DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Longtime reader here, first time writer and not a native English speaker so please excuse any mistakes. You sometimes tackle the topic of friendships instead of romantic love so I wanted to get an outsider’s perspective on my situation.
For context, I (29/f) attended private schools throughout my childhood thanks to different scholarship, but that meant I was smart, nerdy, of lower economic status than my peers, extremely shy and, to top it all off, my body started to develop early (which lead to insecurities about my body that I haven’t quite managed to overcome). Needless to say, I was bullied mercilessly. I have no experience with male bullying but female bullying is… I guess I’d call it insidious. I had instances when sometimes other girls pretended to be my friends only to gossip behind my back and I was isolated and lonely. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t care what others think about me but, at the time, I was naïve and trusting. So, tl;dr: I didn’t have any friends at all for several of my formative years.
When I was about 12 years old, a new girl joined my school and we hit it off right away. We developed an extremely close friendship and she became my first true friend. All the way until I moved to college we stayed in constant contact and I considered her my sister. I moved to a city not too far away, (about 3 hours) and I went back to our city 2 or 3 times a month to visit my parents so I absolutely tried my best to keep in touch. I sent her e-mails weekly talking about my experiences and asked her to respond, I scheduled lunches and tried my best to keep her in my life. Even with all of my efforts, we started to grow apart and, when she married, she invited me to the wedding but I was not included in any part of the planning. I didn’t demand anything and was always open to help in whatever capacity I could, but it hurt me deeply that she just wasn’t working at all in our friendship.
I was so emotionally involved with her as my friend that some people though I was in love with her or that we were in a romantic relationship, however that wasn’t the case at all. For the longest time, I even thought I was asexual and aromantic (I’m married myself now to a wonderful guy). She is an active poster on social media but I don’t like social media sites and I’m of the idea that if someone wants me to know something, they should tell me directly, otherwise relationships lose that personal touch. So, over the years we lost contact. She stopped responding to my messages and I couldn’t bear the idea of stalking her on Facebook or Twitter. It is very difficult for me to form close attachments, so to this friendship I gave it my all, tried to be supportive of her even if sometimes I disagreed with her (example: even though I believe her husband was not the best option for her I kept most of my opinions to myself after ). In the end, I let if fade away and moved on with my life.
There was a few years ago a situation in my city that made it to the news and she sent me a message through FB to check on me but I didn’t respond, first because I didn’t see it right away and then, because I was hurt by the radio silence and wanted to get back at her (petty, I know). Some more years pass until last year she sent me a message again asking if we could talk. I answered her and we started discussing the usual, how was I, how was my family, her family and such. I learned that a close family relative of hers passed away (maybe that was the reason she contacted me again in the first place) and eventually, we started to talk about our friendship and the reasons behind our distancing. She told me that when I moved to college, she became jealous of me and my new opportunities and that that was the primary reason behind her closing off and excluding me from her life. The comment cut deeply and opened wounds that I thought had closed. I started crying and trying to understand where we went wrong and in the end she promised to keep in touch because she wanted to rekindle our friendship, she told me that she missed me and that she didn’t have any other friend that knew her as well as me.
She didn’t keep her promise to contact me again at the time. She sent me a message again a few months ago so petty me decided to not answer in a futile attempt to hurt her back because obviously she doesn’t care as much about me if she can’t keep her promises. So, after the novella-length letter, my question is: Is it worth it to try and rekindle the friendship? Should I try to contact her again? Should I open myself to further heartbreak if this doesn’t work? I miss her a lot and she knows things about me that very few do. And, apparently I haven’t gotten over this issue as much as I thought if months pass and I still think about what to do. She lives in a different country now so meeting in person would be difficult, it would be a long-distance friendship.
Thank you for your time reading my rambling letter.
Broken Friends Forever
DEAR BROKEN FRIENDS FOREVER: So, some thoughts on friendship…
For all that we as a culture focus so much of our time and attention on romantic relationships and what it takes to make them work, we tend to neglect friendships and the fact that those require care and maintenance too. Friendships can be just as intense and meaningful as romantic or sexual relationships — even moreso in some cases. It’s all too easy to forget that friendships don’t “just happen”, nor are they self-maintaining.
And, unfortunately, like a lot of romantic relationships, not every friendship is going to last. Some friendships are inherently temporal; they are relationships of the moment, based around who you are at this particular place and time. As you grow and change, those friendships tend to fade away — not because they were never “real” or “true”, but because you and your friend are no longer who you were when you started as friends. You, for all intents and purposes, outgrew your friendship. Others… well, others whither and die from neglect. Sometimes that neglect is intentional. Sometimes it’s accidental, like getting too distracted to remember to water a plant. But regardless of the reason, the effect is the same: the friendship falls apart.
And sometimes… well, sometimes it’s a mixture of all of the above.
Case in point, BFF: the way you and your friend lost touch. There was always going to be some strain on the relationship as you and she went off to college; much like romantic relationships, a lot of middle school and high-school friends tend to find that they’ve drifted apart. This isn’t terribly surprising, honestly. At college — or moving away from home, or other transitional periods of life — you’re meeting new people, having new experiences and trying new identities… you are becoming your new, adult self. And because you’re doing so without your old friends around, you’re growing and changing in ways that may well be changing how well you and they can mesh.
That, it seems, is at least part of why you and your friend started to drift away. Her jealousy of what you were experiencing clearly made her worry that you were going to leave her behind; rather than deal with the seemingly inevitable friend-breakup, she decided to distance herself first. It’s not the most mature decision she could have made, nor a kind one, but one can at least can understand the reasoning behind it.
If you squint.
But unfortunately, that is what ultimately set the stage for the two of you falling apart, because that’s what seems to have set off a pernicious and honestly kinda petty tit-for-tat afterwards.
Now, remember what I said about growing apart and the people you are no longer meshing? That’s part of what happens next. What we have in your letter is a classic case of failing to meet someone where they are. Social media, for all its sins, has become a cornerstone of how we connect and maintain interpersonal relationships. Your friend lives a lot of her life on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter… that’s part of who she is. Maintaining a connection with her means that social media would be part of the price of entry. That seems to be a primary point of contact for her — as it is for a lot of folks these days. So if you want to interact with her, then you’re gonna have to be on the Instabooktoks. Preferring to keep social media out of your life is a fine choice and, going by what Facebook has done to the world, a smart one. But that means having less of an opportunity to find out what your friend is up to.
The fact that you prefer that someone tell you directly what’s been going on, over reading their posts or pics? That’s a choice. It may be right for you… but that choice also means that you’re going to have less contact with your friend. That doesn’t mean that you or she are in the wrong; it just means that you and she aren’t meshing the way you used to.
However, it’s what happened afterwards that more or less drove the nail into the coffin. There were a number of times where your friend reached out and you ignored it. Her reaching out to you after the incident in your city was a bid for your attention. By trying to get back at her, you rejected her bid. You functionally told her “I’m not interested in communicating with you anymore”. This is part of the problem with giving folks the silent treatment; they don’t know what you’re doing or why. They just know you’re ignoring them. Absent any other information, they’re going to assume that this means you don’t like them and you don’t want to talk to them.
Small wonder, then, it took years for her to try again. And even then: you made the same decision. You ignored her again, even after you and she had that conversation where she tried to clear the air and — importantly — was making another bid to try to reconnect with you. I’m not surprised that you don’t hear from her; the times she’s tried, you’ve rejected her.
It’s understandable that you’re upset and somewhat resentful of the long stretches of time where you never heard from her. But it seems that, especially after the first attempt to check in on you, you haven’t made any effort to connect with her. You can say that you’re upset that she wasn’t putting in as much work as you were, but honestly, by this point you’d sent enough “f--k off and die” silence that I’m not surprised she didn’t try harder. You were functionally punishing her for doing the things that you wanted; small wonder the message she took from this is “BFF doesn’t want to talk to me.”
In an ideal world, when she reached back out to you — either when she checked on you after the incident, or after the “can we talk” message — you would’ve taken this as an opportunity to start a new friendship with her. It would’ve been one colored by your shared history, sure, but so much time had passed and you two had changed so much that this would be a new friendship for all intents and purposes. And one of the uncomfortable truths is that, especially in the early days, some folks are going to be putting in more work than others. Not every relationship — platonic, sexual or romantic — is perfectly balanced, and especially not at the beginning. Some folks tend to do more work than others and then an equilibrium is found.
You and she never found that, in part because you were nursing those grudges about feeling abandoned.
Which brings us to now. Can this friendship be saved? Honestly… I don’t know. If I’m blunt, I don’t think it can, in part because you keep letting your ego get in the way. You keep wanting her to “learn her lesson”, but all you’re doing is saying “I don’t want to talk to you.” Nor, for that matter, are you willing to bend and meet her where she is. If your view of “second or third hand knowledge is bad” is more important than keeping up with her… well, that’s a choice. But it’s one that’s going to keep you and her from being friends again.
If you want to be friends, then you’re going to have to address the pain you’ve been feeling ever since you went off to college. However, at this point it’s self-inflicted, self-sustaining pain, because you never let the wounds heal and you pick at them whenever she reaches out. That’s work you are gonna have to do for yourself.
The other thing you’re going to have to do is accept that, for now, you’re going to have to model the behavior you want to see from her. That means being willing to shove the whole “she’s not putting in as much effort as me” feeling aside and recognize that you burned the bridges you’re trying to rebuild here. You may not have realized that’s what you were doing… but the bridges got burned regardless. So if you want that friendship back, you’re gonna have to put in a lot of work until she realizes that you do want to be friends again, that you do want to reconnect and that you’re sincere in trying to stay in touch. Until and unless you do that and she can get over the hurt you have likely caused her?
Well… then the only thing you can do is let this friendship go.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com