DEAR ABBY: I'm a college sophomore living in a dorm. My best friend lives a few doors down. We have always had a wonderful, caring friendship and many things in common. Lately, however, she has not been spending much time with me. Normally this would not concern me because we are both very busy right now -- but we recently had an argument in which I discovered her inability to handle confrontation.
When I brought up my concern, it led to a fight. She burst into tears and said she can't handle it when I "yell" at her. Abby, I hadn't raised my voice. Later, more calmly, she told me she cannot handle confrontation and will never, under any circumstances, take the first step. This worries me, not only for our friendship, but for her own emotional health.
When she doesn't want to spend time with me, I wonder whether she's angry with me and won't say so. This could seriously affect her in her future friendships and romances. I tried to talk to her about addressing her fear of confrontation, perhaps through some sort of therapy. She doesn't think she has a problem. I'd like to help her. Am I right that this could cause her problems? -- WORRIED FRIEND IN OAKLAND
DEAR WORRIED: Yes, it could. However, until your friend is willing to face the fact that she has a problem and is ready to deal with it, nothing you can say will convince her.
In the household in which your friend was raised, she may have been punished for expressing overt anger. People raised to "stuff" their feelings that way sometimes find other ways of expressing it so they won't have to admit their true feelings. The name for this "other way" is passive aggression.
Right now, your friend may be busy, or she may be punishing you for putting her in a corner by avoiding you. But if the way she deals with unpleasantness is by avoiding it, you'll never get a straight answer from her -- so my advice is to enlarge your circle of friends.