714: “How late is too late to repair a friendship?”

Dear Captain:

During the past couple of years, I have been growing apart from “Joy,” one of my best friends for more than two decades now. I’m godmother to her children (whom I love deeply), we share many mutual friends, and we have a lot of the same interests. But she really, horribly failed me about two years ago, and it seems like I cannot get over it.

What happened: After about three years of expensive, emotionally grueling fertility treatments, I went in for one final “hail mary” attempt. I’d tried hard not to vent all over everyone about the psychological ups and downs of this, but I had definitely told Joy that this was the last try, that I was pretty scared about it, etc. She was supportive, though not on a very close level–which at the time I wrote off to her being really busy with work concerns, and not trying to “get my hopes up” or something like that.

Well, the final treatment failed too. That night, I texted her to tell her the bad news, and said something like, “I’m feeling really blue and would appreciate it if we could spend some time together tonight.” Her response — and I am not making this up — was “Oh, poop.” Then she said she’d helped her son fix some stuff in his room and was kind of tired, so she didn’t want to get together that night.

Probably I should’ve been angry at the time. But I was so miserable that it hardly even registered. I spent the night alone, crying.

A fairly significant depressive episode followed, but through therapy, drugs and plain old making peace with never having kids, I’ve pulled myself together again. As I’ve done so, though, Joy’s total failure to reach out to me that night or at any point thereafter has loomed larger and larger in my mind as being Not Okay At All. I try to rationalize it–like, I know I’m not the best at asking for emotional support, etc. — but dammit, that was one of the times I actually did it right! And how emotionally numb do you have to be not to get that the last fertility treatment’s failure would be devastating?

What makes it worse is that I had been a person she called on during past significant troubles in her life. After her husband left her, I sometimes spent an hour a day on the phone with her, for a couple of months, letting her vent. When she miscarried a baby years ago, while her then-husband was out of the country on business, I was the one who picked her up at the hospital, took her home and settled her in. What I’m saying is, I showed up for Joy when it was really rough, a lot of times, and the one time I needed that from her, I got “oh, poop.”

I’m not the best at dealing with conflict ever, but I’m okay generally. In this case, I was so devastated by the fertility failure that I didn’t even have the emotional energy to focus on this until so long after the fact. Now I’m really resentful of it–and I know Joy has sensed my greater distance and displeasure. But only last week–where we were at a girls’ lunch and she blithely started talking about how she thinks would-be single moms are “all crazy”, that I realized she didn’t even remember that I’d tried to have a baby on my own. I mean, the information is in her brain, but apparently she had so completely disregarded my experiences that she saw no reason whatsoever not to spout off. (She’s not a deliberately hurtful person, generally — I think.) Whatever reason she thinks I’ve backed off–well, I have no idea what it is, but she obviously hasn’t recognized the truth.

So now I’m like, do I say something this long after the fact? Is that going to wreck the friendship? Because I don’t think this is like an issue where we “work it out” — I mean, I think she just totally fucked up and would need to apologize and try to do better. And I don’t know that I trust her to do that any more. The worst part is–you know, I love her kids. I’ve been a babysitter/chaperone/adult friend to both of them throughout their lives, and we are all three very close. If I confront Joy about this and she pulls back, do I lose them too? (They are no longer small, but also not quite old enough for me to feel sure we’d continue our own independent relationships.) I feel like I haven’t spoken up for so long that the scar tissue can never really heal, and maybe I should just … accept that she’s a hang-out friend, not a truly deep friend any longer. But am I wrong about that? Can you bring up something so long after the fact and work on it constructively?

I’m trying so hard to learn how to talk more about what I need, but this one has me depressed and confused. Any thoughts?

Not-Mom

Dear Not-Mom,

I’m not Joy, so I can’t possibly explain what was going through her mind that night years ago, or when she said her recent oblivious comments. But I am going to tell you that she probably doesn’t understand why you are upset or even really remember the night of “oh poop.” Either she was legitimately exhausted after a long day with her son and had nothing left over for you, or she didn’t really understand how important it was to you, or she figured you’d talk more about it another day but that day never really came, or she knew she fucked up and then didn’t know how to mend fences afterward. Whatever happened, she has a different memory and a different story about that time than you do, and this much later, and it is very unlikely that a spontaneous apology where she realizes how much she hurt you and brings it up with you is coming.

You’re worried about wrecking the friendship by speaking up, but doesn’t your anger about this already wreck it, for you? You’ve got to either pick off the scab and lance the infection of anger underneath, keep drifting away, or decide in yourself to forgive her in a way that allows you to let go of the anger but hold on to the good parts. Waiting in silence, pulling ever-so-slightly further away, waiting for her to notice what’s wrong isn’t going to get it done. So think your first step here is to figure out what you want your friendship to look like going forward. If things could be fixed, how often do you want to see her? In what contexts and venues? Do you want to be as close as before, or do you want to find a more arms-length resting point where you still have your history and relationship with her children, but you look elsewhere for that deep bond? If you got an apology for what happened, would it be enough for you to move forward? What does “fixed” look like?

If you decide that you do want to mend fences with your friend, and you want her (and her kids*) in your life, talk to her. “Joy, the other day at lunch, you said something that really hurt my feelings. It was about people who want to be single moms being ‘crazy.’ Do you not even remember that I went through three rounds of fertility treatments so I could become a single mom? And is that what you think about me?

Listen to what she says and tailor all of this so it’s responsive and makes sense in your own words.

“I’ve been racking my brain trying to imagine what would make you say something like that. Back when the last treatment failed, I felt like I reached out to you and really needed your support, but you responded ‘oh poop’ and were too busy for me. It felt like you didn’t get how important it was to me, at all. I’ve been angry about that for a long time, and it’s been affecting how I feel about our friendship, and your words the other day really brought it to a head in a painful way.”

Hopefully she’ll say something that has the words “I’m sorry” in there somewhere and y’all can figure it out. While it’s not your responsibility to make amends to yourself, anything you can do to let her know what would clear the air for you, what would reassure you, what support you would appreciate, etc. is helpful. In the face of others’ grief, sometimes people withdraw because they don’t know what to do or say. Not knowing doesn’t make it okay, or make the pain less painful for the person who feels deserted, but if you can somehow help your friend complete the apology conversation circuit she will probably be grateful.

If you think you can and want to have that conversation, and if you think that you can be okay with whatever comes out of it, then no, it’s not too late to try to fix the friendship. Rebuilding things will take some time and patience and effort from both of you, so don’t pressure yourself to be all smiles all the time right away. I hope you find some peace and the friendship and support you deserve, whatever you decide.

*Unless the kids are adults or close to it, I don’t think you can African Violet their mom and still plan to be in their lives.

162 comments
  1. human said:

    Unless the kids are adults or close to it, I don’t think you can African Violet their mom and still plan to be in their lives.

    Yeah, this, for sure. I moved away from an ex-best-friend whose young children I was very close to. For various reasons our friendship had run its course — it wasn’t quite an African Violet situation, but definitely a dial-it-back-to-acquaintanceship one. I tried to stay in touch with the kids through letters, phone calls, etc. but they were not at an age where they could make meaningful contact that way or be good correspondants. It got to a point where I gave up because without getting replies I didn’t have a way to even know if they were getting what I sent. After a while the older kid got email, and we wrote for a while, but her dad read all her messages and would send me weird emails referencing what we had discussed, and then she got her email taken away for getting in trouble and I couldn’t write her anymore. I still feel bad because I wonder if those kids think I just stopped caring about them but there was little I could do.

    Anyway, most of that long story is not relevant here, but my point is, you really can’t have a relationship with young (or even medium sized) kids independent of their mom. So if these kids are important to you, definitely figure that in to what you decide to do about the friendship.

    But also, a lot of that power rests in their mom’s hands so if it does go sour and you end up not being a part of the kids’ lives… well… we don’t always control the things we would want to. Hold it lightly, I guess would be my advice.

    Good luck and I’m sorry for your painful experience.

    • Amy said:

      I think this (the ability to stay in contact with the kids but not the parent(s)) depends on what the kids and the parents are like. I was emailing with adults (adults I knew, not, like, Internet creepers) sans parental interference by age nine, because I didn’t want my parents up in my stuff and they allowed me to use the Internet unsupervised. But on the other hand, I know people who didn’t get to have semi-private communications until they got their college email addresses and dorm mailboxes. And I also know people like my sister, who absolutely could have exercised the same freedom I did, but still shows our parents most every email and letter she receives, though she’s turned 18 and will be going to college in the fall. So I think if Joy is like my parents and her kids are like me (and they like the LW as much as the LW likes them), the LW could stay in contact, but otherwise I’d say you’re right that it’s not an option.

      • Were you in contact with people your parents actively distrusted or disliked? I ask because if this friendship fractures, that’s probably how Joy will feel about LW

        • Amy said:

          Just one, my neighbor down the street who was very kind to me but whom my parents disliked because she fed me cookies when I wasn’t allowed to eat them (because according to some quack my parents trusted, cookies cause autism? So the neighbor was evilly trying to turn me autistic? (note: I do not endorse these beliefs regarding either the cause or moral value of autism, because they are ridiculous)). But my parents never even knew I was emailing with her, so there wasn’t a problem. Just to be clear, though, I’m not saying that I think the LW and Joy’s kids are likely to be in a similar situation, just that it’s a possibility.

          • Cactus said:

            Wow. I’ve heard a lot of weird quack theories about what causes autism (and I am right there with you that autism is neither morally suspect nor caused by anything within our control), but this is the first time I’ve heard about cookies being the culprit.

          • Ah. It sounds as though your parents might’ve been ok with you continuing in contact with someone they disliked, but maybe not someone they distrusted.

            Your parents sound like great people

  2. What makes it worse is that I had been a person she called on during past significant troubles in her life.

    That always sucks. The counterintuitive truth is, in a dynamic where friend A usually takes the supportive role, friend B doesn’t always reciprocate in the rarer cases when friend A needs support. Friend B isn’t used to it. Friend B assumes that friend A is always able to handle anything and thus doesn’t require anything from anyone else.

    That’s why even asking for specific help directly won’t always work. The friend you’ve always been there for won’t take it seriously until you say, “No, REALLY.”

    • golden peanut said:

      Thanks for that insight. That particular dynamic has never occurred to me.

    • Was coming down to say exactly this, although I appreciate the link below to an actual study about it (thanks cinderkeys!).

    • attica said:

      Yes, I’ve certainly experienced this. What also may be the case is that Friend B simply doesn’t have the emotional skill set to support Friend A when support is required. Part of that skill set, of course, is recognizing ‘oh, Friend A needs support!’ or even being able to hear it when Friend A explicitly says so. Those are muscles that need exercise, and without them, they sometimes atrophy.

      If I were in the LW’s shoes, I’d mentally rewrite the parameters of the friendship to reflect that her friend is not (and won’t likely be) One Who Can Be Counted On. Which will feel sad, but will ultimately be freeing when your now more realistic expectations can be met.

      • Yeah. It sounds like Letterwriter was on Team Friend, but Friend wasn’t anywhere near being on Team Letterwriter.

      • Somniorum said:

        So, my best friend/roommate and I have the dynamic whereby he gives me insane amounts of moral and emotional support, and I’m only able to give him back a little bit.

        A lot of it has to do with needing different things when in pain. For myself, I first need to be able to vent, and then I want to be cheered up (which is fortunately super easy to do).

        My best friend needs to be able to spit out pure poison about himself (okay!) but without reassurance (oh). Which, as maybe anyone can imagine, is really hard to do. Double that with the fact that I have a parent who committed suicide, and I’m pretty useless to him when he’s hurting.

        So, we’ve worked out that when he needs cheering up or distraction, I’m the one he calls upon.

        And yeah, I do feel guilt that I can’t provide what he needs to feel better but, I also accept that it wouldn’t do anyone any good if he did let that out and I had an Episode over it.

      • azurelunatic said:

        I know I’ve been in scenarios where I had friends who possessed the capacity to give me support in times of trouble, but whose actual skills in comforting were not particularly well-honed. That’s resulted in conversations like:

        “Friend, I know you’re trying to comfort me when you [construct elaborate and impractically violent revenge fantasies about my terrible ex] but it’s actually stressing me out. Could we [have a cup of tea and talk about terrible science fiction] instead?”

        and

        “Friend, I am feeling awful right now and could use some support. Would you be able to [tell me that I’m not an inherently terrible person] and [watch a movie together]?”

        Though in Joy’s case it sounds like she did not have the spare capacity at that point in time, in addition to not super great/mismatched comforting skills.

    • That really resonates with me.

      (content warning: miscarriage, trying to conceive)

      I have a friend who I’ve been close to since we were babes in arms. She was matron of honour at my wedding, and we’ve been through a hell of a lot together. It has ALWAYS been me she comes to if she needs to vent about anything at all. Similarly to the LW, I was going through a really awful time trying to conceive and asked her if she was ok to meet me for a drink and a chat so I could talk to her about what was on my mind. Which she did, for all of five minutes before abruptly changing the subject and talking about her wonderful children for the next half hour. I really didn’t want to talk about children under those circumstances, to be honest, much as I love hers.

      Then she said, “I wasn’t going to tell you this because I didn’t want to upset you, but I found out I was pregnant again. I went for my 12-week scan but they found no heartbeat so they had to abort.” I was horrified and just about to apologise for inadvertently choosing such a time to vent about my own difficulties conceiving, but she held up a hand to stop me and said, “Don’t feel bad for me. I’m fine. In fact I’m really happy and relieved because I seriously don’t want another kid and wasn’t sure what to do. I honestly believe this was God’s way of sorting it out for me.”

      (By the way, she’s been pregnant 6 times – none of which she had to try for, they just happened. She’s had her share of pain along the way, granted, and I think she was probably playing down the shock and hurt she must have felt when this happened, even if she didn’t want another one. But yeah, ouch.)

      I totally wish I had known what to say to her at the time. I never did tell her how hurtful that was, but I’ve been able to let it go because my circumstances have changed. I would absolutely say something if she did it again though. Thing is, I just left feeling like she didn’t want to listen to what I had to say and was only interested in using me to rant about her own stuff. It wasn’t the first time. I remember once she just ranted for an hour and a half about how her husband and various other people had annoyed her lately, and then after I spent 10 minutes telling her about a problem I had, she cut me off and went back to complaining about her husband. Then later she told a mutual friend that every time she saw me I just moaned about my problems and wouldn’t let her talk about her own! I was kind of baffled. The timings I have there are actually based on me looking at my watch, not how long it seemed at the time!

      So yeah, thanks for this link. It makes more sense to me now. I always knew she was a really good, selfless person and couldn’t figure out why she did this.

      • Megan M. said:

        Yikes. I’m so sorry you went through that and that your friend was insensitive to your pain.

      • I’m a naturally quiet person who hates talking over people or competing for airspace, so I’ve more than once called a friend up for support or sympathy but after falteringly getting out a tiny bit of my own situation, spent an hour quietly fuming as they talked about theirs. Some people are really uncomfortable with silence or difficult conversations, and leap in to fill the dead air.

        With some friends I’ve started to say, “I’m bottling,” (short for “bottling up my emotions”) which is a codeword for, “I’m trying to say something difficult but if you talk about your own stuff or indicate you are anything but 100% into hearing the words once I get to them I will shut up, then silently resent you for not listening.” It’s a cue for them to try to be okay with the difficulty as they sit back, breathe, sip their drink, or whatever, and wait for me to find the words. We’re temporarily putting normal conversational protocols on hold because I’m so ruthlessly socialized into burying my own stuff that I need a special state of listening to talk sometimes. It helps because normally I’m the listen-er and not used to requesting attention as the listen-ee, so I have to do it in a kind of clumsy way instead of just assuming conversational airspace is my right like people without my specific developmental trauma.

        • Sometimes going meta is the best solution. And sometimes people need to be taught how to listen. Lesson #1: A few seconds of silence doesn’t mean the other person is done.

          • rhythla said:

            Exactly! My brain needs some time to process what I want to say into appropriate words (either it comes out incoherent or it sounds really offensive because I couldn’t find a better word), so it annoys me too when people jump in. I am also a default-listener (because I am a very good active listener), but as such, I do not get a chance to talk much more often than not.

            Like amberxebi, I have found that other people think that they are listening and I am doing all the talking when the reverse is objectively true frequently (as in, I can tell based on the clock – not that I am watching the time, but I am shocked when I finally do look at the clock).

            My favorite is when some people try to berate you for not “being a part of the conversation” when they never stop for breath, or they talk over you every time you try to speak. Or when they accuse you of being a “Debbie Downer” because “all you do is complain” because the one time you got to talk, it was about something bothering you.

        • Cactus said:

          I know that feeling. I tend to dissociate when talking about certain difficult subjects–something that started in the immediate aftermath of being raped–and whenever that happens it can be hard to find my words, so the last time my husband and I had a conversation like that I kept saying “I’m floating” so he’d realize what was happening, wouldn’t change the topic, and wouldn’t ask questions that I wasn’t sure how to answer.

        • Luminous said:

          With some friends I’ve started to say, “I’m bottling,” (short for “bottling up my emotions”) which is a codeword for, “I’m trying to say something difficult but if you talk about your own stuff or indicate you are anything but 100% into hearing the words once I get to them I will shut up, then silently resent you for not listening.”

          I am seriously going to try this sometime. I am too often resentful of the times when I can’t get a word in edgewise because by the time I think of what I need to say, the other person is talking a mile a minute and I don’t know how to interrupt them and make it about my needs.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Thanks to cinderkeys for the link!

      “in a dynamic where friend A usually takes the supportive role, friend B doesn’t always reciprocate in the rarer cases when friend A needs support.”

      This was my experience. My best friend for over a decade and I had our relationship fractured by a deceitful mutual friend. But after we repaired the breach, the giant sympathy gap was very glaring, and I didn’t want to take up my former supportive role.

      The energy that been going into helping her life, was being used to develop my own, which worked out really well for me. No matter how it happened, pulling away was necessary if I was going to be more than an appendage to her.

      She admitted to being deficient in empathy when I was going through a very difficult time a couple years ago, and that my problems made her uncomfortable. Since the high level of investment wasn’t there anymore, I could take it as an apology, and gave her a small concrete thing to do for me as a kind of friendship token.

      It’s been a decade since our ‘breakup’, and we have a comfortable casual friendship where we see each other a few times a year, mainly in a group with other friends.

  3. Drew said:

    First of all, please let me say that I am so very sorry that your fertility treatments did not work. To want children and not be able to have them has clearly been painful to you, and I admire your strength in soldiering on and reaching out for the help you need.

    The sense I am getting from your letter is that you would really like to mend fences with Joy, even if you cannot recapture the closeness you used to have. Unfortunately, you cannot do that alone — Joy gets a say as well, and if she is hurting because you pulled away, she may not be interested. However, if this is what you want, I think it’s worth the effort of reaching out. Schedule a coffee date or something equally low-impact — so if it turns out the bridge is well and truly burned, you can escape — or, to be more positive, if the discussion gets really emotional but it’s obvious you’re making progress, you can move it somewhere more private without having to call for a check.

    I think the script I would use as a starting point is, “Joy, you may not even remember saying this when we got together last week, but you made a comment about single moms that really hurt me. I know that wasn’t what you intended to do, but it did, and I think it’s time I cleared the air about something that’s been hurting me for a long time that I wish I had told you much sooner. The night I found out my last fertility treatment had failed, I called you because I really needed your love and support right then, and it felt like you blew me off. It hurt me so badly that I felt like I couldn’t reach out to you about this, and I hope I was wrong about that.”

    Let Joy process this and answer it. If she’s the friend you thought she was, I’m sure she will be mortified but also a bit relieved to find out why you suddenly went cold. (If, instead, she tries to say, “Oh, that was years ago — I can’t believe you’re still upset about that,” then…perhaps going cold was the right answer after all. Let’s hope she doesn’t do that.)

    The conversation from there will depend on what she says, but I think the important points (if she is open to them and if they are true for you) are that you would love to reconnect with her and with your godkids, and that it’s going to take some more healing before things can be as close as they were, but that you are very glad to hear that she understands how she hurt you and did not mean to do so.

    Having been on both sides of this situation, I can see where Joy might have been exhausted and distracted and made a thoughtless, hurtful comment. That does not excuse it, but perhaps if you go into the conversation with that frame of mind, rather than “Joy doesn’t take my problems seriously,” it will allow you to find some forgiveness for her and either start rebuilding the connection or close the book on the friendship with regret, rather than bitterness.

    All that said: if you don’t want to rebuild the friendship, that is also a valid choice. But I think in that case, you have to let go of the idea of making Joy understand how much you’ve been hurting; it is unkind to drop a FEELINGSBOMB on someone right before closing contact. And since it sounds like you still run in the same social circles, going “no contact” doesn’t sound practical in any event unless you’re willing to revise your own social life drastically.

    • BostonRobin said:

      It sounds to me as if Joy has never been there for you in the same way you felt you were there for her. So I would caution you to be prepared for some “sorry you feel that way” sort of faux-pology, which in my experience feels worse than no apology at all. There’s really no answer to that response.

      This is a very tricky situation, since you are godmother to her kids. You might be best off trying to detach from her emotionally, keep your communications very surface. I doubt she would even notice. From the letter it sounds like she hasn’t been turning to you for emotional support recently anyway.

    • Terrified Gardener said:

      Oh yes, this sound really good.

      One thing that occurred to me is it might take Joy some time to process this. Some people find it easy to apologise as soon as they are confronted with harm they’ve done, other people get defensive and then come around, or can’t bring themselves to say “I’m sorry” but their actions show that they care and they are trying to make amends.

      Clearly you have been hurt deeply. It may take Joy some time to process the enormity of what’s happened. Even if she does care and does want to rebuild, the initial reaction might be negative. It might be worth thinking about whether that’s a deal-breaker, and if not how long you’re willing to wait to see if she will come around. (Sorry if this has been suggested elsewhere in the comments, I haven’t read everything yet)

      Whatever happens, I hope you come to a situation with which you can be at peace. And I am really sorry that things have been so tough for you. *jedi hugs*

    • eightysixed said:

      “Joy gets a say as well, and if she is hurting because you pulled away, she may not be interested”

      This is a huge point. A while ago, I had a friend who started dropping out/ghosting on me. She’d had depression issues in the past where she’d done that, but this felt more deliberate and cruel. When we finally sat down to talk about it, it came out that her reason for this was some things I had said a while ago that had really hurt her. While I acknowledge that those things hurt her, to this day I have a fuzzy memory of them and sometimes doubt exactly how offensive or hurtful they were. What I do remember however, was the pain of being largely abandoned by a friend at a time when I also could have used one.

      We are still friends today and I am genuinely sorry to have caused her hurt – but my relationship to that period in our friendship is more like being called out for things they did when they were blackout drunk. I really just don’t have the kind of memory of the offense I caused that she does. Ultimately, we still both wanted to be friends and on some level the fact that both of us wanted to reconnect and expressed remorse for the rift was enough. But I think in situations like this that occur over years and involve distancing…..people’s experiences and memories of events get fuzzy.

      OP, this kind of an apology many not work for you. And it’s completely fair to acknowledge that. But speaking from the spot of having been a different kind of Joy in a different kind of friendship – it may be what’s on the other end. Having someone distance themselves from you can be really painful. Especially when you don’t feel like you understand why. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have been hurt by her, but if you want to save the friendship….the best kind of apology that may await you may be vague and not “those specific choices I made I acknowledge were hurtful and I’m very sorry for those choices”.

    • I like these scripts a lot.

  4. Another sad and unfortunate part of this is that if you cut ties with the mum, the kids might not want to be friends with you, regardless of how close you were before. If the mum turns it into a story to them of it all being your fault, and makes it something where they have to choose between her and you, then they would very likely choose her. I’m sorry lw, this all sucks, and I hope you find a solution that brings you peace.

  5. Big Pink Box said:

    Whatever you do, Not Mom, you should be prepared for the possibility that the relationship is beyond repair. It’s not easy to let go of that hurt and anger, especially after this length of time. Would you ever truly be able to open up to her again? Could you trust her not to stomp all over your feelings with careless and thoughtless remarks?

    I lost my best friend of fourteen years when I was 27. She did something very cruel, then expected me to be over it in two days. I never spoke to her again, because the trust had gone. I lost my best friend, my home, and my second family (her mother and three younger sisters, and the middle sister’s toddler who I’d !oved since the minute she was born) overnight. It was hell, but you can’t step in the same river twice. My instincts were proven right with a series of letters that were initially conciliatory and apologetic, but always drifted into emotional blackmail and blame (“$toddler misses you” and “You have to admit it was partly your fault” respectively), solidifying my original decision.

    Virtually every experience I’d had, from secondary school onward, involved her. Not one corner of my life or myslf was untouched by our time together. Rebuilding myself from the smashed pieces was hard, but I managed. It looks five or six years not to break down on the anniversary of what happened, and a couple more before I could even use her name. Eleven years later I still dream about her and her family. I recently saw her one of her sisters on TV, in a segment on lives destroyed by the recession. Days of crying followed, because I felt guilty that her life had gone so badly.

    Despite all of this I do not regret my decision to make a clean break. My life is different without her, but not worse. I built new friendships rather than hanging on to the broken one, and found an amazing partner, which I doubt would’ve been possible with her still around. Her casual homophobia, always followed by “I don’t mean you, obviously” had cramped my ability to engage with other lesbians. Removing that obstacle helped save me. I realised how much I’d blunted my edges and hidden my true self just to keep her. It wasn’t worth it

    I hope everything goes the way you want it to, but if it doesn’t? Not your fault. Sometimes relationships can’t be fixed Society tends to minimise and trivialise platonic, yet loving, relationships women have with each other. The very real hurt that occurs when things implode or just wither, is all too often written off. Prepare yourself for any possibility, and try and build new relationships so that you’re not putting all of your eggs in one wonky basket. Ready yourself for the possibility of a response along the lines of “Ugh, are you still moping over that?”, and the chance that her issues will always trump yours. Some people take and take but never reciprocate, never grasp that their problems are the least of your worries. I hope you don’t get hurt again. Jedi hugs for you.

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      I realised how much I’d blunted my edges and hidden my true self just to keep her.

      I am glad you that phase of your life lies behind you, however painful the breakup was. (One of the best things about my partner, who has many good sides, is that I never feel a need to pretend to be anything other than myself. Even in small things, like making bad puns, that’s a very fundamental stressor when you always feel a need to hide _something_, when you’re always policing yourself.

  6. Anisoptera said:

    Dear Not-Mum it’s possible this can’t be fixed? I mean, you can raise it, but sometimes people just don’t reciprocate which can be a rude shock. I’ve had a friend like that – I listened to many of her woes, was very supportive, dropping everything when she needed etc. etc. and then one day I really wanted to talk about a problem I had and…she changed the subject, several times, to bring the conversation back to something about her. Then I slowly realised that when we did talk (briefly) about my issues it was so she could make pronouncements about what was wrong with my situation and how I should live, and that they were actually pretty weird suggestions that indicated she didn’t really know me very well at all. Uh, anyway. Eventually I did stop talking to her, and it was a relief to have her out of my life.

    It’s possible that Joy has some very good excuse for failing to come through that night – and perhaps when she says people who voluntarily become single mums are foolish she’s just making a thoughtless comment about being overwhelmed by her parenting duties. Perhaps if you raise it she will apologise and explain and things can be fixed! I hope so! The only way to find out is to raise it. But also sometimes people actually aren’t there for you and will let you down – that you’ve felt close because you’re there for them and it’s formed a bond, but they will never ever reciprocate. It’s a horrible shock when it happens, but I’ve found that it happens a fair bit. This is a more trivial example, but I had a housemate for a while, and we had a chores roster, and one month he was doing exams and I quietly did all of his chores as well as mine and never asked him to lift a finger. Then a few months later I had a month where I had a serious illness and a pet died and I just didn’t get to my chores…and he didn’t do any of his either because he knew I wouldn’t ask him to if I hadn’t done mine. :-O Some people are just like that and see no reason to reciprocate. We are better off without them.

    • peregrinations said:

      I had a similar friendship to yours a few years ago. We clicked right away and became really close really fast, and at the time I was in a really good emotional place while she was having some rough patches, so I spent a lot of time listening to her and supporting her as she complained about her job, family, friends, neighbors, etc. etc. I was happy to do it, I like taking care of my friends. But months later I got hit with a bunch of stressful situations at once, and when I tried to go to her for support she’d either interrupt me or minimize my concerns then go right back to talking about herself. I even told her up front that this had hurt me and specifically asked for support, but she basically ignored me for several weeks, followed by my dialing the friendship back until she one day said such insensitive and hurtful things – in front of a mutual friend – that I walked away. A couple months later I started doubting whether I’d made the right choice, but then we ran into each other and, yep, she was still as self-involved as always. I miss the fun times we had and the closeness we shared (or I thought we shared), but I don’t miss the way her ignoring and minimizing of my concerns and needs made me feel. Like you said, it’s a relief to not deal with the microaggressions that even a low-dose friendship with her involved. I’m lucky to have other good friends who are both fun to be around and reciprocate support.

      • Anisoptera said:

        I think the trick with these friendships is that you feel really close. They’ve pulled you into their inner circle! They’re sharing really personal stuff with you! You’re dropping stuff to help them because that’s what friends do. It’s really easy to not notice it’s entirely one sided until one day you need support from them and you reach out and there’s nothing there.

        There are all sorts of good reasons someone might fail to come through on a specific occasion, but there are also plenty of people who will never come through. The awful thing is it’s hard to tell until stuff goes wrong and you ask for support, which isn’t the best time to find out that one of your close friends isn’t. 😦

        • Charybdea said:

          I feel like this kind of friendship dynamic shows up a lot between people who’ve connected mostly over their mutual feeling that they don’t have enough support in their lives. Nobody else is paying attention, but this person -understands- because you’re going through similar things, and so all that need you’ve each got bottled pours out — and reciprocity goes off the table or feels threatening, because it’s well established that you don’t have anything to give, right? And so the second the person who’s been doing most of the listening starts doing the talking, you either get that competition-for-resources argument with the subject-changing back to Person A’s problems that a few people have described, or the whole friendship just goes to hell.

          I think it might be that thing where people who are used to starving bolt their food when they have it: People who are used to having little to no support kinda bolt their emotional support, because who knows when they might get it ever again and they just need it so badly — and then drive that support away, and the cycle resets.

          • Anisoptera said:

            Yes possibly. Also some people are just really self-centred and quite good at finding people who don’t ask for much and don’t always feel like they deserve much, who like to help because it makes them feel like they have something worthwhile to offer… Of course such people feel like surely it will be reciprocated at some point, but don’t want to be a bother so only finally ask when the world is ending and they really, really need help. I think those of us who do that probably need to pay more attention to occasionally asking for small favours so we can get a feel for reciprocity before there’s a total disaster. :-/

            I think there are a range of ways this can happen! Misunderstandings are also possible of course.

  7. resili0 said:

    I agree that there is no way to know what made her response to your failed treatment was about, if she had been supportive up to that point, then there is room to imagine that she didn’t have the resources for you when you needed it and communicated that badly.

    People have wildly different ideas about parenthood. I don’t have kids and my mummy friends have said outrageously ignorant and dismissive things about parenting when I have been around. I think that infertility is a heartache you have to be close to to really get it. I also think that there is still a big division between the Mummy brigade who can be a bit smug and those of us who choose not to have have kids or can’t have them. Our culture has a bit of a Mummy brigade culture and for some women, motherhood is their identity, which is where I think their clueless comments come from.

    My thoughts are:

    Has Joy provided friendship throughout your other IVF and life issues prior to ‘Oh poop’? If so, maybe you two can renegotiate friendship on new terms.

    Is your anger at all related to any feelings you have re: anger and mourning over having to process the failed IVF alone? Because it would be natural to feel pain at having to deal with it alone as well as anger about the injustice of infertility but Joy is only involved in the friendship issue, not the unfairness of being infertile and in great pain. How much of this powerful long term anger is about her and how much is valid anger at the horrible unfairness of infertility? Both are meaningful.

    Joy might not have an apology that restores what was as if the incident never happened, but she might want to build a new friendship based on understanding where you both are now that is more respectful and trustworthy.

    • Beth B said:

      This is really wise.

  8. tehomet said:

    Joy’s excuse is laughable, and if she really is incapable of understanding the significance of the LW’s experiences, then she should be pitied.

    To be frank, in my experience, a person who would treat someone experiencing such a painful event so inconsiderately is very unlikely to change their ways. I’ve been in the LW’s shoes twice (with two different people, decades apart). We did the apology conversation thing, but ultimately the people who had messed up did mess up again in future, in the same way. I was discussing this the other day with a new friend who’s had some rough patches in life similar to mine, and she too had found that experiences like these sort the wheat from the chaff and let you know who your friends actually are.

    Joy behaved badly on that night the LW’s final attempt at fertility treatment failed because she’s a person who at her core is selfish, and regrettably it’s very unlikely that her core personality is going to change. Her later comments about single parents just show that lack of empathy again. I’m not saying that the LW shouldn’t have the conversation the Captain suggests if she wants, and perhaps everything will work out. I believe in second chances, so I hope so. I just wouldn’t have much expectation of it doing so, of Joy realising how profoundly she failed her friend at a very difficult time and resolving to never do it again.

    It’s very sad that such a long friendship, at least in its original form, might be coming to an end, if the LW chooses, and it’s sad that the LW’s friendship with Joy’s kids might also be a casualty, but at least the LW knows where she stands and what Joy is truly like. Knowledge is power. She can use that information to decide whether to remain casual friends with Joy, mostly to stay in touch with Joy’s kids, or stop seeing her altogether. At least the LW will not be expecting normal friendship and support from Joy so won’t be upset in future when it doesn’t arrive. It’s not ideal but it does free up time and energy for the LW to explore other friendships and interests.

    Sending respect and sympathy to Not-Mom, who deserves better than the likes of Joy as a friend, and certainly plenty of actual joy in future.

    • Zillah said:

      Joy’s excuse is laughable, and if she really is incapable of understanding the significance of the LW’s experiences, then she should be pitied.

      This (and the rest of your comment) feels really, really harsh to me.

      Her reaction wasn’t the best, nor was her excuse, and I think that when the LW said that she really needed friendship that night, Joy should have been there, as with the aftermath. There’s no question about that in my mind.

      But I also don’t think that only selfish and morally corrupt people might have trouble with this situation, and I don’t think it’s fair to say that people who don’t should be “pitied.” This is a hard situation, and as with many other tough situations, it’s not one that people who haven’t gone through it will necessarily understand – or, perhaps more to the point, understand how to approach.

    • aebhel said:

      Joy behaved badly on that night the LW’s final attempt at fertility treatment failed because she’s a person who at her core is selfish, and regrettably it’s very unlikely that her core personality is going to change.

      That seems like a really harsh judgement on someone we don’t know, based on one (legitimately wrong and hurtful!) action.

      I’ve said some thoughtless, shitty things before. I’m sure you have as well. I don’t think that makes either of us so fundamentally selfish as to be utterly unworthy of friendship.

  9. Steff said:

    Ah, this resonates with me. I cut ties with a really good friend nearly 12 years ago because she let me down one night when I really needed her. The friendship was similar to others that have been mentioned here – me the supporter, her the supportee. I rarely asked for help, and that night I was desperate for her to be by my side. But she didn’t come. From that moment on, despite her trying to be friend again, but significantly absent an apology or acknowledgement of what happened, our friendship was gone. It hurt so much – I loved her like a sister and to find out that the feeling wasn’t mutual was hard. However, as some above said, life without her is different but not worse. Also, as mentioned above, this final incident was one is a long line of being let down. For the LW I can only say that sometimes there is no going back – my ex friend and I had had the conversation previously about another incident, but she didn’t change. So if you want to try and repair the relationship it is best to approach it with the knowledge that it may not be repaired. Hugs.

  10. It’s possible that, given her comments recently, Joy was NEVER on board with LW’s IVF and so tried to engage with that issue as little as possible while it was happening.

    • tadeina said:

      This was my thought too. If she was going through rough single mom stuff herself, she may have been doing a lot of tongue-biting throughout in an attempt to be supportive. . When you hit the end of your last treatment, maybe it was a lot to ask her to mourn with you that you were unable to voluntarily enter into the hardest/most painful thing she’s ever done.

      Just seems like a possibility.

      • Ve said:

        That was one of my thoughts.

        Joy could be a selfish person, and maybe the friendship is indeed “beyond repair,” but reading this makes me feel like there’s so much miscommunication and assumptions involved.

        As someone who’s been on both sides of similar friendship dilemmas:

        1) Joy is not a mind-reader. As a struggling single parent, and as someone who needs to be helped more than she has been able to help (not atypical of single mothers), she may have no clue what she did wrong and why the OP has grown distant. You, OP, mention her “failure to reach out,” but does she know that’s what you wanted? Maybe she thought you wanted to be left alone, or maybe she figured you’d say something if you really needed her. She’s rarely been in a position to really help you, it seems. Since you’ve seemingly never expressed to Joy how hurt you were beyond the initial text, she may genuinely not know how upsetting this was for you. Especially as this has been built up as, “The ONE time I needed you be there for me and you utterly FAILED.” I understand not wanting to spell out your needs, but Joy may honestly not know what you wanted from her and where she went wrong.

        2) The “crazy” comment was probably a foot-in-the-mouth thing. Yeah, she has your infertility issues “in her brain,” but she has other information in there too. As the initial incident happened years ago, and you’ve been growing apart since then, your infertility pains are not at the forefront of her memory, understandably so. Even if she did remember right after spurting out that comment, she may not have wanted to bring it up for fear it might trigger you, particularly if you happened *not* to be thinking about it at the time (I’ve had similar thoughts after foot-in-the-mouth comments).

        You have every right not to talk to Joy, but this seems like something that could be helped by clearing the air. Even if just to get some closure in case your feelings about this relationship are correct.

        • LW did spell out her needs, though. “That night, I texted her to tell her the bad news, and said something like, ‘I’m feeling really blue and would appreciate it if we could spend some time together tonight.'” Maybe Joy didn’t get how much she meant it, but it’s not like LW didn’t try.

      • RunForChocolate said:

        Yes. I do not want to minimize Joy’s lack of empathy here. Infertility is known to be such a heartbreak, even to people who’ve never had to deal with it. It’s part of the social narrative these days–I don’t think there’s an excuse for not being aware of that.

        However, as a single mother of three little kids, with no family around, who also works long hours in a demanding job… I do find myself feeling bitter and trapped and as though I’m spending the best years of my life doing thankless, draining, unsatisfying grunt work. I am grateful beyond measure to have three healthy kids, but although the rewards are enormous, the costs are, at least for me, only marginally smaller. I love all my kids past what I can express, but I sometimes wistfully dream of a life where I only have two. Or one.

        I hope I’d be a good friend to somebody in my circle who had to deal with infertility. I hope I’d sympathize and bite my tongue if I were temped to say thoughtless things. And I think all this is very possible for people with the minimum of sympathy and affection. But Joy may be buried in a hole of bitterness and feeling trapped and burned out. Even if the friendship isn’t salvageable in its current form (or any other), it might (or might not) help you to process all this, by realizing that this is a possibility. It doesn’t excuse her actions, but it might help explain them.

        I want to say how sorry I am for your painful experiences. And also for your friend’s unfriendly actions in your time of need. Jedi hugs to you. I hope things get better.

        • I hear ya Chocolate. I’ll bet the “single mothers” comment was not an actual indictment against single mothers or the LW so much as a declaration that Joy probably feels like she is drowning as a single mother herself (if I understood the timeline of the letter correctly – Joy is divorced). Especially if someone goes into parenting with a co-parent then finds herself single and doing most of the parenting alone. “Single parents are crazy” is an insensitive thing to say no doubt, but it’s most likely code for “I am having a really hard time with this whole single mom thing but I don’t feel like I can admit that out loud without feeling really guilty and horrible.”

          • thelittlepakeha said:

            Yeah it seems like there’s a real taboo around admitting that you’re having trouble as a mother. One of my friends has a “mummy blog” (her words) where she’s been pretty honest about some of the less enjoyable parts and she’s had some pretty nasty responses sometimes. I can definitely see women generalising things to avoid sounding like they’re complaining about their *own* experience when society constantly tells them they’re failures if they don’t love every minute of it.

          • Courtney said:

            Yeah, Joy’s comment could have been meant as shorthand for “This sucks! Why would someone do this ON PURPOSE?” It’s still a shitty thing to say in front of someone who had been trying to do just that on purpose and had major grief about not being able to.

      • Manders said:

        That’s a great point. It’s also possible that she had no one to watch the kids late at night on short notice, and happened to choose a bad way of expressing the fact that she actually couldn’t come over to LW.

        • moseyonby said:

          I feel really uncomfortable–no, honestly, I feel angry–about all the defending of “oh poop” lady. I think there is simply no excuse for that kind of rude dismissal of a friend who clearly wrote that she was vulnerable and in need of support. To say “maybe she didn’t know” or “Joy isn’t psychic” is to ignore what the LW explicitly wrote–namely, “That night, I texted her to tell her the bad news, and said something like, “I’m feeling really blue and would appreciate it if we could spend some time together tonight.” ” LW was communicating quite clearly enough. Stop implicitly blaming LW. Stop thinking up flimsy excuses for Joy that center her experiences as a mother and her magical (not) intent, rather than the effects of her actions. STOP.

          For people to imply that the fact of Joy’s motherhood (being busy with kids, being bitter about kids, etc) serves as some kind of excuse for such disgusting, neglectful behavior toward a best friend, is absolutely infuriating. I would imagine, too, that it could PARTICULARLY triggering for the LW, who despite having wanted to have kids doesn’t have them, and therefore can’t even demonstrate what better best friend behavior in the face of such a difficult situation might look like.

          • JenniferP said:

            I think the “Joy isn’t psychic” thing comes in when we talk about the present, like, Joy-of-today almost certainly does not know that that long-ago text and conversation has built up into a giant thing in the LW’s mind, a potentially friendship-ending thing. So if the LW talks to her, it’s good to be prepared to remember that this problem that’s been grinding away at her all this time has not been grinding away at Joy in the same way, with the same intensity, at all. For me it’s about setting realistic expectations for the starting point of that conversation (these are people who are starting in very different places), not about dismissing the hurt.

          • thelittlepakeha said:

            For me, I can understand the “single parents are crazy” comment, but the original lack of support is a lot harder. I do have times where I’m burned out on giving support and just can’t, but it’s generally with people who have been needing a LOT of it, and I think even if she felt she couldn’t do the whole thing right then her actual response fell really short. :/

          • The LW texted Joy to tell her the bad news. Joy responded with an expression of disappointment/dismay (“Oh poop.”) Then Joy told the OP that she was too tired to meet with her that night. We don’t know how late it was or that Joy’s day had been anything other than exhausting.

            I think you’re being too harsh with Joy, and I think it is also inaccurate to say that people are “blaming LW.” Sometimes people just can’t meet on short notice (and that isn’t “disgusting”.) At no time in the last two years has LW said to Joy that she’s upset about Joy’s reaction, so how is Joy supposed to know? LW could have followed Joy’s refusal to meet that very night with a proposal for another time, but she didn’t.

            LW also mentions that she doesn’t think Joy was supportive of her fertility treatments “in a close way.” This seems very strange to me. I am excited that a close friend of mine is pregnant, but if she were having fertility treatments, I would be supportive but not hanging on her every word about it. I think LW has retroactively decided that Joy wasn’t enthused enough about LW’s fertility treatments and has rolled that into this package of resentment. In reality, very few people outside of your immediate family will care as much as you do about your fertility treatments.

          • TO_Ont said:

            I don’t think we have any way of knowing if ‘oh poop’ was meant in a dismissive way or just a ‘hey, there aren’t really any good words’ way. I don’t think it’s ‘disgusting’ just because it was clearly inadequate. And I’m pretty sure the mindreader comment was in relation to the length of time that’s gone by. If she didn’t understand in the first place how hurtful her reaction was or how needed her presence was, she’s unlikely to realize years later that that conversation that night is why they’re no longer close.

            “Stop thinking up flimsy excuses for Joy that center her experiences as a mother and her magical (not) intent, rather than the effects of her actions. STOP.”

            NO. I’m going to continue to try to consider what might have went wrong. You can continue to do otherwise if you don’t agree.

          • onyx said:

            Nesting broke, directed towards the commenters insisting Joy was just tired and misspoke: How the helllll can you justify an awkward (and kind of childish*) phrase like “oh poop” in this kind of situation? What person who is remotely tuned into societal norms doesn’t automatically say “I’m so sorry”; what person who is remotely close to someone doesn’t realize how devastating this would be to someone who’s been trying to conceive for ages and knows it’s the last try? Furthermore, what kind of coward doesn’t apologize and do what she can the day after? Joy never even acknowledged her behavior.

            Joy is either oblivious, selfish, or a coward. Maybe all of them. She is giving me a lot of vibes like my brother does, who constantly pulls crap where he abandons people when they need him most and never, EVER tries to make amends, unless it’s to soothe his own ego that’s he’s not a bad person. Spoiler: he sucks.

            *I have nothing against childish phrases, I use them all the time … when joking with people.

          • Courtney said:

            I can see the point of “maybe she couldn’t get out of the house” comments because single parents with kids who require supervision frequently can’t get out of the house on short notice.

            However, a friend who is actually down for supporting a friend in need would have said something like, “I can’t leave tonight, but you’re welcome to come over here. Or if you aren’t up for driving, I can call you back as soon as I get the kids to sleep.”

        • moseyonby said:

          IF this was just a case of whoopsydaisy in Joy’s response (I personally think it was much worse, but whatever)–EVEN IF that was the case–there is no excuse for not contacting LW the next day. The day after that. The day after that. A simple “how are you, I’m available now, let’s talk about YOU, I’m so so sorry, I’m here for you now.” Nothing.

          THAT is hurtful. “Oh poop” after such news is already grossly hurtful in itself. But for it not to be followed by an apology for such an inane comment, or for any kind of loving outreach, is despicable. These excuses are doing the LW no good.

          Again–I think there is no excuse for that kind of neglect toward a friend who is ostensibly so important to you that she is named your children’s godmother.

          • moseyonby said:

            “So if the LW talks to her, it’s good to be prepared to remember that this problem that’s been grinding away at her all this time has not been grinding away at Joy in the same way, with the same intensity, at all.”—Okay, that makes a lot more sense. I was definitely interpreting those comments as a type of victim-blaming or wishful thinking about the past.

      • mamacitaconpistoles said:

        I was thinking, depending on how things went with the partner who left, and what custody looks like for her now… Saying “single parenthood is crazy” could be Joy thinking she is speaking from insider experience, not Joy thinking she is leveling an outsider’s judgment.

        I can totally see why the comments sting so much. I think Joy could have been more sensitive, for sure. And more attentive.

    • Amethyst said:

      That’s what I was wondering. If she really thinks people shouldn’t choose to become single parents, she may never have considered LW’s desire to become a parent “serious.” If so, she may not have ever thought / understood how troubling LW’s struggle with infertility was. I haven’t had a similar issue but I’ve found that sometimes when you’re having problems with X and other person doesn’t think X is serious, it’s hard for them to really take your feelings about it seriously.

      Of course, I also think people can say careless things when they’re tired and stressed about something (like parenting), so it’s not necessarily a sign that she was never invested in LW’s struggle, but I think it might be a possibility.

    • Clarry said:

      Yes! When I look at it through the lens of Joy’s never understanding Not Mom’s desire, disappointment, and pain, the situation becomes even harder. I do sympathize with Not Mom’s issues so I can’t use that for an example, but imagine that there’s xyz issue where Not Mom feels strongly one way and Joy has enough doubts to make her think she’s starting to feel strongly the other. In that case, Joy’s letter looks like:

      My best friend feels strongly about xyz and is really hurting because of it. I’ve tried to see her side of it, but deep down I think she’s wrong. Long ago she made it clear that if I didn’t agree with her and sympathize with her and show her support, if I didn’t see it her way in every instance, if I tried in even a small way to show her another way of looking at it, then I wasn’t a good friend. I suggested counseling, and she did get it, but I didn’t count on a side effect of the counseling being her doubling down on how important xyz is and how wrong everyone who saw the other side of it was. I’ve been in an untenable position for years. If I tell her the truth about my doubts, I know the friendship will be over, and I’ll be the bad guy. If I continue to lie about agreeing with her on the importance of xyz, I’m lying to my best friend. If tell her I don’t feel qualified to be her therapist and don’t want to talk about it, she becomes more angry because I’ve left open the possibility of the other point of view. The last time she wanted to vent, I’m afraid I gave a rather breezy answer. I just wasn’t up to rushing over there to listen to another sob story about xyz. It’s like her definition of being a friend is agreeing with everything she says, but don’t I owe something to my truth as well? I can’t escape the idea that this friendship is over no matter what I do, and I don’t know which of several unclassy ways to end it is best.

      • Lilah Morgan said:

        I see what you’re saying about perspective but I think, in an effort to be balanced, you’re being way hard on the letter writer and unreasonably so. We’re not talking about the letter writer wanting to vent to her friend about the trials of committing tax fraud. We’re talking about the deeply personal experience of becoming a parent. Joy doesn’t get a vote on that and shouldn’t get a vote on that, and it just ISN’T the type of situation where one side is as valid as the other.

        That said, I’ve absolutely experienced a situation where it’s hard for me to be emotionally supportive of a friend because of my own issues. For instance, when a friend is super disappointed about not getting a job that would mean they’d be moving far away from me, it is hard for me to express the proper amount of sadness about it. But that doesn’t excuse me from trying; it doesn’t mean I get to “disagree” with them about where they live and that they’re mean if they shut me down about it; and it doesn’t meant any failures on my part are due to them not being sensitive about it. It just means that if I make my disappointment too obvious, I’m letting my own emotional reaction make me a bad friend in that moment. (Which isn’t the end of the world – it happens and I am not castigating myself for it – but it also is all about me, not them.)

      • Sarabeth said:

        Hm, this does not ring true to me. The “issue” here is that the LW wants kids, and has been unable to have them. Telling her she’s wrong to want that is deeply, deeply unkind. Joy may not want the same thing – she may, in fact, wish that she didn’t have kids herself. But she should still be able to recognize that her friend is in pain because she badly wants something that she is unable to have. And telling her that she’s wrong to want kids is both insulting (because it implies that the LW is incapable of weighing the benefits and costs of parenthood herself) and galling, given that Joy has the very thing that the LW wants so much.

        The most charitable read I can give to Joy is more on the lines of, “I love my friend, and I know that she badly wants kids, but I’m not capable of being the person who supports her through that journey. I’m a single mom and that has been a difficult experience in many ways, so I find it difficult to listen to her talk about how much she wants to be a parent, because it triggers so many of my resentments and grief about the way my own life has turned out.” That would be Joy acknowledging her own limitations, which is fine. Framing the LW’s desire for kids as a legitimate subject for debate is not fine.

        • Big Pink Box said:

          “Framing the LW’s desire for kids as a legitimate subject for debate is not fine.”

          It’s beyond “not fine”, it’s gross and shady as hell. LW is a hurting person, grieving for the loss of someone she’ll never get to meet, compounded by the loss of her best friend. Her worldview has been shattered, her future seems uncertain because she wants a child. There is no agreement or disagreement, no judgement or disapproval, she’s not Rachel fucking Dolezal.

        • thelittlepakeha said:

          I for one have never had a problem grasping “I don’t understand why you want this and no way in hell would I if I was in your shoes, but I recognise that you do want it and not being able to is painful.” Especially if it’s an ongoing thing – it’s definitely possible to not react with proper sympathy the first time it comes up when you don’t understand but when you have time to get used to it? It should be perfectly possible to understand that something not being right for you doesn’t mean it’s not right for someone else.

          • I agree with this. I’ve known people who desperately wanted to enter a priesthood, or be a professional performer, or want their child to achieve as a child prodigy, in situations where I was privately wincing and going, “Even if you get the thing you want it’s going to cost you and take a huge toll on you and I feel like you’d be happier if you didn’t want this, but I support you even if I don’t support it,” which made it hard for me to fully support them. I wanted to, and I did my best, but it was difficult to be wholehearted. So sometimes it takes a moment to go, “Oh, wait, even though that’s not a big deal to me I guess it would be huge to them.”

            The corollary is, even if something is super important to you, even people who love you and want what’s best for you can fail to grasp just how intensely you feel about it.

          • onyx said:

            This! I’m an atheist who got sterilized the moment i could because the idea of motherhood is that undesirable for me. My best friend is devout Russian Orthodox and married to a church Deacon, and has two kids, who are her life and joy. We have never, ever had a problem respecting each other’s different views of happiness. If she had had trouble conceiving I’d be devastated for her; if I had gotten pregnant (and undergone an abortion), that would conflict greatly with her faith but I have full confidence she would have supported me anyway. Because we care about each others’ happiness.

      • This seems to imply that Joy did a whole lot more work than the LW says she did. Where did you get the idea that Joy suggested counseling? Or the idea that “good” counseling would have made LW understand the “other side” of her own personal desire to get pregnant?

        • Amanda said:

          Yup, came here to say this exact thing. There are so many assumptions and crappy, gross, mean things in this comment, and the fact is that we’re *not* talking about issue xyz, we’re talking about LW and her desire to have children. You’re drawing a false equivalence, in addition to implicitly doubting LW’s version of events and deeming what “good” counseling is.

          (And not to speak for the Captain, but I think that if Joy wrote that letter, CA would call her out on deciding what “good” counseling is, and maybe would suggest that Joy use her words and communicate that she is not able to support her friend.)

          But that’s NOT THE ISSUE, and you are being unkind.

          • Amanda said:

            Oops, I kind of screwed up the nesting with my comment. This was in response to Clarry’s initial comment if that was unclear.

  11. Clarry said:

    I keep being struck by how little attention is paid in our culture to friendship relationships. Songs are written about the end of romantic relationships. There are novels on it and divorce counseling, but friendships? They get short shrift.

    When it happened to me, when a friend let me down continually and in a big way, I did all the right things (I thought) to be forgiving, to stand up for myself, to be open, clear and communicative. I never got what I wanted, that close supportive relationship I had in the past– or thought I did. For years I kicked myself with should-have-saids. I kept thinking that if I’d played things differently I’d have gotten what I wanted. It took me more years to realize that the situation was doomed from the start, not just from when we first started arguing and saying the wrong things, but from the absolute beginning, from when we first met and loved each other as friends. And still my fantasies continued of ways I might reach out now to bring about a different conclusion. It was a revelation for me when I realized that the fantasies were no longer about having a loving supportive friendship, they were about her finally understanding how wrong she was.

    In addition to the Captain’s excellent advice, I offer this: The real trick is going to be in filling the hole in your heart with other friends, people who will be loving and supportive, people who do understand your heartache and respond with sympathy. When you have that from others, not having it from her won’t hurt so much. Building that sort of support time, especially after having been burned, is going to be tough but worth it, and it’s the only thing that will help you get over her hurtful comments and abandoning you when you needed love the most.

    What does being godmother usually mean in your culture? Asking someone to be godmother can mean anything from taking part in a religious ceremony (christening) once, to sending gifts on birthdays, to being the person legally responsible for raising the children should anything happen to the parents. This is another situation where the culture doesn’t have a way of marking the end of the relationship, nothing like graduation to say you’re not in school anymore or a divorce decree that says you’re not married. Depending on what the responsibilities of being godmother are in your part of the world, I suggest trying to fulfill them the best you can unless Joy puts the kibosh on it. If that means sending gifts, do so with “from your loving godmother” on the card as a way of establishing that relationship separate from the one with Joy. This isn’t a great solution, but it does leave open the possibility of a relationship with the kids.

    • Esti said:

      It was a revelation for me when I realized that the fantasies were no longer about having a loving supportive friendship, they were about her finally understanding how wrong she was.

      I’ve experienced this too, and this is a really good way of putting it.

    • I only know one song about the end of a friendship and it’s Therapy?’s ‘Six Mile Water’. It’s one of my favourite songs of all time. It’s not even really about friend breakup though but a slow fade drift apart. It always makes me tear up a little. The subject of friends losing touch is very emotional for me.

      When I was a kid and stuck in the middle of the worst abusive friendship ever I would seek out YA books about friends breaking up and read them over and over. I even loved ones where they get back together at the end because they still explored the kinds of emotions I was constantly going through. There aren’t that many that I can remember. Off the top of my head I can think of ‘Love and other Four Letter Words by Carolyn Mackler (they don’t get back together at the end) and Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier (they do get back together, which I found kind of a shame as Gwyn really seemed like a jerk to me). If anyone knows any others please let me know. I’ll read any age range and genre.

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        Hmm, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro isn’t really *about* friendship breakup, but it does have a lot of stuff about the problems the narrator Kathy and her friend Ruth have over the years.

      • Guava said:

        The movie ‘Me Without You’ is a great portrayal of a close/unhealthy/unraveling friendship. The Marina character is like a collage of three of my former friends all rolled into one.

    • Emma9 said:

      There’s also ‘I Miss My Friend’ by Darryl Worley.

      • Emma9 said:

        Aaaand I badly misremembered that song to think it wasn’t talking about a romantic relationship. Carry on.

        • Emma9 said:

          Okay, I was mixing it up with Linda Rondstadt’s ‘Goodbye My Friend’. Just…never mind.

  12. When people show you who they are, believe them.

    I was always the good friend who came when people needed me, who pitched in to do the grunt work, who showed up with money and moving help and good cheer, encouragement and understanding, no questions asked.

    Then I developed a painful chronic illness. I showed up when I could with the pain, but gradually, I couldn’t anymore. A lot of people who could have thrown me a crumb, helped me a little bit, come to spend a little time with me or given me a random phone call now and then so I might not feel so isolated….nothing. Nope. Not a trifle.

    I called a few of them on it. I didn’t expect anyone to quit a job and be my full-time caretaker. Just do some little thing to make it less painful and exhausting for me to be in the friendship. A text here, a DM there. There were a couple who still never showed up unless they needed something from me.

    If there’s something you really want to save in this friendship–like your relationship with her kids–then it may be worth it to you to find a way to make peace with the fact that she made many more withdrawals from the friendship bank than deposits. But it’s also very, very okay to decide that her presence in your life costs you too much, and as painful as losing the relationship with her children will be, it’s necessary for your wellbeing. She has shown you who she is. Believe her.

    My condition is improving. I’ll always have it, but living with it’s easier. It’s also easier spending less emotional energy and effort on people who repeatedly showed me who they were when the chips were down, and didn’t try to counterbalance that when they knew better.

    • Anne said:

      I get this completely, though I have not suffered health wise like you. I just have always been the supporter and never the supportee and find this lifetime pattern just got so damned old. Now, I simply pull back in all my friendships. I don’t listen to hours long phone calls from anybody. I don’t pour my heart and energy into their problems. I finally realized they will *never* be there for me. In fact in the last two years I have ended two friendships that went back 40 years. There hadn’t been anything there for me in decades, other than history together. I have not had one moment of regret about it.

      • bleh said:

        Yes, to all of this. I just gave up on expecting anything from anyone other than my partner.

    • Anti Kate said:

      Yes. This. Behavior shows us so much. I have a similar story of having a horrible episode in my life that illustrated which of my friends were merely acquaintances. It can be deeply difficult to have one’s view of reality so thoroughly rattled. “If this is true, what else in the world is not as I think?” It took me a long time to regroup and redefine. I’m still not sure I’m out the far end.

      People tell you who they are. Watch. Listen. Learn. Believe.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Oh yeah! There’s nothing like a chronic illness with no easy treatment to show you who your friends are.

      Some people who were formerly just friendly acquaintances have stepped up to be part of my Team Me. Which was a beautiful surprise.
      Some formerly close friends couldn’t accept the new me who is making the best life I can, and faded away after it became clear there was no ribbon to put on their Facebook wall or 5k to run. To them adjusting my life to best manage my health is ‘giving up’.

      • My daughter has chronic health issues stemming from a near-fatal bout of Guillain-Barre syndrome when she was 19 years old. When she was in the ICU a bunch of friends came to visit — once each. They couldn’t handle the sight of a peer on life support, I guess.

        Once she was back in school everyone just wanted to be told that she was “all right now.” Thing is, she wasn’t. Not only did she have lasting health issues, she also had a whopping great case of PTSD. No one understood why she got tired so often, or that she couldn’t be the same happy college student she’d been before the illness.

        Abby’s in her 30s now and it can still be hard for people to understand that going to the club/party/whatever isn’t an option sometimes — and “but you can just sit down” isn’t a solution. Some days you simply don’t have enough spoons* to manage.

        (*Anyone who hasn’t heard of “spoon theory,” see Christine Miserandino’s blog post. It’s a good way to understand the everyday-ness of chronic illness: http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/)

        However, since Abby doesn’t “look sick” people can’t wrap their heads around the fact that her immune system is compromised and she has serious chronic fatigue and lingering PTSD. Sigh.

        Incidentally, she’s written about this on her own blog fairly often, so I’m not sharing info she’d prefer be kept private.

    • Stoic not unemotional said:

      I feel this. A couple of years ago I was sexually assaulted, and last year my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years broke up with me. At most two of my friends asked me if I was okay, regardless of me being there for them the moment they even looked slightly upset. I pulled away after exams were over and we’d graduated, and since then only one of them has instigated contact, so she’s the only one that I’m still friends with.
      It’s always disheartening to realise that your Team Me is a lot smaller than you thought it was :/

  13. Dear LW

    I’m so sorry you can’t have children and that your closest friend couldn’t or wouldn’t support you as you needed.

    I believe that you and she can remake your friendship. Maybe.

    The unknowns include, as the Captain and Army point out, what she felt then, what she feels now, how she’ll respond to being called on her inadequacy.

    I don’t fault you for wanting to tell her how she failed you, because she did! I think, though that you may find that afterwards you’re done.

    And that’s ok.

    It’s excruciating when a friend fails us. Sometimes it’s just too much

    Jedi hugs if you want them

    Q

  14. Anon for this said:

    Ugh! I was on the opposite side of this kind of conversation once. My very closest friend was going through IVF, but she hadn’t told anyone. I made an off-hand comment once about “be glad you aren’t having kids” or something like that. I didn’t know. Once she told me the circumstances and mentioned this comment, I had no recollection of it. I certainly didn’t intend to hurt, and as far as I knew, she and her husband weren’t planning on kids. But I apologized because I knew that had hurt her deeply.

    To be honest, I was also ticked because I hadn’t intended to be hurtful and there’s no way I could have known about it since she wasn’t telling anyone. But she accepted my apology and I got over being annoyed and we’re closer than ever now. I’m really really glad she told me or there would have always been this wall between us.

    • meadowphoenix said:

      …I really do not understand being ticked that you said something many people might find insensitive, and your friend found hurtful. Not everyone has sore points they can verbalize and I rather think the burden should be on more consideration for people and circumstances beyond what you yourself might be aware of personally.

      • I do. Anon never would have said it if they’d known their friend was trying heroic measures in order to have kids; they were gigged for the insensitivity of a common that they literally had no idea was going to land like that. In other circumstances, the comment would have landed just fine–and I understand being annoyed that you’re being, essentially, blamed for not being a mind-reader. What you do after you know is the criterion you should be judged on, not what you did when you had no way of knowing.

        • meadowphoenix said:

          You absolutely have an idea that comments about parenthood can be fraught. I don’t think you need to know about anyone’s reproductive activities to think “be glad you don’t have kids!” can land badly.

          • ‘I don’t think you need to know about anyone’s reproductive activities to think “be glad you don’t have kids!” can land badly.’

            “Can” is the operative word here. Anon had the impression that his/her friend was NOT planning on kids. Anon had zero reason to know that the comment would be hurtful and good reasons to think it wouldn’t be hurtful. The fact that something maybe CAN land badly in some situations doesn’t mean one should expect that it always will, especially if one has information indicating that it probably won’t.

          • meadowphoenix said:

            Unfortunately, there’s an a bad assumption here, that not planning on having kids means the subject of kids is a light one. That’s simply not true. They didn’t have good reasons to think it wouldn’t be hurtful, they made a assumption that it wouldn’t be hurtful because of information that doesn’t necessarily lead to that assumption. You’re responsible for your assumptions. Besides which, “zero reasons” is completely ridiculous when it’s well documented that reproduction is fraught. Which is to say, “can” is indeed operative and in this case means “more than probable” as a predictor. In other words, yes for fraught subjects in general, which we know people don’t always talk about, it should be your responsibility to be more careful in what you say.

            But yeah, I’m always going to be weirded out when someone gets mad that someone got hurt, even if they believe that they couldn’t have known what was the trigger.

          • Mary said:

            But someone saying, “You said something that I know you didn’t mean to be hurtful, but it really hurt me” isn’t “you’re a terrible person and should feel bad!” It’s just – you said something that hurt me. Saying, “but I didn’t MEAN it that way!” isn’t really the point. It’s like saying, “Well, I didn’t MEAN to tread on your foot! Can’t you just stop hurting?”

            There’s a lot of different types of apology for saying something hurtful:

            “Sorry you were hurt by something I did accidentally.”
            “Sorry you were hurt by something I did deliberately but didn’t know would hurt you. I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known it would hurt you.”
            “Sorry you were hurt by something I did deliberately, that I would have known would hurt you if I’d thought about it. Sorry for being thoughtless.”
            “Sorry for deliberately hurting you. I was coping badly with some other stuff and saying mean things

            Someone saying, “You said X and it hurt me” isn’t saying, “You deliberately hurt me.”

  15. dr_silverware said:

    LW, this is a hell of an argument for the value of asking for help with little stuff before The Big One comes in, just like with enforcing small boundaries before The Big One is crossed.

    Joy surely made a mistake–a couple mistakes. This is not me telling you to take any blame. But you may make a decision to forgive Joy, and a decision to treat her as a compassionate friend. Those are not decisions to be made lightly when you’re hurt. But if you make them, here’s a way to view her and a way to go forward.

    The problem with empathy is that even when we use it, we can get stuff wrong, and we use ourselves as the measuring stick of other minds until we know different. LW, I get the impression that you don’t ask for much help. and that you don’t talk about your feelings a whole lot. Joy, perhaps legitimately tired, mis-estimated your upset and the quality of help you needed. Perhaps that’s how she knows *she* sounds when she just needs an “oh poop.”

    The Captain’s script is excellent for the immediate situation. I would also add you telling her that you were deeply upset by the failure of your fertility treatments, and you still are, and that you’d love a few extra hugs and kind words–something small and regular that she can hopefully do.

    I think that you don’t have a recognizable pattern of your emotions set up for other people to see. Do you know how you can tell when Joy is super upset vs only a little upset by her behavior and what she asks you for? You may not be displaying the same signals. I think you need to build that pattern, going forward. Ask for more help.

    Specifically, ask for more help in small situations, medium situations, and not just big situations. So, If you had a kind of bummer day at work, think of something that Joy will probably be able to provide (eg not wine if she doesn’t drink) and ask her for that thing. If it turns out it’s not something she can provide, ok, now you know. And it’s much lower stakes for the both of you to learn a more reciprocal friendship.

    If it doesn’t work in low stakes, you know you’ve learned something. She may be too much of a drain, it turns out, and you might not have enough water and other faucets in your life to deal with that. On the upside, you’ve built up your skills in reciprocity for your next close, dear friendship.

    • Esti said:

      I think this is a really good point. If you have never asked a particular friend to provide emotional support in the little ways, it’s a huge leap in your friendship dynamic and their perceptions of you/your relationship to ask them to drop everything and provide immediate support in a crisis.

      It FEELS like they should be extra willing to pitch in (because this is the one and only time you’re asking for her help, she should both understand how much you need it and should use this moment to reciprocate all of the past help you’ve given her), and in some cases it may have that effect. But I think a lot of the time it’s the opposite — the friend doesn’t realize how much you need them because they’ve never played that role for you before, or feels uncomfortable jumping from zero to 100 in the emotional-support scale, or maybe you don’t have a lot of practice at expressing how much you need the support at that moment (“I’m feeling really blue and would appreciate it if we could spend some time together tonight” isn’t necessarily something I would read as “I’m absolutely devastated and I really, really need you to drop everything and be there for me”).

      That’s not to say, LW, that this particular friend handled things well or that you should try to rebuild this friendship. But if you do want to salvage it, I think there’s a lot of wisdom in what dr_silverware is saying: build things back up over time, and start small with your expectations/requests for support.

    • Yeah, I resemble this comment. I’m a chronic help-er and find asking for help almost physically painful, so my requests for help are almost always super understated. I’m like the person who comes into an emergency room in a hospital with a missing limb and goes, “Um, excuse me, does anyone have a minute…?” One of the hardest things for me has been learning that there are times I should scream bloody murder instead of trying to be quiet and considerate and not making waves.

      It is so, so frustrating to make a tiny call for help and have nobody answer, especially since my jerkbrain doesn’t say, “Well maybe no one heard you, call louder”; no, it says, “Clearly nobody cares enough because after all you would have heard that call if somebody else made it, so nobody’s coming because they all hate you and you’ll be alone forever.”

      Sometimes, LW, calls for help really are like sound frequency, where some ears are attuned differently. It sounds like to Joy, “I would appreciate if we could spend some time together” comes across as “I would be mildly pleased if we could hang.” To people like you and me, it’s “ALERT ALERT ALL HANDS TO BATTLE STATIONS.” And it can be important to know how different people are calibrated.

      (Also, having friends who do pick up on those faint calls for help can be sometimes alarming and discomfiting, especially at first. When I went away to therapist school and made friends with other people highly attuned as Helpers, the first person to offer to come over to my apartment at 9pm because I was feeling a little blue–even though this was exactly what I really wanted–made me go, “Oh god, no, it’s not that serious! I’m fine, really, I promise.” Learning how to unbend and accept that help was desperately hard.)

      • I relate so much to this and teared up a little reading your last paragraph. I have very few close friends and approximately none who are ‘helpers’…except one woman I met at university. I’d never had a friend before who reached out to me in bad times and understood that I may act strangely because of my mental health issues (she has ’em too, and more severe than mine. But I have many friends with mental health issues and no others that ever reached out to me, so this isn’t as simple as ‘she relates’). I got frightened, more than I could ever admit to anyone who knows me, that I would scare her off by taking too much and not giving enough, when I did tiny things like confide a little in her during a chat over a drink. Because I’m in the helping role so often with my friends I have no reference point for where the cutoff point for emotional care might be with other people. I don’t speak to my friend that often, but our friendship feels comfortable all the same.

      • azurelunatic said:

        Ha, yeah, I hear you there: so in high school during one of the *really really bad* rounds with depression, I went through my little address book of phone numbers of friends and asked each one carefully, “Do you have time to talk for a while?” I was at that time the person who would cheerfully spend a few hours on the phone per day, calling my friends and just chatting away, assuming that if they didn’t want to talk, they’d let me know and that would be okay. This time, I was being super careful, because I knew that if I got to talking with someone and they had to go all of a sudden, I’d be in an even worse place. I was also being super careful to not let on how bad off I was at that point, because of reasons that made sense to depression!brain, including the part where I knew that what I was going through was too big a burden for me to feel okay about dropping on a friend who had no training in psychiatric emergencies. Fortunately for me, someone did have the time to talk, he distracted me through the danger zone, and I got through that year safely.

        In retrospect, I should have had therapy starting 3-4 years prior, and should probably have been hospitalized at that point. Unfortunately I had no idea how to convince the parental gatekeepers that I needed access to any mental health services, even though I needed them nearly as badly as my father did.

  16. A_lopez said:

    I’m so sorry that your fertility treatments didn’t work out. It sucks, and it’s so unfair. I thought at least that Joy might not have experienced infertility or pregnancy loss herself so my jaw was dropping when I read that she did have a miscarriage!
    Sometimes people find it too much to handle when others are going through something. Does she seem to lack empathy in general?
    In the present, I guess Joy has not asked you why you’re being distant? In any case I would bring it up with her if you wish to see if you can continue with or repair the friendship. You seem wise in your assessment that you’d need a sincere apology to be able to get past this. I have had the experience of people cutting things off with me and I’ve only had to guess at why. It hurt in the cases I’m thinking of because I was going through difficult circumstances at the time, yet would have totally been prepared to apologize and do better, and it makes my teeth itch that I didn’t get the chance. (It wasn’t a direct situation of turning down a request though, it was vaguer, I’d have loved to have understood their point of view, but hey, you gotta move on …)
    On the other hand if I am the person ending things I do not want to have a FEELINGSDISCUSSION about it because it’s totally pointless if the other person gets defensive. But it really depends on how you want to continue the friendship from here. I don’t think the time frame is too long given that you have needed that time to heal, and were quite understandably too overwhelmed at the time. Good luck!

  17. I am also a giver (used to be codependent with it, but not anymore), and I can think of a few times in my life that people let me down at a critical time such that the relationship was harmed. In one of the two cases I’m thinking of, the person beautifully, spontaneously apologized several years after the incident. In the other case, that never happened. But it’s the latter relationship that fully recovered.

    The first person, we’ll call Apologizer. Several years after the problematic incident, Apologizer spontanously sent me a handwritten letter that said, “Sorry I didn’t believe you about the childhood abuse… you really needed me then and I let you down” and so on and so forth. It meant so much to me at the time, that I cried. They said everything I wanted to hear. But the thing is, their behavior didn’t actually change in a noticeable way after that. I still put forth most of the effort in the relationship – I need to initiate contact, I send cards and gifts and make phone calls and offer to visit. I am lucky if the other person responds to those attempts, they don’t really reach out to me at all. I help them out, they don’t help me out. Now, I’ve made my peace with that. But our relationship never regained its former closeness and I have let go of a lot of its importance in my heart.

    The second person we’ll call Doer. Doer never apologized for the poor way they treated me when I had cancer, EVER. They still occasionally make remarks that show they don’t “get it” even after I confronted them about it. But after I confronted them… the way they treated me DID change They heard me when I set boundaries about how I wanted to be treated. There was some initial resistance but over time with reinforcement they changed their behavior. They have been there 100% for the hard times that came later. And over that time our closeness came back. Yeah, it’s shitty that they weren’t there when I had cancer and that they wanted to make it all about them and I still feel a pang when I think about it. But, when I think about how they called me every single day for three months when I was getting a divorce just to see how I was doing and how they helped me confront my abuser it takes away some of the sting of that time they dropped the ball.

    Words aren’t everything. NotMom, I’m sorry to say that may never get the apology you deserve. But how would you want their behavior to change in the future? If you want to continue the friendship you may want to consider asking them for that.

    It’s also true that if you only ask someone for help one time, and they don’t come through, then pretty much they can only get a big, fat zero or a 100% grade in helping you. If you ask other times, then they have more chances to prove their mettle (or not). That doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t have been there for you the one time you asked. She should have been! But asking for help a few more times, perhaps on things that are less important, might show more about whether or not she can be good to you. Asking her to be more sensitive about your pain about that issue in the future could be part of it.

    Anybody can make a mistake once. It’s what they do once you ask for redress that I think really shows their character.

  18. Joan of anon said:

    I think the Captain’s advice is in general pretty good, and comes from a very noble place of being an extremely good person. I would like to offer advice which I know isn’t as noble or kind to Joy, but I think valid as well.

    Joy can go fuck herself.

    LW, why do you want to repair a friendship with someone who offered you no support during one of the worst, most painful experiences of your life? What apology could she give that would be good enough? Not only that, but she’s forgotten enough of this significant experience of your life to make the comment she did at lunch – and *also* she’s the kind of person who makes really mean, judgemental comments about the kind of lives and families other people have.

    If you can feel yourself biting back against the things I’ve said about her here, and defending her, then maybe your relationship as something worth salvaging. But I think you should consider whether it is worth it before you put yourself through trying.

    Maybe it would be less painful to decide and accept that she isn’t the friend you wanted her to be. Stop hoping for more. Keep in contact, for the things you have together in the past, for the sake of the ways in which you are family – but perhaps consider her more like *family*, in the true sense, not the romantic sense. Someone who is part of your life through history and shared connections, but not necessarily your favourite person in the world. Consider her a cousin. Use the effort you would have put into salvaging something which may not be salvageable into new friends who really can offer you mutual support.

    • Yes, thanks for this. There’s no threshold you have to reach before someone has done enough ‘bad things’ for you to stop being friends with them. If the LW finds that it turns out to be too painful to stay friends, that would be totally fair enough. I’m not saying burn all the bridges, but remove the emotional stakes. Don’t provide emotional support for Joy any more. Don’t pay into the friendship what isn’t being paid out. And if the LW does African Violet on this one, fair enough.

      Signed: someone who has survived a long-term abusive friendship and therefore has extreme difficulty having healthy friendships that I don’t much feel like feeling guilty about it in a generalised ‘friendships are worth saving!’ way. (this sentiment is not aimed at LW or CA, neither or who did this, but I feel like some of the comments are chastising LW for pulling away from Joy.)

    • TO_Ont said:

      “Keep in contact, for the things you have together in the past, for the sake of the ways in which you are family – but perhaps consider her more like *family*, in the true sense, not the romantic sense. Someone who is part of your life through history and shared connections, but not necessarily your favourite person in the world. Consider her a cousin. Use the effort you would have put into salvaging something which may not be salvageable into new friends who really can offer you mutual support.”

      Yes. The LW says she’s reluctant to end the friendship because she is close to the children, but there are many kinds of interpersonal relationships. Not all of them include emotional intimacy, sharing personal feelings, etc. One can be part of a shared community and maintain social bonds while accepting that you aren’t close.

  19. Lisa said:

    Just some thoughts here…

    Joy may or may not have been tapped out or drained when supporting you through your tough times. As the Captain says, we’ll never really know what is in her head. I would like to put forward that maybe the strength of your disappointment in Joy is linked to the disappointment in beginning to realize that a strong need was not going to be fulfilled. Having kids a hunger that, if you have it (and not all of us do), can be all consuming and so so painful when you’re not able to meet that need. However, the god children are a way to meet that need (a little) and ending the friendship would maybe cut your nose off to spite your face.

    She messed up that night. No question. But I’m not seeing that as part of a pattern up to that point, though it sounds like there was some pulling back on her part, and then hurt driven pulling back on your part as well. It is easy to overload friendships, particularly when the dark times are very dark and very long. I don’t want to vilify Joy…though not the most sensitive (it seems), that doesn’t mean that she is a totally bad person. I don’t mean to say you’ve messed up in anyway either.

    You sound hurt. You sound like you’re still dealing with a lot of pain on a lot of fronts.

    Maybe book some time with professional support to unpick some of these issues/feelings and gain some clarity on where you want to go and what you need from here. Maybe focus on you and your needs a bit, instead of the friendship with Joy.

    Wishing you clarity, and most of all, some peace.

    • No one said Joy is a totally bad person, even the LW said Joy is not generally a hurtful person. I think there’s a danger sometimes, especially in female friendships (LW I apologise if I’m incorrectly assuming your gender identity) for it to be assumed that the ideal is that ‘girls stick together’ without thinking if that’s healthy or right. LW can choose to not remain friends with Joy without it being some sort of moral choice on Joy’s character.

      The rest of your comment is lovely and thoughtful, this isn’t an attack.

  20. LL said:

    I’m sorry you are feeling so hurt by your friend. Last year I was in a situation somewhat parallel to yours, and I I found the following exercise to be immensely helpful to me. I thought I’d share it, in case it might help you, too? It’s from the book “Charisma Myth” by Olivia Fox Cabane (great book, FYI!). Feel free to give it a try if you want to. Here it is:


    1. Think of a person in your life who has aggrieved you. Take a blank page and write that person a letter saying anything and everything you wish you had ever told them. Really get into this — you have nothing to lose. Make sure you write it all out by hand.
    When you’ve gotten absolutely everything off your mind and onto paper, put the letter aside.

    2. Take a fresh sheet and write their response just the way you wish they would respond. You might have them taking responsibility for their actions, acknowledging and apologizing for everything they’ve ever done that hurt you. You don’t need to find any justification for their actions, just an acknowledgement and an apology. It’s your imagination so you get to decide exactly what you’d like to hear.

    Re-read the apology letter over the next few days or weeks as needed.

    This exercise may sound silly or awkward, but I know it made an amazing difference in howI felt about the situation, and it enabled me to deal more effectively with the person who had hurt me.

    As the book explains, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”. Doing this exercise helped me to stop drinking the poison and move on – it stripped the situation and the person of their power over me, and it put the power to achieve my own happiness/well-being back into my own hands. This felt emotionally scary to try at first, but I found it very freeing and empowering.

    In any case, I really hope you are able to find resolution with your friend and find peace in this difficult situation however things turn out. Best of luck to you.

    (P.S. sorry if I posted a nearly identical comment earlier – I am 95% sure my computer ate my first draft, so I am re-posting)

    • Emma9 said:

      I really like your way of looking at things. Several commenters have suggested to the LW that they look at her ideal resolution for her situation with Joy – does she *want* them to be besties, or would she be unable to ever trust her that deeply and would have an easier time being casual friends for the sake of Joy’s kids? – and work backwards from there. Asking Joy to come to terms with what she did and why LW was so hurt would be important in the first situation, but if it’s the second, your idea would perhaps be simpler.

      There’s someone in my life who will always, at least to some degree, be in my life. This person will never truly change; it’s taken me a long time and a lot of futile effort to accept that. My best-case scenario, this person truly absorbing what they’ve put me through over the years, being horrified and remorseful, and transforming into someone I can trust with my emotional health, will not happen. Another scenario – where I let loose and ‘punish’ this person, unleash the kind of cruelty that I’ve had to put up with, and make them understand that despite surface pleasantness, I will never honestly love or even care about them again – would be satisfying in some ways, but would make my own life harder in others.

      So I’ve had to take a third road, withdrawing all mental and emotional effort from my relationship from this person beyond what’s needed to maintain the status quo, and resigning myself to the lack of closure. That’s not an easy thing to do, and reframing it in much the way you’re talking about has been very helpful.

    • That letter exercise can be so powerful. It’s a great way to finally take advantage of that thing where ourr emotions don’t always know the difference between things that really happened, and things that we pretend happened. We can’t control whether or not someone really makes amends; but if we can spend some time living as if they had, it heals the wound a bit. It’s something we sometimes do in therapy–go back to a traumatic experience and write out an alternate ending of how the person would have liked it to end, no matter how unrealistic; and even though you can’t change the past, you can change the feelings of loss and devastation that used to follow that memory around.

  21. Ooof, LW, this sounds so hard.

    I recently went through a lot of African Violetting after I was the victim of a crime and several of my very close friends refused to support me. In particular, Joy sounds like my friend “Mabel”.

    Mabel went through a horrific break-up in which the guy got over her and started dating again relatively quickly, while Mabel spent 2 years unable to have a conversation without bringing him up. It really grated, and most of her friends would yell “NO” at her when she started to talk about him, but I always let her, because I believed she was depressed and that stopping her talking about it would just make it worse, so I sat through years of hearing about this frankly very boring guy. Mabel kind of worshipped me and was always saying what a wonderful friend I was, so I thought I was getting enough back for what I gave to her. Even when she ruined my parties and work events by making them all about her and this guy.

    We were such close friends that we went to dinner or had coffee together about twice a week.

    Then an old boyfriend committed this crime against me, and I really needed my friends – not for anything grueling, but just to listen to me talk and tell me it wasn’t my fault. And Mabel took off. Not only did she sigh and change the topic every time I mentioned it, but she just stopped asking to spend time with me, stopped messaging me. It hurt so much. What’s even worse is that she’s still in my friendship circle, who feel this is my issue with her, and not that Mabel let me down.

    About 5 months after this all happened, Mabel began messaging me again, just saying very glib things, and I, like you, just couldn’t get past how much she wasn’t there for me, and how much I *had* been there for her. I felt like I couldn’t tell her where to go, because I couldn’t afford to lose such a close friend and because I didn’t want her to hate me. But I think I owed it to us both not to make myself waste time on someone I resented, and not to waste her time on someone who secretly resented her (even though I still like her in other ways). I sent her a message saying “I need some space, please don’t contact me for a while.”

    And after a month or two realising this feeling was not going away, I sent her a message saying “To be honest, I feel like you really let me down when you wouldn’t let me talk about X situation, especially when I was always there for you after your break-up, and I only have time for friends who are supportive of me. I haven’t told you this earlier because I was hoping these feelings would pass, and I didn’t want you to have a grudge against me.”

    She was pretty apologetic, but she did compare my situation (having an actual violent crime committed against me by someone I was in love with) with hers (being dumped) – an earlier commenter brought up that if Joy doesn’t already get what a big deal this is for you, she never will, and I think my experience with Mabel bears this out.

    But my point is, the world didn’t end. Sometimes I think about the good times with Mabel and miss her, but I think that just means she was the right friend at the time, but she isn’t now. If someone can’t support you through bad times, for whatever reason, they are not going to be a good friend forever – at some point, you will need something from them. If Joy can’t be that person, don’t put yourself in the horrible situation of waiting for her to be.

  22. Anyanka said:

    LW, I really want to say that the Captain’s advice is super-sound here. If you don’t actually talk about it, it’s entirely possible she will never, ever get what she did or the significance of it or how it was wrong. People who act like this have, IME, rationalized away any feelings of guilt they had about it or just have such a completely different viewpoint on their actions that they really DON’T get what they did was awful. Maybe your friend thinks it wasn’t such a big deal because you had other friends to call on, or because your infertility is less painful than her miscarriage (not that it actually is–but she might legitimately think that), or because you clearly were fine afterwards, or because IVF is bad, or any number of reasons.

    Rationalizing other people’s pain away is a really common defense mechanism because it gives an excuse to be unkind and insensitive. It means you don’t have to empathize with and possibly help the other person. It spares you from guilt. And it really, really screws up relationships and creates this false image in your head of YOUR pain being the ONLY REAL PAIN in the universe, when it’s really, really not.

    She really might be sitting there and thinking that she did nothing wrong and you are suddenly being cold and mean.

    One of my ex-friends has no real clue we’re not super-close best friends anymore, because when she started being weird and sometimes awful (also by not reciprocating support or help or basic friendship gestures), she never realized (or let herself realize? IDK) how unfair and wrong it was, and I had no clue how to handle it except by pulling away. Years later, she has no idea what she did wrong, and doesn’t get why we’re suddenly not close and I don’t like or trust her anymore.

    There isn’t a way to repair a friendship without some confrontation, not for stuff of this scale. Sitting and stewing and resenting her more and more will only sour what’s left of your relationship. When wounds need to be treated, it means cleaning them, antibiotic-ing them, bandaging them. Not sitting there and bleeding and waiting for the other person to take the knife out when they blithely go on saying that there’s no knife, and in fact people with knives are CRAZY.

  23. Fish said:

    Dear LW,

    It seems like you have 3 options to me:

    1) try to repair the friendship (air things out, be prepared for a defensive response at first which could be really extra-painful, and willing to try again a second time a few days later after she’s had time to process, and accept that maybe the bridge will be burned at the end of it and you’ll no longer be in her children’s lives)

    2) try to continue as is (low contact individual who you go through the friendship motions with when she’s around), with the knowledge that you want to be in her children’s lives until they’re adults and can make the choice to say in your life or not, and once they’ve grown up you can stop interacting with her altogether. You already know that this option sucks. Maybe you can continue with a variant of this option where when she says something deeply hurtful, like she did about single moms, you say “wow. That was really hurtful.” rather than just swallowing it, so that at least you don’t have the extra pain of grinning and bearing it.

    3) accept that the friendship is over and walk away from it/burn that bridge/whatever gives you peace with the knowledge that it costs you a relationship in her children’s lives.

    There are probably other choices that I haven’t thought of. But, any of these is fine to choose depending on your own needs. I’m at a place in my life where I probably wouldn’t even try to do (1) unless they initiated (and in doing so showed that they’re willing to do emotional work sometimes, rather than just lean on others), because I’m at the point where relationships that require me to do all the emotional work are actively harmful for me. And, it sounds like you have good reason to believe that she does not do emotional work, and requires a lot of emotional support. You might be in a different place in your life than I am though, and giving (1) a try is certainly noble, and is the only option with a chance that you become friends again.

  24. 30ish said:

    My impression is that the friendship with Joy is beyond repair, and that you’re probably better off with dialing it down to an acquaintance-type relationship. Letting her know how you feel might just hurt you again without providing anything productive, it might be a whole lot like the search for ‘closure’ after a romantic relationship ends. The friendship may have been over ever since she send the “oh poop” text and then didn’t reach out to you afterwards. The way you described it, the only reason why you did not African Violet her at that point is because you didn’t have the energy, given the difficult circumstances.
    I also think you had very good reason to feel this way. She should have met you that night or at least given you an alternative, like meeting you the next day or whatever. It’s very clear cut – you asked for her support when you really, really needed it and she did not give you any. Then she also didn’t apologize or show you in some other way how much she cared. Friendships are about being there for each other. There are moments where you have to least take a phone call, or make time to meet someone even if it’s inconvenient. If you can’t, you at least have to apologize or otherwise show your support at a later time when it’s more convenient. And if it’s never convenient, then it’s just not a great friendship and it’s OK to leave it.

  25. jd said:

    A lot of people here seem to think Joy is the worst, but I’ve been Joy. I’ve experienced a friend “punishing” (anger, passive aggressiveness, withdrawing) me for failing to intuit her needs when she was struggling to articulate them, while I was going through my own things. I felt horrible when I found out, finally, but there was no way I was going to know where she was exactly or what she needed from me if she wasn’t going to tell me. No one is psychic, no one “owes” anyone else their time and their support, even the very best of friends. It absolutely SUCKS to feel abandoned, I know. I’ve found myself in LW situation too before (not with IVF, but other things), and it hurts when someone I wanted to be there for me couldn’t, but I moved on and found other support.

    It comes down to communication. My friend and I resolved our issue by talking to each other and each of us accepting responsibility for our own actions and emotions. My friend explained what she had been feeling and what she’d wanted from me, I explained what I’d been feeling and what I had been capable of giving. She took ownership of her anger and bitterness (and some of the really unpleasant things she did while her resentment was spiralling out of control). I apologized for some thoughtless comments I’d made not knowing their significance to her at the time and supported her in coping from there on out. We’re still incredibly close now, after coming back from a point where I told her to deal with her anger herself or we were done. I actually have a solid handful of really amazingly supportive friendships right now, and they all come with the understanding that if we need support, A) we have to ask for it, and B) we have to be willing to hear no when the other person isn’t up for it. We can feel hurt, but we can’t take it out on each other.

    If you do try to talk to Joy and she behaves like an ass, then let the friendship go, absolutely. If you ask for a friend for help in the future, and they behave like an ass, then let that friendship go too. But you (and some others here) are holding Joy accountable on the basis of things that sound to me like “she OUGHT to have known” and “my needs OUGHT to come first” and you might need to check those assumptions if you want to keep this friendship. People aren’t mind-readers and you have no idea what Joy was dealing with at the time.

    I don’t know Joy like you do. Maybe you understand enough about her to know that there’s more going on here than I can see at face-value and she truly was just disinterested in supporting you (which I will still argue is her right, though it’s also your right to not want that in your close friends). In that case, why do you want to be friends with her at all? If she’s that unreliable? You don’t “fix” a friendship by expecting someone to change in a fundamental way, so you need to figure out if all of this is who Joy is or if this was her reaction when operating on the information that she had at the time. And you can only do that by talking openly and honestly with her (as the Captain prescribes). But if you go into this expecting her to accept that she was the “bad guy” and you were the “good guy”, I’m skeptical about how it will turn out.

    I’m torn about posting this comment because I truly feel for you and what you went through and I believe your anger is valid regardless of how I feel about Joy, but it’s also frustrating me so much to see this theme in the comments about how friends are obligated to help friends, always and automatically, and they’re shitty if they don’t. My own experience is that kind of belief can destroy friendships. Consent, boundaries, communication, and self-care are all as relevant in friendships as they are in other kinds of relationships.

    • Lisa said:

      +1

    • I don’t think Joy is the worst at all, but I feel like saying ‘oh poop’ when someone tells you, specifically, what the bad news is, which the LW states that they did, is quite justified being angry at. It feels like a sort of attempt to help the LW laugh it off or something. I mean, I’m not expecting someone to say all the perfect words about how they understand what it feels like for IVF to fail (because most people have never been through that, it would be dishonest to try), but we have an all purpose term to say when someone confides some bad news. It’s ‘I’m so sorry’. Honestly, I totally understand Joy not going straight over there, that’s a tall order, but if I were in Joy’s position I’d put aside some minutes of the next day to call the LW and check in.

      I think the single mothers remark by Joy is not so much what’s bothering the LW, it’s that the news happened and Joy just seemed to forget all about it. But I like the way the Captain’s script uses the remark as a jumping off point to talk about the ‘oh poop’ incident. Otherwise you run the risk of ‘why are you suddenly bringing this up now out of nowhere?’

      • jd said:

        Oh, I agree she’s justified in being angry (I always assume people’s feelings are valid, on the basis of them being that person’s feelings). What bugs me though is the expectation that Joy should have gleaned her anger and done something about it. Joy is responsible for her actions, not LW’s feelings. If LW had gone to Joy (when she was feeling ready for it) and said, “Uh, that was actually super hurtful” and Joy went, “Well, it shouldn’t have been–you’re being over-sensitive”, then I’d be feeling differently about the whole thing. But it’s the radio silence coupled with mounting resentment that’s a bit of a red flag to me. I mean, it’s never ever easy to tell a friend that they’ve hurt you (especially not when dealing with a bunch of personal stuff), but it’s still unfair to hold that person responsible for something they have no idea they’ve done. And saying “oh poop”, while I can totally see how it was hurtful, I can also completely see as the response of someone who has no idea what to say and isn’t ready or able to be a great support person in that instance. Those aren’t mutually exclusive things.

        I agree that going over the next day or making some kind of gesture would have been great friend thing to do. But no one, including the LW, knows if Joy was actually in a place to be a great friend that day. Maybe she was busy being a great Joy to herself. Being a non-great friend doesn’t make you a bad person, a lesson I have learned the very hard way.

        • moseyonby said:

          “But no one, including the LW, knows if Joy was actually in a place to be a great friend that day.” For me, and I am pretty sure for the LW based on the letter, the issue isn’t just “that day.” It’s a combination of that day AND all the days after that when she didn’t re-calibrate and think, “Oh wow, that was a shitty response. My friend was asking for help and I f**ked up.”

          I think LW never brought it up because she was in pain for a long time. Not because she WANTED to hold a grudge, but it appears that the wound is only barely recently somewhat healed.

          And I have to say, this isn’t, like, an acquaintance. These are BEST FRIENDS. We talk about asking/guessing cultures at CA fairly often, and I think that even within ask cultures, there is an acknowledgement that among people who are the closest of close will be able to do some empathic reaching out or in other words, guessing.

          LW literally asked for that help, got turned down, and Joy never guessed her way back into good graces and caring actions.

          I dunno… this letter is really having an effect on me for some reason. It’s turning on my indignation buttons.

          I mean, when I know that I can’t handle other people’s pain in the moment, I say to them as gently as possible that I can’t. LW deserved that AT LEAST from her supposed bff.

          LW, if Joy was super busy or overwhelmed that night, I wish that Joy had texted you something more like this instead: “I am so sorry, Friend. That really sucks. You deserve a big hug and a big cry. I understand why you want to be with me tonight. Unfortunately I can’t come over right now–I can’t even talk on the phone. I am totally tapped out right now for reasons I can explain to you later, if you want. I promise to catch up with you soon, but for now I’m dealing with my own feelings of overwhelm. Love you and talk soon. And I’m so sorry.”

        • ‘Radio silence’ …because depression. Depression relating to what may have been a permanent fertility problem. That Joy showed the LW she didn’t understand about. Drawing away to protect yourself seems totally reasonable. But depression’s not just about feeling sad or numb. For some, including me, it also exacerbates feelings like resentment. It can build them up into a horrible toxic mess of your jerkbrain telling you how that friend never cared about you anyway. If left untreated, it only gets worse. But powerful resentment is a hell of a difficult thing to power through and reasonably talk to someone about afterwards. I don’t blame the LW for finding it hard, though Joy may not have found it particularly pleasant to feel LW was chilly towards her but not know why. (note: people can pick up on these things without you actually doing anything bad to that person.) I’m kind of commending the LW for being at a group event with Joy actually. I don’t think I could trust myself to do that in case I got angry.

          I’m not defending resentment or condoning not using words, just trying to get across how hard it can be. For myself, I know my resentment problem is only mine to deal with. I go to great lengths to avoid hurting my friends with it. I am sorting out treatment for myself so I can cope with my negative emotions. Because of this, I took your ‘red flag’ remark a bit personally. Emotions can’t, in themselves, be a red flag for anything. It’s how you act on them. Distancing yourself from a friend isn’t an action, it’s a lack of action. No one is entitled to your closeness. Just like Joy wasn’t entitled to get to the LW’s side straight away. (‘oh poop’ tho? Yeesh…I’ve already said in another comment but that’s a really messed up response, and I’m 100% with the LW for reacting strongly about it. It’s childish, maddening and rude. ‘I’m so sorry, that’s terrible news’ is ALL that needed to be said.) Something can be a red flag for an abusive relationship, or indeed an abusive friendship. But what exactly is this red flag about? That LW can’t be a good friend to Joy? (because if it’s that then I’m arguing that Joy’s response of ‘oh poop’ is a red flag suggesting Joy may not be a good friend to LW!) That LW’s emotions are wrong? Well, not in themselves, because we agree that emotions can’t really be wrong, but her acting nastily to Joy because of them certainly would be (though there’s not really evidence for this in the letter unless you count being slightly cold to someone, which, fair enough I guess but I still don’t blame LW for it). That LW’s emotions are a red flag that she may have potentially abusive tendencies? Tbh because we talk so much about red flags for abuse on this site, I think this is why I reacted so strongly to the phrase- I associate it with you calling someone who has emotional reactions that are like LW’s (i.e. me) a potential abuser. I was emotionally abused, and it’s important to remember that it is a PATTERN of actions. If the LW continually acted like Joy had failed her for genuine misunderstandings, then fine. But there’s not evidence in the letter that suggest this. It seems to me like the LW is someone who was burned after realising, at a time in her life that was already terrible for other reasons, that she couldn’t count on a close friend for emotional support.

          Tl;dr- those of us who experience strong negative emotions which we are working very hard to control would appreciate them not being called red flags. Thank you.

          • jd said:

            I apologize, I was not using “red flag” in reference to abusiveness, but rather as in “this to me seems like a sign of two people’s dysfunctional communication patterns rather that one person’s”. But you are right that that phrase is usually reserved for “abusive relationship” on this site and I should have chosen something less stigmatizing. I agree with the rest of your comment and I’m sorry.

      • twomoogles said:

        You know, it’s interesting because I had the opposite reaction–I’d forgive “oh poop” more than not going over to support her. I guess because for me, I have blurted out the wrong thing on more than one occasion. There are so many articles and lists out there; “Things Not to Say To A Person Dealing with X Issue” and very very few “suggestions of what to say.” So I can totally see myself saying the absolute wrong thing–but I can’t imagine telling a friend “no I won’t come over to support you” without a lot of “I am so sorry I can’t make it tonight but tomorrow I am all yours” or *something* along those lines. But, I think that’s kind of an example of how everyone has different expectations in a friendship, because I’ve certainly been on both sides of “this really hurt me/I honestly had no idea” before.

        • TO_Ont said:

          “You know, it’s interesting because I had the opposite reaction–I’d forgive “oh poop” more than not going over to support her.”

          Yeah, me too. The one is not knowing what to say in a difficult situation, which I have a huge amount of sympathy for, while the other is refusing a direct request of something a friend has said they really need (and if it’s a friend who doesn’t easily ask for help, then I would think that would trigger the thought that wow, they must really need it).

          • TO_Ont said:

            Although I don’t think the friend is obligated to come over — just that to me that would hurt more and make me more likely to wonder if the friend was someone I was going to think of as someone I could rely on in the future or as a close friend.

          • Amanda said:

            I kind of disagree on this one. Perhaps this is unfair of me, and I know that I’m certainly at least a little biased, in that I am very much the giver/helper/doer in my friend group, but I feel like Joy didn’t just “blurt out” Oh, poop. She texted it. She had the opportunity to read it, to re-read, to maybe look at her phone later and realize, with a clearer mind, how shitty that sounded and to say, “LW, I’m sorry, that response sucked. What can I do?”

            Also, everyone has the right to say “I can’t deliver on your direct request”. But I do agree that Joy should have acknowledged LW’s pain, should have actually done *something*–because it sounds like she not only said “oh poop” but then never actually acknowledged LW’s request to spend time together.

            I don’t know if I would be able to be friends with Joy again after this. I had a friend that broke my trust in a huge way, and I deifnitely screwed up in not bringing it up earlier, but when I finally did, her response made it clear that she was unable to change her actions or behavior. She continued to lie to me (despite the fact that was she said was provably untrue) and when I told her that I was ending the friendship, she tried to refuse.

            It was the hardest African violent I’ve had to give someone, and sometimes I think that if I had handled things better, it would have maybe not necessarily worked out well, but things would have ended more quickly and with a little less pain.

          • TO_Ont said:

            Can’t nest, but why assume she thinks it sounds shitty or that if she looked at it again she would think so? I kind of assume that since she did write it, she didn’t think it was a shitty thing to write. Clearly she was wrong, but if she didn’t realize that when she wrote it, I don’t see why she’d realize it later. I mean, it’s basically ‘oh shit’ without the swearing, i.e., it’s clearly a way of saying something’s bad.

          • twomoogles said:

            I was commenting less to say “I’m right, other people are wrong” about which is worse, but more to say that I think each individual will react differently; something that is friendship-ending for me might be a minor irritation for someone else, and vice versa. I think there’s something to be said, definitely, for looking at patterns of behaviour and whether you believe you’re overall getting something from the friendship. But I also think there can be a tendency to try to figure out if what the person did was “bad enough” to warrant it; I think it’s useful to get a variety of answers but there isn’t usually one right or wrong answer for everybody. For some, knowing how to say the right thing and nto phrasing it in an insensitive way would be really important in a close friend, but for others, not so much.

        • Mary said:

          I was totally reading “oh poop” as “oh poop, I can’t come over tonight because I have stuff to do”, not “oh poop, sorry your IVF failed.” Which is a huuuuge difference to me. I mean, it’s badly expressed, but one is, “Oh poop, I recognise that you need me but unfortunately tonight is just not possible for me” and the other is “I am totally missing the significance of this huge thing that has happened for you.”

    • Jane said:

      jd, I have very mixed feelings about your comment. On one hand, I think it provides useful insight for future relationships for the LW; on the other, I think it comes perilously close to saying that if Joy did something cruel to the LW, the fault lies with the LW for not communicating that she is not okay with cruel things being done to her. I mean, people make thoughtless comments, yes, and if you want continue a friendship it’s in your best interests to forgive those comments. But. . . part of being a good person, let alone a good friend, is thinking about how your words and actions impact others. I spend a lot of time working on what I say and how I say it, because I don’t want to thoughtlessly hurt someone within hearing range. A lot of opinions I don’t express out loud because I don’t feel like me getting to shoot off at the mouth is worth the potential of causing damage. I might let down my guard some with close friends, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it.

      In an ideal world, I think the LW would have come back the next day or the next week and said, “Hey, the way you reacted after my treatment failed really hurt me. I need an apology for that for the friendship to continue.” She didn’t, and I understand why not, because depression is a hell of a paralyzing drug. I think that was probably the perfect conflation of badness to destroy whatever good feeling was left.

      As far as not assuming that any given support is going to be okay: Because of my own experience, I am SO WARY of people who say you shouldn’t have expectations in a relationship. Usually that means they don’t want to be obligated to treat you consistently and honestly. Joy also didn’t say, “Hey, that sounds really hard, but I am not able to be a support system for you right now.” She just sort of turtled up and waited the LW’s feeling out.

      The phrase is something like “Never assume malice when you can assume thoughtlessness.” Which is useful if someone’s intentions figure into your anger, but thoughtlessness is enough to ruin a friendship. I think the LW can take this knowledge with her to new friendships, but I don’t think knowing that Joy didn’t mean to be inconsiderate is going to heal the damage done.

      Sometimes it can literally be no one’s fault that a friendship implodes. Like, maybe they could have done something different, maybe not (communication = not always possible under the weight of depression), but maybe the bad concurrence of hard situations meant that both the LW and Joy were showing their worst sides to each other for a protracted period of time. Voila. Dead friendship. Nobody’s fault, but better cut out the injury than let it get infected.

      Mostly how your comment reads to me is: LW, end this friendship. End it now, because Joy doesn’t feel bad, Joy has moved on, Joy doesn’t remember the thing that hurt you, Joy is not going to apologize for hurting you, and regardless of whether anybody’s behavior passes the Committee on Relationship Ethics, the only way you are going to get validation for your anger is just being 110% done with this friendship. I say this as someone who doesn’t heal when what feels like the source of the injury is staring me in the face. It might not be their fault that they couldn’t help me, but that doesn’t mean I can stay friends and play nice. Some people can choose to put anger behind them, and some people have to let it fade because it won’t. be. put.

      Sometimes you lose people, people you love a lot. No friendship is worth trying to mangle yourself into feeling the “right” things if you can’t or aren’t ready to do that. I wish there was a less painful answer than that.

      • jd said:

        We disagree on the definition of cruelty. I can understand how “oh poop” hurts, but it doesn’t rise to the level of cruelty for me. Awkward? Yes. Not the right way to respond to someone in pain? Yes. But I can think of genuinely cruel things to have said (I started to type a few and then just felt like no one actually needs to read that, but let’s say something along the lines of telling LW that she shouldn’t be upset or that her needs aren’t important). All “oh poop” technically means is “that sounds bad”, albeit in a childish kind of way, and that really may be all Joy was trying to say (which again, can’t stress enough, does *not* mitigate that it was incredibly hurtful to LW, especially in the greater context of her feelings and needs at the time). So, no, I don’t think that Joy is necessary a “bad person” for saying an awkward thing in a difficult moment, for asserting a boundary that hurt her friend, and then seeming to not know what to do about it after. LW also didn’t seem to know what to do about it after, hence the prolonged awkwardness and pain.

        Re: “the ideal world”, I covered this above, but it’s not fair to hinge judgements of Joy’s character on “ideals” instead of realistic expectations everyone can live up to. I never said LW had to be happy with Joy’s response either, just pointed out that there are things Joy *can* be responsible for, and things she can’t be.

        Also, I did not say not to have expectations in a relationship. I absolutely expect my friends to treat me with respect and like a human being. I return that by treating them like human beings and not making our friendship contingent on them being able to put my needs over theirs at any given time, even when I really, really legitimately need it (though obviously as friends we often try when we can, but it’s not assumed as a given). That’s all I’m trying to promote here–don’t treat support in friendships like a reciprocal obligation (and here in the comments I’m seeing shades of “well I feel like I’m not allowed to say no so it upsets me when other people say no”) and use your words instead of hoping people will guess correctly.

        I’m not sure I understand your reading of my comment. I did reiterate that LW is not obligated to stay in a relationship that makes her unhappy, for whatever reason, but the main thrust of it was to point out that I believe rebuilding the relationship, if that’s what she wants to do, means not approaching it as an absolute right vs. wrong situation where the main problem is that Joy fucked up and didn’t apologize. Which means making a decision about what she wants to do with this anger, and that should come down to what’s best for her. I can’t tell her what that is because I know it’s a very hard decision to make.

        • Jarissa said:

          My reading of the original post was that Joy texted “oh poop” in response to *I need you*.

          The LW says: “I’m feeling really blue and would appreciate it if we could spend some time together tonight”; that reads to me as a specific kind of “I need you” request, but the fact is that it IS a request for support.

          And the answer was “oh poop”. (Followed by *I supported somebody else already today and now I am tired and don’t feel like it.* From someone who knew ahead of time that this day was going to be critical, that’s ESPECIALLY callous.)

          So, yes, I would say that is a genuinely cruel way to respond to a friend or loved one, and disrespectful, and not okay.

          • jd said:

            See, it’s people arguing that saying something like, “I supported somebody else already today and now I am tired and don’t feel like it” constitutes cruelty that keeps putting my teeth on edge here. It’s perfectly valid for Joy to set boundaries. That’s *not* cruelty, no matter how important that day was for LW. It’s just really damn unfortunate. (And in case this is a matter of terminology, to me “cruel” means “deliberate and malicious, for the purpose of hurting someone”.)

            Also, even assuming “oh poop” was in reference to the request, it still comes down to an awkward and poor way of expressing one’s inability to do what someone has asked for. But it’s *not* *cruel* to be unable or unwilling to provide emotional labor to someone else. Again, that doesn’t mean it can’t be hurtful to the person who needs help (and, yeah, especially when handled badly), but I refuse to accept the idea that anyone (besides a parent to a child or in that kind of special dependent relationship) has an obligation to support anyone else. Consent-based friendship, is all I’m saying. Consent. Not obligation. Having boundaries isn’t being cruel or mean or being a bad person.

            To reiterate, I’m not saying Joy did *nothing* wrong here. I’m saying the thing she did wrong was express her boundaries poorly, *not* that she had boundaries at all, which is the vibe I’ve gotten from several comments here suggesting that her not being there for the LW is the real problem.

          • My reading of the OP was that the LW told Joy the IVF failed, and Joy said “Oh poop”, then the LW told Joy she wanted to see her tonight and Joy declined, saying she was tired.

          • Jarissa said:

            JD – Sorry it took me so long. I have been editing myself over and over because I don’t want this to sound like I am mad at you, or I think you are a twerp, or something, and my words have been not doing what I want.
            I have no problem with you, a spouse, Joy, or Dejah Thoris Princess of Barsoom setting boundaries on who she will support and when and how much and why.
            I have no problem with you, a spouse, Joy, or Dejah Thoris Princess of Barsoom using words to say “I cannot do this for you”, even in response to a direct “I really need you right now”.
            What I find callous is dismissal, and then “I supported SOMEONE ELSE TODAY”, which tells the listener, “you COULD HAVE had my help but you did not get the proper place in line, so no help will be given TO YOU”, which would have been mean all on its own.
            What I find *especially* callous is that LW said ahead of time, “I am having a scary thing today, it is my last chance at a happy result, today is going to be critical”. So LW told Joy ahead of time, and Joy used up that resource on someone else (which is her right to do!) but then responded by making it clear that *someone else mattered to me AND THEREFORE you cannot*.

            Drop the “someone else got that from me” part! Try something like, I dunno, “Oh cousin, this is hard, and I wish I could do this for you. You matter to me. I can’t, though. I hope you can go in there for your meeting to find out whether you will get what you want, and if the result is no, I hope they have someone there who has been there before and can be there with you.”

            Or, if Joy genuinely thought she would be able to be the friend LW needs but that’s not how the day worked out, “Oh cousin, this is hard, and I am sorry that now we are down to it, I cannot do this for you. You matter to me. I can’t, though. Do you have someone else you plan to call, or would you like me to get 13-year-old Son to google up some support hotlines for you?”

            I mean, yes, set your boundaries, but maybe don’t treat a person in need like they fail at being an afterthought on your priority tree.

            (And, honestly, if “set your boundaries on when you will support, but don’t frame it as someone else ate all the cookies so none for you” still sets your teeth on edge, I don’t know what to say to you.)

        • aebhel said:

          I’m seeing shades of “well I feel like I’m not allowed to say no so it upsets me when other people say no”

          Yeah. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think Joy’s behavior here was shitty, but I’m really uncomfortable with some of this type of comment, maybe just because of Personal Shit, I have a really low threshold for how much emotional support I’m capable of offering. And I mean, that does mean that I don’t have a lot of close friendships; that’s the trade-off. But the idea that people should always be capable of saying the right things and hitting the right emotional notes is just very alien to me.

        • Jane said:

          I was actually thinking more of the “single people who want to be parents must be crazy” comment, which struck me as amazingly unkind in the context, and, well, I DO think Joy is kind of shitty if she stands by that statement. To be honest, the “oh poop” comment mostly struck me as thoughtless, and the failure to follow up as. . . even more thoughtless. Which, no, you don’t have to be a bad person to be thoughtless, but it sure doesn’t make you a good one either.

          As for the “ideal world,” I think you are also misreading what I said — I was referring to the fact that the LW’s communication skills about being hurt would be better in an ideal world, but that this is ALSO probably an unrealistic expectation when she was simultaneously going through a severe depression. I got a strong whiff of judgment for the LW’s handling of this situation off your comment. Like, “Well, if you’d just done THIS, and said THIS, your friendship would be FINE.”

          I think we are operating from different definitions of friendship. I expect *strangers* to treat me with respect and like a human being. That’s the bare minimum. I do have higher expectations for my friends. With my closest friends, I do assume that if some terrible shit goes down, they’re going to make an effort to be there for me. Or at least RESPOND, which barely seems to have happened here. That effort might not fill my whole need, it might not be exactly what I wanted or what would best help me, but there’s going to be something to show me that I was heard, that my distress is registering. I think I would be comfortable calling that a reciprocal obligation. The LW says that Joy didn’t mention this again for TWO YEARS. Two years. That is a fuckton of a lot of time to never acknowledge or notice that your friend is in pain. I don’t think that this is expecting support “always and automatically” to say “I want an acknowledgment.”

          The last part was in response to what you said, but not a rebuttal.

          I fully admit that I am extremely hostile to people who want other people to let go of their anger at being treated badly. I also fully admit that this anger is incompatible with staying in a relationship with the person you are angry at. These two things lead me to jump straight to, “LET GO GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN.”

    • I really like this response. As someone who has “punished” and lost friends in the past before I learned to use my words, it’s very true. Just because you are hurting doesn’t mean you are exempt from hurting others. Pushing people away and denying them intimacy with no explanation are hurtful (and often crazy-making) behaviors even if you feel you are merely reacting to their transgression.

      “Consent, boundaries, communication, and self-care are all as relevant in friendships as they are in other kinds of relationships.”

      Hard agree.

      • nani said:

        hello! it’s my first time commenting around here, so i hope it’s not a silly or anything, but i have a doubt.

        where exactly is the line between “punishment” through denial of intimacy and just… setting a certain distance that you need at the moment?
        can’t pushing someone away be a boundary itself, even if you can’t or don’t feel like giving out explanations (for whatever reason)? how much does the reason for not wanting to be around the other person matter? is it about the intent of the person pushing away, or their expectations on the reaction of the person that they push away or… ?

        i see how this behavior can be veeery hurtful to the one being pushed away and that everyone should strive to do better in a healthy friendship, but i don’t know, i think it warrants more nuance, because denying someone intimacy being framed as punishment feels a little weird to me.

        • jd said:

          That’s a really, really good point. You’re right, simply withdrawing from someone and needing distance (or having anger toward them in response to something they’ve done) is not punishing them. People being allowed boundaries goes both ways.

          I believe in this case it does come down to intent–I have experienced people setting a boundary in response to their own needs (which, even if it was upsetting at the time, was not “punishment”). But I have also experienced people doing this while at the same time having the expectation and intent that them withdrawing is supposed to make me realize “the error of my ways” and come around. It’s been something done *at* me, at least partly if not fully consciously of the intended effect.

          It can be hard to tell the difference between the two sometimes when you have no access to the other person’s intent (unless they eventually tell you) although when the key emotion involved is resentment, that can be a clue (resentment is an outwardly directed emotion, more even than anger and hurt, in my experience).

          I used the “scare quotes” in the first place though because I’m not entirely sure what LW motives are. Clearly her distance is at least partly for her own protection, but lines like “Whatever reason she thinks I’ve backed off–well, I have no idea what it is, but she obviously hasn’t recognized the truth”, read to me like she was trying to use distance as a means of communicating her displeasure toward Joy, i.e., being distant AT her, instead of just being distant because she needed to be. (Especially because she hasn’t otherwise broached the issue with Joy.)

          I don’t think, as far as “punishment” goes, this is wanton or cruel though, and that may have been too strong a word choice (I was partly reacting to my own experiences where I’ve had people, one of whom is definitely no longer a friend, use silence as a deliberate manipulation tactic to “test” me on how good a friend I would be to them or if I would figure out how to apologize correctly; LW is clearly not doing that).

          I’m going to let off this line of discussion now though because I’m feeling like I’m turning it into a big derail.

        • Moi said:

          I agree with this comment, especially in the broader context of this thread of saying that being silent/not reaching out to a friend in emotional need = healthy boundaries and consent* but withdrawing contact out of hurt = punishment? It really can’t go both ways.

          Yes, it is certainly better to use one’s words, but I think there’s also a basic level of adult friendship interaction that would suggest when a friend says “hey, I need you,” you check in AT SOME POINT with them, even if not in the very moment of need. Otherwise, where’s the difference between close, godmother-to-kids-level friends and casual acquaintance one occasionally sees at parties?

          *I agree with this for, say, the evening of, where Joy was overwhelmed and couldn’t muster the energy. Secure your own mask first and all–that makes sense to me, even if it wouldn’t be how I personally would approach the situation. But she never reached out again days or weeks after the fact, putting the responsibility to request support again and again on the LW. That’s where it gets…tricky, for me.

        • Fish said:

          Thank you, nani. The whole “withdrawing is punishment” stuff is ringing really wrong to me, as someone who has had to withdraw from abusive people before to protect myself, only to have those abusive people claim that my withdraw is abusive. Withdrawing is a perfectly normal response to pain.

          If Joy doesn’t owe LW her time, then LW certainly doesn’t owe Joy her time. LW reached out for help, Joy declined help in the moment, Joy never offered again later, LW continued to need help and didn’t reach out again because the first time she reached out it HURT and she didn’t have the capacity to reach out again and risk that hurt again. Assuming that Joy also didn’t have the capacity to help any time in the next 2 years, then this sounds like it was pretty dang close to optimal to me, if “optimal” is minimizing hurt over the duration while everyone lacks the capacity to deal.

        • aebhel said:

          I think the distinction is whether or not you want to interact with that person.

          So if you just genuinely don’t want to be around someone, then not being around them is a healthy establishment of boundaries. If you want something from a person, though, and are using the silent treatment/going dark as a punishment for them not giving it to you, that’s different. I’ve had friends disappear from my life with no explanation only to find out much later that they were pissed about something I said, usually with a ‘well, if you had just APOLOGIZED, we would have been fine’. But…you can’t apologize for something you didn’t know caused offense. If you don’t want to be friends with someone anymore, that’s one thing; if you’re just quietly seething over something but haven’t actually told the person you’re pissed at, that’s something else.

          For the record, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. Joy’s behavior was shitty enough that she shouldn’t have to be told to apologize, or at least reach out to her friend who is in pain, and LW’s withdrawal seems to be more about self-protection than trying to punish her friend. But it is a thing that happens.

    • +1, I so agree. Not only are friends sometimes unable to help friends, but sometimes they really shouldn’t.

  26. Michelle said:

    I was Joy, once.

    It wasn’t over fertility, but rather a boyfriend. My friend had been seeing this guy for two years, and she was head-over-heels in love with him. I didn’t particularly like him, but I was supportive of my friend.

    On the night they broke up, I had just worked 11 hours, during which I had gotten written up and told ‘mess up again and you’re fired.’ I was emotionally drained, physically exhausted, and I had nine hours until I had to go back into that same job again. Friend called me just before I was about to sleep, and I talked to her for a while and tried to be as supportive as I could. But it was late, and my brain was so tired that I wasn’t being very helpful or supportive at the time, so when she asked me to come over I suggested that we meet up the next day after I got out of work to talk some more.

    That was what eventually broke our friendship, though it took a few months to do so. She was so angry that I wasn’t ‘there for her’ when she needed me, and that anger just kept building up, even when I asked her about it (“Is everything okay?” “Everything’s fine!” Spoilers: it wasn’t.). Finally she just stopped inviting me to do things with her, and didn’t answer the phone when I called her.

    Feelings will get hurt in friendships. Personal struggles will not always be perfectly aligned so that one of you is free of personal problems and can be support whenever the other is having a rough time. Sometimes you both will have very rough days at the same time. Sometimes things that are vitally important to you will not even be a priority to your friend. They’re (usually) not out to specifically hurt you, it’s just that if you don’t talk to them and explain things to them, they’re not going to understand why it’s important.

    Talk to your friend. It’s been a couple years, but if she hasn’t pushed you away for good and you haven’t pushed her away for good, there is still a chance you two can work things out. But you HAVE to talk to her about it. Nothing kills a friendship faster than hurt feelings and unwillingness to communicate.

    • You talked to her for a while. Joy said ‘oh poop’. I don’t think it’s quite the same.

      • Gloria said:

        And offered to meet the next day! I think your response was is entirely different from Joy’s – for one thing, you recognised that your friend needed support, and tried to offer it as best you could, under difficult circumstances. From what LW wrote, Joy gave her ‘oh poop’, and nothing else.

  27. emdashing said:

    Thank you, LW and Captain. I really needed this letter and these comments right now. My “Joy” and I haven’t seen each other in a couple years following my choice to distance/cut ties after she failed me and then didn’t seem sorry to have done so when I explained how hurt I was. Now I’ve discovered we have to be in a wedding together, for which I am the Maid of Honor. I’m going to have to interact with her a bunch and I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with that since she is very very good at pretending everything is fine and I am very very bad at it. I still can’t really be in the same room with her without it hurting and causing me serious anxiety. I wish I could just forgive her. I miss her a lot despite my anger/hurt and presumably if I could forgive her, being in her presence wouldn’t hurt so much, but I honestly don’t know how let it go without an apology.

    It makes me feel better to know other people have faced this issue, though, even if there’s no simple or easy solution. I know many of our mutual friends think I should just “get over it” already and I so wish I could but seeing all these comments helps me know that to a degree, this is part of the human condition. Sometimes you are hurt so much you have to draw a line and “logic” doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with that feeling. Since I did confront my Joy (though not elegantly), I have the knowledge that she chose not to apologize because she really didn’t think what she’d done (or, rather, failed to do) was that big a deal.

    What I’m not sure I communicated well was that I would need to cut ties if she couldn’t/wouldn’t apologize. The Captain talks about how important it is to make clear what the LW would need/want in her ideal scenario and I think that’s excellent advice. Despite all my sadness and regret about how things ended with Joy, I’ve never thought that I shouldn’t have asked for an apology. I do, however, wonder if I could have made it clearer how important it was to me. I think by the time Joy realized what a big deal it really was, my distancing had made her very angry so there wasn’t any foundation for the real honest talk that would have been necessary for a reconciliation. In my head, I thought the “avoiding you at all costs and not taking your phone calls anymore” very clearly established how I felt after she refused to apologize, but it was a passive aggressive way to handle things. I so wish I’d had the courage to say “If you really can’t accept and understand how hurt I am, or find it in you to apologize for what you did–however unintentionally–then I don’t think we can be friends anymore.” I don’t think it would have led to a different result, as she would likely have viewed that as an ultimatum or further overreaction on my part, but I would be left with a lot less to wonder about and less guilt. The way it played out, I was the one who cut contact and I did so without making 100% sure she knew why it was happening (because she *should* know, because psychic thoughts). Our friendship deserved that clarity and, if I’d done it and she’d still refused to apologize, the separation would have been a more equal choice which I also think would make me feel better now. To the degree I know what Joy’s narrative of events is, I know that her version involves a lot of me not making any sense and being incommunicative. I was over-reliant on mutual friends whom I hoped would say to her, “Emdashing is hurt, you need to apologize,” so that I wouldn’t have to. I know some people did in fact do that, but we weren’t in 7th grade anymore. I should have ovaried up and done it myself, but I was too proud and too afraid of being vulnerable to really ask for what I needed. At the time I thought it would be worse if I asked and she still said no, but now I know that not giving us that chance for clarity has led to way more obsessing and excruciating on my part.

    I don’t know how it’s going to be, having contact with her again after almost 2 years of radio silence, but I know that whatever happens this time I’m going to try to be a braver, more straightforward version of myself. LW–if you really want to salvage your friendship with Joy, I second the Captain’s advice and script. Lay your cards on the table and let the chips fall where they may. No matter what happens, you’ll know you tried.

    • Anon said:

      I know many of our mutual friends think I should just “get over it” already and I so wish I could

      I have begun to translate “you should get/be over it” in my head as “your feelings are inconvenient for me.”

      • Anon said:

        And, reading my own comment, it looks harsh. I probably should have written, “your feelings on this matter are inconvenient for me.”

        In other words, I wanted to emphasize that while it’s valid to place a limit on hearing out the feelings; requesting that the person stop feeling them is not valid.

      • Anne said:

        OMG, amen, sister. I have so run into this in my life. Most recently a new daughter in law was so cold and finally rude to my partner and I that we finally had words about it. My son was furious…..at me……and I knew it was because he didn’t want to be bothered by any of it……not because he wanted to sort it all out. But then, that is a whole other story.

    • B. said:

      If you’d like them, emdashing, I’m sending Jedi hugs your way.
      Please forgive me if you’ve already considered this, but, you know that refusing to be her maid of honor is an option you can choose to take, right? It wouldn’t make you a bad person if you chose not to come to her wedding, if being there will cause you pain.

      I do think, as you said, that you should be clear to her on that. Maybe something along the lines of “I’m not coming for my own peace of mind, not as a punishment to you, and after you’re less busy with the wedding planning, if you want, we can schedule* a coffee/phone date to talk about how we each acted and why and how we each felt about it” would work for you?
      When I read your message, I felt as if you are being pressured by your friends and/or family to attend this wedding as a way of “fixing things”/”finally getting over your feelings about what Joy failed to do**”. People seem to love using these kind of events to reassure themselves that *everything* *is* *alright*. But it’s not, for you. And it’s not your responsibility to play nice and put a fake smile on your face and *suffer* just to reassure them.

      I hope I’m not insensitively offering advice where none is needed. If that’s what I’m doing, I’m sorry. In any case, best of luck and please take all the care, and self-care, you need.

      *That’s it, if you’d be up to it, but I’m assuming that if you’re willing to go to her wedding knowing it will hurt, this may hurt you less, since you can leave whenever.
      **Those pesky silly things, how dare they be inconvenient to people (who aren’t you and are thus more important than you)!

      • B. said:

        typo: where it reads “That’s it”, it should read “That is”. Sorry!

      • emdashing said:

        Hi B, thank you for the jedi hugs! I was unclear above in that I’m not in Joy’s wedding. We are both in a mutual friend’s wedding. I’m the maid of honor who is responsible for scheduling the bachelorette party among other things. Joy is another bridesmaid whom I’ll have to work closely with. I know I could tell my friend, Pam, that it’s too much but…Pam has nothing to do with what happened between me and Joy and I don’t want this to ripple out and hurt other friendships in addition to the one that has already been lost. It’s an honor to be Pam’s MoH and I don’t want an excuse not to do it.

        Though I wish I could go back and handle our falling out differently, the thing I’m trying to get over is the residual anger/hurt, not so that I can suddenly be friends with Joy again, but so that I can be more comfortable in social settings at which we are both present. The LW has a choice to make about how she handles this situation and while I agree with the majority of commenters here who think the friendship is already lost, I just wanted to offer a personal example of the importance of the Captain’s advice about being super super clear about what you need/want if the LW decides to address the issue directly. I think I would feel less guilt if I had been more direct with Joy about my feelings. I do not think we’d still be friends, but I think it would make periodic interactions we have now less excruciating. My friends aren’t pressuring me to reconcile with Joy, they are just (understandably, I think) tired of me getting into a tizzy any time we have to be in the same place. I share their desire for my anxiety to end, but no one is pressuring me to do anything. That was poorly phrased on my part.

        • B. said:

          Well, I certainly wasn’t polite in my phrasing either, so I’d like to apologise for that, and for my misunderstanding of your situation as well. I guess I was projecting and that’s why I confused the facts; I’m very relieved to hear that no one, your friends less of all, is putting pressure on you, so thanks for taking the time to answer 🙂

          This seems like it’ll be really stressful for you, but I hope you’ll be able to enjoy the good parts of the wedding-planning (and the actual wedding) despite Joy, and that your friend Pam has a great day. Good luck!

          I’m sorry I derailed the conversation without offering advice for the LW, it’s just… I’m in a somewhat loosely similar situation regarding my dad and actions that go back a good ten to twenty years, and since I myself don’t know what to do, I feel I don’t have anything to say that might be helpful for her.

          LW, if you do decide to keep a casual friendship with Joy in order to be a part of her kids’ lives… please try not to feel guilty? (It sometimes happens to me, this feeling of being a dishonest person because I stick to the status quo instead of speaking my mind, so maybe it’s something you’ve experienced)

          You can love the kids wholeheartedly and that’s not negated by the fact that you haven’t fully disclosed your feelings to Joy. It’s your choice to have that conversation, and if you decided not to have it, you wouldn’t be any less of an awesome godmother to Joy’s kids. Someone said earlier that kids pick on the tension, and that’s true, but they also pick on who loves them as they are, and they respond by loving you back with all their heart.

          Also, your feelings are yours to disclose as you see fit, and I believe that, as long as you’re being honest with yourself, you don’t *owe* anyone an explanation. If giving one to Joy is important *to you*, by all means do, but it’s not an obligation, it’s your choice.

          Take care, LW.

  28. espritdecorps said:

    I’m so sorry, Not Mom
    For your infertility. For the expense and pain of IVF, and for the children you didn’t bear. For all the love inside you that was there for those children and hasn’t left.
    For Mother’s Day, and tired women yelling at children you would have done anything to have. For stupid insensitive comments, and offhand jokes, and all the cultural assumptions around women and motherhood.

    • ❤ to this comment.

  29. Jack V said:

    Lots of sympathy LW, that’s really rough. I’m sorry about the IVF, and about the friendship 😦

    What I’m not sure of is where Joy is coming from. Is she still thinking of you both as BFF, but screwed up on this particular issue? Or has she grown apart from you and started treating you as an non-close friend without saying anything? This may be really clear to everyone else but I wasn’t sure from the letter.

    I’m just thinking, that if she’s massively invested in being BFFs but you ask her about this and she refuses to sympathise or apologise, then you may have to do the pulling back from her, which she’s likely to be upset by, and may make it hard to stay friends with her family. But if she’s drifting away anyway, then whether you confront her or not, you may be angry that she wasn’t there for you, but you have the option of choosing between breaking it off, or letting it drift apart, but continuing to offer to babysit and so on and maintaining ties with the family.

    I hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s worth preparing yourself, that if she doesn’t try to maintain the friendship, or wants to but is unwilling to apologise for hurting you, whether you can move on emotionally and accept some people suck some of the time, and you were friends with one for a while but not any more 😦

  30. I’ve not read all the comments but:

    LW, I am so sorry this has happened to you.

    All I feel I can offer is the suggestion that you mentally recategorise Joy as an “acquaintance” “friend of friends” or even “distant cousin”.

    There are people in my life who, if I were to meet them NOW as who they are now I would not invite into my life. But shared history, shared people, places and things, love for who they used to be and a tiny flicker of hope about who they could yet be… makes me keep them around. Do I share strong emotions with them? no Give them more than surface updates on how I am and what I’m up to? no Tell them things I wouldn’t say to a friend of a friend or an aunt or a cousin? no.
    They are still in my life but in roles they can actually fill – as minor characters if you will rather than the stars of my life. A lot of the hurt and anger I felt at these people letting me down by not being the kind of friend I needed in the past melted away when I changed my expectations of them. Now when they do something loving or helpful for me, it feels good again because I am not expecting it from them.

    Nb. this is probably easier for me because I have been blessed with many dozens of friends all over the world so changing one friendship’s intimacy levels down doesn’t mean turning down the intimacy levels of all / most / much of my total friendships.

    My apologies if any of this sounds cold, I love my friends dearly and deeply. I just know that several of them are extremely unlikely to ever try to help me when things are rough and for me the best way to deal with that is to *stop asking them for Big Important Help* and only ask for little less important help from those friends.

  31. LW, that really sucks, and I’m sorry you are having to deal with Complicated Friending on top of failed fertility treatments. I know that the loss you have gone through can be devastating lifelong (a few years ago, my mother-in-law out of the blue started screaming at me about her lost babies, and then broke down sobbing; she was almost 70 at the time. She is not normally the screaming type).

    I have learned through painful and awkward experience, as the person-with-children talking to the person-with-loss, that we don’t have a good vocab for this AT ALL, and no one knows what to say. I also know that sometimes, especially if I’ve been solo-wrangling my kids (you say she’s divorced), I have nothing left at the end of the day but just enough energy to sob into a mug of tea or glass of wine, and I have no idea if I’d be capable of processing a friend’s need in those situations. So I have a tiny bit of sympathy for Joy, but I think it was dickish of her not to come back around the next day and try to help.

    I think the Captain’s scripts are pretty good. Joy has kind of handed you an opportunity to bring it up naturally with her dumbass remark, so that’s a great jumping-off point. I don’t know that I would specifically say that she said “oh poop”, because that lets her argue her exact words with you, but someone else suggested “blew me off” and I think that’s probably a safer thing to say, in terms of being less arguable.

  32. johann7 said:

    Joy sounds like she has some anti-social tendencies, full stop. It may simply be too solipsistic a worldview, and irrespective of the LW’s personal history, calling all prospective single moms “crazy” isn’t okay in the first place, and not even primarily because some consider that to be an unacceptable ableist slur. It sounds a lot like Joy (at least sometimes) fails to consider how her actions are likely to impact other people. Does she do this a lot? If so, it may be worth considering if there even is an actual friendship to salvage, or if the consideration and support have run in mostly one direction for the entire time.

  33. gmg said:

    A couple of people noted that Joy is divorced in the context of her struggling as a single parent, but I think her judgment about single parents by choice is perhaps also rooted in there somewhere. There’s a 21st-century trend of thought that’s struck me from time to time that having been married and divorced, even multiple times, is still somehow more societally acceptable than never having been married (people’s subliminal thinking seems to be “Well, I got someone to love me enough to marry me even if it was only temporary, so what’s wrong with YOU?”). Add the desire to be a parent on top of that and my guess is these kinds of people simply slip right into “Does not compute” mode.

    It’s moot, of course, because one simply doesn’t need that kind of judgment, societally fueled or not, from someone who’s supposed to be a friend. I’ve gotten this kind of static from a few people in my day, and have dialed down the friendships accordingly.

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