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Has Your Friendship With Karen Run Its Course?

Your friendship may have expired.

Dear Dr. G.,

I am really sad about the situation that I find myself in. I have been friends with this woman who I'll call Karen since I was 6 years old. I met her in kindergarten. We played together all the time. We remained friends in middle school and in high school. We went to different colleges but every time we came home for a break we got together. Now, fast forward to age 45 and we both live in the Northeast. On the surface it appears that we have a lot in common in addition to having grown up together and having shared so much of our childhood and teen years. We are both teachers and we each have one daughter. The problem is that Karen has become difficult to be with. She has become irritable, judgmental, and extremely opinionated. As a child and younger person she was so pleasant. She was always so much fun. Now we disagree about politics and can't even have a civil discussion. I try to be gentle but I feel that she attacks me on a very personal level when we disagree. I have even suggested that we stay away from talking about politics. Despite this request, Karen continues to taunt me about my political views. She also dislikes the way I am raising my daughter and weighs in on this frequently. She thinks that I am too permissive. I haven't asked for her childrearing advice but she is constantly offering it.

I have been thinking long and hard about how to revive and save my relationship with my friend. It would be a shame to lose a friend like this. I have tried to cut down on how frequently we visit each other and on how often we talk on the phone. This hasn't helped. After each contact, I am depleted and frustrated. I think that I may have to face the fact that this friendship is no longer viable. What do you think?

Karen's Childhood Friend

Dear Friend,

I am so sorry that you are going through this. Childhood friendships that last into adulthood are very special for so many reasons. The memories, history, and experiences that you have shared and created together can create an irreplaceable bond. These sorts of friends have witnessed your history in real time. That is pretty wonderful. They remember your parents who may no longer be alive. They remember that, yes, you were a teenager at one point and that you weren't always an adult. You probably share secrets as well as memories. Sadly, people change over time and the changes may not always be good ones. It seems that your friend Karen exhausts you despite your attempts to limit discussions that may lead to disagreements. Similarly, a reduced level of contact has also not served you well. This pains me to say but your friend Karen is not the six-year-old Karen that you knew and loved. She has changed over time and so have you.

If you find yourself dreading contact with Karen then it seems that it is time to admit that the friendship has run its course. A friendship should primarily be a source of reciprocity and joy rather than a source of distress. If you have to work so hard in your interactions then it may be the right time to press the pause button on the friendship. You may, however, want to leave the door open for future contact because you and Karen share such a richly textured history. This is going to be very hard for you because Karen has been such an important part of your life. Consider this like pressing the pause rather than the delete button so that the two of you can revisit the relationship in the future.

Thank you for opening up about this. This is an issue for many.

Good luck,

Dr.G

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