Dear Captain Awkward,
I have an awkward social situation that I’m not sure how to handle. It’s been causing me a bit of anxiety, and so I’ve been avoiding dealing with it.
Recently I have had a rash of old friends who I am no longer close with contact me, wanting to either catch up or get together. Some of them I’m happy to have a chat with and tell them about my life and hear all about what they’re up to now, but when they suggest we start hanging out again I feel stressed. The problem is that I simply don’t know how to fit these people into my life now.
For a long time I was very mentally and emotionally unhealthy, and I self medicated with drugs and alcohol a lot and was a bit of a party girl. Right now I’m the healthiest and happiest I’ve ever been, and I can look back on those years with new clarity and insight. I see now that I tended to be drawn to people who were dysfunctional because it allowed me to feel like I had my shit together, even though I really didn’t at all. I’ve done a lot of work on myself since then, and I feel like a lot of the friendships I made at that time in my life are no longer fulfilling to me. I’ve purposely distanced myself from a lot of people, not because I think they’re bad, but because I now find their company totally draining. Hanging out with them became something I did out of a sense of obligation. I felt guilty at first until I realized how much happier and calmer I was without them, and that I now had room in my life to make new friends.
There’s one old friend who won’t give up trying to contact me, who I particularly don’t want to see. We didn’t have a falling out, I just realized that I didn’t really like her anymore due to her rudeness, self centeredness, and flair for the dramatic. I was ok with it when she moved a bit further away and we lost touch for a while. I hadn’t heard from her in a couple years, and I was pretty relieved. She texted me at the start of this year saying she had moved back into town and invited me to her birthday party at a bar. I felt an immediate sense of dread. Since it had been a couple years, I pretended that I got a new number or something and didn’t reply. Maybe that was wrong or short sighted.
A few months later she found me on social media and messaged me “WHEN ARE WE HANGING OUT?!?!” which both terrified and annoyed me. I thought it was a rude way to make contact with someone she hasn’t seen or heard from in years. I felt put on the spot and uncomfortable. It made me want to get together even less. I didn’t reply and hoped she would get the hint. She didn’t.
A few weeks ago she found me on another platform and commented on one of my posts “Hey! Let’s hang out!!!”. I didn’t reply and haven’t posted on that platform since. This morning I woke up to a direct message from her saying “(my name)?!?!”
I think at this point I need to be direct because she is not getting the hint and it would be cruel of me to continue this tactic, but I really have no clue what to say. I’m not mad at her, we didn’t have a falling out and there’s not really a specific instance that made me not want to be friends anymore. I don’t want to be hurtful. I’ve been on the other side, attempting to reconnect with someone and realizing that they had no interest. It sucked but I got the hint and let them go. For me, this friendship is over.
What do I say?
Dear Chronic Avoidance:
One possible answer to “Let’s hang out!!!!” is always, 100% of the time, “No thanks!” It’s obviously not the answer the inviter wants to hear, but it takes two to make plans, and you can absolutely opt out.
Reply one time on the medium that you think will reach her most privately & directly.
“[Name] I got your messages about hanging out. I’m not interested in reconnecting and I don’t want to get together. I’m really sorry, I should have just said so straight out. I wish you well. ”
Give her the information that she needs to make good decisions about contacting you, and then block/ignore. Do the kind thing and the right thing. And next time it comes up, do it sooner! It’s okay when you do run into the old crowd to say “It was nice running into you, I hope you’re doing well. Thanks for the invitation but I’d rather not hang out!” Will there be an awkward moment if you say that to someone? You bet there will be! Less awkward than letting them keep trying and trying to nail you down while you get more anxious and avoidant? Only you can decide!
Since your former friend is in your town/social scene, you may run into her again after you talk with her. It’s okay to give a quick “Hello!” and then move on with your day. You don’t have to shun her like she never existed (that’s mean) or avoid living your life where you live (that’s mean to yourself).
We have templates for breakups with romantic partners. We need to institute some for friendships, like, “I’ve changed a lot since the last time I saw you, and I think our friendship has run its course for me. I wish you well but I’d rather not stay friends.”
You can think fond thoughts of the times you shared finger-paints or tequila shots with someone long ago without committing to be actively engaged in their daily lives forever.