The Friendship Doctor

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When Friendships Get Too Complicated

When a friendship feels too complicated, something's amiss.

When a friendship begins to feel too complicated, it's a sign that something's amiss. It could be that your friend is either withholding information from you and withdrawing. The choices are either to talk about it or to pull back. That's usually not an easy decision.

QUESTION

Hello Irene,

I'm finding myself in a complicated living situation with a close friend and I'm feeling a little too close to some of these issues to think clearly enough to process it objectively—and could use some perspective.

Have been rooming with best friend, and had become very close while living here. We spent lots of time together, and made efforts to be supportive and help each other out. We could talk about pretty much anything, personal feedback, soundboard, insight, etc...Like we were each other's mentors in some ways. Really valuable friendship.

About six months ago, her father is diagnosed with a terminal illness. During this time, we were real tight, and she and her family were able to settle things out on their own terms with the time they had left. We had talked a lot, planned things out...I was told numerous times that she wanted me to have some of the stuff her dad owned, which is an honor. Have been working overtime and taking care of the house and the pets, chores, etc. to help out during all this.

A few months ago, she got a girlfriend (FYI - we are all chicks) and they are like, serendipitously close. Like, wow. Made for each other, too. Very compatible, and the girl is nice. I am happy for them. While roomie is getting with her girlfriend, she is obviously tied up and the time of her father's death was coming close, and thus unavailable as a friend.

It got worse as the time got real close for her dad, and for two, three months my best friend only makes one attempt to hang out one on one. She is literally always either at work (part time) or with her girlfriend. Whenever she's in the house, her gal is right beside her, and they're affectionate, have their own conversations in the room when I'm there, etc.

My friend has become more distant, and makes points that she won't be there that much for me. When I've brought up the fact that, well, I miss her and need some private down time every once in a while or need to talk or see her (she has barely been home, and usually just briefly) she counters back that every time she and her girlfriend are there, she's there, and isn't that enough? No resources left for friends, etc.

She's snappy and passive aggressive with me, and overly positive with her gf in a shared conversation. She's snatched papers out of my hand, walks away when I'm still showing her something, or talking to her—and every time we do talk, it feels like it's imposing on her time. She ends our very rare and brief one-on-one conversations, which are often borrowed from her girlfriend's time. Even the jokes feel forced, and I'm losing confidence that I'm still appreciated...or even liked, at times.

When I walk in the room and she's there, it's like walking on eggshells...She hasn't been breaking down about her father's death, and has been taking it well? But I can't help but feel that some of her behavior is personal...It hurts, to live in a house with a best friend who doesn't make time to see you, and gives you the vibe that you're a pest they wish wasn't around?

Just this past week, she announced she'd would be keeping everything of her father's, out of the blue, just saying real fast, "--and I'm going to keep them because I want them". Reasonable, right? It's her decision of course. Nonetheless, I was stunned. It's a big honor, you know? Receiving stuff that meaningful is a sign of valued friendship. Taking it back without giving regard to that just... seemed weird? In the past she would just launch in and say stuff like "No, no I've thought about this very seriously. I want YOU to have this" If I had promised stuff my mom owned (if she died) to a best friend, and had to change my mind.... I would at least break it in with some sensitivity and reference to our earlier discussions.

Shortly afterwards, when I let her know that I was cancelling attendance to my boss's wedding cuz the dates were too close to her father's funeral--she interrupted mid sentence to say that it would be okay if I didn't make it. At the end of the conversation, even though it ended on a lighter, friendlier note, I was left with this sinking feeling that it didn't matter to her if I went.

Am I taking this too personally? Does it seem like I'm misinterpreting her? Want to feel happy and welcome in my household, and if I'm living with friends, be given the time of day to touch base and be approached like my company is enjoyable and valued.

She is of course going through a lot right now, and seems to need distance and understanding. Nonetheless, I am definitely feeling avoided, and it doesn't seem to be getting better, if there are never opportunities to actually touch base privately and keep up some communication. Any advice on how to approach her in this delicate situation?

Thanks so much for your time!

Signed, Disappointed

 

ANSWER

Dear Disappointed,

This situation sounds extraordinarily complicated and, as you suggest, it's hard to know precisely what's going on with your roommate. Everyone has a unique reaction to grief and I'm sure that your friend's father's illness and impending death have been rough on her and her family. It sounds like you have been affected by it emotionally as well and that you have tried to be a supportive friend during a difficult time.

One thing seems clear: You are no longer your best friend's best friend. She is avoiding you, pulling away from the relationship, and has jilted you for someone else. You have been summarily relegated to a lower tier, which has to hurt. It really doesn't matter whether the relationship with her new BFF is romantic or platonic. Although you and your friend have been able to communicate well in the past, either she is having problems talking to you now, or having problems talking to you about her new friendship.

So you are left with a very uncomfortable and complicated roommate situation. Given how hard this is on you, is it possible to live apart? If not, you need to negotiate new rules for your lives as roommates so you both feel comfortable.

This relationship has become imbalanced in terms of your desire to be with her and her willingness to devote time and attention to you. Since you can no longer depend on your roommate for friendship in the same way as you have in the past, you need to nurture other friendships that offer more support, nurturance and joy. 

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

 

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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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