Irene S. Levine, Ph.D.

Irene S Levine Ph.D.

The Friendship Doctor

When a friend is unreliable

Breaking appointments can be a friendship-killer

Posted Jun 08, 2011

How do you handle a friendship when you can never rely on the other person?

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

Last year, I reconnected via Facebook with a third cousin, named Judy, who I hadn't seen since high school. Our immediate families didn't interact much but she and I attended the same high school, and since we were a grade apart, we hung out with different crowds.

Now, we're both in our 40s, both married 26 years (we got married 3 months apart), and both have teenage children. For months, she was on my Facebook page and we chatted occasionally. When a high school get-together was planned, she invited my husband and me to dinner at her house first with some of her friends. We didn't know what to expect but she was very warm and friendly and we had a nice time.

We continued to see each her, with husbands and without, and emailed and talked on the phone. But I soon realized I was doing all the initiating. I backed off and didn't hear from her (other than on Facebook) for four months. Then someone on Facebook was being really rude to her and I came to her defense. I had hesitated to step in but she's my cousin and I felt protective despite the distance I was feeling with her at the time. When She sent me a note saying how much she loved me, etc., I was stunned.

I called and told her how confused I was because I never hear from her. She said she's terrible at staying in touch and her siblings always yell at her about it. From that point on we reconnected and started doing things together again. I was making most of the effort but she made a little. I am fine that some people are leaders and other followers but in my opinion the follower has to make some effort for it to be a relationship. Do you agree?

Our birthdays were coming up in November and we agreed to celebrate them together. Judy suggested a weekend somewhere. At the time I was thinking dinner/pedicure type outing but I was game. We made tentative plans and she never got get back to me. When I inquired a month later, she apologized and said she was trying to figure out how to pay for it. I knew they had money problems but this was her suggestion so I figured she had worked it out.

She suggested we do a nice dinner with our husbands instead and I agreed. Weeks went by and I didn't hear back. When I inquired, she said her husband couldn't get time off work (he was working a 2nd job). So I suggested we go ourselves as it was already well past our b-days. I heard nothing and then we were talking on her wall about something totally unrelated on Facebook and she said, "Let me know when you want to go out." I said "Sunday works for me," and then she dropped the whole thing.

This time I didn't follow up as I had had ENOUGH after this b-day thing dragging on for months. I was tired of always following up with her when she didn't get back to me. I was so hurt that I decided I would let her ask me to do something next.

I get very mixed messages from Judy. She always says, "Love You" in her communications and I do believe that she loves me. I had really hoped she'd become a close friend because I felt an immediate connection with her and she feels like family. I had a wonderful time with her last year when she invited my daughter and I to her house to bake for Purim with her and her daughter. The girls seemed to have a good time but haven't stayed in touch.

Judy has an older sister, who lives out of state, who I have also reconnected with. She was complaining about Judy so I decided to bring up the issue of Judy not staying in touch. She said that Judy rarely calls her either, and she does almost all the staying in touch. She told me that it's not me, it's Judy, and this is just who she is.

If I didn't feel like Judy was "family," I would have given up on her. I feel a strong connection despite her almost total lack of effort to stay in touch. Sometimes I feel like I should just move on and forget her and delete her off my Facebook. I do think if I deleted her on Facebook she would be very hurt and I don't want to hurt her. There are now also other family members from both my side and her side who are connected on Facebook, so if I were to delete her it would be complicated because I also added "her people." We also have mutual friends from high school. Do you think there is any hope for this relationship or do you think I should just move on and give up on her?

Thanks,
Paige


ANSWER

Dear Paige,

It is always nice to reconnect with someone who is part of your history. Judy grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same schools, and knows the same people (and family) as you do. You enjoy her company and had high hopes.

But you've found two major flaws that are troubling: 1) She makes plans she doesn't keep, and 2) She doesn't keep up her end of the bargain. Some people are nice to be around -- but unreliable and hard to corral into getting together. I can't begin to guess why Judy is this way.

As I see it, you have three options:

  • You can maintain the relationship but modify your expectations. It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks and according to her sister, Judy has always been this way.
  • You can talk to Judy about how you enjoy her friendship but how frustrated you feel to be left in the lurch when she doesn't follow through. Tell her she may not mean to hurt you, but you can't help but take it personally.
  • You can simply end the relationship and delete her from your Facebook page.

My thoughts: Unless you are willing to accept her the way she is (which doesn't seem to be the case), you need to lay this out honestly for Judy (option #2) and tell her that as close as you feel, you can't have a close relationship unless you can rely upon her at her word. To meet her halfway (given that her personality may be difficult to change), you can initiate the get-togethers from time to time but require that she follow through.

You make a distinction between what you would tolerate from family as opposed to friends, suggesting you make allowances for family members that you wouldn't make for friends. I'm not sure that distinction is meaningful in this instance. If you didn't like Judy, you wouldn't want to remain connected, family or not.

Unfortunately, if you can't work this out, you may have to give up but I wouldn't go the extra step of removing her from your Facebook page. As you suggest, that seems unnecessary and spiteful.

Hope this helps.

Best,
Irene


Other posts on The Friendship Blog about dealing with unreliable friends:

Is this friendship worth the talk?

Ten signs it is time to shed a friend

What do you consider a friendship killer?