Dear Captain Awkward:
How do you give closure to someone you barely know? IOW, worm can opened, now what?
A few years ago I got to know a woman over a few hours of casual recreational activities. We clicked at first, and discovered through our sharing that we both had experienced several important life milestones, such as ana/bulimia and languishing artistic careers.
Problem is, the more I got to know her the less I liked her, and although we had not negotiated a friendship or even had a tacit relationship of any kind, she began to reach out to me in emotionally-charged ways that made me uncomfortable.
So I dropped her. Just stopped returning her calls.
Not something I felt good about then or now, but something that I felt was the easiest and healthiest thing for me at the time.
However, I saw her on the street recently and she had a very strong body/face reaction to seeing me, which is bringing up my guilt for just fading away. Now she wants to get together and talk about it.
Full disclosure: The main reason I just dropped her without saying anything was because, among other things she had started calling me at odd hours saying things like, “I just broke up with XX friend – I told him/her that s/he was unhealthy for me, I was unhappy and I never wanted any more contact. TELL ME I DID THE RIGHT THING. Just say it. Tell me I did the right thing, SAY IT.” It felt both creepy and unbearably ironic to do to her what she’d just done with like 4 people in her own life over the course of a month.
It was a big breakthrough for me to realise that I could start out liking someone and after a few meetings change my mind, and that just because I was the one choosing not to continue, it didn’t mean that I had to make everything OK for both of us.
But now that I’ve seen how deeply she’s still affected by this years later, I feel like the right thing to do would be to give her closure.
This is a truly awkward situation.
I can understand that she was hurt by the loss of what she saw as a growing friendship, and I can understand being taken aback at running into you again and having those feelings momentarily surface in an awkward way. Sometimes what someone else wants (a friendship) is the opposite of what you want (not a friendship, especially with someone who doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of boundaries) and there’s no way for both people to be happy.
But I don’t think hanging out and talking about it over FEELINGSCOFFEE is a good idea. I think you sit down and work out difficult issues with your actual friends, because you want them in your lives and it’s worth passing discomfort and awkwardness to get to the bottom of things. I don’t think you have to do this with people you broke up with years ago and want to stay broken up with. The whole point is that you DON’T want to spend time with her or be friends with her, so why would you spend more time with her to celebrate how much you don’t want to spend time with her?
You do not have to explain anything if you don’t want to. If you want to give her an explanation, do it in an email or note.
I do not want to meet up and talk things over, but since you expressed dismay and the desire to know what happened all those years ago, I hope this explanation will bring you some closure.
I really liked talking with you the few times we hung out, but as we got to know each other better I realized that I was not invested in building a friendship with you, so I pulled back from contact. I wish I’d been able to give you an explanation at the time, but since we hadn’t known each other that long, it didn’t seem like a big deal to just fade out on a new acquaintance. I am sorry if that was hurtful for you, but I know that it was the right decision for me.
I hope this will lay things to rest for you and that you will have a very happy 2013.”
There’s no need to go into her behavior with the phone calls that made you uncomfortable. One way you can be a mensch about a breakup is to own the feelings and the decision. “My feelings changed.” “I did not want a relationship.” vs. “You did this thing that upset me.” Yes, your feelings were affected by the things they did, but you don’t have to be their relationship tutor on your way out the door. Your feelings can’t be argued with or justified, but bringing up their behaviors opens everyone up to all kinds of bargaining. “But I won’t do that anymore!” “But why didn’t you tell me, I would have stopped!”
For people who have been dropped/dumped, let me just say, IT SUCKS. I KNOW. We feel that we’re owed something. We tell ourselves the lie that the right explanation would make us understand, or would make us feel less rejected. We dig in and ask for explanations, but sometimes what we really want is just a little more time with the person. A little more time when maybe what happened (them rejecting us) might not be completely true. Or to share our pain with them in the hopes that we’ll have less and they’ll have a little more. We just want them to feel SOMETHING. To give us some reaction.
I think you get to ask why. I think you get to ask if there is anything you can do to change their mind. We’re not robots! But once you’ve heard whatever explanation there is, or once your messages/texts/calls have gone unanswered for a certain amount of time, asking why or for more discussion can be really counter-productive to healing and moving on. Truth: I have sent some of the longest, weirdest, most stalkerish, most tearful emails in recorded history. None of them ever fixed the relationship. They only made the other person really uncomfortable and me really ashamed (and worried that they are still out there, lurking. Goddamn infinite internet storage). The only thing that has ever worked for me in surviving a breakup with some grace is to believe the other person when they took the trouble to end it (or cut down on contact) and stop using my own Wishful Thinking Translator on the situation.
Ask yourself, would you rather get a letter like the one above from someone, or would you rather let some time pass and decide “I guess that friend really wasn’t that into being my friend. I wish she’d handled it better and just told me, but all I can do is accept it and move on”? As painful as it can be, other people don’t give you closure. You give it to yourself when you decide to stop staying engaged with someone who doesn’t want to be engaged with you.
So, LW, maybe that note will be the thing she needs in order to lay it to rest. I don’t think anything good can come from meeting up with her. She will be an exposed nerve, you’ll want to be anywhere else. You made the right decision years ago when you ended it. Trust that now, and leave this one in 2012.