#1100: “My friend is withdrawing from me, and it really hurts.”

Dear Captain,

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.

Thanks,

Puzzled

Hi Puzzled,

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:

  1. Repeat after me: “This isn’t about me.” 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

 

342 comments
  1. devicat26 said:

    I hate to say it but I’m getting the vibe that maybe you weren’t really friends to begin with? She didn’t include you outside of work, you shared your troubles but has she ever confided or shown weakness in front you? she consistently distanced herself whenever you tried to deepen the friendship, she didn’t really accept anything from you (physical contact, a wedding invitation, whatever else there may have been) and finally when something deeply traumatic happened she cut all contact with you.

    That’s…. not what friends do. It almost sounds like you really wanted to be friends and she just wanted a workplace comrade that she could chat with and nothing else. Again, I could totally be wrong and projecting my own experiences, because I just went through something similar where I thought the woman I worked with was my friend but she ended up being my workplace bully who used my eagerness to be friends to treat me like crap.

    Either way I’m sorry, it really hurts to be rejected from someone you liked and thought was a friend. Mourn it like the loss it is and start putting your energies into other things/people.

    • mer said:

      I mean, it’s a thing that friends with social anxiety do. And not everyone comes from a hugging culture. And many, many, MANY people handle grief not by reaching out but by retreating from the world.

      • devicat26 said:

        A person who doesn’t include you in anything, doesn’t confide in you, doesn’t share anything with you, doesn’t invite you to do things, makes polite conversation and doesn’t show interest in you as a person – you call that friendship?
        Look, I know how these threads go when someone proposes something that could be conceived as negative so I’m not going to argue it. LW is going to have to let this one particular relationship go for now, and that hurts. I wish her the best.

        • mer said:

          I agree that LW needs to let the relationship go for the time being.

      • This. I had a kind of traumatic pregnancy loss, and it hit me so much harder than I ever would have thought, and the way I dealt with it was to completely withdraw.

      • Kitty said:

        Agree, we don’t know for sure what the situation was, but I wouldn’t rule out their having had a genuine friendship just based on the friend not “sharing” or being vulnerable.

        I’ve had friends who have emphatically reassured me they were happy to listen to me and help me with problems, but weren’t sharers themselves and wanted to deal with their problems by themselves. It’s very different to the way I operate and hard for me to understand at times, but I do believe that they genuinely want to be friends with me even if they don’t share like I do.

        • Belle Starr said:

          Yeah–I feel like if this were a one-sided friendship she wouldn’t have been open enough to say, “don’t invite me to your wedding.” She could’ve just made up some excuse but instead she was honest.

        • Scarlet said:

          Yes. I tend to be in the opposite situation, where friends confide in me, but I don’t usually talk about my feelings that much. I just don’t process emotions like that. It does not mean that the friendship is not there or that I don’t care about my friends. I’m always there when they need me, but if I’m going through hardship, I mostly prefer to be left alone or just to have light-hearted conversations in order to try and keep my mind off it. Different people do relationships differently and I think if someone is a real friend, they can accept that you express your feelings differently.
          I’m really annoyed that people who don’t feel the need to share their traumas or emotions are seen as “not real friends”.

    • VioletEMT said:

      I got this same vibe as well. You and Friend had very different ideas of the level of this relationship.

      And you DID violate her boundaries. You were told that all condolences regarding her stillbirth were to go to the sister-curated email address. Instead, you texted friend – even if it’s months later, you still violated her boundary.

      I’m sorry you’re hurting, but you need to let this one go.

      • Leonine said:

        Yeah. LW, you seem like a very sweet and affectionate person, but I feel like you might spend some time thinking about this. You were not comfortable contacting Sister. I get that. You really wanted to express your condolences. I get that, too. The part where you lose me is where you decide that your desire to comfortably express yourself trumped your friend’s stated desire not to be blindsided with a fresh reminder of her loss. You knew the proper channel for this expression, but you didn’t like it, so you disregarded it and intruded yourself on a recently-bereft, grieving mother. That choice should probably be reflected upon.

        • thetigerhasspoken said:

          I had the same response. I am someone who values boundaries above all else and it sounds like LW’s friend is similar. If I was in the position of the LW’s friend and LW sent me that text – on New Years Eve to boot! – I would be done with that person and respond exactly the way she has. Curt, professional interactions in order to not burn any professional bridges and that’s all.

          LW – let this go. You and this person don’t sound compatible as friends. And DO NOT under any circumstances bring up her loss or make sad noises or sympathy eyes or condolence innuendoes when do you see her. If you do, it’s not communicating how much you care, it’s likely just filling her with anxiety/anger/sadness. And freaking her out that every time she sees you, you are going to constantly remind her of this horribly painful experience.

          I think it’s best to reframe this relationship to: “Person is a good colleague and I hope we can be professional resources for each other in the future.” And then look elsewhere for close, female friendship, as it seems that is something you value.

        • J said:

          LW I’m sorry bc I know the pain of rejection but honestly it sounds like this woman was trying gently to reject you for some time. It sounds like you maybe didn’t quite get the hint. This has nothing to do with the miscarriage. Please don’t try to talk with her about it. Especially as it’s pretty clear she doesn’t want to. For whatever reason she has chosen not to have you on her life. Please let her do that esp as she’s going through a rough time. She didn’t put you in an awkward position she didn’t put you anywhere. She is simply trying to disengage. It hurts I know but pls just let her leave. She knows where you are if she wants to get in touch. This would be a fantastic time to make new friends and seek out others. Fill your time with other things and hopefully that will help the pain. I’m sorry. I really do know how it feels. But just bc you aren’t fated to be friends doesn’t mean you aren’t fated to have fantastic relationships with others. It’s not a referendum on you. It just isn’t a good fit. Jedi hugs if you want.

          • Onomatopoeia said:

            I agree with this. LW thought they were close friends who shared important emotional stuff and wanted her friend at her wedding. Later, when tragedy strikes and LW want to send condolences, she has to ask a mutual for the grieving friend’s address because she has never been to her home and does not in fact know where she lives. I really do think they had wildly different understandings of their friendship level.

      • Cornflower Blue said:

        The texting jumped out to me as well.

        After my sister died, I was a wreck and withdrew as fully as I could from everything. If someone had texted me months later, when I was starting to pull myself together, and brought it up? I would have been devastated all over again and hated them for doing that to me, especially if they knew that they weren’t supposed to mention it to me.

        I also don’t like being touched and find weddings boring. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad friend or don’t love my friends. I sucked it up and went to my best friends’ weddings because I loved THEM and wanted to be there for them on their special day but I’ve dodged every other wedding where I am not actually a part of the ceremony.

        Don’t take the fact she has a different friendship style as her not liking you and definitely don’t try to push your style onto her. Give her space, let her decide on her own if she wants to forgive you or not.

        Being angry at her won’t help. I’d recommend looking up ‘love languages’ and identifying what your love language is versus hers. Maybe, if she decides to forgive you and start trusting you again, you can work on expressing friendship in how she feels it instead of how you feel it.

        • Scarlet said:

          100% agree

    • Inspector Spacetime said:

      They were probably casual friends, not “ride or die” friends. Which is fine. But when you’re in a really bad place, sometimes you have to pare everything else in your life away until you’re just surviving. She probably had no energy for managing her relationships with casual friends. I get it.

      • D said:

        Yes, this is the vibe I’m getting from this letter. LW thought they were close friends, but this person thought they were casually friendly networking contacts.

        However, in case that’s not actually what’s going on here, I have some experience being the suddenly cold grieving friend that LW might find useful to hear. I’m currently going through a weird period of extended grieving of a loved one’s illness and impending death, and something I’ve noticed is that my ability to tolerate certain sorts of friendships has gone way down. I used to be the mom friend, the fixer, the party planner, the one who’d never get annoyed if you had to flake out at the last minute, the shoulder to cry on–and then suddenly grief ruined my ability to be the chill friend. I still go out and socialize, but my social energy is rare and precious, and I want to use it for having a good time instead of complaining or being complained to. My ride or die friends understood and took it in stride, but I did shed a few formerly close friends who couldn’t adjust to the new me.

        I lost interest in hugs, except from certain close friends. I also really hate hearing condolences, especially ones that come from someone who’s making a big show of emotion while I have to stay stoic because we’re in public/I need to focus on logistics right now/if I start crying I won’t stop for the rest of the day and I’ve got things to do. Grief is weird. You have to take grieving people at their word when they say they don’t want something, even if what you’re offering seems kind and inoffensive to you.

        • Leonine said:

          “I lost interest in hugs, except from certain close friends.”

          I am an introvert and I feel this. Hugs from certain people in certain circumstances are soothing and comforting, but most of the time, they’re a kind of work–the work of performing appropriate social behavior (“So good to see you!”) or comforting the other person. In Friend’s position, receiving a hug would be work: it would be me doing the work of allowing the other person to feel that they had comforted me. Sometimes I am willing and able do that work, but sometimes…I’m not.

          • coffeespoons said:

            “it would be me doing the work of allowing the other person to feel that they had comforted me”

            Thank you so much for this framing, Leonine. It helps me articulate something I’ve felt but never been able to put into words.

          • Connie-Lynne said:

            Very much this. I was always the comforter and the caretaker. When my husband died, most of my friends were great, but I had to withdraw from some whose “help” always seemed to come in the form of more emotional or physical labor for me.

        • Blue Widow said:

          Oh yes, this: “my social energy is rare and precious.” My ex-husband died suddenly 3 months ago and now I’m raising my boys by myself and trying to help them through their grief and navigate my own (complicated) grief and figure out what to do next. Not only is my social energy rare and precious, but what I can handle and what I need vary greatly from day to day. There are some people I just can’t deal with, especially those processing their own grief about losing my husband. I cannot help them do that. Or people who just require that little bit of extra energy I simply don’t have. I DO gravitate towards friends who let me be me (whatever that is on a particular day), accept whatever mood I happen to be in, and who don’t freak out when I need to cancel things at the last minute.

          I think another thing people forget is how many well-meaning people wish to express their condolences. It’s a lot, and if every single one of them required a heart-to-heart conversation to do it, it would kill me. Grief IS weird. It can also take a long time to process.

          • Jenna said:

            After my husband died I got a phone message on his birthday from one of our mutual friends. She was near tears but offered that I could call her back if I needed to as late as I wanted and that she would be here for me.
            1. I hate phone calls.
            2. I was having a nice quiet day and wasn’t actually happy to be reminded that it was my late husband’s birthday.
            3. I knew that if I called her it would be me comforting her over the loss of my husband, and, just…no…

            Reader, I did not call her back.

            I don’t hate her. Interaction with her is work for me because she has her own huggy and effusive style, and I am neither of those things. Whenever I was dealing with anything emotional, she was always so over the top about it. She may not have intended it, it felt like everything had to be her way or about her, and I just didn’t want to deal.
            Not everyone reacts the same way, has the same boundaries, views things the same way, processes emotions the same, has enough energy to deal. The people in my life who made room for me to deal with things the way I was happiest with are the ones who get more of my time. I’m ok with this.

        • Darcy Pennell said:

          “I also really hate hearing condolences, especially ones that come from someone who’s making a big show of emotion while I have to stay stoic …. ”

          First of all, D, I’m sorry for what you’re going through. It sounds really rough.

          Secondly, wow, this resonates with me so much. I’m dealing with grief too (a death in the immediate family and a very sick pet) and what I really want is to get through my day without losing it at inopportune times. Most of the people in my life have been great about giving me what I need. But I have had to cut way back on contact with a couple of people. Like one work friend who, when I told her about the death in the family, became so wound up and visibly upset that she upset me and I started crying at work in front of people.

          I’ve basically cut her off for the time being. I’m pleasant when I run into her, but we used to have lunch once a week and I’ve suddenly gotten super busy and lunch meetings all the time and isn’t it a shame? I feel bad about it but I absolutely can’t tell her about the rest of my situation. She’d be even more upset and I can’t deal with comforting her over my grief. She’d think she was helping but really she’d be poking at my pain for an hour. And I don’t think I can continue seeing her without telling her the rest; I don’t have it in me to sit there and chit-chat and pretend everything is OK.

          Some people can step outside themselves and be there for you in the way you need, even if the way you need them to be there is “not.” Some people can’t do that. I hope the LW will think on this and try to remember that if your friend can’t be around you, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It may mean she just doesn’t have it in her right now.

        • So much what D said. Grief is hard and it takes away so many spoons.

      • Bobbin Ufgood said:

        Stillbirth is BAD — she may not have energy for managing relationships *full stop*, not just not enough for “casual friends”. She may not even actually talk to the sister who is managing the email address, for all we know.

      • JMegan said:

        Yes, exactly. I did that when I was going through my divorce – one day I sat down with my Facebook account and unfriended probably 50 people all at once. Most of them were casual acquaintances that I knew through other online forums, and a handful were people I thought of as my (now-ex) husband’s friends, who I liked well enough but just didn’t want to have them around right then. A few people from both groups were Very Upset about this – I guess because they thought we were closer than I did. But it wasn’t about them, it was about me, paring my online presence back to just my A-list.

        Five years later, some of those people have resurfaced in my life, and there’s one in particular who I’m actually closer to than I was before the Great Unfriending. But the thing is, none of these – none of them – are the ones who messaged me afterwards going “But whyyyyyy????” The ones who really cared about me are the ones who respected my boundaries, and were willing to wait until I resurfaced on my own. And they’re the ones that I’m genuinely happy to have in my life again, now that I have the spoons for casual friendships. But all the drama ones, all the ones who wanted to know what was going on with me and why can’t we share cat pictures and memes any more and who would *not leave me alone* about it – they’re the ones who are still gone.

        To paraphrase Maya Angelou: When someone sets a boundary, believe them the first time. It’s much better for both of you.

    • Traffic_Spiral said:

      I think so. Yes, maybe this friend just shows friendship by avoiding people and any closeness, but it’s far more likely that she wants to keep LW as a “work friend.” I’d keep my distance, and let her decide if she wants to re-connect.

      • I have a lot of “work friends” — people with whom I am friendly and professional and would never in a million years think to ask out to see a movie or even have drinks with. They’re people I like, but am not intimate with.

        • To add to sistercoyote– I spend more time with my “work friends” than I do with my non-work-friends because I see them 4-5x/week rather than once or twice a month at most. It isn’t that I don’t like my work friends, but that I see them at work. I like compartmentalizing that way with most of them. I like having some separation between professional and social. I also like having separation between mom-friends and non-mom-friends. Some people are in two categories (ex. have kids the same age as mine and work near me), but generally when I’m having emotional upsets caused by something at work, I go to my work friends, when I’m having trouble with the children’s school I go to my mom-friends, and so on. It’s not that I don’t value my friends, just that I don’t tend to cross streams. Grief makes me compartmentalize more.

      • Manattee said:

        But she doesn’t ‘avoid people or expressing any closeness’. She showed friendship to the LW by seeking out her company, by being there for her when LW needed someone to cry to, by sharing her excitement about the pregnancy and offering to share baby pictures with the LW. It’s kinda shitty the way several of the comments seem to want to rewrite this woman as someone standoffish or cold because she doesn’t like hugs and is grieving in her own private way.

        • Dove said:

          Eh – LW says in the letter that she *asked* for baby pictures, and a lot of other bits suggest that the friend might not have been feeling as close to LW as LW thought they were. It’s not that the other commentors are trying to rewrite the friend as standoffish or cold – it’s that they’re looking at what we’ve been told by the LW and going “um, are you sure that Friend agreed that this was a deep and close friendship, and not a more cordial work friendship?”

          LW says that the friend sought out her company, yes, and listened when she shared personal problems. But even with what LW has told us…it doesn’t sound to me like Friend feels as close. I think that if Friend were writing her own letter, we’d be hearing about a colleague who’s got some issues with oversharing and boundaries, and what makes me suspect that is the fact that Friend has done her best to avoid LW entangling her in stuff that would make it easier to assume there’s a close relationship – she made it clear that she did not want to be invited to LW’s wedding, and she shut down LW’s offer of coming over to her house and just agreed to share baby pictures when the time came; unless I’m missing it, there’s nothing in LW’s letter to indicate that Friend has ever been inclined towards sharing her personal problems with LW in return – in fact, it looks a lot like Friend has tried very hard to keep LW at a distance.

          And *even if* Friend does feel that this was a close friendship which she treasured dearly? LW still needs to respect the boundaries that have been set and let Friend engage at her own pace. Friend is, as you said, grieving in her own private way; she can’t be hurried through the process or do it in ways that are inherently convenient for LW.

        • Rachel said:

          I agree. Women sure do get punished for not wanting to perform certain forms of emotional labour.

        • Traffic_Spiral said:

          Being standoffish or cold isn’t a bad thing, per se. Like cats, some people just like more space. It’s not about whether the friend is a good person or not – it’s about the fact that she *is* distancing herself from LW (regardless of why), so LW needs to accept that and not push.

        • Manattee said:

          Sorry for not being clear. I wasn’t saying this as a defence of the LW’s boundary-pushing behaviours. It was a defence of the friend who I feel is being interpreted in only one of two possible ways. It is of course possible that the friend is keeping the LW at arm’s length as she only wants a work relationship, but it is equally possible from the letter that there is a genuine friendship there, but that the friend has a different friendship/attachment style that isn’t being understood by the LW. I feel that by only interpreting the friend’s friendship in the former way, we are reinforcing the LW’s idea that there is a hierarchical spectrum of friendship and that the level/importance/quality/value of the friendship can be determined by where you are on the spectrum, as identified by behavioural markers such as do you guys hug, do you attend each others weddings etc. I feel like this is sending out a message to the LW that the friendship necessarily wasn’t as valuable to the friend as to the LW when we don’t know that. It also risks characterising friend as standoffish (which can be positive, negative, or neutral depending on your pov, but I think would be negative to the LW) when we don’t know if that is the case. To me, the fact that the friend had sought out the LWs company in the past, hadn’t expressed discomfort about the LW’s emotional sharing even though she has been very clear with other boundaries, and had discussed her own pregnancy and excitement about it with the LW suggests that there is something there, and I think we do a disservice friend to dismiss that.

          • minuteye said:

            @Manattee, I agree. The LW is going “I’m upset and confused about what’s happening with a friendship of mine” and some of the responses are coming across almost like “Based on a single paragraph, I’ve judged that YOU WERE NEVER FRIENDS AT ALL!”, which is just…. really not helpful.

            It’s possible that Friend saw the LW as an oversharer and an imposition… in the same way that it’s technically possible that all my friends quietly hate me and are faking it (for some reason?), but the only direct judgment we have to go on is the LW’s, so I’m going to trust the LW’s judgment that this *was* a real friendship and work from that assumption.

    • Amy said:

      I’m feeling the same thing–at the very least, I don’t think they were ever the kind of friends that LW wanted them to be. LW wants friends who hang out regularly, show affection through physical contact and showing up to one another’s life events, and have emotional conversations. LW’s colleague isn’t into any of those things.

      That doesn’t mean that Colleague is mad at LW, or that LW did anything wrong, or that whatever connection they had wasn’t meaningful to both of them! But I don’t think an LW-style friendship was ever in the cards for her and Colleague. This moment of grief in Colleague’s life is just making that clear in a way that could fly under the radar when Colleague had more time/energy to offer.

      LW, I’m sorry you’re disappointed and thrown off by this, but I think your best bet is to let it go. Keep things with Colleague casual–focus on professional interaction, talk to her in a friendly but not intimate manner when you see her at events, etc. But don’t expect a deeper friendship from her; even if you guys like each other, your styles are different enough that imposing that kind of expectation is going to cause more frustration than comfort.

      • winter said:

        your styles are different enough that imposing that kind of expectation is going to cause more frustration than comfort.

        Yes LW, keep that in mind. I feel that every time you make an overture that’s uncomfortable for her, she’ll pull back more until there’s nothing left to salvage.

        For the moment, be a distant and professional work contact. You might go back in time to friendly work contact. But really anything that deepens the relationship should come from her side: Escalating touch (meaning in your case offering of hugs e.g.), invites to chat or get a coffee, even just private instead of professional remarks.
        I know this might sound sad, but I think that’s the reality of your situation right now. I believe that what the Captain suggested is easiest: Throw yourself into other friend and family relationships you have. That is where you’ll find that nice connection right now.

    • Biancasnoozes said:

      Or, friendship just looks different to this woman than it does to OP or maybe to you. It doesn’t really matter if OP thought they were closer friends than her friend did. What matters is what the relationship looks like now. OP certainly didn’t do anything wrong trying to figure out how to express concern for her friend–that would be true no matter how close they were. But for whatever reason, Friend can’t do the kind of friendship OP would like her to, and the only thing to do is step back and respect that.Friend doesn’t owe OP some kind of cathartic experience or participation in her grief, even if it stings OP to know that the friendship she wants to extend right now isn’t wanted (and I know how that feels–been there myself).

      FWIW, I went through some mental health difficulties a while back and the people closest to me were exactly the people I didn’t want to talk to or be around. Those friendships never really returned, and that’s OK. No one did anything Wrong, it’s just the way life is sometimes.

    • I agree… maybe not so much that there wasn’t some kind of friendship on a superficial level (at least on one side), but this letter really seems to evidence that the LW put so much more equity in this “friendship” than the person she is writing about.

    • Rhoda said:

      My thoughts exactly. I get the sense that the friendship was one-sided.

    • I have to agree with this. I was involved in a small roleplaying group back when Livejournal was an actual thing. I thought one person I roleplayed with was a friend, but I eventually realized that she wanted nothing to do with me beyond light LJ/roleplaying friendship. The whole thing eventually fell apart because many reasons, but I did learn the difference between real friend and shared hobby/workplace/forum/etc friend.

    • Fish Food said:

      I definitely also got that impression. All I heard was “I showed feelings and tried to bring us closer, but she never wanted that”. The other thing I’m thinking is that being in the position of consoling someone else is exhausting, and I wonder if that “friendship” was taking more from her than it was giving. This letter can practically go with the other one about the male broken-up friends under a heading about non-reciprocal friendships.

  2. Allison said:

    I’m a lot like your friend, LW. I know a lot of people crave a sense of community and love knowing that all their friends are there for them, care about them, and are ready and willing to help, I generally prefer to grieve in private. I don’t announce personal losses on social media because A) I worry I can’t write a properly poetic status like so many of my friends can for their family members and B) the idea of that many people telling me they’re so sorry for my loss and they’re here for me feels like a room full of people slowly congregating around me and it’s awfully scary and intimidating, and I worry I won’t be able to give everyone the gratitude they deserve for sending me good thoughts. So it’s usually on a need-to-know basis.

    Also, I prefer not to become close friends with people who get upset over my boundaries. If I express a boundary and the response is “no, that’s not fair! we’re friends! you have to let me in!”, I’d probably hold that person at arm’s length at all times.

    Letter writer, no one owes you the chance to participate in their grieving process. As CA said, there’s no “right way” to grieve, and some people like to do it in private, or only with very close, trusted people in their lives.

    • spd said:

      Yep, I came here to say approximately this. When bad stuff happens, I’m like a wounded animal–I want to crawl into an alone space to lick my wounds. Everything about this letter had me screaming LEAVE HER ALONE LEAVE HER ALONE LEAVE HER ALONE, and people who don’t do that usually get downgraded from “friend” to “acquaintance,” or “close friend” to “casual friend,” or “acquaintance” to “person screened off my Facebook posts that aren’t public.”

      She’s given you a lot of clear boundaries, LW, about not liking traditional bonding/condolences expressions–which is totally fine, since typically (and as your letter shows) they come with some expevtation of gratitude/appreciation, which I just can’t be assed to fake when I’m feeling really awful. This isn’t about you, LW, this is about your friend’s dead baby, and how she doesn’t have the bandwidth to say “thank you so much for the flowers [I threw in the trash and hated]” while she’s greiving her dead baby, and wants it to be 100% clear to everyone that she Is Not Engaging In Social Niceties About This, Don’t Send Them Because They’re Actually For You And I Can’t Take Care Of You At The Moment.

      • Don’t Give The Gifts, Because They’re Actually For You And I Can’t Take Care Of You At The Moment.

        Amen. This needs to go on a pillow/coffee mug/wall hanging.

        • spd said:

          Some people genuinely appreciate them! I send them to my friends who I know have a different “ouch” style than I do…

          But every time I do I’m like “I know this is what Friend needs right now but doing this makes me SO UNCOMFORTABLE”

      • songofstorms said:

        “… wants it to be 100% clear to everyone that she Is Not Engaging In Social Niceties About This, Don’t Send Them Because They’re Actually For You And I Can’t Take Care Of You At The Moment.”

        I feel this so much. I think I’m probably a lot like the LW’s friend. When I was grieving, anyone who gave me condolences got a response like “Hm” or “Okay”, and anyone who tried to hug me got to sit there awkwardly with their arms around my stiff frame until they realized I had zero intention of returning the hug. Because at that time I was too sad and tired to give a shit about whether I was being rude, I just wanted to Not Talk about the thing.

        Even a few months later, I didn’t tell my best friend about the death because I just wanted to hang out without having to talk or think about this terrible thing that had happened.

      • A Quiet Person said:

        “Don’t Send Them Because They’re Actually For You And I Can’t Take Care Of You At The Moment.”

        Yes! It’s sort of like writing thank you notes after a wedding (which people find to be hard enough!), only instead of a really happy occasion it’s a really sad one, but people still want you to do your social duty.

    • Guava said:

      I’m the same way.

      A couple of years ago, a teacher at my kids’ school lost her spouse in a very sudden, traumatic way. The principal sent an email out to the parents, and at the very top she wrote: “Parents: When you see Teacher, please do not express your condolences to her. She needs to be able to get through a day of teaching your children without breaking down. Just wave and say hello. She knows you are sorry for her loss.”

      I thought this was really clear and compassionate.

      • sofar said:

        A friend I know in the ballroom community posted on Facebook (after the loss of his wife) that he did not want condolences from anyone who didn’t know his wife well. And he asked, instead, that everyone just say “hi!” and give him a hug when they saw him and ask him for a dance at socials if he was standing alone.

      • ashbet said:

        That was exceptionally kind, clear, and compassionate.

        After my ex-husband (but still close friend and co-parent) died, I would start crying uncontrollably every time I talked about it or even thought about it much.

        I’m someone who usually reaches out for comfort, and I did reach out and am grateful for all of my wonderful friends — but it was harder with acquaintances, especially people I had to break the news to.

        It’s been 4 months and I’m doing better, but I still get weepy periodically, and will always grieve his loss.

        But, yeah, trying to talk about it to people, even ones who were being lovely and supportive, was making me melt down in tears in public and in situations where I was trying to do something other than mourn.

        I can’t imagine trying to deal with it at WORK — I had a hard enough time breaking down in front of a group of strangers at a friend’s gallery opening, because of a text I received.

        LW, you obviously have a kind heart and want your friend to be okay. Please, for her sake and your own, try to come to terms with the fact that she is doing her best to deal with a heartbreaking, life-changing tragedy in her own way, and that means that you need to step back and just leave her alone unless she reaches out to you.

        It sucks — my instincts would be similar to yours in terms of reaching out — but she is sending clear signals (and Lady has tried to communicate her wishes to you as well), and you MUST respect them.

        This likely has very little to do with you as a person or your friendship — she just may not be able to cope with anything other than casual friendliness in the workplace, so that she can function.

        • MsMildew said:

          XOXO

          • ashbet said:

            Thank you ❤

      • Cornflower Blue said:

        That was great of the principal, I approve so much of that email and the thoughtfulness that went into it. I’m so glad he had her back.

  3. What a loving accepting set of responses Alison proposes. Everyone who needs leave-me-alone comfort should have a friend like this.

    • VioletEMT said:

      Alison = Ask A Manager
      Captain Awkward = Jennifer

      • JenniferP said:

        Ha, true, but I’ll take that mistake as a compliment. ❤

        • VioletEMT said:

          I’m sure Alison would say the same about you. You both rock.

        • ranunculus said:

          Madame Capitaine, were you aware that Mallory Ortberg, aka ‘Dear Prudence’, name-checked you in one of her podcasts? She said she would love you to be one of her guests!

          • JenniferP said:

            Yes, so people have told me! That would be cool, Daniel can email me/Tweet at me/text me any time and we’ll make it happen.

          • sarah said:

            I think it’s Daniel Mallory Ortberg now!

          • sarah said:

            Whoops, sorry Cap, didn’t see your post!

          • correcthorsebatterystaple said:

            To be fair, he hasn’t changed his Slate byline yet, so it’s an easy mistake to make.

          • Alli525 said:

            @correcthorsebatterystaple I’ve been wondering about that, especially with the recent-ish influx of questions about trans folks. I’m curious to see if he’s going to come out publicly and be Slate’s first male (and trans!) Prudence.

          • H.C. said:

            Tangent: I also love the Dear Prudence podcast episode where Daniel expressed faux-annoyance that her guest co-host kept name-checking Captain Awkward multiple times. It was like “Hello… the person wrote to me, also an advice columnist!” LOL

          • H.C. said:

            dang it, his*

          • H.C. said:

            @Alli525 def. first trans Dear Prudence, but I believe the very first Prudie – before Margo Howard & back when it was still part of MSN.com – was male too!

          • stellanor said:

            My dream podcast is a Dear Prudence/Captain Awkward/Ask A Manager crossover. It would be like The Avengers but for practical and compassionate advice.

  4. For Ducks Sake said:

    Wow LW, I’m so sorry that this lady you work with who has barely spoken to you for months isn’t looking after your feelings around the death of her child.

    • RW said:

      Right? LW tone is very judgey here, and I’m just like wake the hell up! This is not about you!

      • policychick said:

        Speaking of judgmental tones….

      • Gytha said:

        Even from the start, she’s commenting on her friend not wanting to be hugged/invited to a wedding (which, lbr, is an exhausting and expensive endeavour even if you DO enjoy them…) being “surprising” and “unusual” – technically these are fairly neutral descriptors, but it reads a lot like she’s trying to politely say “weird”…

        • Granny Smith said:

          I disagree with that assessment, but even if it is correct, there’s a way to point out an error in someone’s thinking without being mean to them.

      • Granny Smith said:

        We’re all clueless about some things, and we all deserve to be taught without being shamed for our ignorance. The LW lacks some insight about a situation and she is making a sincere attempt to learn. That’s wonderful, and if more people took the same action, the world would be a better place.

        Of course, one reason more people don’t ask for help is that they get smacked down for it. “Wake the hell up! This is not about you!” is the kind of reaction that people dread getting when they admit ignorance. So RW and For Ducks Sake, if your goal is to encourage people to be more sensitive or less judgey, I want to tell you that your comments will have the opposite effect. In a healthy environment, people can be vulnerable without getting punished. In an unhealthy environment, people can’t be vulnerable for fear of being attacked, so they posture instead, substituting a rigid image for their real selves, and are then unable to relate to others successfully or become more emotionally mature.

        I didn’t hear anything judgemental in the LW’s description of her friend/colleague. I suspect, RW, that you are projecting that, based on your own experience of being judged harshly, a form of abuse you endured which you in turn perpetrate on the LW and possibly other people in real life.

        Now I don’t know either of you of course, and my suspicions could be wrong. But I thought it might be useful either to you, or the LW, or other commenters, to share these thoughts. No one deserves ridicule, shame, or punishment for admitting that they don’t know something and sincerely asking for help.

    • Thankful said:

      Wow. The LW is confused and concerned about her friend. She’s come here to learn something or to find acceptance. She sounds like a lovely person who is just at a loss and wants to do the right thing. I don’t respect a persons efforts when they make a passive aggressive comment like you have.

      • marvanvar said:

        I would sincerely ask you to make the LW a man and the friend someone he’s dated or wants to date. I bet dollars to doughnuts you’d tell him to read her signals and leave her alone.

        The LW knows what the right thing to do is, she just doesn’t like it so she’s seeking agreement. The LW can be confused and concerned about her friend WITHOUT violating the friend’s clearly communicated boundaries. Period.

        If someone — anyone — kept trying to contact me directly in order to give me condolences after I’d made it clear which pathway any and all communication should take, I would ignore them because they are making clear to me that my feelings and needs are secondary to their own — or worse, that they know better than I do what I need for myself. LW is not really thinking about the friend’s feelings and needs as much as her own, which in the context of a DEAD BABY are completely irrelevant to the friend.

        • Thankful said:

          It doesn’t matter to me if this Friend is a male of female. You don’t even know me – why would you think that I’m sexist? I agree with the very good advice, which is that the LW needs to back off.

          To me it doesn’t seem like the LW has been hounding this person. The LW learned of the boundary through a third party. She waited a couple months. To many people (certainly not all) it is an amount of space where you MIGHT feel like talking to people again. At that time I don’t think the LW KNEW she was violating a boundary that was still in place.

          The LW f-ed up. It happens and it’s always disappointing when good intentions go bad. And especially when people are hurt. But there it is. We don’t have to assume that the LW is some sort of awful person pushy person who cares only of herself.

          Her main mistake was over-estimating the friendship. And I believe that is what she’s really trying to figure out.

          • marvanvar said:

            “To many people” is all well and good but it means absolutely nothing — it’s just another face-saving assumption people use to cover their asses. That phrase and its alternates are used so frequently to wave away the validity of people whose comfort zones exist outside the “norm,” and I reject it. It’s no one’s place to assume when the friend is ready to reopen her space; if the friend has not communicated a change in her boundary then the LW should know she has violated it. Good intentions are meaningless when undertaken without respect.

            My example was to highlight how this very column would tell a smitten LW to leave a person alone who has made clear they’re not interested in communicating/dating/whatever. There is no difference here, certainly no sexism, so I fail to see the issue.

          • Gytha said:

            I think for the vast majority of people who have just lost a baby – one they never even got to meet – there is NEVER a point where it’s okay to just ignore the fact that they asked for nobody to contact them directly about it and just send them a text anyway. If they want to talk, they will approach YOU. LW might not have known she was violating a boundary, I suppose, but the fact that she not only hasn’t reflected on the situation objectively enough to realise that, yup, that’s exactly what she did, but also doesn’t seem to really have acknowledged in her letter the fact that, you know, MAYBE her friend’s grief at the loss of her baby might be a bigger deal right now than LW’s own sad feelings that her friend doesn’t want to speak to her much right now… Sorry, run on sentence, lost track a bit. That fact? Suggests that, at the very least, LW needs to work on remembering that other people’s feelings and needs are important, too.

        • Cornflower Blue said:

          Yeah, all of this honestly.

          Dump out, not in.

          If someone’s in pain and asks you to go away because they don’t have the energy to handle conversation, sticking around and asking ‘what can I do?’ when they already TOLD you what you can do isn’t kind. It’s cruel and it’s ignoring what they’ve already said you can do to help.

          If someone tells you what they need, believe them.

        • Uhm, IDK if this tracks. Men who are trying to date women, on the whole, have a range of behaviors ranging from safe to violent. Women have to make their decisions based on a probability weighted by the behavior they’ve seen from the population soaked in male entitlement.

          Women who are trying to be friends with women also have a range of behaviors, but the probability is tilted WAY further away from the violent side. Behaviors that would reasonably dangerous coming from a male suitor may not be reasonably interpreted that way from a friend. YMMV, and everyone should make their own decisions regarding their safety.

          My point is, I don’t think you can or should draw a direct equivalence here.

          • They may not be equivalent in terms of safety concerns but in terms of what LW ought to do they are absolutely equal.

            You don’t get a percent off coupon on boundaries for being female unless specified by the person themselves.

        • Granny Smith said:

          I responded to this comment once but apparently it got lost. Here’s a repeat.

          You write, “The LW knows what the right thing to do is” but you don’t actually know what is in the LW’s head. You don’t know what she knows. Assuming you know someone’s thoughts is a kind of boundary violation, and in many cases an extreme form of abuse.

          Your assessment is very uncharitable, and I think you are making baseless assumptions that appear to come from an unhealthy place.

      • J said:

        Yes those comments were a tad judgy. But let’s be clear LW isn’t necessarily interested in the ‘right thing’ as you say bc she told us that everyone was instructed in no uncertain terms to NOT contact friend and she asked twice for friend’s address which honestly no one gets my address without my permission even in the absence of terrible tragedy. Then LW did a hat dance on the clearly stated boundary. Just bc she felt her feelings were more important. So yes while she sounds on the surface very kind and I just want to love and be loved. What she isn’t doing is respecting the boundaries. Honestly once I got to the ‘don’t invite me to your wedding’ I was already screaming ‘she’s not into you!’ It’s sad but LW isn’t listening here. And she says friend placed her in an awkward position which sounds vaguely creepy. Imagine if LW were a man we’d be all freaked out. She isn’t and yeah it’s different but how different really? I think LW has sent the African violet

        • bleh said:

          Letter writer did not ignore boundary signals “clearly stated” by Friend. She was instructed about boundaries and instructions to contact sister from Lady, friend’s office mate. While I would believe Lady 90% of the time, sometimes parties like to play the I-am/was-a-better-friend game, and drive the narrative for their own purposes. Yes, I have seen it when someone died. Lady might have given bullshit advice for her own reasons *and* she didn’t actually share the sister’s address so LW could follow said directions. LW of course, should attend to signals from Friend directly going forward, but she couldn’t be sure that Lady was being honest in the initial situation.

          • Cornflower Blue said:

            Nowhere in the letter did LW indicate that she didn’t believe the office mate.

          • Sheelzebub said:

            Wow.

            How often has CA advised folks to pull together a Team You? That is who this Lady was. Part of the friend’s team. She was the person who worked alongside her and who people would see when they were looking for friend.

            This friend is stretched beyond her limits and doesn’t have the wherewithal to personally tell every person to send condolences to a separate email curated by her sister. In fact, if she sent out an eblast, you know very well people would hit reply and express condolences that she doesn’t have the energy or time to deal with. If someone did an end run around a person I trusted to communicate this kind of request and said “Well, I didn’t hear it directly from you” I would be livid.

            Maybe Lady was pulling a power move. But that is not the LW’s concern, and given the situation, it would have been better to assume that Lady was acting in good faith. LW could have followed up and asked again for the email address; Lady may very well have forgotten to give it to her as that is a very human and typical thing to do. LW could have expressed her condolences that way and the friend’s emotional reserves would not be further depleted.

          • Granny Smith said:

            I agree 100%. The LW had a relationship with the friend, NOT the lady, and the lady did not follow through as she said she would. The LW waited about six weeks and then texted. Mentioning the miscarriage was, in my view, a big misstep, but some sort of gentle, direct contact was not inappropriate. Since when are random third parties the keepers of your friend’s emotional boundaries? Yes, this lady clearly stated some boundaries, but given that people misunderstand other people all the time, that the LW didn’t know this lady until that day, and that some people do have nefarious intentions in these situations, there’s enough doubt in this situation to justify making direct contact. Maybe just once, and very gently–more like, “thinking of you–give me a call if you want to chat” rather than, “I heard about your tragedy”–but relying on a third party for an assessment of a friend’s emotional needs is one step away from trusting what you hear through the grapevine. It strikes me as a kind of relationship triangulation, which is NOT healthy.

          • Sheelzebub said:

            @Granny Smith:

            “The LW had a relationship with the friend, NOT the lady, and the lady did not follow through as she said she would.”

            1-The LW could have *followed up* with the lady.

            2-The friend likely did NOT HAVE THE SPOONS TO TELL EVERYONE SHE KNOW TO PLEASE NOT CONTACT HER. Sheesh. It’s defeating the purpose. She likely asked Lady to run interference for her because she didn’t have it in her to do this emotional labor, and she didn’t have it in her to send a mass email (that people would read half way and hit reply to instead of reading and respecting her wish to send condolences to another email).

            “Since when are random third parties the keepers of your friend’s emotional boundaries?”

            Since the friend asks them to be. Seriously-Lady isn’t some random third party, she’s someone who works in the same office as friend and is probably the most logical point person for people in the field who heard about this tragedy. Since when are YOU the one to decide that the boundaries someone sets are invalid?

            “Yes, this lady clearly stated some boundaries, but given that people misunderstand other people all the time, that the LW didn’t know this lady until that day, and that some people do have nefarious intentions in these situations, there’s enough doubt in this situation to justify making direct contact.”

            So you would demand to hear from friend directly during a deeply painful time and to hell with her feelings? Holy hell you sound like a nightmare. How about this-you follow up with Lady, get the email, send an email condolence with a note saying “Lady told me you are collecting condolences for friend through this email address. Please pass along my note to friend if she’s up to reading it. She is in my thoughts.”

            Seriously, it is NOT OKAY to violate boundaries. For you to go proclaiming people to be unhealthy or sick for having the nerve to set them or say they should be taken seriously is creepy as hell.

            Friend is traumatized and doesn’t have the fucking spoons to do the emotional labor around any of this. That you think it’s fine to trample over her boundaries and push her beyond her limits because Lady isn’t (in YOUR opinion) the proper person to be passing a message long is what is unhealthy and frankly, gross.

            I think the LW is a good and kind person. But I am beyond disgusted with some of the comments here that dismiss boundaries and the rationalize violating them. LW messed up; we all do. But dismissing her friend’s boundaries and saying it’s okay to violate them is gross as hell.

    • policychick said:

      Whether you have a fair point, this is a snarky, sarcastic, and unkind comment. I can’t imagine how it could be helpful for the LW.

      • bat lord said:

        Yes. And IMO, the thing that sets Captain Awkward’s comments section apart is that we are here to help LWs, not to snark at them or tear them a new one.

    • CDM said:

      As a parent who lost a child many years ago, that was pretty much my reaction also. LW is making this about herself to a degree that feels very off to me.

      LW feels that “friend has placed me in an awkward position”

      LW “just wish{es} that she had let me give her condolences like people normally do.”

      LW is “starting to feel secretly angry at friend”

      I was mentally screaming “This isn’t about YOU” long before I finished the letter. CA was far more gracious to LW than I could possibly be.

      • Celeste said:

        That is the whole point of “comfort in, dump out”–it keeps a person from making someone else’s sorrow about him or her. All of these feelings that the LW has are dumps, and hopefully writing the letter has gotten them out. My advice to the LW is to move on from what happened and spend the energy on her own life.

      • hey nonny nonny said:

        People generally can’t do much to help the way they feel. They *can* help the way they behave.

        It sounds like LW has, for the most part, been behaving very well. LW has, by her own account, not been acting on these feelings around Friend – she didn’t send the wedding invite when asked not to, she didn’t attempt to get around the filters Friend put up after losing the child, the text-with-condolences-about-information-Friend-hadn’t-conveyed-herself was maybe not the greatest but seems like a relatively minor (and not repeated since) boundary push born of concern, and it seems like LW has been trying very hard to respect Friend’s boundaries overall, even when it’s awkward or painful for her. (I say this as someone who has boundaries very like Friend’s: hates physical touch, is made miserable by weddings and large social gatherings especially when I don’t know the other people there, deals with traumas by not talking to anyone about them or telling them what happened until I feel like I have enough of a handle on my own emotions to control my responses around people.)

        LW is allowed to be surprised by Friend’s boundaries, if they don’t match up with hers. LW is allowed to feel hurt by them, and to not understand where they’re coming from. LW is allowed to wish the situation wasn’t so hard for her to navigate, or that she and Friend were closer than it seems Friend feels they are. LW is allowed to feel what she feels. What she shouldn’t do is take these things out on Friend, or make them Friend’s responsibility to fix – and it sounds like she isn’t, and is actively trying to avoid doing just that, and that’s why she’s writing in. And it seems rather cruel to pile on someone for having the feelings they have when they are doing their best to handle those feelings responsibly and with compassion towards a person who is hurting a lot more than they are.

        Friend’s tragedies, and boundaries, are not about LW; but LW’s own feelings *are* about LW. LW came here to ask for help navigating her feelings around Friend, and figuring out how to do the right thing by Friend moving forward – not to ask how she can break down Friend’s boundaries or make things come out exactly the way she wants them. There is not a finite limit on compassion in a situation like this. It’s possible to acknowledge that Friend has been through something deeply traumatic and deserves both enormous compassion and the ability to set her own boundaries and handle her grief in the way she sees fit, while also acknowledging that LW, who is the one who wrote in for help, also deserves compassionate advice in navigating a situation that is currently troubling her enough that she felt the need to ask for an outside perspective.

        • ames said:

          Hear, hear. Sometimes I feel like advice column commenters expect perfection from the LWs of the world.

          • MsMildew said:

            Which is grossly unfair, because if people had been taught to properly respect other peoples boundaries from the get go, they wouldn’t be writing in here asking for advice.

        • S said:

          “W is allowed to be surprised by Friend’s boundaries, if they don’t match up with hers. LW is allowed to feel hurt by them, and to not understand where they’re coming from.” Technically yes?

          She’s seems to be approaching these feelings that she’s having as “normal” and her friend’s boundaries as “weird.” But, I don’t think that’s really true, just because something isn’t the way you work, doesn’t mean it isn’t how other people work.

          Perhaps this is the first time the LW has really been confronted with someone who 1. operates with a completely different set of boundaries and 2. is comfortable expressing those boundaries. It actually sounds like her friend is someone who is very comfortable setting boundaries. Requesting that condolences are filtered through a single family member after a tragedy, is frankly a brilliant strategy for people who don’t want to be inundated with other people’s feelings.

          And sure, she can have some feelings about that. But I think she should also work on not having quite as many feelings about that. Other people’s boundaries are not about her.

          I think the LW should use this as a learning experience. How can she be more participatory in being supportive to others in the way they might want, as opposed to trying to give them what she thinks they should want?

          Letting other people take the lead when it comes to escalating some exchanges is a good way to be respectful of boundaries. Hugs, talking about serious life events, engaging in more personal dialog with work colleagues, you can let other people take the lead on these things!

          • Nanani said:

            YES. This so much.

            Of course you’re “allowed” to feel whatever about whatever. Nobody is policing LWs feelings, but a lot of commentors are not on board with the characterisation of the friend’s boundaries and friendship style as “weird” vs LW’s “normal”.
            That is what’s not ok.

            Also, maybe you don’t get to decide that you’re friends when you’re begrudgingly tolerating their personal boundaries even BEFORE a devastating personal crisis arises.

          • MsM said:

            I do find it a little odd that someone who would write to an advice column that coined the term “Jedi hugs” is this baffled by the idea not everyone reacts the same way to physical contact.

          • S said:

            MsM – Seriously that didn’t even occur to me while writing this, but OMG.

        • the815 said:

          Thank you for this. I for one related more to the LW than the friend (although for the most part, other peoples’ comments do make sense).

          I had a friend I thought I was close with precisely because we did bond over Heavy Issues. Then after time she seemed to avoid me precisely because she didn’t want to talk about Heavy Issues, and then she was going through a divorce. She would invite me to things, but I would be one of a group of people she invited. She’d do things like invite this big group to a show with assigned seats. When I was the only one of the group to say yes, she then e-mailed me to say, “Okay, me and Friend A just got tickets. Hope to see you there!” Like – um, what was the point of planning to see the show together if she was just gonna pick a date and get tickets without me? Anyway, she would do things like that – make gestures that seemed friendly on the surface but then flake and not follow through. I did feel like I was walking on eggshells around her and I got tired of chasing after someone who made me feel terrible so I just stopped trying. We’re Facebook friends but that’s pretty much it.

          • the815 said:

            So, probably the best case scenario is for the LW to decide that the friendship just doesn’t work for her and isn’t worth extending any more effort – while at the same time being kind, accepting that it’s not about her, leaving the door open for a possible reconciliation or at least pleasant surface/work related interactions. Write it off as incompatibility without making anyone out to be a “bad guy.”

            Sure, maybe a refresher course on boundaries would serve LW well. Probably her text would’ve gone over better if it was just like, “Hey, we haven’t talked in a while – wanna grab a drink some time?” and leave it up to Friend to mention her baby or not. But who knows, that might have gotten ignored as well. Basically, LW is making herself miserable trying to figure out boundaries and a personal style that she doesn’t understand.

        • Leonine said:

          I’m gonna have to disagree with the characterization of the text message as a “relatively minor…boundary push.” First, a “minor” push is still a push, and that is Not Cool. More importantly, text messages are very intrusive. You can decline a phone call, but text messages pop up of their own accord, and you read them before you know it. In this case, it was an unexpected, unwanted, unavoidable intrusion on her grief. There was nothing minor about it.

          • minuteye said:

            Now, see, I would find a phone call *way* more intrusive than a text. A phone call out of the blue from someone I hadn’t seen in months with no context or way to figure out what they wanted? I might have a panic attack.

            Was it a good idea? No, clearly not, but I’m not sure why you get to judge what’s the objectively ‘worse’ form of contact in a post that’s all about respecting people’s different experiences of socialization.

          • Leonine said:

            I never said text messages are “worse.” I said a text message is not a minor intrusion and I explained my reasons. Since you brought it up, I will point out that if you decline a phone call and the caller leaves a voicemail, you can listen to the vm when and if you choose, or have someone listen to it for you, whereas a text message pops up under your eyes. That is, as I said above, not a minor intrustion. Meanwhile, I’m not sure why you get to misquote people. I’m not sure why you get to chastize people based on your misreading of their remarks. I’m not sure why you couldn’t just have contributed your point of view without taking a swipe at someone. I am sure that if you’re gonna take a swipe at me, you’d better have your facts straight.

          • minuteye said:

            The subtext of your comment reads to me like you were suggesting that text messages were objectively worse than phone calls. If that was not your intended messaging, then apparently I misread you.

            You seem to have taken my comment to be an attack on you personally, and responded with a lot of hostility. Just… wow.

          • Leonine said:

            You misread me, misquoted me, and chastized me for being judgmental and dismissive where I neither judged nor dismissed. You’re goddamned right I take that personally. I put a lot of thought and care into *everything* I write. I choose my words carefully and get my facts straight. If you don’t want to deal with “hostility,” I suggest you do the same.

          • Granny Smith said:

            In the scheme of boundary violations vis-a-vis making a connection, I’d say something like an email, letter, text, or phone call, made one time, is relatively minor, compared to showing up in person to their house/business/church, contacting their friends or family, contact at odd hours of the day/night, or making repeated attempts of any aforementioned tactics. Yes, it’s a boundary push, no, it’s not cool, but neither is it major. Perhaps a text is more painful than a phone call–personally I’d find a call more intrusive, but I think people in their forties like me are different than people in their twenties and thirties in this respect–but either one is *relatively* minor.

            Unfortunately, there is not much anyone can do to mitigate the grief of someone who’s lost a child, and some things will trigger strong emotion. People should certainly do their best to respect boundaries and be sensitive and respectful. But people are imperfect and make mistakes, and it’s not possible to know everyone’s emotional needs in advance so as to protect them from feeling pain, as 1) everyone has different needs, and 2) ultimately the pain is inevitable anyway, since grief must be expressed.

            It’s important to remember that the LW’s contact is not the *cause* of the emotional pain, but the catalyst of emotion, and triggering the expression of grief is not the same thing as inflicting emotional harm.

        • Angle-a said:

          hey nonny nonny, that was a lovely take on a difficult situation. I am more like LW in my emotional response & would feel the need for compassionate understanding around my feels in this situation. Thanks for your kindness. 😊

        • MsMildew said:

          Well stated!

        • Granny Smith said:

          Wonderful. Bravo. Thank you for this mature perspective.

      • Indoor Cat said:

        Yes. ❤

        I think the downside of a public forum like this is, LW is writing to Captain Awkward, but she's also (sort of) writing to a whole group of people whom she doesn't know and doesn't know the history of. In a group of this size, there are bound to be people like you, and possibly like For Ducks Sake, who've experienced this kind of unfathomable grief first hand.

        I have not felt this kind of grief, or lost anything remotely like this kind of loss. But I sympathize, and I could see myself feeling so angry at someone being so callous as to complain of my (reasonable!) behavior when I feel such an intense loss.

        I think Captain's Advice was wise. But, I also think anger-fueled sarcasm is plenty warranted in this situation.

        • Granny Smith said:

          Oh, I strongly disagree that anger-fueled sarcasm is warranted in this or any situation. Understandable, sure. But never warranted.

          When someone is feeling triggered, that is a sign that they are not in a wise, adult headspace and should disengage until they can bring themselves back into balance and communicate respectfully. There are times when this is not practical of course, and people have to do their best and solder on even when in the grip of strong emotion. An advice column, however, is NOT one of those times.

          Anyone who feels triggered by this column, for any reason, to the point that they are willing to lash out at a total stranger should seriously stop and step away from the keyboard. Someone in that situation might benefit by taking a minute to journal about their feelings or otherwise introspect in order to increase their self-awareness. But at the very least, they should not perpetrate abuse. If you can’t engage respectully, you should not engage.

          Whenever we feel negative emotion, it points to something within OURSELVES that needs attention. It does not point to something outside ourselves to assign blame and shame to. This website is about learning to develop healthy strategies for relating to others, so it is a sad irony that many of the comments are just vented spleen, disguised as “advice.”

          Even if you think the LW has seriously erred and and are convinced that she would benefit by hearing your correction, if you can’t do that from a kind, adult place but instead speak from your victimized child self, your advice will be tainted. It will not only carry whatever explicit message you want to convey, but also unhealthy implicit messages such as “you are worthless and deserve abuse” (because lashing out in anger is abuse, and violating a boundary is a denial of one’s personhood and therefore their worth).

          • Cat said:

            “when someone is feeling triggered” this column does not allow diagnosing of mental illnesses, either in the LW or the commentariat, FYI.

            Whenever we feel negative emotion, it points to something within OURSELVES that needs attention. This is false, and absurd on its face.

            if you can’t do that from a kind, adult place but instead speak from your victimized child self This is inappropriate and unacceptable. @ the Captain, can you step in?

          • TO_Ont said:

            Feeling triggered isn’t a mental illness, though, is it? It’s more of an emotion, and one just about everyone feels sometimes to some degree. Someone who has been through a major trauma or who has a mental illness may feel it to a whole other level in a whole other way, but most of us are familiar with some version of the feeling being described. I certainly recognise it.

            Maybe there’s some better term than ‘feeling triggered’? I that has too many associations of mental illness for some people?

            I found it a very thoughtful and helpful comment, personally.

          • TO_Ont said:

            I notice on the internet that often the line between an advice column and a discussion forum with articles for discussion isn’t sharp and distinct. Once a letter is published it typically starts to have a role beyond actual advice to the letter writer, becoming a starting point for discussion and thought for others beyond the writer. And so it nearly always happens that people use it to process their own thoughts and feelings, as well as to help the LW.

            OTOH, it’s still also advice to an actual individual person, too.

            It’s all weird. The internet is weird.

            I don’t know if the blurring is bad necessarily, or good, or neutral, but it’s a phenomenon one can see time and time again, not just on this blog but anywhere where a similar format appears.

          • Leonine said:

            “When someone is feeling triggered, that is a sign that they are not in a wise, adult headspace and should disengage until they can bring themselves back into balance and communicate respectfully.”

            Bullshit. You’re engaging in the Fallacy Fallacy: the notion that an inelegant argument is an invalid argument. Some of the most valuable comments I’ve ever seen on this site were rage-fueled, tear-soaked cries de coeur which would have lost their power and intensity and authority if their authors had retired to cool reflection. Your comment is supercilious and absurd on its face, and your equating being triggered with emotional immaturity is stunningly ignorant. Perhaps you should retire to reflect coolly on why authentic emotional expression is so distasteful to you.

          • Cat said:

            This comment is so delicately crafted to seem intelligent, wise, and reflective–a sort of ‘calming voice’ that is meant to rise above everyone else in the comment section, a beacon of truth meant to pierce through clouds of ‘negative emotion’. And yet it’s farcical and bizarre, declaring all negative emotions to be hangups from having an abusive or violent or traumatizing childhood, stating that any angry or harsh or ‘snarky’ advice is always abusive and useless, and implicitly grabbing hold of cultural messages that state that whoever is the calmest wins automatically to make its absurd point. It uses language of mental illness and past abuse to make itself seem kind and point, when in fact it’s just creepy and patronizing, as if Granny Smith is the mommy and we are all squabbling children who are running around stabbing each other, or some such nonsense. Everything about this comment is nasty, rude, condescending, inappropriate, and frankly just wrong in its conception of reality.

          • tequilamockingbird said:

            strong agree w/ everything cat & leonine said, & i too wish the captain would’ve addressed some of the language in this.

          • sarah said:

            Ooh, I’ll bite! Granny Smith, per your worldview, when a person feels the negative emotions of, say, self-righteousness and contempt, what do you suppose it is within that person that needs addressing? I await your thoughts with bated breath! /s

          • Sheelzebub said:

            The only one being abusive here is you. Abusers tend to dismiss boundaries and belittle people who think they should be respected.

            You’re also engaging in serious gaslighting behavior (no one said the LW was worthless and deserves abuse) and you’re belittling the women on this thread who shared why such a boundary violation would have sent them reeling. I’m sorry you don’t think someone’s feelings around a stillbirth is worthy of respect, but telling them to suck it up and deal (which you basically did) is beyond shitty.

          • sarah said:

            Oof, ironically, coming back with a cooler head I regret my last post. I apologize for shit-stirring, I lost sight of the fact that the point here is to help the LW.

            Granny Smith, I really disagree with your approach here. That said, I didn’t need to pick a fight. This thread is intense for me, I have not lost a baby but I had a traumatic birth with my now-toddler and it’s all very close to home.

            I’m going to step away now. Warm thoughts to the LW and all the commenters.

          • Kacienna said:

            My take on this, FWIW, is that the assumption ought to be that the advice column and its commenting space are part of the “out” for LWs in the “comfort in, dump out” sense. It’s not at all uncommon to see letters where LWs are dealing with emotions that might not be appropriate to share with the other people referenced in their letters but are also normal things to feel. Very few of us can respond with complete and total equanimity to not getting what we want. That doesn’t mean our wants are actually more important than the needs or wants of others, but it also doesn’t mean that we don’t need care from somewhere around those feelings. Since it’s reasonable to expect that the LWs might read the comments, and since they are the ones that initially wrote in for help, maybe someplace else should be our “out” space for dealing with feelings about the LWs.

  5. Thankful said:

    Great advice given. Just adding support that it’s hard when your friendship levels don’t match and then something terrible happens and it widens the gap.

    I personally would have chilled the relationship when she said she didn’t want to attend your wedding. Certainly she is allowed to have her “things” but for me that wouldn’t look like an equal friendship. At any rate, it’s admirable that you accepted her for those boundaries and continued to be her friend.

    Of course the death of her baby gives her the priority to heal and deal with herself as she desires. There should be no judgement on how others deal with their loses, even if it’s hard for us to understand. Like the captain said, “this isn’t about you.” It really sounds like you did everything appropriately. I hope she comes around.

    • Except the part where she contacted her not so close friend directly even though she was told not too. And while her intentions were to be helpful I won’t be surprised if not so close friend took it as “HEY LET ME REMIND YOU THAT YOUR CHILD IS DEAD, oh also let me use this moment of deep pain as a way to try and knit our friendship, a friend sh

      • (Sorry message got caught off) *a friendship that wasn’t that deep in the first place, closer together”. The LW clearly did something very wrong and hurtful.

        • Thankful said:

          Okay, I should have worded my sentence as, ” It really sounds like you TRIED TO DO everything appropriately.”

          I give the LW a pass. She was operating under the impression that they were good friends. Maybe she missed her friend and wanted to let her know that support was available. Maybe after a few months had passed she didn’t think that boundary (a boundary she heard from a third party) was still in place. She was wrong, clearly.

          Still, she’s a human being. She’s here trying to learn what she’s done wrong and how to fix it.

          • ashbet said:

            The third-party thing hasn’t been discussed much, and I do think it’s relevant.

            Friend didn’t make the request directly (or through a family member or mutual friend or mass e-mail), and I would have wondered if I’d understood it correctly.

            In the context of the rest of the letter and the other boundary issues mentioned, it seems more clear-cut — but it’s a little easier to understand why a request via a non-mutual colleague was ambiguously clear.

            LW should have reached out to the SISTER for clarity, though, rather than violating the boundary stated to her by the coworker.

          • Elsajeni said:

            It’s also not clear from the letter whether LW had other contact info for her friend’s sister, or some other way of getting the email address she was supposed to use (since the mutual acquaintance didn’t end up sending it). I think the text was a mistake, and some of the ways LW describes her friend’s “weird” boundaries don’t sit well with me, but I’m sympathetic to someone who thought “I know she wants me to email via her sister, but I don’t have that address or know how to get it and I don’t want her to think I’m deliberately ignoring her.”

      • Marceline said:

        And especially that LW reached out on New Year’s Eve, a holiday that can be loaded with big feels about the past and the future and loss and life in general.

        • Thankful said:

          Yes, NYE was probably not the best time for her to stir this up. Some people love the holiday but I’m always a little melancholy.

          • I hate it. I hate it with a passion, and have pretty much stopped celebrating New Year’s all together. I shut down in my hidey-hole and pretend the world doesn’t exist (unless a couple of *very* close friends have invited me to share the evening/day with them and then — because I know they know and will respect my feelings — I accept).

          • Saturnalia said:

            NYE is my birthday and it is doubly awful because of that fact. I kinda gasped at that point in the letter.

    • J said:

      Yes bc if they were really friends I think Friend would have been willing to go to a wedding for a few hrs. It sounded to me like she was trying to send the msg to LW that she didn’t want to be a part of her life. And LW is making the baby grief about her way too much. And I’m guessing that’s probably a trend. Lady was also recruited to keep LW away. And dude who insists on being given a home address after the first no???

      • Twitchy said:

        There’s friends and there’s friends, and different people have different boundaries. For me, I’d consider someone a friend if I enjoy their company, if I feel there’s some level of understanding between us, and if I wish them well and want to keep them in my life. I’d attend a wedding for someone if we’re close enough that I’d give them bone marrow, because that’s about how much I like weddings.

        I agree on the rest of your points, though. This is a hard, sad, scary situation. LW has a set of ideas about how to navigate things like this to make them easier on everyone. But her friend has a different set of ideas, and now LW feels stuck because she has to manage her own feelings about the still birth without using the script she knows, because following her script will make her friend feel worse.

        So yeah, LW. Give your friend space and time, since that’s what she needs right now. Maybe in a few months or years she’ll come back to herself and you can pick up your friendship where it was, or maybe she won’t. I think the kindest thing you can do for her right now is bear the weight of that uncertainty. Think of it as an alternative to sending flowers.

  6. RW said:

    LW please stop describing your friend’s behaviour as ‘not normal’ – the hugs, the wedding, the not wanting condolences – all these things ARE normal in your friends world. Perhaps that is part of why she is pushing you away. Maybe she knows that you’ll judge her for the way she chooses to grieve, or try to encourage dramatic shows of emotion, which from the sounds of things, ain’t your friends bag. Captain’s advice here is perfect – you’ve already let her know you are there if she wants a deeper relationship, and in the meantime, you need to respect her boundaries and be a great colleague whenever the opportunity presents itself. There is no normal, ESPECIALLY when dealing with grief – please try to remember that.

    • VioletEMT said:

      Yeah. This irks me. I’m currently going through *a thing* and I’m not having a “normal” or socially acceptable response to it, so I simply haven’t told anyone save Mr. Violet and a very close friend about it. I know that when/if it does come out, I’m going to have to spend a ton of energy fending off well-wishers AND criticism of my response, so I just would rather not.

      This person is private. She doesn’t want your condolences. She doesn’t want your texts about this. She clearly considers you a professional colleague, not a friend. You violated her boundaries. Now she’s cut you off. This seems like the natural progression of things.

    • Absolutely this – 100%.

    • Yeah I made it through a few lines and immediately thought “perhaps this person has picked up on the fact that you find so much of her personality ‘usual’ and would rather associate with people who accept her for who she is.” It’s okay for you to have a different emotional style from her. Which means it’s okay for her to have a different emotional style from you. You don’t come across like you think it’s okay, but rather is a flaw to accept and tolerate.

      I cannot speak for your friend, but I want to be accepted, not tolerated.

      • Jadelyn said:

        Throughout reading the letter, OP’s friend kept reminding me of a work-friend of mine. She was known – rather notorious, in fact – around the office for being a “negative person”. She was very reserved and rarely smiled, or spoke to people in passing, even to say “hi” or “bye”.

        But tbh…she and I always got along great! I think because in an office full of mainly extroverts and very touchy-feely people, she and I had a similar introvert vibe, so she felt “safe” with me in a way she didn’t with the rest of the office. I hid it better than she did, and either was better at or just willing to put more effort into putting on the gloss for other people’s sake, but I think we were very much the same type of person at heart. So if we happened to cross paths in the break room with nobody else in there, she’d joke and laugh with me, we’d chat briefly before heading back to our respective offices.

        As far as I can tell, it was down to the fact that she could trust that I wouldn’t infringe on her time or emotional energy any more than needed, or in more than a casual low-maintenance way that was comfortable for both of us. So she didn’t feel like she had to keep such a wall between us as she did between herself and the extroverts of the office, who would’ve expected her to expend emotional effort on socializing with them *in their way* rather than accepting the brief, low-stakes kind of interaction she could’ve offered them.

        For someone who’s more reserved or introverted or with stronger boundaries, it can be paradoxically easier to relax those boundaries and be more outgoing around people who are likewise reserved. Being outgoing around highly social people is exhausting, and tends to lead to a whole set of expectations for the future; being outgoing around other low-key people is accepted as a one-off that you can just step back from whenever you’re done.

        My guess would be that Friend found OP to be more emotionally high-maintenance than Friend was, and so felt like she had to hold her boundaries hard against OP lest she be drawn into an expectation of performing a more emotionally high-maintenance friendship than she would want long-term. Similarly, I’d bet that Mutual Friend who knew about Friend’s stillbirth is on a calmer emotional wavelength that’s more compatible with Friend’s emotional style, which is why she was privy to personal information and able to say exactly where Friend’s boundaries around contact were.

        Which isn’t anyone’s fault, but…I don’t blame Friend for keeping OP at arm’s length. I probably would do the same.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      x1000

      just wish that she had let me give her condolences like people normally do. really stuck in my craw. It’s bad enough that LW is prioritizing her own feelings, but pathologizing the response of a deeply grieving person is beyond the pale.

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        To clarify: I don’t think LW is a horrible person or that her behavior towards Friend was heinous, but it shows a lack of understanding that is likely to send someone like Friend fleeing to the hills.

    • Scarlet said:

      THIS, so much.

  7. Katie said:

    One thing I feel like wasn’t addressed is that the LW says they complied with lady’s “no contact” boundary, but LW says she texted friend on New Year’s Eve mentioning the friend’s loss. That isn’t following the “no contact” boundary that lady asked LW to respect. Sure, just texting the friend wishing her a Happy New Year might have been a nice gesture but bringing up your friend’s loss in the same message was crossing that boundary.

    • JenniferP said:

      Yes, absolutely, sorry I meant to talk about that and then accidentally deleted it when I was editing. All condolence stuff should have gone to the sister’s email, as requested. That lets the grieving friend sort through things in her own way. The New Year’s text should have been “Happy New Year!” if anything. By going around that boundary, the Letter Writer possibly becomes someone who can’t be trusted not to bring up the death at inopportune times, so of course the friend is going to be on edge when seeing her.

      • Light37 said:

        That’s a good point. When my mom died, I could only deal with condolence cards/emails/FB stuff for a certain amount of time, and only in my own time. Having random ones pop up at me was hard to handle.

      • Rana said:

        Did she have the ability to contact the sister, though? She said that Lady was going to give the sister’s email address to her, then never did.

        • That’s like saying “I couldn’t find you on LinkedIn so I dropped around to your house”. I’m exaggerating but basically if you are not able to contact someone in acceptable ways, you don’t get the right to contact them in unacceptable ways (unless it’s an emergency).

        • sneaky said:

          I find it irrelevant that LW was never given Friend’s sister’s email. The way to navigate “I’ve been told explicitly not to do X and instead to do Y, but I’m unable to do Y” is not to say “I’ll just go ahead and do X.” It’s to do neither. This may feel sad, it’s valid to get sad about that, but it’s not valid to do X.

          For the record, I strongly suspect the whole sister’s-email thing was simply a polite way of funneling people’s condolences into the trash. Based on Friend’s boundaries (and having myself run interference for grieving friends) I doubt the sister was passing many if any of those condolences along, and the whole setup was meant to fulfill Friend’s wishes not to be contacted while avoiding argument. This would make finding the sister’s email and sending a message, and doing nothing at all, the same thing. It might be helpful to the LW to frame it this way, since it means (1) she didn’t neglect her duties or fail to take an important action by being unable to email the sister, and (2) Friend and sister created this setup for people in general, not LW specifically; it was not personal to LW, it does not mean that LW’s condolences specifically were not wanted, it means condolences generally were not wanted.

      • Granny Smith said:

        She didn’t receive the email that the Lady promised to send to her.

        • Sheelzebub said:

          She could have followed up with Lady.

  8. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like hugs, flowers, or weddings. People can take this as an insult because it’s expected that people like all of these things, but I just don’t. It’s not personal. When someone acts insulted by my honest communication of what makes me uncomfortable, that person gets on a list of people I don’t confide in because I don’t trust that they will respect my wishes.

    I have an old friend who does like all of these things and is very social and emotionally expressive. We used to live together and had a big mismatch in this area. But what’s relevant about this friendship is that she started to randomly (from my point of view) avoid me, avoid eye contact with me, and generally give me a cold shoulder to freeze all cold shoulders. I assumed she was super pissed at me but didn’t understand why and was really upset about it. I gave her space because she obviously wanted it, but I mentioned to a mutual friend about the situation. Mutual friend told me that my roommate had been raped. My roommate was in shock and needed a lot of space to grieve. I saw her every day and she would look at the floor and pretend I didn’t exist. I didn’t say anything because she hadn’t confided in me and didn’t feel comfortable around me. A few months later, she started to act like herself again. She started speaking to me again and hanging out with me. Eventually she told me what had happened. It took a long time for her to feel strong enough to discuss it with me. I think she saw me as someone who wouldn’t have understood her pain when she was going through it because we had such a big contrast in how we express ourselves and the kind of comfort we need. If it had been me, I probably would have done the same thing.

    Tell your friend that if she needs anything, she can reach out to you and you’ll be there, but also be clear that you’re going to give her space and wait for her to tell you that she wants to talk. Be patient. Find someone that does need your attention now and focus on that person. Different people need different things at different points in time, and that’s okay.

    • Remembering the “no contact” instructions, I would direct comments about well-wishes and waiting for your friend to reach out to you to Lady instead of your friend. Your friend will hear about it from a source that she feels really comfortable with which will help the message be absorbed in a way that isn’t upsetting and respects her boundaries.

    • Slow Gin Lizz said:

      One of the things I love about CA’s response is her comparison of the friend to a cat who sends off the “leave me alone vibes.” Seems like you were letting your roommate be that cat and that’s really nice of you to have done. Horrible thing that happened to your roommate, though.

      • I agree — some people (including me) are a lot like (many) cats: when they’re hurting or ill, you won’t see hide nor hair of them and they’ll be tucked up in a dark corner where they can lick their (physical and emotional) wounds in privacy and peace.

        LW, your former acquaintance is one of those people. Please respect her “no contact” from here on out.

    • hbc said:

      “I think she saw me as someone who wouldn’t have understood her pain when she was going through it because we had such a big contrast in how we express ourselves and the kind of comfort we need. If it had been me, I probably would have done the same thing.”

      I really, really like this point. I think we sometimes oversimplify* that the cat people are hissing “Must be alone with my pain!” and the dog people are all, “Everyone come give me all the belly rubs!!!” But often we just want the people around who we know will give us what we need. A lot of actual injured cats will prefer being left alone under the bed while a human they trust quietly sits across the room. The human equivalent is probably what CA describes in points 2 and 4–acting pretty much normal with maybe a bit more consideration (but that still falls within the plausible deniability range.) Similarly, a dog person usually doesn’t want to waste limited energy chasing after hugs from a cat.

      We might try to get others to do what we want in less fraught situations, but when it reaches emergency level, we usually know where to go to get what we need with the least amount of effort.

      *Yes, I’m picking on an oversimplification while deploying a cat/dog metaphor.

      • winter said:

        Obersimplified: Maybe. But the metaphor is working really well.

      • Ironically, while i prefer cats, if I’m upset/scared/grieving, etc. I would prefer the attention and concern. Just how I roll, I guess!

  9. lisakoby said:

    I think she’s not (and never has been) the kind of friend you wanted/needed her to be to you. That’s not a criticism of either of you and it can be hard to judge that. I’m going through something similar in my personal life.

    It’s okay to define ‘friend’ differently in different situations. I define work friends as people I go to coffee with that I get along with but the discussion never gets past what movie we just saw (or whatever). Even in personal friendships there are levels of intimacy…not everyone needs/wants/can be inner circle (as I’m relearning – sigh).

    Maybe work on finding friends that are not connected to work that better fit your friendship style who will give/receive the level of intimacy that would better fit your needs.

    Good luck on finding other connections that are a better match and take care of yourself.

  10. Smithy said:

    I’m sorry about this situation because having friends and support networks at work can be really really valuable. That being said, in addition to what the Captain said I think this may also be a case of someone who was open for a networking closeness but was not seeking friendship beyond work.

    When I started in my career – while overall it is pretty female dominated field – I happened to be working in a department of one. And while I was a twentysomething single woman – my closest work colleague and mentor was a grandfather in his late 60’s. While we had a very close working relationship and at times talked or texted every day of the week, we were also definitely not “friends” in a traditional social sense.

    At my next place of employment where there were far greater numbers of colleagues my age – I still had this mindset of having networks of colleagues but not really seeing coworkers as social friends. It was a new situation for me and one I had to decide how i wanted to approach in the space of “co-workers I bond with at happy hour or conferences” vs “co-workers I see as friends to invite to a wedding, plan a vacation with, etc.” For some people going to a coworkers wedding would be no different than networking – but for others it’s a personal line they don’t want to cross. And it is definitely a continuum that is not always readily clear especially if someone isn’t 100% direct around “I don’t mix my personal and professional life”.

    OP – as a friend I think you’ve made the moves you can and have to respect the distance. But I’d also just flag that as a networking colleague – maybe this just wasn’t the level of a relationship that this woman wanted? And perhaps what she wanted was a relationship where she could geek out on Work and being a Woman doing that kind of Work? You know that in the past you’ve had a good relationship over work, that is where I’d dial things back to as opposed to trying to look at this from the friendship perspective.

  11. Hi, LW. I am sorry, I know this hurts.

    The hard thing I have to tell you is that I don’t think you two were actually friends. I think she’s been pushing you away for a long time before the still birth. I’m sorry to say it, as I have certainly met people whom I’ve liked very much, whom I would have very much liked to have been close to, but they were not here for it. After a couple of no’s I figured they knew how to get in touch if they wanted to get closer.

    I think you felt closer to her than she did to you. Here’s why I think this:

    1) Attempts by you to get closer were (gently and politely) rebuffed (the hug, wedding, etc.)
    2) It doesn’t sound to me like she came to you with her problems or had a good cry on your shoulder–it sounds like she didn’t want to go there with you.
    3) You two didn’t have contact outside of work (and in fact, when you did text her when she went on maternity leave to offer help or to come see her, she demurred.)
    4) You heard about the stillbirth from a mutual acquaintance, not from her.
    5) You didn’t know what her address was. I know in this age of the internet it’s possible to not know that but this coupled with everything else tells me that you two were not as close as you thought you were.

    To be honest, the “don’t invite me to your wedding” would have been a sign to me that she’s not into it. A big part of accepting the no is not just accepting the one no–it’s looking at a pattern of no’s and going from there. For whatever reason, she was not feeling it the way you were. I think it’s time to dust yourself off and move on, wish her well in your mind (I cannot imagine the emotional pain I’d go through if I had a stillborn baby), and develop other friendships.

    I have also been the friend in this equation a few times, though not going through a stillbirth. I felt badly about no reciprocating feelings–none of these people were bad people. But I didn’t grok with them and didn’t connect with them. And I didn’t want to open up to them up private and painful matters. In the case of work, I tend to want to keep things professional. I realize you feel she has put you in an awkward position–consider that she may feel the same way. That you were wanting a friendship she didn’t feel and didn’t see the constellation of no’s. She is also going through a long grieving process and may be just barely holding it together. If you were super close you’d know more about it. But the thing is, you weren’t that close. You felt closer to her than she did to you.

    I think cultivating your current friendships and developing new ones is a great idea. Be a good colleague to this woman, for sure, but I’d give her a lot of space.

    • Too Many Days said:

      Can we give the LW the benefit of the doubt? If she said that they were friends, I’m willing to believe her that they were friends. This is a letter about how the friendship isn’t working; of course the LW isn’t going to include all of the evidence about how the friendship *did* work.

      I can’t stand people touching me and there are only a handful of situations where I’ll accept a hug without pitching a fit. NO WAY am I letting a friend hug me, even my bestest best friend in the whole wide world.

      Some people really are weird about weddings.

      When I’ve had life-altering news as an adult — cancer diagnosis, close family members dying — I didn’t tell anyone who didn’t need to know. Yes, even close friends. Why would I?

      I don’t know the address of most of my friends? (I think this might be a cultural thing. Where I live, you go over to a non-relative’s house if you’re sleeping with them or, like, if they can’t leave their house because they’re seriously ill or just had a baby or something. Not something most friends in their 30s would do.)

      Anyway, it’s clear that Friend wants space and that LW’s and Friend’s communication styles aren’t matching up. The Captain’s advice is perfect. But the LW’s understanding of her own past seems reasonably consistent to me.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Also, weddings are often expensive and more guests increase the expense. If someone has a small wedding – or if they have a big family they want to invite – then it could be that you might invite only a few of your very very closest friends.

        • Weddings are also expensive as a guest. I don’t really have “wedding” clothes so I’d have to buy stuff, plus the time and energy of getting all jazzed up, plus the social energy of spending a night out, etc.

      • SarahTheEntWife said:

        Yeah, if a coworker-friend invited me to their wedding it would probably be incredibly awkward because it would be such a Thing to decline, but I loathe giant parties where I don’t know most of the people there (and if a coworker-friend is inviting me, it’s presumably not a cozy little wedding with their 30 nearest and dearest). I go to family weddings because the combination of social obligation and joy at seeing my family member get married outweighs the fact that I’m going to spend the next three days being an antisocial grumpy cat.

        But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be friends with coworkers. I might even want to be closer friends with some of them. But for me, and presumably the friend in this letter, “being invited to someone’s wedding” jumps about 10 rungs up the friendship ladder from “coworker who’s a good professional support system and is fun socializing with outside of work occasionally”.

      • songofstorms said:

        I agree, I don’t think there’s anything in the letter that necessarily indicates that this person didn’t genuinely consider LW a friend. Some people just aren’t very effusive with their emotions. Heck, some of the people I love most in the world would probably describe their relationship with me similarly to how the LW describes her friend.

      • tabbykat said:

        Agreed. People are soooo different, and need really different things. I have a friend, who is definitely a friend, who shares something personal like once every six years, briefly. At most. She’s not a close friend, but she is friend. Some people just don’t share with many people.

    • I pretty much disagree with every comment stating that “you weren’t really friends.” It seems like the introvert friend expresses herself in ways very similar to myself. I don’t enjoy weddings (my own was done at the courthouse), am a low-hug person, don’t generally express serious emotions in public, would consider condolences about a grief event to be a painful and difficult reminder that I would prefer to not have expressed. There are only two people in my life that I would willingly cry in front of: My husband and my oldest sister. I have 5 sisters total, 6 brothers, and only ONE of my siblings I will cry in front of.

      The sending of the condolence text, at New Years of all times, when I haven’t mentally prepped for it… man that would have been rough for me. I don’t think I would blame the person for being who they were, but I probably would put up a wall. And if they reacted badly to the wall? Insisted I “let them in”? That friendship would be over.

      There’s not one and only way to be friends or to express friendship. The Captain did well to compare it to cat-like affection. My cats love to be loved by me and my husband, but when they don’t want to be touched it’s pointless to keep trying to insist they let you hug them. They show their affection by being willing to hang out in the same room as us. If we chased them down for cuddles constantly, the natural reaction would be that they wouldn’t be able to relax around us anymore. Some human beings are the same way.

  12. LW it doesn’t sound like you and your friend were that close in the first place. You kept unloading your problems on her (and you didn’t mention she did the same). You were very begrudging over her simple stated boundaries, and all in all it seems like you were just a casual friend for her. And it sucks, sometimes we like a person way more than they do us and it really hurts.

    But then you made the colossus mistake of violating her boundaries about the death of her still born child. You made it all about you and how your feelings are hurt. How would you feel if Joe your acquaintance from accounting started intervening in your deep and personal family grief?

    Mourn this relationship, there is no saving it. Act professional towards her but don’t expect her to want to be your friend. And in the future make sure to look for signs of reciprocated feelings, that you respect people’s boundaries with out making a big deal out of it. And most importantly when you get into the mindset of “I did this thing for them how dare they not reciprocate and or behave exactly how I want them too” just try and be more empathetic and understanding of the other person.

  13. Slow Gin Lizz said:

    Just writing in to second CA’s recommendation of the ring theory. I had a hard time for years knowing what to say and how to treat people going through tough times. Reading about the ring theory really helped me. And in this case, LW, the Captain is right, what your grieving friend really needs right now is to be left alone. She may come back to you after awhile if she’s feeling up to it, and she may not. I’m sorry that it’s hard to let her be, but I hope you can do that and be okay with it.

    • Seconding this comment: ring theory is so helpful.

  14. I’m sorry, this is heartbreaking. I’ve been there, I’ve lost friends that just ghosted me for no reason I could discern. It hurts, a lot, but ultimately it’s their decision and you have to respect it. CA is right – stop trying to force contact on her. If she comes to you later, great, but it sounds like right now she needs to figure things out on her own, or at least without you.

  15. the flying piglet said:

    Just wanted to thank the Captain for the compassionate, kind response to the LW. I think some of the above comments were unduly harsh to the LW. Captain, your response was direct, kind, firm, and your last paragraph moved me to tears. I hope all of us, when we misstep in life, are granted this level of compassion. Thank you xx.

    • KStanley said:

      Piglet? Thank you for posting this comment. I was looking for a way to say this and you said it better than I would have.

      Sometimes there is no bad guy. The LW wanted advice and got it. Telling her how awful she is does not help anyone and may prevent her from seeking advice again.

      • PrairieChick said:

        It seems that LW has been told by some commenters how awful THEY THINK her behaviors were.

        LW, please take them with a big tablespoon of salt, learn what lessons make sense, and then move on. None of us is prefect (spelling mistake intended 🙂 ) .

        I hope that, in future, LW will feel comfortable with contacting the Captain again.

      • Jadelyn said:

        Okay but literally no one has told OP she was “awful” that I can see?

        There are a number of people who weren’t willing to sugarcoat calling out some of the overstepping OP did wrt Friend’s boundaries – which she indisputably did on multiple occasions – and a number of people commenting that their read of the relationship doesn’t tally with what OP was describing as “friendship”, but that’s not the same as saying the OP is awful. Many of the comments of that nature even went out of their way to say that having different levels of emotional investment in a friendship is rough but is nobody’s fault, which is definitely not “telling the OP how awful she is”.

  16. Too Many Days said:

    LW, I am really, really sorry. As someone who has been on both sides of this:

    From your perspective: I know how much this hurts. There’s no magical way to make this situation better. The Captain’s advice is great, and now one of two things is going to happen. Either you’re just not going to be friends with this person again, or eventually Friend will be in a better place and you’ll slowly return to being friendly colleagues. Neither of these are great options, I know, because neither of these are your intense friendship returning to the way it once was, but the hurt does eventually abate, I promise.

    From your friend’s perspective: I’ve been through life-altering tragedies and been Absolutely Unable To Person when others have tried to help. It wasn’t a referendum on how much I valued their friendship. I just didn’t have any emotional energy to spare for anything, even, yes, my closest friends. I became that person who ignores texts and that person who ignored certain people at networking events and generally behaved erratically. What social conventions there are for these sorts of things are sometimes simply Too Much To Bear. I swear it wasn’t about them. I swear it was about me.

    • OMJ said:

      I’ve been through stages where I couldn’t even exchange normal social niceties because even *that* level of intimacy would open an emotional floodgate. Something as innocuous as, “It’s good to see you” would trigger an avalanche of FEELINGS that I wasn’t ready to share or cope with at that moment. I’m sure during those times I came across as extremely cold and even rude. But those little friendly exchanges aren’t energy-neutral, you don’t really notice that until you’re conserving every bit of emotional energy you have.

  17. Guesty said:

    I think that the major issues here are that a) the LW mistakenly believes that everyone feels like she does and grieves like she would and b) she’s unknowingly prioritizing her feelings over her friend’s.

    Friendship looks different to everyone, and so does grief. There’s no timeline about when someone should be over the loss of a child and they’re not obligated to allow others to comfort them if it doesn’t, in fact, comfort them. The kindest, most generous thing the LW can do is to accept Friend’s terms, even if that means that the LW doesn’t get the type of friendship she wants in the end.

    Friendships change and drift apart all the time, even without traumatic events taking place. It sounds like, for whatever reason, Friend is not interested in having a close friendship with the LW at this time and the LW shouldn’t try to change that.

  18. mf said:

    I get the sense that even before the stillbirth, you and her had different ideas of how close you were.

    This has happened to me a lot in the past, especially with coworkers. I tend to put on a warm, friendly, extraverted face at work, but in reality, I’m both introverted and very private. I may seem super friendly with coworkers, but I like to keep a certain distance between my work life and home life, and that means limiting my contact with coworkers outside of my 9-5 time.

    Could be that she enjoyed having you as a work friend but never thought of you as a personal friend. Now that she’s dealing with this very personal tragedy, she may not want to let you in on that space. She may also be worried that when she sees you, you will immediately make things personal.

    So yeah, I think the best thing you can do right now is be the best colleague you can be to her. Follow her cues, and she’ll let you know if/when she wants your relationship to be more than.

  19. Ice and Indigo said:

    Here’s a possible interpretation that could make it feel less wounding.

    Going through something like this is a pain like nothing on earth, and sometimes it isn’t just painful, but ugly, angry, unappealing. Maybe sometimes she needs a good cry like a ‘normal’ person, but sometimes she looks at pregnant women on the street and wants to scream in their faces – and she only feels comfortable being around people who will be able to take it matter-of-factly and show fellow feeling if she mentions that. Even very nice people who weren’t fellow-sufferers or close family may not know how to react if she was honest about her feelings … and that little look of doubt cuts deep, because it reinforces how far away from your previous ‘normal’ life the tragedy has dragged you.

    In that state, grief can be alienating, and you may just want to isolate yourself until you feel reasy to be ‘normal’ again, because it’s less isolating to be alone than to be in a different emotional universe from the people you’re sharing space with. So withdrawing and wanting to be left alone may not be about you as a person, LW, so much as about the fact that you don’t happen to have been through the relevant experiences. Sometimes the only way not to feel like a freak is to stick with people who’ve been where you are.

    Texting her was a mistake, albeit a well-intended one, and I don’t know if she’ll get past it. But if she does, it’ll be because you gave her space and let her relate to you on her own terms. It’s not your fault that you weren’t the person she needed at that particular time – her needs were extreme and specific – but you need to accept it and let her take the lead.

    Good luck!

    • D said:

      Yes, most people are aware in general terms that anger can be a stage of grief, but it can be really surprising how ugly that anger gets when it happens. It’s not always rage against the grand forces of the cosmos–it can get very personal and nasty. There’s no easy way to tell someone, “You’ve done nothing wrong, but my brain’s just decided you’re the worst for reasons you can’t control or change. Can we take a break and reconvene when I’ve worked this out?”

      • Ice and Indigo said:

        Not to mention, ‘If my anger upsets you, about 95% of my brain is going to react by thinking, “Oh boo fucking hoo, does it hurt to be around me? Try BEING me!” And I’ll then have to work very hard not to be mean to you on purpose because if I can’t control how much pain life inflicts on me, it’d be obscurely comforting to take control of how much pain I inflict on you. And winning that battle when it’s odds of 95 to 5 just takes too much out of me. And frankly it pisses me off that I’ve even had to force the rationality to figure this out. So between being angry, being angry that I’m angry, being exhausted by all that emotion, and being angry that I have to be this exhausted … yeah, I’m kind of done for the day. I think I’ll stay away from you just in case I murder you by mistake.’

        Sometimes avoiding company is being the best friend you can be under the circumstances.

        • Anonymous Ampersand said:

          I wish I didn’t remember what that felt like.

          • Ice and Indigo said:

            Sympathies. xxx

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          This.

        • Angle-a said:

          Yes, being the fire that burns down the house. It’s hard to become the Phoenix.

        • Cat said:

          This is a perfect articulation of this thing. Because like…it’s not just anger, it’s anger that compounds onto itself so much until you feel like you’re choking on it, like everything is a sea of pure rage and you’re just swimming in it and can’t tread water.

      • Cat said:

        Oh god, yes, this. And then some people are like ‘oh I can take it’ and it’s like…mmm, no, you can’t, and also I don’t rationally WANT to be a person who has said these things that are in my mouth to you later on! This whole thing is so awful, just let us both avoid this!

    • Light37 said:

      After my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I had to avoid some people until I made it through the anger stage. Otherwise, I’d have said unforgivable things to them. And it was nothing they’d done wrong, just my own inner knowledge that I could hone in on them like a precision-guided missile and rip their feelings apart. I stayed away so I could deal with that and not cause harm to others.

      • D said:

        Yes, exactly, I went through that shortly after my mom’s diagnosis too. It’s hard to explain, but the urge to drop a bomb in the middle of an innocent conversation is SO STRONG. And it didn’t happen with everyone, just a small selection of people who shared one trait I irrationally resented.

        I definitely came across as cold to some people, but on balance it was better than cruelty.

        • Light37 said:

          I literally bit my tongue on occasion so I wouldn’t say that horrible thing. And I’m usually a kind person, so that made it worse because I felt so wrong and off-balance being so angry.

          • I just wanted to say, as someone who has also felt this kind of rage in grief and also been horrified by the type of person I seemed to have become, that it really helps to read your guys’ account of this. Thank you for sharing it.

          • D said:

            I ran out of nesting, but same, Elizabeth and Light 37, it’s good to know I wasn’t the only one. Some of the anger ended up being clarifying in a good way–I realized that there were some people I just plain didn’t like, and I’d been forcing myself through friendships I didn’t want–but mostly it was this bizarrely intense and illogical rage. I wish someone had warned me about it because it did make me feel out of control and bad in a way I wasn’t at all prepared for.

          • I frequently was angry at people literally for being alive when somebody else wasn’t. I knew it was irrational and unfair but that changed nothing (except making me feel worse).

            I remember in a grief group I was in once, we were all talking about how people being kind to us in small and unexpected ways made us cry. For me, those small kindnesses often felt (also irrationally) like they were a recognition of the value of the person I had lost, even if they were totally unrelated kindnesses from someone who didn’t even know I had lost anyone (like the workers at a repair shop who didn’t charge me for something they could have) — everything I experienced, good or bad, was just so symbolically connected to my loss, in my own head. The grief group moderator asked, did I experience that type of kindness often? And I just looked at him and said, well, considering that I went through every day glaring at everyone and hating them for being alive, not so much: I wasn’t exactly bringing out anyone’s best side.

            I saw what was happening to me, but I couldn’t stop it. I’m so, so glad to be out of that space. Honestly, having lived it, one of my big fears for the future is whether that is the personality that will emerge when I am old and vulnerable and cognitively failing. I hope not.

            To bring this back to the OP, I hope that maybe what you can take from this discussion is that a lot of things are happening inside your friend right now that aren’t about you in any way, even if they look and feel like they are. I’m also someone who tends to take things personally so I understand that impulse, but in this case, I think it is safe to say that very very little of what your friend is experiencing is really about you.

          • Light37 said:

            Same here. It’s a relief to see other people admitting this happened to them. It was especially upsetting because I’m not usually like that, and I kept feeling, as D says, out of control and bad, at a time when my coping and people skills were already taxed to the maximum. I scared myself at times, and unfortunately this is the kind of thing that normally nobody wants to talk about. It’s ugly and frightening and can’t be prettied up for an article or a blog post on the five stages of grief.

  20. Nanani said:

    THIIIIS to the Captain’s response.

    LW, your feelings about her boundaries are completely irrelevant. She gets to have boundaries. You have to respect them.
    It doesn’t matter how surprising or unusual you find the boundaries, you still have to respect them.

    Maybe this person will never be the kind of friend you want. That’s too bad, but she’s not doing anything AT you.

    Step off and be on your way; save the flowers and wedding and hugs for people in your life who want those things from you.

    • Celeste said:

      Exactly the best advice! Wouldn’t it feel much nicer to have your overtures wanted? That’s the relationship you should be in. Proximity (ie the workplace) doesn’t guarantee a good fit. There are other places to find good friends than at work. Sure, a work friend is a special thing. But you can’t will it into existence.

  21. LW, after a major loss, I spent months and months avoiding social interactions, and pretty much any contact with most of my friends. This was not because I did not value them or their friendship, it was just that ANY human contact beyond what I was required to do in order to maintain my employment, took energy that I did not have. One of my fears, during that time, was that when I was ready to join in again, that my friends would have moved on without me, and I wouldn’t be able to get those friendships back. So, while I agree with the commenters who have pointed out that you have not always been Totally Great about your friend’s boundaries, I also appreciate that you are trying to keep a place for her friendship in your heart.

    I also know that it’s hard and hurtful to have this open place where she isn’t – maybe you can think of it as letting go of her? Can you do that in a way that leaves the possibility of forging a friendship again, but doesn’t keep you feeling like you’re trying to hold onto something that isn’t there?

  22. thefyd said:

    “… in this terrible world she never wanted to live in, the one where her baby died.” Now I’m crying.

  23. Guesty said:

    Something similar to this happened to me.

    I was friendly with a co-worker, though we weren’t very close. While on a business trip together, she told me that she was a few weeks pregnant (it came up because she wasn’t drinking). Because it was so early, she wasn’t telling anyone else and we ended up talking about her fears of a miscarriage. I tried to comfort her and told her some examples of my own family, where people have suffered multiple miscarriages and have gone on to have many children.

    Well, a few weeks later, she did end up miscarrying. Because I was one of the few people in the office who knew (and because we had specifically discussed it) I comforted her as best I could and offered to cover for her with clients/in meetings if she needed to camp out in the bathroom to cry.

    After a few weeks, I noticed that she was less friendly with me and may have even be avoiding me. I knew why. She had finally reached a point where she was able to get through the day and was worried about encountering reminders of what had happened. I think that even just looking at me would bring back the memories of our conversations about her loss. In order to reliably retain her composure during the day, she had to limit our interactions.

    It sucked, but it wasn’t her fault. Sometimes shit just happens and no one is to blame. She didn’t choose to have a traumatic event so painful that she couldn’t be around her friend. I saw on Facebook that she now has a couple of kids and I couldn’t be happier for her.

    The LW needs to understand that dealing with strangers (like Friend did at the networking event) is often easier than dealing with people who remind you of your loss, or who remind you of the life you had before you were swallowed up by grief. This is 100% normal and isn’t personal.

    • You, Guesty, are great person. I hope you realize that. Not a lot of people would have reacted in such an understanding and kind way if/when faced with that situation.

      • Guesty said:

        Thank you for your kind words!

    • Light37 said:

      I met a friend just as she’d discovered her husband was cheating on her with multiple women and stealing money, plus she was in law school and drowning with exams. I helped her as much as I could at the time, but after things settled down she pulled back, and I realized that for her I was a sign of the pain and stress she’d felt. It hurt, yes, but it wasn’t about me, and I was able to accept that I hadn’t done anything wrong.

      • ioethe said:

        I have a friend who I am only ever close to when he’s going through a break up. He’s literally sobbed in my arms until he fell asleep, and then in a couple of weeks time everything was back to his normal cool/snarky self. It’s a running joke now, if he won’t hug me, he’s happy.

    • Czarnoskrzydła said:

      This is very smart. I remember once learning about a psychological effect – I don’t remember its name or if it even has a specific name – that seems counter intuitive to me: if you spend a lot of time with a person during a very difficult/sad/scary time for them, this person can end up liking you less, even if you helped a lot.
      This is because you may become somehow attached to the unhappiness in their mind. It’s not something anyone does on purpose, just a person’s mind kinda uses a shortcut : this person was there when I felt bad bad therefore person = bad, will like less.

      It’s just a very simple association that happens subconsciously.
      Man, I wish I remembered how it was called to read up on it ;/ I hate source amnesia.

      • Guesty said:

        Yes, this is exactly it! Even if the person still has a positive opinion of someone, they can have a Pavlovian-like response to seeing them or communicating with them. Or they could simply be trying to avoid having the incident come up in conversation again.

        • Saran said:

          Yes!

          I have a friend like this. He was there for me during some tough times but the friendship ran its course for me (for other reasons, I’ve been there for him too, it wasn’t a one sided/using situation) and he won’t let it go. He keeps trying to hang out and doesn’t listen to my silence whenever he suggests it or my pulling back from texting.

          we have little to talk about these days, and whenever we meet up or I reply to a message all I get is ‘so how are you coping with this issue?’ and it ends up making me so irrationally angry. Like I’m being reminded on purpose of a time when I wasn’t as strong (and he felt I needed him more), it makes me feel rubbish and weak and is so unecessary, none of the other friends I have do this.

          My gut sense is it’s his way of trying to show how close we are. That he knows stuff about me. And to get more personal info about how I am currently. But it just squicks me out so much I can’t stand being around him anymore and the last time I saw him I felt myself literally recoil when he walked into the room.

        • Someone, anyone said:

          This so much.

          When my mental health problems started, I once broke down in tears in front of a group. One of the group leaders took me somewhere more private, and we had some discussion about my personal problems and feelings.
          Sometime later, when I was there being all normal and chatting with people, she asked me how I felt and if I was better.

          I knew she meant well, but I was shocked.
          I was busy being normal, taking pride in being normal, and was just learning to balance my mental health with everyday life. Her comment caught me off guard and reminded me that I was broken and fragile. She wanted to be helpful and show concern and compassion, but what I NEEDED was to never, ever be reminded of my problems while among people. In fact, I didn’t want to be reminded about it at all. I needed to feel strong, and that woman’s comment took that feeling away from me. (Besides, I absolutely hate it if people I deal with in everyday life know very personal stuff about me, and tend to try to dilute the emotional proximity with physical distance.)

          I avoided her ever after. Looking back, that innocent comment did quite a bit of damage – I lost my faith that people would be able to treat me normally if I confided in them. To this day, only my boyfriend, some doctors and some random strangers on the internet know about my mental health. I know this might seem like an overreaction to a lot of people, but Very Private Problems cause, by their very nature, Very Strong Emotions; and everybody deals with them differently.

      • J. Preposterice said:

        Yes! This happened with a friend of mine. Her teenaged daughter passed away unexpectedly, and I took advantage of the flexible work schedule I had at the time to help — being there, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, calling people who needed to know, etc.

        It has been years, and my friend still has trouble seeing me one-on-one without bursting into tears. So we no longer have the friendship we had before, and we never will. And that’s sad for me, and maybe also for her, I don’t know, but you know what is way sadder? Her daughter being dead, that’s what, and whenever I find myself getting annoyed and resentful that she and I no longer hang out, I take a deep breath and let it go. Because. What else is there, really?

  24. Birch said:

    Like others have said, it’s entirely possible that it really, really, really isn’t about you. Grief is one of the worst things people can go through. My partner died unexpectedly almost 6 years ago now, and between that and a couple other health issues, I’m just now able to feel joy regularly again and feeling fully like myself again. For the first ~three years, I was in deep grieving and just Absolutely Unable To Person. The main people I talked to regularly were those that were able to meet my grief on my terms, and comfort me in the ways that helped me best. There were a lot of people I didn’t see, because they did not have the same grief/comforting language that I did – not because they were bad people, and not because I didn’t value their friendship, but because I could not handle anything that wasn’t set up in the exact way I needed it to be. My emotional control was the level of a toddler – every bit stripped away until I was having irrational mood swings every few minutes and completely losing that solid core “me” feeling. That’s how it was, for a couple years. No joke, years. I’m proud that I made it out of bed every day (though some days, not far from bed). Grief hits everyone differently, for different amounts of time and in different ways.

    Let your friend heal. It’s okay that you’re hurt, and understandable. But if you bring your hurt feelings or your angry feelings to this friend when she is at her most vulnerable, that will likely hurt your relationship, because she likely cannot handle it at all right now. Time is the only thing that heals these types of wounds – lots, and lots, of time.

    Grief is awful. I’m sorry you got hurt in the wake of it, too.

  25. Biancasnoozes said:

    About a year ago, a new friend of mine had an accident and broke a couple of bones. I was really excited about our budding friendship and saw it as an opportunity for us to get closer by my offering to help her out at home/run errands for her/Be There For Her. She was new in town and I knew she didn’t have close local friends, so I thought my overtures would be welcomed and appreciated.

    At first, I just said “Let me know if you need help!” and hoped she would take me up on it. She made polite noises acknowledging my offer, but didn’t take me up on it. Thinking maybe she thought my offer was just polite and not sincere, I made several more offers, each time getting a bit more pushy about how I could help her out.She declined and declined, until one time she sort of sternly said NO!

    I lost sight of the fact that my true goal should have been actually making her life easier and making her feel supported, not centered around the fact that I wanted to have a bonding experience to deepen our friendship. She didn’t want that. My offers were making her feel helpless and disrespected and maybe also moving our friendship forward faster than she was comfortable with. I apologized, and backed off for several weeks, although I completely admit that my feelings were a bit hurt, as though I had been rejected.

    My heart was in the right place–it isn’t a crime to want to be close to someone, or to offer support, help, condolences. But it wasn’t what she wanted from me. OP, I think your heart was definitely in the right place, but at the end of the day she needs something different, and she’s both telling and showing you what that is. I know it hurts to be rejected in this way when you want to show someone you care, but it isn’t a referendum on you as a person or as a friend. Your friend has gone through such a big loss that she may not want to return to her former self or friendships, and that is something she gets to decide. Or, possibly, she will eventually fall back into the kind of relationship you guys had before. We can’t really know, and there’s not much you can do to make it go one way or the other except step back and let her figure it out.

    • Serin said:

      This is a really good point — this happened when your relationship was growing, and the same is true of the LW’s friendship. And growing relationships are a lot more emotional work than steady-state relationships.

      When my father died, there were certain friends who were difficult for me to be with — and certain relatives, whom I don’t actually LIKE very much, who were very restful company. And I think it’s precisely the change factor. I had recently moved, and my friends were new friends with developing relationships, whereas my cousins, though honestly kind of silly and shallow, have been my cousins all my life, and that relationship doesn’t need any defining.

  26. Captain: There’s the proverb that says “treat others as you would want to be treated”
    Me:
    Hillel the Elder said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.”
    (Hillel died in the year 10, this is not a concept created by New Age gurus.)

    OP, you hate it that you are being forced to interact in someone else’s style – therefore do not do it to your fellow. She doesn’t like all this touchy-feely stuff, never has, and is doubling down on her own style during her time of grief.

    Give her time.
    If you push yourself at her while she can’t deal yet, you’re going to be remembered as the pushy one. Is that what you want?

    • Slow Gin Lizz said:

      Or maybe, “Treat others as they wish to be treated.” If you have a plant that needs direct sunlight and you place it in the shade, it’s not going to survive no matter how much you want it to. Same goes for humans.

      • OMJ said:

        I’ve always read it as “Treat others as you would want to be treated *if you were them*,” which I guess accomplishes the same thing. I just like it because it requires you to imagine what it’s like to be the other person and see things from their perspective.

  27. Lizards80 said:

    LW,

    I read your question as having a concern that your friend is mad at you for not reaching out to her through her sister’s email address.

    Is this why you texted her?

    At this point, it’s water under the bridge. Really it is. She is grieving. She is grieving in ways very differently than you’d grieve. She is definitely not in a position to discuss your friendship or (if this is true that she thinks this way) your perceived) lack of support. She isn’t. It’s not going to help matters if you find her sister’s email and email her sister and explain you didn’t reach out to her earlier because you didn’t get sister’s email from Lady.

    She would have reached out to you if she had wanted your support. She would have given you her sister’s email. My read is that she isn’t icing you out because she thinks you ignored her in her time of need. My read is that she doesn’t want to be friends with you and has made that crystal clear. I wonder if Lady went back to her or her sister, and was told not to give you the sister’s email.

    My concern is about the way you described your reaction to her boundaries – you kept thinking it was ‘unusual’. I imagined myself being talked about in this way. I would have preferred my friends say my response was ‘understandable’ or ‘different than they’d act but they accept me fully’.

    If I set a boundary around touching (which I personally actually do, and my friends make me feel so safe by asking me ahead of time, not trying to hug me, or actually even being the one to make me feel better when I apologize for rejecting their hugs, which still amazes me) I would hear ‘unusual’ as judgmental, and I would withdraw.

    Even if you didn’t tell her it was unusual to her face, I imagine she could tell from your response.

  28. Ice and Indigo said:

    Just a tip about your text, LW. It was obviously kindly meant, but another time, I wouldn’t say something lime ‘I wish you a better 2018.’ Like I say, it’s a kind thought, but it also is likely to make her feel that you’re a long way away from her. Where she is right now, 2018 is going to be the year her baby would have had his or her first birthday, maybe taken his or her first steps, eaten his or her first solid food. 2019 is going to be the year her baby would have been two. Probably every year of her life from now on, she’ll know how old her son or daughter would have been, and which children on the street he or she might have been like. The absence lasts.

    Hopefully as time passes that pain will shrink down to a weight she can carry, but it’s too early to her to have a better year this year. Quite possibly she was unresponsive because there was no way to explain that without seeming ungrateful, and she’s avoiding people who hope she’ll be feeling better soon because she doesn’t have the energy to choose between lying or somehow figuring out a socially acceptable way to say ‘I won’t.’

    If you don’t know what to say to someone grieving, it’s generally best to be honest: ‘I wish I could think of something consoling to say, but nothing seems adequate. If I can help you in any way, just know I will at whatever point you need me.’ Not having the right words is a normal reaction to the inconsolable.

    • S said:

      You could also just express an interest in them as a human, and not an interest in them as a grief vector. Generally when my friends are sick or dealing with stuff, I try to treat them the same as I would any other time. (Unless we are like, at the funeral or I just got the news.) I would for SURE not bring it up during happy occasions unless they wanted to talk about it.

    • Anonymous Ampersand said:

      And if things get better, that means she’s moving on from her baby. I never wanted to pain to end. And fwiw new year’s Eve was the nadir of grief for me.

      • Not That Jane said:

        I totally get this. I lost a newborn child a few years ago due to complications with labor. In my grief group for parents who have lost children, we talk a lot about this feeling of reluctance or resistance we have to feeling “normal” again. It can feel like, if you laugh, or dance, or go on a hike, or have coffee with a friend the way you would have Before, you are somehow betraying the memory of your child and abandoning your grief. At this point, the ONLY thing I can do for my baby daughter is grieve. I can’t play with her, or feed her, or talk to her, or read to her, or… so if I’m feeling “normal” again, I’m not doing the one thing I can do for her.

        • jo said:

          Grief being “the only thing you can do for” your lost person is a helpful way to frame it; thank you. I’d add that, for me, the time I spend actively grieving inside myself for my lost person is almost like time I’m spending WITH that person, in a world where I know I can never really spend time with them again. It feels paradoxically good to do this, years after they’re gone, and will probably continue to be comforting for many years to come.

    • Thursday Next said:

      Ice and Indigo, this is beautiful, and moving, and so true. I admire how gentle your comment is to the LW while making an important point.

      LW, it can be difficult navigating relationships with people whose preferences are so dissimilar from yours in good times; it can be utterly daunting during times of loss. I commend you for working to honor your friend’s wishes even when you couldn’t understand them, and for seeking feedback here. Was the text a misstep? Yes, but you’re human and will make mistakes. You will also have the opportunity to learn from them. Give your friend the distance she has asked for, and let her take the lead in changing that (if she ever wants to). That might not be your idea of a satisfying friendship, but that would be you being a good friend.

  29. What a rough thing to go through!

    My heart breaks for both of you. I would reach out at on a regular, but infrequent basis—perhaps once a month. Invite her to lunch or some such to talk about work projects.

    Maybe: “I’m free next Thursday if you wanted to grab lunch. I heard you were working on [Project X]” or “I’d love your advice on my latest project, your advice has always been something I’ve really appreciated.”

    Hopefully, this will let the original friendship re-kindle, without overwhelming her. She might never be open again, or she may just need a few — or a lot– of months to process. Let her know she’s welcome back into your life, without pressuring her.

    As a side note: She may be avoiding sympathy because she doesn’t want to dwell or break down. Follow her cues.

    • sarah said:

      Mm in this case I would say “follow her cues” = don’t invite her to lunch again unless or until she invites you first.

      • I was seeing it as an event-based depression, in which reaching out is hard, but gentle reminders that they’re still welcome (without resentment) may eventually be rewarded.

        • sarah said:

          Mm, I was noticing where in the letter the LW has already issued repeated invites that friend either didn’t respond to or just said “can’t”. So I think it’s OK to stop with the invites. Cap’s suggestions of “good colleague” messages I think are nice because they don’t require friend to be social with LW, whereas invites to lunch put more pressure on friend to perform friendliness back.

          • I wasn’t sure how far ‘good colleague’ would go, as they’re both self-employed.

            OPs messages seem to have been more frequent (weekly or so), rather than making sure the door is left open. And focused on ‘TALKING ABOUT THINGS’, which clearly were pressure that the friend didn’t want. But, I was thinking a quarterly outreach might be a better pace.

            I know I’m coming at this as an ambivert who leans towards extrovert, but it feels like the friend is isolating herself. I worry that friend will see the friendship as too many spoons to resume if it’s left to them to re-initiate contact. (With the guilt spiral of having blown off friend for so long) even if it’s desired at a later date.

          • sarah said:

            With respect, I think this is just feeding more into the LW’s problem of overanalyzing friend’s behavior. We have no way of knowing about friend’s isolation levels, spoons, or guilt spirals. What we do know is that friend has rejected these types of invitations multiple times, so, going by that, I would say to stop. Salvaging the friendship is, in my view, less important than respecting the friend’s boundaries.

    • jo said:

      I agree with this suggestion, with the caveat that once a month WOULD be overwhelming and is way too frequent! Based on the signals the friend is giving off, I’d say LW could attempt this no more often than every six months (starting several months from now), and make no more than three unsuccessful attempts. I’m the kind of sociable person who likes to be in contact at least once a month, so I feel you, but six months is closer to many people’s idea of “infrequent.” Poking this poor woman every month … that’s something I’d do only with people who haven’t recently given me “go away” cues.

      LW, it’s reasonable to say to any given colleague a couple times a year, “Hey, I’d love to meet up and talk shop in the next few weeks if you can.” No reference whatsoever to their personal life, 100% professional. If there’s no response, don’t overanalyze, just move on with your day. If your friend responds, but coldly, wait a solid 8-12 months before trying again. At the point where friend has rejected or ignored three of these well-spaced-out invitations, it’s time to cease altogether and leave the ball in her court.

      In general with work friends and people you aren’t close with, issue your invitation not as a question that tries to extract an answer, but as a statement of your interest/availability that they can respond to or ignore, as they choose. That way you’re direct but undemanding, neither steamrolling them nor treating them like a delicate flower. The LW sounds like a warm, affectionate, extroverted person who probably came of age around people who acted similarly, and it can be hard to adopt more restrained behavior, but I promise it will serve you better than wondering why everyone doesn’t embrace your style. People with the same style who like you will respond with warmth regardless of your approach, and people who are different will appreciate being given space.

  30. KStanley said:

    Piglet? Thank you for posting this comment. I was looking for a way to say this and you said it better than I would have.

    Sometimes there is no bad guy. The LW wanted advice and got it. Telling her how awful she is does not help anyone and may prevent her from seeking advice again.

    • GreyjoyGardens said:

      I agree – there is no bad guy here. The friend is grieving, and, on top of everything, I perceive LW and Friend as wanting very different things out of friendship. Sometimes two nice people are just not compatible.

  31. OMJ said:

    LW, maybe it’ll help if you think of emotional distance as a way of *helping* your friend, rather than a request to not help her at all. She’s communicated some clear things about how she wants to handle grief – no touch, no gifts, no contact about the loss. By respecting those, you ARE showing her support and respect in her time of need. It’s not what you would want to have happen, but it’s what’s helpful for her. So keeping your distance is a show of kindness, not coldness.

    Also, I may be off-base on this, but I’m getting a vibe that maybe you think friend should be getting back to normal now that it’s been a few months since her loss. Unfortunately, grief and trauma don’t work that way. Her recovery will be long, and non-linear. She may never get to a place where she’s comfortable discussing her feelings with anyone but family. Grief is a weird thing on its own, and it also affects everyone differently. This is a major loss, and things might never be the way they were before for her.

    I hope you have other friends and support in your life. Is it possible for you to go to networking events or otherwise reach out to other people in your profession so that friend isn’t your only relationship in this area of your life? Part of letting this go may involve channeling your energy into other efforts, as the Captain so wisely advised.

  32. Cora said:

    I’m reminded of the idea of culture shock. You say that it’s really weird to you that she doesn’t like hugs and weddings. That’s fine, that’s how you roll. Thus the mismatch: for you, hugs, people, talking, weddings = support. To her, hugs, people, talking, weddings = PRESSURE. You don’t need to know why or have her explain it, it’s how she rolls. It reminds me of culture shock when I was living in China: for U.S. me, x always worked y way. In China, nope, x worked z way, because it did. End of story. In you want to live in her culture, you have to accept her perspective, because it’s as valid as yours, no matter how illogical it may seem.

  33. S said:

    To me it seems like the LW isn’t being a good friend, she is “Performing the actions of friendship.” Because if she was being a good friend, she’d be paying attention to what her friend actually wanted.

    Instead the LW has a picture in her head of how friendship looks. It looks like going to one anther’s weddings, and hugging, and sharing tragic stories, and showing up at each other’s houses and sending flowers and having lunch to catch up. But the thing about a real friendship (or relationship of any kind) is that it has to be based not on a picture of how those things look, but on how both people in that friendship want things to be. Both people involved need to have empathy for the other person, they need to communicate, and they need to listen to each other.

    But the LW didn’t do that, she put this person into a box, labeled it with friend, and then tried to do all the friend things that friends do. Everything in her letter is about her, and there is so little real empathy here for someone who has suffered such a serious loss.

    Can we just talk about how the LW legit probably ruined her friend’s New Years Eve?

    I am just… kindof flabberghasted, that any human being would think it is appropriate to bring up the loss of a loved one during a celebratory event in a text message. Why would you do that to someone who might be trying to have a good night? So now you’ve blindsided her with a random reminder of why she should be sad? It’s unlikely that she’d forgotten, but, what if she had, what if for one brief moment she was enjoying time not thinking about the loss of her child and you took that away from her?

    (Hey friend, miss you and I hope we can connect in 2018! would have been a nice way to reach out, but she didn’t do that, she had to bring up the big emotional thing and make it a big emotional thing despite knowing her friend didn’t want that.)

    I think the LW needs to work on channeling her anger and sadness, into working on having more empathy for the people around her, and into learning to let their social cues and behavior be her guide for how to behave towards them.

    • Ice and Indigo said:

      “I am just… kindof flabberghasted, that any human being would think it is appropriate to bring up the loss of a loved one during a celebratory event in a text message.”

      That’s a bit harsh. In some cases, acting like nothing’s wrong can be more upsetting; it’s quite possible the friend wasn’t celebrating anyway, and some people might be having a grieving night and appreciate the support. I mean, my father’s mother sent my mother a card on her birthday saying ‘it must be hard to have the first birthday since you lost your mother, but at least I’m your mother-in-law and I love you’, and my mother appreciated the gesture.

      I don’t think it was the best move here, as in this case the friend had said she’d generally rather be left alone, but it’s hardly inhuman!

      • S said:

        It’s great to offer comfort when someone is feeling sad. But the LW doesn’t have that much contact with friend. She didn’t know what her plans were, she doesn’t know how she’s doing on a day to day basis.

        So here we have Saddingers box- the friend’s emotional state is uncertain. She could be sad, or she could be trying to enjoy some excapist time with family or friends or TV something the LW had no way of knowing how her friend felt in that moment. And then the LW all but ensured that her friend felt sad by opening Saddinger’s box, in which there is only sadness!

        Sometimes saddingers box is guaranteed to already be open like when you open a card from your mother in law right after your mom passes away. Or when you’re at a funeral, or when you’ve decided to stay home and sort through the box’s contents. And sometimes you go on facebook and it gets randomly opened for you by “Facebook memories” and then you want to stay in bed and murder your phone and Mark Zuckerberg and tears and where is the cake.

        As a general rule I think we should all try to avoid opening saddinger’s box for other people. Unless it’s like, the time for having heartfelt emotional talks.

        • Ice and Indigo said:

          Like I said, it wasn’t the best decision. I just don’t think it merits the ‘any human being’ talk; LW’s reaching out for help here.

          • KStanley said:

            No kidding. Remind me to never ever post a request for advice on relating to folks whose gears are configured differently than mine. It would demonstrably be nothing less than handing out an opportunity for those I wish to understand to declare me less than human.

      • J said:

        No bringing it up was what friend specifically said not to do! Yes maybe that strategy is what you want but we’ve been told what friend wanted. She wasn’t unclear. Not only did LW choose to ignore it bc of her needs but yeah she did it during a celebratory event and yeah it was bad.

    • Guesty said:

      I think that the LW genuinely means well. But, I think that you’re right in that she’s thinking about this from her perspective only, rather than really trying to see the situation as her no-hugs, no-condolences friend does.

    • “I am just… kindof flabberghasted, that any human being would think it is appropriate to bring up the loss of a loved one during a celebratory event in a text message.”

      I did this once, when I was younger. I regretted it immediately and I have thought of it over and over as the years have passed. I never heard from the recipient of that message again, and I don’t blame her.

      I did have a lot to learn about social cues and empathy, and I have worked very hard to learn it. (I also got a lot more life experience. I am also now someone who has grieved, and had a visceral negative reaction to the text message as described by the LW.)

      I really fucked that one up and I deeply regret it, but I am not an awful person.

  34. GreyjoyGardens said:

    It sounds like, even if the LW’s friend really did want friendship, they had different ideas about what friendship should be. It’s like a couple, one of whom wants to live in a condo in the city and one of whom wants to live in a cabin in the mountains. Neither is wrong, but their wants are not compatible. If LW loves hugging her friends and is enthused about events like weddings (and with one’s OWN wedding, one is bound to be all excited and happy and bubbly) and Friend does not, then there might be a compatibility issue deeper down.

    Something I’ve observed from time to time – and I’m an Old, so I think this is dying out – there are people who really restrict their intimacy to family members and childhood (or at least college) friends; anyone added to the mix as an adult is just never in that inner circle, ever. That’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just a worldview. Perhaps LW’s Friend is one of these people, who knows?

    At any rate, LW, maybe it’s time to disengage from this friend and find other friends and contacts. Were you leaning hard on this one friend because of your work? Is there a networking or interest group for women in your career? I know there are networking/interest/Meet Up groups especially for women in some male-dominated professions (like tech).

  35. sarah said:

    Hey LW, I just want to pull out one specific bit of your letter, where you said about the networking party:

    “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.”

    May I ask, gently – were you really, truly unsure about this? When you looked at the situation of “friend whose baby died 6 months ago is barely smiling at this party”, did it truly seem to you that there must be something else going on there, besides your friend’s grief making her miserable?

    If so, that’s okay – I’m asking because I think you can learn some important things about yourself here, so that you can have a better experience next time you are interacting with a grieving person, or someone whose behavior doesn’t make sense to you.

    Here are a few followup questions you might ask yourself – again, gently – just to get an idea of where this might be coming from.

    – Do you have close, personal experiences with grief in your own life? If not, is it possible that your benchmark for how long grieving takes is a little bit off? Everyone grieves differently, but 6 months from the loss of a baby would be basically nothing for a lot of people. That’s still very, very fresh. If this feels foreign to you perhaps there is some reading you could do about grief and grieving, if you want to be in a better position to support a grieving person next time.

    – Do you often find that you think people are mad at you, only to find out later that they were just tired/hungry/stressed/upset about something else? If this is an ongoing pattern that you experience with lots of different people, it might be something you could consider talking with someone about, either family or friends, or a therapist, if you want. It can be really tiring to go through life thinking that people are mad at you when they aren’t! I have this habit and I think it came from growing up with an angry parent. For me, working to un-learn this has been very freeing.

    I wish you well, LW, as you move forward from this tough experience.

    • Regarding your second point, and also the point made above about LW overanalyzing her friends responses.

      LW: What if there is no subtext? What if your friend said exactly what she meant, in her civil way, and her look was the expression her features took on in those moments you were looking at her? What if, instead of being unsure of what she was thinking/feeling you just accepted these events as events with no hidden meanings?

      I know this is a very difficult thing to do. I was raised in a household where I learned very young to try and understand/read/analyze everything that was said/done for signs that Mommy Was Mad or I had otherwise Done Wrong, and I am only just now learning as an adult that no, not all people are Like Mommy. So I am trying not to “read in” to what people say/do — if someone I used to be more intimate with, or felt like I was more intimate with, gives me a civil “hello” and we don’t otherwise interact, then we said “hello” and were civil. And that’s it! No more worrying about whether or not friend was/is angry about thing I said/did or if something horrible is going on in their life that I “should” know about or anything like that.

      No narrative around the interaction, and no subtext. Not even if I’m feeling guilty about the thing I said/did. That feeling is on me, not on them: we met, we had a civil interaction, we went our separate ways.

      (Like I said, I know this is difficult. My brain weasels still want me to read in, to be looking for the hidden “gotcha” in all interactions. But I’m getting better about not acting on that narrative when it pops up.)

      • anonn said:

        I love this. I also grew up in a household where I had to guess and monitor a parent’s micro-expressions and gestures very closely for signs of trouble. And you know what? I often pick up on subtexts that I choose to ignore, because fretting about passive aggressive crap is a waste of my time. Even if there IS secretly a hidden subtext – that’s on them. Adults can talk to other adults about how they are feeling.

        I totally second the advice to free yourself from guessing, and to take events at face value – because even if there is something else there, they can bring it up to you if they want it addressed.

    • TO_Ont said:

      It could have been both or either though. I don’t think it’s a silly question.

      Many people even when they’re grieving, cope in different ways and some people would be laughing and smiling at a party, however they felt inside.

      And on the other side, it is possible that the friend/colleague actually was stressed out by the LW in some way (e.g. because she knew they had different approaches to pain etc) and that the LW was right to wonder if her acquaintance really was specifically avoiding _her_. It’s not impossible that she was.

  36. I empathize with a lot in this letter. I had a friend basically cut me out of her life for quite a while, and I couldn’t understand why because our last interactions had been SUPER positive. I tried a few times to reach out, but decided that silence was its own answer. Later, I found out that she was going through some really tough stuff. All those months of thinking I had done something wrong were just me beating up on myself because it wasn’t really about me. She was just dealing with stuff the best way she knew how and reached out again when she could.

    I also learned the hard way that people have different ideas of what types of relationships to build in professional circles. I’m an introvert, so the only way that I make friends is forced and prolonged contact with people–usually through classes or work or projects. I don’t walk into a bar and strike up a conversation or go looking for activities in which to meet friends. When I switched to a new professional circle, I was used to making some of my best friends through work situations. I thought I was building a friendship with a colleague only to discover that, actually, colleague had very strict boundaries around personal and professional relationships. Basically my main way of making friends was her main boundary–don’t become friends with people you know professionally. It made me sad, but I also could see where she was coming from. There is a lot of pressure in professional circles to put your best face forward. A friendship with a colleague may seem like too big a risk for some people. They might be really good at being empathetic and supportive to you when you are struggling but feel like they can’t or don’t want to be that vulnerable in turn.

    Obviously, it’s hard to know what is going on in this person’s mind without her explicitly telling you, but I think that it’s probably good to go with the cues she’s sending. For whatever reason, she doesn’t want to “go there” with you right now. Be with that grief and disappointment of not getting to further develop something you were enjoying as well as losing something you thought you had. Give yourself room to feel all those feelings but also give yourself permission to remember that it isn’t about you. This is her process, and the best you can do is respect her role as the agent in the process.

    Maybe she’ll come around one day like my friend did and you’ll find out why she couldn’t open up before. Maybe she’ll remain distant like my colleague because it’s just not in her social and professional model to do the kind of intimacy you wanted to develop. In turn, maybe you’ll decide you can be cordial and friendly and available on the terms that she can accept…or maybe you’ll decide that you prefer to invest your time in relationships where there’s a little bit more mutuality as far as depth and contact goes. I’m sorry this hurts. 😦 I think you made a valiant effort to be the kind of friend you would want to be, but now it’s time to respect that…at least for now…silence and formality are their own answers from her.

  37. Serin said:

    When I see how many ways there are to be friends — and how we all look at our own way of being friends and think, “But this is completely obvious! It’s part of the definition of the word! It goes without saying!” — I’m kind of amazed that people manage to have relationships at all.

    For what it’s worth, I’m more similar to the Grieving Friend than I am to the Letter Writer, and the more I feel pushed, the harder I’m going to push back to maintain the space and emotional privacy I need. In your friend’s shoes, I would feel pushed very hard indeed, and I would push back like you would not believe.

    I’m sorry this hurts you; you get to have emotional needs, too. But I think the least painful option for everyone is for you to have no expectations of this friendship beyond elementary common civility of the sort you would give to a stranger waiting at the same bus stop.

  38. Not That Jane said:

    I lost a newborn daughter a few years ago due to rare and unexpected complications of labor, so this letter, and Friend’s situation, hit me in a tender spot. I just wanted to add a phrase that we use a lot in our grief group for parents who have lost children. Our facilitator often reminds us that “Grief changes your address book.” By which he means, there are going to be people in your life who, no matter how close they were before, they may just “not get it” or may require so much emotional energy to interact with that you just can’t maintain the relationship. And conversely, there are people who may not have been close before, or who may have been total strangers, that you will bond with in a deep way because of a shared understanding of grief and loss.

    What I think is important to understand is that this is no one’s fault. The grieving person isn’t choosing to prune people out of their life (and goodness, if we could choose which people will “get it” and which won’t, we would! It really sucks when your only sibling asks you why you’re sad, two months after your baby died.) It’s also likely not the fault of those who don’t get it that they don’t get it (absent any gross violations of boundaries, which, NYE text notwithstanding, I honestly don’t think is OP’s case). It’s just… different life experiences. And with OP and Friend, it also sounds like there are some significant pre-existing personality differences too. I think it may be time to gently and compassionately forgive yourself for not knowing how to handle this perfectly, and let this friendship go.

    • OMJ said:

      Yeah, as good as this relationship may have been, it sounds like it was a high-effort friendship (simply based on the amount of translation that had to go on between the two of them and how they Friend). When you have very little emotional space or energy to give, sometimes those need to go. And it’s not a reflection of how good the relationship was or how much they enjoyed each other’s company; it’s just that resources got tight and they couldn’t keep up with it anymore. It happens.

  39. Indoor Cat said:

    Dear Puzzled,

    The Captain gave great advice. If I may, I’d like to add another thing, call it a homework assignment maybe. It may help you understand your friend, and people like her, a bit better.

    Read the short story “Solitude,” by Ursula K. LeGuin. I can’t find it for free online anywhere, but it’s in the book ‘The Birthday of The World,’ which you can probably get from the library, and its in a few New Yorker collections.

    It’s a fantasy story set in the Hainish Cycle universe, but you don’t need to read any of the Hainish books to understand it. It is about a girl from an alien culture that deeply values solitude, as a way to build one’s soul (among other things). The human scientists, extreme extroverts by the alien standards, think the aliens are cruel. But they are not. They’re just different, and they have some wisdom about grief and growth that we can miss.

    I found the story healing and validating in a very real way. Hopefully, though you may not “relate” to the main character the way others might, perhaps you will understand her better in a heart-way. In this way, I think, sometimes fiction is more helpful than non-fiction instruction.

    Sincerely,

    Indoor Cat

  40. EL said:

    Does anyone have links or thoughts on working through losing a friend? Might be constructive help for the OP.

    • Treat it like the loss of any other relationship. Grieve what was, move forward into what is.

      Easier said than done, I know.

  41. TripleT said:

    I have had several pregnancy losses. I did not and will not discuss them with anyone. Not because it is taboo, not because I didn’t know people cared and would have been there for me, but because despite being an extrovert, I am intensely private about grief, sadness, and anguish. I need to process these emotions on my own, there is nothing that anyone can do for me, I just need to live through it. That may seem unusual to you, and of course, caring about your friend, you have so much empathy for her and want her to know you care. Had you sent flowers, every time she looked at those flowers, it would have been a reminder of her trauma, not a reminder of love as you intended. That is why she didn’t want to be surrounded with flowers. She wanted well wishes filtered through an email address so that she wouldn’t be inundated and knocked off balance by tons of well meaning condolences, when she is just trying to get through the day. Having to maintain composure and be polite and THANK people for their kind words when JFC it is all so unfair and so hard and the last thing she needs to do is have to manage other people’s expectations and feelings and tell them she is fine and getting through it when they ask how she is doing (duh, broken hearted)… her coldness, her lack of smiles, her uninterest in catching up with you at the event you attended… it all has absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with as the captain said, living in this world she never wanted to live in. Is this the first event she’d attended since coming back? How many people brought up her loss to her that evening or hadn’t heard the news yet? Again this may explain why she seemed “cold.” I know you miss your friend, but absolutely give her space, keep it light and casual, and do not make this about you. Time will tell if the 2 of you regain the friendship you once shared but I guarantee that if you push, or ask why she’s been stand-offish the door of friendship will be slammed in your face so quickly you won’t know what happened. I say this as someone who has been on the other side of this. I shared a friendship with a coworker and we were friends. That friend had a few boundary issues and she confided more in me than I in her (but as above I don’t really confide in others often). I went through a few things in personal life (not a pregnancy loss) and I was very sad, so typical to me, I withdrew and dove into work. We had several big deadlines and it was a very stressful time. She knew the issues that had occurred in my life. She asked if I was ok. I said it was because of what was going on. She asked if I was mad at her, I said no. She asked to help, I said no. She asked again if this was about her, if she had done something. She demanded that I share my feelings with her and expressed that she was hurt I was “ignoring” her. I was in a great deal of pain at the time and the fact that she forced this confrontation and made my pain about her feelings made me very angry, even if I knew it was her insecurity getting in the way. I felt she was not a safe person to have in my life anymore. I felt bad and knew she didn’t understand, but also I never truly forgave her and that was the moment our friendship ended. I won’t speculate on how close the 2 of you were before this, it has zero relevance to what is happening right now. I understand that you feel hurt, and I hope the 2 of you become friends again someday. Please don’t push her, and please don’t ask her to manage your feelings about friendship insecurities or answer for her cold behavior. Keep it light and professional as your other friend suggested. She does not need reminders of this event. Try to reframe her reactions to you as not personal and all about grief. Give her space to rebuild her life and realize it will be a very long time, if ever, that she seems like the person you knew before.

    • Thank you for this.

  42. Indie said:

    So firstly; a withdrawing friend really does suck, it genuinely hurts, sorry OP!
    Secondly you’ve been respectful of her wishes and patient, go you!

    Thirdly….you’re trying a little hard. She may be the Only Other Female Professional, but she’s not the only friend for you out there. You can let this fish go without facing starvation. You’ve officially done your part, stop knocking your head against the wall!

    Maybe she IS a cat (love that) and will only come to someone who gives her looooots of space, maybe you’ll reconnect at a happier time, maybe she just honestly wasn’t feeling it.

    But for the love of cheesecake, take (and give yourself) a break.

    • Ruth Story said:

      This has been a really interesting thread about relationship styles, introversion, grief and loss, etc. Captain, I really appreciate your column and the detailed specific responses you provide. I am a mental health therapist and find your insights around boundaries to be very helpful, and have sometimes recommended your column to clients. I second whoever encouraged you to go on Mallory’s pod cast. I think that would be great!

      • Indoor Cat said:

        @Ruth Story He hasn’t changed his byline at Slate yet, but he’s now Daniel Ortberg, not Mallory Ortberg. Just a heads up!

  43. marvanvar said:

    It can be extremely hard to respect boundaries you don’t understand or agree with, but doing so is the best way you can show someone you care and respect them.

    My mother refuses to stop texting and emailing her niece, despite not receiving a single reply in many years. After reading CA’s columns I confronted her about it (niece has had some personal tragedies and I felt it was time to see if my mom would back off) and she flatly refused. She said because she is family and cares about Niece that she has a right to keep trying to offer a loving connection.

    Mom has been validated by Niece recently responding with warmth and interest in reinstating a relationship. (Mom: “YOU SEE???”) This is great for Mom and Niece, but I still groaned the groan of the damned.

    Sometimes well-meaning people think that if they keep the beacon lit, someday an adrift boat will choose to float their way again. Niece’s communication consisted solely of silence, so my mother decided that wasn’t clear enough and kept her beacon lit. LW’s friend, however, has made clear boundaries known. Turn off your beacon.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Your mother is very lucky she didn’t drive your niece away!
      There’s a difference between leaving a candle in your window and shining a flashlight into their window.

      • marvanvar said:

        Hahahaha, I like that! Very true.

  44. Prakriti said:

    “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).”

    I love this way of reformulating the Golden Rule, Captain. I’ve thought of it like this sometimes too. “Treat others how you would want to be treated… if you were them.”

    • There’s a negative formulation that I sometimes think feels a little more accurate: Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you.

      I think the biggest problem, though, is those who read it a direction to use yourself as a yardstick for what the “others” might want.

      • TO_Ont said:

        If I were them, I would want to be recognised as an individual, with my own individual wants and needs :). So if I treat others as I would want to be treated, that means also really trying to see them in their uniqueness.

    • sarah said:

      I’ve heard this referred to as the Platinum Rule!

  45. Rana said:

    I wonder, too, if part of the reason that the LW is feeling particularly confused and hurt right now is that she didn’t hear the request for space from her friend directly, but from some intermediary that the LW doesn’t know very well. Apparently “Lady” has more connection to LW’s friend than LW herself, to the point of being in the position of telling people how and when they should contact the friend, and having friend’s address (maybe?) and sister’s email while LW herself does not. So there’s got to be a bit of confusion over how much of the message is from friend herself, and how much from a possibly over-protective office mate who’s decided to act as a gatekeeper, and couldn’t be even bothered to give the LW the sister’s email. Given this, I can excuse LW’s text, especially since as far as she knows, this is Lady’s interpretation of the situation, not friend’s actual boundary.

    • thepaintedlady said:

      That is such a sore spot for me too – I can empathize so completely. To find out you are not only not as close as you thought with someone, but also that someone else either thinks they’re that close, or is that close, it stings.

    • Manattee said:

      But how else should the boundary operate? Like literally what is the point of an ‘I can’t deal with talking about this tragedy right now so please direct condolences through X’ boundary if the person issuing this plea for compassion in her grief is forced to talk about it to each individual they know in order for it to hold weight? CA’s advice to people not wanting to discuss painful topics over and over has often been to tell one person in the group their wishes and ask them to spread the word. It makes sense to me that the person chosen to do that here was the woman she shared an office with, ie the person who will be there when other colleagues look for her, will have most contact with her when she’s back at work, and possibly someone she is closer to by virtue of the fact they spend a lot of time together.

      The LW could have asked for the sister’s email address a second time. The fact that she didn’t is excused in her letter entirely because of her own discomfort at being told no to flowers and a card (100% not unreasonable or unusual requests in these circumstances), and at the method of preferred contact offered. If there was any doubt as to the validity of the boundary, emailing the sister with a quick ‘hi, I’m a friend and colleague of Y and just heard her sad news. I was told that the best way to pass on condolences was through you, is that correct?’ would have been a much kinder and more respectful way of clearing things up.

      • Sheelzebub said:

        THIS.

        I’m pretty introverted and I’m gobsmacked at the handwaving being done around some of these boundary violations. Pointing out that it is a pretty hurtful thing is not saying the LW is a terrible person. My God, if I went through something like a stillbirth and someone from work went around my stated boundary to send me a fucking text about it, I’d be reeling.

    • Temperance said:

      I completely disagree. I know someone who lost her fiance a few months before the wedding. She didn’t have the bandwidth to tell people not to give her condolences; she asked her best friend to spread the word and be her point of contact.

      Respect someone’s boundaries around something like this. Can you imagine, maybe LW’s friend was having a nice time, celebrating the New Year, and she got a reminder that hey, her baby died and wouldn’t be part of the next year.

    • Rana said:

      I’m not saying it was *good* that she sent the text. I am saying that I understand why perhaps she did it.

  46. This is just a moment in time said:

    My older brother would have been 31 years old if he had not died as a newborn from SIDs. In the last 31 years my mom and dad have never “gotten over” his death. It is still such a deep pain that he has only been spoken of twice in my 30 years. Once when my sister and I found his baby photos in a shoe box. My mom explained briefly who he was and that he died. Then she sent us to our room to play, shut the door and sobbed for over an hour. I was 10. When in high school I asked my parents a question about him. My mom got up and walked away to cry. My dad answered only that he had died from SIDs and to never ask about him again. That was the only time in my life I thought my dad might cry. 15 years later, I have respected that request and never brought him up again.

    The purpose of this anecdote is to provide some context to how deep the pain of a grieving parent is. The world over regards the loss of a child as the worst possible thing that can happen to a person. There is no doubt that 31 years later, if a demon came and asked my mom if she would sacrifice her life for his, my mom would do so in a heartbeat.

    Give your friend the space she needs. Trust that she is doing what she needs to do to survive. Because that is what she is doing right now, surviving. Leaving her be is the kindest, friendliest thing you can do for her right now. If you see her at other professional events, keep it professional. Let her lead the way. It may be that she actually appreciated your text on New Years but can’t bring herself to ever re-kick-start your friendship again. That is okay. She has suffered a world shattering loss and as such is putting her life back together shard by shard. It may involve you once again or it may not. This is no one’s fault.

    Take care of yourself. Surround yourself with your other friends and reinvest in those relationships.

  47. J said:

    LW I’m sorry bc I know the pain of rejection but honestly it sounds like this woman was trying gently to reject you for some time. It sounds like you maybe didn’t quite get the hint. This has nothing to do with the miscarriage. Please don’t try to talk with her about it. Especially as it’s pretty clear she doesn’t want to. For whatever reason she has chosen not to have you on her life. Please let her do that esp as she’s going through a rough time. She didn’t put you in an awkward position she didn’t put you anywhere. She is simply trying to disengage. It hurts I know but pls just let her leave. She knows where you are if she wants to get in touch. This would be a fantastic time to make new friends and seek out others. Fill your time with other things and hopefully that will help the pain. I’m sorry. I really do know how it feels. But just bc you aren’t fated to be friends doesn’t mean you aren’t fated to have fantastic relationships with others. It’s not a referendum on you. It just isn’t a good fit. Jedi hugs if you want.

    • Ice and Indigo said:

      Just a note – a miscarriage is not the same as a stillbirth. If you know someone who goes through either, they’ll appreciate you using the right term; hearing the wrong one will be upsetting.

      • Not over it said:

        Thank you for saying this.

  48. Not over it said:

    I had a still birth in November. I am not over it. I am sad ALL THE TIME. My son is never far from my thoughts. Contacting people, even close friends and family is hard and draining. It feels like everyone wants me to be fine already, but it just doesn’t work like that. She and her husband had a whole life planned out for that baby and those dreams don’t go away. They’re a constant in her life still. Everything she does is tinged with what her life should have been with her baby and those dreams are so vivid they feel like memories sometimes. I can’t look at my parents without thinking they should be grandparents. I have aunts and uncles I still haven’t talked to. And babies are everywhere. In my office, the shows I watch, the commercials I get, the comics I read, the blogs I visit. Reminders are literally everywhere. I especially resent my job, because its a reminder every day that I’m not on my maternity leave. All I want to do is get my shit done and go home. The only time I feel close to normal is when I’m alone with my husband.

    You can not imagine how awful this is and I hope you never learn. My advice is give her some space. It’s really not about you. It’s about being in a hell you have no way to fix and no idea how to get back to normal.

    • Ice and Indigo said:

      I’m so sorry. If it’s any help, this is the analogy a friend of mine who went through this told me: the grief is like waves. At first, you’re utterly submerged. The there are moments in between waves where you feel ok, then another waves hits you and you’re under again.

      The process may never stop completely – heck, expecting it to is asking too much of you. But as time goes by, some things happen: the waves get further and further apart, and you start to know from experience how they work, which might make you a bit better able to swim when they hit.

      Don’t feel wrong for not knowing how to fix it. I think it’s more about learning to live with the break, and for that, you need time. Take care of yourself and do what you need to do, and if someone gives you a hard time about it, that’s their failing, not yours.

      • Not over it said:

        That’s such an accurate description. It comes on so strongly sometimes and other times we feel almost normal. Sometimes it’s worse to feel almost normal though. You have to compartmentalize to get through the day, and then feel guilty for doing it.

        • Ice and Indigo said:

          I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you not to feel guilty, but I can certainly say it’s absolutely normal to feel that way. Losing children and mourning them is way commoner than most of us think until it happens to us or to someone close to us, and then you find out how many other people have lost children that they never mention because they don’t want to deal with people’s reactions. In earlier eras, it probably happened to many or most parents. So if you’re out of step with your surrounding culture, that’s not because you’re abnormal; it’s because our culture handles this kind of thing really, really badly. You’re not to blame.

          And it may be good to know that this loss happened to my friend several years ago, and while she’s not ‘over it’ – they’ll never really not mourn him – she’s gradually made a place in her life for the grief that’s big enough to be what her lost son deserves, but not so big she can’t have a life of her own. It happened in her own time, as I expect it’ll happen in yours; it took longer than the her now-former friends thought was necessary, but it happened. Be good to yourself and be the best judge of your own needs. xxx

          Oh, also passing on a tip from her to anyone who meets someone in the same situation: do NOT say ‘At least you can have more children.’ It gets said a lot, and bereaved parents HATE it because it makes it sound like a child is a blender you can replace when it breaks.

  49. Kitty said:

    Thanks so much Captain, this advice is what I needed to hear right now too. I’m in a similar situation with a long time friend (but without the loss of a baby), and it is painful and difficult. I am struggling between wanting to respect their wishes for space to deal with their own stuff, and worry that if I detach too much we will just drift apart entirely and I’ll lose a very important friendship. I will bookmark this post to reread when I’m feeling anxious or frustrated about things.

    • Kitty said:

      (this friend has indicated that they definitely still want to be friends, but things have just been awkward and distant lately while they are processing some stuff they don’t want any help with)

      • Dia said:

        One of the best gifts I have ever been given is that even though I am not able to manage being a friend in the way I want to be / how traditional friendship looks like, that I have been taken at my word that I still want to be friends, and these couple of people are so special because of that.

        I don’t know if it’s specifically applicable to your situation, but yeah.

        Hope things get less painful soon.

        • Kitty said:

          Thanks 😊

  50. CarpeFelis said:

    As an introvert and generally private person (hell, I don’t even want my inlaws knowing my business), I really feel for the LW’s friend(?). I add the question mark here because it’s not at all clear that she ever really was the LW’s friend, at least not in the way or to the degree that LW thought she was. It seems she was giving pretty clear “back off” signals all along.

    The first thing that struck me in the letter was that LW says she opened up to Friend about problems and even cried, but she doesn’t mention Friend ever having done likewise; I’d be willing to bet if she ever had, LW would have said so. This being a relationship that started around work, it seems very likely that Friend was not comfortable with this level of closeness and probably sees LW as needy. LW also didn’t know Friend’s address and had never met her sister, and that also indicates that they weren’t as close as she imagined.

    Now add in a personal tragedy and LW’s repeated efforts to connect over it (especially the boundary-busting NYE text message), and it’s not difficult to see why she would be backing away—HARD. In her shoes, I’d be thinking I had quite enough to deal with, without a needy friend wanting to emote all over me in the name of “giving support”. Because that’s how this comes across. LW means well, but is only paying attention to her own feelings and how she thinks friendship should be performed, and not to what her friend actually needs.

  51. PGams said:

    A colleague of mine went through mid-term pregnancy loss. We work at the same level so it was up to me to manage her projects while she went on leave to physically and emotionally recover. She had a strong support network at home so I knew my role was to be supportive as a colleague and give her space to process her loss with those closest to her. We worked together to organize her projects before she left so she wouldn’t have to give work a single thought while she was off. I consider her a friend but in this case my role was to take away work pressure so she would have room to heal in her personal life. It was not about me at all and I was happy that I would support her in some way. Pregnancy loss is incredibly difficult (I have been through pregnancy loss myself) and I never wanted to share my emotions with colleagues. So when my colleague when through this I knew my role was to support her professionally so she could deal with the loss of her baby. She has since returned to work and we sometimes talk babies but she takes the lead and sets the pace for the conversation. We have grown closer as friends and colleagues since her return.

    Sometimes stuff isn’t about you and you have to back off. Support takes many forms and sometimes that means not asking for details/expressing your own emotions.

  52. thepaintedlady said:

    LW, I am so, so sorry that you are dealing with this and that you feel so helpless. I’m so sorry that friend is going through this. Grief sucks most, of course, for the person dealing with it, but it’s also such a helpless feeling for the people who care about that person and don’t know how to help. Sometimes you misstep, and sometimes that has permanent, relationship-altering consequences and the best you can do is to take this as a learning experience on how to better deal with the grief of a friend or family member.

    I’m dealing with this firsthand on both sides of the equation; I recently lost one of my closest friends, and our mutual closest friends, A and B and I, have been doing our best to be there for each other, and we all deal in very different ways, so we haven’t done it that well. I am probably the “weirdest” of all three of us. A is more depressed about it – withdrawn, has difficulty expressing emotion, flat affect, etc, and B has just been kind of a mess, crying jags and sleepless nights and having to take extra days off work because she can’t stop crying. Whereas I’m ostensibly fine, and then I’m doing things like going to a sports tournament and forgetting how to sports entirely and doing my team no good, or accidentally leaving my crockpot on for a week (seriously what the fuck) or even better, totaling my car, because I can’t stay focused on anything. I can talk about our friend with affection and humor and minimal pain but then in other places I’m just….absent. So we are comforting each other but we also sometimes fuck up. It happens. We forgive each other and ourselves and move on.

    It’s okay to be sad if friend doesn’t reach out again. Losing a friend for reasons you don’t understand – even if you can comprehend them – is fucking hard. It hurts in ways that other kinds of rejection don’t hurt. So you grieve, too, for losing a friendship, even if temporarily. Let yourself be sad. But also accept that this isn’t your decision. Jedi hugs.

  53. Miss Fortune said:

    Cap’s rewriting of the Golden Rule reminded me of this gem from George Bernard Shaw:

    “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.”

    Helpful to remember either way!

  54. kt200 said:

    Any chance of a content warning on this Captain? Probably would have skipped this one if I’d known about the substantial miscarriage element. Cheers!

    • marvanvar said:

      It was a stillbirth, not a miscarriage.

        • Ice and Indigo said:

          Well, people who’ve undergone one or the other may find it painful to hear them conflated. But as it sounds like kt200 has had painful experiences of this kind, sharp words on the subject don’t seem kind or appropriate.

  55. zaracat said:

    I don’t get the sense at all that LW and friend weren’t previously close. The friend was there in many concrete ways for LW – she just didn’t like hugging, going to weddings etc. I think it’s actually a very positive thing that friend made those boundaries clear, so there was no risk of LW causing offence by unintentionally crossing those lines.

    I can certainly see why LW might be someone who was not included in the “inner circle” of support during that intial grieving – not out of any ill will but simply because the friend felt that LW’s more demonstrative friendship style would require too much emotional effort on her part, that she would end up having to offer comfort to LW – and in ways that already hated, like hugging. This will not have been helped by LW showing that friend was actually *right* about this to some extent, as demonstrated by LW sending the text message. I can easily see an action like this causing the friend to pull even further away, even if grief is not factored in.

    It’s genuinely painful and difficult when you don’t understand friends’ boundaries, but if you value this friendship and genuinely want to keep it then your best option is to give your friend the space she clearly wants and needs, and allow her to close the gap when and if *she* is ready. Acting as if setting or even changing boundaries is somehow a test of a friendship is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I’m speaking from the position of several recent experiences within my own friendship circles in the last few months. I wrote about one of those in a comment a couple of posts ago, about a friend to whom I revealed a rape and who then, instead of respecting multiple explicit requests by me to let me decide when I was ready to discuss it further not only ignored those requests but made my story all about him. No surprise, he got dumped – even 38 years of friendship doesn’t give you a free pass to ignore boundaries when the context is dealing with a boundary violation trauma.

    The second was a relatively new friend who has been going through a difficult divorce and bitter custody battle, and one day put me on the spot by hinting that she wanted me to use my professional position to circumvent the court-ordered custody arrangements. I knew she was acting out of desperation and I did not hold it against her – I was as kind as I could be in offering to provide other forms of support while still setting a hard boundary on what she wanted. She has not spoken to me since then. I have no way of knowing whether she hates me for not helping in the way she wanted, or whether perhaps she is just embarrassed that she did something she now regrets, but I am quite sure that pushing her for an answer will not help the situation.

    The third is a friend with severe mental health problems whom I helped out in a way that proved vastly more confronting for me than I imagined it would be when I offered that help. Coming on the heels of these other friendship challenges I decided that the best way of looking after myself was to set some new boundaries with ALL my friends in terms of what I had to offer – basically for the next few months all our catch-ups will be strictly time-limited coffee/lunch dates at a venue other than our homes. He has taken that new boundary very badly, and keeps word-vomiting his anxiety over the state of our friendship all over me. All that is doing is making me want to pull away more.

    I think you are best served by taking things at face value – believe whatever you friend says about what her boundaries are and what she needs from you. Trying to read complex subtexts into her words and actions really won’t help you.

  56. Hufflestitch said:

    Sorry, that new years text nearly made me cry. As if she needed reminding that she should have been cradling her newborn on new years eve!!! Wow. I know that it sounds harsh, but if that was me, I would have honestly deleted and blocked your number before wailing until I couldn’t breathe.

    Her baby died. DIED. You don’t get to choose who she leans on or confides in.

    It also sounds like (and this might sound harsh again) that you were “that” friend. The one who is struggling and because she is a nice person, she helped you out, but to her, that didn’t make you friends.

  57. Reed said:

    I had a series of miscarriages – ten in all – and I grieved each one differently and I am still grieving and the grieving will never be done, because ‘childless mother’ is now part of my soul.

    I dearly love those people who respected my boundaries and tried to give me what I wanted and needed – even if I didn’t react well at the time because TOO MANY FEELINGS. The ones who backed off when I hid under the sofa and hissed. The ones who came forward when I wailed about feeling abandoned. Even the ones who said something hurtful without thinking and then, realizing, apologized and let me take the lead on rebuilding that relationship.

    I have lost touch with/seriously reduced contact with the people who made assumptions about how I should handle this and made it all about how I’d hurt them by being weird and difficult and why couldn’t I cheer up already and why didn’t I appreciate their lovely gesture and why was I so bitter and anti-social and why didn’t I ever want to talk about it, was I a robot with no feelings? Also, why wasn’t I happy again yet? These people include a couple of dear friends, several cousins and aunties, and MY DAD.

    If a colleague from work had texted me on New Years Eve while I was still burning-raw after the latest loss and wished me a ‘better next year’, I’d’ve burst into flames of rage. A better next year! A better next year? This was a baby I lost, not a job! A whole person, gone! Every year ever after will be different forever because my tiny person isn’t growing up in it. And, if this colleague had done so despite my best efforts to get people to leave me alone, I don’t know. I don’t know how I’d’ve reacted. I’d’ve felt so invaded. One of the most awful things in the sea of awful was all this emotional labour people expected of me – remaining calm but not too calm, performing grief in a way that made them comfortable, not being too demanding, not being angry, not crying too much, not crying enough, and worst of all, being expected to be GRATEFUL for condolences, as if they were a magnanimous gift from on high I needed to dance for, even when they were poorly timed or poorly worded or just… not from someone I felt was close enough to me to want to deal with right now. Or not close enough to have the RIGHT to make me do emotional labour over this. And believe me, some days, texting ‘thanks for the message, Happy New Year to you too’ would’ve been the emotional labour equivalent of pushing a six-foot boulder up Everest.

    LW, I’m sorry this didn’t work out for you, and I appreciate you feel hurt and rejected, but this is so extremely not about you I can’t even. Please leave your poor friend alone. Please accept she might not actually ever have wanted to be close friends with you. Please keep in mind that someone who is pleasant company when you work together is being… pleasant to work with, that’s all. If you make a step towards intimacy and they don’t respond, don’t keep stepping! This is not a reflection on you! For your own sake, go forth and seek out other friendships with people who will love your affectionate ways and be comfortable with them. They are out there! They really do want a friend like you!

    • Not over it said:

      I am so sorry. My heart feels like it’s breaking all over again today. You could not have worded this better – “childless mother is now part of my soul.” It feels like the LW, and so many other people, treat this type of tragedy like something that happened in the past instead of something that the parents are still living through and are always going to be living through.

  58. B said:

    I had a coworker who lost a baby to SIDS. Said coworker was actually one of my better coworker friends; she had another child the same age as mine, had another baby later around when I did, we visited each others houses to play games, let our kids go hog wild with each other, etc etc.
    I never once brought up her loss. I had no words, and she didn’t seem to want any. TBH I gave myself permission to completely forget about it unless she brought it up. And she didn’t. She was probably my closest friend at the time (who wasn’t my husband) until she moved on to a new job and right now I’m terrible about keeping in touch.
    I’m not her so I can’t truly say how any of that went from her point of view but it seemed our relationship was good?
    LW I get you would want different things if the positions were reversed and you’re trying to be nice; as others have said, she seems to want/need something else and the friendliest thing you could do now is respect her signals and back off. I think the captain’s suggestion to focus on whatever professional support you can offer is probably the best thing you can do. Maybe the closer friendship will rekindle, maybe not; best to look to other people for now for the type of relationship you crave.

  59. minuteye said:

    LW, I think maybe part of the problem here, is that you don’t fully believe your friend wants what you’ve been told they want. Their preferences (no hugging, no weddings, no condolences) are so outside of what you feel (and probably very outside of what most people you know feel) that you’re having a hard time understanding them.

    You’re being given very clear instructions on one hand (from lady, and from friend), but you’re getting opposite instructions from everything you’ve learned about “What People Do When Grief Happens” and the conflict between the two is the source of distress.

    You’re trying to respect the boundaries you’ve been given, but there’s an anxious voice in the back of your mind going “But what if this isn’t what friend wants? What if I’m doing everything wrong and actually hurting my friend instead of helping?”, I hear that voice in the part of your letter where you say: “I don’t know if this is because friend felt like I was not there after her still birth”. It probably doesn’t help that the source of your information was lady, a third party and not friend, so it’s easier to second-guess whether it was accurately represented.

    I suspect that the fear that you were getting it wrong, and your friend actually did want traditional condolence responses after all, was what pushed you to send the New Year’s message. As other comments have pointed out, that was an overstep, but I understand it.

    The main issue that I think you want to deal with is that anxiety; there’s no need for advice about what to do with your friend, because you already know what to do there (respect boundaries, act normal, don’t offer condolences). How to deal with the feelings your having about this? Practice some self-reassurance: “This is what being a good friend to Friend looks like, I am being a good friend by respecting their boundaries, this is how many people experience grief and there is nothing wrong with that.”

    Also, maybe find a safe place to emote about this. A trusted friend or partner who doesn’t know the parties involved, a journal, anonymously to some strangers on the internet, to a therapist… there are many options. If you need to process feelings around what happened, that’s totally okay, and you should find a way to do that away from the people involved, at the very least to reduce the chance of an impulse FeelingsDump at Friend at some point.

    • Lasslisa said:

      Thank you for this. I was thinking the same thing, that we get a set of messages about “What Is Right To Do” (you go to the funeral, you reach out to people in need, you offer or even just give help rather than waiting for someone to ask for it, you don’t pretend like the dead person never existed just to avoid awkwardness, etc). Often but not always these messages are helpful, because most people will have to deal with someone else’s grief before they have experience dealing with any of their own. I never understood how meaningful a condolence card or a gift of flowers from a distant old friend could be before seeing how my parents felt after their parents’ deaths.

      So, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t have great social intuition or a strong sense of why someone would ask for what this friend was asking for, it can feel a bit like a catch-22 – you know you are supposed to respect the person’s wishes, but doing so goes against everything you’ve learned about what it means to be a good friend or even a good person.

      The worst part is there really are a lot of people out there who are uncomfortable asking for help but very happy when it’s given. And that can make things confusing, especially if it’s common in your community. When my mother grew up, she learned that you were supposed to say no to any offered gift twice before you were allowed to accept it, so that you didn’t accidentally impose on someone who was just being polite. So if you wanted to give someone a gift or do them a favor, you had to make the offer several times so they knew you were serious, even though they had already said no. But for me today where I’ve grown up, that would be weird and pushy.

      This is all to say that I empathize with the letter writer and I can see why they would have been distressed and had internal conflicts about what to do. Especially when they didn’t have the sister’s contact information to do the specific thing that had been requested and they were trying to come up on their own with what the best alternative would be, I’m not surprised they fell back on decades of cultural (and probably family) messaging.

      But in a world where you can’t be sure another person speaks the same “code” you grew up with, the safest course is to assume the more conservative position: if she says she doesn’t want it, you should not do it. This is many times more true when you already know this person doesn’t always want the things you would want.

      But it’s a useful policy in general, because it’s easier to repair misunderstandings in that direction than in the other. If it turns out she expected something other than what she said, she can just say so, because you’ve shown that you believe what she tells you. If you hurt her by *ignoring* her words, then how can she ever fix that? You might just ignore her again.

    • Jenna said:

      All of this. The communication has been clear. Just believe *your friend* over the “rules” you may have internalized. She’s told you what she needs, and now it’s up to you to respect that.

  60. rhythla said:

    LW, I feel you, but like CA said, it is time to let this relationship go. I know it is hard and I know it hurts.

    My BFF from middle school and I went to different high schools and that is when she ghosted on me. I was hurt and confused because there were no fights or anything that happened that could have caused her to stop talking to me (that I knew about). This was back before texting and FB, so I called her house a few times and her mom just said, “oh, BFF isn’t around right now. I’ll let her know you called.” But my friend never called me back. I stopped calling after a few tries when it became clear she wasn’t going to call me back. I cried and was upset for a few months, but I eventually realized that whatever happened, it was obviously something on her end. So I let it go and made new friends.

    My second year of grad school (so 8+ years later), my BFF reached out to me online and apologized for ghosting on me back in the day. She never explained what happened or why, and I didn’t want to know so I didn’t ask. We were LiveJournal friends for about two years, but she was engaging in toxic LJ friendships which eventually drove me off of her blog and we stopped talking again.

    About a year or two ago (so roughly 5 years since grad school), she reached out again and apologized for her behavior (and the behavior of her toxic “friends”) on LJ and wanted to get together. We have gotten together for lunch/mall-walking about twice and tried to reconnect, but it simply isn’t the same. We don’t have anything in common anymore, and I feel like I have grown a lot as a person and that she is still the same as middle school. She said she wants to invite me to her wedding, but we haven’t talked since and I haven’t received an invitation – and I’m not holding my breath.

    My point, LW, is that it is in your best interest for you to let it go with your friend. It doesn’t sound like you two had the closest relationship to start with, and even if you did like I did with my old BFF, when you guys do reconnect, it will likely never be the same. I mourned the loss of my relationship with my BFF like she had died, which allowed me to move on and be happy.

    I don’t know if your friend will ever reach out to you like mine did to me, but I can tell you that by the time mine did, it was too late for our relationship to recover. I’m not mad about anything, but whatever connection we had, she broke with her ghosting. That was her choice and her choice has consequences. Same thing for your friend. Your friend has a legitimate tragedy that she is dealing with, and there is nothing wrong with her withdrawing if that is what she needs to do – but it has consequences, such as the end of your friendship. And that’s ok. It’s just life.

    Good luck, LW! Take care of yourself!

    • Koala dreams said:

      Yes, it hurts when a friendship ends, and what’s more, there are not really any social traditions for breaking up with a friend. I’ve also been on both sides on this, and unfortunately I have ghosted friends because I really couldn’t think of what to say. I think you friend did her best to break up your friendship in a kind way when she told lady to tell you not to contact her, and when she answered that she couldn’t meet with you. Now you need to grieve your lost friend on your own. It’s maybe harder for you since you need to see each other at networking events, but it is what it is.

      About acting normal, I think it just means keeping a professional relation, such as you would treat people you only know through work. Be polite and keep conversation to work topics or small talk.

      Take care!

  61. I think that the LW isn’t entirely off-base to think that the friend was acting a bit “unusual” assuming this is all occurring within the context of American culture. What I mean is that a number of cultural touchstones around female friendship (commercials, tchotchkes etc.) project certain attributes that seem more in line with the LW’s view of what a woman’s friendship should be. It is a bit like how vegetarianism is unusual in American culture: you have commercials for steakhouses on repeat, holiday movies that feature a subplot around the turkey etc.) and in the larger culture the vegetarian IS unusual (and often played for laughs) even though there are plenty of vegetarians around.

    I think the key difference is that that once you know someone is vegetarian, unusual or not, you are the one crossing a line if you keep inviting them to your “meats of the world” club because “who doesn’t love salami?” I suppose it is a bit awkward that your friend won’t eat the fantastic ribs you made for the group potluck but it doesn’t seem that the friend is directing anything towards you. The vegetarian is living life according to her philosophy. Is it really harming you? If so, it may be time to establish your own boundaries. If not, then is this a situation where you still want the person in your life? If so, you may need to accommodate the vegetarian’s philosophy a bit. And if it does become too much for you (e.g. the vegetarian insists that all group potlucks in which her attendance is desired must be 100% vegan and have a 20 minute opening speech denouncing carnivores and calling out lacto-ovo vegetarians as handmaidens to BigAg) it is okay for you to decide that “yep, this is not working for me” and end the engagement.

  62. Clarry said:

    Addressing myself to the first paragraph of the letter about confiding in someone who doesn’t confide back– I’ve been on both sides of this. When I was younger, I used to think that sharing deep innermost feelings was one of the nicest things a person could do. It was opening up, being vulnerable. Being intimate in that way of sharing secrets was like a gift. This was long before the internet. Opening up an emotional side was rare and precious. If you were lucky enough to have someone willing to share like that, it was a good thing– and an opportunity to open up in return, something that was also rare and precious. Great to have the offer to feel so safe. It was what friendship was about.

    Years went by and I flipped to almost the opposite position. When someone, especially someone I don’t know well, tells me about a problem, especially a problem with emotional import, I see it as their burdening me. I am absolutely glad to be the listening post for a friend, but I no longer see the confidence as a gift they’re giving me. Listening to the confidence is a gift I give to them. And I do often use my friends as the place to rant about my life. I just no longer have the belief that I’m doing them a favor when I do so.

    In other words, I don’t believe either the LW or LW’s friend was wrong from the start, only that they were seeing the same elements of the friendship very differently. LW invites Friend to wedding while thinking the invitation is great and valuable thing. Friend receives the invitation and thinks “oh, shoot, a wedding and I hate those.” (I know I’m treating an invitation to be invited and the actual invitation as the same thing.)

    Now a note about condolences. In this case, Friend was clear about what she wanted. In another situation where there isn’t a clear signal, please don’t come to the conclusion that people who have suffered a loss don’t want to have it acknowledged. I suffered a loss recently, a particularly unexpected and horrible one. Everyone treated the funeral like a big party, nevermind that I was forced to throw the party on short notice. No one talked about their own memories of the deceased. All the statements that people would be glad to listen started to sound like they wanted me to dish dirt and were nagging me to do so. When I asked specifically later for people to share what they remembered about my loved one, no one so much as answered my question. Some sent email on another subject. Some ignored it altogether. I would love it if someone would bring him up in conversation. They act like I’ve brought up something embarrassing if I say something about him. At work I don’t want to be known as the person who suffered a tragedy. With friends and relatives, I sure wish people would stop pretending he never existed because that’s what makes them feel comfortable.

  63. Helbling said:

    Hi LW, I’m your friend.

    Well, hopefully not literally, but I am in an identical position to her, only for me, I went through this 6 weeks ago, not 6 months. I also have the advantage that my baby was earlier than your friend’s, and we’d been warned a couple of weeks before that that there was a problem, so we weren’t 100% blindsided with it.

    Small mercies that don’t, as it turns out, count for a whole lot.

    I am here to tell you you have done nothing wrong with how you previously viewed the friendship, but the fall out of grief plus physical recovery, plus all the paperwork that comes with this plus necessities for living…it has a way of making who is Important in your life very very black and white. The chances are that your friend did care about you; you likely weren’t entirely as close as you would have liked, but this wasn’t as one sided as you are fearing.

    However, afterwards…gosh, afterwards, it’s horrible. I am the sort who normally reaches out for support and all I wanted to do was go live in a hole for a while. I turned away not just friends of your acquaintance level, but my very best friends in the whole world, who have stood beside me at weddings and funerals, who have seen me through thick and thin. I couldn’t bear it. Because having them there would have felt like I needed to explain what and why I was crying, or I’d have felt worse for appearing like an ablist insult, but I hadn’t the energy to verbalise. I was terrified that if I cried I’d either look up and see my own grief reflected back at me and it would make it worse just when I was barely hanging on, or they’d manage impassivity and it would cause me rage. Because I was still bleeding and drugged and not able to reliably leave the house and thankfully the nursery hadn’t been built yet, but oh god if it had, my home would have felt like a gaping void making everything worse but I’d have had no where else to go. Because I knew my sadness was making other people sad and even if they weren’t trying to get me to comfort them, it made me feel horribly guilty because it felt like there didn’t need to be anymore sadness in the world but also that yes, the sadness was good because everyone should miss my baby, and I was a huge huge mess.

    That is without the practical considerations to deal with. The maternity system is set up to assist with live children, not dead ones, so an experience I and I know others have had is falling outside system; midwives visit you automatically after birth once you have a baby, but I had to chase up and arrange my own bereavement midwife care. I had to chase the chaplain. My husband had to coordinate the ashes. I had to arrange sick notes and recount the entire ordeal to my hr team to ensure I didn’t lose my job. It is an awful awful thing to have to chose between having enough spoons to take your meds, assure your employment or ensure your child is buried, but we had to make them, and you under no circumstances want to reach out for assistance with that because it feels like you are failing at the one tiny approximation of parenthood you have been allowed otherwise.

    I started back at work 2 days ago, and am doing pretty well at the compartmentalizing so I can function, but the grief comes out in very odd ways. I found myself sobbing uncontrollably in the toilets yesterday when I found out my favourite receptionist had left while I was away, because the notion of anyone else leaving, even in the most peripheral manner, knocks me for 6. I didn’t even know the woman, I just enjoyed seeing her around the office! Casual conversations with work friends or casual acquaintances are incredibly dangerous minefields that I flee from with everything in me.

    I am slowly letting the people I love back in. I am seeing my best friends tomorrow for the first time. I know they have been desperately worried about me, but I couldn’t cope earlier. It may be months or years until I get around everyone; oddly, I find the notion of making new friends easier than having to deal with the possible sympathy (or anger at the absence) that what I’ve been through has caused in others I already knew. I am leaving those who are either clueless about the impact of their words (for instance, a friend who vented to me about the mess her toddler had made and how she just wanted a child free day last week has gone back on the block list) or don’t take the hint that I don’t want to talk about it and if I do, I’ll reach out, until last. They are that most awful of combinations: I care enough about them that their words and actions can’t be brushed off and may be devastatingly hurtful. But they don’t know/respect me and my quirks well enough to avoid that hurt.

    Unfortunately, I suspect that your text may have placed you in this last category for your friend. I understand that you were coming from a place where you were trying to connect with her and meant no malice but it was very ill considered, especially the timing of it. She likely does care about you, but right now, caring means pain. She has had no issue asserting her boundaries in the past, and so you should be able to trust she can reach out to communicate her needs in future if she wants to; she doesn’t need you to initiate.

    For now, leave her be. If your feelings about this get unbearable, keep leaving her be; see a professional or a trusted friend who has no connection to her. Don’t go mining for information on her and how she’s doing, it will only reignite the sad feels. If she is still visibly grieving, you’ll feel snubbed she isn’t leaning on you, and if she isn’t, you’ll feel snubbed that she hasn’t reached out to you, even if her reasons are you remind her too much of it all and it hurts too bad to have that reminder. There is not a winning scenario in this where you keep trying to reach out to her. I would also recommend you plough energy into maybe making more friends to fill the void, and consider that, if she does get back in contact, your friendship may have changed from what it was. More friends will help there too.

  64. AnonBee said:

    So many comments here that shame LW for making it about her while simultaneously taking the chance to tell a story that’s all about themselves…

    LW: just let this friendship go. The good part about someone ghosting you is that you know where you stand and you have the same choice if she tries to comes back to you in the future. Nobody should have to be a mindreader or put up with a friendship that operates in ways that they’re not comfortable with.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Whoa, are you throwing shade on the childless mothers who are pouring out their guts, showing why it was very much not about LW and why giving friend space is the best thing LW can do for friend and the friendship?

      Are you suggesting that LW should relish the notion that she can get back at friend if friend reaches out to her? How does that work? “The good part is if friend reaches out to me to resume our friendship, I can snub her because friend was mean to me when I kept poking her to pay attention to me while she was reeling from the loss of her baby in the 9th month of pregnancy.”

      Are you suggesting that it takes being a mind reader to comply with explicitly stated boundaries or to understand that a woman who lost a baby in the 9th month might be in pain and dealing with major emotional turmoil?

      • AnonBee said:

        The mindreader bit was in response to comments here pretty much saying “people will come around in their own time if they want to” and I was saying that she didn’t have to wait for that if she didn’t want to. Like she would probably be happier if she didn’t waste mental effort trying to mindread if ghosting means “maybe later” vs “never again”.

        And you’re putting more negative connotations to “same choice if she comes back to you in the future” than is warranted. Not everyone is able to restart a friendship ~just like that~ if one party ghosted the other and then wants to get back in touch. It’s ok if LW doesn’t want to do that in the future and it shouldn’t be a source of guilt if she didn’t want to ‘play nice’ and get together.

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          Maybe if you’d said that in the first place, it wouldn’t have sounded so bad.

          But it’s still very off-putting that you’re calling ghosting what many people have told you is survival mode after a devastating trauma, and using “play nice” – that is, to behave civilly, to not fight or cause trouble – regarding a woman who just gave birth to A. Dead. Baby.

          • Ice and Indigo said:

            If LW decided that she was unable to ‘restart’ a friendship because a friend needed to take some time to grieve a devastating loss in private, that would be her prerogative. It would also be the reason why ‘grief changes your address book’ is a saying. Sometimes misfortune is a necessary sorting device, and when the dust has cleared and the wounds scabbed over, you look around and find you’ve lost ‘friends’ you’re better without.

            LW, please understand I’m not saying that’s you. I believe you mean well, and just lack knowledge of what a stillbirth is really like – which is why the bereaved mothers telling stories ‘all about themselves’ are doing you an immense and painful favour, if you’re able to accept it as such. People don’t automatically know things, and you didn’t automatically know how catastrophic a stillbirth is. People explaining it to you can help you see why your friend’s retreat is not necessarily a reflection on you, and that’s knowledge you can use to help yourself, if you choose to take the opportunity.

            And if someone thinks that’s asking too much … well, the most charitable explanation I can think of is that it’s taking the geek social fallacy ‘friendship before all’ WAY too far. Friendship does not override the loss of a child. You’re allowed to be a shitty friend for a while when that happens. (Which I don’t think this person is doing, btw, just taking injury time.)

            LW, it’s true that your best bet is to focus on other things in your life right now. It will be easier if you don’t frame this situation as ghosting, but as mourning.

    • Are you for real? People who have lost children are trying to share their perspective and convey the enormity of what LW’s friend is going through. Explain that there is no ‘better 2018!’ for LW’s friend, explain that it’s hell, explain that things like managing friendships are probably not even on her radar because her baby. is. dead.

      Yeah, it’ll be great if/when this bereaved mother manages to reach out and LW can righteously blank her. ZING.

      And finally, what mindreading?? The boundaries were pretty damn clear. LW just didn’t like them.

    • Not over it said:

      So many comments here that shame LW for making it about her while simultaneously taking the chance to tell a story that’s all about themselves…

      You can absolutely choose to look at our stories like this. You can also choose to look at it as women sharing (incredibly painful) experiences to help the LW gain perspective on what her friend is going through. She labels herself as puzzled, and doesn’t seem to understand the source of her friend’s distance. Her friend is likely never going to share, but maybe these stories can help her understand better.

      I think the LW means well, but her reality and her friend’s reality are worlds apart. Her reality is, she doesn’t understand why her friend is still cold and distant, when 5 or 6 months have already passed. Her friend’s reality is that her baby died and that is part of her forever. I think the LW is full of sympathy for her friend. What she’s missing are empathy and compassion — two things that really only exist if you can understand what the other person is going through.

    • Ice and Indigo said:

      On behalf of humanity, I would like to apologise to all the bereaved parents who had to read this horrible comment.

    • Someone, anyone said:

      The commenters here can’t look into LW’s or her friend’s head; and the information in the letter does not allow for a definite, 100% true analysis and guideline for the LW.

      The commenters don’t know everything about the situation described here, but they DO know about similar personal situations they’ve experienced. By describing them, they offer different perspectives and insights for a variety of related situations. Prefacing their opinions with more detailed descriptions allows outsiders to evaluate those opinions within their specific context.

      Here in particular, they allow the LW – who obviously struggles to understand more standoffish personalities – a perspective that is certainly more similar to the friend’s evaluation of the situation.

    • Sheelzebub said:

      What a callous and disgusting thing to say about a woman whose baby was stillborn.

  65. Sheelzebub said:

    Just to be clear here: I think the LW is a good person who means well. I am also grossed out by some folks in the comments section here who are acting as if this friend didn’t mean what she said, that it was okay to assume she didn’t know what she wanted and trample all over the boundary. I’m introverted as fuck and don’t go around confiding in people; my friendships develop and deepen slowly. Assuming that maybe I didn’t mean it when I stated a boundary is beyond fucked up.

    LW, if you’re reading this, I am sorry that this happened. I think you are a good and fine person. My advice to you is to take someone’s cues and believe what they tell you. I won’t belabor the point as people who have been through a traumatic loss have already covered it. I have certainly made these missteps in the past myself as I internalized the bullshit thinking around “well, but this is how it’s done” and “well, maybe they don’t mean it” and “some people would be upset at this”. However, I now operate on a policy of assuming the people around me mean what they say when they tell me what they want.

  66. Cat said:

    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.

    Oh man, LW, I do not want to be unhelpful or blame you, but this was a really, really bad thing to do. I’m someone who hates condolences, and hates people violating clearly-stated boundaries even more than that. Once, when my beloved grandmother died, I specifically asked for all my professors and friends to NOT say specifically “I’m sorry” or any version of it, because I could not deal with it. When a casual friend did say that I…blew up at him, screamed at him that he wasn’t sorry, he didn’t know her, he didn’t really care, he couldn’t care about her and he clearly didn’t care about me, he was a liar and lying to try and make me feel better and nothing would, and how fucking hard was it to not say I’m sorry when I specifically asked you to, and I just sort of utterly lost it.

    Because for me, grief obliterates my abilities to, like, Deal. With people, with social niceties and customs, with people’s clumsy attempts at Fixing It, with American culture’s obsession with necrophobia, with other people’s feelings and trauma and baggage, with What Will The Neighbors Think, with my own emotions, with coming off neurotypical, with daily life…and for me, I have never experienced the hideous grief of a stillborn baby. I cannot imagine how angry and violated and utterly hurt and furious I would be if I specifically stated to not contact me, ensured this went out to everyone, and then was contacted about my dead baby on New Year’s Eve. Like…if I am being totally honest that by itself could destroy a friendship.

    (Also, what is it with New Year’s and weird emails/texts about ‘unresolved’ things?? I also once got an email on New Year’s from an ex-friend, a fauxpology for telling me some truly horrible things months ago, with this weird atmosphere of ‘let’s forgive and move on!’ It was bizarre and infuriating.)

    • Cat said:

      Also, LW, this part: 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.

      1. You DID NOT comply with the instructions to not contact. You contacted her on New Year’s Eve.

      2. Judging people for how they grieve is the fast lane to losing being respected by other people. Your friend HAD A STILLBIRTH. Maybe you should realize this ISN’T ABOUT YOU.

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        What got me was Finally, on New Year’s eve “Finally” as if a time period probably still counted in weeks was a long time, enough that friend would have gotten over it enough to have taken down the boundary.

        I suspect that being in her early 30s, LW may have not experienced death and so doesn’t understand how it tears the fabric of your universe and makes it feel like Hieronymus Bosch took over your life.

        • Cat said:

          Yeah, I think the utter inexperience with death and grieving (and the necrophobic ‘I wish she was over it/I wish she had let me perform the cultural ritual so I wouldn’t feel like I had to care about this or do anything about it’) is the crux of the problem here, not just the personality mismatch. Personality mismatches/thinking other people’s boundaries are odd is a thing that happens fairly frequently and can be dealt with without a huge amount of pain IME–but people reacting in these sorts of self-centered and immature ways to deaths, especially horrific deaths like stillbirths, is something not a whole lot of people get over. I lost respect for anyone that judged me during my own grieving process, even after I stopped being enraged at them, and some I feel a deep and abiding contempt for even now, and if someone had tried to pull that ‘it’s New Year’s Eve, I hope you feel better’ nonsense my own personality means shit would get real, real fast. I seriously think the LW should give the friend space and perhaps slow the expectations of a super close friendship down a lot.

        • Cat said:

          Also, I agree with you in that it astonishes me that the LW seriously thinks that, like, the boundary of ‘don’t contact me about my dead baby’ has somehow…expired in a few weeks? That the friend should be over her dead baby in a few weeks/months? That this year will necessarily be better for the friend?

          Grief just doesn’t work that way. I still feel sadness, anger, hurt, longing for my own dead beloved grandmother, and that was a completely expected death that I had a jumpstart on the grieving process with and was, well, kind of natural and to be expected at some point during my lifetime. A stillbirth is just worse–there are uncountable stories of people never ‘getting over’ in any sense the death of their children and babies.

        • TO_Ont said:

          “I suspect that being in her early 30s, LW may have not experienced death”

          Yes, or only from a bit of a distance.

          • Cat said:

            I mean, not to get very technical, but the death I’m mentioning I experienced in my late teens. People also experience grief at younger ages. But I can see the point.

  67. Planegirl said:

    I have a close friend who went through the same sort of pain that the LW’s friend had – and dealt with it in much the same way.
    We had been very close friends while we worked together, but after several years this friend suddenly detached from me. I sent two or three texts, getting no reply or some very vague reply in return. So I left her alone – because friendship is voluntary, and if she didn’t want to be there I wouldn’t force the issue.
    Some considerable time later she sent me a letter apologising for being so distant and giving me what seemed like pretty slim reasons. (Not blaming her for this, but the reasons did not seem to me to warrant her dropping out of radio contact.) We got back in touch with each other and resumed our friendship. Some time later she phoned me one day in floods of tears about something that had happened – again, a fairly neutral event that I would have classed as a nuisance rather than a tragedy. However, I just listened and let her cry and talk as much as she needed.
    Looking back on it, I think that call was about her testing the waters to see if I would listen and sit with her when she was suffering – because a few weeks later we went out for the evening and it was on that evening that she told me about the terrible thing that had happened to her.
    I’m not saying that the LW’s friend will inevitably get back into “friend” mode some day – just showing that the kindest thing is to give people space when they show they need it, then perhaps they may trust you enough to let you into their life. Especially when someone is dealing with the kind of grief that the LW’s friend has, it has to be all about them – not you.

  68. Nina said:

    I feel your pain, LW. But what really struck me in your letter was: 1) I don’t understand why you are trying to hold on so much to someone so incompatible to you, whose boundaries you don’t think are “normal”, 2) it really, really sounds like you care way more about your feelings than hers, 3) I also don’t get your need to talk about her loss even after so long. Like, she’s struggling to put it behind her and you feel bad for not talking about it with her? …

    It’s not about criticism, but maybe you need to let go of this friendship, reflect on this, and look for people that have similar ways of “friendshipping” to you.

  69. Christine said:

    I’m writing this as someone who’s actual best friend (like to the point I even lived in her house for a few months) had their baby die under similar circumstances. THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. STOP MAKING IT ABOUT YOU. IF YOURE MAKING IT ABOUT YOU, YOURE NOT ACTUALLY A GOOD FRIEND.

    This woman just went through one of the most traumatic things that can happen to someone. She is most likely trying to hold things together but is barely functioning. My friend took a lot of time to herself. She didn’t see people. She basically didn’t hang out with me for over a year (or any of her friends with kids) because she couldn’t bear to hear about children. She was only ok to meet my son when he was 5 months old, 2.5 years after her daughter died because she couldn’t handle being around a newborn. And you know what my role in this was? Understanding her situation. Never pushing her boundaries. When we talked, I waited for her to ask before sharing information about my kids or my pregnancy. That way I knew she was in a place that she could handle hearing about it. I wasn’t insulted by this. I didn’t cry about how much I missed her, although I did miss her. I just waited for her to process her grief and for her to show me that she’s ready to be more back in the loop. If I had not respected her boundaries and made her do emotional work she had no energy for? I’m pretty sure she would have never spoken to me again. So while you’re trying to be her friend, actually ACT like a friend and respect her pain and her needs and stop making it about your feelings.

  70. Mo Be One said:

    LW I feel your pain, confusion and anger. Please take comfort in the comfort of your friendship gave you, please remember the good it did you. Take the energy of your pain, confusion and anger and put towards being open to new opportunities.

    When things change in a friendship I think of the saying Some people come into your life for a reason, some come for a season, and some come for a lifetime.

  71. At six months after such a loss, it wouldn’t be remotely surprising if “go to work, keep breathing, try to eat at least once a day,” were about the limit of what she could handle.

    Separating a newborn from its mother has profound physical and medical impacts on both of them. The woman in this case was separated from hers in the worst possible way — her child died. At six months out, she’d be doing well to be able to walk upright, I would think. Eating, breathing, getting through work because she has to eat — more seems pretty unreasonable for that particular loss without a whole lot more time.

  72. BigDogLittleCat said:

    Exactly.
    Plus, friend’s body is still in postpartum mode. It just went through the physical trauma of pregnancy and birth, so she’s got physical healing to do, as well as mental.
    I keep thinking of the mothers commenting on letter #1098, about how out of whack their bodies and brains were the first year, and that’s *with* a precious baby to remind you it’s all worth it.
    Birth and death are two of the most life-altering experiences we ever have to deal with, and poor friend is dealing with both at the same time.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      that’s supposed to be in response to Helen Huntington’s comment.

  73. ShannyL said:

    Oh, LW, I understand how you are feeling right now. This is in no way to imply your feelings take priority over your friend’s – hers do, without question. But I think knowing how to act with and what to say to someone who is grieving is something that, despite what some commenters are implying, is not an obvious or innate knowledge. If you are prone to social anxiety, it can easily become something you overthink and tie yourself up in knots about. I’ve not said something and felt guilt over that for years, and I’ve also said something and then felt terrible for bringing it up. I’ve known people who don’t want their loss mentioned, and I’ve known people who did. I’ve known people who drew strength from condolences and those who did not. And I, personally, have grieved in both ways for different losses.

    All that being said, don’t let your awkward feelings turn into blame that you dump on your friend’s doorstep. The text was a misstep, since you had been told by her office mate that she didn’t want direct contact, but it’s done and the only thing you can do now is give your friend the space she is very clearly asking for.

  74. felixthegolden said:

    Miscarriage isn’t the same as stillbirth but when I was going through recurrent miscarriage, after each miscarriage what I wanted to do was go out drinking and dancing, go on holiday to places where you need vaccinations, and not talk about babies or children or grief or loss. For me the thing about miscarriage (and stillbirth) compared to other bereavement is that you’re not saying goodbye to someone as much as mourning a future that never was. For me I just wanted to be in the childless adult world and know that there was life away from having children. I’m still the same actually, I had two kids in the end and I don’t mark the times I was pregnant – I don’t actually remember precisely when I was pregnant, I don’t remember the due dates or anything, I didn’t name the miscarried babies or anything like that. Different people grieve in different ways, it’s not necessarily the healthiest thing to dwell on these things and if it’s not the Law’s friend’s style then that should totally be respected.

  75. pit love said:

    Similarly to other folk here, I have been in your friend’s situation. I do not like hugs. Telling someone I don’t like hugs means that I trust her with that unusual truth. I do weddings, but I don’t do parties. If I was invited to a party by someone I didn’t like, I would make an excuse. If I was invited by a friend, I would tell the truth. When I am sad I do like to talk, but when I am devastated I need to be left alone. I feel shattered and vulnerable, like a broken jar trying to keep everything contained. I can empathize with not wanting cards or flowers, and I definately would not want visitors.

    What I would be grateful for would be someone who would still be my friend when I was able to join the world again. Do let her hold herself together during work – Captain’s suggestions are on target. Some day she might stop by your desk or make some little indication that she is ready to let people into her space again. If that happens, you will know that she thinks you are a true friend.

  76. Erin McJ said:

    I feel like I am not seeing the best of the Awkward Army in this comment thread… (or rather, I am seeing some of the best, but it’s mixed with a lot of unkindness, in contrast with the Captain’s compassionate and wise response.)

    Hugs to you LW – you have plenty of opinions here already, so I will just say that I have been roughly where you are; and I chose to mourn the friendship I thought I had, and I think that work made it easier to accept whatever connection was really there; and I wish you peace.

  77. Eric said:

    All the yes to keeping it light and being a good colleague… that is advice that worked for me when I had to downshift a friendship where we had mismatched friendship hopes. And after a while things got warmer and more satisfying for me (and I sense I’m contributing to get happiness and work in a way that works for her). The friendship never got back to what it was or morphed into the closeness I wanted, but it turned out to feel good (and only occasionally elicit wistful feelings in me) because it was a good state for our relationship.

  78. Jyoti said:

    LW, I don’t think you are understanding quite how devastating stillbirth of the kind Friend experienced is. I have suffered one miscarriage and had one healthy baby. My heart shattered for your Friend. She knew her baby had died and she had to go through the physical endurance of giving birth and the second wind that gets you through that experience, knowing you will have your longed-for baby placed on your chest, that wasn’t going to carry her through.

    Labour was likely induced (which is excruciatingly painful compared to natural labour and increases likelihood of further interventions,) or Friend may have had to face an emergency c-section, which is major surgery. I have been on the receiving end of both of those and thank G-d I have a living child at the end of it all, I could not have coped the way Friend did. My baby is six months old now, hale and hearty, and I’m still not over the birth. Texting Friend on new year’s about her loss was thoughtless too. You knew she didn’t want to talk about it and you brought it up anyway! And you consider this woman your friend?!

    Friend went through the huge physical changes of pregnancy, the huge ordeal of birth, the trauma of birthing a stillborn child… she will not be over that in six months, LW. She may not ever be over it. She certainly won’t be ready to talk to you about it if you keep making this about yourself. You’re an adult and you should be able to deal with disappointments in friendship. Friend’s baby died.

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