How do you respond to a friend who's hurt you through carelessness?
April 13, 2008 3:34 PM   Subscribe

How do you let a friend know they've really hurt you by their carelessness?

(I realize this is sort of related to this previous question of mine, but because this particular situation is new, I was hoping for slightly more tailored advice if possible.)

I'm looking for advice on how to let friends know when they've hurt your feelings, without losing the friendship. I know that a good friend shouldn't dump you just because you call them out, if someone doesn't care then they aren't really your friend anyway, blah blah blah. I know the problem is really with me, because I can't seem to call friends on their behavior. Deep inside I think I'm afraid they'll respond back with something hurtful, or they'll decide being my friend isn't worth the trouble, or something like that. I feel afraid that the outcome of confronting someone will be even more painful, so then I keep it bottled inside and just feel awful.

The specific situation I'm upset about right now is this: Back in January, I asked a friend of mine to come with me to a special event (my husband's college singing group's 20th anniversary concert, and the festivities before and after). This is a friend I've recently become reconnected with, after almost 10 years of not speaking. We'd had a terrible fight just before college graduation, and didn't talk afterward until I reached out through a social networking site a couple of years ago. Since then we've been in pretty frequent communication and hung out a few times, and have always had a lot of fun. I have closer friends I could have asked to this event, but I chose this particular person because I thought she'd enjoy the music as well as the "scene" (barhopping before and after, maybe a party). She accepted the invitation and we've talked about it occasionally since then. She's aware this is an important occasion for me, and is also aware that it would be just the two of us going to the show together, since my husband is going early to rehearse.

She and I have been emailing back and forth over the past week or two to nail down the timeline of the evening somewhat (I'd arranged for a car and driver so we wouldn't have to worry about being drunk or tired at the end of the night). Tonight, she emails me and tells me she appreciates the arrangements I've made but that she "won't be able to make it this time due to the other stuff going on that night/weekend." I'm probably more upset about this than I should be, but frankly, I am really upset. I'm hurt that she knows this is important to me but isn't willing to make an effort to be there, I'm hurt that (I suspect) she's been intending to back out for longer than she's let on, and I'm hurt that I may not have another friend who can go, since, like me, most of my friends are new moms, or else just aren't into this kind of scene.

I'd like to tell this friend how I feel, but I know from our old history that she's very sensitive to being pressured or feeling over-extended. If someone asks too much of her, she tends to pull away. I know I shouldn't care, but I'd like to not lose what's otherwise a fun friend to converse with (we don't see each other much, since we live about an hour away and have different friends). Also, the statement above was contained in a long email about lots of insignificant things, and I feel like my response doesn't need to be buried amongst a bunch of silly stuff, yet if I ignore 90% of her email and just call her out, I sort of feel like that's ruder than I want to be and that future communication will be more awkward.

I know this probably sounds stupid to the vast majority of you who are more socially well-adjusted than I am, but any advice on approaching difficult conversations like these is appreciated. (Also, this definitely isn't the only situation in which I've felt like this, or the only person I've felt it toward, but part of a larger problem of not being able to hold friends to any kind of accountability.) Thanks so much.
posted by justonegirl to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In my opinion, it sounds like the following:
– she filled the email with a lot of other stuff because she felt bad about not being able to go
– she would've told you earlier but felt bad about not being to go

In other words, she probably already feels bad about not being able to go but doesn't want to feel any worse about it than she does. In which case, calling her out on it probably won't do you any long term favours.

If I were you, I'd chalk it up to experience and see if you can get someone else to fill her shoes for the event. Let her approach you the next time you two should hook up, and have it be something simple.

Let's see what others think.
posted by fantasticninety at 4:09 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Here's the key phrase for me out of everything you wrote here, and also what your friend wrote....

other stuff

She won't be able to make it because she has "other stuff" going on. She chose not to share with you what that other stuff is (I'm assuming this from what you shared here).

You have no idea what the "other stuff" is that she's dropping you for. It could be nothing, it could be that she's making up something because she doesn't want to go and she didn't have the guts to tell you that when you first asked her.

OR she could be dealing with something a lot bigger than your evening and she does not wish to share. This could be anything - an illness or family drama that you simply don't know about.

An example....I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and the pain that I sometimes feel is unpredictable. I have had to cancel last minute on friends because of this, and yet have felt my reason for canceling is too personal to share with them. I have had to make up lame excuses before, even when I wanted to go.

Don't let this ruin your evening. Take it in stride and look at the positive aspects. You can still be disappointed, but try giving your friend (and your other friends, when things like this happen...) a break. There's no reason you won't have fun or enjoy the event because you're going alone now. And hey, maybe going alone will force you to strike up conversations with some strangers and make some new friends!
posted by Squee at 4:22 PM on April 13, 2008

"I'm disappointed that you've changed your mind. I was looking forward to hanging out with you."
posted by mpls2 at 4:24 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow. Well, actually we discussed the barhopping and the possibility of a party, and how it would be a lot of fun like we used to have in college. I don't think I was demanding that she do anything she didn't want to, unless it counts to tell someone about an event that happened to be important to me and ask them if they wanted to come. Sorry if I'm being defensive; I just am hoping any other responses might not be colored by any confusion over her initial gung-ho-ness over all that the event entailed. Nothing was changed or added after the plan was made, other than hiring a designated driver.
posted by justonegirl at 4:29 PM on April 13, 2008

I am guilty of being her. I pull away, even from friends I care deeply about. I do it due to overwhelming social anxiety and I panic at the thought of going. However my very longest, closest friends have figured out that if they come to me in person and say something like "I would very much like you to join us" something about them reaching out like that calms my panic. I also feel less overwhelmed when they don't force me to ride with them, I like the security of knowing that if it begins to be too much I can leave without bothering the rest. I know that if I drink too much I can always ride home with them. Perhaps don't call her out but call her on the phone or drop by in person and reassure her that you enjoy her company and would be disappointed if you can't share this special evening with her, don't pressure her just let her know how much you were looking forward to spending time with her.
posted by meeshell at 4:33 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think mpls2 has it. Tell her you're disappointed that she's not coming, tell her you were looking forwad to seeing her, AND tell her you look forward to seeing her next time. Leave the door open. And that's all there is to say- don't bring up that she's not making an effort, since you don't know that, don't bring up that she may have wanted to back out before she did, since you don't know that either, and don't bring up that she's your only friend who would be able to come, since that has nothing to do with her and is an inappropriate burden to place on a friend.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:42 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I second mpls2, but I would personally change "disappointed" to "sorry" to avoid a chastising tone (unless that's what you want).

In my experience, there are friends you hang out/chat with, and friends you actually trust to follow through on things. For me, the ratio of these is about 20:1. I guess you picked a "hanging out/chat with" friend to do a "follow through" thing. The only advice I can give you is not to make that mistake again with this friend.
posted by ROTFL at 4:42 PM on April 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm sort of more passive in my relationships. I'd just take this as an indication that you can't always count on her to do things that are important to you. She might do something later to change that impression, but for now I'd just shrug and say, "Well, I guess I can't count on her."

However, I'm seconding the idea that something might be going on that you don't know. When I got married a close friend of mine who was going to be a bridesmaid dropped out of the wedding about six weeks before the event. I was hurt, but accepted it. After the wedding she told me that she was unexpectedly pregnant and was having trouble with the morning sickness. These things happen! You can say you regret her not being able to come, but I'd leave it at that.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:42 PM on April 13, 2008

Best answer: Sometimes when I'm torn about what to do regarding something, I find it helps to stop and look at the "best possible / worst possible" case scenario I can imagine for each option. For instance:

- If you DO tell her how you feel, the best case situation is probably that you build up a bit of much-needed practice in standing up for yourself, you can feel good about having done so, AND your friend might be a little more considerate in the future. The worst-case scenario might be that your friend spins off in a huff and you guys cease being friends again - but you've still gotten some much-needed practice in standing up for yourself, and really, a friend around whom you have to walk on eggshells isn't worth the maintenance effort in the long run.

- Conversely, if you DON'T tell her how you feel, the best case is that nobody rocks the boat and things keep going as they are, and perhaps your feelings about the matter will fade over time, but for the time being it's pretty obvious you're going to feel hurt and maybe even a little less trusting of your friend. The worst case is that those emotions fester and ultimately poison your feelings for this person, or lead you to passively do things that make the friendship difficult to maintain - or perhaps alternatively, it'll be that this person will have learned that she can take your feelings and plans lightly and back out at whim in the future - not much fun!

Thinking things through like that often helps me do the hardest part of the whole deal, which is justifying to myself that it's okay for me to stand up for myself in the first place. Maybe the actual results will be something in -between- the best and worst case scenarios, but no matter what I think the range of possible results are far better in the situation where you DO tell her how you feel. You owe it to yourself, and furthermore, the friendship will be far stronger in the long run if you're both able to be open with your feelings.

Now, as to how to DO so - well, you're probably in the best position to know that based on her personality and what you feel comfortable with, but I would probably open with some brief comment on why you're doing so - not to make her feel bad, but rather because you'd like to do what you can to avoid these happenings in the future, and would want her to tell you if the situation were reversed, etc. Then try to state the problem matter-of-factly instead of overly emotionally OR apologetically - just lay it out in terms of behavior and consequences ("When you did X, it made me feel Y" or "it caused these difficulties for me because now I have to find someone else to go at the last minute" type statements rather than anything outright accusatory or blame-y). If you have a solution or a request for future changes in behavior, I'd make those as well - "I understand that sometimes things come up, but I would appreciate it if in the future you could tell me sooner" or what have you.

In short, be honest about your feelings, but do it in a solution-focused way - in the interest of bettering the friendship in the long run - rather than venting just to vent. G'wann, speak up for yourself! =)
posted by zeph at 4:46 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry, what a disappointment.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid that you're going to have to deal with this largely on your own. My guess is that she was aware you'd be disappointed, and for whatever reason, she went ahead and backed out anyway -- perhaps unavoidably, as others have said.

Sometimes you do have to have a serious talk with someone, but in my group of friends, that hasn't really accomplished much. When things get hard, people have two choices, deal or bail, and bailing might be her preferred option. You two seem to be at the early stages of establishing trust and commitment. And since she's "very sensitive to being pressured or feeling over-extended," and really only just "a fun friend to converse with," I think your caution is warranted. What has generally been more successful is just to accept that this is how the person is (if it's a pattern), and find ways of being friends anyway, perhaps at a different level (or not at all).

I'd say you should feel let down and do let her know ("Oh, I'm really disappointed. I was really looking forward to going to it together"). But do not say anything too harsh or accusatory, since as you realize, part of the problem here is that you won't be able to find a replacement. Then, for the future, modify your expectations downward, stay aware of her tendencies in this area (if it's a pattern), and address them constructively in the future. I tend to be late, so sometimes my friends will explicitly tell me "hey, this event is one of those things where you really do need to be on time," and I appreciate it. It's also possible that you might decide you don't want a friend who will bail out on you at the last minute and modify what you try to do with her.

But what you actually asked was "how to let friends know when they've hurt your feelings, without losing the friendship." If you do decide to do so, the way you're talking here sounds good. Start with the facts, move to why you felt hurt (what you thought about the facts or why the facts didn't work for you), and acknowledge what you're bringing to the situation (don't have other friends as backup, are generally sensitive, and possibly didn't forewarn her that this was a no-backing-out-unless-it's-an-emergency event.) Don't act like she violated a universal standard and realize that she might not know how much it was going to impact you. Maybe suggest what you want in the future. Try to do all this as concisely as possible, and constantly keep in mind that your goal is not to let her know she hurt your feelings, but so you can have a strong friendship in the future.

Whatever you do, I hope you have a great time at this event. Maybe another new-mom would love to have an excuse for "having to" take a glamorous night out on the town. Or maybe you could enjoy the freedom of a night out alone -- it might actually be fun.
posted by salvia at 4:46 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hmm, okay, I just re-read your earlier question. I still am not sure this is the best way to go, but if you do want to use this situation to practice being assertive, it might sound like this:

You: As we rebuild our friendship and make it stronger, I'd really like to know I can trust and rely on you when I make special plans. Can we make a deal that in the future, if you won't be able to attend a special event, you'll let me know two weeks in advance? It takes my other friends a while to find babysitters, and that way, I won't be stuck going alone. Of course, if you have to back out later for an emergency, I'll understand. Would that work for you?
Her: ["Yes, okay." OR "Sorry, but this person died yesterday, so I just found out I was going to have to attend a funeral." OR "Well, I get panic attacks about social situations so I often don't know until the last minute if that'll happen."]
You: ["Great" OR "Wow, of course you had to back out! I'm sorry to hear that" OR "Hmmmm.... Maybe we should generally make plans for low pressure situations where it's fine if you need to back out."]
posted by salvia at 5:11 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

What squee said. From what you've told us, you have no idea what her reason for backing out is. Family/health/whatever emergencies happen. Your reaction sounds like its based on the assumption that it's not something of that nature. Maybe you have reasons for suspecting that, but suppose you had to back out of one of her plans because a close relative had just been diagnosed with something terminal etc. How would you want her to react?
posted by juv3nal at 5:29 PM on April 13, 2008

Nthing the idea that some friends are dependable, some are not. I'd definitely be annoyed. But now you know (sounds like you maybe had an inkling) which category she's in. I hope you can find someone to fill in for the evening, as it sounds really fun. Good luck!
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:36 PM on April 13, 2008

I like the "I'm sorry you can't go. I'd really looked forward to hanging out with you." It lets her know you're disappointed without being too accusatory.

I probably wouldn't have said anything. When people let me down, I just note that they've done so and count on them for less in future. I knew someone who used to chastise people (usually with a multi-paragraph email or letter) for things we'd done that bothered her. Usually these "things that bothered her" were either very slight offenses that most people would have just shrugged off or even completely petty and baseless criticisms — and, not incidentally, she was not all that considerate herself in the way she treated others. Let me tell you, it won her no friends. I used to be more like her, and would lash out at people who hurt me, but since my experiences with her have learned just how infuriating that is to someone on the receiving end, and how counter-productive it is.

You have to give other people room to set their own priorities and to decide how close or intense they want their relationship with you to be. Think of their attentions as a gift they're giving you. The last thing you want to do is be too demanding or exacting, saying things like, "This isn't the kind of gift I wanted!" or "I want you to give me more gifts!" or "I deserve better than the gift you gave me!" or "How can you promise me a gift and then not give it to me?!" Such demands will have the opposite effect from the one you want, i.e., the person will decide not to give you anything at all in future.

You say this person has recently come back into your life. Let your relationship with her evolve. Study her personality. Take her measure. In time you will come to know what to expect from her and what the dynamic between her and you will be, and then you will know if she and you can ever be the kind of friends you want to be, and can decide how much of yourself you want to give her. And through it all remind yourself of how populous the world is and how many other sources of emotional gratification you have at your disposal.

Meanwhile, as other people in this thread have pointed out, you do have lots of other options for enjoying this event. Concentrate on making the most of those instead of blaming your friend for ruining it or anything of the sort.
posted by orange swan at 5:49 PM on April 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

Nothing was changed or added after the plan was made, other than hiring a designated driver.

For me, this might change my ideas about whether I would want to attend this event. Even with barhopping before and after, maybe a party (which to me implies at least 2 bars before and 2 bars after), I'd probably plan on drinking what others would consider to be a fairly small amount. Hiring a designated driver in advance would tend to imply (to me, you will have to talk to your friend to know what they are thinking) that I might be pressured to drink more than I would like, and also that the person I was going with has advance plans to get completely drunk off their ass.

It's possible that your friend doesn't want to "have fun" and drink as much as she did in college, and just realized that your current idea of fun isn't the same as her current idea of fun. Do you know if she still drinks at all? I get the idea that the singing group won't be at the initial barhopping -- so why is this even an important part of the social occasion? Maybe your friend might like to come along to the concert with you if you aren't barhopping first, and if she wants to leave after the concert surely your husband will be free at that point.
posted by yohko at 5:54 PM on April 13, 2008

Her: Hey, how's it going?
You: *long pause* Not so good. You know, I feel like you just shit on me last time. What the @#$% was that? We were gonna go to my husband's thing. You really let me down. What the eff. I don't know what to say. I can't be around you right now.
Her: Whoa. I am sorry.
posted by proj08 at 5:54 PM on April 13, 2008

Her: Hey, how's it going?
You: *long pause* Not so good. You know, I feel like you just shit on me last time. What the @#$% was that? We were gonna go to my husband's thing. You really let me down. What the eff. I don't know what to say. I can't be around you right now.
Her: Whoa. I am sorry. Oh, grow up. [slams phone down]

Fixed that for you.
posted by orange swan at 7:07 PM on April 13, 2008 [6 favorites] to let friends know when they've hurt your feelings...

"You've hurt my feelings."
posted by neuron at 7:11 PM on April 13, 2008

You mentioned that you and many of your friends are new moms. I know that when some of my friends became moms, going out became a BIG deal. It's a relatively rare occasion for them to be able to go out and "bust loose," and that might be factoring into your disappointment. It also places a LOT of pressure on the non-mom friend. We're the ones who are "fun" - and get called on to partner the new moms in all their frolics - it rapidly starts to feel like a job.

You seem very invested in this night out, and if I were your friend, the hiring the driver would have scared me off too. It highlights what I gathered from your description - you want to go out and PARTY and your husband's event is the perfect venue. The emphasis is on the party - and your friend may not want to end up holding your hair at the end of the night. Also - does she even know your husband? If you've recently reconnected, she may not feel like hanging out all night after the concert with someone she doesn't know.

Us non-moms aren't necessarily party animals just because we don't have to tuck children in at night - perhaps it would have been better to start with a shorter/tamer event with this friend as you two reconnect.

I think that when you hired the driver, you changed the event, and your friend is allowed to rethink her involvement. In light of this, you can be justified in being disappointed, but I don't think that anger is warranted.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:40 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

(I'd arranged for a car and driver so we wouldn't have to worry about being drunk or tired at the end of the night).


... but I know from our old history that she's very sensitive to being pressured or feeling over-extended.

Are incompatible for me. You announced to her that not only was she committing to an evening out but then to being at your transportation/ location/time frame whim for an evening that clearly expect to be way out of control.

I'd have backed out as soon as "car and driver" left your fingertips. I don' t know how old you are these days, but that stopped being fun, if it ever was, at about age 24. She may feel the same.

I am still shuddering at the thought of one of my friends doing this to me. Fight or flight ain't in it.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:10 PM on April 13, 2008

Also, what The Light Fantastic said more gracefully.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:11 PM on April 13, 2008

As I read this post I kept waiting for your friend's grand, monumental, horrible offense to finally be revealed, and frankly, it never came.

- The concert in question is *YOUR* husband's college singing group's reunion show. It makes sense that this is a major event and a big deal to you, but it seems to me to be unrealistic to assume she would be equally enthusiastic. Opinions will probably vary on this point, but I don't think "It should be important to her because it's important to me" is a fair expectation to put on someone unless you're married to them.

- Unless you have unprecedented access to your friend's inner thoughts, you have no way of knowing whether or not she was planning on flaking on you long in advance or if other plans really did come up at the last minute that prevent her from going. It seems like you're voluntarily choosing to make yourself miserable by assuming the absolute worst possible motivations on her part. You're taking a possibly benign situation and making it out to be far more heinous than it probably is.

- Your friend is not responsible for the ancillary damages you want to pin on her. She has no control over your other girlfriends being primarily new moms with limited flexibility and/or teetotalers. Your possibly now having to attend this event alone may be upsetting, but a realistic possible expectation when you make plans with only one other person. Your lack of contingency plans can't be laid at her feet.

If this incident were just one in a long list of events you'd planned with this particular friend only to have her flake on you at the last minute, I could see the desire to have some sort of a confrontation about it. But reading your post, it reads more like this was an event you were really looking forward to (her very likely less so due to not having the intimate involvement with one of the performers that you do) and are now bummed out that things didn't turn out as planned. Which is fine; I get disappointed too when events I was really looking forward to don't come to fruition. But I think the answer to the "How do you respond to a friend who's hurt you through carelessness?" question in this case is "Don't" because the situation as presented here doesn't seem to warrant it.
posted by The Gooch at 10:13 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Could your friend have felt that things were getting too "intense" too fast? You had mentioned that you did not speak for 10 years and had only recently become reconnected. If this is the case, then being even slightly assertive might just spook her.

Perhaps all the planning and all the anticipation was too intense for her. Maybe she is not a party person anymore. Maybe she can't drink anymore.

Another thing I would think about is the level of intimacy of the friendship. I personally do not like to get sloshed with just anyone. The person has to be a close friend. Perhaps this person is like that, and doesn't share that level of intimacy with you to get totally wasted.

Were your expectations of the friendship more than hers? Did you want to rekindle what you had 10 years ago, while she perhaps did not? There is nothing wrong with wanting to (or not wanting to), but you need to know where you both stand so that your expectations of each other and the friendship are completely understood.

Anyways, now might be a good point to analyze the friendship, i.e. does your friend call you up as much as you call her? Will this friend of yours try to make it up to you for cancelling? If she does try to make it up to you, then I would let it go and maybe bring it up some other time when you are not riled up about it. If you realize that you have been doing all the work in this friendship, then maybe you need to ask yourself if she is even worth your time.

In my opinion, the ball is in her court now. She needs to make it up to you.
posted by bitteroldman at 5:58 AM on April 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for the advice. I wish I'd been a little more detailed in my initial question -- I'd tried to keep it simple so it wasn't 20 paragraphs long, but realize now I probably could have been clearer on some things and that may have affected people's suggestions. For what it's worth, this friend is actually a lot more of a partier than I am: she's still single, goes to concerts, bars and clubs every weekend, drinks pretty heavily, etc. When I said we recently reconnected I probably should have mentioned it was a couple of years ago, and we've gotten together to go to dinner and bars a handful of times, including an overnight trip to another city a couple months ago to see a midnight show.

I guess after reading the responses I've received (some of which seemed kind of harsh, ouch!), maybe arranging the designated driver was too much. I had done that with the bet intentions and for a couple of reasons -- mainly because my friend had acted bummed that she may not be able to drink as much as she wanted if she had to drive home a long distance and also because I didn't want to have to deal with multiple efforts at parking in a busy, crowded college town. It honestly and truly didn't occur to me that this could be seen as controlling, pressuring, scary, expecting her to hold my hair as I acted out my new mom wildness, etc.

In any case, I did send her a very brief email as some people suggested, letting her know I had been looking forward to hanging out with her and letting her know if anything changed on her end she was still welcome. Thanks again, everyone, for the perspective.
posted by justonegirl at 7:20 AM on April 14, 2008

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