I am a female self-employed professional in a male dominated profession in her early 30s. My friend is a female of a similar age who is also a self-employed professional in the same profession. This person was my closest female friend in the profession. We would socialise and when things were going badly for me a couple of times in the last few years we have been friends, I would open up with her, share my problems and occasionally have a cry in her presence. I felt that we were open with each other and trusted each other.
Friend has some boundaries that surprise me, for example, even though she would seek out my company, once I went to hug her after not seeing her for some months, because I had been travelling, and she told me she doesn’t like to be hugged because she doesn’t like touching. I was surprised and found that unusual. Friend also asked not to be invited to my wedding in 2016 as friend “Hates weddings.” Again, I considered this an unusual request. I did not invite her but otherwise might have.
Friend became pregnant and was excited. I shared her excitement. She went on maternity leave shortly before the baby was due. I texted her offering to visit her at home if she wanted company (she demurred) and that I was looking forward to baby pictures. She send she would send photos.
Friend shares an office with another female self-employed professional in our profession (lady). One night weeks later, around November 2017, I was socialising with professionals in our field and I meet lady. Knowing lady shares an office with friend, I asked her how friend was. Lady shared the devastating news that friend’s pregnancy spontaneously terminated at a late stage and her baby was stillborn. I was shocked and saddened and expressed this. I immediately asked lady for friend’s address so I could send flowers. Lady responded firmly “Friend doesn’t want flowers”. I was surprised. I asked if lady would give me friend’s address so I could send a condolence card. Lady responded, “Friend doesn’t want contact with anyone. All messages are to go through an email address operated by friend’s sister.” I asked lady to send me that email address. Lady said she would. Lady didn’t send the email and I felt uncomfortable chasing lady about it given the no flowers/no cards information I had been given. I also felt uncomfortable with the idea of emailing friend’s sister, who I have never meant. I did not contact friend, or friend’s sister, out of respect for friend’s wishes, even though I very much wanted to share my condolences with her.
Finally, on New Year’s eve I texted friend saying that I was thinking of her, I had heard her terrible news, I was there for her if she needed support but that if she did not want ever to discuss the matter that would be okay with me. I wished her a better 2018. I got no reply.
Friend returned to work in January 2018. I work in a separate building and did not see friend for some months. I was waiting for her to reach out to me. She didn’t. I texted her a couple times offering to catch up for lunch or a drink. My texts were either ignored or she responded one word: “Can’t”. I let it go.
I saw her tonight at a networking event. It is now about 5 or 6 months since the still birth. I have not seen her since several weeks before her maternity leave. I approached her and she was civil, but not friendly. She barely smiled that evening. I was unsure whether her behaviour was directed towards me or whether she is just miserable. I made an effort to be friendly but to also give her space. I did not mention the still birth. She did not go out of her way to speak to me or say anything like, “Let’s catch up.” I left the event that night without saying goodbye to her, though it is possible she might have previously left without saying goodbye to me. Overall, friend’s behaviour was markedly cold.
I now feel like friend has placed me in an awkward position. I feel like friend has pushed me away. I don’t know if this is because friend felt like I was not there after her still birth, but I complied with lady’s “no contact” instructions. I feel like I can’t mention the still birth at this point because friend clearly did not want condolences at the time. It also feels deeply wrong to me to just smile and treat friend like nothing happened. I now feel like I’m walking on eggshells with friend and just wish that she had let me give her condolences like people normally do.
What, if anything, should I do? Should I accept that for whatever reason (and I have no idea why) friend no longer wants to be my friend? For the record I have no kids and am not currently trying, so there is no awkwardness about my family situation vs hers. It is now at the point where I am starting to feel secretly angry at friend for making me second guess how I should behave around her. My male friend has told me, when I have asked about it, to “just act normal”, but the problem is that friend is not acting normal towards me. I don’t know if I can, or should, try to fix it. I also don’t feel like continually putting myself out there to be rejected by friend. It is getting to the point where I am questioning whether to just let the friendship go, but it seems like a strangely unnecessary outcome. I have tried to be compassionate and respectful towards friend all along.
Your friend is going through some MAJOR STUFF right now. It’s highly possible that she did not want you to know about her loss at all – it seems in the past that you really opened up to her, but not necessarily vice versa – and she was totally thrown by the fact that her private news was public now. Sometimes when I’m trying really hard to hold my shit together in public after something bad has happened or when I’m feeling really down, someone’s kind concerned words can break me all the way down, and I need to avoid the people who would break me down so I can keep pretending that I’m holding my shit together. In other words, her coldness might not be “I hate you,” it might be more like “PLEASE DON’T CROSS THE STREAMS, I DON’T WANT TO CRY AT THIS NETWORKING EVENT IN FRONT OF ALL THESE DUDES.”
You say “I now feel like friend has placed me in an awkward position. I feel like friend has pushed me away.” Try to reframe this as “My friend does not have time or energy for me while she deals with her grief. I wish she did, but that’s not up to me. It’s okay if our friendship is not a priority for her right now.” She hasn’t placed you in any kind of position. Her baby died. Grief is weird and awkward and there is no right way to do it.
Every example of your past interactions tells the story that this friend does not like hugs, does not want cards or flowers, does not like weddings, does not want traditional expressions of bonding. Your styles around that stuff don’t match. There’s the proverb that says “treat others as you would want to be treated” but in many cases it’s more loving to treat others the way they would want to be treated (by doing what they ask you to do, by reading their signals, respecting their boundaries). Tell yourself that you’ve tried your best to be kind, you’ve acknowledged her loss, she’s shown you that she’s not interested or not ready to talk, and there’s nothing else you can really do about it. Think of a cat when it gives off major “leave me alone!” vibes. There’s nothing to be done but leave that cat alone and let it come find you when and if it wants to. You’ve gotta hope that she has the support she needs in her life for dealing with grief. So yes, please accept that your kinda standoffish friend wants to process this alone, and that she doesn’t want or maybe even know how to handle your kind gestures.
It’s okay if you feel a little stung by it all. It’s sad to feel like you are losing an important friendship. It’s sad to think that someone you want to open up to and be there for doesn’t want what you have to give. It’s okay to want to pull back from being friends with someone who is cold and standoffish with you. You can feel stung and sad and still accept that your desire to show kindness and help doesn’t outweigh her need to process things in her own way in her own time.
Here are things you can do:
- Repeat after me: “This isn’t about me.”
- Do not bring up sensitive topics with her again. Do what your male friend suggests when he says “be normal.” That means keeping things light and casual. “Hi, good to see you.” Let her take the lead in conversations, let her set the level of intimacy and seriousness. Forcing any kind of “we need to talk about our friendship”/”why won’t you talk to me” reckoning will destroy anything that’s left of this friendship. Be gentle, and detach.
- Put your thoughtful, kind, loving energy into other friendships. Who are the people you can relax around? Who are the people who would send you flowers if you had a major loss? Who makes you feel appreciated right here and now? Send some love and attention and time their way. One person not wanting your overtures doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable.
- When and if the opportunity arises, be a great colleague to this person. “I saw this listing for a project, it seems like a good fit for you.” “So & So company was asking for recommendations for freelancers, may I pass on your info?” You may never be as close as you once were, but you can still help each other navigate your industry. Give it a lot of time, don’t push, and maybe something can survive.
I’m sorry your feelings are hurt. “I thought we were very close friends, maybe we aren’t” is a painful thing to run into. Just, remind yourself about ring theory and “comfort in, dump out.” “Comfort” for this friend looks like “being left alone.” Remind yourself that this person doing the best she can to get through the day in this terrible world she never wanted to live in, the one where her baby died. The best gifts you can give her are space and time. Those aren’t easy or comfortable gifts, but they can be real ones.
Comments closed as of 4/20/2018 8:45 am CDT.