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Your Close Friend Disappointed You. Is Your Friendship Over?

What's the best way to deal when a friend disappoints you?

Key points

  • Friendships are precious, but they don't always last forever.
  • Some disappointments are easy to manage, while others are hard to forgive.
  • Being honest about one's own role and responsibility can help when involved in a conflict with a friend.

Meghen* and her boyfriend had recently broken up, and Meghen was feeling sad and lonely. She texted her friend Sari* to ask if she was available to go to a movie over the weekend. Sari texted back that she was feeling overwhelmed with work and couldn’t go to the movies with her. Meghen was hurt and disappointed. She wasn’t sure what to do.

Rafael* and Nico* had been best friends since elementary school. Although Nico had had some troubles with drugs and alcohol in high school and college, Rafael had continued to consider him one of his closest friends. But when Rafael asked Nico to be his best man at his wedding, Nico never answered him. Rafael was disappointed and angry. He wasn’t sure what to do.

Lissa* found out that a very good friend had voted for a politician Lissa thought was corrupt and dangerous. “In general, my friends and I tolerate a lot of differences in our political beliefs. I’ve always known that she and I weren’t exactly on the same page, and it was fine. We’ve had some heated but interesting discussions. But this person who she’s supporting is someone I believe is completely amoral, whose behavior goes against everything I value and that I thought she valued. I’m disappointed that she’d go against everything we both seemed to believe in.”

Friends disappoint one another all the time. It’s part of being human. And in a good friendship, you might talk about the disappointment or not, but you can generally find a way to move past the disenchantment without the friendship being derailed.

But how do you deal when the disappointment’s too big to get past?

1. The first thing to do is to accept that you are feeling what you are feeling. Disappointment, hurt, and anger are important and natural feelings in response to a failure on the part of someone you count on. Don’t ignore them or tell yourself that you’re being silly. But don’t act on them, either. Give yourself time to let them work themselves through your system. Trying to ignore or change your feelings will only make them harder to manage. Accepting them, on the other hand, without acting on them, can give you time to think and, paradoxically, give your feelings space to change on their own.

2. Once you have accepted your feelings, whatever they might be, try to understand what has upset you. Are you feeling betrayed? Or like you suddenly don’t seem to matter to your friend anymore? Do you feel like your friend doesn’t understand you the way you thought they did? Or that you don’t understand—or like—who they have become? Meghen realized that what really hurt about Sari’s behavior was that she felt that Sari didn’t care about her anymore. “I had to ask myself if that was true,” she said. “And I knew it wasn’t. I knew that she really was feeling overwhelmed and didn’t have the bandwidth to take on my feelings right then. That didn’t mean that she had stopped caring about me.”

3. Next, you will want to think about whether or not to talk about them with your friend. Some years ago, I interviewed a number of women about their friendships. One young mother who was still close to friends from elementary school told me, “Brutal honesty has kept us together. We know each other really, really well. The good stuff, of course, which is the glue that keeps us connected. But we know each other’s dirty laundry, too. We don’t ever throw it in anybody’s face, but we do keep each other honest. Sometimes we do it gently, or with humor or a little bit of teasing. But when one woman in the group started flirting too hard with another one’s husband, we all called her on it. It just wasn’t going to work. We told her that we valued our friendships with each other more than anything and that she was going to destroy something really meaningful with a stupid flirtation. She was upset and angry, and she said that she wasn’t breaking up a happy marriage and that our other friend needed to take an honest look at her marriage. It was painful all around, but both of the women eventually acknowledged that it had been an important wake-up call to get their lives back on track.”

4. Sometimes it’s better not to talk. Another woman told me that she and her closest friend sometimes get “really upset with each other. When that happens, we don’t talk about it. Maybe we should, but neither one of us is very good with confrontation. What we generally do is just take a little time, give ourselves space, and eventually we get over whatever the irritation was. Basically, we love each other and don’t want our friendship to ever end. We haven’t talked about it, but I know that she feels the same way that I do—that our friendship is more important than whatever was bothering us."

5. Whether or not you talk to your friend about what is bothering you, it’s important to be honest with yourself. Is some part of the problem your fault? Or at least your responsibility? Did you say or do something inadvertently that might have bothered your friend? Have you not been paying attention to changes that have occurred in the friendship? It’s important not to take all of the burden on yourself, but it is equally important to recognize that friendship is a two-way street—both people often bear some responsibility for the dynamics that unfold between you. It can be helpful to keep in mind that no one is perfect, and therefore, no friendship is perfect.

Neither Lissa nor Rafael ever spoke with their friends about their conflicts. Rafael never had the opportunity, since his friend ghosted him. He later learned, however, that his friend had gone to rehab as a result of his inability to be there when Rafael needed him. “Eventually he got back in touch with me, and I admired and appreciated that he had the courage to address his problems and reconnect with me.”

Lissa and her friend simply agreed to disagree. “We couldn’t find a way to talk about our differences,” Lissa said. “But it’s sort of like family. We’ve been friends for a long time, and we care about each other. Maybe one day we’ll talk about it, but not yet. But we’re still deeply connected.”

Friendships are precious. They are also infinitely complex. Feeling disappointed in a friend can be enough to end the relationship, but sometimes it’s simply part of the complexity.

*Names and identifying info changed to protect privacy.

Copyright@fdbarth2022

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