like via an old-fashioned letter? I think it would be better to wait for 6 months to a year before sending this missive, because clearly you are doing it for yourself rather than your friend. Waiting says that you take your friend's request seriously. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 5:51 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]

Communicating with them at this time is exactly “failing to be supportive or communicative in the way Friend needed.” You’re showing a pattern of behavior that is not actually giving them what they are looking for right now. (No idea if they’re “right” or not. But it isn’t what they want.)

Give it a year. At least. Reconsider the dynamic. If you still feel just as strongly about it, one short note with no expectation of reply might be acceptable after that space.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:15 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Couple comments deleted; friendly reminder the question doesn't specify genders.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:26 AM on April 15 [11 favorites]

You've got awesome answers here, just wanted to +1 the fact that if you value their friendship and care about them, then you will hear what they are telling you they need and respect their request. If you feel you must insert yourself and "try again", maybe think deeply about why you feel you should ignore what they have asked and do this. Perhaps it's more about you than them - and maybe that's what they're upset about to begin with.
posted by jdl at 7:04 AM on April 15 [6 favorites]

I wrote an ask a few yrs ago regarding an old friend who continued to contact me after I made it clear our friendship was over. Ex-friend ignored my decision, kept contacting me and triangulated using my husband to reach me. She’s been blocked for ages now and yet this year I got a postcard from her. A racist Aunt Jemima style postcard no less-it was offensive itself w/o even considering the boundaries she broke by sending it.

Any contact from her is wasted time on her part. Our friendship died 10+ yrs ago and it ain’t coming back no matter the happy memories we have of old days. If you value your friend and have hopes for the future of your friendship do not reach out to them. Sit back and reflect on things and give friend the respect they are asking for. If you contact them first you may force an ending but if you give space and respect there’s a chance friend will circle back to you.

Sorry to join the pile on and I don’t know your situation but my ex friend feigned ignorance at the problems in our friendship and her pretending not to know what went wrong in our relationship was more offensive to me than the problems to be honest.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 7:19 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]

Friend has explicitly asked you to respect their boundaries. You agreed to give Friend space while also telling them you didn't want to let the friendship go because they were important to you.

You have already communicated the thing you are saying you want to communicate. Not respecting the boundaries they explicitly asked you to respect so that you can communicate the thing you already communicated is highly unlikely to get you the result you want. It is much more likely to cement Friend's decision to end the friendship.

Listen to them. Respect the boundary. No "but". Respect what they have asked you to do.
posted by bedhead at 7:23 AM on April 15 [7 favorites]

I have been friend in your situation and have done this before and you are not doing your friend any favours by contacting them. Likely, this was the final straw in a bunch of stuff you did and they finally made the choice to cut you out. It's not fair to them to impose yourself on them again when they have already had to summon the emotional strength to cut you out only to have you turning up and trying that strength and those boundaries again. You are taking advantage of a weakness in their armour (the important date) to get back into their good (or likely at least begrudging) graces. Leave them alone. Atone for your errors in other ways.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:26 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]

I am in Friend's position currently (in fact, for a moment I wondered "am I Friend?" Big day coming and all.)

I never thought I would be the kind of person who would do a friend breakup. But here we are. There are a lot of complicated feelings around it – actually, it's simple: my life feels easier without this person in it. My friend did reach out, after about five months or so. I saw the message, did not want to read it, finally did read it, and then was honestly a bit annoyed that it didn't address or attempt to apologize for the action that triggered the friend-breakup in the first place. And in my case, too, it was something that, to an objective observer might seem to be not such a big deal. But of course it was just one in a long, long series of actions and behaviors that finally became too much.

Bottom line: follow the good advice you've been given. Friend knows where to find you. One more message will just... send the wrong message. And, as others have said, it will be good to reflect on the entire situation – why your friend felt unsupported. And it's likely that it was something in a long series of unbalanced interactions that, for whatever reason, you didn't notice or give importance to.

Maybe your friend is like me: I give people endless chances; I am excellent at explaining away or minimizing others' mistreatment of me. But one day, that's just it and I realize my life will be easier and simpler without this energy in it.

I think it is good that you asked here to check your instincts.
posted by profreader at 7:27 AM on April 15 [31 favorites]

Think of it as a gift you can give your friend, whether the relationship continues again or not: The space to be themselves.
posted by Xurando at 7:38 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]

It's worth looking at yourself and trying to figure out why you think your need to contact your friend could be more important than their need to not have contact. The rationales you are using "Maybe they don't mean it," or "I must do something to salvage this friendship" or "It's all a misunderstanding that could be cleared up," or whatever they are are keys to your own self-understanding.

Everyone of those rationales is an error. They are false beliefs. Quite possibly there are emotions of need, or fear or shame or anxiety behind the words. On one hand your friend has said they don't want you to contact them, but on the other hand you have such strong feelings that urge you to contact them, that it doesn't FEEL like the verbal message could be true.

The feelings, of course, do not match the situation. It's like when a game of fb tells you "You are a sensitive person who feels thing more than others, wise beyond your years because of your experience, you have been hurt but still love passionately..." Momentarily you feel good and recognized, despite the fact that one out of three people who play the game get the same randomly selected answer. Or perhaps the day is going fine right until you drop your butter knife on the floor and then absolutely the day is not going fine, life is not going fine, in fact death would be preferable to going on like this. In neither case are the emotions a match for the situation. They come from somewhere else. I think that might be what is happening in the situation with your friend. There is an emotion coming from somewhere else telling you not to listen to your friend.

But when you don't listen to your friends you are making it impossible to have a relationship with them. In a relationship both people must feel heard and seen and recognized and validated. If you are totally validated and seen and heard and recognized and they are not, it's not a relationship that is good for the other person. It's the transfer of your pain onto them. In relationships like that the other people are things.

So if you want to hurt your friend, and to have a relationship that hurts them, and where you take more than you give, where the trend is to suck them dry, then contact them. But if you do, on some level you will know they don't want you and the long term will be for you to hurt worse. You'll get momentary relief that because you begged, and explained and pestered they agreed to go on being friends, and long term pain knowing that you have to beg and explain and pester to make them reluctantly give you their time and attention. Every time you coerce someone into meeting your needs over their objections then they love you less, admire you less, want to be with you less... The more and more false any validation you get in a friendship like that will be and the less validated you will feel.

The mental script you need is to repeat to yourself, "I am such a good friend I can support them without seeing them, love them and give them distance. I'm strong enough not to contact them, strong enough to look after myself, compassionate enough to care what they are feeling. I validate what they say. I can find ways to keep myself from being lonely. I can meet my needs without them. If this friendship is meant to be they will come back. If this friendship is bad for one of us, then it is better it breaks up."
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:45 AM on April 15 [14 favorites]

Everyone is giving you really good advice here about loving your friend by respecting their boundaries.

Boundaries are things that people put in place to help themselves feel safe. When you ignore/disrespect/question your friend's boundaries, they likely feel unsafe or violated. Particularly if you have history with them that involves repeated boundary pushing.

I want to say that I think you should consider your friend's "big day" as an excellent reason to respect their boundaries. I have been in your friend's position (receiving unwelcome contact on a "big day") twice in my adult life and it has been unpleasant both times.

There's a pattern in my family of not having/respecting boundaries so it should not have been a surprise when a family member chose as their date a person I had asked for no contact with. I was told that this person was excited for my "big day" and wanted to be there. I managed to push my feelings down, make a nice smile at the person, and enjoy my wedding.. but the unwanted guest is in some of the pictures and it still makes me feel weirdly violated when I see her in them.

The second time was when my dog died and I got a bouquet and sympathy card from someone totally inappropriate. I was so angry at the world already struggling with losing my best most precious companion and yeah it just was NOT A GOOD TIME to get contact from this person. I also felt weird and awful trying to explain to myself why this bouquet made me so upset because it's not easy to create boundaries and then stand up for yourself and maintain them. I even sent the inappropriate person a thank you card because social niceties in a small community required acknowledgement. It was pretty shitty, and I'm sure the person was not thinking of how it would make me feel but they should have been.

Basically, Jane the Brown put it perfectly above:
So if you want to hurt your friend, and to have a relationship that hurts them, and where you take more than you give, where the trend is to suck them dry, then contact them.

I don't think that's what you want, so please take everyone's excellent advice.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 7:59 AM on April 15 [10 favorites]

Unfortunately, there's no way to do this and have it be a win, which is probably what you're secretly expecting will happen. (Because that's what humans do, we have a lot of slightly misguided hope in us.) You're hurt and you want to fix it, but you're being tempted to put your own discomfort ahead of theirs and it's not going to score any points.

Take the time provided by this break to consider the situation with a little more perspective. In adult friendships, explicitly setting this boundary is a pretty nuclear option. I have a hard time imagining doing this over someone else's failure to support me like I wanted them to unless it was pretty beyond the pale, but I've certainly seen people screw up that bad (on purpose or accident). I have also seen people deal out these kinds of breakups as a form of emotional manipulation (this too not necessarily consciously, just as a part of the fallout of trauma, illness, addiction, some other much bigger thing going on but this is the thing that can be controlled).

Either way, you need that time buffer before you can really assess the situation. Feel free to write all the UNSENT messages you want right now, maybe make yourself a Google doc or get a notebook just to get it all out so you can process it. In some time, you will have a better understanding of what exactly went wrong and you will be more likely to know whether it is a good idea to attempt to reconcile if that opportunity comes. You may realize this relationship wasn't good for either of you, or had become so in the end. You may go forward with a different perspective on how to be a friend in the future, but it may not be with this person.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:20 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]

I have been on both sides of friend breakups. When I was the one who broke off the friendship, the other person often disrespected my request not to be contacted. When they did that, I always knew breaking off the friendship was the right decision.

When friends have dumped me, they have usually not been assertive enough to tell me the friendship was over. It took longer to figure out that the friendship was over, but when I realized it, I still did not try to contact them. There was not a perfect note I could have written to make them like me and value me again. There was not a magical spell I could cast to make them understand how loyal a friend I was. Accepting the loss was deeply painful, but it was far more dignified and loving than the alternative.

I know it sounds paradoxical, but part of being a good friend is respecting other people's right not to be your friend. You have to let this one go.
posted by armeowda at 8:55 AM on April 15 [7 favorites]

Well this is a bit of a pile-on! Permit me to light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel the tone. About ten years ago a good friend of mine stopped speaking to me . . . because nobody like to be told that they are wrong it all started when she hit me back etc. A year ago, the National Post Service here handed every household a quota of post-free post-cards to help us all keep in touch during the 1st lock-down. I sent a chirpy ironic message to old friend and got a fulsome chatty catch-up email the next week. So I suspect we can move on together as soon as hugs are permitted. Pathetic that it takes a pandemic for Achilles to leave his goddam tent.
posted by BobTheScientist at 8:56 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]

Another aspect that I don’t think has come up: it looks like this relationship, as it is now, doesn’t fit your wants and needs. It’s ok to let it go.
posted by Sublimity at 9:05 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry this happened to you. I think it might be helpful to think about it like BobTheScientist suggests. With enough time down the road, things might look different. (Note, though, that BobTheScientist is talking ten years.) In fact, I'd suggest you try imagining yourself a year or so from now, bumping into the person. How would you like to be when you see them? Would you like to have understood something about what happened and be in a place of equanimity about it? Would you have maybe tried different things in subsequent friendships and feel you've become a better friend as a result of this experience?

I've had a couple of people, where there was a clear break in the friendship, reach out after literally years. In those cases I generally don't feel like rekindling things and I don't think they do either, but it feels nice to be in a place where each of you wishes the other well.
posted by BibiRose at 9:20 AM on April 15

I think some of the answers here have been harsh. You didn’t know you did something wrong, you apologized as soon as you learned of it, you committed to trying to do better, and you told Friend how much you value and love them. You are not the bad guy here. (Friend isn’t necessarily either, but you’ve done your best.)

I do however agree that not contacting Friend right now is best if they explicitly asked you to. I’ve had some people play mind games with me where they’ve expected me to read their mind that they did actually want x after they told me y, but I don’t think that’s very reasonable. Going with their stated request is defensible if necessary, both to them and to yourself.

Can you spend a few minutes praying for them or sending them silent well wishes or good vibes or whatever works for you on their important day? Then you are marking the occasion but also following their request.

Because of my own trauma history, I’m a compulsive people pleaser, peacemaker, fawner, conflict avoider, etc. It feels physically painful to know that someone is upset with me, because when I was a child it was not safe for me when someone was upset with me. I feel like I have to bend over backwards and tie myself in knots to fix the conflict. If you’re the same way, this is HARD. Please try to be gentle with yourself. 2.5 years later, a similar situation still hurts for me. Therapy helps. Time helps. Distraction helps. And it’s gotten better over time. But it may be really hard for awhile, made harder by the fact that while society has all these narratives and scripts and songs and shows about romantic breakups, there’s not much guidance about friend breakups, which are just as real and painful (if not more so in some cases!) than romantic breakups. Try to be kind with yourself as you come to terms with this. I’m here via MeMail if you’d like to chat/vent/etc.
posted by bananacabana at 9:27 AM on April 15 [12 favorites]

I agree that it isn't fair for them to have just stewed over things instead of talking to you like a grown-up. I had an ex who did that and it ultimately was part of what lead to our breakup, and it really isn't fair.

However, that's all the more reason for you to adhere to the one thing they did say - which was that they preferred for you not to contact them. (I tried to do that with my ex, tried to do the "stay friends" thing and I kept kind of bugging them and it really didn't go well and now we don't talk and it was icky all around.) I know this leaves you with a whole bunch of unsaid stuff - but that is why journals or "write a letter but then don't ever send it, burn it instead" are things people do. I have had more than a few "you know what, this is the reason why you suck" conversations with my ex in my head, but - they stay in my head. They would never work if I tried to actually have them.

Look at it this way - if you stick to writing in a journal or having imaginary conversations with this person, you are guaranteed to always have the last word, to never say the wrong thing, and to always win. I have rejected a lot of imaginary apologies from my ex and done an imaginary Beyonce strut off into the sunset each time, and you know something, it helps. If I were to do that in person, there's no guarantee it would work that way - in fact, it probably wouldn't - and I would feel worse.

Have an IMAGINARY conversation with your friend, but respect what they have asked you to do in real life.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on April 15 [6 favorites]

"I said I would give Friend space but was not just going to let our friendship go because they are too important to me."

So they already know your feeling about how important they are to you. What would contacting them to reiterate this accomplish? If anything; your blowing past the boundary they explicitly set; will just reinforce their decision to cut you off to begin with!

Plus; if they are that important in your life; I am guessing you were important in their life too. Which means; their decision to cut you off must have required adequate forethought. Your not respecting that by contacting them after you have been explicitly asked not to; reeks of your sense of entitlement and more importantly; disrespect for your friend. You contact now is basically telling them; "I know you decided to get some space from me; but I don't think you know what is good for you. You need me in your life."
posted by indianbadger1 at 11:24 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]

This happened to me five years ago, and yes, it still hurts at times. I treated it like a protective order; this person truly does not want me in their life, and just because I can't understand all of the reasons, I have to accept their request. Frantic efforts at re-connecting would only confirm how much I don't respect her wishes.
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 12:02 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]

Framing through a different lens - I had a falling out with a friend a couple of summers ago where she came to me with a list of grievances for ways I had let her down as a friend after months of being distant. It was awful because we also worked together and I could feel her purposefully shutting me out daily, and I was going through a really hard stretch myself due to serious illness caretaking responsibilities in my own life with my family. At the time I was just so desperate to get things on track I essentially just accepted the barrage and apologized full throated without question. Later, *I* actually started to feel my own set of resentments because she had stuffed her emotions for so long and abandoned me in my time of need.

My point is...this situation may be more complex than it appears on the surface, and you likely won't be able to untangle it through brute force. Your best chance at a renewed relationship that is functional down the line is for both parties to actively and independently buy in for themselves. Give it space to breathe, and see if this looks different in a few months.
posted by amycup at 12:47 PM on April 15 [6 favorites]

I'm in my third year of "don't contact us" after burning some close friends. it's hard. i want to reach out all the time. my shrink reminds me not to. find a supportive person who you can be accountable to.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:59 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]

This happened to me a couple of years ago and in that case at least I KNOW it was a misunderstanding: I mentioned how I lost interest in writing because I never got any supportive feedback, and friend thought I meant she wasn't supportive, whereas I, per the convo wed been having, was referring to my life in 1996, which was literally 20 years before I met her. She stewed on it for months, letting that thought taint everything I said from then on, then finally friend-dumped me hard. I explained the misunderstanding, apologized profusely, offered any amends, but after quietly hating me for months she just couldn't think anything else of me. So i acknowledged that, and my sadness that the friendship was over, and we haven't spoken since. And the way I look at it is, if she wants to friend-dump me for something I literally didn't even do, then that wasn't a friendship that could or should survive. It hurts, and I miss her to this day, but I just accepted it, as if she'd actually died, and I grieve, and someday, I hope, I'll manage to trust someone again.
posted by The otter lady at 1:04 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]

Well, I just want to say that it's best not to contact this person, and I also want to say that it's okay to feel sad and angry and mad and upset at your friend ending your friendship like this. I think you are trying to own that you hurt your friend, but it's also okay to own the way they hurt you. I think you are focusing on reconnecting with your friend, or getting some kind of validation from them, and I don't think you will get that. This is reminding me of friends who want to reach out to former lovers right after a break-up, to try to make that person understand.

I think in your quest for reconnection or closure, you are focusing on what you want from them. You need to find a way to get that from yourself. I'd say to follow a lot of the typical break-up advice for romantic relationships. Take some time for self care; journal; spend time with friends (such as we can these days).

I think it's okay to hand write a letter to your friend THAT YOU WILL NEVER SEND. Pour your feelings out onto paper, and then bury it or tear it up or do something dramatic. Let yourself feel all the feelings. You aren't going to get what you want from your friend, so start looking for it elsewhere. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:20 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you everyone for taking the time to write. This whole situation had me questioning my gut and my feelings and reality from so many different angles and I just felt confused and stuck. And sometimes you really need someone with some distance to pull you out of your own internal monologue spiral and slap some sense into you (some of you slap a little hard for my liking, but I am thankful regardless)

I really appreciate those of you who shared your own experiences - from both sides - and I'm realizing that I also need to take some time to work through some stuff and figure out what it is I even want. Friend and I have different needs and maybe after decades of taking for granted that we'd always be close, this fight is just... where we realize our paths and our needs are too different. It sucks and it hurts and it may feel that way forever, but hopefully with time whatever is supposed to be will be.

You all provided a lot of really great advice, and I plan to follow much of it. Thanks again.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:39 PM on April 15 [10 favorites]

I am so, so sorry. I am still grieving the loss of my best-friend-since-13yo and it’s awful. And what sounds like the same circumstances, too. After 45 years(!) my friend decided I did not support her adequately during a difficult time. I hate to tell you, but I think you need to accept that the friendship is over. Or at the very least, you are helpless to influence it either way. You need to go through a grieving process, NOT a repair process, because anything else you do will just cement your friend’s decision.
posted by raisingsand at 3:40 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]

I have decided that I don't want to pine and long and beg to be friends with people who can't communicate their needs to me and use avoidant tactics like this as their only communication.

I withdraw my presence when, like, a relative (or friend) is being *abusive*. This is how I trained a particular relative to not cross my clearly-communicated boundaries or fly into a rage -- it was really effective, and it also preserved my sanity because I loved that person but was not cool with boundary-crossing or screaming rages.

But when friends and I simply aren't on the same page and it's hurtful, I communicate and listen and seek to improve, and I expect the same from them. People who don't communicate and then punish a friend for not reading their mind are not people I want in my life.

Basically, if my behavior was particularly egregious or repeated, I would give this person space and hope for eventual healing. But if it was an honest communication mismatch or whatever, I would take this as evidence of this person's general lack of kindness and emotional maturity, extricate myself emotionally, grieve, and move on into the work of finding friends who communicate and are kind.
posted by cnidaria at 4:13 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]

And yeah, "What do I even want?" is a great question to start with. I find the pain of loss can cause me to cling tighter to things that sometimes, upon closer examination, I don't even really want or don't make me heathy and happy in the first place.

Big hugs for you as you work through this really tough time <3
posted by cnidaria at 4:17 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]

I’ve been ghosted by almost every close woman friend I’ve ever had.

My mantras are:

“Accept it and move on”

“That says more about her than it does about me.”

That said, I’m really good at saying goodbye to people. YMMV.
posted by bendy at 10:44 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]

My response here is focused on YOU, OP, and what I want for your security and comfort and healing and light and closure and new life past this person and all you have to offer the other people in your life that aren’t them specifically and all your good qualities and all the love you have to give to the world.

Do not contact this person. It will make you feel worse and spiral further down the shame hole. The shame hole is really actually an illusion because it has a false bottom called I Will Be Validated By This Person Goddamnit If It’s The Last Thing I Do and you just kind of keep free-falling because that person is not going to do that for you because they don’t want to.

And, somewhere deep within yourself, you don’t need them to. You have other people to talk to! Books to read! Exercising to do! Parks to visit where there are squirrels and birds! Sometimes there are even beavers and deer and holy crap they’re adorable! Fantastic tv shows to stream! Your favourite coffee shop to visit! A fun trail near your house to explore! A long bath you can have with bubbles that smell like peppermint! Fun new video games to play on that new Play Station thing that came out a few months ago (I am not a gamer whatsoever at all so sorry about this one if you are because I don’t know what I’m talking about)! The beauty of life is that you can start learning Japanese or Russian right now and no one can stop you! You can take up woodworking tomorrow and build a chair! Chairs are neat! You can learn how to make a quilt with 17 different kinds of cats on it or learn how to grow hothouse peppers or keep bees or take up kayaking! Holy shit!

I think you get the point. That was a lot of exclamation marks and I do apologize for them all very much. I just want you to increase your own sense of wellbeing and emotional safety by not contacting this person. I wish you well and send you a big hug that maybe makes your ribs creak just a bit. Please MeMail me if you need someone to talk to!
posted by oywiththepoodles at 10:44 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]

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