#1240 and #1241: “Closure” Is The Gift You Give Yourself

Y’all I have another Vice piece dropping soon and I have to confess I am HOLIDAYED TF OUT RIGHT NOW. Let’s talk endings. Breakups. My wheelhouse.

We’ll call the first one #1240: “How do I approach a friend who doesn’t want to talk to me anymore?”

Hey Captain Awkward,

Here is my dilemma:

I am currently in my second year of college. At the beginning of last school year, I became friends with a girl [M] and we both hit it off. We instantly became best friends and spent a lot of time together, including with my family (I live close to school). We grew close and so I decided to shoot my shot and ask her out. I was politely turned down and said she wanted to just be friends. She was really cool about it and never made me feel uncomfortable about the situation.
Over the course of the last year we got extremely close to each other and were inseparable. I never really did lose feelings for her and that became a problem eventually.

She was in a relationship with someone from back home, but they were constantly on the rocks and had even been on-and-off over the year. This left me with the slightest bit of hope that things might change. That being said, I was always respectful of [M] and her relationship. I rarely asked about the situation or pry into her relationship — I always let her bring it up.

She went away for the summer (abroad) and I was ok with the distance — a lot better than I thought I would be. So when we came back from summer break, I tried to pursue other people (romantically), but I never felt the same connection I had with [M], with anyone else. I then talked to her about it and that led me to telling her my feelings, to which she had no response other than being gracious for my kind words. Things were seemingly normal for the next couple of days, and we made no mention of the discussion.

After a few days, she did not talk to me or text me. This was not normal at all.

Once I talked to her (a whole two weeks later), she let me know that she felt uncomfortable about what I said and that I had crossed a line, “Something a friend doesn’t do.” Noting how her relationship with her boyfriend was rocky but was committed to him. I apologized profusely, admitted I made a mistake and crossed a line. She accepted and said that she was unsure how to proceed with our friendship and need time/space. Especially since I knew that she had a boyfriend and already turned me down previous.l I agreed and admitted that I put myself in an emotionally unhealthy situation, by spending so much time with her if she was never going to be interested in anything more than a friendship.

Since then, we have not spoken to each other beyond a greeting and in class we don’t say hello to each other (she sits in front of me in class). We go to a small college and have a class together, but it was as though we had never known each other. When we pass each other around campus, a greeting is barely shared. This has left me confused, hurt, and sad.

I am not delusional and expect us to become best friends again, but I don’t think we have to ignore each other and pretend we don’t exist. I feel like I have no closure about the situation which hurts the most.

I have no idea what to do. I want to at least talk to her and see what she was to say about the situation, now that it has been over a month since we last talked — at all.
Do I try to talk to her or let things be and just try to get over it?

Thanks for reading, any help is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
— S.

Dear S,

You gotta leave M. alone. 

I know you are hurting. I know you tried your best to be a good friend and be respectful of her boundaries and you tried to be a good manager of the feelings you were developing for her. I know it would sting slightly less if M. would talk it over one more time and maybe give you hope that something is salvageable. Still: You gotta leave M. alone. 

We don’t, as a culture, have a good template for scaling down or ending friendships (and let’s face it, our collective romantic breakup skills ain’t anything to brag about, though obviously I’m working on it). It’s okay if both you and M. are muddling through this and don’t know quite how to act.

That said, I feel strongly that there is no conversation you could “approach her” about that would send the message “Hey I want to be respectful of what you need and not bother you, but what the fuck, can we talk for just a second and clear the air?” that communicates “I will leave you alone if that’s what you want” better than actually leaving M. alone like she wants. Every single past interaction you describe in your letter eventually leads to a conversation where what M. wants most from you seems to be “more space” with a side of “never talking about your feelings about her again.”

Her silence now is a way of making that space when asking didn’t work.

Maybe it’s not a smooth way of making that space, an “I gotta let him down easy” way of making that space (a thing she tried several times), but as messages go, but freezing you out is hardly an ambiguous way of claiming space. What is there to explain? She’s been pretty consistent with you from the start and it’s extremely clear what’s going on, the way it’s clear that a cat who hides whenever you walk into a room is a cat who doesn’t want your snuggles. The only way to ever get the cat to come out without being a ball of needle-claws and yowls is to ignore it until it comes out on its own. You’re probably not going to make a situation any worse than it already is by applying the same principle to humans who indicate they’d prefer to be left alone.

Things might not stay this chilly between you and M. forever, once enough time goes by, but the thing you can do to give the situation the best possible chance of a thaw is to realize that the only way your former friend’s shoulders are going to come down from around her ears when you’re around is if you show her you will give her space…by giving her space…and not hanging out expectantly waiting for her to explain herself or suggesting that if you could just talk about all of it one more time that will fix it somehow. When someone sets a hard limit, we show we are safe people who respect boundaries by retreating back behind the boundary and staying there until invited to cross, not by hanging out just outside the gates trying to have just one more conversation about what kind of fish to put in the moat.

So where do you go from here? You can decide that M. is incompatible friend material for you at the present time without talking through it with her. She decided that she didn’t want to be friends anymore, which is a thing she gets to do without taking a vote, and you also get to decide, hey, I need friends who want me around, she’s not that person, it’s time to stop trying to make this happen.

In the class you share, say ‘hello’ if she says ‘hello,’ try to match her energy where possible, don’t double down on the awkwardness by giving her the silent treatment or doing anything dramatic to “punish” her. Find a different seat if you can, actively seek different study buddies and lunch companions, don’t lurk around her conversations, don’t monitor what she does or who she talks to, try to think of her as just another stranger in the room. When you get tempted to dwell on her during class, dare I say it, re-focus your attention on the material you’re there to learn at considerable expense? 😉 And let her do the same, without having to manage your feelings!

Outside of class, put your energy into other connections that aren’t so fraught. It’s a small campus, but women you have a crush on and a failed friendship with aren’t the only people on it. M. has already occupied a lot of a school year you’ll never get back, I wonder how many hangouts with other people did you forgo to hear more about the dude back home she likes better than you in the hopes that today would be the day she’d either love you back or you’d become finally immune? It’s time to break that cycle, stick the landing on your finals, enjoy the holiday break, and next semester or quarter, get yourself a fresh start. Join a club or two, try something new, and make some friends who aren’t her. In both friend material and future crush/romantic partner material, start selecting for people who enthusiastically want you around and who want the same thing you want.

As for M., one last thing: It actually takes a ton more effort to ignore someone and actively freeze them out than it does to be casually pleasant, so This WILL pass, I think, if you give her space. It won’t go back to how it was before, a little friendliness from her absolutely will NOT be an indication that she’s changed her mind and is now Into You That Way, but chances are it won’t always be quite so tense. If and only if: You give her space.

(And if you hear that she’s broken up with her boyfriend at some future point? KEEP GIVING HER SPACE. We don’t forget when people close to us tell us they are in love with us, if she ever wants to talk about that again you will know because she seeks you out and brings it up. If she doesn’t talk about it, assume she’s not feeling it.)

I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t persuade people into loving you back or letting you in even if you use all the best words. It took so many times and so many words for that to sink in, but it never stopped being true if I’d only let myself see it. What I’d love to hand down to you, my dear S., is the knowledge that the closure you give yourself is the closure that ultimately heals you in the end. Giving M. space, walking away, and choosing to prioritize other people is the kind of closure that lets you stop auditioning in an empty room where she walked out, turned out the lights, and shut the door behind her. It’s the kind of closure where you find the story you can live with, the one where you tried your best. Time does the rest, if you’ll let it.

Now, onward to #1241, “Is a person ever entitled to direct communication?” 

Dear Captain,

I’m early 40s (she / her), long-term single, generally happy about it. I have a Significant Ex (late 40s, he / him); we broke up nearly a decade ago for a whole load of lifestyle-related reasons (I have a job that I absolutely love but which takes me abroad, often to unsafe places, for long periods of time), and over the ensuing years, we have cycled through not being in touch / being very casually in touch / thinking we were friends, getting drunk together, angst+kissing / not being in touch, etc. etc. About a year and a half ago it seemed like we had broken the cycle, in that YES we got drunk together and YES we ended up in bed together but then … it was fine? And we segued into what was, to me, a kind of perfect arrangement whereby we were very much not in a relationship but every few weeks we would hang out, have dinner, and sleep over. (I know I know I KNOW that whoever is reading this is probably rearing back in horror at my bad decisions, I knoooooow.)

And after about nine months of this, he slow-faded and then entirely ghosted me. It’s not that I expected this arrangement to go on forever, but I did genuinely believe that he valued me enough to tell me explicitly when he wanted to step back from what we were doing, and also that he knew me well enough to know how being ghosted by him would wreck me in a way that direct communication would not. It’s been six months since I realised it really was a slow fade rather than just a normal break in communication and I … just … cannot … let it go. And so my question is twofold:

1. I cannot let go of the desire to get in touch with him just to say: wow, that really fucking hurt, why couldn’t you just TELL ME that you wanted to step back? But then I think of all the advice I’ve seen over the years about the need to respect a soft no, and so … should I just slink off quietly into the night? Is there ever any justification for this sort of parting shot-style feelingsmail? Did he owe me direct communication? I don’t knooooow.

2. How on earth do I let this one go? It’s been A DECADE since we split up; we’ve had years of no contact over that time; I have a weird and wonderful and extremely full life that I adore (and am also currently on the other side of the world from him); I am absolutely NOT putting anything on hold because I am “waiting” for him, and yet my dumbass of a heart is still hanging on. The only piece of advice on How To Get Over Someone that I am not taking is around dating other people, because I just really do not want to. But WHAT DO instead?

Signed,

Eternal Kwisatz Haderach, I guess

Dear Eternal Kwisatz Haderach,

A cooler dude would have said something instead of ghosting you.

A better friend would have said something instead of ghosting you.

A great fuck buddy would have said something instead of ghosting you.

The person who actually belongs in your life would have handled this better and said something instead of ghosting you.

If he’d said “This isn’t working for me anymore and I want to end it, and since we know that ‘being friends’ usually ends up right here, I’m so sorry, but I need to end that part too and make a clean break” it would have been SO MUCH COOLER and BETTER IN EVERY WAY than what he did. He had choices about how he treated you and he was a coward. It’s okay if you needed and wanted different things from him than what he gave you, but “owed” isn’t the right word. Not to get all The Merchant of Venice about it, but can something be owed that is neither given freely nor anything you could possibly hope to collect?

If you send one text along the lines of “Hey, it’s been six months and if you’re wondering, I am still pissed at you for ghosting me. That’s not what friends do and I deserved better.” before you blocked his number vs. skipping directly to blocking his number, I wouldn’t judge you. The Last Word is both a potent cocktail and a powerful fantasy, and if having either or both would help you sleep better tonight? Get it.

As long as you block his number.

And his email. And his social media profiles. And every single solitary way you could possibly get in touch with each other or monitor what he’s up to.

Texting to have the last word so you can finally stop fantasizing about having the last word and be done with this dude forever vs. texting in order to provoke a response where you finally get your explanation are two entirely different projects. One is hopefully the beginning of healing. The other puts you exactly where you are now, probably for another six months, waiting for him to say something back that could even possibly explain what happened, finally deliver the apology you are owed, or at least confirm that you still have some power to command his attention even if it’s to wound him the way he wounded you.

But what happens when you say your piece and he keeps right on Caspering out of your life? Do you send even more angry texts and set yourself up for even more waiting? He knows what he did was shitty. He knows he’s a coward. He knows that he deserves to be told off. That’s why he got gone and stayed there, he wanted to avoid the part where he let you down and you (in his imagination) told him off. He’s got nothing for you now that he didn’t have six months ago, when he had less than nothing for you, not even goodbye.

The “closure is a thing you give yourself” recommendation isn’t about what you’re owed, or what you deserve, except when it’s about reminding yourself that a person who deserves you would be much more careful with your feelings. Of course you can want  an adult break-up conversation, and expect a caring sex partner who claims to be your friend to be as honest and considerate with endings as beginnings. But when that’s impossible, what can you do stop waiting for it to be different and start writing the next chapter of your life where you survived this and you don’t need a goddamn thing from someone who let you down?

I want help you get OUT of the ‘please come back and be good this time’ part of the sad breakup playlist:

Like, imagine we’re in a boat and I’m steering you gently past the Adele Peninsula and through the Etta James Straits, around the Portishead shallows that remind us of old times but will only make us cry if we look too hard at the bottom, right past the Jeff Buckley Reef and the Cape of Leonard Cohen, and into the gentle blue lagoon of sometimes-cheesy, always-catchy empowerment jams:

Your musical map probably has different signposts on it than mine but it will still eventually reveal the safe haven where I want to take you, Ms. Kwisatz Haderach ( and S. in the first letter, and many past Letter Writers), the point on the compass where the needle crosses over from “But I still love ____! So much!” to “Yes, ok, but I’m going to try to love myself more and see where that takes me.” Since I am as yet unable to build a time machine to go back and unsend all of my personal “well I guess at least I can have THE LAST WORD (but please please oh please write back, you can have the last word if it means I get more words)” emails and texts that never did anything but make my exes more avoidant and worried about my sanity and me feel more pathetic (and worried about my sanity), I’m trying to spare you at least some of that. Don’t worry, though, I’ll definitely still be here if you wind up taking the long way round.

If I’d found out what rejection-sensitive dysphoria was and that I definitely experienced it at 16 instead of 40, what would my life be like, I wonder? Would I be Captain Awkward or just a regular level of awkward? We’ll never know, but if I can make one person feel less alone about this, if I can make one person understand that time you spend convincing people to love you is time spent on people who, baseline, do not love you enough to be what you need, no matter what you hoped and what they may have promised, then I’ll take it.

What I want you to do now, Kwisatz Haderach, is to do whatever lets you grieve this fucker like he died and start enjoying your life again. If you need to send one last text into the void to get there, so be it, but my vote is for skipping ahead, and if I can help you get started on the next part of the story, I gladly will:

“Once upon a time I made a very fun bad decision and let my ex back into my life, and it was great for a while, but in the end he remains as disappointing this time as he did the first time around. I knew he was unsuited to being a long-term partner; now I know he’s incapable of being a friend. Honestly, people should think twice about leaving a cactus at his house.

I will never know what made him decide to take off without even a word, and he’ll never know that if he’d managed to talk to me about it like an adult for five minutes I would have sent him off with my blessing in a way that could leave us both feeling good about our history together. He’s the reason that we can’t have nice things and I’m still pretty angry about it, but if that’s what he needed to do, it’s his decision and his loss. I lost a disappointing friend, he lost a fucking great one. 

I’m probably gonna be pissed off about this for a while. If I can’t forget or stop feeling it soon, maybe it will help if I think of the anger as a vaccine in case he ever tries to ooze back in. One thing I probably need to look for in new relationships are people who value direct communications. I guess we’ll find out.” 

S. (#1240) and Kwisatz Haderach (#1241) you both deserve people around you who think “HELL YES!” when they see you. That goes for friends the same as it goes for lovers, so as you meet new people, try your best to move toward the ones where the “HELL YES!” is mutual and don’t mess with Mx. In-Between. ❤ ❤ ❤

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