Should I just pick up the phone and call?
June 13, 2008 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Should I suck it up and extend an olive branch or wait for her to contact me? [Long, long post. Apologies]

I have been friends with Jess* for 8 years now. We were very close after we left school and I had seen her through a few serious relationships, being disowned and kicked out, having her live with me and my family, being accepted back into her family, her brother and mother getting quite sick, her father getting extremely sick (as in, we all thought he would die), I helped her move to another state, supported her as she has broken up and got back together with her current boyfriend a number of times and I have also seen her start 3 different degrees at 3 different universities. Jess has lived interstate for 2 years now, with her boyfriend and, understandably our relationship (“best friends”) has changed, I was expecting it to change as she has James* and is wrapped up in him and their relationship. I should say I have two other friends I would say are “best friends” that also are close with Jess.

The problem:

I recently, with another of our close friends (Mel*), visited her at considerable expense. We went for a weekend and it was awful. We were made to feel like we were intruding on their weekend and when discussing plans Jess would get angry at us because we didn’t know what restaurant we wanted to go to for dinner / what activity we wanted to do. Nothing was planned. Also, Jess & James are so focused on each other that Mel and I basically spent all weekend just hanging out as the two of us. The three girls probably only spent a total of 3 hours, just us with Jess’ full attention, over the entire weekend as James had to be involved in everything we did. I had gone down to see my best friend, to spend time with HER not James and she was aware of this. You can probably appreciate how upset I would have become so I did what I usually do - I clammed up. I could have handled it better and I openly acknowledge that I am partly to blame for the situation our friendship is now in.

We talked about a week after the disastrous weekend and now, 3 months later, have only spoken about once. In the last 2 months, I haven’t heard from her at all. In our 1 conversation she accused me of being rude to James “you didn’t answer him when he spoke to you” which I would never do, I was a guest in his house, so was a little WTF? Another comment was “she was frustrated that we wouldn’t make any decisions, I’m not here to ‘entertain you’” which made me really, really angry. Whenever she visits we all make an effort to make plans or have something arranged. Also, she was our host in my eyes which means, yes, you have a small burden of planning at least dinner ahead of time.

Also that she “wanted us to get to know her and James as a couple” which I told her I thought should have been told to Mel and I beforehand, rather than us thinking we were going to get some quality time with her. I also, stupidly, after she told me she “wanted me to totally honest with her” told her that the only person I have any interest in is her and that forcing me to watch them be all over each other is not a good way to endear me to them as a couple. I know, I shouldn’t have said I don’t care about getting to know James but... it’s really how I feel.

I’m at a point where I am really sad that we aren’t talking but also angry that I seem to be heaped with all the blame for the outcome of the weekend – to the point that we aren’t talking anymore. I feel like the fact I’m not that wrapped in being “best friends” with her boyfriend shouldn’t be such an issue, we have never had that type of relationship where we have to be buddy-buddy with each others partner’s. I have been there for her for so many years, so many dramas (with very few of my own), that I feel angry that she would be so willing to throw it all away for something like this and that, once again, I’m the one that has to do something about it, fix it, etc. The friends we share say she has been sobbing down the phone to them about this… so why doesn’t she do something? Am I being spiteful by not calling her myself?

So… Should I suck it up and extend an olive branch or wait for her to contact me?

Throwaway email for any further questions is

Thanks in advance for everyone who dispenses advice – MeFi is my favourite. *Fake names, of course.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, you should contact her.

But you should also accept and embrace that your relationship with her has changed -- it's not just the girls anymore. She has a partner, at some point you presumably will as well, and ditto your other friends. Maybe there will be kids, or divorces, or caring for parents, or having to travel for work.

And your relationship needs to change, too, to meet where you are now. It's possible that the two of you are changing in incompatible directions, but more likely it will become a less intense, more calm kind of friendship, where you remain friends with each other but in the context of partners, work, and other outside pressures.

I could go through your story line by line, and give my opinion about where I thought you were in the right and where you were in the wrong, but that's not really the point. And I don't think that getting into who was right and who was wrong with her will help, either. You need to accept that things are forever different, and if you want to stay close to her, say "hey, I'm really sorry about everything that happened, I really value you as a friend, and I want to strengthen that."

But that means accepting her for who she is, and right now she is a person who cares very deeply for her boyfriend and wants that relationship validated, for example. You aren't going to change this (nor should you, I think), so it's your choice whether or not to accept her in the place where she is at this point in time, imperfect though that may be.
posted by Forktine at 6:19 PM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agreeing on who did what and who was wrong is a separate (which is not to say unrelated) issue from "What should we do from now on?"

so why doesn’t she do something?

You both think the other was wrong. You both think the other should be making the next move. Somebody's gotta do it. (Assuming you want to continue the relationship). It really doesn't matter who.

Take the reasons she was upset about the weekend, and the reasons you were upset about the weekend and together figure out what you both can do differently on future visits to address all these issues together. That's the real problem to solve, regardless of who was right or wrong.
posted by winston at 6:20 PM on June 13, 2008

Eh, wait till you really miss her. There will come a point. Or maybe there won't, but there probably will.

The good news: She'll be over James eventually. They'll either break-up or he will cease to be a novelty. Still, her behavior was cruddy, I agree.

The bad news: She may have had somewhat valid reasons to be annoyed with you. First of all, not all hosts and guests are alike; some prefer planning every hour, some are totally freeform and most are somewhere in between. Was it case where, given a set of options, like say, going to bar or visiting the aquarium, you were unable to come to a decision? If so, I understand her frustration. People who have no opinions can be quite the burden. Or was it more like you asked her what there was to do around there and she was like, "I dunno," and that was that?
posted by Jess the Mess at 6:32 PM on June 13, 2008

For the record - I'm on Team You. I think it was bullshit that she didn't make any plans, or plan for you to have some Girl Time since, obviously, that's why you went to the trouble and expense of coming to visit.... so, for what it's worth, I don't see how you'd owe her an apology, and I think she owes one to you. That said, being right isn't always the most important thing, and when you've been friends with someone for eight years, it's definitely not worth losing the relationship over. Try to think about her point of view - it sounds to me ("she has broken up and got back together with her current boyfriend a number of times and I have also seen her start 3 different degrees at 3 different universities") like she's maybe been the fuck up in your little group, and she knows that you know it. Maybe she's really proud that she's in a stable relationship in a grown up apartment and really wanted you to see that - maybe that's as far as she thought about how the visit would go. I agree that hanging on her boyfriend all weekend was tacky and lame... but maybe she thought it would make her seem happy and lucky and mature - like you'd say "wow! Jess used to be such a disaster - but now she's got this amazing boyfriend who's totally in love with her. She has really changed!" I'm just imagining - but that's how it sounds. If she's important to you, and you want to keep the friendship - give her a call. Don't say anything you don't mean, don't apologize for anything that you didn't do, but maybe just say something about how you miss her, that her boyfriend is great, and that you had just wanted to spend more time with her. Tell her she'll have to come and visit you soon.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:36 PM on June 13, 2008

I agree with Forktine.

Also, an observation: based on what you've written in your first paragraph, it sounds like a fair amount of your friendship was predicated on Jess really needing you, sometimes in quite dramatic circumstances. Perhaps, on some level, you got used to that sense of being needed? (And I don't say any of this to paint either of you in a negative light -- again, just an observation.)

Now, though, that's changed: she simply doesn't appear to need you the way she used to. That's likely to sting emotionally, no matter how much you might understand intellectually that relationships change and that it's a good thing for Jess to be moving forward with her life. So try to put aside the question of who's right or wrong, and just start from the acknowledgment that the fundamental dynamic of your friendship has been altered, probably permanently. Based on my experience with long-term friendships that get rocky and come back (or don't) after a period of estrangement, you may have to privately mourn the loss of the old stage of your friendship first, after which the two of you can perhaps find a way to create a new phase in your friendship together.
posted by scody at 6:54 PM on June 13, 2008

To be honest, reading your side of the story, which is probably skewed a little to making you sound good and her not, I still think you sound a little too entitled. Guests who don't have opinions on what they want to do are annoying. Guests who clam up, doubly so. Your behaviour also makes it seem like you hate her boyfriend, even if your actual feelings are more ambivalent. Not that she's an angel in this scenario, but I don't think this is a clear cut case of 'Oh my god, she was so mean to me!' There was crappy behaviour on both sides.

I'm not sure how much she's not calling you because she thinks you owe her an apology and how much she's not calling you because she thinks you hate her boyfriend. If you know the answer to that question based on her tearful ramblings to your other friends, it might help determine whether you should call or not.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:45 PM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I bet she was really hoping you'd love her boyfriend, and was worried as hell you wouldn't, and the more she misinterpreted your resentment of no alone time with her as you disliking him, the more defensive she became. Also, it's stressful being a hostess. Some people suck at it. It sucks that she was so selfish and self-absorbed, but if you still want to be her friend I think it's important to resolve the bigger issue.

I don't think there's a right and a wrong here, though I completely understand the anger and frustration you're feeling. She isn't stepping up to right things with you, and that feels like she's devaluing your friendship. But you can be a bigger person, if her friendship is worth it to you (tho honestly she sounds a little high maintenance/fair weather from your description) and extend the olive branch. IMO I think the way to do it is explain that you would like to spend a day with her AND James, because you want to see what her new life/persona/etc is like and get to know the person she's given her heart to (might make you grit your teeth, but it's a nice offering.) Then if she agrees, really spend your time trying to get to know him. You don't have to love him, but just be really interested in him, ask questions, be really engaging, etc, so she knows you're trying and you care. Don't make it a "you vs him" thing in her eyes. She doesn't have to know if you think he's a dud. What's important is your relationship with her, and keeping her from thinking it's an either/or situation between an old friend and a new love (who she's probably completely re-defining herself by, as insecure or drama-magnet women are wont to do.)

Then once you've laid that groundwork, make a plan for a weekend of just you and her. And wait until then to try and heal the friendship, by showing her that your friendship is still relevant, and by her showing you that she still values you.

(Severe oversimplification I know, but it's just what I would do under similar circumstances.) I think the worst thing is to let misunderstandings fester, unless you just want to let the friendship go. If that's the case, forgive her so you can heal, and move on.
posted by np312 at 9:39 PM on June 13, 2008

Like others have said, it sounds like there was maybe some crappy behavior on both sides. BUT. Dude. You said right to her face that you have zero interest in getting to know her boyfriend? And you showed up to visit without any kind of idea of anything you'd like to do during your visit?

Look, all I know is that if a friend came to visit me and expected me to be their de facto cruise director, I'd be a little irked. It's really not too much to expect one's guests to go, "Y'know, I could totally go for Indian tonight, do you know a good place?" Or, "I heard about a really awesome clown porn museum right around the corner from your place, do you think we could check it out?" You don't sit around and let other people make all the decisions for you when you're not on vacation, do you? (If you do, hey, that's another AskMeFi question entirely.)

And if that same friend totally clammed up because she was unhappy about some aspect of her visit, and then told me that she really had no interest in getting to know my boyfriend, I'd be really insulted. You say you were upset that she called you rude, because you were a guest in his home and et cetera. But in that respect, I'd have to say you WERE rude. From what you've written here, it sounds like you really hate this guy, and you expected him to clear out of his own home for the weekend so you wouldn't have to deal with him.

Forktine made an excellent point -- if you want to keep this friend in your life, you have to accept the person she is, and respect that you are not the center of her world. Maybe you need to find something to "take her place" for a bit while you adjust to this new version of your friendship, if you decide you want to patch things up with her. Throw yourself into your work? Take up a new hobby? Make other friends? There's tons of options.

One thing you don't mention here, that I'm really curious about: your mutual friend Mel was with you for the visit. Did she try to be friendly to the boyfriend? Is Jess super-pissed at her for her behavior? Or is Mel one of the mutual friends that Jess cries to on the phone?
posted by palomar at 9:52 PM on June 13, 2008

You two seem to have different expectations about some things. Like, when visiting a couple, how much time should the friend half of the couple spend alone with the visitor? And, when hosting a visitor, how much responsibility does the host have to make the decisions and plans? These are not questions that have a single right answer. Your right answer is at a different point on the spectrum than your friend's.

So, you can end up hurt, thinking, "How could she waste all our time together by keeping her boyfriend around, when I spent money and time to visit her? And how could she expect me to pick where to go and what to do, when it's her town and I did it for her when she visited mine?" But, she may simply think that, when you're part of a couple, it's fine to hang out with visitors together, and that regardless of who's visiting who, it's fine to share planning and decisions.

It would have been best if you could have brought this up with her when you were there. Back then, if you'd grabbed her alone for a minute and said, "Hey, Jess, it's great to have met James, but I'm really wanting you to myself for a while. I've missed you and I want some you-and-me time," I bet that might have taken care of the problem. I see that you realize you clammed up instead, and that you accept responsibility for that part, but you still seem to blame her for acting differently than you wanted her to, even when you didn't speak up. That's assuming that your point on the spectrum of this issue is the obviously right one, and hers is wrong, which is a recipe for staying stuck and angry.

As a matter of practicality, to move on, someone's got to call, and it might as well be you. If you were the one unhappy with the visit, it was up to you to communicate about it. I'd say, call, and bring up these issues in ways that acknowledge that there's not a right and wrong, but that the distance between your expectations and hers created bad feelings that are worth talking out. Assume that her position is just as reasonable and right as yours, and get curious about learning how she is and how that's different from how you are, but just as valid. Good luck!
posted by daisyace at 5:46 AM on June 14, 2008

For all the world this sounds to me like an unrequited crush posing as a friendship. That is, if you are physically attracted to her in any way. They don't sound like the best hosts in the world, but if I'm right about that, it is possible that it was a concious effort to get you to accept that the relationship you've been hoping for ain't gonna happen.

If I'm wrong about that then I'm just wrong.
posted by trondant at 7:43 PM on June 14, 2008

While it sounds like a lot of frustration could have been avoided by discussing plans more in advance, the bigger issue (to me) is her having her boyfriend around all the time. I feel that people who push their partner on their friends are either too co-dependent to be away from said partner or feel some need to "show off" to their friends.

I can't say I have a good solution---when I've found this sort of habit in a friend, I've often needed to minimize the relationship with them a great deal. If she really is upset about it, maybe she will be willing to realize that there still needs to be time when she's just with her friends if she plans to maintain those relationships. You have secrets and a past with her---not her partner---and if she values that she needs to make time for it.
posted by lacedback at 12:45 PM on June 15, 2008

Huh. Cognizant that I could be totally wrong here, but....

This woman sounds like is used to being on the receiving end of your friendship. Your description of your background with her is all about what problems she has had and how you've supported her — you say nothing of fun times together, or of how she's helped you. You say she sobs on the phone about you to other people — is she commonly a helpless sobber-on-the-phone? The fact that this woman has "started" (which I assume implies "and subsequently dropped out of") three degrees at three universities(!) suggests she is, to say the least, not the sort of person who does what she says she will and follows through on things.

So, if this is the sort of person she is, it's not so surprising that when you and your other friend got to Jess's place and were depending on Jess to entertain you, she didn't rise to the occasion and that she now depends on you to take the initiative to fix things.

If you want to work on this friendship, make sure you have a realistic concept about what you can and cannot expect from her. She may be one of those people who latches onto her significant other and takes a "you can't have one without the other" attitude to everyone else. She may never have much interest in supporting you through whatever problems you have, or be the kind of hostess you would be. You may not ever be as close to her or as important to her as you were in former days. And perhaps you'll be just fine with that because she has other good qualities.

But, honestly, I would not advise you to continue in a relationship of any kind that is too one-sided. It's not healthy for either of you. The giver becomes resentful and angry; the receiver becomes more self-absorbed and helpless.

And, in future, when you visit anyone, I really do recommend that you do some research and planning in advance and have at least some ideas about what you'd like to do. I know when I was younger I did tend to just show up at people's places with the idea that being a good guest meant I would do whatever they wanted, but now I realize it's only fair that I should be just as prepared to help plan the activities as I would be ready to help with the dishes and pick up after myself. In May I visited a friend for a week and I took a detailed three-page list of the things I thought I'd like to do, plus maps with the locations marked and some favourite recipes so I could do my share of the meal prep. We did an equal number of things off my list and things that he suggested and we both enjoyed every minute.
posted by orange swan at 5:52 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

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