Friendship: When No Response is a Response

When a friend stops communicating, you have few options.

Posted Jan 05, 2014


H Irene,

I have been close friends with a woman for many years. More recently, I developed a friendship with her daughter as well. Now, I'm the kind of guy who will do anything for a friend. I would visit her when she was down, send "Thinking of You" cards to the both of them, and gave them a refrigerator when they had none, I would often do little chores around their house for them. I shoveled their sidewalk and driveway on one visit and I comforted her daughter when her boyfriend dumped her. These are just to name a few.

We had made plans to get together around Christmas. Then suddenly, the daughter quit calling and texting me. My friend soon followed suit. I have offered apologies in case I offended them in some way. I have made peace overtures, but there has been no response. I am hurt and confused. What do I do, if anything? 

Signed, Jeff 


Hi Jeff, 

When a friend unceremoniously dumps you without explanation and offers no response, there isn’t much you can do. Friendships are voluntary relationships. Unfortunately, sometimes they become one-sided, which can be extremely disappointing and upsetting. 

There are a couple of possibilities that might explain what happened: 

1) Unlikely but…you inadvertently did something that upset the mother and/or daughter that was so egregious they are unwilling to discuss it. 

2) Unlikely but…unrelated to you, something is wrong with either one of them (mentally or physically) that is consuming their time and making it impossible for them to communicate with you. 

3) Something has changed in their lives. Perhaps they are harboring some secret they are embarrassed about, which makes it uncomfortable for them to maintain a relationship with you. 

4) The duo decided they don’t need or want your help any more. You sound like a really nice guy, perhaps too nice, and they may have been taking advantage of your kindness. 

It’s not too surprising that both mother and daughter, who probably have a strong bond, would react in unison. 

What’s missing from your letter is any sense of what you were getting from these friendships. Sustainable friendships need to be reciprocal. One person can't consistently be the giver and the other the taker. 

You have gone the extra mile in apologizing for a sin you aren’t even sure you committed. Your only option now is to let additional time pass, perhaps a month or two, and give it one more try. Unfortunately, if you are met with no response again, you may just have to accept the disappointment, cut your losses, and move on to other friendships. It would also be worthwhile to examine what drew you to these women in the first place. 

Hope this helps a little. 

My best, Irene

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About the Author

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D.

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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