It’s day 2 of the Winter Pledge Drive, so if you feel like dropping a few dollars in the tip jar, here’s the link. Thanks to all who have given already; it really makes a difference in my life.
Today’s question is also on the theme of forgiveness and repair
Hi Captain! I have a question about when someone who’s given you an African Violet of Broken Friendship wants it back.
The short story is this: I got pressured into moving in with my high school best friend at a very bad time in my life and neither of us were equipped to deal with how damaged I was. I struggled to do things like remember to eat and sleep, and she struggled to deal with me. At about the time I got my shit together, she had had enough of it and got weird, going from avoiding me to telling me I was the best friend in the world to telling me how horrible I was. It culminated with her dumping a FEELINGS BOMB on me, my bending over backwards to fix what I had done wrong when I was a mess (and I had done wrong when I was, there is no question about that) to the point of running myself ragged. A few months of that later she gave me the violet and moved out two months before our lease was up.
Fast forward a few years of anger later, and there was a drunken heart to heart about how although we weren’t friends we still wished each other well and thought the other person was still a Good Person and I had thought that was that. We were cool, we would see each other occasionally at parties, exchange some friendly chatter, and that was that.
At my wedding, on her way out, she underlined the fact she was sober and had had time to think and asked if I wanted to go get coffee some time. I agreed, because wedding. I loved everyone at that point in time.
She’s what I call a fast burn (she feels what she feels in a big way all at once) while I’m a slow burn (take longer to process feelings, tend to feel them less intensely but for longer, and sometimes runs into issues with feeling build up) and I’m worried about falling into the trap of she’s upset so I’m wrong. How the hell do I restart a friendship with someone who I knew so intimately but have been a near stranger to for 3 years? Any suggestions/tips/advice/scripts for someone who’s not sure what to do with their African Violet? I’ve never rekindled with someone after I gave them a violet, and this is the only one I’ve ever been given.
Confused and Concerned Slow Burner
Dear Slow Burner:
Your email subject said it all: Old NEW friends. (emphasis mine)
I think your friend’s gesture at your wedding was very sweet, and gives reason to hope for good things, but your trepidation is also important and you should listen to it.
What if you treated this like a new acquaintanceship, where you get to decide if you want to get closer to this person at all?
What if you don’t schedule that coffee right now? What if you just go on bumping into her pleasantly here and there and see how it goes? It will give you time to decide whether you want to do it at all, and it will give you time to invite her on your own terms. At your wedding, emotions were running high on all sides (though it’s meaningful that you invited her and that she came). If that was a sincere request, chances are it will come up again.
If you do hang out, what if you put a moratorium on talking about past stuff?
If you do start spending time together again, what if you mentally designated her as a “small doses” friend? I know this sounds like an insult, and people generally would not love hearing that they are a small-doses-friend, but honestly, it’s what allows us to keep certain people in our lives. What that could look like:
- Structuring time together around an activity you have in common (fandom, outing, hobby….)
- Meeting only very occasionally and for set periods of time, like, Dinner-And-A-Movie or Let’s-Go-To-The-Craft-Fair-For-A-Bit, and having an end time in mind so that you leave while the experience is still enjoyable.
- Keeping the conversation on the lighter side and be slow to trust her with serious personal bizness. Just because she was once the Secret Keeper of your Order doesn’t mean she is now.
- Keep expectations low in general – for how often & intensely you’ll hang out, for how much you’ll share, for favors that you might be willing to do.
- Go slow and watch for reciprocity. Really pay attention to your own feelings & enjoyment levels vs. worrying what the other person thinks of you.
- Don’t work at it. If it feels like work, if you’re strategizing a lot ahead of time and feel like it’s hard to manage the interactions, if you don’t look forward to the actual time spent together (or are inordinately relieved if something comes up and she cancels), BAIL.
If this sounds a lot like what you would do with any friend you’re just getting to know, congratulations, you are correct! You’re not lying or doing anything you wouldn’t enjoy anyway. But when someone has a tendency to come on too strong or otherwise stress you out, or if you have limited socializing units available to you for whatever reason, think in terms of Monthly Brunch vs. Daily Workout Partner and Confidante.
That may not work given her level of intensity, and it may not be what she wants, either, so let’s fall back on the question that often helps unpick a conflict by making people focus on the future.
“In a perfect world, how would you like this to work?”
I think enough time has gone by and you’ve been able to interact in low-key ways for long enough that it makes sense to be hopeful. But it’s okay to decide that you don’t want to move forward with this, and it’s okay to hang back and see how you really fit into each other’s lives in the here and now.