I can't deal with a former friend, but feel guilty for not responding.
August 28, 2021 10:03 AM   Subscribe

This is a followup to my previous Ask, in which I got really good advice; namely, not responding to Dorothy. I did just that, did not respond at all. After some mulling over, I realized I was done with the friendship and would just do a slow fade. Unfortunately, she sent me a wall of text today, upset that I did not respond. I am stymied.

Let me make one thing clear: I am, in a vast majority of cases, willing to talk things out, listen to different/opposing perspectives, work things out, or reconcile peacefully. As many of you picked up accurately on my last Ask (and a few before that), I have trouble setting boundaries properly, and am a people pleaser. Thus the dilemma I am in.

After the last Ask, which helped me feel extremely validated, I did a lot of thinking, and realized that not only this last instance of our friendship (disappointed, not following her word of treating me to dinner, not offering any reimbursement or caring at all about potential damage) was toxic to me, but other instances. Of course, I am always willing to acknowledge my own fault or doing in situations, too, and have apologized in the past for gaffes. But, I did think it over, and was ready to let this friendship go, realizing it wasn't healthy for me at all, and realizing we weren't good for each other.

Dorothy's previous response (disappointed, etc) did not ask for a response, so I did not respond, per the good advice of my previous Ask. Today, Dorothy sent me a wall of text basically saying that she deserved better, asking if we were not friends anymore?, saying that not hearing back from me said a lot, that my silence showed I wanted nothing to do with her, and that she does not get it, and wished me well.

This text has shook me up and caused me distress. The thing is, after reflection (and before this text today) I realized I wanted nothing to do with her. I know this seems strong, maybe even mean of me, because she did not insult me deeply (about my appearance, or about ME personally as a person) or steal hundreds of bucks from me, but no... I am just DONE with her. I do not want ANYTHING to do with her. I am not feeling up to responding at all, trying to explain my perspective, trying to reconcile, etc. I know that might seem awful, mean, unreasonable, or cowardly on my part, and I acknowledge that. However, I just can't. I can't really explain it rationally — her energy just drains me immensely, I often feel I can't do anything right to please her, and it's damned if I do, damned if I don't, and when she's mad, she's very strong and even aggressive. I tried, I tried to see the good in her, I put aside past behaviors (and learned from my own mistakes), but I'm just done after this disappointment bit. I mean, okay, I can certainly understand her being disappointed that it didn't work out, but the way she said it just really hurt me and made me feel underappreciated, even though that may not be her intention.

So, to cut this rambling short, to sum it up, I am done and do not want to respond.

Barriers:
1) She and I have some mutual friends, including close mutual friends. We both are going to a wedding of a couple next year. Cue awkwardness. Plus, the Deaf community (we both are Deaf) is very small.
2) This is not typical of me to not respond. Normally, I feel that not responding, leaving people hanging, name your poison, etc is shitty behavior, so it's weird to see myself doing that. I hate leaving situations hanging and want closure normally (but in this specific case, I'm afraid explaining myself will just open up a can of worms).
3) What if I was overreacting or taking her behavior too seriously? What if I am the bad/cowardly guy here? (my gut instinct says no, but my anxiety/people pleaser tendencies are pushing this narrative)
4) I did tell her that she could share her feelings with me initially before her disappointment bit, so I feel it's a bit hypocritical to ask and then just "shun" her after she shared her feelings.

As you can see, I am feeling stuck. How would you recommend I proceed? I kind of feel I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't, and I feel terrible about the whole situation. I could have done better, I could have responded, I could have explained my perspective, etc., but honestly, I just can't. I'm done, but don't know HOW to detach.

Any thoughts and/or scripts would be greatly appreciated.
posted by dubious_dude to Human Relations (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good for you. With a bit of luck her outburst is an extinction burst and she'll soon get the message and give up.

I think you have two options -
1. Just don't reply.
2. "Hi Dorothy - I don't think this friendship is making either of us happy any more, so I've decided to step away from it. I wish you all the best, and look forward to catching up if we bump into each other." (Last bit optional but might help set your boundary for future interactions, whether via mutual friends or at the wedding - make it clear that your intention is to be cordial, but not to expect to rekindle the friendship by deliberately arranging to meet one another).

Then don't reply to anything at all from her, let her get the message from your unresponsiveness that you mean it, absolutely no getting dragged into justifications, bargaining, disagreeing.

In terms of awkwardness with mutual friends, I think the best you can do is refuse to get dragged into drama by discussing it/wanting people to take sides. If anybody asks, grey rock it - "I think we've both just changed over time and the friendship wasn't making either of us happy any more so I stepped back. These things happen. How was your holiday?" ad infinitum. If they insist, tell them you don't want to discuss it and change the subject.

In terms of you yourself feeling weird about it, that's because you're trying on a new behaviour, of setting boundaries with people who need them, and that's always weird, but will probably be great for you in the long term, so try and live with the weirdness for a bit and it'll be worth it. The weirdness doesn't mean you're doing something wrong.
posted by penguin pie at 10:24 AM on August 28, 2021 [40 favorites]


It's okay to be done with a friendship for reasons, or for no reason at all. Don't beat yourself up over not having a reason you feel is "good enough." That said, all your communication about this person indicates that you feel underappreciated and it seems from what you've told us that you actually ARE underappreciated. I know that's hurtful stuff, but it's not NEW stuff.

I feel it's a bit hypocritical to ask and then just "shun" her after she shared her feelings.

I feel a little like you have others' voices in your head trying to talk you out of your good-boundaries decisions. Because, honestly, even if you were being hypocritical (and I don't think you are) it's okay to just change your mind, decide you are done, and make a new plan. People may be unhappy with that and that is kind of their issue to manage.

If this were me, I'd give myself a little bit of time to make sure I was well and truly done with the relationship and then I'd say something final and noncommittal like "I wish you the best as well." and leave it.
posted by jessamyn at 10:24 AM on August 28, 2021 [13 favorites]


It sounds like her text isn’t necessarily asking for a response (she wished you well) and you don’t want to respond. So don’t respond! This is the first step in detaching. Stick to your guns. It’s going to feel really uncomfortable and bad to you, because you’re not used to setting boundaries and sticking to them, but feeling bad doesn’t mean that you did the wrong thing or that any different action could have made this turn out differently. Closure is a lie.

In my experience people like Dorothy usually send a few more unhinged texts after their superficially reasonable initial attempt to draw you back into the JADE cycle, so be prepared for that. You can continue not responding or you can respond once with something like “I’ll always think of you fondly but I’m not interested in continuing our friendship. I wish you the best!”. Nothing they can argue with, no hook to continue the negotiations. You might also benefit from reading about narcissistic friendships just to help validate your experiences (it helped me).
posted by stellaluna at 10:26 AM on August 28, 2021 [23 favorites]


You have no obligation to respond, but if you’d like to provide closure, you can be succinct by saying, “Are we still friends? No.”
posted by kevinbelt at 11:07 AM on August 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


You feel guilty because her text is intended to make you feel guilty. It's meant to manipulate you into calling back.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:07 AM on August 28, 2021 [32 favorites]


Personally, the few friend breakups (sidenote, if there is a better term for this DO TELL) I've gone through have been just weirdly so much harder than breaking up with people I've been romantically involved with. It's like almost taboo or something to go your separate ways with a friend. I get if you feel really torn about how and if to end things.

That being said, if everything about dealing with her makes you hella anxious you have my (ha weighty) permission to ghost the fuck out of her.
posted by speakeasy at 11:09 AM on August 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


First off, GOOD FOR YOU. She was treating you like utter shit and I'm glad you are standing up for yourself.

Secondly, fuck her, she doesn't get a response. This is on her and you are under NO obligation whatsoever to assuage her feelings. She knows exactly why you didn't respond, don't let her manipulate you into getting into a whole thing with her that will undoubtedly drag you back into her bullshit.

Yay, Dude!
posted by tristeza at 11:37 AM on August 28, 2021 [8 favorites]


I think you are being brave and thoughtful. The fact that it feels hard doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong. I would potentially write a brief response to her text saying that the friendship isn’t working for you but you wish her the best and then not respond to any further communication. But you can also choose not to respond at all and that is OK! You don’t owe her anything and she is an inappropriate bully who can’t be trusted to treat you with kindness and consideration. And those are prerequisites for real friendship.
posted by jeszac at 11:43 AM on August 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


"yes, I think it's best if we go our separate ways. I wish you well but it really hasn't been working out. Take care & best wishes."

I might add something that conveys exhaustion, an alternative would be like: "Yes, it really hasn't been working out and I just don't have the energy to keep working at it. I wish you well too, but it's best if we take a break. Take care and best wishes."

The key, as with so many negotiations and fraught situations, is to know when to stop talking. I think ghosting or silent treatment is cruel, because of the suspense and uncertainty it leaves people in, so I would send at least one message to state your intent (take a break, stop spending energy on this, go your separate ways). I'm assuming you haven't done this yet, so I suggested the scripts above... But then your obligations are done. Much as a romantic breakup, her feelings are no longer your responsibility.
posted by Lady Li at 11:46 AM on August 28, 2021 [14 favorites]


Just to address this question: 3) What if I was overreacting or taking her behavior too seriously? What if I am the bad/cowardly guy here? (my gut instinct says no, but my anxiety/people pleaser tendencies are pushing this narrative)

You don't owe the world exact precise fairness any more than the world owes you the same. You aren't obligated to make and stay friends with every person you encounter who is 50% or more good. "overreacting" and "too seriously" are meaningless measures. You can't tally up a person's good vs bad and come up with a mathematical function of "over" or "too" - it's not like you are supposed to stay friends with someone who makes extraordinary contributions to science but is hella racist because the balance is just too far over to one side. Are you going to stand next to him at a party as he pops off and just go "well, but he's curing cancer..." to everybody standing around? He can go cure cancer with no friends, he's making choices and they have consequences.

Do the person's values and behavior align with yours in the ways that are most important to you? That's the benchmark. It's YOUR benchmark, you get to decide.

You don't have to like everybody. You get to choose, and you get to have your very own reasons that only make sense to you. And not everybody is going to like you, and the important thing there is not making them like you, it's making them leave you alone if they don't like you. This person doesn't act like they like you, they act like they expect things of you and get mad when they don't get it.

You're not sending them to the gallows. You're not taking their housing or education away. You're withdrawing your time and attention so you can spend it on something else that isn't so bad for you. That is your right. They will survive.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:00 PM on August 28, 2021 [24 favorites]


Congrats on deciding you're done with Dorothy.

Let me make one thing clear:
Hey, you don't have to prove to us that you're a good person. We know you are. You seem very invested in ensuring that you're a good person, and that you're seen as one. Something to talk through in therapy. You're doing absolutely the right thing for your mental health by ending this friendship. You're also sending a message to her that if she treats a friend like this, they'll end it. It's likely she won't get that message, but that's none of your concern. Your first priority is YOU.

I know this seems strong, maybe even mean of me,
It's not mean of you. You seem very apologetic (to us, yourself?) that you want to end things with Dorothy, and that you need justification. I think you are fawning with us too. It's ok. We understand! We're on your side!

I am done and do not want to respond.
Fantastic! It's great you know exactly what you want to do. I'd take it a step further and block her everywhere. No, it's not mean. You're protecting yourself. You don't want to deal with her and that's FINE. Make it so that you don't have to deal with her messages if she decides to message you.

About your barriers:
1. The wedding is next year, and right now you're feeling pretty raw about things. Don't worry about the wedding right now; you may gain more strength in the ensuring months and develop strategies for what will happen when you see her.
2. This situation warrants not responding. IF you want to say something to her, you don't have to explain yourself to her. That's fawning again. Text her something like, "I think it's best if we don't continue this friendship anymore. I wish you well too." Then block. That's it. No further explanation needed.
3. This may sound a little woo, but have a conversation with your inner people pleaser. Ask them, what are you afraid of? What are you most worried about? Talk to them, reassure them. It's gonna feel really weird, but so what. No one has to know!
4. I don't think this is hypocritical. You were generous/people pleasing in saying she could share her feelings. She did. She said some really effed up stuff that was mean and wrong. Don't qualify all that crap with a response, yanno?

The thing with people pleasing is that if we feel that we're gentle, nice, willing to listen, talk things out, that the other person will recognize that and be like, "oh, this person is being so nice and willing to listen, I'm going to be nice too." Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. In a way, people pleasing is a type of manipulation (most often borne from trauma, so again, you're not a bad person!) because you're trying to get the other person to act/react in a certain way, but you're unable to recognize how terrible they are. So you continue to feel awful about yourself and haven't gotten any further with them. But now you recognize how awful Dorothy is as a person and a friend, and have decided you want no more of this friendship. Growth! So no matter what, in all areas of life, the important thing is to have boundaries, and protect yourself. (Can you tell I'm a reformed people pleaser? :D )

but don't know HOW to detach.

You can write a letter and never send it to her. Do your own ritual, whether it's shove it in a drawer, rip it to tiny shreds, burn it, toss it in the ocean. Dissolve the friendship in your mind. You owe her nothing now.

Congrats again and I hope you can feel free of all this soon.
posted by foxjacket at 12:08 PM on August 28, 2021 [8 favorites]


You don’t sound mean or bad. You’re making the right decision, based on what you’ve told us. This friendship has run its course, and that’s okay! It’s hard and sad in some ways (though maybe a huge relief in others), but okay.

Given the small community here I might use one of the scripts above for a very brief “we’re done here, I wish you well” response that does not open any door for a response, and then ignore any further response.
posted by Stacey at 12:12 PM on August 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


I think ghosting or silent treatment is cruel, because of the suspense and uncertainty it leaves people in, so I would send at least one message to state your intent

100% agree with this. Send her one, short, dispassionate text and then don't read anything she sends you and definitely don't respond.
posted by Mavri at 12:13 PM on August 28, 2021 [8 favorites]


1. “Dorothy and I aren’t close anymore. I’m glad you and she have your friendship, and I need you to trust that she and I aren’t going to be friends.” You don’t need to prove to anyone that your reasons for ending the friendship were valid—if you don’t want to be friends, that’s a valid reason.

2. If you want to respond to Dorothy, you can do so without detailed explanation: “You’re right. I’ve thought about it and I don’t want to continue this friendship. I’m not up for further discussion about it. I wish you well.”

3. What if you look back in this situation and decide you overreacted? How bad would that be? Your friend acted like a jerk and you “overreacted” by ending the friendship. Ok. Did you maybe also practice standing up for yourself? Choosing your own well-being over people-pleasing? Acting civilly and respectfully while ending a friendship? I think you might look back on that “overreaction” with some appreciation for the way you handled it. Regret isn’t the worst possible outcome.

4. Inviting someone to share their feelings isn’t the same as inviting them to dump accusations on you. “I feel sad and upset” is sharing feelings. “Here’s a wall of text about how bad you’ve made me feel and what a bad friend you are” is something else. You are allowed to change your mind. You are allowed to set new limits. That’s not being a hypocrite. That’s treating yourself as much like a person as you’re treating others.
posted by theotherdurassister at 1:04 PM on August 28, 2021 [4 favorites]


Dorothy sounds pretty toxic, and it seems like you're going to pretty extreme lengths to either avoid acknowledging it, or somehow not wanting to put up with her bullshit making you a bad person.

It doesn't. You don't have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, you can be an absolutely excellent person and dislike or hate people. Those aren't mutually exclusive. You don't need to justify not wanting to talk to her, you don't need to explain your reasons why. No is a complete sentence. Life is too short to deal with people who just don't work with us.

Wire Dorothy's issues your issues? Why do you have to take her disappointment as a personal failure? What are you hoping to get out of this relationship? Sometimes people suck and that's not your fault.
posted by Jacen at 1:35 PM on August 28, 2021


>her energy just drains me immensely

That's because she's an energy vampire. Good for you for recognizing that you are done with this exhausting relationship. It's fine to leave her hanging. She will find other people to torment.
posted by Scram at 1:47 PM on August 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


It's up to her to vent at you.

It's up to you to respond or not. There's no obligation to respond.

Unless your intention is to pity her? She gets a "nice try" response?

Of course not.
posted by kschang at 2:41 PM on August 28, 2021


Best answer: First, congrats for standing up for yourself with Dorothy.

Given your mutual friends and likelihood of running into her in the future, I agree with those suggesting you send one last email/text that toes the line between firmness/letting her know she upset/drained you, and being gracious. Something like, "Hi Dorothy, I didn't respond to the last email as frankly it left me feeling undervalued and emotionally drained. No hard feelings, but I think it's best if we part ways as friends. Wishing you the best." And then don't respond to anything else she might send. That should hopefully give you both a sense of closure, and may even plant the seed in Dorothy's brain that she might need to start treating her friends better.

Then at the wedding, don't overthink it- just treat her like you'd treat an acquaintance you see a couple times a year.
posted by coffeecat at 4:02 PM on August 28, 2021 [11 favorites]


As a sometimes-dramatic texter I would say "I agree, thanks." If you feel the need to send anything, which you shouldn't.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:32 PM on August 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: her energy just drains me immensely

That's because she's an energy vampire.


I want to provide a gentle reframing of this.

Sometimes people have different energy levels and different energy expectations. It sounds like this person expects friends to be much more high-engagement than you expect. So for example: things like dog sitting for an incontinent dog for a week are things that some friends are fine doing for each other at the drop of a hat- not so much for others.

I think if you want to end this kind of long-standing friendship, it’s a good way to do it: “I just don’t have the energy/capacity for this kind of friendship, I wish you well and will be happy to see you if we run into each other but I just can’t.”
posted by corb at 4:53 PM on August 28, 2021 [4 favorites]


Response by poster: To coffeecat, your script was top-notch. I was struggling beyond belief with what to say, as I wanted that perfect combination of firm, yet explaining why, and like you said, graciousness. I have sent her an almost like-for-like variation of your message. I'm so nervous, I'm actually a bit sick to my stomach, just hope she won't yell at me or put me down. This actually was the hardest thing I had done in a long, long, long time (with friends). Thank you, your response was what pulled me through to making this decision and what to send her. I also added a small combination of corb's script.

Following up to some comments:

I feel a little like you have others' voices in your head trying to talk you out of your good-boundaries decisions
Spot on.

The thing with people pleasing is that if we feel that we're gentle, nice, willing to listen, talk things out, that the other person will recognize that and be like, "oh, this person is being so nice and willing to listen, I'm going to be nice too." Unfortunately it doesn't work that way.
Very true. I'm learning that the hard way as I go.

I think ghosting or silent treatment is cruel, because of the suspense and uncertainty it leaves people in
I agree most of the time. Sometimes people really have no choice. I'm glad I was able to find a solution that kind of touches all points, but it's really hard. Like some others said, I am under zero obligation to respond, but given the community, seeing her again potentially, getting closure, etc., decided to do it this way.

Hey, you don't have to prove to us that you're a good person. We know you are. You seem very invested in ensuring that you're a good person, and that you're seen as one.
Thank you. I think continually having to prove myself is a result of trauma/scars from past bullying and gaslighting. Definitely something worth discussing in therapy.

You're not sending them to the gallows. You're not taking their housing or education away. You're withdrawing your time and attention so you can spend it on something else that isn't so bad for you. That is your right. They will survive.
Thank you for the reminder/reframing. Helps to look at it that way.
posted by dubious_dude at 5:03 PM on August 28, 2021 [12 favorites]


I think you want to respond, and it makes some sense because you have a shared community. I'd use vague gentle terms. Our last communication was deeply unpleasant and I think some distance would serve us both. I wish you the best. She sounds like she thrives on drama, and a declaration of unfriending is fuel for her.

You learned a ton from this situation. You should be proud of yourself.
posted by theora55 at 5:29 PM on August 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


You are overthinking this. Just don't respond to her latest crap. Don't read anything further she sends you, you already know it will be a waste of time. Ignore her until she goes away. There's no downside to that.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:00 PM on August 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


just hope she won't yell at me or put me down.

OP, please just block her for your own sanity and self-protection. Block her so you don't have to read what she says.
posted by foxjacket at 7:38 PM on August 28, 2021 [10 favorites]


She's likely to yell at you after your last message, but that's OK. You've been very decent here, so any further angry communications she might send, maybe you can just imagine them bouncing off a bubble. Or, on preview, block her; future communications are not your problem.
posted by sockkitude at 7:41 PM on August 28, 2021 [9 favorites]


So glad that you set that boundary, dubious_dude. Agree with the recommendation to block her - it will take away that anxiety of "waiting for her reaction", because there won't be anything to wait for! Speaking as someone who can deeply relate to your framing, and had to do something similar years ago.

I'm not sure if this would be a recommended approach, but in my case in my last message to the person, I even said, "I'm going to block you for a while, it will be healthier for me to take a clear break." It might be more dramatic than something I would do these days, but it helped with my fear that I'd miss something important, and to communicate clearly that I was removing my consent to be contacted.
posted by Paper rabies at 9:34 PM on August 28, 2021


It sounds like you have responded (or are going to). I would encourage you not to get into any further back and forth with her at all. Some of the things she has said in her latest message are true: not hearing from you did say a lot and your silence was intended to show that you want nothing particularly to do with her. She is allowed to be unhappy about that, but it doesn't mean that you need to change your mind. Two people being a bad fit for each other in a friendship does not mean that one of you must be the bad guy and one of you justified (although that can also be the case). You can just be a bad fit for each other and if so it's best for everyone if you can be distant and civil, rather than trying to maintain a friendship out of fear of being a bad person.
posted by plonkee at 4:17 AM on August 29, 2021


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