The Friendship Doctor

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When a Friend Goes AWOL

Some people are better connectors than others.

 

QUESTION

Dr. Levine,

I have a friend whom I met in college. We have been close friends over the past 20 years—or so I thought. When we were single, we would take a lot of fun beach trips. We have both gotten married over that past 6-8 years.

I look back now and realize that whenever she was in a relationship (which wasn’t often) that her friendships went to the backburner. Now that she is married and has a child, she pretty much has dropped off the face of the Earth, and has stopped emailing and calling me.

I have a very busy life with a career and a family but I guess I am better at balancing my life. Over the years, I have really tried hard to be a good friend to her and don’t understand why she gave me the cold shoulder. I have thrown her a bridal shower and baby shower and have traveled to visit her wherever she has moved out of the state several times. I now live about a five-hour drive away and she would never consider visiting me although I have invited her on several occasions.

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We never had any kind of disagreement that I know of and I am not a “needy” friend at all. After a year of silence, she sends me an email saying she wants to keep in touch but then hasn’t. It has been about nine months since her e-mail and my nice response to it.

I feel like I need some type of closure here. I think now that she wasn’t the friend to me that I was to her and it’s time to just let her go. I think she is too self-absorbed to be a good friend. How can I feel better about this? How can I find closure with her?  Does it need to include her or is it just peace I need to make with myself? I have invested a lot of myself in this friendship. Please help.

Signed, Bridget

 

ANSWER

Hi Bridget,

This sounds like a long-standing and meaningful relationship, but both your life and your friend’s have changed substantially since you were footloose singles. With marriage, careers and caregiving responsibilities, both your lives have become infinitely more complicated. Moreover, your long-distance relationship is far less convenient and takes much more effort to sustain.

Sometimes, people get so caught up in the minutiae of their current lives that they don’t think about or make the time to catch up and stay current with old friends, even ones they feel close to. Others, like you, are better at staying connected.

Since you have so much shared history, however, consider that your friend’s unwillingness or inability to reach out may have more to do with her own situation or personal limitations than it does with you, per se. You have no sense what her life is like on a day-to-day basis and the demands or stresses she is experiencing. Also, as you have suggested, too, some people are better than others in juggling and in maintaining friendships.

I think your friend really wants to stay connected but in a cursory way right now. Give her some space and time, and you may find that this relationship becomes closer at some other point in your lives. You can send her short emails now and then but don’t expect her to respond in kind or at all. If that isn’t comfortable, you may want to back off a little and allow her to miss you and take the initiative to reconnect so you don’t feel angry about being the only one putting effort into sustaining the friendship.

Whatever you decide, avoid mulling this friendship over and over again in your head. There is no reason to decisively end it and it is probably wiser to leave the door ajar. While you can’t depend on your friend as a reliable soulmate right now, she is an old friend with whom you may be able to reminisce about the past and reconnect with more regularly in the future.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

 

Have a friendship problem or dilemma? Check out The Friendsihp Blog, newly redesigned with five years of searchable archives. While you are there, see Dr. Irene S. Levine's recent interview with Katie Couric on friendship breakups.

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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