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#539 “Old New Friends”

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.

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48 comments
  1. Michelle said:

    “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? … If that was a sincere request, chances are it will come up again.”

    Huh. If it were me trying to rekindle a friendship and also trying to respect the wishes of the other person, I probably would *not* bring it up again, personally. I wouldn’t want them to feel pressured.

    Other than that, I love all this, especially where you treat that person as a new acquaintance and treat them accordingly, and not delve into old feelings right away unless you are *both* feeling it, as that day when you were drunk. I totally get where you’re feeling caught in a trap where when she feels bad, you must be wrong, and I think that’s the part of the relationship that won’t serve either of you well going forward.

    There’s this great line that stuck in my head from that old show Beverly Hills 90210, which Very Young Me watched incessantly. Upon rekindling an old relationship, this conversation happened:

    A: Can we start over?
    B: From where? The beginning, the middle, or where we left off?

    The beginning, is my answer. If your established and intimate relationship couldn’t survive the issues that led to the violet, the fledgling tentative New Maybe Friendship probably can’t handle any feelings bombs first thing either. I think treating this like you’re both getting to know each other again will help you avoid falling back into destructive patterns you established in circumstances that no longer apply here.

    Best of luck LW! 🙂

    • miss_chevious said:

      Yeah, I’m in the process of possibly of Retracting a Violet, having just issued my first invitation for getting together with the friend, and I’m focusing a lot on reciprocity. Like, I invited him to this thing, he couldn’t go, so now I will wait for him to make the next overture. So, LW, if you do want to consider Retracting the Violet, I would say schedule the coffee and see how it goes. If she doesn’t demonstrate reciprocity, then there’s your answer, no retraction needed. And if the thought of scheduling the coffee fills you with anxiety or dread, then the Violet can stay where it is.

    • charmed.omega said:

      +1. I would not either. I would consider this a “notice that I am interested in rekindling our friendship” and if I didn’t hear back in a concrete positive way, I would consider that a face-saving “no answer is an answer”.

      • Badger Rose said:

        Yes. I’d assume that no answer is an answer (as has been recommended as a general policy before). I think it’s a bad idea to assume that a “genuine” offer will be repeated, because people who respect boundaries will often “get” that a no-answer equals a no. (And they should, generally, assume that. It’s the safe and non-harassing assumption to make.)

        I’m actually a little surprised that this is a suggestion, given the “no answer means no” line posited previously (that I agreed with).

        • JenniferP said:

          I should clarify. I meant that “the opportunity to plan a coffee date will come up again, if you guys are already somewhat socializing” vs. “It is Old Friend’s job to suggest it again if it’s going to happen.”

    • Phospher said:

      I figured the friend had said “Let’s get coffee!” and LW had said “Yes!” and the Cap’s advice was that LW need not rush to her calendar and start suggesting times and places herself. If the friend issues a specific invitation then she could incorporate the general mood of the advice into her response, e.g go, perhaps, but keep it light and maybe have a Thing I Need To Go Do set up for afterwards.

    • saira ali said:

      “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? … If that was a sincere request, chances are it will come up again.”

      Huh. If it were me trying to rekindle a friendship and also trying to respect the wishes of the other person, I probably would *not* bring it up again, personally. I wouldn’t want them to feel pressured.

      Ditto. And this feels like it goes against the usual Captain Awkward advice to askers to accept a soft no. Responding to “Let’s get coffee!” with “Sure” and then silence and not actually making a move to schedule the coffee date sure as hell sounds like a “no” to me, and I would respect that and not ask again.

      • Anisoptera said:

        I may be wrong here, but isn’t the LW the *recipient* of the Retracted-Violet-coffee-offer?

        As in, she’s deciding what to do with an offer to rekindle a friendship from a friend who dumped her?

      • Phospher said:

        I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask someone if they’d like coffee, get a “sure” in response, and then decide it’s entirely on them to schedule it– particularly if you were the one to ditch them in the first place, and if you made the suggestion at a wedding where scheduling a specific date would be impractical. If A says “Coffee?” B says “Sure!” A says “Tuesday, 3pm, Cafe des Arts?” and B says *silence* or “Oh no I’m busy on Tuesday,” — and never suggests a different date — then THAT would be a soft no. But reading “no” into an initial “sure” without ever doing the work to follow up yourself seems like an admission you were asking for an invitation, not offering one in the first place.

        My friend who “violeted” me (and is now back and pretending nothing happened) had a habit of telling me she would come whenever I invited her somewhere, , but then 1) not doing so and 2) never inviting ME. Eventually it was having to think “Either she does not want to be friends, or she does, but only if I do all the work of scheduling and chasing her and not taking her refusals personally” that ended the friendship. If you want to rekindle something you ended, I think it’s on you to get specific about dates, and THEN accept a soft no if that’s what you get.

  2. Natheless said:

    I’ve had to turn a formerly closest friend into a small doses friend. It’s working out fairly well, I think, though it has been hard to remember at times the part about not trusting her with personal business. (Which has sadly been like unto sharing ammunition in the past.)

    She and her partner are facing some very tough stuff and I actually want to be there for them both. So, wanting them to share their tough stuff with me while being a lot less forthcoming than in the past about myself is a little weird and devious-feeling.

    But, it’s better than over-sharing and then feeling unsupported. If I don’t ask her for the support/acceptance I’m know I’m not going to get I feel a lot better about not getting it. I have other friends for those needs.

    Love this advice for LW, spot on.

    • Nathless, I am in the process of doing the same thing. It’s a really similar situation – I want to support her when she needs me, but I have learned that she’s not the best person to go to when I need someone. It feels a bit like lying somehow, but it has made me feel so much better.

      I did want to ask, if you don’t mind – my friend is beginning to notice that I’m pulling back and she’s hurt. I hate that she feels bad, but at the same time, going back to the way it was would be really bad for me, and I can’t manage my own complicated feelings about this friendship as well as hers. Did your friend notice your disengagement? If she did, what did you say when she noticed?

      • LW here. I was the one who got disengaged FROM (and given the violet), not the one who did the disengaging, but I definitely did notice. We were living together mind you, it was hard not to. When I asked what was up rather than getting an answer of “I need some space/am sorting through some stuff/need to handle some stuff on my own but (insert reassurance that we’re still friends/she still likes me) so just (specific request or boundary of how I can help)” I got an Ice Queen “Everything is fine” answer which left me more confused and hurt then I had been before. I *knew* something was up, but I also knew I was getting frozen out and I had no idea why, or how I could fix it and she just kind of radiated passive-aggressive ice at me for months. Like, she would be in a different room and do it- it was actually really impressive. This is also part of what led to the eventual feelings bomb on her part because she sat on it for months.

        You know your friend, your situation, and her temperament, and it may be very different than ours was. However I would have done a lot better if I had just up front been told she felt kind of smothered because we were around each other constantly and she just needed some time away from me because I was getting on her nerves (or even just she needed some space, I’d have filled in the blanks) than her trying to hide anything being wrong from me and letting the whole thing spiral.

        • blessedjessed said:

          Hi LW – first off, I’m really sorry about what happened with your friend. It sounds like a horrible thing to have to deal with.

          Thanks for your view from the other side – I’ll do my best to let my friend know I still care about her and that we’ll still be friends, and I just need a little more space in the friendship. I have also taken a vow not to be passive-aggressive, so hopefully after we’ve both adjusted to the new boundaries, then we can carry on just fine.

          Finally, thank you for giving me advice in the comments to your own letter – sorry to hijack and I really hope that whatever path you take will work out well for you.

      • Natheless said:

        Blessedjessed, I am not sure my friend has realized. We did have a blow out and took a break for several months before resuming contact, so the relationship was reset then and things are a bit different on both sides.

        She hasn’t said anything to me, and she’s got so much heavy stuff going on that it is quite possible she hasn’t got the head space available to have noticed that I talk more about what I’m doing these days than what I’m feeling.

        There’s no cold shoulder or pointed avoidance going on, just a shift in topics and level of detail. I hope she hasn’t noticed or been hurt.

        Showing a little extra interest in your friend’s doings might help reassure her that you still like her and make it less noticeable that you’re pulling back on personal confidences.

        • piny1 said:

          yes – it’s difficult to remember when you’re annoyed, but you can always try to shape the relationship yourself in active ways. And it can be extremely helpful for the other person to have some sense of what you want or prefer.

        • blessedjessed said:

          Thanks for the advice – I’ll try and make her feel extra cherished and reassured. As I said, I’m absolutely fine being there for her whenever she needs me – I’ll make sure that she knows that from now on.

  3. MissWhich said:

    I love the Captain’s reply (although I do share Michelle’s concern above), and I wanted to add that I’ve been in a similar situation which turned out very happily. My best friend from elementary school all through high school begin acting erratically during our senior year. It turns out that she was misdiagnosed for some mental stuff and was taking medications that exacerbated her condition (which didn’t become clear for some time- I had no idea why she was acting the way she was), and on top of that, we were under a really awful amount of personal stress in our very strict prep school (I dropped almost 20 pounds that I couldn’t afford to lose from stress and anxiety.) Things culminated with her screaming at me in the halls at school (this was after a series of uncool things), and I African Violeted her. After about 2 years, we tentatively tried to revive the friendship, and now, almost 10 years post-Violet, we are just as close as we were before, despite living many states away from each other. I hope things work out for you and your friend in a way that makes you feel comfortable, safe, and awesome! *jedi hugs*

  4. Kate said:

    “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.”

    I seeeeeeeeriously needed this little reminder right now. Like, to the T, exactly what I’m feeling about someone at this very moment. This is something I’d like to print out and put in a folder to look at when interacting with someone new feels stressful.

    I’ve had the African Violet of Broken Friendship retracted, and I’ve also taken it back from a couple people I had given it to. Those friendships never went back to what they had been before, and they were also never as strong. It’s usually easier to return to an old, previously broken friendship if you don’t see that person all that much or if you live a good distance from them. A lot of the time you’ll remember exactly why the Violet had been extended in the first place.

    I definitely agree with keeping it light and not putting too much or yourself out there. One of my old friends I recently got back together with showed a lot of interest in certain aspects of my personal life, and I wasn’t too comfortable sharing the deets with her. I tend to treat those repaired friendships as permanent low dosage, so they’re not privy to most of my personal stuff and most likely won’t be around me all too much from that point on.

    Good luck LW!

  5. gmg said:

    “Small doses friend” — YES. This is how I kept my grad-school roommate in my life after our living situation imploded, temporarily taking down our friendship with it. (Like the LW, I was dealing with depression at the time.) I wanted to keep a connection but I didn’t want to leave the door too far open to some of the dysfunctionality that had taken up residence in all our personal interactions. Over a lot of time, we built up good memories again to take the place of the bad ones. She’s now again one of my closest friends, she’s moving out of the country soon, and dang, I’m gonna miss her. But those “small doses” were essential to rebuilding the friendship on terms that worked for both of us.

    • gmg said:

      I should add — a new friendship that resembles the old one might not happen for the LW and her friend. The “small doses” theory isn’t about needing to rebuild a friendship on the same terms; it’s about the parties in the friendship taking care of themselves emotionally. It might happen, it might not, either way is cool because that’s what’s meant to happen. But I think it CAN happen, and sometimes that the new friendship can be even stronger because the people in it have learned from the past.

  6. Jenn said:

    LW it might be good to ask yourself if you really want to rekindle this friendship. You don’t have to just because the other person wants to. And you shouldn’t if you’re doing to quell the lingering guilt about the Bad Stuff in the past. It’s okay to want to keep this as a friendly acquaintanceship instead of being BFFs.

  7. crazycakes said:

    “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.”

    Oh boy, did this resonate with me as well. I had a friend all through college and part of university, when we were roomies, and it was a case of ‘when our friendship was good, it was very very good, but when it was bad, it was horrid.’ I won’t go into the details, other than to say she was a very unhappy and bitter person, who made anyone she got close to very aware that she was unhappy and bitter. Her guilt trips were frequent — including over my having boyfriends when she didn’t, and later my marriage when she was single, my having children when she couldn’t. (I still remember her reaction when I told her I was pregnant with my second child: “That’s just great. Now everyone I know is pregnant!”)

    After I moved in with my then-boyfriend, now husband, we saw each other less and less, but even as small and infrequent as the doses were, it still felt like a chore, and left me each time feeling unhappy and conflicted — and guilty for feeling that way, because she was (once again) going through a hard time, and since we were long-time friends who had gone through so many life changes together.

    After almost a year of not seeing her, she made contact again and we briefly re-established the friendship. It finally came down to my having a panic attack over a Christmas card she sent me for me to realize once and for all that I was maintaining the strained, off-and-on friendship more out of a sense of duty, not wanting to be a meanie, and simply for old time’s sake, than from actually liking her. She made me feel bad more than she made me feel good, and I had simply reached the point where it was almost physically hurting me to spend any time with her. So I bailed completely — not even an email. And while part of me regrets not having told her why I was breaking up with her for good, the other part knows that I had to go cold turkey. There were just too many bad feelings there — bad feelings that I didn’t actually like her enough to really want to even rehash with her, much less resolve.

    All to say, I think the small dose idea is a good one, but I heartily agree that if even the small doses feel like work and, moreover, if the work feels painful, frustrating, and/or guilt-ridden and duty-bound, then it’s not the sort of work that’s likely to reap positive, happy results.

  8. Andie said:

    Hear you loud and clear, LW. My best friend African Violeted me about 3 years ago, (I too, was going through “Stuff”) and we just recently, in the last six months, got back in contact with each other. I knew that after the way things ended, I didn’t feel I could feel as close to her, but I still wanted to know how she was doing, as well as her kids and husband. We’re kind of ‘Facebook close’ right now. A small-doses (which is easy, since we live 1500km apart) type thing where we can say hi every so often and maybe hang out when she’s visiting family, and share goofy things that we both used to enjoy, but we both have different ‘best friends’ now and that’s okay.

  9. Bittybird said:

    Can I just say, I love the notion and description of “fast burn” and “slow burn”? I’m a slow burn, and it describes so perfectly an aspect of myself that I’ve found hard to articulate.

    The captain’s advice is spot on. Especially, it sounds like the few years you were apart were college-age years (whether or not college was involved–and I’m just guessing that based on that she’s a high school bestie, so I may be wrong). People change and grow through their whole lives, but a lot of people change a LOT during those particular years. You may genuinely be dealing with a new person. Or you may be dealing with the same old problems in a new package. You don’t actually know who she is right now, and if that’s a person you care to be around (but you do know the person she was before was no good for you, so keep that in mind). Treat her like a friend-of-a-friend (which she kind of is–the friend of old you!) that you might be interested in getting to know, but only if you have friend chemistry.

  10. Loren said:

    I love the ‘small-doses’ friend idea. I have an old high-school friend who, while our friendship didn’t explode, just wasn’t reciprocating our friendship the way I hoped or wanted. She wasn’t in a good place in her life, was in a relationship I didn’t trust, and only wanted to get together on her terms.
    So I basically stopped asking her to hang out. And waited for HER to contact ME. Now we only get together once or twice a year. And I do not put any more effort into the planning than I absolutely need to, we just do not get the same things out of interaction with each other.
    If you are feeling questionable about the interaction LW, then I would wait for HER to suggest something specific. A specific time or place to get together. Sometimes ‘Lets get coffee’ is just a polite suggestion, not an actual invitation.

  11. icelimbo said:

    First, I think the Captain’s advice is generally good. But I will say I think a larger amount of caution is called for here, mainly because of the difference in “fast burn”/”slow burn” compounded by this: “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.” Weddings are funny things. Sometimes, they allow us to realize what’s most important in our lives, and who is most important. They can encourage us to try to reconnect with people who we keep meaning to reconnect with, because (often) the atmosphere at weddings is full of hope and camaraderie and strong feelings of unity. That’s a great thing.

    But sometimes, people use that atmosphere to force an issue where they are looking to manipulate. Everyone feels good, so let’s reconnect…and soon after, I’ll tell you what favor(s) I need from you (literal, emotional, whatever), now that we’re close again.

    And sometimes the situation falls in between, where you both can be swept up by the emotion and, without even meaning to, you put yourselves on a path to reconnecting when, in reality, there were very good reasons why you stayed acquaintances. This situation happened to me not long ago (at a class reunion, not a wedding; similar overall feelings), and I wonder if this might be what’s happening with the LW as well.

    In that instance and in previous experiences, the rescinding of African Violets, no matter which direction, has led to more damage instead of mending relationships. Ofttentimes there are very good reasons why relationships don’t last, and that’s okay. My two cents.

  12. Oh man, LW, I’ve been in a somewhat similar situation before. Except that I was the one who gave the African Violet and they were the ones who tried to re-establish contact. I was like 10 when I gave the Violet because they weren’t healthy for me at the time at all. I ran into them about 5-8 years later, we exchanged pleasantries, and moved on. I thought that that would be it and all was well.

    But they called me a week or two after that and flat out asked, “Do you want to be friends again?” They weren’t asking to do something together and see how things went, they flat out asked if I just wanted to be their friend again. Awkward. I gave it some honest thought, but in the end, I had to say no. My gut was saying that this was still not a good friendship for me to be in.

    LW, I suggest you do a lot of thinking about this but I don’t think it would hurt to, as the Captain suggested, have your friend be a “small doses” friend for the time being. And if things mesh and your friendship grows stronger? Then awesome! You can then maybe start hanging out again more frequently. But if something in you keeps going, “NOPE NOPE NOPE!”, you can either keep them permanently on the “small doses” list or do a slow fade knowing you at least gave it a shot.

  13. peregrinations said:

    “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.”

    Others have already commented on this section, but I want to add another +1 to this advice. I’ve had two very different experiences with rescinded African Violets in the last couple years:

    Friend #1 and I had been really close friends for ~5 years. Then I went through some Big Stuff, and Friend #1 was not there for me, at all. I was really hurt by this, and after some heated, tearful phone and text conversations, I African Violet’ed her. She respected this, and we didn’t talk for about 6 months. I left town for a few months and dealt with Big Stuff, then came back to town and, after a few weeks, contacted Friend #1. We started off, not quite at the beginning, but definitely as “smaller doses” friends. We never became quite as close as we had been, but did get pretty close again, and are still friends today.

    Friend #2 and I had been friends for almost a year. Though we had become fast friends, I came to realize our relationship was very one-sided. I listened to and supported her daily with her issues, but she repeatedly invalidated me when I tried to talk about mine. After a particularly pointed invalidation, I Used My Words, explained how her words and actions made me feel, and asked for support. She said she’d do better, then stopped talking to me for a month (AV#1). I kept up small talk and we built back up to maybe a “medium doses” friendship, but after a couple months she again invalidated me – and even worse than before – so I gave her AV#2. After this I tried to cut back to “small doses”, but I found that I dreaded seeing her, felt I really had to defend myself around her, and couldn’t let go of the past, so I pretty much don’t talk to her anymore.

    So I recommend really thinking, hard, about whether you *want* to be friends with this person again, and whether you can let go of the past and start over. It’s okay to say no to one or both of those questions; you’re not obligated to be friends again just because you once were. But if you can – and, importantly, she can too – you might be able to be friends again. Good luck whichever route you choose!

  14. Phospher said:

    This is great and terribly timely for me too. The one thing I sort of disagree with — and it’s only a shade away from semantic hairsplitting, I admit, is the “In a perfect world,” bit. It’s the perfect world that stresses me out! (Of course, my own version of this situation is not identical to LW’s, but it has some fairly strong parallels). In the perfect world certain things never happened. Or if, they did happen, they would not hurt. The wonderful friendship we once had and surely could have gone on having *somehow* is just fine in the perfect world. In the perfect world my feelings wouldn’t fluctuate. In the perfect world I handle everything perfectly and I nothing I do would even potentially look awkward or weird to anyone (internal voice: “Did it look weird when I left the party when I did? I don’t think so but should I have stayed longer and walked home with her? Maybe she thought I was going to but I didn’t want to!” Etc etc) I am perfectly happy in the perfect world because I do everything perfectly so none of my feelings could possibly be stupid. Why am I not willng to do almost anything to get to the perfect world? I should be trying at all times to get to the perfect world!

    I know, of course, you don’t mean “perfect world” in that sense. But I find thinking in terms of “good enough” helps me take the overall attitude you’re advising more easily. I.e “What do I want to happen now, in THIS world — accepting that it is not perfect and she is not perfect and I am not perfect? It can be good enough. Just doing what makes me feel most comfortable right now is good enough.”

  15. human said:

    I love the bit about small-doses friends and I really appreciate the statement that this is okay.

    I have a friend who I like quite a lot but for various reasons I have to have firm boundaries with her and she has to be a small-doses friend. She needs more in a friend than I can really give, but I do give what I can and enjoy our friendship (and I think she does too). She responds really well to my boundary setting and things work but despite that I often have felt guilty, either because she asked me for something I couldn’t give, or because she clearly wanted something I couldn’t give even though she didn’t ask.

    But – I guess it really IS okay that we have the friendship we have and not necessarily the friendship she would choose if she got to choose it, so long as that works for both of us. It’s not like the not-me friend gets to set all the terms of any friendship that I have. So I suppose I should remind myself of this if I get guilty feelings again. 🙂

  16. MamaCheshire said:

    This feels familiar to me. Violets often seem to follow friend-to-housemate situations, especially when the moving in together was preceded by some kind of major crisis and one person was extending a helping hand to another, and ground rules either weren’t set in the first place or were set at first but ignored later.

    The underlying problem, in my case after going through it a few times, was a bad case of Geek Social Fallacy #3, “Anything For a Friend” which I was both a serious carrier of personally AND was quite common in our social circle.

    When Cute Gay Housemate got tired of the horrible job market in the city where we were living together, and left for greener pastures elsewhere, I had the “Revolving Roommates saga”: six different roommates, not counting now-Spouse, over the course of about two and a half years, and in different combinations. (#1 and #2 lived with me as a couple, then #3 by herself, then #4 and #5 with #3 still occasionally staying in my living room and hanging out during the day, then #3 and her boyfriend #6, then nobody for a little while, then #3 again without #6, then she started dating #1 and they lived with me for a bit.)

    The only one I’m not speaking to at all, at this point, is #6 (because of Reasons having to do with him being a physically unsafe person), but I went through either the actual African Violet or the Cactus of Keep-Your-Distance with all but #2, who mistakenly believed she had lost friend-custody of me after breaking up with #1. (Glad we sorted that out after running into each other while grocery shopping, since she’s awesome.)

    #4 and I, in particular, had a few years of the Cactus of Keep-Your-Distance. We didn’t live in the same city (or same STATE) for a while and for a bit it felt like a friendship in name only. But we changed in similar directions, and then she asked me for advice about applying to social work school. And we got close again – our friendship now is not our friendship of 12 years ago, but it’s strong and awesome.

    OTOH, #1 sent me the Violet pretty angrily at one point, then two years later expressed a lot of regret for having done so and we started talking again. We tried to resume our former friendship, but…cliche, I know, I had changed and he really hadn’t, and then he did change, somewhat, in a direction that pushed us further apart. And it was really, really rough. We don’t talk that much now, which is sad but also a relief.

    • Erin said:

      The cactus of keep your distance is great. I need that in my life.

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      Sorry to hijack your rough times, and glad you’re over them, but is someone recording the _Cactus of Keep-Your-Distance_ for posterity? Because it’s awesome.

  17. Anisoptera said:

    LW I want to +1 everyone’s suggestion to take it slow and work out if you still like this person before attempting to be BFFs.

    I’ve rekindled friendships before, both after an african violet breakup and after slow fades and in all cases it’s turned out that there was a reason we lost touch with each other. In the case of the friend I had an explicit breakup with it was a terrible idea to get back in touch. I’d felt badly about my own behaviour when I’d first told her I didn’t want to be friends any more, and thought perhaps it was never really something she’d done wrong so much as a bad circumstance. On hind sight, after giving her the african violets *twice* more there were definitely good reasons for us not to be friends. Twice more because she was very good at getting back into my life and at the time I was helpless before the power of people who ignored a soft no (headdesk). I have since learned how to deliver a hard no when cornered, but at the time if the only way out of socialising was a blunt no I was incapable of doing it unless the other person had done something so egregious I felt justified in an angry blowout. Uh – thanks Captain Awkward for improving my social skills a thousand fold!

    Anyway, I’ve also attempted to rekindle relationships with people I’ve slow faded on and in the end it’s usually just reminded me of why I stopped catching up with them in the first place. I’ve not received an African violet friend breakup before but then I’m extremely easy to slow fade on because I’m already really bad at calling people and constantly afraid of bugging them.

    I get the sense that right now you feel like your original friend breakup was due to your own bad behaviour, but I would not be shocked if once you get seriously back in touch with this woman that you discover it wasn’t completely one sided. It does sound like she kicked you to the curb while you were in a bad place and left you in the lurch rent-wise.

    People change, so maybe it will work out – but the Captain’s suggestions for keeping her at arms length while you decide are a great idea.

  18. MamaCheshire said:

    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.

    Question about this, more generally, because it is a Thing with me and friendships that currently means almost all friends are “small-dose” friends in practice:

    What does it mean when interacting with ANY of your friends feels like work? When you dread the getting-together, but have a good time once you’re there, and in the end are happy you’ve done it?

    (Yes, I know in my case it probably means, “You’re about to be all-but-dissertation, and you also have a full-time job, a spouse and two kids, a gimpy leg that likes to hurt when you’re doing a lot of social activities, and a brain that likes to make getting out the door in the morning a grand ordeal. You’re tired and drained, but you’re still extroverted enough that everything is awesome once you’re with people.” I’m just wondering if I’m missing anything else obvious in this scenario.)

    • JenniferP said:

      Your comment isn’t about the friendships themselves, it sounds like, this is your general state of well-being & energy, especially since you say you are happy once you make the effort and it’s not about the quality of those relationships. I’m talking about when one particular friendship feels like work and you can’t relax or be easy in the person’s company.

    • Ve said:

      I agree. When I was depressed, trying to graduate from my hellhole of an alma mater while working 2 jobs, etc…any sort of interaction felt like “work,” at least mentally.

    • dov ber said:

      I also was wondering that. In particular, the “just getting to know” stage of friendship, regardless of with whom, feels like all work and no payoff to me. I certainly I have “stuff” going on that includes a pretty limited reserve of spoons, but the new friends mode of being with people does seem inherently work-like in a way that goes beyond that.

  19. Forgive the length. I’ve left a TL;DR

    The “if it feels like work…” quote. What’s the International Shorthand for “Wish I had read Captain Awkward”? Same for small doses. And burners.

    I’ve retracted two AV’s from friends with differing results.

    The first was also my creative partner in a decade long venture so it was quite a lot to let go of. At the same time I discovered some awareness and the whole concept of “forgiveness” began to work for me in terms of ending some longstanding beefs inside my head (family/relationship resentments having lingered… Top 10 list of the shittiest things to ever happen to me– etc.)
    Meanwhile I kept bumping into ex Creative Partner so that 18 months later we were standing next to each other promising we forgive each other and the loss of our friendship had been way underestimated etc. The venture was for certain finished. But the Social History Book was open again. The friendship has possibly endured another decade due to the simple fact we now live in separate Provinces.
    However–it was a small doses return. And is now back to him calling me up and telling me his secrets and he is one of only 3 people on the planet who can make me laugh to wake the neighbours. If he moved to this city I would be a little worried.
    The second AV was exactly the same type of relationship. Creative brilliance swilled with social security/popularity/community. But alas –he had what CA calls that *one* thing that blows all the UNICEF awards off the mantelpiece and I had to AV his ass in an email that to this day I hope he really deleted.
    Same deal: so many overlaps in our trade and social circle meant that some time about two yrs later we said how we really had forgiven each other and the amazingness we had lost had been inconsolable. I mean what if Lennon and McCartney had got back together? We owe it to humanity…

    The deal here is you really have to forgive.

    And we did.

    But alas that *one thing* eventually reared it’s head again simply because he and I are each “Fast Burners” (wihrca) and within a year we were in an ultimate crash (he drunkenly sabotaged a budding relationship I had started) that left me fully aggrieved and– of course the situation now became all about my reaction (ballistic) to his “prank.”

    (Plot detail: Of course his lying to my new gf plus asking her if she knew about my “fetish” and saying “oh I thought you were closer” when she demurred– he described as a prank and a laugh. But gf doesn’t care–just says both of us are too much trouble -AND WAS RIGHT. I was reeling from this and unfit to tie laces let alone date anybody.)

    Needless to say I’ve heard he is now sober and doing great guns. I still do freelance work for his organization. I see him at concerts and on the Metro. We’re cordial. He is a professional at a top notch University so we act like adults. He is one of only 3 people on the planet who can make me laugh and have the cops turn up.

    But I could never share a secret again with him.

    Although I have no general question I look forward to any advice on how to emotionally manage being a Fast Burner… And the dynamics with others varying degree of burner.

    TL;DR: Forgiveness and tabula rasa required. Then sell up and move out of town.

  20. I have never had this problem (I tend to not form close friendships at all, being very detached from others, so the friends I do have are mostly of the ‘we hang out to do this one mutual thing we really like that we need other people who we can tolerate to do it with’ variety), but I would like to start forming some closer relationships in the future. This is all very good stuff to know!

  21. Oof good luck LW. It sounds like you’re doing everything right and I really hope she’s genuine. I’m really interested by what you said about the slow burn vs fast burn thing; I had a very similar situation that African Violeted itself because my fast burn friend thought I never showed enough interest but it was really a conflict of burning speeds, (which incidentally reminds me of the introverts/extroverts article on this site – check it out if you haven’t.)

    With that in mind, by all means don’t see her straight away, but maybe let her know that? ‘Really busy with post wedding stuff at the moment, I’ll get in touch in X weeks.’ I know she made the first move, but it’s reasonable to assume you’re both vetting each other right now, and she might see you not getting in touch as a sign you’re not interested. I mean, if you got a message from her within a week saying to step up your game then yeah that’s a sign to stay away, but maybe a quick message to let her know you haven’t forgotten is how this new friendship will work.

    Best of luck!

  22. OpheliaDev said:

    “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.”

    Maybe I am reading too much into this, but this really bothered me. From what I understand, the two of you had a bad break-up and didn’t speak or barely spoke for several years, then on your wedding day she tells you she’s sober and wants together? I am assuming by “sober” meaning she is a recovering addict of some kind? In my opinion, a wedding is NOT the place to bring up an issue like that. To me, that right there is so pushy and selfish that I would avoid that person. “Hey, it’s one of the biggest days of your life, your friends and family are here to celebrate you, so I’ll oh-so-casually drop some info about my substance abuse problems and suggest we be friends again.” That feels so manipulative to me. It makes my skin crawl. I wasn’t there, so maybe that wasn’t it at all. But that’s what I took from the letter.

    Something else I want to add – several posters mentioned that they were able to resume friendships on a limited basis, and were able to enjoy that person’s company without sharing secrets or things they felt could be used against them. I think if that’s the case here, you should consider if you are the kind of person who can compartmentalize like that. I cannot. When I have tried, I have been resentful, on edge and unhappy. I cannot recatorgize somebody from “trusted friend” to “person I hold at a distance but still enjoy in some contexts.” If a person never reaches that “trusted friend” level, then I can very much enjoy their company in limited ways. But I can’t remove a person from my “circle of trust” and still enjoy their company.

    • Mary said:

      I read it as, “last time we saw each other, we were both a bit pissed and we said that we wanted to hang out more but we never did. I just want to reiterate that I still feel like that even though I haven’t had a drop to drink today!”

      I think heightened emotional conversations at someone’s weddings is a bit unfair, because there’s just so much STUFF going on. But for me it’s more in the “that was a bit badly timed” category than the “outrageous breach of boundaries” category.

    • The sobriety thing was “not drunk” because the last half dozen times we had bumped into each other had been at parties where everyone was drinking, not “I’ve kicked the habit that drove you away!”.

      Also as a note: She was at my wedding as one of the groom’s men’s plus one.

  23. I tend to be the type where, if I give the violet, it’s over. I am not asking someone to babysit the violet until I return. It’s a permanent gift. If someone can rekindle, that’s awesome, I support that. Just saying that I can’t.

  24. Ve said:

    When I gave a violet to my university best friend, admittedly enough, it was for reasons that weren’t entirely his fault. We didn’t talk for about 3 years afterwards.

    Then about a year ago, I sent him a message which apologized, explained myself, explained other things, etc., and let him know that he didn’t need to respond. When I decided to write him a message, I had to determine for myself the purpose of that letter. If it were to reconnect, I probably would have been too upset to write it, and I admitted this to myself. I wrote the message for him, to let him know that X and Y weren’t his fault, etc., which is one of the reasons I let him that he did not need to respond (plus we were technically not friends at that point, so he didn’t “owe” me a response, you know).

    He got back to me about a month later, asked to reconnect, and we were legitimately able to rekindle our friendship. We didn’t really bring up the past, in part because I had done so in that message, but also because it was more-or-less a moot point by then.

    This is pretty rare, it seems.

  25. Ladyloll said:

    This happened to me, I was not dealign with thijgs, my friend was not dealing with things, We were both over dosing on one another. It was BAD!

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