Dear Captain Awkward,
I am a middle aged man, married 22 years with a son. My former best friend and I lived next door to each other , we became friends when I was 9 years old. We continued to be the best of friends into adulthood.We went on vacations with other friends and with our wives. When we got married, we were each other’s best man. We attended each others kids birthday parties, etc. up until 2003-2004.
In 1997 I was a manager at a large securities firm on Wall Street. My best friend was working in a hotel at the time, had no financial background or college education. He called me up desperate-essentially begging me to help him get a job as he wished to marry his girlfriend and start a family but could not afford to do so on his salary. Due to my position and influence in the company I was able to help him get a job working in my department. Later I left the company and moved on to a more prestigious firm which paid better. My best friend reached out to me again and once again I was able to help him increase his income by getting him a job in my department.
The first couple of years, things were fine. In fact I felt we became closer as we now had one more thing in common. My friend was younger than me and our relationship was similar to a big brother/little brother interaction. He would come to my desk and hang out at the end of the day and wait for me to finish my work-just so we could walk a few blocks together on the way home (we lived in different cities by this time) we would also have lunch together several times a week and email back and forth throughout the day.
About three years later, I noticed that my friend had become a bit distant. He stopped coming by my desk during the day. He stopped emailing and when I emailed him, he would not always reply or say that he was too busy to chat. I asked several times if anything was wrong- But he always denied it . After a few weeks of this,We sat down face to face -and I again asked him to tell me what the problem was. He claimed he was just very busy and had some problems at home which he would not elaborate on, and he reiterated that it had nothing to do with me. This only made things worse for me, as we had always been open with each other about our problems and now he was holding things back. All of this took its toll and with the tensions of working closely together, we began having arguments at work. At first these were minor disagreements which would quickly blow over. But things began to get more serious and eventually we had a huge fight. We both went too far and I felt bad about it. This took place right before I was leaving on a family vacation.When I returned home I checked my email and found one from my friend notifying me that the friendship was over. I was shocked that he would take things this far after 25 years and also very upset that he would be so heartless as to do this with a one sentence email offering no explanation.
Although we had unquestionably both made mistakes, the thought of losing his friendship was just devastating to me, so I took full responsibility for the fight that we had and apologized profusely and repeatedly. I was desperate . I emailed, called and left a note of apology on his desk. I heard nothing for three days. Then he called me at my desk and invited me to go to lunch. I was relieved, I apologized a few more times and he told me not to worry about it. By the end of the lunch hour we were laughing and joking as though nothing had even happened.
As it turned out that was the last time we spoke face to face. A few days later he once again stopped speaking to me. I repeatedly asked why , and he offered little explanation, only saying he thought we needed a break. I strongly suspect that inviting me out to lunch that day was a cruel vengeful tactic on his part- just to make me think we were cool, and then cut me off again. I accused him of this a year later and not surprisingly he denied it.
I tried for the next few years to get him to explain his actions. I cannot understand to this day how he could end a 25 year friendship over what was basically a rough patch that we hit for a couple of weeks. He refused to explain or even respond to my letters or emails which were I admit increasingly angry due to the frustrating and hurtful behavior on his part. After three years of this I stopped contacting him.
In the meantime he has relocated to another part of the country and he is a Vice President . Although I have had a successful career and am well compensated, he has now achieved a position which I have never reached in my 28 year career. I find this particularly galling, since if it weren’t for me he probably would be working as a waiter or bartender , and now he has surpassed me in my career. Instead of being appreciative or grateful- he refuses to even speak to me.
The older I get the more I feel the expression “life is too short” and I recently attempted to contact him again. I contacted his sister via social media and asked her to try to get through to him. I made it clear-and this is 100% true-that I have zero interest in patching up the friendship. All that I really want-and I think I deserve it- is an explanation for all of this. Why did he treat me this way after all I had done for him ? Why did he do it in such a coldhearted manner? He declined through her- stating that he does not want to “re-hash” everything. The problem is he never gave a valid explanation in the first place. He has managed to avoid facing me like an adult about this for 14 years.
I don’t imagine there is anything else that I can do to try to get to the bottom of this but I would welcome any advice or suggestions as this continues to frustrate me 14 years later.
You say you are confused about why the friendship ended, but you tell me in your own words that when your friend told you he was preoccupied with problems at home that he preferred to keep private, you cornered him and pushed him to explain himself to you. You weren’t just his friend, you were senior to him in the company, and when he wanted and asked for some space, you refused to give it to him. That had to be extra hard for him because he risked not just your friendship but his job if he pissed you off, and yet, it was apparently worth it to him to risk that in order to get distance from you.
When you tell someone you don’t want to talk about something or that you need space and they ignore what you are saying to push for what they think should happen, it doesn’t bring you closer together. That last lunch you had together, which you interpret as a deliberate cruel trick he did to punish you could also be read as him trying one last time to see if y’all could just hang out without all the pushing and then deciding, “nope, I just gotta end it.”
This narrative you have, where he owes you his career, that he owed you information about his private family troubles, that he owes you explanations is the thing that is preventing you from being friends. You think he owes you something. He doesn’t feel the same way. He’s made it clear (a lot of times!) that he wants space from your friendship. That is the answer: “I don’t want to re-hash everything.” And yet, you keep busting through those barriers and demanding explanations, now harassing his sister so that you can get the things you think you are owed.
Please stop pretending you don’t know what happened. It’s not actually complicated. Your friend decided ended your friendship and he told you he was doing that. The friendship wasn’t working for him anymore. You don’t have to understand or agree with his reasons for that to be true. As an outsider reading about this situation, it doesn’t sound like any explanation he could have given you at the time would have been enough for you. It would have been some version of “I think you’re an asshole, and here’s all the reasons why” or “Dude, sorry, but I just don’t want to anymore.” Either way, you would have tried to argue him into the ground about it. What could he tell you now that would satisfy you? At this point, just pick one: “He thought I was an asshole (even though I tried my best to help him) and that’s unfair and he’s wrong but it’s his choice, so, fuck him” or “He just didn’t want to be my friend anymore, I’ll never know why, but it’s his choice, so, fuck him.”
Like Mr. #1091, you need to tell yourself a new story. You gave your friend a wonderful boost in his early career, but he wouldn’t be where he is now professionally if he hadn’t also supplied his own hard work and talents along the way. You need to turn “He owes me” and “He needed me” into “I’m so proud of him and happy for him, I always knew he could do it.” You can send those thoughts out into the world about him without contacting him. (Reminder: He doesn’t want to be contacted, even if it’s to say nice things).
The feelings of regret and hurt and anger you’re having now aren’t his to solve. He’s not obsessed with you the way you are with him, and chances are he’s not measuring his life against yours the way you are measuring yourself against him. So you need to find a healthier outlet for dealing with those feelings (like working with a therapist or counselor) so that you can process them and finally let them go in a way that doesn’t demand compliance or a performance from him.
You sound lonely and like you miss him a lot. Your challenge now is to take the love you had for him and pour that into other social and professional connections. Start a mentoring program where you work. Spend time with your son and other members of your family. Take a class or sign up for a recreational activity (I hear axe-throwing is pretty fun!) or volunteer somewhere. Do whatever gets you out of your head and reminds you that there are people who will be happy to see you and value what you have to give.
Grieve this dude like he died, then tell yourself a new story. You had this friend, and it didn’t work out, but that wasn’t the end of the world. You’re the only one with the power to make this stop hurting so much, so use it, and let go.
243 thoughts on “#1092: “My best friend dumped me years ago and it still hurts.””
LW, you talk a lot about having a big brother/little brother dynamic. It sounds like you still view it that way. I may be revealing my years of younger sibling resentment, but your bitterness about his career success compared to yours reads a lot like the clichéd older sibling complaint of, “It’s not fair that Younger Sibling gets to do That Thing before I did,” and plays into the classic family dynamic of attributing the younger child’s success to the older one: “Younger Child was good at That Thing because s/he was able to watch Older Child do it,” or “Younger Child was good at That Thing because Older Child trained him/her.”
Siblings who grow into a friends as adults let go of this, along with many other natural but ultimately dysfunctional dynamics. Friendships can’t survive without mutual respect—something that the older/younger sibling dynamic automatically precludes, since the younger one is assumed to be less capable and in need of guidance and/or protection. Friendship is also not competitive—my friends are thrilled when good things happen to me, and I am thrilled when good things happen to them. We don’t worry about who’s “ahead” in life or happiness (impossible to measure anyway, even if we did want the same things, which we don’t).
It’s okay to be bummed that you never made Vice President, if that was one of your career goals. However, if the first time you wanted it was when you heard that your ex-friend got it, then maybe it’s time to re-examine how much of a bummer it really is. Regardless, I think it’s worth re-examining how well this friendship was actually working for you in the first place.
Woah, you are making a generalisation about older/younger siblings. My younger brother is definitely worthy of my respect, regardless of which of us has been more successful in life. I was the parent substitute who raised my younger brother, and we definitely grew up with differing levels of functioning after the trauma of our abusive home. My little brother is more functional in a ‘successful’ way than me. That said he has grown into a man I am immensely proud of, a creative, tenacious, big hearted guy who loves me very much despite my PTSD taking me down a different life path. We teach each other, support each other, have boundaries with each other. I learn a lot from him.
I’m not saying that siblings don’t fall into patterns of comparison but seniority/power doesn’t have to lead to disrespect. However I really want to challenge this idea because I see it a lot in the peer mental health work I do. Being a teacher or guide doesn’t have to mean I know more about what is right for you than you do. In fact is means my role is to facilitate your awesomeness and then get out of your way while you achieve on your terms. We can use power for good not evil by being willing to relinquish it to serve, to trust that our loved ones can do for themselves. Even – especially – when that means they make a painful mistake or suffer because that’s learning. We all make mistakes. We all suffer.
Everyone is the expert on themselves. I think LW has fallen into that classic trap of thinking affection for a friend involves knowing them better than they know themselves. By forcing this affection they have ridden their ego trip over their friend who didn’t need LW’s expertise.
My comment wasn’t saying younger siblings aren’t worthy of respect—quite the opposite, especially since I am one. And yes, my comment does make generalizations, but not about older and younger siblings themselves, but about how they interact with one another, especially as children. I was saying that an older sibling/younger sibling dynamic leads to behaviors that get in the way of a genuine friendship. Siblings who get along as adults (or while they’re growing up) stop engaging in these behaviors at some point.
From your comment, it’s pretty clear that whatever elements of that older sibling/younger sibling dynamic applied to you and your brother while you were growing up (and it sounds like some of them did, since you had to be a parent substitute for him—I’m sorry you had to go through such a rough childhood where that was necessary), you’ve let them go, which is why you have such a great relationship now. When it comes to his ex-friend, this LW did not, to his sorrow.
Cliched complaints are cliche for a reason 😦
Sibling rivalry can range from friendly to utterly dysfunctional, but it’s a theme older than the Bible.
This really rings true to me. I had a narcissist friend who I ended things with after maaany years, and she would always trot out this “I see you as a little sister” line when she was being manipulative toward me. It made me feel really weird and resentful. There was no mentor type situation, she was just a bit older than me, and she didn’t know me when I was a child… couldn’t she just see me as a sister? Minus the little part? It was infantilizing and I never liked it.
Your former friend ended the friendship for two reasons: (1) Some stuff that’s none of your business, and (2) you pushed too hard about stuff that’s none of your business.
“He has managed to avoid facing me like an adult about this for 14 years.”
Let’s put aside what the Captain says about the fact that nothing was going to satisfy you, whether anything COULD satisfy you at this point, whether he owes you everything or nothing. Here’s something I suggest you focus on: if he’s managed to avoid it this long, he’s capable of managing doing so forever.
So whether or not there’s an answer you’d understand and accept or not, I think it’s clear you need to find a way to learn to accept that you’re never gonna know. This now falls into the realm of things that you are just never going to know. Could you even really trust anything he told you as being correct after this amount of time anyway? He moved on where you did not, so odds are he thinks of this stuff very little anymore.
That may hurt to consider, that this matters so much more to you than him. But that too is part of life. Someone always cares more. Some things we’ll never get a good answer about. But one of the most important insights I ever got out of therapy was when I’d gone on for a while about not understanding something about someone’s behavior, how I did not understand how they could do X, Y, and Z and yet insist it didn’t mean these other things. My therapist said that it mattered a lot less whether I understand than it did that I accepted, because that was how it was and that was what I was going to have to live with whether I ever understood or not.
Stop hanging on to understanding as if it will make it easier to accept. It won’t. File this in your mind along with all the other things that happen in life that we have no choice but to accept and move on with. Death, cancellation of tv shows, restaurant closings, traffic on the highway, rain, whatever. You cope with all of them because you don’t pretend it matters what you think about them. It doesn’t matter what you think about this either: it just is what it is.
Sure wish I’d closed that blockquote tag properly.
I certainly agree it’s true that the LW is not likely to get an explanation at this point, and working towards acceptance of that is the best strategy. But, it doesn’t seem true that no good could come from an explanation if ex-friend were to finally offer one. To me, it actually sounds condescending, but that’s probably due to my own history with wanting explanations from people who’ve hurt me and not getting them.
An explanation may or may not provide actual closure and help with the acceptance process. But, even if it doesn’t, it might provide fuel for personal growth. If the explanation were something like, as the Captain said, “I think you’re an asshole, and here’s all the reasons why” maybe the LW is finally in pace to really hear that without getting defensive? And maybe they’re better equipped do the personal growth work to transform themselves into not-an-asshole?
A lot of times, I think wanting an explanation is about asking for the other party’s help in crafting a new story for yourself, one that doesn’t paint you as bad or wrong. And, maybe ex-friend doesn’t want to offer that help, but it doesn’t seem inherently misguided to want it and to make efforts to seek it out. Given that its apparently not forthcoming, staying fixated on that strategy at the expense of just rewriting their story on their own, is obviously not the best choice, though.
It’s not his ex-friends job to provide fuel for personal growth. Given how firmly his ex-friend has drawn his boundaries, it’s invasive and inappropriate to even ask, even if it would help him. It is in fact inherently misguided, because seeking an explanation from his former friend in this situation, because that former friend has repeatedly and clearly stated that he no longer wishes to discuss this or any other matters with this person, and so even making efforts to seek it out from this person is a boundary violation.
Sorry if it wasn’t clear, but my last paragraph was reflecting on “explanation-seeking” in general, not specifically for the LW. In the midst of a lot of ‘you’ll never get closure’ and ‘no explanation is good enough’ in the comments here, it seemed like a relevant idea to express. It’s certainly no one’s *job* to provide fuel for anyone else’s personal growth, but it’s a kindness that humans do for other humans sometimes. And, because of that, I don’t think what is effectively a “friendship debriefing” is a bad thing to want or pursue.
What that means for the LW is that, imo, the first few times they sought an explanation weren’t necessarily problems. And the LW had given ex-friend time and space without lots of flagrant boundary violations, I don’t think that pursuing an explanation, even years later, would be bad.
sorry, that should say ” And *if* the LW had given ex-friend time and space without lots of flagrant boundary violations…”
I find explanations extremely helpful. I can almost instantly move on from any disappointment if I can understand what led to it, because while l’m perfectly capable of accepting that reality is what it is (and will eventually do so once I conclude that figuring out what happened is not possible), I’d like to avoid problems in the future as much as possible, so knowing why a problem occurred helps me build a better mental construct of how reality – and especially other humans – works, which I can use to try to arrive at better outcomes in the future.
The statement, “Knowing the reason doesn’t help me,” is true for a lot of people, but please don’t assume that your own coping process is universal.
If the explanation were something like, as the Captain said, “I think you’re an asshole, and here’s all the reasons why” maybe the LW is finally in pace to really hear that without getting defensive?
If he were, I doubt he would have written this letter. The tone of the letter certainly doesn’t lack defensiveness.
“My therapist said that it mattered a lot less whether I understand than it did that I accepted, because that was how it was and that was what I was going to have to live with whether I ever understood or not.”
This is so good, and so important. Yes, closure and understanding sound great (and they look great in the movies), but so often they just aren’t something we can reasonably expect from everyone in our lives. Sometimes people end friendships or relationships for reasons they don’t fully understand themselves, and pushing them, repeatedly, to explain themselves only makes everyone miserable.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to accept that something happened and that there is nothing you can do to change it, so that you can put your time and energy into finding ways to move on.
I fully agree with the Captain’s advice.
Sometimes a dynamic between friends becomes really unhealthy.
Your letter shows contempt for him (if it wasn’t for you he’d still be a waiter). I can’t imagine someone feeling contempt where the contempt doesn’t show up in communications. Your sense of superiority to him is obvious and is off-putting to me, an Internet Stranger. I can’t imagine how it would feel to him.
LW, I wanted to tell you what I felt as I read your letter. I felt a sense of understanding at your desire to have closure. The more I read, the more I identified with your friend, and as I imagined myself being on the receiving end of your words/thoughts/feelings. I felt myself shrinking away from you.
I read how you described all that you did for him and the sense of “he owes me” was powerful; and repulsed me (in a literal sense – I shrank away from you). I believe you did those things out of love and friendship at the time, but the context you put this in makes it obvious you think he should … do something? Maintain the motions of a friendship? Have such deep enduring gratitude that overcomes his desire to not be around you anymore?
Whatever it is that you two disagreed about WAS that big of a deal for him. You may have taken responsibility and apologized even for things that weren’t yours to apologize for, but some things can irreparably damage a friendship, even if there is genuine regret and an appropriate apology afterward.
Your friendship may not have been able to survive working together. People are different at work than as friends. There are many people I adore on a personal level that I would not want to work with.
3 years of disagreements that you categorize as minor – were they minor to him?
I know that when I’ve cut things off via email or text (twice) it was because I could not trust (or handle) the person’s response. I’m curious if the way you two argued made him feel unsafe or unheard, even if your apology was heartfelt, and he just couldn’t deal with providing you reasons you could argue with.
I really hope you take the Captain’s advice and seek professional help. This is eating at you, isn’t healthy, and won’t be resolved if he gave you a reason. Just think about it – if he said, “I couldn’t stand your superior attitude toward me once we started working in the same place, and it made me second guess myself. I felt our friendship had changed and I kept trying past the point where it was healthy, and finally I snapped. I really don’t want to try any more. Please let me alone. Thanks, and I wish you all the best in your life.”
If he said that, how do you respond? Do you want more explanation? Do you want a chance to give him your responses? If so, what do you expect from this conversation as a final outcome? What would you hear from him, what would you feel at the end?
This, exactly. The attitude of entitlement is really striking. Sniffing that “he would probably be a bartender if not for me” is really galling — and clearly untrue, since he’s done quite well in his career since your friendship ended.
That attitude also tells me that you didn’t really respect your friend very much — if you treated him like an inept little brother who would never succeed if not for you, it’s not really surprising that he would walk away from the friendship. People don’t like being treated that way, LW. The fact that you have been pushing him for explanations for, what, 14 years? 15? Tells me that you definitely don’t respect him, and don’t believe that he’s capable of making his own decisions. It’s not a great way to treat people, and it will continue to poison your relationships if you don’t get a handle on it.
“She was working as a waitress at a cocktail bar…” comes to mind.
I think the captain has figured out for the LW what went wrong so he doesn’t have to keep wondering.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought of that song.
It was playing in my head for at least half an hour after reading this, so you’re definitely not the only one.
Fourthing this. 🙂
This is absolutely the exact song I started humming as I read this letter.
On a more constructive note, I see strong hints of the types of behavior that parents of estranged children exhibit, in which they lament that they’ve been cut out of their children’s lives, but they have NO IDEA WHY (cue moaning and wailing). When in reality, they DO know EXACTLY why they were cut out….their children have explained it to them ad nauseum. They just don’t like/accept the reasons, so when they press to “repair” the relationship and are rebuffed, they tell everyone who will listen that they just can’t understand it, always telling the story in vague terms like “we had some disagreements, but we should be able to get past that!”
This site was really eye-opening for me: http://www.issendai.com/psychology/estrangement/
Even better is: http://narcissistschild.blogspot.com/2017/08/dear-estranged-and-alienated-parents.html
Thanks for the link! That is a really informative site!!
Yup. Had a personal bet with myself as to how soon it would be mentioned in the comments. (It was too conservative.)
When you’re starting to sound like the man in “Don’t You Want Me”, you need to rethink things, because people who sympathize with that guy aren’t people you want to be emulating.
That’s right where my brain went.
I got a friend of mine the job opportunity that his whole career has grown from. I would never have entertained the idea that he would be less accomplished if it weren’t for me. He’d be accomplished and successful anyway. I just helped him get one particular shot at it. If I hadn’t, his path would have been different, but I’m pretty sure that now, years, later, his level of achievement would be the same.
That’s a great way to frame it! I have two friends who I recommended for positions that turned into the foundations of their careers, and neither of them occurred to me as even remotely related to this until I read your comment. Why? Because I see my friends as amazing, intelligent, hard-working people who would have succeeded regardless, just maybe somewhere else.
The first one I recommended to a professional contact of mine who asked me if I knew a college senior who wanted to work part-time in a specific area of engineering with the possibility of segueing into full time work after graduation, and he was the very first person who came to mind. I asked if he was interested and wrote him a glowing recommendation when he said he was, because he 110% deserved it. He went to work there, got a full time gig, and eventually switched companies to a better job elsewhere. My other friend’s resume was in a stack of resumes on my bosses’ desk for a co-op position at the company I worked, so she was already in the running without my help, but when I saw her name I immediately told him he should hire her. She’s just an incredibly hard worker and a brilliant engineer. She’s been there for years now, even after I moved on. The idea that either of them owe me anything is absurd, I can’t even make my brain work that way. If anything, I feel like I did my professional contact & my former boss each a favor by setting their sights on such great people. And they both said as much to me after my friends started working there. So actually, my friends improved my standing with my professional contacts. Maybe I owe them something for being so great??
Running through this makes the grossness of the idea that this life-long friend of his had to “beg” for his help stick out so much more. Forget the friendship element of this for a moment – if you’re in any kind of business, you keep an eye out for capable, hard-working people. And when you find them, you go out of your way to recruit them & treat them with decency and respect, because they are invaluable. Maybe you didn’t originally know this talented friend of yours wanted to get out of bar tending, but once you do, it’s to your own & your company’s benefit to bring them on board, it’s not some special favor that you’re bestowing upon them. Just ew.
“3 years of disagreements that you categorize as minor – were they minor to him?”
This! I have cut off contact with several family members for things they’ve done to me that they categorize as friendly, family teasing. I see it as bullying, abusive language that takes me weeks to recover from after I’ve been around them.
I think the Captain’s take on that last meeting was probably exactly how it happened: the friend made one last attempt, decided that this wasn’t worth the emotional output for him and put an end to the friendship.
Your last two paragraphs are a great thought exercise for the LW. I wonder, if he sat down and was really honest with himself about how he would respond and what he wants out of this “one last conversation”, what he would come up with. If he pictured possible responses from his former friend (which very likely would be along the lines of “you were condescending and treated me as if I owed you every last detail of my personal life” if the former friend were somehow both up for this conversation and also very honest), would that be enough for him to move on? Or would he want to argue about how that isn’t it at all and friend just misunderstood?
LW, you say you don’t want to re-start this friendship, but to get an explanation. Now is the time to really ask yourself if any explanation he could give would be enough for you to let this go, or if this is just one last grab for the upper hand in this friendship, to stop feeling as if you were “dumped” by someone you view as lesser than.
Exactly this. Such a great comment. I too found myself shrinking away. LW really makes me think of the Nice Guy™ that will just not back off/take no for an answer/stop calling/texting/shows up at work/etc. Scary. I can’t say I blame the ex-friend for basically ghosting him. I probably would too.
Yes! So on board with this response. Honestly, it sounds like LW has some issues with entitlement based on power. Self-described older/younger brother dynamics, boss/employee, educated/non-educated all speak to an idea that his friend owes him something just for being his friend. That is a massive burden to carry and really, based on the descriptions- I am guessing this friend actually has repeatedly tried to hint or say what’s up and was continually railroaded.
Maybe in the future LW can resist the urge to feel superior and really value the many ways friendships can exist and unfold without putting a price tag on who does what for whom.
LW something that is underlining through out your letter is the importance for you to not only be superior to your friend but also be in contorl of him. I think you should explore that with a therapist, because you still want to be better than him and you still want to control him…. and I have a nagging suspension that Ex-Friend wasn’t the only person you treat this way (in fact I wont be surprised if this is how you treat your son and you guys are in fact not that close).
I wish you the best on working on yourself and getting over this thing that happened 14 years ago.
Oh, I know, I felt worried for the son (and wife) after reading this letter, too. I really hope that LW is not modeling such controlling behavior in the home.
Being dumped hurts, whether by a friend or a lover or a job. It’s ok to feel hurt, not ok to take it out on the person who hurt you, and with every boundary you overstep – you kept contacting him, you dragged a family member into it – you’ve confirmed that he was right to pull away. In the end, the relationship wasn’t working for him, and he ended it. Grieve for it, and let go.
As for “Due to my position and influence in the company I was able to help him get a job working in my department,” please examine that part of the story. You got him an interview. You voted to hire him; but if he’d been completely unsuitable for the position, he would not have been hired. He turned up, he did the work, the company decided to keep him on; another company looked at his resume, looked at his achievements, interviewed him, and hired him.
Those things were entirely on HIM. You got him a chance that he might not have gotten without you, but everything that followed, are *his* achievements. If it weren’t for you, he’d now… most likely be _managing_ a hotel. He would have found other chances.
You can wish him well. You can be jealous. Your feelings are what they are, but they’re not his burden to bear. He might have owed you thanks for giving him a chance to shine at the beginning of his career, but if he said ‘thank you’ and worked his socks off to make you look good for having recommended a great employee, you’ve been repaid. Take your feelings to your therapist.
+100000 for Friendly Hipposcriff’s entire response!!!
I also doubt he was actually desperate and begging. He must have had a pretty good job at the hotel if he got hired for two financial jobs without much experience in the industry, so it might have been one of those things where he wasn’t looking to move up so much as he wanted a job with hours more compatible to raising a family.
Yes – it sounds to me like what he did was successful networking!
Just think how much the LWs reputation swelled from being able to recommend someone who was clearly good. Not everyone is a reliable referee.
Even if LW is right that he was singlehandedly able to get a job for his friend, that reading just means “my workplace is toxic”. Hiring people based solely on connections to existing employees is BAD.
I hope for the sake of all other employees that LW just has an outsized ego re- his impact on hiring.
So many good points! LW, you may have helped set up the ladder for this former friend’s career, but he’s the one who continued to climb it.
I just re-read your message. You sent him angry emails for THREE YEARS after he told you the friendship was over? Demanding he explain himself for three years, after he stopped even responding to your angry emails?
You excuse your angry (harassing? Abusive?) emails because it was “due to” the fact that his actions were frustrating and hurtful to you?
You just blamed your harassment of him on HIM.
This is abusive behavior.
And then you contact his sister? A decade later? Really? This is an unhealthy obsession on your part. This is about you. Not him. I am glad he isn’t responding. Life is too short indeed. He deserves to be safely free of the harassment you are heaping on him.
Please seek professional help.
Seconded! The overall beats of this story are understandable, but the timescale is blowing my mind.
After a few weeks we’d be telling the LW to let it go – years and years is a whole other level of obsession.
I’m also curious about what happens when the LW talked to other people about this – his wife, other friends? Has his son taken to repeatedly playing “Let It Go” around the house, by any chance?
Thirded. LW is making #1091 look like an amateur.
A year after the I’m-having-problems-I-can’t-talk-about lunch LW accused former friend of inviting LW to that lunch as a cruel vengeful tactic. If the friendship weren’t already dead by then, that was the silver bullet.
You seem to think you’re a hero to him, doing him the favor of getting him a job, thinking he would have been nothing without you, thinking of it as a big brother/ little brother relationship. Maybe you never said it out loud but I’m sure he understood the power imbalance. I’d rather be “just a bartender” than feel like I owed someone all my secrets and time that I don’t have. Freedom is more important than selling yourself to someone, having someone reign power over you, looking down on you. At the end of the day , you were getting more from the friendship than him, or else you wouldn’t be in this position. The reason I’m being hard on you is because I’ve left multiple friends who demanded too much of me. I would be out of a friendship like this in a big hurry. I’m sure you do realize his strengths, and I’m also sure you weren’t aware it came off this way. Maybe pray for his continued success, think on things you learned about yourself and try to work on whatever is needed to get closure.
LW, depending on how middle-aged you are, this friend has now been out of contact for 25 to 30% of your life. Do you really need to worry about things that happened a third of your life ago? The real issue here is not what happened with your friend, but that you are extremely sensitive to rejection. Why do you think rejection affects you so much, and how can you reconcile yourself to the fact that some people don’t like you?
“I tried for the next few years to get him to explain his actions. I cannot understand to this day how he could end a 25 year friendship over what was basically a rough patch that we hit for a couple of weeks”
I think the rough patch was worse for him than you, either inherently or in the context of other stuff in the relationship he might have found difficult.
I have a very hard time letting things go, so I second therapy. If that’s not possible there are online resources and phone apps for CBT / ACT / DBT that could help too.
(I have a hard time letting things go so I can understand the still thinking about it part, not really the still contacting people part. LW honestly please stop, it’s not good for them and it’s probably the first step in you being able to let this go and feel better, too.)
“Grieve this dude like he died, then tell yourself a new story. You had this friend, and it didn’t work out, but that wasn’t the end of the world.” –> yes, this. I recently had a friend “dump” me and although sometimes I still miss him, I didn’t miss the him that he became shortly before I got “dumped” – rude, dismissive, and really, not worth of my time. I would grieve him like the Captain recommends, then try to move on
LW, I’ll spare you the stories about how much I would cling to people, in the early years of Finding Myself While Distancing Myself From My Alcoholic Parents, to the point that one woman had to get her husband to call me and ask me to back off (we’d met in Al-Anon so neither of us had good conflict management skills at that point). I was so ashamed of how much I’d bothered InsertFakeNameHere that it took me a while to start finding a friend all over again.
I’ll also spare you the story of how AKABridezilla booted me as maid of honour via a text message over something she misinterpreted and didn’t give me the chance to talk it out. I was incredibly hurt. But I also was quick to realize that I need friends with better conflict management skills,and I was surrounded by them.
A few years ago, I found a diary in which I wrote about being so unhappy about how things went with InsertFakeNameHere. Enough time had passed,and I had found myself enough, that I didn’t even remember who InsertFakeNameHere was or what had happened. I had to really think about it before I remembered. Because by that point, I had years and years of respecting other people’s boundaries, and knowing that the loss of one friendship didn’t mean the loss of every friendship. And it’s healthier to end a friendship that’s turned toxic.
I live in the same city as AKABridezilla and we do not have contact per my choice. We have seen each other in public and I’m polite but I’ve moved on.
You’re hurt. I get that. I think you need to find friends that want you in your life and show you that they value your companionship. I think you could maybe talk with someone about why you can’t respect your former friend’s clearly stated boundaries. Moving on is a wonderful process and I really want you to experience it for yourself.
LW, do you think that maybe he’s done better in his career than you have because he is better about managing relationships? Laying down good boundaries, being discreet, not always thinking the worst of people, not carrying grudges, keeping a check on his temper and other emotional reactions in the workplace, etc.
How are your other relationships? Your marriage? Is this the only area in which you feel that someone once close is now keeping you at arms’ length, and you keep trying to understand why?
This is very insightful.
This letter is an excellent example of the myth of closure.
People often say that they want closure – they just want to know *why* so that they can move on. But in reality, what this often really is is a demand to control the end of the relationship.
Occasionally, a relationship really does end out of the blue. But often they’ve actually been told why, not in a formal statement at the end of the relationship, with footnotes, references and logical arguments, but in bits and pieces over the years, in a myriad of ways, and they either didn’t notice or chose not to listen. Maybe the friendship ender tried to pull back a bit, because they wanted to maintain the friendship, on less stressful terms, but was badgered and pursued for doing so. Then the friendship ender got fed up and decided that the friendship wasn’t worth the effort, and ended things completely.
At that point the demands to discuss it, for the sake of closure, begin. But the demand to hash it out is really a demand for a chance to argue the friendship-ender into changing their mind, or convince them that their reasons aren’t valid.
And finally, a lot of time the unvarnished truth isn’t really what someone wants to hear.
I would be willing to be money that if the LW got an honest answer about why he was dumped (and I think the Captain did a good job of interpreting this), he wouldn’t think it was valid, and would be even more angry.
Yes, exactly. A few years ago, I had a whole group of friends dump me, suddenly and without explanation. I have wracked my brains trying to figure out what I could have done wrong – alone, with my therapist, and with some mutual friends who I trust – and come up with exactly nothing. It’s absolutely the shittiest, most hurtful thing that anyone has ever done to me, and it’s still rattling around in my brain years later. So I get what you’re feeling, I really do.
But look at it this way. If you did have the information you wanted from your former friend, what would you *do* with it? Would you use it to improve your life and behaviour going forward? Would you analyze it over and over and over again every night when you’re trying to get to sleep? (Hi, this is me.) Would you use it to try to argue your ex-friend into being friends with you again? What actual, practical impact would this information have on your life?
I totally get the need for more detail, and the desire to find out what the hell went on there. But at the end of the day, it’s not going to change anything. Your ex-friend will still be your ex-friend, just as my ex-friends will still be mine. There’s no point in dragging it out any longer – the friendship is over because one person said it was, and that’s the end of it. As much as it sucks, it’s time to move on.
The Myth of Closure isn’t always sinister and entitled. Sometimes people are desperate to understand how someone could hurt them in X way because they fear, deep down, that they’re unlovable or easy to abandon. Sometimes people feel like they need to understand why it happened in order to be able to stop blaming themselves. Sometimes it’s because it’s scary to experience a ton of emotional pain and not be able to ascribe any sense to it (because then how can you avoid it in the future?) And sometimes it’s more about entitlement and control. But either way, you’re right that it’s still a myth.
That’s something I’m still trying to cope with after long-term abuse and abandonment by my own family of origin. It’s so hard to let go of the hope that if I could just understand why they did what they did, I’d be able to stop doubting myself, stop blaming myself, stop feeling scared, finally fully move on. But how would I possibly get that understanding? Would I really believe anything they told me? Would their explanations of their behavior really make any sense to me the way they make sense to them? Will it truly comfort me to know these things, or would it just open new avenues to obsess and worry over?
Closure is great in fiction. There we can fully control the narrative. We can write everyone’s motivations into plain view. We can let our characters experience all of the emotional catharsis that we wish we could experience. But in real life, all we’ve got is our limited perspective and a lack of control over our world. And somehow, we have to accept that we’re never going to fully make sense of some things and we’ve got to keep on living anyway.
Well stated, ET. I wish you healing.
I think there are only two kinds of “closure” that aren’t mythical: when someone learns whether a long-lost loved one is still alive or not, and when an old murder case is solved.
Knowing a missing person is dead or alive or that the killer has been identified, doesn’t make the pain go away and can raise more questions than it answers, but it’s a concrete factual answer, and allows people to move out of a limbo of unanswered hopes and fears and close the door on that question, and go on to the next phase of their life, whether it be grieving or wrestling with “why” or picking up and carrying on.
If a friendship reaches a point where I am ready to let it go, I usually end up fading out of it, fast or slow, with no explanation at all.
Because by that point I’ve already talked myself blue in the face trying to work out the issues. If they didn’t understand then, they aren’t going to understand now, and I’d rather spare myself any additional hassle/drama.
Is it just me, or has LW been flirting with actual stalking? Because this refusal to “give permission” to his friend to essentially break up with him rings a few bells…
This is well over flirting. If this were a romantic relationship breakup there would have been no-contact orders many years ago.
Dude, 14 years? I’m sorry, that’s creepy.
Honestly, I had some sympathy for the LW until I read about the three years’ worth of “increasingly angry” letters and emails.
Yeah LW, sad to say but your insistence is what put this relationship into the ground. Like the Captain, I believe your last meeting was nothing malicious. It was a sign that he wanted to try again, that he had appreciated your friendship just as much as you and didn’t want to see it go.
It might be that it had run its course either way because the dynamic you had as children wasn’t working anymore. Or it was because he wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt that you would be able to allow the focus to shift, that he would be allowed to decide what’s private and still be able to maintain this friendship he treasured. No one can tell at this point.
But I can tell you that somewhere around the time of your years (?!!!) of hounding him about all of this, you lost your last chance of getting this friendship back. When you couldn’t leave him alone about this minor request for some space, how would he able to trust you with vulnerable parts of his life? And please understand these aren’t nefarious tests, it’s how human relationships work. We extrapolate from past behavior.
For your sake, please understand that he doesn’t owe you an explanation and that at this point, the explanation definitely is ‘Why on earth wouldn’t you stop inquiring about this about 13,5 years ago?’
I also think that there was nothing malicious with that last visit. I think it played out exactly how the Captain described – that one last ditch attempt to see if there was anything there worth working on in the friendship and then deciding that there wasn’t. I have several people in my life that have drifted from friend status to acquaintance-at-best status. These are people who I hung out with one last time to see if there was that spark of friendship there to make the work of it worth the effort. Sometimes it’s been there and I’ve put the effort into maintaining and building the friendship. Other times it’s been so emotionally and mentally exhausting that I’ve given thanks that I never have to do that again.
Agree with this. I have an ex-friend who probably could have written a similar letter about me, though on a much shorter timescale and all signs point to her having moved on. I agreed to a dinner meetup after a small cooling-off period where I had tried to end the friendship a month or so prior, and I spent most of that evening sitting with a horrified smile frozen on my face as I desperately counted down the minutes until I could get out of there.
Yes, I laughed and joked with my former friend. Yes, things seemed amiable. Yes, from the outside one could have assumed everything was great again. But she had not changed, in fact had seemingly gotten worse in the ways that had prompted me to end the friendship in the first place, and all I wanted to do was leave and never see her again. I wasn’t going to ruin everyone’s night by causing a big blowup, or subject myself to what I assumed would be hours of crying and emotional manipulation were I to be like “whoa whoa whoa, okay, no. Why would you say that/do that/look at how you’re acting, this is exactly why we can’t be friends.”
My interest in meeting up was genuine, and even as I was regretting our meetup it wasn’t an act of malice. I regret that it ended on a note that I’m sure was baffling to them of “we had a perfectly fine time, what do you mean you don’t want to see me again?” It boiled down to “will this friendship work?” and I decided “nope, sorry.”
Feeling this way for 14 years isn’t creepy; acting on those feelings is.
What capn said. This guy owes you nothing. He is successful bc of his achievements. I’ve made intros for people and helped them get jobs. It’s part of being a mentor. It’s never occurred to me that these people owe me and in fact when I have been thanked for helping out, I usually point out to them that all I did was make an intro or help facilitate an opportunity when in fact their own skills and commitment made them successful. Because it’s true. And even if I didn’t feel that way it’s pretty crappy to treat people like they owe you. I’m guessing that you made an inteo and then kept treating this guy lihe he used you a favor or his time and he just got sick of it. You think really? He’d be a bartender? I think maybe you are jealous of him and maybe not good at hiding it. Also not friendship inducing. And he is a VP bc he worked to get there. Why why?!?! Would it gall you? I’ve got firmer students who are MDs now, and some make more than I do, science never pays as well. But it’s never occurred to me until just now, to even think it. I chose a different path and I love it. You chose a different path from your friend so why do you hate his success? That’s not a very friendly thing to do. My guess is all those feelings of ownership and jealousy are what ruined it. You liked it when he was ‘little brother.’ You didn’t like it when he was an equal.
LW, take a minute to think about the jealousy thing. I didn’t have much experience with jealousy as an adult until a series of things went wrong in my life and left me… Well, let’s say, not where I had been before and not where I wanted to be. Then, boom! Big jealousy! About all kinds of things: stainless steel kitchen appliances, winter vacations, warm loving embraces and home-cooked suppers at the end of the day, someone to tell me my ass looks hot before I head to work in the morning. Just lots of stuff.
Anyway. The road of bitterness is infinite. Bemoaning what we think we’re owed or the ways in which [we feel] we’ve been wronged is okay for a bit but it can wear a rut in our neural pathways pretty fast and become our emotional default when faced with difficulty or unhappiness. In my opinion this is therapy 911 territory because this way of thinking robs us of the opportunity for honest grief and the healing that can come of really experiencing that.
I agree with the captain. Mourn this loss as you would a death. Figure out what you are missing that is giving you the jealous twinge. You may be able to get what you feel you’re missing over time or it may be beyond your control and fall into mourn-and-make-peace, but either way, I think it’s better than nursing resentment forever.
I can feel for the guy, because I think socially, we have a much vaguer idea of how we are supposed to end friendships vs.intimate relationships. Saying you “broke up” with a friend seems too harsh, but growing apart, as tends to happen even to best friends, leaves you hanging because there’s no clear moment where the friendship ended. Often, there really isn’t closure.
LW seems to have this idea, though, that friendships have a scorecard. Most people think of participating in each other’s weddings or helping out with job searches as aspects of a friendship so basic that they are unremarkable. Just as, as was pointed out in the comments for #1091, helping a spouse or partner recover from surgery is EXPECTED of an intimate partner. For people like LW, though, these aren’t things you do for a friend *because that comes with being their friend* but rather favors they can call in at some point in the future.
I don’t think this is automatically a dealbreaking personality trait, because sometimes people have different ideas about how much they want their efforts to be acknowledged or different expectations on how much the expect friends of varying closeness to be involved in their life. However, it gets *exhausting* to feel like a friend, especially one who dominates your social circle, is keeping track of your every interaction and expects it to be balanced according to a set of rules that is made up entirely by their own, arbitrary definition.
I ended a friendship with a guy like this a while back. He contrived an idea that I owed him something for the way my career had grown–he didn’t even help me get a job, we just talked about our experiences in the same industry! He emailed/messaged me daily about things going on in his life. I became less available when he made it clear he had little interest in discussing what was going on in my life to the same extent. Eventually I cut off contact after one too many occasions of him getting angry at me when I didn’t massage his ego when someone else called him out on entitled behavior. (Yes, pal, you were a dick for getting angry that your casual friend in the symphony orchestra wouldn’t give you one of his three comped tickets instead giving them to his wife and parents.) For a long time he sent me the same kinds of emails that the LW did– first, “Hey, why’d you go?” then “You OWE me a rekindling because of what I invested in this friendship.
Yes! Even when it’s just a “score-card” the other person keeps in their head it can be off-putting. One of my friends does this because of their family dynamic (think every-time you have to ask for help you’re a failure style of thing). It adds on another layer of emotional labor that I don’t really want to do in my friendships because in her mind we MUST be equal on favors etc.
It also weirds me out when I do something for her and she’ll immediately feel the need to pay me back. Like no my friend, that just makes me feel that you only like me because of what I do for you and not who I am. Would you do nice things for me because it would make you happy to make me happy? No? Bummer.
LW, I’m sorry this happened to you. I’m also sorry you are taking it so hard. But where you are now (emotionally) is the very hardest part! You have to breathe through this hurt and let it go so you can heal. It doesn’t have to hurt this bad. But only you can decide to allow it to feel better. One day at a time. You can absolutely do this! Won’t it be nice to look back on your interactions one day and feel only fondness for what was? You can get there. It just takes time and, like the Captain said, a new story. Good luck!
I’m sorry you’re hurting due to the end of this friendship – that pain is real and sad. For me, the loss of a childhood friendship that had somehow made it across the shoals to adulthood is a particularly sad one to lose. So you have my sympathy (if you want it) for your pain.
But, like others have said – it’s very likely that this man didn’t want to be your little brother anymore. But whatever efforts he made to turn it to something that worked better for him failed – and ultimately it was better for him to not have the friendship than remain a little brother.
One thing that might help (as it seems you’re reviewing this in your mind anyway) is to think back to before the friendship ended – when was the last time that the relationship really was one of equals? Not him asking you for a job? Not you apologising for you’re not sure what – but blindly trying to make things right? When you reciprocated equally to each other – were willing to ask each other for advice on approximately equal things – or just hang out enjoying each other’s company? My guess is that that was quite a while before the whole thing was “officially” over – and yet that (by one counting) is the last time you were good friends. [I know it’s a sad thought – I’ve grieved my own lost friendships]
And these things are a long time ago now.
Maybe what you’re grieving now is just as much that you don’t currently have a friend like you imagine (if things had been different ) that this friendship would have turned into. If that’s the case then I’m sorry but you’ll probably never have one like that – both because fantasy is always different to reality & because adults aren’t looking for new big brothers.
Please grieve, but then like the captain said find yourself some relationships in the here & now (& work really hard on being an equal rather than needing to be a big brother in control of stuff)
LW, several people have pointed out that you seem to think you were entitled to know what was going on in your friend’s life, no matter what. You tried to justify it by claiming that you got him two jobs and that you had a big brother/little brother relationship.
…Even close and loving siblings are not obligated to tell each other everything about their lives. Maybe what he was struggling with was something that was private, or that concerned someone else who hadn’t given him permission to share it out. Maybe he didn’t know how to talk about it with you, or didn’t want you to tell him how to solve it. Maybe he wasn’t sure how to put it all into words. Maybe it was something that he couldn’t fix at the moment, but didn’t want to endlessly rehash. Pick a reason, any of those. What matters is that he told you he didn’t want to discuss it with you.
You were the one who chose to keep harping on it. You were the one to start dragging it into your mutual workplace, a workplace where you had some level of seniority over him. I get that you thought you were expressing your care and concern for him. Please get that for him, what you were showing was that you wouldn’t take no for an answer, would ignore some major boundaries, and would drag it into other circumstances. You asked for him to confide in you, but demonstrated through all your actions that you weren’t trustworthy. Even when you apologized, you were constantly escalating until he met you on some level.
Please put yourself in his perspective for a moment. Someone you have a long personal history with, who you trusted and relied on, would not listen to you. You were going through something tough, something too private to discuss even with a long-term friend, and you needed to not be pressured further. And here is your long-term friend, constantly badgering you to tell him something you cannot talk about, and the friend is dragging it into work, getting frustrated and angry with you, and making the one part of your life that wasn’t about this problem suddenly also about that problem. It escalates until you has a massive fight with your friend, and you say things you never would have wanted to say normally, and your friend does the same. Then the friend goes off on vacation. And lo: work is less stressful, you’re not constantly figuring out what to say to your friend, you’re not always feeling on the defensive. And you realize that whatever you used to have with your friend, what it had turned into now wasn’t healthy for either of you, and you needed to stop it. So, rather than get into another in-person discussion and argue further, you writes an e-mail and sets a new boundary. When your friend gets back from vacation, said friend spends several days constantly barraging you with phone calls and e-mails, even leaving notes at work. You can’t get away from him and it’s taking time and energy you can’t afford to keep wading through all of this. And you have to read everything and listen to the phone calls, because you work together and some of it might just be about work matters. Finally, you realize that this isn’t going to stop otherwise, and you reach out for a lunch outside of work. Your friend is apologetic, overwhelmingly so, and you try to let it go. The lunch is awkward, but there’s still things your friend does that you enjoy, so by the end you’ve managed to get into something of a rhythm. And then you go home, and you’re exhausted and sick to your stomach, because you’ve used so much mental and emotional energy managing that one lunch, and how are you supposed to keep this up? This time you fade, hoping that the break will re-set your emotions and let you remember why you did like and trust this guy so much. It never gets better, though, and so you stop returning contact. Even then, your former friend repeatedly contacts you, accusing you of cruelty, and getting more and more angry with each year, until he finally stops talking to you all together.
LW, I hope at some point, reading that perspective flip, you cringed. Not because I want you to hurt more, but because I wanted you to see why your friend might be similarly hurt, and why he might have felt the need to take the actions he took. For whatever reason, you entered a really unhealthy pattern with your friend, where you felt entitled to his deference and confidences. All of this started because you wouldn’t let him keep something he felt was private to himself.
You’ve got the answers you seek. You’ve written them out in this letter. Now you need to chose where to go from here. Captain Awkward’s advice will make you a lot happier, long-term, than what you’ve been doing so far.
I truly wish someone three years ago had turned my situation inside-out the way you just did for the LW. All I could see was the hurt; I genuinely couldn’t figure out what was going on on her end. This is a helpful comment, thank you.
It’s really hard when you are in the situation, sometimes, to stop and flip the script. I know I can’t do it for my own friends and acquaintances nearly as easily as I can do it for anyone else’s situation.
And often, we are treating the other person in the way we’d want to be treated in that case, so it’s hard to see what we’re doing as wrong. LW probably would want a friend of his to realize something was wrong and ask about it, so that’s what he did. His problem was the escalation up and the demanding aspect.
well-said! Excellent perspective flip. I hope this helps LW see it from the other side.
“I made it clear-and this is 100% true-that I have zero interest in patching up the friendship. All that I really want-and I think I deserve it- is an explanation for all of this.”
I get that you’re hurt and mad. I would be if I were in your place. But think about what you offered him. “I don’t ever want to have friendly relations with you again, now meet me and give a full accounting of your ungrateful and cruel behavior for the last decade and a half. And I better deem your explanation valid, or it doesn’t count.” No one on earth would do that.
Think up an explanation that would satisfy you, and tell yourself that. It could be as simple as, “He’s a terrible person who uses people and leaves them.” Then let it go forever. There’s no possible kind of contact you could have that would make either of you happy or satisfied.
I read that as “and this is probably only 10% true but I really wish it was 100% true.” The only reason LW wants to meet/talk/interact is the .000000…001% chance that everything goes back to how it was, or that they have some watershed moment where they realize the last 15 years was just a mistake, in fact, it wasn’t even real! It was all a bad dream!
It’s not going to happen. His best hope for happiness is finding new things to wish for.
I think you might be right that there is a secret hope there. I certainly would hope that somehow a friendship that was so important to me would spring to life again. Unlike a lot of people here I identify with the letter writer, even though clearly they’ve done some things wrong. I completely get how angry it can make you to help someone again and again, to keep being reassured by a friend that everything is great when it clearly is not, and to feel so angry and hurt that it all comes out in a letter. But at this point I think it’s clear that there is nothing to build on. My hope is the LW does the only thing that will let him go forward, cut his losses entirely.
I think it’s possible this is the case, but the letter also reads to me as if LW doesn’t like that former friend “dumped” him when LW seems to feel that former friend is somehow “lesser than” him. So he may really and truly believe he doesn’t want to be friends again, because what he actually wants is to have the last word so he can attempt to regain control of the situation.
I had an ex-friend do this to me. She reached out after many years of mutual silence and wanted to go to lunch “for closure.”
I asked her if we would then attempt to salvage the friendship, and she said, “no.” She just wanted to see me one last time, to maybe tell me how I hurt her feelings so long ago (she just stopped being my friend, no explanation given) and then walk away, to make herself feel better? I think?
She (just like you, LW!) was asking me to go to an emotionally draining lunch so that she could have “closure” for herself and I would get… um… emotionally drained? I NOPED right on out of that nest of bees and I don’t blame your ex-friend for doing so as well.
I’ve totally been in the LW’s place of being incredibly hurt and angry and aggrieved that I desperately want a chance to say it to the person who hurt me–and in the LW’s place of being so full of feels that I sabotaged my own case when describing it to strangers. But yeah. They’re not offering anything the other person could want, they can’t force the other person to talk, and I doubt they’d like what the other person would say if they did talk, so . . . time to let go.
Yeah. I can think of people in my life where I’d really like to see them that one last time, so I can tell them why I was so angry and still am. Why? Well, when I dig into that, I want them to understand and tell me I was right. I want them to apologize to me so I can walk away with the glow of, I don’t know, victory?
I try to remind myself when I feel that way that no amount of “AHA! I told you so!” is going to fix the past. If I get that, then what? Are things better? Well…no. No, they’re not.
Yeah, when people act inexplicably to me, I just tell myself whatever reason is most flattering to me and then let it go. I mostly used this in an online dating context. “He stopped responding because was just intimidated by how hot I am.” “He must have realized he was still in love with his ex-. They reconciled, and now they’re busy planning their fantasy wedding.”
No, I don’t REALLY believe my looks are so super intimidatingly hot or whatever (that’s kind of me being silly and over-the-top to stop taking the whole thing so damn seriously). But yeah, if I can’t know the reason and it doesn’t matter either way, then I just kinda put a nice little bow on it and tell myself, “The end.” I get that it’s more complicated with someone you have a long history with, but LW has had a LOT of time to process all this already.
I’ve been in a similar place with regards to a long and close friendship ending suddenly and leaving you flooded with intense feelings of heartbreak and confusion and anger. I understand. But you have to understand that every time you reach out to someone after an explicit breakup? You are making them want to talk to you less.
I hate to tell you something that it is too late to fix, but if you had let him go the very first time and waited, eventually he might have come back to you and talked it out. If you had respected his request for a “break,” the break might have eventually ended and become a “rough patch.” Instead you ignored the “break” and turned it into a “breakup.” I’m telling you this as the person who accidentally burned a bridge trying to get their friend to “explain” why she didn’t answer my texts. I didn’t get why a years-long friendship couldn’t heal from a couple months of tension. The answer is: because every time she saw my name in her phone, she got those sick feelings of “ugh, not again.”
Please take this experience with you in the future and use it as a lesson in how to be a good friend. Listen more. Watch more. Good luck.
Yes. There was one very narrow path to repairing the relationship down the road. It was to respond, “Wow, I’m really sorry to hear that. If you change your mind, you know where to find me,” and then downgrade interactions to professional acquaintance-level and drop it forever. As someone who has struggled with limerence, I know how hard that can be. It takes a huge amount of emotional self-discipline. It is also what is required of grown-ass adults.
Hey LW. At first, I just thought that you came off as feeling superior to your friend due to a defense mechanism: when someone hurts us (and mostly our ego) we really tend to start distorting stuff to make them look bad (because we cannot handle the feelings ourselves). Like, when someone breaks up with you, some people tend to start only seeing “all bad” in the other person so they don’t get to feel like they have been rejected.
But then other readers have mentioned the superiority thing, brother dynamic… (and to be honest, I am still trying to understand why you have started your letter mentioning how many years you are married for or that you have a son — it almost sound, to me, as if you are trying to put “acceptable societal credentials” to yourself)
Well, here’s the thing. I just broke up a friendship today. A friendship that had been slowly dying for a number of months. A friendship that wasn’t working for her or for me. I am pretty sure this person had problems with my behavior, but I can only talk about myself so here it goes: she treated me like I was an incompetent person and was always trying to tell me how and what to do with my life (which I never asked her for). It is AWFUL to be treated like an idiot. Then, she hadn’t been talking to me a lot for a couple months now, very distant (she was holding resentment over a — what to me was a minor — thing that happened months ago, and never told me about). Anyway. I told her that maybe she was right, we should go separate ways and not talk anymore. She accused me of being childish and ridiculous, except she already wasn’t talking to me before I confronted her (and I wasn’t trying either). I guess it IS a control thing, like I need permission to say that I am done and break up the friendship. I just formalized something that SHE was already doing, but somehow I became the bad guy for stating out loud. And see, I still love her and will keep the fondest memories, but I just don’t want to deal with this anymore. We are just not compatible, no matter how much love there is/was.
I just mentioned this because it feels like a similar situation might have happened over there. Just let him go. If you think he’s actually this loser that you paint him to be, why would you want to be friends with him anyway? And if you come to the conclusion he was a great person and that you screwed up, I am sorry. We all make mistakes and have to live with them.
“If you think he’s actually this loser that you paint him to be, why would you want to be friends with him anyway?”
So much this!
To make himself feel bigger and better than his friend?
I’m not sure if the OP would be happy with their friendship now that there isn’t a perceived power imbalance (or even worse – one the other way). I do find it interesting, although perhaps it is a coincidence, that the ‘friendship’ started to fall apart as the relationship became more ‘equal’. I do wonder, although I admit that it is pure speculation, if perhaps as the friend started to do well and get a good reputation, that perhaps the change in dynamic caused the OP to be more critical of their friend, thus ruining the friendship.
I don’t think that the friendship required an actual change in behavior to fall apart – just the existing one might well have been enough.
The big brother/little brother dynamic works well with children, where an age gap of a few years is a huge difference in experience. But at around 20 it becomes less and less significant. My suspicion is that the OP didn’t quite let go of mentoring his friend even as the friend considered him a peer.
**she treated me like I was an incompetent person and was always trying to tell me how and what to do with my life**
I once had someone say, “Well, (scoff) you could’ve just opened the DOOR…” Like I was this big idiot for ringing her doorbell when she was having a party(??). I guess she meant it to be like, “Oh, you don’t have to be so formal” or something? But I just felt like, “So…she’s criticizing me before I even walk in the door? For doing a totally normal thing that totally normal people do..?”
She wasn’t anyone I was super-close to, more an acquaintance (although an extrovert acquaintance who has lots of parties is a real boon for an introvert to find). I guess it meant therapy worked because her reaction to me immediately made me go, “Wow, what’s up with her?” rather than thinking there was something wrong with me, I should’ve known that “cool” people just walk right into other people’s homes(?). A LOT of friends have pulled that superior, “I know better” s*** with me, so I empathize with LW’s friend. I’ve also had friends pull back without explanation and make me wonder what I did wrong, so I have (some) empathy for the LW.
Yeah, it’s kinda funny she has always been like this, but I was very tolerating of it before I started doing my own internal work, so therapy paid off.
Just as an example, with this friend (we were close), I told her I wanted to lose weight but was trying to do it casually (i.e. without a strict diet or tons of hours spent at the gym), but still she felt like she had to literally see what I would eat for lunch everyday and criticize it. I really lost it the day I had dried apricots for snacks and she ranted (not in a good way) about how they are very unhealthy and that my diet was a joke. Just to mention, she has prosciutto/olives/crackers for LUNCH EVERY SINGLE DAY and often goes without eating (“to lose weight”, she says) I am the unhealthy one, sure. I would rather continue to be my 40lbs overweight rather than starve myself.
That said I can definitely empathize with LW and his feelings for the end of the friendship. I really do. It might even be that all the put down of the friend is part of a defense mechanism (that would be the best light possible I think). But trying to extract a “justification” or “closure” for 14 YEARS is definitely overstepping in a big way. It’s blocking his own life and prolonging his own pain.
Sometimes relationships just end and there is nothing to be done about it. Sometimes we unknowingly sabotage friendships that mean a lot to us and suffer for their loss and there is still nothing that can be done to fix it. The Captain has good advice for you, please consider it and move on with your life.
I feel empathy for you, LW. Friendship breakups are hard. I have been through a few African Violet situations myself, and they can be very painful. Carrying that kind of pain for 14 years must feel horrible.
However, I identify with your friend more. I have been in their shoes. I have tried to explain why I do not want to be treated the way I am treated, but I am not listened to and nothing changes, so I stop talking and say no to invitations. When I say no to an invitation, I know that I can expect a bunch of insults, so I cut people off. When I cut people off, no explanation I offer of why will ever be good enough (because but faaaamily), and a bunch of insults will be hurled in my direction, so I have stopped trying and found a therapist to help me deal with my broken heart. I wonder if your friend’s story is similar.
I don’t think that anyone is entitled to the time and attention of anyone else. You are not entitled to his time, or his attention. You never were.
You clearly have unfinished business that you need to deal with, but you are the only one who can do it. Find a therapist. Solve this issue within yourself.
I relate so much to your second paragraph. I’m going through two friend breakups right now – and I thought they were already done years ago! Neither of these friends was offering anything – they wanted to keep in touch at the most minimal level possible, unless *they* wanted something, then they expected full friendship benefits. With one, the last straw was her dismissive response to a serious problem I had, one that I explicitly told her was threatening my mental health. I still can’t wrap my head around how she expects ANY friendship from me after that.
A few years ago I just stopped replying to their (infrequent to begin with) emails, and I moved on emotionally. I thought that would work, but instead they’re both sort of hounding me, trying different email addresses and Facebook. I feel like I’m being put in a bad position – be the Bad Person Who Cuts Off Friends With No Explanation, or try to explain that they’ve been bad friends (which they will not accept, and will characterize as my keeping score and holding old grudges and yadda), or go along with whatever they have in mind, which based on past experience will be nothing but very superficial catching-up to reassure them that I’m still in their back pockets should a use for me arise. Or I guess I could lie, “it’s not you, it’s me”, but that really sticks in my craw.
I completely understand the hurt and frustration behind this letter, but two things give me pause: the “he owes me!” rhetoric, as Captain pointed out, but also the big/little brother line. I wonder if there’s something in that as well—if the LW was perhaps patronising and overbearing. Maybe they were never as close as the LW thought?
I’m finding a lot of these responses (including the original one) to be pretty harsh. As someone who has been unceremoniously friend-dumped, I understand the hurt, but mostly the simple confusion that accompanies such an experience. I agree with the general advice that it’s past time to move on and to accept that he’ll never get the ‘why’ he is seeking, but a lot of the other comments I’m seeing are assuming A LOT about their relationship pre-breakup. Stuff about him being contemptuous towards his friend…maybe now. His feelings have been colored by years of confusion and upset. And as far as him pressuring his friend to share stuff that he didn’t want to…yeah, he probably did. But he was also basing that on years of friendship. We work with the information we have. He was used to his friend confiding in him. Should he have backed off when asked? Of course. But it was still an honest mistake, influenced by years of closeness.
The behavior being criticized is not “an honest mistake.” It wasn’t the one misunderstanding that’s the problem, but the three years of deciding to repeat the same “mistake” following, and the resurgence of the same mistake now. The problem is refusing to respect boundaries simply because we don’t think they’re justified. Doing it a little around soft boundaries (like bringing it up repeatedly because they’ve “become a bit distant” but denied anything is wrong) is common, but most relationships can withstand it once acknowledgment is made at the explicit “I will not tell you/stop bugging me about it” stage. Continuing the behavior after this stage signals not a misunderstanding or mistake, but intentional and abusive.
The LW has chosen to not change the initial behavior at all–merely escalated it. That is where the severity comes from.
Yes this. He was told with words to back off. He didn’t like it so he rolled over it. Then he tells us the guy owes him. That he’d be a bartender without him which is ridiculous to all of us. Yes he’s hurt but mostly yes looking fir scripts on how to get the guy to give what he ‘owes’ LW. After all those yrs and words LW is still trying to roll over boundaries. And the advice I see is meant to convey that if he wants meaningful relationships in future he might want to rethink equality.
“The problem is refusing to respect boundaries simply because we don’t think they’re justified.”
This is spot on, and is where I know my comments are coming from. This isn’t a one-time mistake, this is something the LW openly admits to doing, again and again and again over the years, and it would be highly unusual if he was only doing this only in the aftermath of this one specific relationship. LW is absolutely entitled to feel what he is feeling, but he is not entitled to repeatedly put those feelings on a former friend who clearly stated a boundary just because LW can’t figure out how to deal with his feelings on his own.
Angry writing a person 3 years after they stopped being friends is not an honest mistake. This behaviour is abusive and controlling.
The last thing this person needs is to have their behaviour sugar-coated.
I’m with you, on this.
Okay. What would you tell the Letter Writer that we did not?
And then he proceeded to email his former friend for three years, increasingly angry – his words! – missives demanding to know why he’d been dumped as a friend. That’s probably why everybody is assuming his behavior pre-dumping wasn’t that great. He didn’t just seethe quietly to himself, he stalked this man and is, frankly, lucky that his former friend had enough grace not to bring the issue to HR – or the cops!
Actually, pointing out that the LW’s perception of this situation is skewed is the kindest, most sympathetic thing we can do for him now. Recognizing his own wrongdoing is his fastest route to recovery and will enable him to move on sooner, if he take the Captain’s excellent advice to heart. Most of the commentariat acknowledged LW’s pain, in fact, but it does not make LW’s actions excusable.
The LW didn’t just make one “honest mistake”. He refused to respect their best friend’s boundaries, created a hostile work environment for the friend and then, after the friend attempted to end the friendship as a result of all this (exactly how ceremonious should he have been about this?) followed all this up by THREE YEARS’ worth of harassment emails. All this was reported by the LW himself. How is all this one honest mistake? It’s a series of mistakes ground in an overblown sense of entitlement, at best. I would not want to stay friends after this either.
Tl;dr: a person can be both in pain and wrong at the same time.
And an adult has the capacity to acknowledge both these things about themselves.
But then he sent a series of angry emails for three years. And harassed the guy’s sister. And talks about the guy like he owes him something and keeps ignoring the friend’s clear, stated desire to be done with the friendship. It’s not “one honest mistake,” it’s a troubling pattern of behavior and clearly after 14 years the Letter Writer is still seeking control. If the friend wrote to us, distressed at the harassing behavior, we’d be like “continue to block, literally forever.”
Yeah, I also was surprised by everyone’s harshness. Of course he needs to let go and move on, but I don’t know that the guy was an ogre. Usually this group gives more sympathy to someone in pain.
Pretty much everyone has expressed sympathy for the pain of losing the friendship while also being honest about the problematic behavior that the Letter Writer is describing. Hounding someone to talk to you for three years with angry emails. Tracking the person down and hounding family members!!! This stuff is not okay, and it’s time for the Letter Writer to let go and find healthier ways of dealing. Harsh or not, it’s true.
This letter expresses more of a confusion about why the guy walked away and why he can’t get closure. We’re trying to set the confusion straight. It’s really hard to have sympathy for someone who is so obviously condescending and harassed someone for 3 years, and is middle aged and hasn’t figured out some basics of friendships. Maybe if he came back asking us for advice on his control issue or talked about his past or something that led up to all this awful behavior, we could work with the pain more.
Also, there’s loads of good advice and information in here. Sometimes the truth is more important than easing the pain. This man is getting the explanation he has been looking for for the last 14 years.
For real. This is an advice blog, not a kissing-boo-boos blog. Try Facebook, maybe? But don’t hope for much
He sent angry emails for THREE. YEARS.
D’you want someone you’ve not spoken to in 14 years to send you a series of shouty emails demanding an explanation for why you aren’t speaking to them anymore? Wouldn’t you read the first couple and go “well I wonder why not, you fucking stalker”? He tracked down the guy’s sister and sent HER shouty emails. Wouldn’t you get nervous and start wondering if you need to pursue a restraining order?
Or would you “sympathetically” open up communications so you could be yelled at in person by someone who has already proved that they have no respect for boundaries and no sense of perspective?
Three years of FeelingsMail to a *coworker*. It’s not clear how long, but for at least part of this time the LW’s former friend had to come to work every day to an office shared with the person who was hounding him about the end of their friendship. I’m definitely speaking from my own lens here, but that sounds like one of my own personal hells and I’m amazed former friend didn’t just quit his job out of sheer awkwardness exhaustion.
The guy hasn’t let go for over 14 years. My sympathy rests ENTIRELY with the former friend.
I broke up with someone in *1989* who still bugs me (from another state 1000s of miles away!!!) whenever he can figure out how. And just can’t understand why I don’t want to be friends. (I haven’t spoken to him since 1992, I hear things from formerly mutual friends as a heads up/warning.)
“I contacted his sister via social media and asked her to try to get through to him.” / “He has managed to avoid facing me like an adult about this for 14 years.”
You pulled the most middle school move ever, and you’re complaining that he’s not acting like an adult, because (like an adult) he’s moved on from a friendship that ended 14 years ago?
You’ve spent the past 14 years harassing someone on and off because you think he’s obligated to talk to you about why he doesn’t want to talk to you, including going so far as to contact his sister and obligate her to contact him for you since he will not talk to you, so you can demand an answer for why he won’t talk to you?
LW, you’re bothering the relative of a friend who stopped talking to you two presidents ago.
After he told you directly to back off out of his personal business.
After he told you directly he didn’t want to be your friend anymore.
After you ignored what he wanted because it didn’t align with what you wanted.
After you pestered him into one last lunch and he tried to ghost you, since being direct with you hadn’t worked.
After he ignored three years of angry letters from you because you decided he had no right to decide he was done with you.
After he moved across the country away from you and moved on with his life.
It’s been a whole middle school student of time. A proper teenager. Fourteen years, and you’re still ignoring his expressly stated wishes and boundaries.
You need to understand that what you’re demanding here isn’t ‘closure’ – it’s control. You list a tally of favors that you think keeps him in your debt and therefore ought to keep him in your life – that he owes you access, even now that he’s more than a decade out of your life. You didn’t hit a ‘rough patch’, man: he stood up to you and decided he was done. You don’t get to decide that he’s not, or that he has to keep talking to you until he explains to your satisfaction why he wanted to stop in the first place.
Is this a tired, familiar knot you come back to futilely chew on and fume over when you’re stressed out over other bigger, fresher, more stressful things? Do you throw a small nudge his way to test the waters, so you can redirect frustration at him for ignoring you instead of feeling helpless and off-kilter in other more current and relevant areas of your life? Look at your patterns, what’s going on when you feel like you need to poke him for a reaction, etc. – because it’s not solving any of your problems and it’s not fair or healthy for anybody involved.
“Is this a tired, familiar knot you come back to futilely chew on and fume over when you’re stressed out over other bigger, fresher, more stressful things?”
Ohhh, yes, well bethought.
LW. My dude. What is this really about?
I’m sorry, LW. Your letter made me think of my own best friend, who’s been in my life for fifteen years through the good and the bad. My first thought was God, I can’t even imagine how painful it would be to lose her like this.
But then I thought about my other best friend, from when I was a kid, who moved away when we were about ten. We stayed in touch for years, talking on the phone and occasionally visiting each other. My whole family attended her wedding. We had so much in common and were so close when we were kids, and I haven’t spoken to her in almost a decade. It wasn’t as abrupt or hostile an end as yours, more of a slow drifting apart, but we were in different places in our lives and I think beginning to develop different values and it just didn’t work out.
The thing is, as important as my childhood best friend was to me, she wasn’t the first or even the third thought I had when I read your letter. It wasn’t until I started reading the comments that she came to mind. This matters because it’s what I want for you: to be able to move on enough that this person and this chapter of your life is an afterthought compared to the things you have going on right now. As the captain recommends, put your energy into the people and activities that make you happy. You are exactly right when you say life is too short, so nurture the love in your life rather than dwelling on feelings of regret and injustice. Take the advice you get here to heart (even though some of it might hurt to hear), learn what you can from this experience, and put it behind you.
OP, I think it would help you to think of this as a break-up. I know we usually use that term for romantic relationships…but I think a lot of the same stuff applies to the end of any relationship that’s had a significant impact on you, as this one has.
One of the biggest struggles people have with break-ups is the search for closure. We want to know why this person broke up with us, and we imagine that if we just understood, we’d be able to come to terms with it. But that’s not how it usually works out. Usually, we have to find a way to move on even though we may never know why they broke things off. When we do know why, we usually don’t find the reason satisfying–it’s a misunderstanding, or it’s not a good reason, or it’s a valid reason but not strong enough to throw away such an excellent relationship over, or etc. (After all, if we knew of a reason to break up the relationship that we actually thought was good enough, we probably would have done the breaking up ourselves, not waited for them to do it.)
You need to find a way to move on from this relationship that involves exactly nothing from your ex-friend. Assume that he’s never going to talk to you again. Assume that he’s never going to explain his reasoning. Given those things, what can you do to feel better about the relationship?
Let’s talk classic break-up management strategies. (Caution: actual idea quality may vary.)
– Get busy enough that you no longer have time to miss your ex-friend
– Spend some time with a supportive friend/family member, so you feel less alone
– Remind yourself of your ex-friend’s worst qualities, so you can rejoice in not having to put up with them anymore
– Make new friend(s) so you no longer have a gap in your life where your ex-friend used to be.
– Get petty. Do awesome things, so awesome that your ex-friend will surely regret breaking things off with you. (Eventually, this transitions into doing awesome things because they’re awesome, without thinking much about ex anymore. But pettiness can be a useful way to get the ball rolling.)
– Do an emotional reset: Spend a weekend wallowing in your misery with a pint of ice cream and a bunch of wine. Let yourself cry, scream, whatever. Get all the grieving for your old relationship out; start with a blank slate.
– Get rid of things in your life (photos, souvenirs, etc.) that remind you too much of your ex-friend. If you don’t want to get rid of them outright, at least tuck them in the attic or otherwise out of the way
– Erase your ex-friend’s contact info from your phone, address book, etc. He can always reach out if he has anything to say to you; you don’t need the temptation. (This includes your ex’s family’s contact info too, unless you have an established relationship with someone that is separate from your relationship with your ex. It also includes unfriending your ex on social media.)
LW, I’m sorry you are still hurting after all of these years. The Captain is right: grieve the loss of the friendship and move on to more positive things in your life. There is nothing your lost friend could say or do at this point that could ever lessen the pain you feel; if anything, it would only bring more hurt and resentment to both of you.
It sucks when friendships end, because we are never taught that it will happen, let alone how to deal with it gracefully. We get fed these myths that true friendships (like true love) lasts forever. But they don’t. Maybe I’m wrong, but perhaps you are also feeling betrayed because you — like all of us — were sold the beautiful fantasy of the childhood friend who would be there throughout life, and your friend refused to play the role he was set up in? (Been there, done that, never again.)
I had a friend ghost on me several years ago, during a really rough time in my life when I most needed my friends. It hurt, and I wondered why she ended it, but all of the reasons I could think of were unhappy ones, and I decided it was better not to know. Please consider that you are better off not having a specific reason for the end of the friendship. People go in different directions during their lives, and they grow apart — maybe it’s not the most satisfying answer, but if it helps get you past this, tell yourself that as part of the new story.
There will probably always be some sadness when you think of your old friend, but it will hurt a lot less and not as often if you let go and allow yourself to heal. I suggest treating this like any breakup: No Contact with old friend directly or through his connections. Don’t follow him on social media, and don’t ask about him through mutual friends or coworkers. Ex-friends are exes, too.
Hey LW, other people have talked about a lot of things already above.
My suggestion is – make some friends, outside of work. Try a new hobby, or sport, and try connecting with new people.
I see you talk about length of time and i think about all the friends I’ve made and lost over the years – whether through growing apart, being apart, or simply becoming different people – sometimes there’s a lot of friendship compatibility, or not, but either way having a friend has always been effortful work at building and maintaining mutual understanding and respect.
Plus – you get better at beginnings, and endings, the more of them you have. Maybe they’re never easy, but practice and self awareness gives you tools to get through it.
I totally agree with the break-up standard: try to cultivate positive new relationships. I think a potential factor for this being such a huge loss for the LW may be the common factor of middle-aged men often having a very limited amount of close friendships.
I also have a best friend of 25 years who I grew up with and god forbid if I ever lost her but if such a terrible thing occurred, I have other close friends to turn to to ask the question “whyyyyy would she do that?” and go over every detail WITH SOMEONE ELSE (not her!) who understood the importance to me and supported me and eventually (as in after weeks, not years!) would nudge me to focus on appreciating what I have in my life instead of obsessing over what I don’t have.
Good friends can tell us when we’re out of line and because we trust and respect them, we listen to their judgement. I’m sorry you lost that with your best friend, LW, and I’m sorry that you seemingly didn’t have anyone else so close to help you through it. I really hope you find a counsellor to help you bounce these feelings off rather than continuing to try and bounce them off your friend who is no longer in your life.
LW, there’s a lot I relate to in this letter, and I find your story incredibly sad. I also have a natural competitive streak that can leak into my personal relationships when I’m not in a good place. I have trouble letting things that are outside of my control go, and I have trouble grieving for things when they end. I wonder if I got lucky living my life as a woman in this society, because I experienced friction against these parts of my personality really early on. You’re describing things I struggled with on weeks- or months-long timescales in terms of decades, and while this pinged all my personal danger-alert sensors, I’m also feeling empathy for you. I know this is painful, and I can’t imagine living this way for so long.
LW, I think it would help you to reflect on the fact that sometimes bad things you don’t want just happen. They aren’t the best thing for you (in either the world where you optimize only your own happiness, or in that fantasy world made of puppies and love for everyone), but also you can’t stop them. You just have to suck it up and move on, and not throw more energy into a black hole of nothing-will-ever-change.
If the advice of “just let things go” grinds you in a weird way, I get it. I jive better with the “go big or go home”/”the more effort you put in, the more you’ll get out” philosophies. Growing into a healthier, more full person means learning to incorporate both. I think for you, LW, learning to let things go, learning to move on, learning to control where you focus your efforts will go a long way towards healing your wounds. I hope you get there.
I’ve been the “little brother friend” in a very similar situation (except we’re both women). If it helps to take it from someone on the other side, here’s how I frame the relationship that was:
E and I were once very close and she was like a big sister to me. Unfortunately the dynamics of the relationship changed in a way that no longer worked for me and as a result, that relationship no longer exists. However, I will always be grateful for what E did for me when we were friends and I would probably not be where I am today if not for her. I wish her all the best in life.
I’ve lost friendships over the years for so many reasons: because I did bad things, because we just drifted apart, because distance does not make the heart grow fonder. I remember the first time my family moved and I tried keeping in touch with someone over the mail (regular mail, we did not all have computers in those days) and sending ragey missives to my friend that she had ignored my birthday and she was ignoring my letters.
Thing is, I was 10.
She didn’t hold it against me and whenever we met, we were cordial with each other, for which I’m grateful for. But if she had decided she wanted nothing to do with me? That would have been her right. No matter my age, or her age, or how justified I felt in my anger, she could have chosen to enforce a boundary and I would have had to deal with that.
What I’m saying, LW, is that I have been you. I know it hurts. It doesn’t get easier as you get older, either. It’s especially hard if you were ever a mentor to someone or you had a close relationship with them (and you had both) and it’s really painful when they cut ties. Your friend could have faded out on his own accord without there being any dispute between the two of you, and it still would have hurt. Grieve him, like the Captain said, and find some other outlet for all the energy you’re pouring into this right now.
Oof, that came out wrong. I’m not saying that my behavior was justified because I was a kid or that adults can’t hurt or lash out. I kind of wanted to give perspective that you learn with experience. That really came out wrong.
LW, your former friend doesn’t owe you anything. Not his career, not his friendship and certainly not an explanation.
Now, I’m going to touch on a couple things that stood out to me about your letter:
1. You seem to think that he’s ~not handling it like an adult by not giving you that explanation you’re looking for when…that isn’t the case. He seems like he’s being plenty adult because…Guess what? He’s said that he doesn’t want to be contacted and he’s maintaining that boundary…Well over a decade after having set it. He’s not being rude about it, he’s simply responding to your “Hey, can we talk about this?” with what is effectively a “No, thank you. I’d rather not.” That’s honestly pretty polite – and I suspect, he’s being more civil about it than I would be if someone I had very clearly told I no longer wanted to be friends and made very, very painfully clear I wanted no contact with. Now, I’ll give you he could have point blank said he wanted no contact but…at least, if you didn’t leave that out of your letter, it was still pretty damn obvious he wasn’t interested given he wasn’t replying.
2. You seem to have decided that getting that explanation will give you closure to what happened and…Honestly? I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t. Depending on the specifics I’ve seen that go one of two ways – neither of which brings the person who was dumped (Or friend-dumped) any peace of mind. So, if that is why you’re so focused on getting on, please find a way to let go. Accept that sometimes things happen that you’re not going to understand and that this is one of those times. Grieve for the friendship you had, and the friendship you thought you had. If you’re up to it, wish your former friend well in their life (without contacting them or one of their loved ones!)…and focus on the positive parts of your life. It *does* get better, and you do find yourself focusing on it less, once you start letting go of the idea of getting closure from the other person, and realize that closure is something you have to provide for yourself.
LW, I am sorry you find yourself looking for answers and unable to find them. The best answer I can come up with is that your life scripts became incompatible.
In your life script you have a part for, ‘Subordinate Who Owes Me.’ The way you talk about him, the way you describe your interactions, all reflect this subordinate role, but that is not who he is. It never was who he is. That was who you thought he was, but it was never true.
If you really want closure this is what you might try to understand; ‘I thought he was Horatio to my Hamlet. Turns out I am Falstaff to his Henry V.’
Oooh! Love your advice, but especially the literary references 🙂
Thank you. 🙂
Or if you’d rather not be Falstaff (can’t say I’d blame you), be Qui-Gon to his Anakin. You did your part in setting him on his path, and while you might not be happy about where it led him, you gotta accept it’s his to walk now and leave the rest up to the Force. (Also, anger leads to hate, etc., etc.)
The Captain’s advice is really good. I just want to add something I learned from dumping a friend recently.
This friend and I were very close too and we got along great as well. I really really liked and valued her. But during the course of the last year I have been doing a lot of digging and self-search that has helped me understand a lot about myself. I now know my own emotional and behavioral patterns way better than I used to, where they come from, what I need to work on to get rid of them, which ones I should accept as a part of myself, etc. I also know that I re-enact a lot of this stuff in all of my relationships.
Mostly it’s not a big deal, as I am surrounded by people I can talk things out with, and I have my own tools to deal with things. But with this particular friend, there were things in her behavior that triggered reactions in me that go very deep, are pervasive and difficult for me to deal with. After trying to talk to her to ask her if she could adapt her behavior for me a little, she didn’t respond. I know her well and I know she has a hard time giving people things when they ask her point blank. Her reaction convinced me that we do not mix well. She too is caught in her own behavioral and emotional patterns. For the work I am doing on myself, I need people who are good at understanding and talking about other people’s needs or difficulties.
In short, our connection and our closeness was not enough. I am growing and changing and I am becoming aware that certain relationships, no matter how great otherwise, can make it hard for me to grow. I tried explaining this to her, and her response (I got one after I told her I wouldn’t continue our friendship after all), though compassionate and honest, sounded to me like she didn’t understand where I was coming from. And I don’t blame her. Emotional truths or very personal truths are sometimes only understood by those who are experiencing them.
This is why it’s important to accept people’s boundaries even if you don’t understand. We are all growing and changing. Our needs for connection, relationships and friendship change. It is very possible this friend of yours had changing needs that he couldn’t tell you about. A lot of the time the other person is not guilty of something. It’s just change. Your friend may have just embraced whatever was happening in his life, whatever need he needed to take care of by investing his energies in other connections. This is natural and normal and you should accept this with compassion for him and for yourself. Respect his boundaries and learn to find your own (a person with better boundaries would have accepted that letting go was the healthiest and self-preserving thing to do).
I could have written this, but from the other side. My (ex?) BFF was going through some tough times (including substance abuse) and i encouraged her to get help. Even sent her resources for low-cost therapy options. She used them, and has been working on herself for the past several months… and basically doesn’t want to see me anymore. She says she wants to remain friends, but sometime in the indeterminate future. And she has directly asked me to do things, and I’ve done my best to do them. But I guess it’s not enough, since she still barely talks to me.
It is a special kind of hurt to be dumped/demoted after your friend starts trying to be a better person. Because I can’t help but think; What does that say about me?
‘Several months’ isn’t a very long time when you’re trying to break yourself of unhealthy behaviors and get a handle on the triggers for those behaviors. It can be difficult to be around familiar people or in familiar spaces while you’re sorting it all out. Plus, it’s a lot of work, and sucks up a lot of energy.
You’ve been a good friend by cheering her on and helping her with resources, and you’re being a good friend now by respecting her request for time and space while she tackles the heavy lifting. 🙂
Maybe it says that she thinks she’s a bad influence on you.
Maybe she’s worried about falling into old patterns with you. Even if you didn’t abuse substances together, she might have decided that right now she needs to go to either a 12-step meeting, the gym, or home after work, because if she goes out otherwise she’ll stop at a bar on the way home. Or just that she’ll stay out late and miss sleep and not get her chores done.
Maybe she’s worried that you’ll inadvertently coddle her, that her jerkbrain will turn your “well done, you’re getting started on the right track” into “well done, you can stop now, you don’t need more therapy” or your “I like you even when you don’t live up to an arbitrary standard” as “you don’t need to change anything about yourself or your life.”
(Those are just guesses, but they fit with the assumptions that you’re a basically good person, that she’s genuinely trying to work on herself, and that she’s telling you the truth.)
Dear Blue, I am sorry this is hurting you. I can completely see how you’d feel bad in your situation. I totally do. But all this stuff is so super complex. The point with my friend was simply that in our difficulties we complement each other too well in a way that makes us stuck in our patterns. Patterns and their triggers can be so so so so so insidious and mean. Think about it like coffee and cigarettes. Some people can’t stop smoking if they don’t stop drinking coffee because to them those two belong together. Coffee is a completely good guy, but the person is wise enough to recognize the pattern and use that knowledge to their favor.
This is a lovely response, but I think it’s meant for The One Who Pets All The Dogs. 🙂
Yes, I did, lol, sorry =D
I wonder if what it says about you is that your friend wants to shed everything in her life before getting help, as a way to try and eliminate all triggers and urges to go back into her darker times? Many people, when they finally get help for something, seem to want to grab onto that and run with it, and therefore use it as a way to not have to deal with their lives before getting help, the embarrassment and shame of it.
Beautiful, self-loving observations with lessons for me. Thanks.
I had a best friend for 15 years. She could write a really similar letter about me. The way it ended was really similar, down to the “extinction burst” last night of hanging out where things seemed okay again, for a while.
Some of your dynamics with your friend also seem similar, so I’ll tell you why I ended that friendship. (I think it was mutual, but I suspect that she thinks I ended it.)
She gave me advice that felt like criticism constantly. I told her I didn’t like it, and she said I was too sensitive and that friendship meant being totally honest with each other. I recognize that that’s also a valid way to be a friend, but for me, it felt like she was attacking me, and I couldn’t enjoy being around her anymore.
She needed a lot from me. We talked daily, usually for at least an hour, and took frequent trips together. I liked that, for the most part, but it was getting harder for me at the end as I started having jobs that required more work and also had a relationship. There was a lot of emotional drama in her life, and I often needed to drop everything to support her. This is basically what keeps me from making up with her–while I might be able to have a good friendship with her as a “small doses” friend, I don’t think she could do that.
I think about her a lot and dream about her a lot. I miss her in some ways, not in others. She has tried to contact me two or three times over the years, and I haven’t written back. The tone of her writing when she tried to contact me convinced me that she probably hasn’t changed significantly. I will never get over it, but I probably also won’t ever want to be her friend again. And I probably won’t ever be able to explain to her, either.
So, LW, I feel for you. I get that this is really hard. The Captain has good advice–mourn this friend as a death and try to move on.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who has dreams about former friends. I had someone I was very close to in college, but we grew apart after. Even knowing it was natural and not A Big Thing that caused it — and being in very sporadic touch (Facebook birthday wishes, that kind of thing) — I still had weird dreams about her for years.
Then again, I also had anxiety dreams about my beloved childhood stuffed animal, who I lost, for years. So, you know, loss is hard. Especially if you’ve put in a ton of energy and emotion through the years – that makes relatively simple losses feel more like BETRAYAL even if they weren’t. Understanding that (my guilt at both of those losses, and my anger at feeling like the love I’d put into the friendship wasn’t enough, etc) had to be closure in and of itself. Because it wasn’t about the friendship per se, it was about how I *felt* about the friendship.
(PS: years later, my mom found the stuffed animal and mailed him to me out of the blue. I burst into tears in the middle of my office. Emotions can be super intense, but we still have to deal with them.)
Speaking from experience… back when I was younger I used to attract people who wanted to be “fixed.” And once I’d supported them to the point I was beginning to feel like they didn’t need me anymore, they were feeling claustrophobic. The friendship would then disintegrate (once via ghosting, once via her informing me that her therapist said I was a bad person—I cried a lot about that one). I allowed both people to drop me and have been politely distant when our circles cross. 10 years later the former has sent me extremely apologetic emails, and 5 years later the latter wants to be friendly again at conferences. (I am politely distant, as I have moved on.). If you’d just accepted the distance, this guy might have reached out again.
So the theme of this letter and the other one the cap’n linked is ‘this is not allowed to end’ and ‘make sure you have a valid excuse from the relationship courts for differing in this opinion’.
Seriously man, friends allow friends to move on. Whenever. For any reason or none.
Sometimes two perfectly nice people go in different directions and that’s ok. If you hadn’t thrown a giant and unseemly ‘you owe me’ tantrum the minute he got a bit distracted you would have been able to keep the nice memories intact and possibly reconnected later on at a different point in time.
Friendship stalking= not ok.
LW, you already know why your friend cut you off. It’s right there in your letter: your friendship was on the rocks and then you “both went too far”, which is when your friend told you it was over.
It’s not really that you’re baffled; it’s Bay you don’t want to accept that your friend believes the friendship is beyond repair. You were desperate! You apologized! You had a make-up lunch where everything seemed okay! But it wasn’t okay, not for your friend.
You don’t really want him to “explain his actions”. You know what the explanation is: he was done with you, and he had a lunch with you where there was enough of the old feeling that it was okay, but after that he didn’t want to be friends anymore.
And it’s OK to be upset about that. What’s not OK is for you to take your feelings of grief and guilt and try to alleviate them by turning them into a quest for emotional vengeance.
LW, I feel for you. I have a friend who sounds like you and I feel for him. I also avoid him like the plague at this point, though.
This friend was older and protective which lent a lack of respect and a feeling of entitlement to his interactions with me. I really like him, but we are not well-suited to being close friends. I have cooled it with him twice.
The first time I tried to explain everything kindly and set straightforward boundaries, as presumably you and he would ostensibly hope for from a friend. Problem was, he didn’t want to hear so he didn’t. I wrote it down; he didn’t want it on paper. I explained; he got mentally stuck on a point he didn’t agree with and stewed on that, ignoring the rest of what I said. Later he scolded me for not having said what I did say while he wasn’t listening. He told me it was my responsibility to make requests multiple times if I wanted him to remember them. He concocted stories about my motives when I had told him clearly what they were. There were things I did not fully explain because they were private things about my marriage. Sharing them with him would have forced me to choose between the marriage and the friendship. He pried. I was trying to preserve the friendship on a manageable level; he could only complain that he didn’t have everything he wanted from me.
Events put us back in friendly contact later, but eventually things had to be cooled again for the same reasons as at first. The second time I slipped away as quietly and slowly as I could. He may be angrily spinning his wheels about this. I’ve watched him do it over other friendships that ended. I expect he feels denied his due.
My point is that it is possible to think you’re lacking desired information, when the reason you’re lacking it is willful ignorance. It’s possible to ignore all the signs in your wish for the way things should be. And it’s really, really much more respectful and likely to save a friendship if you back off and let people have space and privacy when they show signs of wanting it.
Everybody here seems to be rather critical of you but, as someone who’s been on your shoes, mate, I feel you. And I DO believe you owe an explanation to someone before ditching a 25-year friendship.
I think there are two possible explanations here:
1) your friend changed. He got money, and power, and the Wall Street life, and it made him thik he’s somehow better than all them peasants.
2) your friend was always an asshole. He was using you to get money and social prestige, and ditched you once you were no longer useful.
In any case, your former friend is currently an asshole, and since he didn’t give you an explanation, you are free to pick the one that makes YOU feel better and cut this baggage out of your life.
Whoa. Both of those explanations are way off base. Based on the LWs own words, it’s crystal clear why his friend ended the relationship, and the LWs continuing behavior only serves to validate that decision.
Though if “Gosh, your old friend sure is a jerk, you’re better off without him” gets this man to stop trying to contact the other one in search of “closure”, well… problem solved?
Maybe the friend didn’t consider himself better – just equal to the OP? And maybe the OP insisted on treating his friend like a little brother, even when the difference in their experiences became negligible? Even when the friend started to be more successful than the OP?
Being denied equality in a relationship where no one has, or should have, authority over the other can be rather patronizing and increasingly unbearable.
And all the OP did was to give his friend a CHANCE. The friend wouldn’t have gotten his money and prestige just by having a job at that company. He needed skills and determination, too. And he didn’t ditch him right away, he seemed to want to either change the dynamic of the relationship or have it fade away to a less important one.
The friend did give an explanation. The LW is torturing himself by choosing to argue the “validity” of the explanation. And as the LW clearly doesn’t think anything that happened was bad enough for the friendship to end (or “cancel out” the favors he had given), he’s already determined no explanation will be good enough. The LW has spent 14 years in angry search of something that does not exist.
The Captain and other commenters agree with your method of writing a new narrative, but the options you present keep the LW trapped in an angry, toxic mindset that doesn’t fit the facts.
1) What peasants? They were working in the same department when the blow-out happened, and equal enough in rank to butt heads without mention of pulling rank.
2) You think his former friend was plotting since elementary school to use him as a stepping stone to a job on Wall Street?
Between those two items and the ‘cut the baggage’ remark, it looks like you might be reading this as a recent rift that has something to do with the former friend’s current job title.
“And I DO believe you owe an explanation to someone before ditching a 25-year friendship.”
No. Just no. All the no. Reasons are for reasonable people. This letter writer states he sent increasingly angry messages for THREE YEARS, and now, FOURTEEN YEARS later, is still trying to contact him through his family. That is not reasonable. Truthfully, I doubt the LW would have been able to accept any reason the former friend gave, and instead would continue trying to logic him into compliance.
LW, I feel your pain. I’ve had people I cared about deeply leave. It hurts tremendously, and no reason they give makes it hurt less. That being said, no means no. Former friend has a RIGHT to say no to your overtures. He has the right to choose whom he will befriend and whom he will not. He had the right to avoid a long FEELINGSCONVO where he gives you point-by-point reasons for not continuing the friendship while you try shooting those points down one by one.
Learn to respect the no, and you’ll be a better person (and friend) for it.
You don’t owe someone a last “I told you X and Y were problems, and you kept doing X and expecting me to be pleased, so I told you agaiin that I can’t accept X, and I guess you’re never going to stop X’ing, so we’re done.”
The LW’s friend said “there’s nothing wrong between us, I’m just busy” and LW wouldn’t accept that–either didn’t believe him or didn’t think his friend had a right to be too busy to hang out with him. Then LW got him to admit “there’s nothing wrong between us, but I’ve got some troubles at home,” and instead of saying “I’m sorry, man. That sounds tough. Good luck” or “Yeah, that’s tough. Let me know if there’s something I can do, or if you want to be distracted some evening” he decided his friend didn’t have the right to say “I have problems at home, which I don’t want to talk about.”
There are lots of reasons for not wanting to talk about problems, and sometimes even saying what those reasons are may be more than you want to talk about, or disclosing other people’s secrets. “I’m really worried because my sister might have cancer” is disclosing his sister’s business. “My wife and I aren’t getting along right now” is information you might not want out there if/after you patch things up. “My wife has applied for a tenure-track position at a first-class institution, but we’d have to relocate” isn’t something you want to tell a coworker before the decision is made.
If someone pressured me for information in that kind of situation, that would be adding another problem, one that wouldn’t go away once the biopsy found no cancer, my wife and I reconciled, and she didn’t get that job in New Zealand.
If this fiction stops him FINALLY harassing the friend he doesn’t even want to be friends with anymore then it’s a practical kindness to ex friend.
But it won’t do much for his Human League -esque sense of entitlement.
And it has nothing to do with the fact LW has harassed and stalked him for 14 years, amirite?
Sad to hear that your friend is not in your life anymore.
If you really want to ‘understand’ why, you could try this technique called ‘role-play the jerk’ (I read about it in a book that mentioned working with difficult people. Your friend is not necessarily a jerk, but bear with me.) Pretend YOU are the friend. Really try to see the situation from his point of view. Imagine what he would say if given the chance to tell a therapist, or stranger, why he pulled out of your friendship. Write down what ‘he’ would say, as though it was him writing it. (It doesn’t matter if you get it completely right – you can’t know that, obvs – but you can get some astounding clarity from doing this exercise.)
(Thank you for posting this, Captain Awkward… I’ve got a friend who has recently gone a bit cool on me, and I wish I knew why. I already know from your previous posts that pushing for an answer is NOT the way 🙂
I know how much that sucks, when someone you were close with for so long doesn’t want to be friends anymore and never gave you a straight answer. You think knowing might give you peace, or maybe you’ll come to find it was all a misunderstanding and you can fix it! Unfortunately, as others have said and as I also came to learn through harsh “you’re an entitled b!tch, she doesn’t owe you sh!t, caring about this just makes you look petty and awful” comments myself (I still think they were super unnecessary BTW), it really is best to let this go. Don’t contact him anymore, don’t try to drag more people into it, respect his boundaries.
Because I also know how awful it would be to try to cut someone loose, not feeling comfortable telling them why I no longer want to be connected to them anymore, and having them continue contacting me through whatever means possible, and getting my friends, family, even significant other in the mix by making himself look like a nice guy who was unfairly denied the friendship he deserved. It’s why I’m holding onto a Facebook connection I don’t want, I’d rather get a few unwanted messages than get straight-up stalked.
I am imagining the conversation between the sister and the old friend after LW reached out to her.
Sister: So you’ll never guess who sent me a FB message today.
Friend: Oh, god.
Sister: Yep. More about the blah-blah-blah WHY OH GOD WHY
Friend: I’m sorry. I don’t understand why he won’t stop. It’s been 14 years.
Sister: He’s totally nuts. I mean, I always thought he was a little weird, but this is way beyond anything I expected. Have you considered calling the police?
Yet LW seems to think that what sister would do after getting a message on social media from a former friend who’s been harassing her brother for 14 years is say, “brother! shape up! give this nice man an explanation! and not the explanation that you gave him for the first three years, but a good one that makes him feel like the better person!”
LW, I really do feel for you. I can’t imagine losing a friendship of 25 years and still feeling like you have no idea why. It really sucks.
I have had two close friends ghost me. In both cases I never really got an explanation. The first was my oldest friend. I think in her case it was life circumstances, and she’s recently resurfaced wanting more interaction, but I don’t really have the time or energy to do much other than keep in touch through brief emails or cards. We’ll likely never have the same close relationship we had, and it sucks, but I’ve moved on.
The second one was much more abrupt, like your friend, and I never got an explanation. I asked her for one ONCE, and then I wished her well and moved on.
LW, you have got to change this narrative, and I really hope you’ll seek therapy. This is a really real hurt and I’m sorry this happened, and I hope you’re able to respect your former friend’s wishes and accept that you may never get an explanation and make peace with that.
Letter Writer– Do you write? Have you ever wanted to? Judging from the letter you wrote the Captain, I’d say you have the potential to be pretty good at it. My suggestion is that you turn your experience into a short story or even a novel. Rewrite the ending, or to put it another way, create your own closure. Think about what explanation you would accept for your friend’s ending the friendship so abruptly. Be as imaginative or as realistic as you like. Maybe your friend was really an international spy who was putting you and your family in danger by maintaining the friendship but couldn’t tell you what was wrong on fear of his own death. Maybe he was abducted by aliens or was in the witness protection program or couldn’t tell you he was being blackmailed or had had an affair with someone he couldn’t tell you about. If you would find it satisfying, write about the terrible end he came to because of his own actions in rejecting you. These writing fantasies help me get through dealing with the unknowable better than anything else.
“The problem is he never gave a valid explanation in the first place.”
LW, there is a technique in CBT where you look at a painful belief you hold, and ask yourself if there are alternative explanations. You try some on for size, and then see if your conviction in the painful belief has decreased. If you believed something 90%, and it’s gone down to 65%, that’s considered a success.
I don’t think your former friend will give you an explanation; the rift in the friendship happened because you pressured him to tell you something he wasn’t willing to tell, and time isn’t going to change that. So may I suggest you try considering some hypotheticals yourself? For instance:
– Maybe the ‘problems at home’ involved a family member who having a problem that they’d told him about in confidence. He had to take some time to deal with it, but he couldn’t tell you about it without betraying a secret that wasn’t his to tell.
– Maybe the problems involved something illegal. He was worried that there would be trouble if it came out, and decided that the best way to protect you would be to make sure you knew nothing about it so you couldn’t be considered in any way an accessory.
– Maybe he was having a problem in a sexual relationship, in which he felt it’d be wrong to tell you the details because they involved telling you intimate things about a third party.
– Maybe he was having a conflict with a spouse or other loved one in which he’d been accused of not trying to see their point of view. He knew that if you told him about it, you’d take his side, and he felt that just then what he needed was time to reflect that might might be wrong rather than support from a friend.
– Maybe he was having problems at home that were so upsetting and exhausting that he needed to have some space in his life where he didn’t have to think about them. Explaining them to anyone, even a close friend, would have been re-living stuff that he needed some time away from.
– Maybe he felt that he’d been too dependent on you in the past, and wanted to try and solve something by himself so he could have more faith in his own problem-solving skills.
– Maybe he was having a problem with someone in his life who was connected with you, and he didn’t want to put you in the middle.
Keep adding your own. Even if you don’t 100% believe them, it is good at helping you let go.
LW, it sucks that a childhood friend is gone from your life, but you’re only going to make things worse by chasing him. Try instead considering as many non-painful explanations for the initial withdrawal that you can. Maybe one of them will be true; many of them will be possible. It might help you to let go.
I once explained myself in a situation like this. It backfired on me badly and offended exfriend badly. Would not recommend from the point of view of the person who wants to terminate the friendship, and I don’t think it was kind to exfriend either.
I’m not suggesting the former friend explain himself; I’m suggesting LW tries to imagine that there may have been reasons why he didn’t. It’s about LW making mental space for the possibility that the former friend didn’t wrong him as badly as he thought so he can let go of his anger. Lots of people are telling LW he’s in the wrong here, which is fine, but he wrote in for help and this is a technique that might make following all the ‘let it go’ advice easier for him. 🙂
Ice and Indigo– This is a fantastic list. It’s worth saving from the point of view of explaining the unexplainable and from the writing a novel point of view.
Perhaps my defining experience with closure might be helpful.
Years ago, I had a long term relationship come to a particularly painful end. While I didn’t actually *pursue* closure the way the recent LW’s have, in some form I still desired it. This wasn’t because I necessarily wanted the relationship back. In fact it was awful for me and crossed into abusive territory quite often. What made me want closure was that in the act of dumping me, in the moment it seemed to me as if my ex girlfriend had taken the keys of the vehicle of my self-concept and left it and me stranded on the roadside. Whether I wanted to rekindle or not, it was hard for me to see myself as a worthwhile partner unless I was somehow able to change *her* mind specifically. What I needed to learn was that I didn’t need *her* in order to do that. I could assess and decide for myself what kind of partner I truly was and could be. I had my own keys all along and could swap them out for new ones if I so chose. The longer I fixated on her, the longer I remained feeling stranded, stagnant and unfulfilled.
LW I’m guessing the amount of time you’ve been dwelling on this has probably had some reverb on the rest of your life. Asses your mistakes and don’t repeat the ones you find. Assess the good things you brought to that friendship and use them. *Elsewhere.*
Thank you for this. It helps me have a better understanding of some of the people in my life/past.
Somebody recently sent me a link to a fascinating blog by an anthropologist who has taken to studying the forums for people estranged from their adult children “for no reason at all”. It makes for somewhat depressing, but illuminating reading. Perhaps LW has been given reasons, over and over, and has chosen to dismiss them, as many of these estranged parents have.
Dear god. O_O
It’s like MRA garbage but for abusive parents.
I need a shower.
The interesting bit is the demographics – described as mostly female, but with the few males much more extreme and unbalanced than their female counterparts.
Every couple of months this link pops up, and I read the whole thing start to finish. It’s such a stark reminder that unlike what pop culture tells us, sometimes there’s no resolution, no catharsis, and the kindest thing you can do for all parties involved is to just let a thread dangle unresolved and move on no matter how much it itches. Sometimes lose-lose is the only resolution there is. It’s not like I’m unsympathetic to LWs very genuine hurt, but after so many years and so many angry dead ends and emotional cul-de-sacs, hurting over this situation is a choice, not something that’s done to him.
On that note, I do feel your pain, LW. A few years ago I was told something very similar, coincidentally also by a compassionate and no-nonsense online advice person; that I was miserable over something *by choice*. It was genuinely devastating to hear. It hurt a lot, but the hurt wasn’t all this person gave me, even if it seemed that way at the time. It was just the ugly wrapper around the wonderful gift of Moving The Hell On Already. Your former friend isn’t hoarding your closure and keeping it from you. Closure is a gift you give yourself, and it seems like it’s a kindness that’s long overdue.
This is a fascinating (if horrifying) resource that I’m going to take some time to read; I’ve had to cut off contact with one parent and one sibling. Thanks a ton for linking to this.
I love this website so much, and it’s provided a lot of help and support to many people.
I’ve lost a lot of friends over the years. Sometimes the reason is obvious and sometimes it’s not. But every single one of those losses left me feeling shaken. I spend so much time pouring over my own actions, looking for the thing that I did that was wrong, trying to decide if I had just done one thing differently, would we still be friends?
Interestingly, you don’t seem to be shaken in the same way. And I think that alone may tell you something about why this friendship ended.
You are angry, you feel owed, you feel like you haven’t been given the explanation you deserve.
But what you don’t seem to feel is responsible. You aren’t looking at your own actions critically. You’ve been badgering this guy for 14 years for an explanation, when the explanation lies in your own behavior and attitude toward him.
Over the years, with everyone one of my friendships that I’ve lost, I’ve come to realize that it was inevitable. Inevitably I was going to disappoint these people in some way, sometimes I was a real jerk, and sometimes, i just wasn’t as nice and accommodating as they expected me to be. Ultimately, we didn’t bring out the best in each other, and it’s better for us to not be friends anymore.
Try to be honest with yourself about your behavior, and your attitude, and how those things might be holding you back both in regards to your friendship and regards to your job. It’s not too late to achieve success you want, and to make a new friend who will last you the rest of your life. But if you don’t learn from this experience then it might be.
LW, I’ve been friend dumped before (and have the unsent, rant-y letter to the Captain in my email drafts to prove it). It really does suck and it is infuriating to not know WHY because if you could ONLY KNOW WHY, you would have INSTANT CLOSURE. This is a myth, and the Captain’s advice to act like they’re dead is spot on.
Another thing that has been helpful to me has been the decision to reframe the situation in my mind. For me, I could still be telling the story of ‘Friend ghosted me without explanation and this will haunt me forever because what could I have done to fix it?’ But instead I’m trying out the story of ‘Friend ghosted me for reasons that are her own and cannot be changed. I don’t want to be friends with someone who thinks it’s ok to treat me like this, so it worked out for the best. I will probably never see or talk to them again, and that’s ok.’
The hardest part for me (and I suspect for you too) is reconciling all the great memories with the person then with your bad feelings of that person now. It’s a struggle, and a counselor can help you sort that out. Talk to them, vent to them, unpack all of this, and be open to their feedback. this mindset where you’re living is super toxic and you need to stop trying to contact your ex-friend immediately. He knows where to find you and can reach out to you if he wants to reconcile or explain. He hasn’t yet, and so he probably won’t. I’m sorry, but it’s time to put in the work of moving on. You’ll be much better and happier for it.
LW, this whole thing makes me wonder how you define friendship. Your definition doesn’t seem 100% voluntary to me. This feels more like patronage, a la the ancient Romans:
It seems like you feel that you performed your duties as a patron admirably, and are now outraged that your client has not fulfilled his obligations to you–except that he was not your client. He was your friend. He doesn’t owe you anything. Friends do things for one another *just because they’re friends*. Debts of gratitude are discharged by saying thank you. I’m also troubled that you expected him to provide emotional service in exchange for your patronage. You expected him to credit you with all his successes, to be emotionally vulnerable on demand, and to share the details of his intimate relationships. Here’s the question: why was this service important to you? Just as an exercise, try imagining what that conversation would have been like. Really think it out–what does he say, and what do you say? What’s the resolution? My guess is that your imagined conversation ends with you giving advice, him taking the advice, and that solving the problem. If so, you were definitely patronizing him. You were using his perceived inadequacies to feel like the strong, competent one. Honestly, I would not share personal details with someone like that, either. Finally, a word to the wise: your wife? Owes you nothing. Your son *owes you nothing*. Whatever you have done for them in your capacity as a husband and a father were done *as a husband and a father*, not as a patron who expects to be repaid. Learn from the mistakes you made with your friend, and take the lesson to heart.
LW, I have struggled for many years with both maintaining friendships (I’m on the spectrum.) and a desire to be appreciated and loved by others, so I do feel your pain. However, I also see Captain’s points. Through reading a book that I bought at my church’s bookstore, I learned some things from that book that could apply to both situations, in practical, non-religious ways:
A.) Try not to focus on what you are owed, but view everything you get as a gift.- LW, you say that you have been married for over 20 years. Awesome! You have a precious son. Great! So, treasure them as the gifts they are, instead of focusing on your long-gone friend who didn’t appreciate you. By the way, I could resent the fact that you are married and have a child, as I have neither a spouse or a child. (For the record, I absolutely don’t resent you, and am happy for you!) But instead I focus on the fact that I am working full-time at a job that I love and have many people in my life that love me.
B) Let go and forgive. (OK, so this wasn’t in the book, exactly, but this is also something I have learned from my life experiences). –I have also struggled with anger and bitterness at others, and sometimes have even had revenge fantasies playing out in my mind. However, during the past two years or so, I have learned to let go and forgive. I learned that when I am angry at others and have resentment towards them, that I think that by holding anger and hurt against them, that I am in effect punishing them. However, I realized that the people that hurt me either don’t care or are oblivious to how much they hurt me, even with me holding anger against them. Moreover, your anger also hurts people that have NOTHING to do with your friend or past painful incidents. So, I advise you…let go of your anger and desire for appreciation and explanation…for YOUR sake and those around you.
C.) When you believe that you need appreciation, praise, or attention from others, you become enslaved to their opinions.-Let me tell this to you in love, OK? –You really don’t need your former best friend or anything from him to be happy. Don’t let other people’s actions, including any family or this former friend of yours, deter you from loving others with your whole heart!
This reminds me of a long-ago breakup I had with my then-fiancee:
[Two hour, tearful, argument, during which I tell him how unhappy I am in this relationship]
ME: I have to break up with you
Maybe LW’s former friend just got tired of always being “the little brother” rather than an equal in the relationship, and saw that this dynamic was never going to change. Add to that the already-noted whiff of contempt and the insistence that his current success is all thanks to LW, and I can see why Former Friend is just…tired. Maybe LW made a point of bringing stuff up at social or work events, always casting Former Friend as bring indebted to LW. Maybe LW liked offering unsolicited advice about how to do things at work, or when personal issues popped up, and couldn’t let go of that role as Older and Wiser Superior at Work, Older and Wiser Brother at Home.
At some point, people want to feel good about what they have achieved in life, and someone lurking nearby always reminding them “I helped you get this job and that job,” or “I told you that you shouldn’t have done X, Y or Z” eventually gets fucking irritating. You can be grateful without groveling until the day you die.
“Maybe LW’s former friend… saw that this dynamic was never going to change.” Yes, that’s exactly what I thought. Being subtly treated as a “younger brother” by one person can actually catch on with the rest of the group– others in your family, friend circle, or at work, notice you’ve been dealt a submissive role and then it’s open season. It could have been a huge liability for LW’s friend at that point in his adult professional life. It also just hurts to be treated that way, even if only by one person. I’ve been struggling a bit with this. I recently moved to another country and am often in a position where the native friend/acquaintance plays a teacher role. But then when the situation changes and I am actually the expert about something (or simply on equal footing), they won’t let go of the dynamic. It’s a terrible feeling to realize, “oh– you’ll never see us as equals. wow.”
Exactly! I’m on year 2 of going Extreme Low Contact with my mother because she is abusive in ways that are frequently and infuriatingly context-dependent and thus hard to explain (as normal parent-child relationships might have similar interactions going on without any abuse component to them). She’s horrible to me one-on-one, with a big dose of gaslighting and belittling, but brags on me to her friends if we run into some. This is often the only time I hear something nice about some aspect of myself. She infantilizes and does not keep her word, while also accusing me of things I haven’t done, and it is exhausting. I’m stuck in this role of a bratty 12-year-old when I was not particularly bratty at that age and was a pretty easy and agreeable teenager who got into no trouble, too.
This is my mom and how she is, and I love her, but there is no amount of explanation that will correct the abusive behavior because she doesn’t see it as abusive (even if other people do pick up on things sometimes, they generally have dealt with narcissists before and know the patterns of behavior). Previous attempts to explain or moderate boundary-stomping behaviors (e.g., not calling before just showing up and unlocking the front door of the house I’m staying in, often very early on a weekend, and then yelling loudly until I stop what I am doing to give her my full and rapt attention; see also: just expecting me or my brother to do time-, labor-, and aggravation-intensive work at the last minute with little notice, or nominating me to help someone else without asking me first).
So, yeah, maybe there’s some blindspot issue going on. Eventually you have to choose yourself when someone else keeps aggravating you and stomping on your boundaries and making demands of you. Sounds like LW’s old friend finally decided to choose himself, and knows that no amount of explaining is going to get through.
LW, I want to pick something out.
“He claimed he was just very busy and had some problems at home which he would not elaborate on, and he reiterated that it had nothing to do with me. This only made things worse for me, as we had always been open with each other about our problems and now he was holding things back.”
…and that’s the point where I flinched, because that was the point where you could have steered things in a different direction. But you had some problems managing your feelings, and, well, that didn’t end well.
Here’s the thing, LW. Friendships can blow hot and cold, even close ones, for reasons that may or may not have to do with the friendship itself. If it blows cold when you don’t want it to, that sucks. But the only way to manage it constructively is for the conversation to go like this:
A: Hey, feel like I haven’t got to see you much lately. Is there anything wrong?
B: No. I mean, I’m busy, and some problems at home, but it’s nothing to do with you.
A: Okay. Well, I’m here if you need me, and I’d love to hang out when you’ve got time, but I don’t want to add extra pressure. Just let me know when you’re free.
…And then you wait. If the friendship is going to warm up again, it will.
Now, it’s not fun to be A. But if B is telling the truth, that’s a really helpful response: it tells them that A is their friend unconditionally. And if they’re telling a polite like because A has actually been getting on their nerves, then A’s just done the best thing to fix that: indicating that if asked, they are capable of putting their friend’s wishes ahead of their own. That puts whatever annoying thing they’ve been doing in a positive context.
I’m sorry to say this, but I think it’s way too late to fix this with B. But what you can do is take a life lesson here, and if you run into a similar situation in future, take a deep breath and try it.
It sounds to me, LW, like you have some issues with what psychologists call ‘distress tolerance’. I’m not diagnosing you or anything, it’s just a working term for a skill everyone has to a greater or lesser degree, but it could be helpful to look into it. The basic idea is that everyone sometimes feels emotional pain or discomfort, but that some people are more willing or able to ride it out, while others are more likely to panic because they just can’t stand feeling that way. It’s partly about how much distress you’re in, and partly to do with how high your threshold is for distress tolerance. The latter is something you have more control over.
I’m not saying this to insult you, LW – everyone has their issues – but it sounds to me like your distress tolerance skills could do with some building up. Your friend’s actions caused you some distress 14 years ago, you found it impossible to ride that distress and see if patience would pay off, and you’ve been unable to let go of that distress ever since. Realistically, nothing your former friend is likely to do will make you feel better, so what you’ve got is a bundle of distress that you’re finding it hard to handle, and because you feel it’s intolerable, you’re pressuring other people to help you get rid of it.
Sorry, LW, but that distress is yours, and you’ve got to work out how to manage it. I really think this is one for a therapist, because if you do have trouble tolerating distress, that’s likely to cause problems in other areas of your life as well – and that’s only going to cause you more distress in the end.
I know a lot of people have spoken to you harshly, but I’m not trying to have a go at you. Your friend withdrew, and that’s something that’d hurt anyone’s feelings or make them worry a bit – but how you reacted to that made the situation worse, and it’s not making your life better now. For your own sake, if no one else’s, I suggest you look up the concept of distress tolerance and see if you can build yours up. It could do a lot to keep your current relationships positive.
Dude, it’s over. Let it go. And LEAVE HIM ALONE, FFS.
You could try a different angle on “life is too short.” Life is too short for grudges, on either side, yes.
Life is also too short to throw away the present and future by fixating on things that went wrong in the past.
If you take that approach, it’s still worth talking to a counselor or therapist, but you’d be looking for tools to live in the present. You can’t change the past–you can’t, a therapist can’t, your childhood friend can’t, the Captain can’t.
Try this change: your goal isn’t to have a satisfactory answer to “why did he stop wanting to talk to me?” Your goal is to be happy (or happier), and to be a good friend to the people you know now or meet in the future, a good husband to your wife, a good father to your son. You may also have all sorts of other goals–career goals, improving the world, or completing a marathon or winning a Scrabble tournament or growing the biggest pumpkin at the state fair.
You might also want to go over to Ask A Manager and read some of what Alison has to say about soft skills, if you aren’t familiar with that approach. (If you’re here at Captain Awkward, there’s a nontrivial chance you’re not good at those–many of us aren’t.)
When I got to the, “Life is too short,” part, I thought it was going to say something like, “So I decided to humbly apologize for my workplace harassment and inappropriate behavior,” not, “So I’m going to demand this person attempt to justify themselves to me while I chastise them for being WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG.”
I feel bad for the LW in this scenario, I’ve been through my own close friendship breakup and it was one of the most painful times of my life. While I didn’t continue to contact my ex-friend, I did ask about her to mutual friends and keep an eye on her social media. All the time that I continued to do that, it kept hurting. It was only after I stopped all contact (with the support of my therapist) that I began to feel better. It took years, and I still sometimes feel very sad about it.
At first I felt, like some other commenters, that the response was a little harsh. But then I imagined what the letter would be like if it was written by the ex friend. We would recognise this as very scary, threatening and boundary trampling behaviour, and we would advise that person to be safe and to protect themselves from it in any way possible, primarily by keeping distance and boundaries in place.
LW, there is no reason that my friend could give me for ending our friendship that would have made me feel okay about it, because I loved her so much and It was so painful that she didn’t want anything to do with me. I suspect that the same is true for you and your friend. I just hope that you can find a way to deal with this that doesn’t involve your ex-friend in any way.
So…sometime last year I ended a long friendship in what I now recognize was a needlessly abrupt and hurtful way. But it seemed necessary to me at the time, because a) I was worried that trying to raise the issue would lead to the other person trying to argue me out of it, and b) this person had a history of poor boundaries and was very insistent about calling me their best friend when we’d spoken only rarely and superficially for a couple of years at that point (at the time our most recent conversation, and the only one for about six months, had been me asking them not to give my phone number out to people without asking me). These things, and some others that aren’t important, made me wary of leaving an opening for misunderstanding, and then I took that wariness way too far.
But I haven’t reached out to apologize, or to explain, because even if it was handled badly, I still don’t actually want to be this person’s friend. That attempt to give them closure would be…what? “I still don’t really like you anymore or want you in my life, but I feel bad about the way I communicated that before, sorry.” Would that help them? Would it make anything better? It might make me feel better but that’s not a good reason to do it. I just have to do better in the future.
You say you want an explanation, and it seems like you also want an apology, and for things to go back to the way they were. Those last two things are not likely to happen; do you really want the explanation without them? Do you really want your former friend to call you and say, “Hi, I don’t want to be friends or talk to you ever again, and here’s why”?
Even if you had your explanation it wouldn’t fix anything, because these events already happened. It would just give you more things to be upset about, and possibly more fuel for you to paint your former friend as a terrible person. And you still won’t have what you want. I’m coming from the wrong side to be saying this, I guess, but you know…I would have liked to be able to keep that friendship, and I didn’t because I knew my friend wouldn’t allow me to just pull back to being casual friends. It was all or nothing, and I didn’t want either of those, and in the end I had to choose nothing for the sake of my own well-being. That ending hurt me too, if in a different way. (But I wouldn’t tell them that, of course.)
I don’t know, just, looking for closure is mostly a way of raging against things that can’t be changed. It would be better for you in the long term to accept it, I think.
This is exactly why “making amends” is so problematic. It’s too often for the benefit of the guilty party and *at best* does nothing for the injured person.
“You say you want an explanation, and it seems like you also want an apology, and for things to go back to the way they were. Those last two things are not likely to happen; do you really want the explanation without them? Do you really want your former friend to call you and say, “Hi, I don’t want to be friends or talk to you ever again, and here’s why”?”
Nice breakdown. Can I steal this bit?
With citations of course. 🙂
He has managed to avoid facing me like an adult about this for 14 years.
This comment really struck me because of the math.
You met when you were 9 and he was younger. Friendship lasted 25 years, until you were 34. It’s been 14 years, so you’re 48.
Eleven or so years of that friendship you were a kid or teen or in college, assuming you got through college in four years, so maybe 14 years of friendship since you left college. And it started to go sour when you were pushing 30 and he was late 20s? Right about the time a lot of people start settling into how to adult. And you still treated him like you’re his patron. He outgrew you, and you pitched a middle school level fit, proving him correct.
Your former friend hasn’t faced you like an adult because he adulted and you didn’t.
The friendship has been over as long as you’ve been out of college, and you’re still obsessing on it. Time to adult up, dude.
I again asked him to tell me what the problem was. He claimed he was just very busy and had some problems at home which he would not elaborate on, and he reiterated that it had nothing to do with me. This only made things worse for me, as we had always been open with each other about our problems and now he was holding things back.
To be frank, this is probably where you started building the friendship’s coffin.
How dare your friend “hold back” things that were none of your damn business. Who does he think he is, to refuse to bare his soul to you, didn’t he understand he *owed* you? How hard for *you*, that he – of all people! – was keeping secrets from you! From you! Didn’t he appreciate that because of all you’d done for him you are entitled to know every detail of his life, regardless of how painful, private, embarrassing, emotional, dangerous, how none of your damn business it might be? The real victim of his going through something so difficult he couldn’t talk about it is you, you poor dear, because he wouldn’t be “open” with you.
I strongly suspect that inviting me out to lunch that day was a cruel vengeful tactic on his part- just to make me think we were cool, and then cut me off again.
Seriously? What part of your securities firm on Wall Street did you think was the middle school playground? No wonder he cut you off.
I accused him of this a year later and not surprisingly he denied it.
WTactualF? You “accused” him a year fuckinglater?! That went straight past nails in the coffin to throwing it into the crematorium.
I’d bet good money that the reason he’s never “explained” anything to you is he’s afraid you’re completely irrational and vindictive and if he tells you what’s wrong with you, you’d actively seek to damage his career or go off the rails and damage your own.
I’m also willing to bet that your obsessing over him and his advancement in his career is part of why you haven’t advanced as far in yours. You’ve spent too much energy focussing on the wrong part of your careers.
For your sake, get professional help to figure out where you went wrong and how to not sabotage relationships. There’s gotta be spill-over into other parts of your life, and the last thing you need is to drive away anyone else.
Good luck, LW. I hope you can find peace.
I had a friend who got really upset with me when she found out I hadn’t told her about a particular episode of mental breakdown, which to be fair, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to talk about it. But then she thought (and expressed with words) about how I had lied to her instead of telling her. I mentioned I didn’t want to talk about it, but she still felt like I owed it to her.
Needless to say, she’s my ex-friend now.
There’s also the possiblity that it wasn’t the friend’s story to tell. Could be that someone in his family had something horrible going on – cancer, arrest, victim of violence, could be anything – and had asked him to not tell anyone, or friend quite rightly decided it wasn’t his place to tell anyone.
I love this whole response, but I gotta say that I howled at “That went straight past nails in the coffin to throwing it into the crematorium.” 😆
As lots of other commenters have pointed out, if you keep trampling all over the boundaries of your friends, eventually they’re going to un-friened you, and the reason they “won’t tell you why” is that they’re expecting an extra double serve of boundary violation if they do.
I recently dumped a friend of 28 years. We’d met in high school, volunteered in the same organisation and had been flatmates for a few years while at uni, kept each other updated on major life events and he’d helped me out a few times in his professional capacity. He was probably one of the best friends I ever had and I always thought he was a shining example that male-female platonic friendships really can work (he was keen on me, knew it wasn’t reciprocated, and had never, ever pushed that boundary).
BUT … last year I finally told him that during the time we were flatmates, a mutual friend of ours had raped me. The initial disclosure kind of slipped out in a moment of stress, and I followed up with an email saying that I wasn’t ready to talk about it face to face with him yet and that I’d tell him when I was, but I did give him a few details of when and where, and how it had affected me in the years since then – enough to satisfy any immediate “need to know”.
And did he respect that desire not to talk? Well, not really. He sent back a reply saying that he had something to tell me which would ‘put it in context’, and put that information in an attachment to the email, saying I could read it when I felt ready. Now, you know that moment in horror movies when a package gets delivered, and the entire audience is shouting “don’t open it!!!” because you just know it’s going to contain a severed body part, but the hero goes ahead and opens it anyway? Well, I opened the box, and sure enough it had a severed head in it. He told me that he had been sleeping with the guy’s wife AND her sister during this period, and that maybe the guy had found out and it was a revenge thing (which added a whole new layer of ick, because what the hell was his perception of our friendship that he would think that my being raped would somehow punish HIM???).
I was very angry at the email. I didn’t give a shit who he’d slept with 30 years ago, but he was definitely violating the whole Ring Theory of ‘comfort in, dump out’. Sure, I *could* have educated him all about that concept and sent him a link to the article etc, but at that point it was soooo not my job. Instead I just asked him how the f**k could he think that raising the possibility of revenge rape could possibly help me, and told him that I was blocking his phone number and email and to leave me alone.
And did he respect that SECOND request to give me some space? To just wait it out and allow me to cool down and maybe contact him in my own time? Well, no. About a week later I got a big fat envelope in the mail, which by the size of it probably contained an apology followed by a five page justification of his actions. I don’t actually know, because I wrote a note on it saying “what part of ‘leave me alone’ do you not understand?” and put the whole thing in a bigger envelope and mailed it back to him.
I’m sure he’s extremely upset that I didn’t give a chance to explain or apologise and that I was prepared to end our friendship over what probably seems to him like one small misjudgement. The answer to “why” is that in the 30 years since that rape I’ve finally made the word NO into a hard boundary, and he had just demonstrated several times over that he wasn’t prepared to accept that no. Game over. Bye.
Hey, I’m so sorry he did that to you. I hope you’re getting a lot of support and love from other sources.
Yes, thank you 🙂
So, you told him you’d been raped, and he proceeded to make it all about him. Wow.
Game so, so over.
Jedi hugs to you.
Yep, it was super-insensitive move. I guess my point in sharing my story is to say that you really, really don’t know what is going on in other people’s lives. You need to treat “I’m dealing with some difficult/personal stuff” at face value and not as a personal insult or one step up from ghosting, and if you are going to make the amount of time or secrets shared into a test of friendship, you need to be prepared for the other person to say that okay, then, by that standard our friendship isn’t working and we’re done here.
This is a horrifying story and I’m so sorry, but this:
>>I wrote a note on it saying “what part of ‘leave me alone’ do you not understand?” and put the whole thing in a bigger envelope and mailed it back to him.
is absolutely A+++ boundary-having & I am in awe.
realised I miscalculated with the dates, which makes the timeline seem weird – it was a 38-year friendship, not 28.
This bit: “I strongly suspect that inviting me out to lunch that day was a cruel vengeful tactic on his part- just to make me think we were cool, and then cut me off again. I accused him of this a year later and not surprisingly he denied it.”
That would be enough to get me backing far, far away. That’s a pretty unhinged paranoid fantasy. I would not want someone in my life who makes up that kind of twisted fantasy about me. If they’re willing to go that far, and to something that bizarre, to make up reasons to be angry at me, what else might they do? What might they decide is justified?
“But things began to get more serious and eventually we had a huge fight. We both went too far and I felt bad about it.”
I suspect this is a piece of the same mindset, and that what LW is thinking of as, “We both said a lot of things that were wrong / not true / meant to be hurtful,” was really a case of LW doing that, while the friend was only saying things that were true and explaining, albeit angrily, what was wrong. I’ve run into people before who do that (fight dirty / lie and assume anything the other person says is also just fighting dirty / lying), and the only thing to do is get far, far away, because not only do they make up nasty things to say to you, they believe you verbally abuse them and they have a right to verbally abuse you “back”.
I agree with you here. This guy reminds me of the guy who just will not accept “no” for an answer.
This is why I suspect Friend has gone no contact. Friend could expect anything Friend said to be twisted and used against him. Friend probably didn’t want to give LW any more “ammo” to screw him over, given they work at the same company.
I dropped a friend for good this summer (we’d been low doses/long distance for awhile, for Reasons) because I found out they’d been nursing a serious grudge for ~10 years… because of an unhinged paranoid fantasy of theirs that was astonishing.
Apparently, I am secretly a master criminal who can commit blatant and obvious felonies, of a type that would be both absurd & nearly impossible with my particular set of disabilities, and that I do not try to cover up at all, but instead make even more obvious by leaving behind incontrovertible proof of my crimes in writing, evidence that NOBODY could miss, all while being monitored & gone over with a fine tooth come by those whose business it actually is to look for and prevent exactly these sorts of crimes.
We have a Toxic Person In Common, and I’m told my crimes are motivated by my deep hatred of & desire for vengeance against Toxic Person- someone I have been completely NC with for YEARS and only care about if they try to come back into my life and who would have been unaffected anyway had any crime actually been committed.
And it’s not committing crime in itself that makes me awful, but that my selfish acts of petty revenge have “robbed” ex friends minor child (so really, ex friend) of financial benefits they would have for sure (spoiler alert: uh uh, 100% incorrect) gotten had my greed/pettiness not interfered.
THEN I got told I’m a narcissist who cares about no one but myself and nothing but money 😆🤣😂
Yes, they are now permanently blocked/NC.
LW, you don’t say that he didn’t give you an explanation; you say he didn’t give you a valid explanation. I think that’s really telling. It’s actually not up to you to validate or invalidate his reasons.
“It’s actually not up to you to validate or invalidate his reasons.”
So much this. Many people will argue whatever your* explanation is as if you* need to validate it.
*General you/your/you’re etc…
He declined through her- stating that he does not want to “re-hash” everything. The problem is he never gave a valid explanation in the first place.
It’s clear that Friend has explained himself. The problem is LW refuses to believe Friend.
At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before LW ends up on an estranged parents forum complaining about his son.
Poor devil. I feel sorry for LW, but having someone like LW in my own life, that’s as much as I can allow him.
At most, in your own head or talking to other people (your therapist, your wife if she’s not sick of the subject, friends who don’t know this guy) you can tell the story as “this guy stopped speaking to me for a really stupid reason. and I’m still angry that he didn’t try to fix things.” or “he said he was too busy, and then just walked away from a long friendship. There’s gotta be something else going on, and it bugs me that I’ll never know why.” But he did walk away, which means that you need to process that anger without him. Almost by definition, if you’re angry at someone because it feels like they abandoned you, you’re going to need to handle that anger without them.
After fourteen years, you’re not going to get a better answer. Maybe the real reason is “he was replaced by an alien pod person, who was afraid I’d be able to identify him as an impostor” or “some trouble-maker claimed that I was a Chinese spy, and that if I was confronted he’d be dragged off to a secret prison, and he decided to believe that rather than dismissing it as a paranoid fantasy.” But if it’s something like that, you’ll never know: the best you can do is to file it as “my old friend walked away from our friendship, and won’t even tell me why, and that sucks.”
Just want to say, this was a very relatable letter, OP. Not to the same degree- I am too young. But I relate still. And I when I was (am) trying to get over a close friendship, a different response by Captain Awkward here (which was similar to the response you got), really helped me. I think it’s good advice. You don’t understand why, all you know is, it really really hurts that your closet friend dumped you (like mine did). But they’re not coming back and no amount of bargaining or getting an explanation so that you can hammer it out is going to work (I tried too).
LW, after you have considered all the feedback people have already given you, and thought about how you can use that new insight to better navigate your relationships in a way that’s healthy for you and the other person, I suggest that you take all the energy you’re putting into thinking about your friend, and use it to concentrate on developing other productive and rewarding relationships. Is part of the reason that you’re so upset because there’s a friend gap in your life? Focus on building some positive friendship feelings instead. Stop thinking about closure. Closure is a myth that shackles you to the past.
“He has managed to avoid facing me like an adult about this for 14 years.”
Fourteen years? Fourteen? And you are still hanging on to this? CA is quite right that nothing he says will make you happy and you would probably argue him into the ground. The most important thing I think is for you to get professional help. I’m not being sarcastic. If you can’t let this go after almost a decade and a half, you need more help than you are likely to find on the internet.
I can’t be the first person to notice that this is almost line for line the plot of the song “Don’t You Want Me.” https://youtu.be/DDKsk9oTOPc
i kept frowning as i read the letter, like *holy boundary-crossing, batman* but also like *is…. is this even real tho?* because…. how can you be aware of captain awkward & not absolutely certain what answer you’d get to a letter like this before even sending it? it doesn’t make any sense. it’s not like the answer is suddenly going to be *everything i ever said about boundaries in response to all those other letters magically doesn’t apply to you, fair letter writer.*
I’m relieved that I’m not the only one who wondered if this was phony, and specifically for those reasons. How can you know enough about CA to write her and yet not know what the answer is going to be?
LW seems like an “estranged parents forum” type person, so maybe he felt prior advice didn’t apply to him, or he didn’t read the archives? Maybe someone who was sick of listening to LW rant about Exfriend told him, “you should write Captain Awkward, she’s great about what to do when a relationship ends,” knowing the Captain would tell LW to knock it off.
I think sometimes people have a kind of blindness when it comes to themselves. They can identify problem behaviours in the abstract, but do not see them at all when it comes to themselves.
I mean, the LW actually criticised his former friend for ‘not facing him like an adult’. Those are not the words of someone who is ready to admit even to themselves that they have spent decades acting in an almost unbelievably immature way.
This reads genuine to me. I know that tone well. It’s the voice of entitlement, the one they think they’re born, the one they use when they refuse to hear our “no”, when they stalk & harass is, when they trample on our boundaries every day, and just who do we think we are to deny them their natural rights?
I’ve been stalked for decades by an abusive ex who (I hear) thinks that the reason I am NC is because I “am still mad at him” – !!! – when it’s simply because I told him to leave me alone and he would.not.DO.IT.
Geez Louise! 😖
The ‘big brother/little brother’ dynamic, the length of time LW is still feeling about it combined with – yeah, “but his reason wasn’t valid so I want a real one” plus stalking (Don’t send one-sided correspondence for three years and then try to contact them via a relative :|) is making me wonder if the friendship was abusive to begin with. I had a ‘power dynamic’ friend and its’ pretty soured my idea of “this kid ‘looks after’ this disabled kid in a playground sense” because what she got out of it was that if I didn’t do things to her expectations I was being immature and needed to be chewed out over inane shit like petting a dog. (Seriously I stopped to pet a dog instead of just…going straight to either of our houses on a walk together? And she had a rant at me. There was no time crunch to get anywhere I just wanted to veer off-course for a bit and pet a friggin’ dog)
Spoilers: I doubt she found my reason for cutting contact valid either, thankfully she just disappeared after trying to drop a gift off once (Had blocked her previously, did not want to see her on Christmas but the parents are enablers so I heard her narcissist noises and lack of apology from upstairs). It honestly sounds like OPs’ friendship was never good but abusive friendships can be harder to identify, especially if the dynamics started as children or later on.
On the flipside, I had a friend slowfade via not sending me message correspondence for months. Considered them a best friend and we had conversation together in the past about not liking ghosting, it sucks and I would like to sort it out but the thing is if they’re gone that’s it. The time to fix a relationship issue is not after the person has left so whatever concrit you can gain from their reasons why is kind of pointless (I’d argue with severe stuff like “don’t be so controlling” it puts the deliverer post-exit in danger and the receiver is unlikely to agree anyway, see: issendai link above). Could be my fault because maybe the “send messages to offline person in the meantime yapping about how stuff is going” that was alright with them before suddenly wasn’t okay and felt smothering since they were away months instead of weeks, maybe I vented too much in that interim about shit they considered pointless when they have enough to deal with, maybe its’ on them for not managing their “need a break from people” anxiety until the weeks away extended into months and…well, they did bail on someone in a similar manner before so its’ not unprecedented for them to up and vanish. The fault could lie in the middle but regardless: we’re over and we’re not compatible as people anymore. What they do to sate their anxiety (avoid people for huge stretches of time without any notice) aggravates mine and leaves me feeling bitter. I’m honestly annoyed at her and OP, you sound pretty angry and annoyed with him so why do you even want to be friends? You don’t like him, you don’t consider his reason he gave you valid so what’s the point? Why would you want to correspond with someone you think is wrong?
LW, please leave him alone. 14 years is a long time to still be worrying about whether this guy is fixated on you or going to keep messaging you via proxies or not. Stop hurting him and let him go.
It’s maybe worth considering that if someone ends a relationship and it comes as a total shock and you truly have no idea why, that in itself might be a clue that the relationship wasn’t working well. It suggests pretty strongly that at the very least, you weren’t communicating well and had very different impressions of what the relationship was. You had no idea how your friend actually felt about your relationship. Maybe it would help you rewrite your narrative of what happened in a more helpful way if you can actually consider your confusion and shock as actual evidence of what was going on – “It turned out I didn’t know him or understand our friendship as well as I thought I did, and we hadn’t been communicating for a long time.”
I confess I had a friend bring a relationship to a shocking end. We weren’t as close as we had been – for a few years a project had us getting together every week – but we still moved in the same circles and encountered each other fairly regularly, always friendly. The only thing close to a disagreement between us was when I’d said something moderately favorable about a politician and she came this close to yelling at me about how horrible he was. I was totally shocked by her vehemence, especially since I thought we shared political opinions, but just made a note to myself, don’t mention X to her.
Then the next time I saw her at an event, she snapped “I hate your hair!” (new style), turned on her heel, and walked away.
Since then, she’s literally turned and walked away every time she sees me, and her husband mumbles uncomfortably and hustles away.
I wracked my brain trying to figure out what I could have possibly done, but nothing. I’d never said anything negative about her – nothing negative to say until this happened – and still the only negative thing I could say is she turned against me and I have no idea why. There is a tangential relationship between the hair style and the politician, but I asked some people who would have seen it if that connection is what set her off, and they said no.
I was terribly upset for weeks, lying awake in bed worrying that I’d done something dreadful without being aware of it. When I couldn’t find even a thread to start to unravel the mystery after beating myself up for a couple months, I gave up. My conscience is clear, so if she’s going to almost literally spit on a years long friendship without explanation, or because I like a politician she doesn’t and she doesn’t like my hair, I can let her go in peace, because obviously we’d never been the friends I’d thought we were.
But TBH, after all these years I’m still curious as hell. WTF, “I hate your hair!”? One of the most WTF moments of my life.
Like Brenna, I read the LW’s feelings as being colored by years of upset and confusion. I don’t think anybody here is saying that LW did the right thing. I doubt even LW thinks he did well, but LW, your job now is to figure out what else you could have done. What seems to me to be most obviously missing in your letter is a statement of what you wish you’d done instead. You didn’t have to do that.
First off, I’d recommend the book Attached, especially the section on anxious attachment subtitled, “You’re Only As Troubled As The Relationship You’re In”. This problem looks to me like a classic anxious/avoidant death spiral and I’m surprised nobody else has brought that up. LW, if you have an anxious streak when it comes to close relationships like this — and it sure looks like you do — you’d be well-served to learn to cut off avoidants. (Anybody would, anxious or not, but fully secure people tend to dump the avoidantly attached with ease and alacrity, and other avoidants tend not to get all that attached in the first place.) It can be tough to feel like you have permission to do that, because in a society that valorizes self-reliance and keeping one’s mouth shut about feelings, avoidants specialize in looking very reasonable. But nah, some drama queens are ice queens.
LW, you need a plan. Getting close to people like that will set you up to become frenzied and miserable and desperate, and you will wind up losing your dignity and acting against your better nature unless you get a plan. Learn from this otherwise unsalvageable dumpster fire and recognize that the problem isn’t about not knowing what was going on. It never was. The problem was that you felt devalued, used, and rejected by someone you thought of as a brother, and then you utterly lost your shit and behaved extraordinarily badly because of those feelings. Feelings of being devalued will happen again, because that’s life. What are you going to do with that?
My first advice is, “get a therapist”. My next advice is much like everybody else’s but with an extra double dose of “fuck that guy”:
i. The first time a friend or acquaintance pulls what looks like a serious avoidance maneuver, give him a lot of space. You might ask once if something is wrong, sure, but if you don’t get a satisfying answer, drop it and back away. Wait compassionately. Odds are pretty good he’ll come back and with luck you may be able to gently express that your feelings were hurt. Your right attitude here is, “I do not need to be actively close to this person all the time, and I can cut him this one break.”
ii. The second time, give him all the space he can eat. Put him out of your mind. Do not ask if anything is wrong, do not pre-emptively apologize for whatever you might have done, do not leave notes, do not coddle him in any way. Do not do. Put your energies elsewhere and let him fully experience the consequences of getting what he’s demanding. Friendship repair is on him, not you; maybe he’ll do it, maybe he won’t, not your problem. Now your attitude is a calm, “I do not need this person. I like him and wish him the best, but I don’t have a lot of trust in him right now.” If he comes back, be warier than you were the first time. You’re going to have a flood of feelings, but you’ll need some way to handle them without his input, because he hasn’t yet earned the right to hear them. You are too valuable to hand yourself over entirely just because you’re relieved that Mr. Unreliable is back. Don’t let relief force your trust.
iii. And the third time? Think of him as gone. If he tries to come back to you after a third obvious avoidance stunt, this is where I counsel that you start thinking, “I do not need this bullshit.” Getting pushed and pulled is a dumping offense. Any person who typically goes avoidant under stress is not good close-friend material for you, and that’s true no matter how much you love him, how long you’ve known him, or how much good you see in him. Anything you say about your feelings now will probably be used against you, so disengage without comment.
From now on, treat a friend who dismisses your feelings the same way that you’d treat someone who tells lies or flies into rages: we can all lose our balance once in a while and act in ways that aren’t fitting for the relationships we have, but if that’s somebody’s go-to, he needs to go work on himself without you. (Or he can fuck off. That works too. Whether he works on things is not your concern.) You may need some professional help with this. Help is available!
This guy probably has no idea why he’s the kind of guy who’d ice out his long-time best friend, and if he does have that insight, he’s not going to share it with you because that would be an act of direct, explicit emotional intimacy. That won’t be happening, and it’s not your job to degrade yourself by turning cartwheels trying to get him to do it. You can’t model intimate behavior to a distancer by soul-baring at him. They don’t like it. It doesn’t work.
I want to also bring up Esther Perel and what she has to say about the stresses of “stable ambiguity” in the course of validating that Ex-Friend’s behavior was frustrating and hurtful. Icing people out foreseeably makes them resentful. But alas, situations like that are not uncommon and you’ve got to learn to deal with them.
Finally, I’d like to mention the topic of “disenfranchised grief”, which is something that I think LW would do well to read about. LW, you’ve written a lot about how close you and Ex-Friend were, and I felt that you were trying to convince us that this relationship mattered. There can be cultural expectations that friendship is light and temporary, but family relationships are deep and meaningful. When you describes your relationship as brotherly, I hear you as saying, No, listen, this was a real thing and I had a real loss. Yes, LW, you did. I’m so sorry. He meant a lot to you and he’s gone. This is serious business, a hard loss, and it’s absolutely worth getting a therapist for.
Also, be better at threading than I am.
Your comment seems really judgemental and harsh on anyone you judge to be avoidant–“Anybody would [be well-served to learn to cut off avoidants], anxious or not, but fully secure people tend to dump the avoidantly attached with ease and alacrity, and other avoidants tend not to get all that attached in the first place” is a really harsh statement to make. Nobody should ever be friends or have relationships with people who are avoidant, but it’s totally fine for the LW (who you diagnose as anxious) to seek out relationships nevertheless?
That’s the psychological science as I understand it, Cat: avoidantly attached people are overrepresented in the dating pool because (a) securely attached people tend to dump or avoid them and (b) between two avoidantly attached people there’s nobody doing enough to make the relationship go. It’s anxious people who think that avoidants are good catches and get into stably miserable chase-avoid spirals with them. The writers of Attached take pains to point out that anxiously-attached individuals tend to do fine as long as they’re not with avoidants. Given, these studies are about romantic relationships, not close friendships, but I’m willing to extrapolate for the purpose of living well.
If a person declares major boundary changes in a way that fails to show that they continue to value that relationship, if they seem to disregard a friend’s emotional well-being, if they address their friend’s foreseeable unhappiness as if they were in a court of law, and if they do that enough to show that it’s an ongoing personal tendency, then their friend has excellent grounds for walking away. A boundary is a minimum distance, not a maximum distance.
A person can whip his boundaries this way and that as much as he pleases, but my boundary is that life’s too short to stick around for that. I’m not trying to play tit for tat. Friendships can ebb and flow, but I’ve got better things to do than hang out with someone who thinks that actually icing people out is unexceptionable behavior. If a miracle occurs such that everybody in the world agrees with me and also dumps Old Unreliable, that’s his problem.
Being within your rights does not mean being free of the possibility of consequences that you might find unpleasant. Every time you push a friend away, you risk that they will stay away. Why should that be so perfectly safe?
This reads like punishing people for setting boundaries.
I know. It sounds incredibly manipulative and controlling to me. People aren’t allowed to have personal boundaries or personal space? They need to be ‘taught a lesson’ if they won’t submit to a probing of their psyche every time they’re upset.
OTOH, having someone this controlling decide to cut you off for not sharing enough with them or for wanting occasional privacy sounds like a win-win situation.
No more so than breaking away from someone who’s exercising their right to free speech in ways you find hurtful, unsettling, frustrating, or otherwise unacceptable.
Just because someone’s within their rights to insist that a friendship take on a certain distance does not mean that you are morally obliged to continue your friendship with them at exactly whatever distance they’re now insisting on and no more. You always have the option of walking away from a friendship that doesn’t work for you.
“Put your energies elsewhere and let him fully experience the consequences of getting what he’s demanding. ”
Yeah, sounds punitive to me too.
Unless maybe I’m misreading what an “avoidance maneuver” is. I’m not sure if this refers to any and all taking of space including but not limited to a communicated need for it (ie “X happened and I need time alone to process that.”) or if we’re only talking about unannounced disappearances that can seem like they have punitive motives of their own.
To me the way you’re describing this sounds manipulativeand controlling. If someone shuts down in stress or pain in a different way than you and it makes you very stressed yourself, then quite possibly you shouldn’t date each other or have a close friendship. But the way you’re describing it here sounds calculating and shaming, like you’re trying to ‘teach them a lesson’, most likely right when they’re in pain. And shunning someone deliberately to try to make them anxious would be cruel, far crueller than just feeling overwhelmed and being quiet would be.
Maybe it’s just in the explanation, maybe the practice is actually not so bad and just looks like cooling down a relationship with someone who you can see you aren’t going to be very close to.
There are ways it could be done that are kind and healthy to both of you, I guess, and ways that are as manipulate and controlling as my first reading.
Also it’s unlikely to be effective, especially without explanation. If someone’s normal stress response is to shut down or to avoid people, then trying to stress them out more will a) either not actually stress them out, instead making them think you, like them, need space or b) stress them out, leading to more intense or prolonged withdrawal.
or possibly c) stress them out but make them think you really need space, so they try to give it to you
The line between “mindful choice” and “manipulative choice” is hair-thin.
I have already tried this in my own life and I’m confident in my choices. Warmly and gracefully putting up with being iced out more than once or twice has turned out to be a road to catastrophic relationship failure. (Not as fast a road as the LW’s, but a reliable one.) That’s true even with the adult conversations about feelings and stress responses, etc. So I stopped. I switched it up and found that one degree or another of, “Ugh, whatever dude” works. What’s happened is that the relationship repaired itself from a temporary blip, or my friend started handling their emotional needs with a new degree of respect for the feelings of others, or I wound up with a perfectly fine casual acquaintance with whom I have no plans to get close, or — once — I dodged a bullet.
If somebody shuts me out because they’re stressed, and then my failure to be fully available on demand to my unreliable friend stresses them out more and they shut me out more… I have not actually seen this particular death spiral, but if that’s their deal, then odds are we’re done. I’m sorry for their psychological suffering, but I am not sorry to lose their friendship because I am not in the market for friends who require me to deal with that behavior. Is that therapeutic for them? No. Therapeutic norms belong in the therapist’s office.
It’s not my job to teach friends any lessons, but it is my job to decide what I will not accommodate and then act accordingly. People’s learning from that is on them.
LW, I disagree with a lot of the commentators here in that I do think closure is really important and can be very, very healing for many people. But I also think that your ex-friend cannot give you the closure you want and need, and that you need to search for it in other places.
In many ways, closure to me is closing the book or ending a chapter; it’s about moving on from something, or having a different relationship to someone or something. In terms of grief, closure comes with funerals and how one then has a different relationship to the deceased, and to the idea of death. In terms of relationships ending and being dumped, closure can come from hearing the reasons and/or hashing out the decline of the relationship. In healthy relationships where neither party fears the other or for their safety, sometimes these things can be had, and they can be healing and relieving for both parties. In doing this, ideally all parties come away with a new understanding of their former relationship, a new narrative for themselves, permission to move on, and a sense of control over their lives and narratives. This is closure, and you seem to need it. But in unhealthy and dangerous relationships, the harmed and frightened party cannot give closure without injuring themselves, and thus denying themselves closure. Unfortunately when a relationship dynamic is really messed up, there cannot be a mutual win. Often they result in situations where not everyone can be satisfied with the resolution or ending, or not anyone at all.
But, speaking for myself only, I would not feel safe in meeting again with someone who pushed my boundaries as hard as you have, LW. It’s been thirteen years and you sent his sister notes to try and arrange contact? After a year, you turned around and accused him of cruelly plotting to hurt you by having a ‘last chance’ lunch? You still have not backed off? That would make me feel very unsafe.
One of the things I have noticed is that you describe your friendship as being very close, incredibly honest, and like brothers. Is this how your ex-friend would have described this? You seem to have found this argument and the subsequent withdrawal extremely shocking, out of the blue. Would your ex-friend have said they were sudden and shocking? You attribute your ex-friend’s career success solely to you. Would he agree with this assessment?
I echo the advice of other commenters and the Captain: first of all, you need to severely back off. Do not contact your ex-friend, their friends and family. Don’t talk about this with your own friends anymore; do not allow yourself to obsess on this. Counselors, clergy, and so on can help you with this. And I think rewriting your own narrative of this relationship, and giving yourself control over this, can give you healing. I really do. You need to transform your relationship from ‘owee’ and ‘ower’, from someone who is desperately chasing someone who has already left, to instead a relationship where this is a guy you studiously avoid and no longer care about. That’s hard. But it’s doable, and it’s better for you and more productive.
Your advice to LW is spot on, but I’d like to explain what I think many of us mean when we call closure a myth.
Closure seems to have started as for people who have been in an emotional limbo because of a big unanswered question – is their long missing loved one dead or alive – that they don’t know what phase of their life they are in, and when they finally get the answer, they know which future they are in: a future in which they mourn their loved one, or help their loved one to heal, or maybe their loved one is a dick who abandoned them. They still have to process their pain, and the answer no doubt raises a lot of questions, but they are no longer stuck wondering what did happen.
You know how anticipation is usually worse than the event? How waiting for medical results to come back can be excruciating, but once the results are in, even if they’re bad, at least you know where you are and can plan your life from there. You’ve still got your painful emotions, but at least you know what’s going on.
But many people who want “closure” are looking for an explanation of *why* X happened, which explanation will make them feel better. If the explanation doesn’t make them feel better, a lot of people will feel they don’t have “closure.” They’re seeking “closure” as if it’s something that they can find outside of themselves to make their pain go away, as if there’s an answer that will make things better, when what they need to do is process their emotions and deal with the pain.
The myth of “closure” keeps people chasing explanations they’ll probably never get, and won’t be happy with if they do, when if they want to move on they need to accept that X happened and that life doesn’t give us all the answers we want, but you have to move on.
That’s why some of us dislike “closure.”
I have read the reasons why people on this site strongly dislike closure as a concept and encourage people to not seek it out by getting explanations from people, and generally speaking I agree that chasing/harassing/stalking people is not acceptable *and* will not lead to the answers that people think will heal them. And I agree that in many cases there just isn’t a reason that people will accept–and in cases of breakups in particular, I think that a lot of people would not find any reason given acceptable enough to take it and appropriately withdraw. And in particular, the people who write in to CA often are exhibiting behavioural patterns that indicate (to me, at least) that they are not…I don’t quite want to say ‘mature enough’, perhaps ‘missing the skills needed’?, to accept any reason given as their kind of closure. (And I agree that you don’t always need reasons to make your own closure.)
But, for example, maybe this is because I am autistic and I look for explanations in why people do just about anything, and maybe it is because I am autistic and therefore I feel deeply insecure at times as to why some people would want to do x y z to me, for me personally there are a huge range of explanations for breaking off types of relationships I can accept and then move on from. (Please note I do not do stalking/harassing/chasing/cornering people.) Like, for example, I once had a very brief acquaintainship that utterly baffled me when it broke off. From my perspective, this guy was charming and nice and flirted with me in a very considerate way, seemed into me and while I wasn’t into him, I was terrified for a while that I had offended him in some way, said something horribly rude and bigoted. (This has happened before when I was a child and therefore did not know how to realize something was racist before I repeated it with 100% accuracy.) Anyway, when we saw each other next I asked him, politely, if I’d offended him or if he just wasn’t feeling it (giving him an easy out, and one that I’d accept–I’m not for everyone and that’s fine). It turned out that he’d apparently imagined us having sex and then a child (??) and when that child turned out to be ‘part Cuban’ (I am Latinx and not at all Cuban) he realized that ‘he just wasn’t into that’ and therefore decided to never speak to me again. And that made me utterly able to move on from him forever and never, ever care about thsi bullshit ever again, you know?
I agree that for some people this would only make things worse, and for people who were desperate to hang on to something like this I don’t know if it would help any. But at CA a lot of people seem to feel like wanting reasons or closure or ‘a hashing out’ inherently means that you want a continuation of the relationship and/or for things to go back to normal, when really for me that’s a way for people to just pretend that they want closure / a denial of their real feelings. I mean, for me personally, there are definitely dead relationships that I would love a reason for why they died with those people; I have an ex-friend from childhood, let’s call her Jane, and I would really love it for her to send me a FB message or something apologizing and admitting that the real reason she dropped me as a friend was because I was gay and she was a homophobe, and asking my forgiveness, so I could either grant it or not. I would love it if she could admit the obvious reality of this situation and then I could choose how to respond and she’d be powerless to stop my response from dictacting if she got something that she wanted, in a reversal of how our friendship ended. But I have my own closure even if she never does; I have long since moved on, made new and important and better friends, and I have never chased her since rejection, for reasons or otherwise, and have long since written her off as a homophobe not worth even the time to think her name. I think the LW is imagining something like this, where his ex-friend admits to him that he was a rude, lying, selfish asshole who took advantage of his mentor and selfishly abandoned their 25-year friendship because he couldn’t be really honest about something, cruelly pretended that their relationship was back on to deliberately hurt the LW, and avoided telling him before because he’s an asshole. I think that sort of triumph and control and validation for his beliefs is what the LW wants, and in this case I do not believe he can now or ever get this.
I think there’s a difference between wanting validation that a situation occurred from the only other people who knew anything about it, wanting to feel in control of a relationship that ended in a way that you feel powerless about, and wanting to stealthily trick people into re-creating a relationship against their will. And I feel like the party line at CA is that closure or any attempts at it are the latter, when they aren’t inherently so.
I don’t think the CA commentariat as a whole is of the opinion that all closure seeking is problematic. I believe it comes down to the type of closure seeking that tends to make it into a CA letter. People who do find healthy closure usually either find it themselves or they still have a level of trust and goodwill with the person making the break where they can trust the person to be honest and they can be trusted to accept and respect that honest answer. Most often there is no need for third party advice in these cases, hence we don’t see them in CA posts.
While true that a case where someone desires closure may not fit the victim-perpetrator dynamic as many CA letters about closure do, if the conditions of still-intact trust are not there (or should not be there), seeking closure from the other party can still be very ill advised at best.
For example, if say you’ve been dumped by an emotionally abusive partner, there can be a lot of questions in its wake as abusers’ behaviors can be baffling even for more astute observers of human interaction. It’s not unreasonable to *want* some kind of clarity about why you were treated so poorly. However, upon dumping someone, abusive exes don’t magically become sages who can give you direct wisdom on how you should proceed with your life. They’re still their abusive selves and attempting to gain insight from them *personally* risks them taking the opportunity to pound your sense of self into the ground further. So here we have a reason why seeking closure through an ex is a bad idea that doesn’t presume that the closure seeker is a bad person or that the seeker’s confusion at the circumstances is somehow proof that they are a victimizer themselves.
Exactly. Wanting closure, or asking for closure, is not a bad thing to do in itself. However, being realistic about whether & what kind you’ll get is a way to protect yourself. Asking someone “why did you break up with me?” means you risk hearing a list of your supposed faults that your jerkbrain might chew on for a long time – things that aren’t necessarily true of you and are just one person’s opinion. I do think the “tell me what I did wrong so I can improve” request is a red herring. Badgering someone about why did you break up with me risks you turning into the problem in the situation.
I totally agree. Seeking answers to be able to put something behind oneself is reasonable and fair. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a coherent story. Where people can get trapped is when they don’t realize that ultimately, their own peace is up to them. They can accept that what happened happened and process their emotions even if they don’t have all the answers, and even if they do get answers, they’re still going to have to accept what happened and process their emotions.
Sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and spend your energy on healing yourself, rather than chasing down elusive closure that might make you feel better.
LW, you might be in an anger rut. Like, you were probably legitimately angry at the hurt from the breakup for some finite amount of time, but in the decade after that it’s possible you just got into the habit of funneling all your anger and doubt into this “relationship” (i.e. you writing angry letters that are likely going unread by anyone). It’s worth paying attention to your habits in this case: what was going on *just before* your anger with your friend popped into your head? What is this angry rumination triggered by in your life which is unrelated to your friend? Journals are extremely useful for this kind of observation, and since you tend to pour out your feelings in writing letters anyway, it seems like a viable alternative that doesn’t hurt or threaten anyone or reflect badly on you.
And as CA mentioned you need to start new hobbies and friendships and concentrate on what’s going on in your life now, maybe it’s also time to make some new anger hobbies.
Also, it could be that the desire for closure is simply a desire for an end to this way of dealing with anger which has become so unsatisfying and un-cathartic (because it’s you just talking to yourself but not honestly facing your own feelings and instead trying to outsource them to someone who isn’t listening). But this guy does NOT need to be involved for this habit to stop. It has nothing to do with this guy and hasn’t for over a decade. He didn’t need to be made out in your mind or this letter as an ungrateful baddie who schedules mind-fuck lunches, in order to justify your feelings of hurt. You’re allowed your hurt and anger, whether this guy was a complete sh*t-bag or a saint who hasn’t been replying to your emails simply because he ascended to heaven on a cloud of cotton candy. You’re still hurt, you’re still angry, and those are your feelings to feel and not outsource to him to deal with.
And FWIW it’s likely that the “silly things” that caused friction in your friendship affected him so deeply *because* your friendship meant so much to him, not because it didn’t mean anything to him.
It’s normal to want to know what happened and what went wrong. However, the LW needs to accept he’s never going to get those answers. I think the friendship was over once the friend started distancing himself. What happened after that and LWs actions had limited effect on the outcome, but even if things could have been done differently, all the coulda, woulda, shouldas in the world aren’t going to change anything.
There may not even be a specific reason.
I love garlic bread but if I eat garlic bread every day I soon get sick of it. and don’t want anymore garlic bread. Does that mean the garlic bread did anything wrong? No. The garlic bread is just the same. I think the LW is like that garlic bread. Working together, seeing each other everyday, inside and and outside of work may have just been too much. Sometimes you just want french fries with your pizza instead of garlic bread. It was the closeness of the friendship that did it in.
I tend to always feel like I am failing to read people correctly and worry about “chasing after” friends who go silent. This isn’t something I’ve ever been accused of, but jerkbrains don’t care about that. This letter is particularly timely because I ran into a high school best friend’s little sister at my job and she acted like my old friend would welcome hearing from me. We’ve both been in the same town for almost 15 years, and met up once about 10 years ago or so, and it went fine, but we both are bad at staying in touch or initiating plans. So I need to decide whether to reach out, as it has always been me reaching out since childhood (it’s her personality, she waits for everyone to approach her), or accidentally-on-purpose lose her contact information. Looks like I have some thinking to do.
I could take or leave reconnection with this friend, as I suspect we no longer have a lot in common (we’re both very different people than we were in high school), but she’s a good egg and lives nearby, and there was never any fight or miscommunication about which I am aware, so it might also be nice to go out to eat with each other once every few years or so. 😀
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