#1022: “I’ve got angry Feelingsmail from a friend.”

Dear Captain,

Over the last year, a once close friend of mine and I have been experiencing the African Violet of broken friendship. We had been through a very intense multi-year creative work project together, and after the project finished and she moved onto another job, we kind of drifted apart. For my part, I felt that sometimes she could say very unkind or cruel things. I noticed about two years ago that I was working very hard to win her approval, and felt very anxious if I didn’t get it and recognized that this friendship had become a bit unhealthy. I still valued many things about my friend, and thought that by setting some boundaries I could change the dynamic. After any incident where she said something unkind (for example, that half of the work on my part of the project was not my own work, which really hurt my feelings) or been judgmental (for example, negatively commenting on the dynamics of my relationship with my partner or how much I was eating and snacking during the intense project), I would take some space. Over the last couple of years my confidence has grown, not just in this area but in many other areas of my life, and I have been able to deal with some anxiety issues I had and learn how to set boundaries.

She started mainly hanging out with some different friends, and although we were still in touch, our conversation was becoming more and more surface-level. Anytime I suggested meeting up she would be really vague or say no. I was quite hurt at the time that she didn’t seem to want to hang out with me anymore, but I knew that we had just been through a really intense period in our lives and maybe she needed her space. There was always room for our friendship to get renewed further down the line. Before yesterday, we hadn’t been in contact for about four months. There wasn’t anything particularly negative about our last contact, it just tailed off.

I recently got a new job that I am very excited about and yesterday, in a whatsapp group she is also part of, someone congratulated me on my new job. About an hour later I got an feelingsemail from my friend. It’s not a nice email. It’s basically a bitter rant about how I have changed as a person. She said she didn’t recognize me anymore and how she had become fed up of what she perceives as my faults, and me being distant, over the last two years. She said that she didn’t deserve this kind of behavior from me and that she had never thought I would cut her off like this, although she had seen me do it to others (I don’t know where this comes from, I haven’t cut any one off apart from one girl back in high school which was 15 years ago!). In her mind, I am the bad guy, and it doesn’t sound like she is open to listening to anything else. She did say congratulations about the new job at the end.

I want to reply in a kind and compassionate way, because there were many things I valued about our friendship. We were so close, and I miss her. However, I don’t know what to say or how to respond to this email. I understand she sent it in a fit of overwhelming feelings, and underneath the accusations and manipulative statements, really she’s just sad about the loss of our friendship. I am open to being friends again, and rebuilding our relationship but it can’t be like this. I want to acknowledge the email, but I don’t want to get caught up in back and forth about who did what, or act in a way that says I think this email is acceptable, or apologize for things I haven’t done. How should I respond to this feelingsbomb? Should I even respond? How can people respond kindly and compassionately to feelingsmail in general?

Best wishes,
I’ve got feelingsmail

Dear Feelingsmail Receiver,

Your friend is projecting all over the place and all over you, a behavior where you take the stuff you are doing (especially stuff that you feel guilty about or ashamed of or upset about) and assign that behavior and the blame for it to someone else. Like the thing where you kept trying to make plans and she rebuffed you is now all about how you’ve abandoned her. Interesting.

Also Interesting: The less time you spend with her, the happier and more confident you’ve become over time.

Interesting Indeed: A really happy moment for you (congratulations on your new job!) has become the catalyst for her to criticize and accuse you of being a bad person and a bad friend. Not cool.

I don’t know how you repair that. It sounds like the way you’ve been drifting away from each other has been organic, with you taking care of yourself by taking space when you need it, and her choosing the company of other friends over you when she needs that.

Now she wants you to apologize and accept all the blame for the fact that your friendship isn’t as close as it was, and she also wants you to chase her. Do you want to do any of those things?

In your shoes I might just write back “Wow, okay??? Thanks for the good wishes at least. As for the rest, I miss spending time with you, too,” and just ignore the steaming pile of Feelings and Accusations. And then I’d let the ball be in her court to follow up, either to apologize or to suggest a time to get together.

I predict she will find this answer from you somewhat maddening and not see it as the face-saving mercy that it actually is, but that’s not your fault or your work to do to deal with. You don’t owe her a point-by-point response to her projection or the emotional catharsis she sought at your expense. (Note: You don’t actually owe friendship or any response at all to someone who sends you such a mean, rude message!) If she comes back with an apology or invitation to grab lunch or coffee, that will give you some useful information and if she comes back with renewed vitriol about what a terrible friend and person you are that will also give you some useful information.

If you do eventually sit down and address the issues in the friendship someday, you could say “Well, I’d been feeling like you didn’t want to hang out with me, so I stopped pushing and gave you space. I guess we’ve been mirroring each other.” It’s true and is neither an accusation nor an apology.

You can also ask her “Well, in a perfect world, where we have exactly the kind of friendship you want, how would you like this to work out?” and see what she says. In a difficult conversation where there’s a risk of getting stuck in a back-and-forth “It’s your fault”/”No it isn’t” about the past, this question can prompt people to stop and articulate a positive vision for the future. What’s the best case scenario where you get to recover a friendship that works for both of you? This “workable” version may be a very tiny, small-doses thing or no friendship at all, but I think this is your best chance for finding out if anything here can be saved.

162 comments
  1. marmoset said:

    Hi LW, just wanted to say I am really in awe of how well you are handling this already. Especially where you say “she had become fed up of what she perceives as my faults” – it’s clear that you’ve been able to distinguish her opinions of you from how you see yourself, and that’s no small accomplishment at all. So I think no matter what you end up writing back (if anything), you are coming from a really healthy, centered, compassionate place and whatever you decide to say will automatically reflect that. Thumbs up and jedi hugs. ❤

    • Kat G., Ph.D. said:

      Also, this thing: “I want to reply in a kind and compassionate way, because there were many things I valued about our friendship.”

      Holy crap, OP. You come across as an exceedingly kind, compassionate person. I’ve been trying really hard for the last 2ish years to be more like this, to respond with compassion in the face of anger (when it’s safe and constructive to do so), but damn, it’s fucking HARD sometimes. Good on you. I hope that you’re able to find a positive outcome in this, whether that means renewing your friendship or not.

      • stellanor said:

        Seriously I would be so proud if I could get to that point! I’m still at “Well fuck you too then!” mostly. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to reflexive compassion but I’d settle for internal grumping followed by external compassion…

  2. B. said:

    Wow. Just for the record, a good way for your friend to react in this situation would be something like:

    “Dear LW,
    congratulations on your new job! How have you been? I feel like we’ve grown a bit apart over the years and I miss you. Would you like to reconnect over coffee sometime in the next week?
    Love,
    Your friend”

    What you received doesn’t read to me like the fumbled attempt of a hurting friend trying to catch up with you, but the angry response of a manipulative person who just now realised you’ve slipped out of her clutches and is trying to reel you back in. She doesn’t sound happy for you at all.

    Do you really want to go back to that friendship? You said it’s been slowly and quietly dying of natural causes over the years. I don’t know if trying to resurrect it it’s a good idea.

    If it were me receiving that (and I’m sorry you had to read through that hateful email, jedi hugs if welcome!), and I wanted to answer, I’d write something like “I’m sorry you feel that way. Your friendship has been very important to me, but it looks like things have changed. I wish you all the best out there” and then block her address. But, to be honest, I’d probably delete the e-mail without answering and block her everywhere. Friends don’t treat you like this.

    • “What you received doesn’t read to me like the fumbled attempt of a hurting friend trying to catch up with you, but the angry response of a manipulative person who just now realised you’ve slipped out of her clutches and is trying to reel you back in.”

      +1000000 to this.

      • Atalanta's Boar Skin said:

        I’d like to add another +1000000000 to this comment.

      • Add my +1000000 to this as well. This reads like something a particular manipulative member of my family might send.

      • GG said:

        +10000000000000000000 from me too

      • Yup! I absolutely agree. I think that congrats at the end of the word vomit email was just a cheap attempt to fake sincerity and guilt trip LW. It’s passive aggressive AF. “Im sooooo hurt by the horrible things you diiiiiiiiid, but I’m still sooooo happy for you because I’m such a goooood friend.” Barf.

      • Saskia said:

        +1000000000

        this former friend is showing her true colours now – I would ignore the email and block her. I don’t believe you will receive any response that could justify the effort you take to reply to this initial email.

      • Helbling said:

        Definitely. I have been in this situation, and I politely declined to reconnect after said missive (fun fact, mine wasn’t a private email, it was a publicly posted diatribe). What followed was pretty much ‘holy extinction burst bat man!’

        Op, I suspect that you are about 1000% better off with this ‘friend’ not in your life.

    • LavaLamp said:

      Sounds to me like your friend might be a bit jealous maybe?
      I received a letter like that about two years ago. You see my friend was very unhappy and simply couldn’t handle that I have disposable income. I got a very long letter about how selfish I apparently am according to her. It hurt but I’m much happier not walking on eggshells around someone who can’t handle somebody getting a new book.

      • MrsLokiofAsgard said:

        That was my thought too. I had a “friend” that had drifted away and reappeared when I was a new mom. She had apparently become a pre-school teacher during our time apart and basically told me that I was a shitty mom and that my kids were going to be losers because I wasn’t following her advice, but all wrapped up in that passive aggressive “I’m just trying to help you” way. I remember reading her email, being incredibly hurt, and then thinking “I wouldn’t let someone talk to my kids this way so why am I letting her to talk to me this way?” She got filtered into my spam mail and I stopped picking up her calls. I heard from mutual friends that she was telling people that she was “worried” for my family. She didn’t have to worry. My kids are fine. Straight A students, kind, funny, wonderfully nerdy, each with their own fairly strong social groups (though my son is struggling slightly with that but he just started middle school so it’s normal).

        • M Dubz said:

          Wishing your son gentle hugs and supportive friends on his journey through adolescence. And wishing you loads of patience and compassion for yourself and him. Those years are so hard for everyone involved!

      • B. said:

        That sounds exhausting, definitely. I’m glad you’re out of that dynamic!

        If you don’t mind sharing, LavaLamp, did you answer that letter, and if so, what did you say? I’m thinking, since the LW was looking for scripts, your experience could be useful for them, if you feel like telling it.

        • LavaLamp said:

          I actually couldn’t answer as she blocked me right after sending it.

          (TW rape, sexual harassment/assault) There were a lot of other issues with that friend that were really unhealthy (she was pretty much jealous that I was being sexually harassed and threatened with rape).

          My advice to the LW is to really evaluate how much good things and joy this person brings to their life and go from there. However from the mentioned project I get the feeling that this friendship may blur into professional boundaries and that you definitely need to take that into account as to how you reply.

          • MrsLokiofAsgard said:

            There were a lot of other issues with that friend that were really unhealthy (she was pretty much jealous that I was being sexually harassed and threatened with rape).

            Um…excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor. This is so upsetting!

          • Thanksforallthefish said:

            Woow same jaw on floor reaction. That’s up there with “bf made me pee in the sink.”

          • ashbet said:

            Oh! I’ve had that “friend” — “At least you’re getting attention from men! They just ignore me! Must be nice to have [body type I had at that age.]”

            Meanwhile, I was dealing with frightening, unwanted, scary, stalker-y attention from an adult man who I wanted nothing to do with, and I was a scared teenager with no idea how to set boundaries and a family who blamed me for *attracting* the stalker.

            The “at least men look at you” friend is now a FORMER friend.

          • B. said:

            Wow, that’s so fucked up, I’m so sorry you had to endure her jealousy and anger on top of everything else!

            Doing an objective cost-benefit analysis for this friendship is very sound advice. I hope the results thereof will help the LW make a good decision for themselves.

          • TW sexual assault

            Slightly different, but I had a Friend A (who was also my housemate) who, the same day I’d been sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend and told Friend B about it and asked Friend B to let Friend A know because I wasn’t up to talking more about it, complained to Friend B that I hadn’t come to her first and told her myself. Literally turned my immediate response to a sexual assault into a referendum on our friendship which had already been slowly dying. After that, it was pretty much dead.

      • goddessoftransitory said:

        The “JEALOUSY” light was definitely blinking. Fast.

    • Thistledown said:

      A trick from Miss Manners is just to pretend like people have done the appropriate thing. What if you just responded, “Thanks, I’m really excited about the new job. I’m sad we’ve been drifting apart too. Would you like to have lunch on Saturday and catch-up? I’d love to hear about (something going on in her life)?”

      • Marthooh said:

        Or if you don’t want to see this person again, end with something like “Of course it’s too bad we don’t see much of each other any more, but I still think happily of our work together.”

        And yeah, Miss Manners offers the advanced course on Not Letting People Project All Over You.

        • Thistledown said:

          Oh, I like this as the African Violet version.

    • Kitty said:

      “What you received doesn’t read to me like the fumbled attempt of a hurting friend trying to catch up with you, but the angry response of a manipulative person who just now realised you’ve slipped out of her clutches and is trying to reel you back in. She doesn’t sound happy for you at all.”

      Yeah I had this feeling too, especially when Captain pointed out that the timing of this is a bit suss, right when LW has a happy achievement.

      • Onomatopoeia said:

        Yep, that’s what they do.

        For me it was my much older brother’s wife. My happy achievement was that I’d just gotten engaged; I tried to call Bro a couple of times in the next week to let him know “in person” (he lives far away), but as usual he didn’t pick up. I knew from experience it might be a couple more weeks before I reached him, and Fiancé had already been chomping at the bit to change our Fb statuses all week, so I mentally shrugged – “I tried!” – and we went ahead and made a Fb announcement.

        Precisely four short, delighted “Congrats!” type messages came in before SIL hit send on her diatribe about what an awful sister I was for letting Bro find out on Facebook, how I didn’t care enough about them and their kids, didn’t visit enough, and how disappointed she was in me for for publicly rubbing my disdain for them all in Bro’s face.

        Fiancé immediately tried to pacify her and diffuse the situation. He was very polite and conciliatory. Her only response was “Well we won’t be at the wedding have a nice life.”

        LW, what your “friend” is doing here is exactly the same thing – trying to dirty your happiness and your achievements for her own sense of power. I hope you manage to do whatever it takes to spend the minimum possible further effort on her.

        (I don’t have anything to do with that side of my family anymore, but I truly do lament how many years it took me to realise that the people who engage in this sort of mean behaviour do not have good intentions and do not deserve the reward of having me Try Harder to pour enough compassion and respect for two into our relationship.)

      • Guava said:

        So true. Anytime someone writes a letter like this at a moment when you’ve just accomplished something great, I think it’s fair to assume that jealousy and manipulation and projection are likely playing some kind of part.

    • Amy said:

      All of this. Also, not only was it an inappropriate, mean response to the situation, but she’s since given no sign that she might have done something wrong, much less been apologetic about it.

      I once sent a friend a rather nasty email in a moment of extreme emotional distress, so I can understand someone doing something bad in a moment like that. But I pretty quickly realized that it wasn’t actually about my friend at all, I was completely projecting, and she didn’t deserve to be treated like that. It only took a couple minutes to realize this–it was very, very obvious that I was way out of line. I sent an apology right away, of course, and also apologized and explained the next time I saw her in person. (She was very kind about it, but like, I still feel bad about it years later.
      It’s a very good motivator to not let my life get that difficult again.)

      OP, the fact that your friend sent this letter *yesterday* and hasn’t yet apologized tells me that one of two things is going on here. Option 1: She’s in such a crisis state that she’s been completely unable to function for the last 24 hours; I don’t think this is likely, but hey, anything’s possible. Or, much more likely, option 2: She’s had time to reflect on this and still thinks it’s OK to treat you cruelly (or somehow doesn’t think this is cruel, which would be equally bad IMO–either one means she’s likely to continue to treat you badly going forward), in which case you should cut and run as soon as possible.

  3. NameChange said:

    The Captain’s right — this is major projection.

    Really…. If someone had written a message to me like that, I would not want to be near that person at all. End of friendship attempts or reconciliations. That was a huge amount of blame being thrown at you, and it sounds like this behavior had been increasing during your project together and then bursting out when she found an avenue after you stopped contacting her. This is someone who sees you as an emotional trash can that is meant to hold her insecurities.

    The confrontational side of me would want to do something like sending back a message to the effect of “Projection isn’t a very good look on you” and then blocking her, but the more sensible rest of me might follow B.’s example and just block her outright without responding. You may want to keep the message instead of deleting it in case she starts trying other tactics to glom onto you like a barnacle.

    • Tepid Tea said:

      “This is someone who sees you as an emotional trash can that is meant to hold her insecurities.”

      Brilliant, and oh so true!

      Another metaphor: OP is a low-water mark for the “friend.”

      That is, if the friend feels that her levels of happiness, confidence, success, etc are falling below OP’s, she tries to tear OP down by criticizing her and devaluing her accomplishments. Bonus if OP in any way validates the “friend’s” attack. Boom: the low-water mark sinks below the “friend’s” levels, and the friend’s self-doubt is eased. Temporarily, anyway.

      I’m with those suggesting that the OP ask herself how much joy the “friend” brings to the OP’s life.

      • Onomatopoeia said:

        Wow, this is such a helpful mental image! And a perfect description of that dynamic. Thanks!

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      “This is someone who sees you as an emotional trash can that is meant to hold her insecurities.” That is hitting close to home for me rn. Really good expression!

    • goddessoftransitory said:

      Seriously! My first reaction was “Girl should get a job at a movie theater ’cause she is projecting like mad.”

    • NameChange said:

      Replying to the replies: Thanks. 🙂

  4. LW, last year, I did a creative project over 3 months with someone I liked a lot but it turned out that we were mismatched, in our style and what we could commit. We finished the project but I was unhappy with having to do the final bit on my own as my creative partner bailed on a crucial last step.

    It sucked to get to the end and not feel the high I expected to feel. I felt this temptation to get some kind of acknowledgment from my creative partner that the experience was not ideal. Creative partner was in no place to hear that and was defensive before taking some space. I chose to accept that the project went how it did and quietly learn from it without dwelling on blame to soothe my ego. I had to let it go. My creative partner did their best.

    If your friend has been nursing dissatisfaction at their actions (or yours) during your project then they need to find an outlet for that which isn’t feelings mail. Constructive actions might have been to meet with you and reflect on the project as a whole, or to focus on another less intense aspect of your friendship. To drift away and then lash out like this suggests this friend is not dealing with their stuff.

    You are not 100% responsible for how a joint project fares. Your friend needs to figure out if her problem is with you as a friend (and gracefully get on with letting you move on) or their own experiment of the project. And if they haven’t done that by now, you’re not the friend to help them do that.

    • Nanani said:

      This.

      It sounds like LW’s friend got to “bitch eating crackers” a while ago, possibly over things LW has no control over and/or would not want to change if they did. Friend is not handling any of this well.

  5. consolareg said:

    This is really a divorce with all the attendant baggage. Don’t say that you miss spending time with her unless it’s true. And even then, think about whether you want an email full of recriminations coming back at you. Like a divorce, when it’s over, it’s over. You don’t have to justify yourself or give any reasons. If her email wasn’t congratulating you, don’t answer it. She will complain to mutual friends but she will anyway. That’s divorce.

  6. ninja o said:

    LW, this brought back memories. Long story short, after I fell into an internet friendship with someone Way More Intense than I expected. I found I couldn’t maintain my boundaries with her (as in, she gleefully jumped over them) and after many years of trying different levels of friendship that never worked for me, I offered her an African Violet. She responded with FEELINGSMAIL describing her evidence of me pushing back at socializing with her even while I socialized with other friends (mutual friends, even! Can you say Geek Social Fallacies?), how I hurt her feelings by not friend-ing at her level, and how she couldn’t understand how she was supposed to contact me less without contacting me at all. I told her not contacting me at all was fine, thanks, and never looked back.

    If you offered an African Violet and they did not accept gracefully, or have suddenly returned with violet in hand to say BUT I DON’T WANT THIS AFTER ALL also it’s all your fault – you already did what you could to smooth things out, and your part in this weird attention grab/guilt trip is over. Rejoice in your freedom to say “no thank you” to renewing that particular power struggle, I think you’ll enjoy the results.

  7. Argablarg said:

    I second Captain Awkward’s script to the effect of, “I hear you’re really upset with me. In an ideal world, what would our friendship look like to you, going forward?” It’s a great way to separate out the well-meaning people who have strong feelings they can’t really manage (they’ll give you some sort of coherent vision for how they want things to change), from the people who just need to use you as a punching bag to make themselves feel better (they’ll double down on what an awful person you are and how badly you’ve treated them). Hope everything goes as well as it can at this point.

    • Yes. It’s possible that “friend” is someone with whom you could develop a fruitful friendship, in future. However, based on the past, I’d say she’s a big old bowl of bacon ice cream: It sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t really work in real life.

      You miss her, or at least, you miss the good times. But you’re not blind to the bad times, too, and has she improved herself, or is she still doing the same things that caused those bad times? Do the good times outweigh the bad times? If you re-kindle this friendship, will you have more good times, or more of the same (a few good times, and some bad times, and which outweighs which depends on the day)?

      If you can honestly say that the friendship you HAD with her was good enough for you to desire it in the future, exactly the way it was before, then by all means rekindle it. But do NOT count on her being kinder, gentler, more compassionate, or more truthful in her treatment of you.

      If you want her behavior to change toward you, at all, remember that you can’t control other people’s behavior, so it’s not going to happen. The best you can do is offer her a chance to see that things need to change, and the time to make that change. Second best is letting her fade from your life without further argument.

      Yes, it’s possible that a questions like, “In a perfect world, what would you want from our friendship?” might trigger her into thinking about her own behavior, and committing to being a better person. In that case, give her a *reasonable* chance to make good on that. If she’s willing to work toward a positive future, she’ll make mistakes, but hopefully fewer mistakes, and she’ll apologize for them. But if that question leads her to saying how YOU need to change to suit her, then frankly, I’d let it all drop and look for friendship elsewhere.

      Friendships, good friendships, are worth working for, but the work involved should be work like, helping each other move or free babysitting, or the like. It should not involve work like slowly building up a tolerance for soul-poison, so that when she hits you with a really big dose, you’ll survive. Build up a tolerance for Iocane powder, as you wish, but not soul-poison. There is no up-side to that.

      • Tepid Tea said:

        Stealing “bacon ice-cream,” lol. And the concept of “not building up a tolerance for soul-poison.”

      • roramich said:

        Iocane powder… I see what you did there!

      • Lizzielizzie said:

        Hey, I make a really good maple bacon ice cream! 🙂

        But +10000000 on avoiding soul poison. That makes for terrible ice cream. And terrible friends.

        • Aris Merquoni said:

          I was going to say, I’ve had some good bacon ice cream. “Like a big bowl of bacon ice cream–the person making that ice cream had better be putting in the effort to make sure you enjoy it!”

      • Anonamouse said:

        I really needed to hear this today, so thank you. I’ve been struggling with the slow dissolution of a long and very close friendship myself, with someone I really love, but is kind of crap to me. She is always (like, for 10+ years) in some crisis or other that demands that she and her problems get to be the focal point of everything, and that things should be let slide that would otherwise be unacceptable, like comments about my spouse.

        The last straw was when I asked her not to discuss *subject* in a particular way, because it was unhealthy for me to view *subject* in those terms. Not only did she refuse to respect my reasonable boundary, but she tried to bully me into talking about it using therapy language. Then the next (and last) time I saw saw saw her we were reminiscing about the good old days and she said “You used to be hot.” After that I was content to do a slow fade, because where do you even go from there. She eventually emailed me, and I told her that because of those two things it wasn’t healthy for me to be around her, and she had the gall to say that she wishes I had said something.

        I’ve been really missing the good parts of our friendship lately, and hearing all of this, but especially “If you re-kindle this friendship, will you have more good times, or more of the same (a few good times, and some bad times, and which outweighs which depends on the day)?” is a really, really helpful reminder.

    • rubymendez said:

      So well put, thank you Argablarg!

      • Argablarg said:

        You’re very welcome! I’ve had plenty of experiences with friends in both camps—not that the friends who used me as a punching bag are in my life any more. There are plenty of things I’m willing to do to accommodate people, but listening to them tear into me for no constructive reason is not one of them.

  8. --E said:

    From OP: For my part, I felt that sometimes she could say very unkind or cruel things. I noticed about two years ago that I was working very hard to win her approval, and felt very anxious if I didn’t get it and recognized that this friendship had become a bit unhealthy. I still valued many things about my friend, and thought that by setting some boundaries I could change the dynamic.

    –>You did change the dynamic. And your “friend” (I use that word with my skeptical face) doesn’t like the new dynamic, because it doesn’t allow her to belittle you and make herself feel better at your expense.

    I can’t imagine why you would possibly want to preserve a relationship with someone you describe as “unkind” and “judgmental.” Maybe if she had changed and become a more compassionate person, but her email sounds like more unkindness and judgement of you. I think you’re well rid of her and in your shoes I would simply not reply to her email at all. She had lots of opportunities to renew your friendship and didn’t take them.

    Sometimes people grow apart. Sometimes it’s a really good thing they do. You’ve been happy without her. That means something.

    • Paulina said:

      I think it’s rather telling that, in her message, she seems to date the problems with the LW not to the recent four-month silence, but back to when the LW changed the dynamic, stopping working so hard to win approval, taking space when subjected to unkindness or being judgemental. The version of the LW she wanted was the one who always tried hard to win her approval and listened to her being judgemental; she doesn’t like the more confident and more self-assured LW. She isn’t a good friend at all, and I expect resuming a friendship with her would only be successful if it was back the way it used to be, with her essentially dominating. The LW is seen as awful for not putting up with that any more.

      You go, LW! Congratulations on the new job.

  9. S said:

    LW, I don’t think this friendship can be saved, and I don’t think it’s worth the effort. You originally backed off when she started saying unkind or cruel things, as well as belittling your work, your eating habits, and your relationship. She made no effort to spend time with you or maintain the friendship despite your repeated offers to get together. Now she’s returned–and she’s being mean, accusatory and manipulative. I think your original choice to back off was a good one.

    I think it’s time to recognize the friendship you had is gone, and the person she was in your life then isn’t coming back. I also think that you need to mourn this loss. Most people think ‘mourning’ is only something you do when someone dies, but there are many ways you can lose people you care about. I’ve learned that even when there’s every reason to cut ties, you still feel the grief and still miss what was gone.

    She’s still alive, but in my opinion, this email has effectively killed whatever was left from your friendship. Mourn its passing, block her email, and move on. I’m not saying it’s easy, but trying to keep this thing alive is going to hurt just as much, and for a longer time.

    Condolences. And congratulations on the new job!

    • Rhoda said:

      Yes, this. It doesn’t sound like she ever was much of a friend, so there’s really no point in responding at all.

    • onyx said:

      I agree. A normal person who missed you after an awkward, unsure drifting-apart would say something like “LW, I’m so happy for you!” and take the conversation from there. Not send an out-of-the-blue (but not really; the timing of that letter is SO crucial and not good) manifesto on How You Are a Horrible Friend & Person. The fact that she chose to “reach out” after so long in the form of anger and jealousy and bizarre accusations and projections screams that she’s not interested in being your friend at all. She just wants to shit on your parade, because your life appears to be going well (and hers probably isn’t, if my experience with this kind of bitter lashing out has taught me anything…)

      LW, you seem like a really compassionate person but don’t let that manipulate you into consoling her about her grievances. IMO you shouldn’t even acknowledge you received her email. Don’t give her the satisfaction of knowing it affected you in any way whatsoever, because that was the only goal here–to eat at your happiness and self-worth.

  10. I agree with responding only to the bits of that that merit response, if you respond at all.

    Absolutely nothing about what a terrible person you are or how much you’ve changed blah blah fishcakes merits response. It will never merit response.

  11. Ugh, so much projection, here! Doesn’t it strike you as ironic that she is responding to your good news with vitriol and misplaced aggression? If nothing else, this should validate your decision to quietly recede from this persons life. I get that you are remembering the good times, which we are all wont to do when a meaningful relationship ends, but please consider the great place you are in now, and don’t give this person another chance to hurt you.

  12. Interesting that she’s managed to include in one letter a bunch of ways that she doesn’t like who you are as a person, but also a heaping guilt trip that you aren’t spending enough time with her anymore. I’m LW 637, and it might be worth taking a peek at that. I’m not sure that your “friend” is matching all of the behaviors of my sister, but her pattern of withdrawing from you and then turning around and raging at you for not chasing her down feels VERY familiar.

    I hear that you want to see if there’s anything to salvage in this relationship, but I think you also rightly recognize that this letter is an attempt to get you to reconcile on her terms and those terms are manipulative and unhealthy. You don’t know how to respond to this email because she’s crafted it in such a way that there’s really no good way to respond. You say that you think she reacted this way out of just overwhelming sad feelings which might be true, but her letter reads to me as much more intentional and calculated than that. I don’t think any of us can know her intentions for sure, but I do want to posit that she may have a lot more intention and agency in how she’s behaving than maybe you think.

    If you DO want to actually try to work things out with her, my thoughts would be to push back directly on the behavior in her email that is objectionable while opening the door to discussing other things. The captain’s advice is pretty good, although I think a direct confrontation is perfectly warranted, like “hey, if you have problems with me, I expect you to bring them up in a mature and respectful way in the future instead of raging at and insulting me during a time when I’m trying to celebrate an important milestone in my career.” It’s probably not going to get you anywhere, but I honestly don’t have high hopes that this friendship is going anywhere good anyway.

    I also think it’s perfectly reasonable to respond with “well, it looks like you’re showing yourself the door then. Thanks for the well wishes anyway!” But that’s just me.

    • Jenna said:

      i had someone withdraw and then get mad at me for not chasing. I was seriously perplexed by it. The funny thing was this guy had told me that all his previous girl friends had pulled fades on him.
      Hm.
      All?
      The common denominator in all those relationships is him, and maybe they were kinda like me and just didn’t chase when he pulled back?

      If you have been asking them to meet up, and they are the ones who can’t make it, ever, then it isn’t you that’s being distant.
      It’s not you. It’s them.

  13. GG said:

    Congratulations, LW, on your new job! I have a story about projection which may or may not be helpful in this case but I thought I might share on the chance that it is. TL;DR version is this – when someone projects on you, it can be tempting to accept what they say as truth and waste a lot more than just time on trying to “fix” something that isn’t broken. To borrow from Dan Savage, is this friendship worth the price of admission?

    Here goes:

    When I was a child, my family moved away. In the weeks leading up to the move, I noticed my friends were getting a bit distant. A classmate – not a close friend, but not someone I particularly hated either – overheard me talking to a teacher about this, came up, and basically laid into me about what a gigantic arsehole I apparently was.

    At that time, I was about 8-9 years old.

    The girl went into great detail about what a shitty friend I was, describing incidents that I didn’t even remember happening, and explained how I was every bad thing in the book, and OF COURSE my friends didn’t want to hang out with me. And the teacher was just standing there, asking me if it was true. I had no idea, and all of this seemed like new information to me, but to my mind, if they said it, and nobody stepped in my defense, then it must have been true.

    I spent the next years in my new town being angry at everything, pushing people away, thinking the worst things and assuming everyone was out to get me… while also believing every last thing that girl said about me. And though I’ve gotten better with time, there are still echoes of that old behaviour cropping up, some times more than others, even with Lots of Therapy (TM) and self-care and having a lot of friends who seem to love me just fine.

    LW, having “friends” turn on us isn’t just shitty, it can really mess with our sense of reality. And I say this as a person who wants to be fair, wants everyone to be happy, wants to apologize as soon as anyone looks even remotely put off: It’s nice that you want to extend an olive branch. But your friend sounds like the kind of person who will demand the whole forest and still not be satisfied.

    To put it differently, if you applied Dan Savage’s price of admission to this friendship, how much would the tally be? Snide comments, accusations, criticism, constantly worrying if you’re giving that person enough space while also granting them their due of attention, and all the energy you put in trying to soothe their feelings (and their ego) are a pretty steep price to pay, and could be put towards relationships and projects that make you feel better than this one does. She must have some good qualities, but she sounds like someone who thinks she’s the only important person in your friendship.

    • spd said:

      I am stopping by to express horror that your teacher’s response to what was clearly bullying was to ask the bullied, “is this true?”

      “You’re a four-eyes.” “Is this true?”

      “You smell like lesbian feet.” “Is this true?”

      “I’m afraid nobody likes me anymore.” “Nobody likes you anymore because you suck.” “Is this true?”

      I’m so, so sorry you had a teacher like that.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Holy shit- I’m on the verge of tears for your 8yo self.

      Oh, for a time machine to go back and hug you, and punch that teacher in the throat. Children can be cruel, but for an adult to pile on, *snarl.*

      • GG said:

        Thank you spd and BigDogLitleCat. That one was only recently pointed out to me. I kind of wish I was an outlier but… I strongly suspect most kids have to deal with this shit. The education system back home was one giant Philip Larkin poem. (In her defense I did hear her try to reason with the girls, after I walked away in shock. Something about “helping me out” which is just what little people pleasers need to hear – that they must take feedback from the same lot who shat on them.)

        But to make this relevant to the OP – the only thing you can do for yourself is to “get out as early as you can” and don’t pay the price of admission if the show just makes you feel bad about yourself. Your ex-friend doesn’t have to meet the boiler-plate standard of villainy for you to say, “actually, I got better things to do.”

  14. Any time someone says, “And then [person] said [thing x] that I don’t remember happening” (or don’t remember happening in that way) my shoulders go up around my ears, because that is classic gaslighting behavior. And this is one of those situations where intent is not a Get Out of Jail Free card: it doesn’t matter if she genuinely remembers what happened differently or if she is trying to convince you that her version happened instead of yours: this is not a person you can trust with your reality.

    I would not respond at all. I would “round file” the email and go back to the excellent work you’ve been doing of taking care of yourself and growing forward!

    • Vicki said:

      Telling me I did something wouldn’t by itself cause me to think the person was gaslighting: I know my own memory is far from perfect, both in what I remember at all and in how/how much I remember of those incidents. I’ve had conversations with people I love and trust, in good faith, where it became obvious that our memories and interpretations of a past incident or conversation were very different. And sometimes everyone is being honest; one or both of us may have edited the memories to make ourselves feel better, or to make things make more sense, but I wouldn’t call it gaslighting, not when we’re able to say “I don’t remember that, and I’m sorry if it happened, I don’t actually think you have to do X.”

      That may not be relevant in LW’s case, since I don’t think there’s a lot of good faith left here, but it seems worth noting more generally.

      • Fair enough; I may be a little sensitive to this because I was once told by my family that I never broke my ankle as a teen, so you can see where it’d be an issue for me.

        • Vicki said:

          Yeah, “that didn’t happen to you” is very different from different memories of a conversation. I’m sorry they did that.

          • Lis said:

            There is a person I was in school with who is a friend of a friend so I meet occasionally and every time I end up upset because she praises me for things that just didn’t happen. For example “you gave me such strength in school because you were bullied so badly and never changed” I was not bullied and “All the others were afraid you would steal their boyfriends” this was not a thing. I get that she experienced this time differently and maybe her perception of my experience helped her but it’s very upsetting for me. To me she is gaslighting me but i don’t think it is intentional on her part. It is how she now remembers a time she was very unhappy. All this to say it might not be malicious.

          • @Lis — I agree it might not be malicious. That’s what I meant by intent isn’t a get out of jail free card, though. Just because it wasn’t meant maliciously or hurtfully (in the LW’s case) doesn’t mean it didn’t have a disturbing or hurtful effect.

        • Thanksforallthefish said:

          Woah…that is terrible!

        • Ooh yeah I had an incident like that. There was this elderly couple on my street when I was 10 or so, who used to hand out licorice to kids every day afterschool. The husband had a huge Lego collection, allegedly; his “Lego Room” was the stuff of playground legends.

          According to several kids including my own brother, I’ve been in that Lego Room. According to me, I have never seen it and am not even sure it’s real.

      • TO_Ont said:

        I wouldn’t assume this either (although I wouldn’t assume the opposite either).

        People often do remember things differently, for example in my experience people who bully other people or are cruel to them often have only the vaguest of memories of doing so. They may have been thinking so little of their victim at the time that it wasn’t a big deal to them to squash the person, or they may have seen and experienced so much aweful treatment themselves that they genuinely think what they were doing was unremarkable and ‘normal’ interaction, or they may have rewritten their memory to make themselves look less bad.

        I don’t mean to imply that’s what was going on with this 8 year old!! Just that I would be wary of making any ‘rule’ about who is remembering right when people remember upsetting events differently.

        • Indoor Cat said:

          Right, I was going to say this as well.

          By age 28, the average adult remembers only 1% of their waking life; anything perceived as boring or not-notable isn’t stored (for example, what did you eat for breakfast February 22nd 2015? Did you take any naps that day? Talk to anyone at the bus stop?) This is why eyewitness testimonies at, say, car accidents are so notoriously unreliable. You can have four witnesses, two genuinely remembering the car running a light and two remembering a legal turn, because quite frankly nobody on the sidewalk was really paying attention to traffic until the accident already happened.

          So, I’ve seen first hand someone confront a former abuser, bully, or whomever, and the confronted person seems to genuinely not remember the accuser at all, or at least not remember doing anything wrong. But I tend not to think (due to circumstances) that those were false accusations. In the most extreme case, a friend confronted someone who sexually assaulted her on a date ten years ago. He seemed genuinely puzzled and didn’t even remember them going home together, although he remembered the date. Now, maybe he was lying to avoid potential arrest, or maybe he didn’t remember because he got black-out drunk, or maybe she mentally conflated two different men she went on dates with in the same week because of the overwhelming trauma of that memory, or maybe he doesn’t remember because he revised the memory later subconsciously.

          I know being accused of some action you don’t remember doing, or remember differently, can be painful, or even insulting or humiliating, and it can be tempting to create a rule in which your own memory is always right by default, but my rule of thumb tends to be, “memories of being hurt are usually real.” Whereas absence of evidence is not evidence of absence when it comes to questions of pain I might’ve caused others.

      • To clarify: I expect there to be a certain amount of mismatch on memories (because memories are malleable things and the only true memory is the one you never withdraw from “storage.” But there’s a huge difference between “I remember X+1” “Well, I remember X=1” and “I remember X -> Y” “You’re wrong, Y -> X,” if anyone follows my notation.

        LW said this:
        She said that she didn’t deserve this kind of behavior from me and that she had never thought I would cut her off like this, although she had seen me do it to others (I don’t know where this comes from, I haven’t cut any one off apart from one girl back in high school which was 15 years ago!). In her mind, I am the bad guy, and it doesn’t sound like she is open to listening to anything else.

        Which reads much more as the latter than the former to me. Projection, maybe, but projection in such a way that the LW feels she should respond in a “kind, compassionate” way to this person who she acknowledges sees her as the “bad guy.”

        And that is why my shoulders are up around my ears.

        LW had all the reasons in the world to let this relationship do the slow fade, and is happier and more self-confident by her own words because she did.

    • JennyB said:

      I’m currently trying to extracate myself from a marriage because of (final straw) something my spouse said. They are refusing to accept my decision because it is based on an emotional response to something they don’t remember saying. They were angry at the time. But I remember it clear as day, it sent me into a tail-spin, running for a psychiatrist because It hadn’t occured to me it was a lie.

      I don’t think I’m gaslighting them, am I?

      • Katie said:

        They don’t have to remember saying the awful thing for you to make a decision about how to handle it. I mean, even if you don’t remember doing something you can still apologize for it, as I have done for things I did when blackout drunk, or otherwise not aware! If they haven’t even tried to apologize and assure you that they do not want to be the person who said that thing, they’re being the asshole, not you.

        This is on top of the fact that they do not have to agree to your leaving – you simply have to want to leave.

      • Virtue said:

        YMMV, but I’d say no? They may not have meant what they said to affect you the way it affected you, but after years of dealing with someone who conveniently whitewashes their memory so that they are never at fault and have never hurt anyone (despite remaining physical evidence that does not heal, like holes in walls and warped metal doors), no one who doesn’t enjoy hurting people wants to remember that they have deliberately hurt someone, especially someone they claim to love.

        Plus, JennyB, while I have no way to know this, this sounds like a repeating pattern of behavior from your (final straw) notation. Why would you want to stay with someone that sends you into a tail-spin that severe?

      • You’re not gaslighting them.

      • Nope. Having a different memory of events and saying so is just telling the truth. If we were only allowed to discuss things everyone could remember and agree happened, the gaslighters would always win!

      • Moxie said:

        Nope.

      • Yolanda B. Cool said:

        JennyB, you are not gas-lighting. Also, FWI, my now ex-husband swore up and down, near the end of our marriage that he didn’t remember telling me during an argument that our financial problems were all my fault. (I was the only one who was consistently employed.)

        When I pushed back and insisted that he said it, that I heard him say it, that I wasn’t making it up, or mis-remembering, he finally, FINALLY ‘remembered’ that he had, in fact, blamed me for our money woes, and then he promptly said “You can’t let me get away with that.”

        “You can’t let me get away with that.”

        I was now to blame for allowing him to blame me in the first place.

        I share this story to caution you that your soon-to-be ex-spouse may not have a memory problem at all, and to suggest that you are not the person gas-lighting someone here.

        Best wishes moving forward in your divorce.

      • Paulina said:

        In my experience, some people say hurtful things essentially on autopilot — they want to lash out or get a particular result, and they say whatever pops into their head that goes with that, and later they may truly not remember what they said. Or did, even; they don’t notice anything remarkable about it or think much about it.

        Someone blindsided by it, on the other hand, is likely to find it very memorable.

        Meanwhile, someone trying the “I don’t remember so you don’t get to be mad” argument to try to logic someone out of leaving is already well down the manipulative gaslighting path, whether they actually remember specifics or not.

      • He’s gaslighting you, JennyB.

      • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

        Shall we say that it is highly unlikely that you’re imagining something that had such a profound effect on you.

        There is also a non-zero chance that your spouse is gaslighting you in insisting they didn’t say that, it’s all in your head.

        On the third tentacle, none of that fucking matters, because if your spouse tries to logic you into ‘you’re not allowed to feel this’, that in itself is an utterly excellent reason to saddle up the nopetopus and ride straight to a divorce lawyer. Your spouse does not get to veto whether you’re through with them or not, particularly since you’re talking about a ‘last straw’.

    • johann7 said:

      As I understand it, “gaslighting” is an intentional manipulation of circumstances to makes someone doubt their own memory, which doesn’t cover situations where someone simply has a terrible memory or confabulates false memories but isn’t aware of it.

      I’ve been dealing with a department chair for the last year who insists that conversations that clearly happened (sometimes over e-mail – I have proof in those cases) didn’t, and who as a result has been changing his mind over and over, back and forth on certain decisions we need him to make, causing serious problems for those of us who actually need to solve the existing problems that the decisions address. I know he’s wrong becasue I have independent verification of my memory from multiple other people and e-mail threads, but if I didn’t, it would be hard to tell whether he was insisting on a false version of events to me or I was insisting on a false version of events to him (which may still be his perspective). I don’t think he’s gaslighting anyone, becasue he has nothing to gain there, I think he just doesn’t really retain memories related to issues he’d simply rather not have to deal with – he just wants the issues to automagically go away, so he pushes memories of anything associated with the issues out of mind, too. Part of the reason gaslighting is effective so often is that people’s memories are really pretty terrible (all people – we do retain some real information, but we also make a lot of it up during the process of remembering), and this happens without any sort of malice all the time, so gaslighters can use that fact as cover for why their victims don’t remember their false narrative of events.

      Unfortunately, accusations of gaslighting are themselves an effective gaslighting tactic – the (actual) gaslighter doubles down on zir false narrative and accuses the victim of gaslighting for insisting on the real version of events – so, as others note, I think we should be careful with our assumptions when someone notes a disagreement about what two or more people remember happening.

      I’m so sorry your family insisted a traumatic injury never happened. I think you’re right that this particular case doesn’t read like a good-faith discrepancy in memory, and certainly the response doesn’t make me think the “friend” is acting on good faith. I like Vicki’s script for how to resolve non-malicious discrepancies, and I think someone accepting that or not can give an indication as to whether the disagreement is intentional/malicious.

  15. Biancasnoozes said:

    Wow, this seems really close to a situation I encountered a number of years ago. A close friend and I teamed up on a creative project. It was really her project she was in charge of, but I was helping out both because I wanted to and also because doing so would give me experience in a field I was trying to break into.

    Somewhere along the way, this friend started making some really backhanded remarks about both my work with her and my life in general. She also started being really disrespectful of my time–cancelling meetings at the last moment (when I’d already gotten in the car and started driving!), not doing her own tasks that needed to happen before I did mine. She then started projecting her own lack of motivation and laziness on me, telling me I had no direction in life, was a failure, a coward, would never amount to anything, etc. The few times I let her know that something she said or did bothered me, she doubled down about how my hurt was a sign of my own lack of emotional fortitude or empathy for her situation (because OF COURSE her life/preferences/schedule was both harder and more important than mine).

    It got really bad when I successfully leveraged my experience with the creative project into a real, paying job. This was something she had been unable to do for herself, and OH MY did the claws come out then. I walked away from that friendship and my life has been 1000% times less stressful ever since.

    LW, it seems to me like this person propped herself up by putting you down and had a feeling of “I’m better than LW” as part of her identity. As someone who was better than you, it was OK for her to push you away as she saw fit, but not OK for it to happen the other way. Your getting a nice new job probably hit her ego hard and made her claws come out, because your success threatens her sense of her own self.

    A good friend shares in the happiness of your successes. Clearly this person does not wish you well. I don’t think you owe her anything, and are probably better off without her.

    • Indie said:

      “As someone who was better than you, it was OK for her to push you away as she saw fit, but not OK for it to happen the other way”

      So insightful

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      Sorry it happened to you; glad you are out of the situation *and* got some reward for it.

      Sadly, it seems as if some people need a junior friend/partner: as long as you are in the dumps and struggling, they can be/appear to be supportive, but once you’re climbing out of the pit and unfolding your wings, you no longer work for ‘at least I’m doing better than/making better decisions than x’. And only too many people seem to want to push their friends/partners back into that box instead of celebrating with them.

  16. crunchybits said:

    LW, you are being very generous.

    “It’s not a nice email. It’s basically a bitter rant about how I have changed as a person. She said she didn’t recognize me anymore and how she had become fed up of what she perceives as my faults, and me being distant, over the last two years.”

    I received a very similar email years ago from a longtime friend. To be clear, I HAD changed. Like you, I had become more confident and I had emotionally matured and evolved. Unlike you, I made the mistake of responding to this accusation and when I told former friend as compassionately as I could that yes, I had changed, that I thought change was part of what it means to be human, and that she could certainly anticipate that i would continue to change as the years went on. She SCOFFED at this reply. She openly laughed at me for my response and acted like I was feeding her a line of horseshit.

    Long story short: I truly believe my former friend was sad that we weren’t as close friends as we had been years before. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to express this in a way that wasn’t either incredibly self-pitying or accusatory. I went no contact and only wish I had done it sooner.

    Good luck, LW.

    • Taketombo said:

      Oh goodness. I had that friend. We were close in HS and college, but after college I got married and she didn’t. I had kids and she didn’t. I’m almost a decade into paying off my mortgage and she isn’t. I work 7-4; in bed by 8, and she’s still at the office at that hour. So … over the last decade+, contact lessened. (Actually, after I stopped reaching out to her, and waited for a reciprocal invitation, one NEVER came, so I was like – Great! we feel the same way!)

      And then through a friend-of-a-friend we ended up on the same thread on facebook, and then PM-ing ech other. And I, like you, responded to that rant with that we’ve changed as people over time, and we’re at different places in our life, and these things happen.

      She responded that NO! THEY DID NOT! and would it be OK to write me a letter telling me why _she thought_ we drifted apart. I consented to the FEELINGSMAIL, and spent the next week or opening my mail with a sense of dread. Fortunately, it never came – I don’t know if she thought better of it, was talked out of it, or just got distracted – and we’ve gone on not contacting each other 😉

  17. P said:

    Something similar happened to me last year – different backstory, but similar written outburst. In my case, it wasn’t good news that seemed to kick it off but bad news, as my health had taken a turn for the worse. Some of the outburst was about how I wasn’t looking after my health (as well as being mean to them in various baffling ways) so… yeah.

    I think the way you’re looking at handling this, together with the Captain’s advice, is perfect. The message I sent was along the lines that I didn’t recognise what they were saying, but that I loved them and if their changed their mind, I would be around.

    Of course the back-and-forth argument happened, but only in my head which, even if I had written it down (which might have been useful), it still would have taken so much less energy than the real thing and caused much less damage that the real thing. I then soft-blocked them on social media for a while, so I could check in and stay up to date with their life if/ when I felt like it but didn’t have to be reminded of them every day. I then put my energy into other friendships and relationships with people who seem to like me and that was very much worthwhile.

    And it was all fine and almost a year later, we’re now talking every now and again if very superficially. However, I have next-to-zero concern about where this goes. We have mutual friends so outright enmity would be best avoided, but being acquaintances or becoming friendly again, it doesn’t matter. Close friendship seems a stretch because of trust, but if they did one day say, “You know all that stuff I said? I was in a strange place and I’m sorry.” then maybe.

    This stuff really hurts when it happens. Even in my advancing years I have to remind myself that there’s no point bothering with folk who do not behave as if they like and appreciate you. It is fine to disagree or express feelings of being let down but “You’re awful, please talk to me some more!” is pain we could all do without.

    Best of luck with the new job!

  18. servogirl said:

    Years ago I had a friendship that was very intense for a year or two and then hit the skids — she was notoriously difficult among my social circle for always wanting things her way only, her husband really disliked me (I think I was a “bad influence” because they were struggling then, and she was always going out bar hopping with me and my other single friends on weekends), and we had a really rough shared experience at an athletic event that left both of us with a bad taste in our mouths. We ended up getting into a fight at a restaurant (which, memorably, is the only time in my life I’ve come up with the right comeback at the right time, so at least that was a plus) and I thought that was the end of our friendship and was grateful for it.

    She sent me a FEELINGSMAIL a few weeks later that was wrapped up in a “hey your friend owes me $40 plus I have some of your DVDs, also I’m sorry but really everything is your fault and you’re a horrible bitch.” (summarizing) It was so infuriating. I stewed on it for a day and then sent back just a scathing response, which was basically the final nail in the coffin of the friendship but frankly, felt really good to send!! I just couldn’t stand the thought of someone dumping all this shit on my doorstep and just being expected to take it without any response. The road had been blown up by landmines so there was no high road to take. She wrote back again (of course) but I ignored it and I haven’t spoken to her since.

    If you know the friendship is over, and you have some stuff to get off your chest, I think there can be some benefit to going scorched earth back on someone who’s gone scorched earth on you. Just don’t get sucked into an endless cycle! It’s not the nicest thing to do, it’s probably bad for my karma, and I knew full well before I sent it that it wouldn’t change a damn thing about what happened between us, but I still stand by taking the low road. We were already there anyway, and I would have just stewed and stewed on it if I didn’t respond. You don’t always have to be nice if there’s nothing left to salvage.

    In conclusion, friend breakups suck.

    • halfmanhalfshark said:

      I had a similar experience, although I feel a little more conflicted about it. Very intense friendship – this one quite one-sided and often involving the friend making really poor decisions and me coming to the rescue (materially and/or emotionally). I moved away and we kept in touch but I was feeling drained by the friendship and was quietly putting some metaphorical distance between us to match the geographical distance.

      Then came the FEELINGSMAIL. And I could have ignored it or sent a classy response like many of the ones here but instead of offering an African Violet, I offered her a poison oak plant that I covered in wasps and sent on fire before sending. It was cathartic because I had built up a nice festering bolus of resentment over the years but it wasn’t my proudest moment. She emailed me back and I ignored it and haven’t spoken to her since.

      I don’t miss that friendship (I occasionally look her up on social media for reasons I should probably explore with my therapist and always come away thinking she would still be really annoying and exhausting to have as a friend) but I do wish I had been a little more compassionate with my response to her.

      • servogirl said:

        “a poison oak plant that I covered in wasps and sent on fire” made me LOL.

        Six years later, maybe I would have a different, more compassionate response…but at the same time, MAN I needed to tell that girl which way was up! I don’t regret sending that email, but I do regret that the friendship devolved to a point where we were sending nastygrams to each other. With the distance of time and experience, there were so many times prior to the Hindenburg ending that we could have dealt with what was bothering both of us before they festered out of control. That was a good lesson for me, that keeping the peace doesn’t always ensure a peaceful ending.

        • Queen of scarves said:

          “keeping the peace doesn’t always ensure a peaceful ending”

          Wise words that should be on t–shirts, cushions, mugs, tote bags, etc!

          Saving this to me personal list of great quotes at any rate. Thank you!

    • canadakate said:

      Good for you! I despise that “high road” crap. More often than not, it means you’re supposed to take whatever shit someone sees fit to give you without objection.

      • flrpwll said:

        Yes. This!
        Sometimes I think the high road encourages arseholes to arsehole more. Consequences are a *thing*.

      • goddessoftransitory said:

        I especially hate it when it’s hijacked by assholes in a political context, like not talking about Global Warming after Irma.

        There’s no high or low road. There’s one road and you chose which direction you take on it.

        • canadakate said:

          Well said!

      • Taking the high road doesn’t have to mean letting yourself get run over on the high road.

      • Reformed Messy Girl said:

        I think about this high road/low road dilemma often along with the “turn the other cheek” advice given in Christian circles. Because often turning the other cheek and/or taking the high road just lets the other party gather more steam. I sincerely believe that you can call someone on their crap in a mostly kind way. I once read an article in an Oprah magazine by Martha Beck who said, “conflict is the way we say, ‘You may go this far with me, and no further.’ ” And yet, there are definitely times when the correct tactic is to turn the other cheek. I struggle to articulate the difference and know when one way is the “right” way. But one thing that I think happens is that we tend to think there are 2 responses: none (high road), or a return feelingsbarf (low road), when in fact that isn’t true: there is a 3rd option, where you call someone on their crap without hurling insults and personal attacks. Calling out specific behavior is not the low road–insulting and calling people names is. In this instance, I kind of disagree with the Captain for once on the type of response needed due to the history between these 2 friends. LW specifically says, “For my part, I felt that sometimes she could say very unkind or cruel things. I noticed about two years ago that I was working very hard to win her approval, and felt very anxious if I didn’t get it and recognized that this friendship had become a bit unhealthy.” Because of this past history, I am inclined to think the feelingsbomb email is another instance of this behavior and further, that that behavior in particular needs to be called out–especially IF LW does in fact want to try to maintain the friendship. I would say something along the lines of: I hear that you are upset and miss our friendship, but the things you have said in this email are cruel, and frankly inappropriate. If you would like to maintain a relationship with me, that is not okay and will need to change. Her response to that will tell you everything you need to know. Either A) she doubles down and lists all the ways LW has failed her. Best response here: either none, or thanks, but we are done. or B) she apologizes. Now you have something to work with if you want to remain friends. Regardless of if this friend is projecting and vomiting her feelings everywhere but has good intentions or if she is trying to control and manipulate LW by knocking her down a peg and making LW seek the friend’s approval, it doesn’t really matter. This behavior is completely egregious and needs to stop. Set the boundary that you won’t tolerate it any longer LW. Good luck!

    • Emma said:

      I love the expression “taking the low road”. I have done so a couple of times and damn, it felt good. But like you said, it was at the very end of the road.

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        yep! sometimes scorched earth approach makes good sense when the earth is already barren and burnt. African Violets do not grow on freshly cooling lava (not a botanist).

        • dreamwaffles said:

          I am a botanist. They do not.

          Some really neat plants do grow on freshly cooled lava but not African violets.

  19. Zinc said:

    It sounds like someone who was used to having you constantly work for their attention and are now mad it’s gone. One magical thing about being an adult is you don’t *owe* her a response or an explanation. Congrats on finding what works for you in this relationship and makes you happy.

  20. bopper said:

    “You are right, I have changed. I am sorry that is not what you are looking for but I was glad to work with you on Project and also I wish you the best.”

    • Dana said:

      +1

  21. RaccoonMama said:

    For what it’s worth:
    When I was about halfway through high school, I had to very bluntly tell my best friend of 7 years that I couldn’t continue to be friends with her anymore, for a variety of reasons that I did not detail to her but that included me having to support and shoulder all of her emotional problems while she never cared about mine, and also her having a tendency to start dating her friends boyfriends. I still had a lot of good memories with her and I treasured them, and about 7 years later after we graduated from college we ended up hanging out at a reunion type thing and it was a) very clear that she was in a better place mentally and emotionally than she had been in high school (yay!) and b) also clear that she held no grudge against me. I briefly mentioned that I was sorry I had distanced myself, and she was very accepting of that I had needed to do that and that we were both probably better off for not having maintained such a toxic friendship! We now communicate and see each other maybe once or twice a year. I would have also accepted her still being upset about what I did and not wanting to talk to me anymore.
    My point being- even if you directly contribute to a friendship ending, someone lashing out at you the way your friend did reflects poorly on them, not you.

  22. canadakate said:

    I’m sorry, LW, but my read is she is less upset about losing your friendship than she is about losing her personal scapegoat and punching bag. And yes, you have changed–for the better! It’s just not to her liking. I will bet she’s assigning things to you that you’ve never done, but she certainly has. She’s trying to get you back under her control.

    I had a “friend” like this who, when she told me all my faults (that “everyone” agreed with), I took it as gospel. Then I realized that instead of addressing things with me like an adult, she lashed out and accused me of things she had done herself.

    Of course you miss the closeness and friendship you once had, but I think you should let this go without a reply. This is what I did to the last message from my former friend. She’s not going to hear, let alone agree with, anything you have to say, so it’s better to cut your losses and just move on.

    Remember the good times and congratulations on recognizing and protecting yourself in the bad!

  23. I also feel like her wrapping her feelings mail around your new job announcement is a shitty move. I can think of people I don’t like or whom I wouldn’t choose to work with whose successes I would still congratulate. It feels a little like she is trying to take you down a peg or two and that’s not a quality you want in a friend.

  24. Dear LW,

    The current situation is that you and what’s her name were friends but aren’t anymore.

    You seem ok with this, but also with being friends again.

    I believe that how you respond to her will be colored by the outcome you want. There are a few possible outcomes, but most are not under your control:

    – Friendship just like the one in the past, where she gets snarky and you put up with it
    – Nodding acquaintance
    – New friendship based on both of your explicitly expressed wishes
    – No friendship

    I agree with the Captain about how to respond to the email. Thanks! I’m loving the new job. You take care now.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

    • sargjo said:

      Yes. I once got a feelingsbomb from a colleague that then was followed by a half-assed apology and I stressed over how to reply. Then deep down an Internet rabbit hole I discovered one of the very best ways to respond to long feelingemails. Ready?

      “Thanks”

      That’s it!! Just thanks! There’s no purchase for the other person there, and you can fill in the blanks with whatever you like (“thanks…for letting me realize what a terribly shitty friend you are. Thanks….for reminding me why you’re not in my life. Thanks…for being my friend that one time.”

      • winter said:

        Love it!

  25. Guava said:

    Yeah, this letter from this “friend” screams of manipulation and jealousy and projection to me too.

    I had a friendship like this many years ago. It started out great and exciting and nourishing and gradually devolved into a really abusive, competitive toxic stew in which she was constantly attacking random aspects of my personality, getting mad at me for things I couldn’t fix (i.e. “You are just being so…YOU… and it’s really getting on my nerves!”) and when I responded to her with apologies and meek requests for explanations of what I was doing that was making her so angry, she’d respond with cutting comments and lectures about how she couldn’t stand how “weak” I was, how she needed a friend who could stand up to her.

    And then, in the midst of this, I made plans to meet up with a guy we both liked while on vacation (he lived nearby), and suddenly she really really needed me to spend that vacation time ten hours away, working on a construction project with her at her grandmother’s house, and I was pathetic for liking this guy, and I was an asshole for “putting a guy above our friendship.”

    While I was on that vacation, she sent the meanest, nastiest feelingsmail. The best part? She sent it to my apartment. Then hopped on a train and surprised me on my vacation, cheerfully informed me that she’d “written me a letter but didn’t want to spoil our vacation time by going into what it was about” and then I spent the entire vacation walking on eggshells and dreading the return home.

    When I got home and read the letter, it made me ill. It was a five-page, double-sided assassination of my character, and I could not figure out what kind of person could write a letter like that, send it…and then spend five days in the recipient’s company, knowing that you’d just posted a sucker punch to them, acting like everything was fine. I had no idea how to respond, and in the end, I didn’t. I pretended it never happened and shoved the letter between some books on my shelf, and I tried to make everything go back to normal, but I mentally checked out of that friendship from that day forward.

    I found out later that she’d written several other letters to mutual friends that same week.
    – One person called her up, went down the letter point by point and argued with her.
    – One person mailed her a greeting card that said, “Fuck off” and never spoke to her again.
    – Another recipient marked up all the spelling and grammar errors in her letter with a red pen, graded it, and mailed it back to her.

    I found my letter again two years later. When I re-read it, I realized that she’d always needed me to be her foil – she’d needed me to be her less-than: her less attractive, less confident, less talented friend. The one who made her look better by comparison. And any time I showed signs of becoming more confident, or someone showed an interest in me, it threatened her to such an extent that she’d needed to put me in my place.

    I burned the letter in the middle of the night, watched her cruel, petty words shrivel up in the flames and then flushed the ashes down the toilet. That felt pretty good. She and I drifted apart. Rarely have I been so relieved to have someone out of my life.

    If you do respond, LW, I think the Captain’s scripts are great. I wish I’d had them at the time. But honestly, I think it will be better for you to just let this person go.

    • spd said:

      “Another recipient marked up all the spelling and grammar errors in her letter with a red pen, graded it, and mailed it back to her.”

      I’m normally not a fan of the grammar snark response, but when someone sends you a term paper on The Suckiness of You, this is an excellent response that conveys what the grader thinks of the letter, its contents, and its author without needing to rebut a single point.

      • morticia said:

        I enjoyed that notion myself. I am currently surrounded by people with toxic people in their lives, and the next one who gets such a missive is probably going to get that suggestion from me (with due credit, of course).

        LW, I agree with previous posters, this person is not your friend. Respond or not, as you see fit, but there is scads of compassion in just not letting her have the response she so richly deserves.

      • Guava said:

        I have to say, at the time I wished I’d sent that response myself. It was the perfect rebuttal to the letter I received. But I’m with you, in general, not a great thing to do.

    • devicat26 said:

      Good Lord, that sounds terrible. I’m glad this person is out of your life. Also lol for grading the letter. I just don’t understand people like this. It takes a special kind of self-involvement and pettiness to do things like this. Just. Ew.

      • Guava said:

        When that friendship ended, it felt like I’d lost a stone that had been tied around my neck. A stone I didn’t realize was there until it was gone.

        • Sparky said:

          I received a similar letter, which to me seemed out of the blue. Two typed, single space pages, on Valentine’s Day! Once the shock wore off and I processed it, I was relieved to have the author and her husband out of my life. I ended up doing nothing besides burning the letter. Not because I decided to do nothing, but because I couldn’t figure out what to do, time passed and no good ideas came up. This woman and her husband wrote at least one similar letter to someone in our circle of friends, so I had someone to compare notes with. And she was also relieved to be rid of them. Although, after a year or two, they wrote her another letter, which she waited to open until her boyfriend was home, expecting another list of everything she’d ever done wrong ever. Instead, this letter requested that she have sex with the husband half of the couple, because he’d only ever had sex with his wife, and he held her more experienced sexual history against her and had convinced her that he deserved to also have sex with other people, and hey, my friend had had a few lovers, so why not have sex with him? Friend was revolted and told everyone we knew.

          I did enjoy hearing about their bizarre antics until eventually she/they weren’t in contact with anyone I knew anymore. I would not be at all surprised if she ended up as the next Jim Jones or Marshall what’s his name; she is definitely the type to start a cult and convince a bunch of people to do what she tells them to do.

          I had sort of been backing away from them, pre-letter, but I was leaving room for them to get themselves together, or to allow that we might end up at the same wedding or New Year’s Eve party, and I didn’t want it to be weird for the friends we had in common. These two made it weird for everybody. And then they ran out of people in our group to hang out with. I guess I’m glad I didn’t write back or anything, it’s whatever road taken by default. Before I got the letter,I had rung them to wish them a happy Valentine’s Day, since it was their first married one. The husband was super weird on the phone. I’m glad that was my last contact with them. I’m glad they’re out of my life. I hope they’re happier, that they worked some stuff out, I hope they aren’t hurting others. I might tell them how cowardly their letters were, but I don’t think I could start to untangle the rest and there is a good chance they couldn’t hear me anyway.

          I’m not perfect, but I never sent someone a poison letter.

          • Guava said:

            Wow…that couple sounds like a real treat and you are well rid of them! They wrote your friend again, asking for her to have sex with the husband AFTER sending the poison letter? WHAT. Seriously, who does this shit? I had no idea it was such a thing.

          • If they were in West Virginia, then we knew the same people, Spanky. If not, there were TWO OF THEM!

          • Sparky said:

            I hope this lands in the right place, under jennylinskyb’s post.

            No, guava, it isn’t a thing, or it shouldn’t be. And it wasn’t WV, so there are at least two of them!

          • Guava said:

            Sparky – I just meant the poison letters. It’s overwhelming, reading the comments on this thread, as to how many people think those missives are good ideas to send.

    • Indie said:

      I’m just picturing you and her other ex friends at brunch trading these ‘return to sender’ tales because you all sound kinda awesome. Also, she didn’t learn after two or three ‘fuck you and your grammar too’ responses?!!

      • Guava said:

        LOL, “greeting card” and “detailed rebuttal over the phone” and I are all still friends. “Graded response” was actually from her recent ex…and wherever you are in the world, sir, I tip my hat to you.

  26. CommanderBanana said:

    LW, I think you are handling this situation with a lot of grace and kindness. Good for you!

    Sometimes we have friendships that don’t survive changing dynamics. I have had friendships that I realized I needed to have better or different boundaries on, and sometimes those friendships survived it, and sometimes they didn’t.

    Your friend’s perception that you have changed may in fact be true, but that does NOT mean that you are wrong for “changing.” Sometimes people only want friendship when it’s on their terms.

    If it were me, and I wanted to rekindle our friendship, I’d probably do just what the captain says – respond back, ignoring all the feelingsblarf! she’s spewing on you, and just tell her you miss her and you’d like to hang. BUT, I would also go into that with a very clear-eyed understanding that your friendship may be something she only wants on her terms and that may not be workable for you.

  27. Kathryn Hedges said:

    I agree with the comments saying this ex-friend is projecting all over you. You’re lucky to be out of the relationship, I think, and I’m glad you can have this much perspective about it.

    One thing I thought of but haven’t seen here is that considerate people would not only let you enjoy your excitement over the new job instead of sending angry rants, they’d know this is a stressful time. Even a new job you love is going to preoccupy you for a while as you adapt to a new environment and fit the logistics of your commute etc. into your life. Your emotional bandwidth will be full of learning how to get along at your workplace. You will need your lunches and breaks to catch your breath or bond with the group, not go off-site to deal with people who send feelingsmail. Weekends you’ll need to chill and celebrate with trusted, comfortable members of Team You or take time to yourself to process the changes.

    So it isn’t a good time to expect someone to rekindle a friendship that isn’t a happy reunion. That alone is insensitive, even if she’d left out the hateful accusations.

    The combination means she’s utterly uncaring about your feelings at best, deviously manipulative at worst. Could even want to undermine this dream job…

  28. spd said:

    I had an incredibly close friend send me one of these feelingsbomb letters about a month after I got engaged to my husband. It detailed stuff about how I never cared about his feelings (I would regularly leave parties to take his crying phone calls), was after his money (he had moved an expensive plane ride away and I let him buy the food when I would visit to clean his house. I lost more on plane tickets than the food cost him), how I was still in love with him (we had dated at one point, I had in fact still been in love with him several years previous but he had never understood that I got over it because he was incapable of getting over rejection himself). I responded by blocking him everywhere, and it was a huge relief. My life instantly became 200% less dramatic. If I had responded, it would have kept me engaged and kept the drama going.

    That dude and I became less intense friends again a few years later, and it’s nice. I think that if I’d responded and kept the drama going, it would still be terrible.

    • spd said:

      All that is to say–LW, it sounds like you want to be compassionate and leave the friendship door open, and that you think the best way to do that is to send a response. I would argue by anecdote that the best way to compassionately leave the friendship door open is to ignore this feelingsbomb and wait for the friendship that will come when (really, if) your feelingsbomber matures to the point where they wouldn’t want a response to such a mean letter.

  29. Bess Marvin said:

    I work in an industry where people seem to feel it’s OK to send super-mean, personally critical emails about work matters. Like, they see the product of the work and respond with personal insults.

    This probably makes me a terrible person but I often decline to respond at all…. not to take the higher road, but because I want them to stew in their juices about whether I even read the email.

    I imagine a continuum where they hit send with a triumphant, “THERE! HAHA!” and then later hitting “refresh” on their inbox, waiting for my reply, and then… nope, still nothing. When I hit “delete” on the email I like to take a moment to imagine their frustration in the coming days as the feeling dawns on them that they have just effectively shouted into a void.

    Also satisfying, a bland: “Thanks for sharing your feedback! I’ll take your perspective into consideration.” Which I imagine really deflates the self-importance.

    • VG said:

      About 15 years ago, when I was still relatively new to the working world, a client of my company’s called my desk line and instructed me not to tell anyone about the conversation we were about to have. I said okay almost reflexively, and he launched into a long, personal, highly subjective attack against a piece of work I’d done for them. At this point in my career, that wouldn’t get anything out of me but the bland “yeah, thanks, I’ll make a note of that feedback” response (I also wouldn’t promise not to tell anyone what he’d said before he said it), but at the time it was completely devastating. I still remember him un-fondly and wish him ill whenever I think of this incident–not anything fatal, just a suggestion to the universe that it might be good for him to step in some dog poop or develop a persistent itch.

      • CommanderBanana said:

        VG, that sucks – I too worked for a few horrible people that turned comments about my work into referendums on me as a person, and I think wishing them a persistent itch is justified. 🙂

    • CommanderBanana said:

      Gah! What industry is that?? That sounds uber-unprofessional for any industry, yikes.

    • johann7 said:

      Also satisfying, a bland: “Thanks for sharing your feedback! I’ll take your perspective into consideration.”

      I’ve been using this one a lot for constant complainers at work.

  30. BigDogLittleCat said:

    LW, you sound awesome – your compassion is amazing. Your former friend is really missing out.

    Props to you for trying to craft a response that might lead to a happier resolution, but of course, you cannot control her reaction to your response, so what you’re really looking to get out of responding is being able to look in the mirror, knowing you did the best you could to be the kind of person you want to be.
    The only other advice I would offer would be to give yourself time to get your brain where you want it to be before responding, but your letter is devoid of anger and your hurt feeling aren’t running away with you, so, wow, you are awesome.

    In addition to applauding you, I much thank you for your timely letter to the Captain, as I’ve got a feelingsbomb/attack email thing going on, so all this is very helpful.
    My situation is different; some of the anger might have been merited, some was projection/misunderstanding, some was unmitigated bullshit. I took four months to respond, for many reasons, not least of which was I needed to get my emotions under control and to decide if I even wanted to try to maintain a relationship. My response was part apology, part trying to set them straight (“when I retreat to an empty room I’m having a panic attack, not expressing disdain”), part bafflement (WTF their partner’s 2 or 3 times great grandmother to do with my mental health? [not kidding. seriously, W.T.F.]).
    They responded almost as soon as humanly possible, angrier and more vicious. Which tells me that even if I want one, a relationship is impossible *now*, not because we’re so estranged but because they are still so consumed by anger there’s no room for movement.
    Maybe in future, but if they’re still white hot raging about a post-election “fuck you, universe” Facebook post? literally spit-screaming 10 months later? That seems to me to be a death grip on rage, making any resolution impossible.

  31. Amy said:

    OP, you sound like a considerate and compassionate person. Instead of wasting time trying to soothe your ex-friend, please come be friends with me instead.

    More seriously: This person has treated you badly throughout your relationship. She made mean comments about your body, habits, and relationship. She made some nasty accusations about your professional work. She is also the primary reason you drifted apart; you tried to hang out, she chose not to take you up on it. And she is now choosing to lash out at you in a cruel and manipulative way.

    Based on all that, I feel pretty safe in saying that she’s not your friend. You’ve tried to be her friend, and she’s never really reciprocated it the way you deserve. You say, “I understand she sent it in a fit of overwhelming feelings, and underneath the accusations and manipulative statements, really she’s just sad about the loss of our friendship.” I don’t think that’s actually true; I think she’s angry about something, but I don’t think she’s sad about the loss of your mutual friendship, because I don’t think a true mutual friendship existed. If anything, she might be sad that she lost your support and attention; alternatively, she might just be mad and lashing out at whoever she thinks she can get away with lashing out at.

    (For the record: I once sent a dear friend something like this in a moment of extreme emotional distress. I regretted it roughly five seconds after hitting send, and she had an apology in her inbox alongside it before she ever read the original message. That is what friends do when they say mean things to each other. The fact that this person hasn’t done so is another reason I think she isn’t your friend.)

    In terms of responding (since you say you do want to respond and want to do so in a productive way), I think you need to include a couple things. First, you need to express how inappropriate this letter is. Second, you need to not apologize or accept any blame here. Third, you need to set steps for moving forward. This could look something like: “Susan, I’m really shocked to see this from you. I would be open to becoming closer friends again, but I don’t allow my friends to treat me like this. If you want that, I’m willing to put this behind us and start fresh, on the condition that we both agree to treat each other kindly and considerately going forward. What do you think?” However, I hope you reconsider responding at all; I don’t think this person deserves your time or attention at this point.

    • spd said:

      your script for the response is great.

  32. Clarry said:

    To me the interesting question is what to do down the line when she says she wants you back in her life. If you accept her apology with the idea that you’ll go back to the way things were at the beginning, you’re setting yourself up for more of the being ignored/being blamed cycle. If you don’t accept the apology, you’re setting yourself up for going straight to the being blamed part. At least, that’s the way it was for me. We cycled in and out of drift (mutual), angry accusation (her), apology (her), abject pleading desire for friendship (mine), effort (mostly mine), space, being ignored, contact, anger, repeat. A little backbone on my part was met with anger/accusation/apology on hers. It was especially frustrating since her anger took the form of dripping polite poison of the “everything you so richly deserve sort.” Eventually I cut her off and wondered for YEARS if everything might have been okay if I’d just done something differently. I can’t begin to list the number of times I cringed, knew I’d said the wrong thing, wished I could have taken everything back. I’ll see her online somewhere (benign ordinary stuff- obituaries of parents, pictures of children) and feel jealous (everyone’s kids look good online) and recrimination again. You could say I never got over her. I recommend cutting straight to ending it here while repeating the mantra “there was nothing I could do, there was nothing I could have done.”

    • Lizards80 said:

      Your compassion makes me wonder if you are seeing her as she truly is – I mean this a little differently than it sounds.

      We are all complex people and have both flaws and beautiful aspects to us. When someone can see us and love us in all our complexity, it’s really powerful. You seem like a person who is able to simply love a complex person.

      If you are seeing her as she truly is (a human being worthy of love), then 1, that’s awesome and 2, it’s easy to want to respond lovingly.

      I read an amazing analogy about boundaries (from Melody at Brave Girls, Bravegirlsclub.com). Paraphrasing, you have to put as much distance between you and other people as you need to in order for them to be safe to you and for you to be able to continue to love them (which may mean you never talk to them!)

      It sounds like you’re able to love her easily. However, it doesn’t sound like she is in a place where she is able to be safe to you.

      Bringing her closer to you, while she is still not a safe person, allows her to continue acting in an insulting, condescending, projecting manner. It is not healthy for her to act this way. It is not your responsibility to fix her, and it is not good for her if you give her a space where she can continue acting this way.

      Even if you are able to love her despite her actions – she is not in a place where she can accept that grace you’re extending.

      Instead of a healthy friendship, you bringing her closer only before she has done a lot of self-work (if she ever does), only allows her to continue her cycle.

      I recommend loving her from a distance, thinking fondly about her and wishing her well every time you think of her, and not re-engaging with her.

      • Yolanda B. Cool said:

        This is such a fantastic and wise response, and a wonderful way to think about boundaries.

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        Excellent compassionate and practical advice. Sometimes we have to accept that we cannot be around a person, no matter how much we want to, because they are bad for us.
        You don’t need to think of that person as bad or having anything wrong with them, just accept that having them in your life hurts you.
        I eat-the-entire-box-within-5-minutes love Thin Mint cookies. I tried to set boundaries and limits with Thin Mints, but I finally had to accept that Thin Mints are bad for me, even one Thin Mint will trigger a migraine, so I have had to go no contact on Thin Mints. I miss Thin Mints, but I know my life is better without them.
        Sometimes you just need to think of someone as Thin Mints.

        Or to paraphrase Rat:
        “It’s best to love [some people] as you would a Siberian tiger: from a distance, preferably separated by bars.”

  33. Lily said:

    The Captain gave great advice, as always!

    I’ve been in friendships like this, and I think I understand how you’re feeling right now. What helped me sort out my feelings was asking myself the question, “Do I feel better or worse about myself after I spend time with this person?” If the answer is worse, it might be time to start thinking about moving on from the friendship.

    Remember, friends are supposed to bring happiness into your life. If a friend is making you feel unhappy more often than they’re making you happy, then they’re not being a good friend. The fact that you’ve become more confident since you started seeing less of her says a lot in that regard.

    Another thing I’ve learned the hard way: if someone is constantly making you feel bad about yourself, there’s not much you can do to turn them into a good friend. “I need you to start treating me with respect” isn’t something that should have to be spelled out.

  34. AndyL said:

    LW, I wouldn’t respond. I had a friend who only ever contacted me to point out what a horrible friend I was, and the rest of the time dodged my phone calls and attempts to get together, along with snide remarks and insults veiled as compliments. This went on for a good decade. Her husband worked with my husband, so we saw them at group events, and she always gushed about how she wanted to get together. But when I’d try, she’d always be too busy. Once, she actually flinched when I said I had the next three weeks off.

    But when I finally stopped playing whatever game she’d made up, her husband started in with a barrage of emails and phone calls about how I needed to call her. I finally had to point out that, no matter what line she was feeding him, she hadn’t called me herself, once. Ever.

    It felt like I was Charlie Brown trying to kick her football of friendship, and she was always yanking it away.

    It felt GREAT to stop trying.

    If I really felt like I had to respond in some way, I’d probably go with:

    “It’s good to know how you really feel.

    I wish you well,
    LW”

    Not sure it would be helpful, but it lets her know you see her intent – her REAL intent – and aren’t interested in playing, without whipping out the gasoline.

  35. Britta said:

    Hello LW. I recently got a feelingsbomb. It basically boiled down to a big excuse for the sender to pick a fight with someone as a stress release. But this is a bad way to be friends with someone, especially at a remove/via social networks. And the friendship is now over, because I didn’t appreciate it and told her so, which means she’s blocked me so I can have a chance to reflect on my failings (her words). It was unpleasant but also in keeping with her style. I miss the good times with her but those are over. I didn’t make a mistake here.

    I also recently saw a feelingsbomb that the writer never intended for me to see, about why our friendship faded. It was painful but also extremely instructive. She complained about something I did as the beginning of the end. I had seen my actions one way, she had seen them totally another, and since she never communicated to me that what I had thought was an act of friendship was taken as a gross personal attack, well. The end was inevitable. It’s given me a lot to think about. It also made me realize that there’s nothing I can do about it. If she didn’t want to give me a chance to fix my mistake, I can’t repair it.

    So I have recently sent a small feelingsbomb of my own – to a friend who lives at some distance from me, who spends a lot of time asking me to carry the weight of keeping our friendship going by doing abc. I said to her that I am fine doing xyz, but I won’t do abc when I feel like things are one-sided here, for reasons. I didn’t like writing it, but I didn’t like the idea of doing what she demanded more. I doubt she’ll reply, which I am very sorry for, but it’s a risk I was prepared to take. She made a mistake but I don’t think she wants to repair it.

    I got divorced because the good stuff in my marriage was over, gone, never coming back. This kind of letter is also a divorce, I think, a divorce of friendship. You miss the good times but those are over. It sounds like your former friend wants you to be responsible for her mistakes in the friendship. You don’t (and why should you be). So that’s the end of it. You can probably rebuild a new kind of relationship once the dust has settled, but that takes time. I’d leave it, carry on with your great-sounding life post-divorce from this friend, and then get back in touch with her when you can think of her and think ‘I miss her, how is she?’ more than ‘GAH’.

    Friendship requires good faith on both sides, and for each person to be willing to fix any mistakes they’ve made. If it’s one-sided, it’s not real.

    • I really believe that in the first case you should definitely reflect on your successes, namely that this person is no longer in your life. 🙂

      I had a long-drawn out friendship death several years ago that, I realized later, should have happened much earlier, as the person had stopped providing any positive value whatsoever to my life. It was complicated by some very practical considerations but I did the minimum necessary to maintain some kind of contact until the practical stuff was at least at a point where I could say “this is the best that’s going to happen, and I can let go of the rest” (think money stuff, though that wasn’t all of it). At that point I simply blocked and moved on with my life. I took steps to ensure that I can no longer be contacted by that person in any way, through any medium, including by phone and postal mail, and am just grateful that I no longer have someone regularly reaching out to tell me all the many ways I ruined her life, and also saying a lot of rude, nasty things about people I barely know or do not know at all. (This was her version of conversation for many years, and at a certain point I realized that after a call from her I felt extremely low for days, whereupon I began working on getting her out of my life.)

  36. CommanderBanana said:

    LW, I think you are handling this very well and with a lot of grace and empathy. It’s 100% up to you if you want to let this person back into your life in any capacity, even as a small-doses friend.

    Personally, having gotten a few feelingsbomb emails in my time, I find the best response is just not to respond, or to respond and purposefully miss the point (as in, “Thanks for the good wishes about the job! Hope all’s well with you!”) and completely ignore the parts that are more bomb than feelings.

    The thing is, some friendships don’t survive boundaries, and those are probably not great friendships.

    Also, I’d just like to call your “friend” out on her behavior of constantly being “busy” and turning down invitations and then turning around and blaming you for being distant. I went through that recently with an ex-friend who was suddenly too busy to do anything together, but kept insisting that nothing had changed and everything was fine.

    That is gaslighting, and it sucks.

    I am busy, my friends are busy, everyone is busy juggling jobs and school and kids and living in one of the most expensive and congested areas in the United States and our commutes all suck and our public transportation system is actively working to kill us and we’re living at the epicenter of a massive political shitshow and we still find time to see each other.

    The Captain has mentioned in previous columns that people who want to see you will find a way to spend time with you, somehow, somewhere. I have friends who live far away with high-needs kids and we still email or text or carrier pigeon (not really) but find SOME way to keep in touch. I have friends who have taken on big projects or stressful jobs and have had to drop off the grid for a while, but they tell me they’re doing that and we work out a way to stay in contact until things calm down. I’ve even had friendships where we needed a mutual break and took one and then got back together when we were in a better place and it was fine.

    However. The friends who are never ever able to make any plans but insist they want to stay friends? We are not friends anymore. The “friend” I reference above was the type of person would would take offense at stuff, let it fester, and refuse to actually use their words. I still don’t know what their actual problem was. All I know is that they didn’t handle it like an adult, and I don’t really need people like that in my life sucking up my time and energy when I have better things to put it towards.

  37. Lizards80 said:

    Your compassion makes me wonder if you are seeing her as she truly is – I mean this a little differently than it sounds.

    We are all complex people and have both flaws and beautiful aspects to us. When someone can see us and love us in all our complexity, it’s really powerful. You seem like a person who is able to simply love a complex person.

    If you are seeing her as she truly is (a human being worthy of love), then 1, that’s awesome and 2, it’s easy to want to respond lovingly.

    I read an amazing analogy about boundaries (from Melody at Brave Girls, Bravegirlsclub.com). Paraphrasing, you have to put as much distance between you and other people as you need to in order for them to be safe to you and for you to be able to continue to love them (which may mean you never talk to them!)

    It sounds like you’re able to love her easily. However, it doesn’t sound like she is in a place where she is able to be safe to you.

    Bringing her closer to you, while she is still not a safe person, allows her to continue acting in an insulting, condescending, projecting manner. It is not healthy for her to act this way. It is not your responsibility to fix her, and it is not good for her if you give her a space where she can continue acting this way.

    Even if you are able to love her despite her actions – she is not in a place where she can accept that grace you’re extending.

    Instead of a healthy friendship, you bringing her closer only before she has done a lot of self-work (if she ever does), only allows her to continue her cycle.

    I recommend loving her from a distance, thinking fondly about her and wishing her well every time you think of her, and not re-engaging with her.

  38. Pajpaj said:

    There are too few stories here of some kind of reconciliation among a sea of “thank God I don’t have to deal with this person ever again” so I’ll add mine.

    The person in question called me up abruptly after no contact for a while to whip up a litany of resentment against me to the point of accusing me of things I had absolutely no memory of. Most of the conversation was me trying to get details of date/place/context for any kind of verification, ultimately going nowhere.
    Eventually, this person wanted me to be clear where I stood in a fight between them and a third party. I said “I stand accused of things long forgotten and believed already forgiven.”
    This ended to conversation, with no further contact for a real good while, to where I believed I was scorched earthed, but contact resumed eventually, and I’m happy to have that relationship.

    The Captain’s advise provides a response that refuses to take the accusers bait, deflates the whole reason for the feelingsbomb, and leaves room not for the old relatinship, but a whole new one with different peace accords, trade agreements, and visa exchanges, where the LW doesn’t sacrifice territory previously acquired. I don’t know where the international relations analogy came from.

    • roramich said:

      I like it though! Good analogy!

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      “I stand accused of things long forgotten and believed already forgiven.”

      That is a great line.

  39. hhhhhh said:

    She sounds like an abusive jerk and I wouldn’t bother responding to her personally. I had a friend that pulled the “beration when I was doing something not involving her/not letting her be the In Charge friend she was used to having the role of/doing something she didn’t like” thing and it escalated to the point that she did physically lash out of me and try to steal my property. People like this can become more dangerous than they are already.

  40. CarpeFelis said:

    “I understand she sent it in a fit of overwhelming feelings, and underneath the accusations and manipulative statements, really she’s just sad about the loss of our friendship.”

    LW, I applaud you for being able to be this charitable about her possible motivations after she’s treated you this poorly.

    However, from what you’ve described of her previous treatment of you, especially given the timing of the message, she doesn’t deserve this much benefit of the doubt. It’s fairly transparent that she isn’t sad about losing your friendship. She’s mad as hell that you’re doing well and wants to tear you back down to what she sees as below her level. Some people like to have at least one friend they can feel superior to, and she absolutely sounds like one of them. She is not your friend and probably never really was. I wouldn’t hold out much hope of her ever treating you as a real friend should.

    The Captain’s scripts are great. Should you feel more like just blocking this person, though, don’t feel guilty about it.

  41. JenniferP said:

    I will handle it tonight when I am back by a computer.

    • Thank you.

  42. AlmstHvn said:

    Since Cap’n and others have addressed it from the friendship-level side, I’m looking at the work-relationship. If you’re in an industry where you are likely to run into each other – or even work together again, then I suggest responding to the email (if at all) with a very business-like “it was a pleasure to work with you and I wish you the best in future endeavors.” Just disentangle yourself from the barbed hooks she threw at you and not respond to the email at all.

    You know the ole “friendships are for a reason, a season, or a lifetime” … looks like that one served it’s purpose during a very intense time, and it’s no longer a healthy or productive environment to be around them. It’s not good or bad or time wasted, it’s just… done. And with new opportunities in front of you, you have a little more experience under your belt and great things ahead. Congratulations on the recognition by your management that you are a capable and hard-working person!

  43. In college I had a friend who would occasionally respond to slights with FEELINGSMAIL. And by slights, I mean once I told her that I wasn’t interested in something that turned out to be a major passion of hers, and got a letter pinned to my door the next day about how I didn’t RESPECT her as a PERSON because this was such an IMPORTANT part of her life and how could we POSSIBLY be friends if it didn’t interest me? This happened at least once a year (to me–I don’t know if other people got her feelingsletters).

    Even though I knew it was all about her insecurities, in the moment the letters were really hurtful and I always felt like I had to go “fix” things with her and prove I was a good friend. She wasn’t malicious, but she was manipulative in the way that really insecure people can be.

    All that is to say, I feel you, LW. You don’t need to fix anything with this person. You don’t need to respond, or to ever see her again if that’s what you want. This is entirely about her own insecurities. I’m pretty sure you know that, but sometimes it helps to have an entire comment section to back you up. 🙂

  44. Sad but true: the parts of her that were so attractive and that you enjoyed are not in the relationship anymore, sounds like.

    I have also been blindsided by people who seemed to have “changed so much” since we were close, and I have concluded that this was not, as I had thought, an integral part of them which I enjoyed and admired. Sometimes, it turned out that was a false persona they had learned to project.

    It helped me to let go of what I had thought was a good person who had been genuine with me. It might, or might not, be the case here, but I am suspicious of such because her treatment of you seems so different from what it was, and what has changed? Her need for your skills and her need to get along with you.

    Just a thought…

  45. Wow, the Captain’s answer to this was so good I felt the need to say I really liked it without even reading any of the comments (which I usually make a point of reading).

  46. Wendy Smith said:

    These posts are fascinating! SO many people have encountered this same painful dynamic. I did, too, with a good friend and “work wife.” It all ended when I confronted her about her belittling comments and jokes/non-jokes about me, she accused me of thinking I was smarter than she is, a better teacher than she is, etc.

    There must be a name for this sort of thing.

    But here’s my question: what do you do when that person is your boss? The dynamic has reared its head again, but with my dean. A meeting to discuss budget turns into what feels like a visit to the principal’s office. His anger is misdirected, projected, often unwarranted. Sometimes, he’ll bring the same subject up several times in a row to rebuke me. He is especially cruel to staff, including my assistant, who is very good at what she does. Last week, for instance, he called her in her office to correct her on having sent one email referencing 4 people, instead of four separate emails. He also insists that our regular meetings with him be one-on-one, with his office door shut. So, when he tears us down, there is no one to corroborate. And he will not budge on the separate meeting thing, even though the assistant and I essentially work together all day on the same things.

    So, I’ve tried all the tricks, tips, and techniques for dealing with an angry manager (I read Ask A Manager and I think he’s one that goes into the category of “Your boss sucks and is never going to change. Look for a new job”).

    Just when I think I’ve found a new approach, he finds a new way to bring me to tears. So, I’ve trying to find a new line of report (or any other way I can wiggle out of working under him (and he would emphasize the “under,” which, as others have pointed out is a key part of this dynamic)). I’ve had a discussion with *his* boss (who wants to meet with all of us, in 2-3 weeks, but otherwise doesn’t seem particularly concerned). I’m considering bringing a union member to meetings to either put Boss on his best behavior or be witnessed in action.

    • B said:

      Yikes. Sounds like it’s do everything to document/record and report and hope they will eventually get fired/replaced. I wonder if there’s a way to insist on open-door meetings?

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