#1287: “My toxic friend wants to know why we don’t hang out anymore. Should I tell her?”


TL;DR: I purposely drifted away from a toxic friend. She emailed me saying she didn’t know what happened, gave a vague apology, and wished me the best. Should I respond?

I (32/F) was friends with “Karen” (32/F) since high school, but we became closer after high school. We were in each other’s weddings and hung out often.

I was running a photography business, and she started learning photography and asked if she could join me. I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to learn from each other, and neither of us were doing it for the money, so I agreed. At the time we were early 20’s, neither of us had kids. She had always been vocal about not wanting kids, which I respected. She talked about it frequently, and I often agreed with her point of view and thought that I might feel the same way.

Over time, our friendship started to revolve around photography. The business wasn’t booming or anything – it had just become an intense hobby/interest for her. Within a couple months, she had gotten top-of-the-line gear. She had a great job and was married to a wealthy guy and could afford to throw thousands of dollars at gear on a whim. I was financially stable, but not enough for extras to that extent. I felt like this was when I noticed the first change in her. A week after getting her new camera, she told me, “Your pictures will never come out as clear as mine since your camera just isn’t as good.” Honest, but ouch. She started doing other subtle things: when we did a photo session together, she would only post her own photos on our social media and never any of mine. She would make little sarcastic comments about the way I edited photos, referring to one of my methods as “unprofessional.” When we put all of our photos together to present to a client, she would tell me I needed to edit x, y, and z before my photos would be good enough to present. She would make weird jokes during a photo session, in front of clients, where she’d treat me like her assistant and say things like “Can you please hold my camera,” then as soon as I took it, she’d say, “Yeah that’s right bitch, hold my shit.” She changed the location on our social media pages to the city she lived in (a 45 minute drive for me), even though we’d agreed to keep it listed as a central location for both of us (I did confront her on this, changed it back, then found a couple weeks later she changed it again.)

I kept telling myself I was being too sensitive or that I was being paranoid. I mean, she referred to me as her best friend. She even asked me to get bestie tattoos with her (I didn’t.) I was there for her through a lot of hard times in her life and knew she could be going through depression, and I wanted to continue being a good friend to her.

Our photography partnership lasted about 5 years. During that time, I also became pregnant with my first child. This is when things really escalated, and looking back I wish I’d said something. She became passive aggressive, constantly making comments that seemed to imply bad things about me and about kids, and often moving the conversation to the topic of every reason why she doesn’t want kids. The few times I confronted her, she said that wasn’t what she meant. Things she said during and after my pregnancy included:
– “I hate parents, they’re all so selfish.”
– “Can you believe that person up ahead with their stroller in the middle of the sidewalk? Parents think they’re better than everyone and I am not moving over. She can go in the grass, it’s not my fault she has a kid”
– “I would never have kids because I don’t want to ruin my body / oh you don’t look as bad as I thought you would after having a kid / having a baby changes your body only in negative ways”
– “Sometimes [husband] says his wants kids but then I remind him he doesn’t want some stupid little asshole making everything dirty and ruining our lives, and I like having expensive things”
– A week before I was due to give birth, she posted a study on social media that said having a child is worse than divorce or the death of a loved one. I told her I think that study is flawed, and she argued back and forth with me insisting that it’s 100% true. She knew I was about to have my first kid!

I’d started to complain to my husband every time I came home from seeing Karen or doing a photo shoot with her, always telling him that I felt drained and like she was putting me down the entire time.

One time when I was hanging out with her, she was showing me a video on her phone. At that moment, a text from her husband came in where he was making fun of my physical appearance. Apparently she sent him a picture we’d just taken and then they starting poking fun at how I look.

I decided to drift away from her. She noticed and asked me if I was ok and if I was avoiding her. I told her “I’m feeling uncomfortable and honestly not sure if our friendship is compatible because I have a kid and you despise children. I don’t like embarrassing people so I never confronted you about things you said that hurt me, I just kept telling myself that you probably weren’t trying to be mean.”

In her email response, she said:
“It was never my intention to make you feel as though you couldn’t talk to me about [kid’s name]. But to say you avoid conflict for the sake of others isn’t entirely true either; you do that for yourself. You don’t know how someone else will feel or react – some people welcome conflict. Some people have no idea that they’re hurting someone and prefer others to be direct with them. It’s you that doesn’t like to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, etc so you choose to leave things unaddressed. So, let’s just keep things honest, yeah?” then she unfollowed and blocked me on all social media.

Apparently I was selfish for not confronting her? I mentioned that I had seen the mean text from her husband about me, she apologized, we met up and talked and I thought things were left on a good note. I still wasn’t planning to be close with her, but I was ok with having peace. I still talked to her frequently and I told her that I was pregnant with my second child. It was a scheduled C-section, so I told her the date too. And go figure, she ghosted me during that time. When my second kid was 2 months old, she finally sent me a message and asked “how is the little one?”. Having a kid is, I don’t know, a big life event. One that I would expect any real friend of mine to acknowledge, even if kids aren’t their thing. I never replied to her message. Months later, I received an email from her asking what happened. Based on all of her other passive aggressive moves, I wondered if she had purposely ghosted me to really show how much she doesn’t care that I had a kid.

If I write back to her, I’m afraid I would just be venting, that I would make her feel horrible (sure it would be satisfying briefly, but I don’t want to set out to hurt someone), or that she would come back at me and list off reasons why I’m actually the bad friend. Even if I gently told her the truth, is there any point in doing that?

To Write Back or Not to Write Back

Dear To Write Back,

You don’t owe this lady shit.

She “doesn’t know what happened?” Horseshit. What is there to explain? It’s not a mystery! Yo, “Karen,” eventually you can act like enough of an asshole that people want to stop hanging out with you. You already gave her an answer when you didn’t respond the first time.

She was a terrible business partner, a terrible friend who was routinely mean to you and who ghosted you during important life events, so you stopped hanging out so much. But you still tried to be nice?

Then she asked you why you weren’t as close, and you told her. And you were, again, consistently, way nicer than she deserved. So her plan was to yell at you for not being more honest(?) and block you(?!?). What? Did she think you’d chase her down?

Hahahahaha, after I typed that question, I realized, EUREKA! She assumed you’d chase her down eventually and apologize to her for your “lack of honesty.” And then you didn’t. And now there’s a pandemic on, so it’s harder to hang out with people in general, plus as everybody gets older and wiser it gets much harder for toxic people to break in new victims. I would bet you actual folding money that she’s recently had romantic relationship problems or a rift with another friend and she’s getting nostalgic for the bad old days when you were (in her mind) her willing sidekick.

Her “why” email after all this time is a baited hook: It’s a combination of an excuse to be a jerk to you again and a test to see if you’ll keep putting up with her bad behavior.

If you reply honestly (“What’s unclear? You’re a sentient Superfund site, let’s not be friends!”) she gets to blame you for the rift, put you in the role of the mean, rude one, and reopen a dynamic where she gets to tear you down one last time. If you reply politely, she’ll try to worm her way into your life again because she misses having someone around who she feels superior to.

Please know, I’m still laughing at her audacity and how bad she is at this. If she actually wanted to reconnect in a meaningful way, or was actually good at manipulation at all, she’d at least bait the hook with an actual apology. You’d feel 75% more obligated to write back if you had to run a realistic “But what if she’s changed?” scenario first. (She hasn’t).

If you want to respond before you block her on every conceivable platform (“Yeah, we’re not doing this again. Have a good life!”), I won’t judge you, there’s a lot to vent about and The Last Word feels good sometimes. But if you skip directly to blocking her, you will actually be giving her some valuable information: She’s free to be an asshole for the rest of time but that doesn’t make you an asshole rehabilitation-and-rescue nonprofit. You’re free!

To celebrate your freedom, I suggest giving yourself an enormous pat on the back for getting her out of your life the first time and calling any one of your good friends who don’t make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells for a nice long chat.

P.S. People who are actually good at photography don’t have to brag about their equipment, good grief. Sexy big sensors and crisp lenses are nice to have, but you can make beautiful images with any camera, and I bet your stuff was routinely and consistently better than hers. Also, while I’m laughing, let’s talk about the audacity it took to admonish you about “professionalism” and treat you like her assistant. Even if you HAD been her assistant and not the established business-owner who gave your newbie photographer friend what is basically a paid internship that she used to try to take over your business as her own in some kind of All About Eve: Freelance Photography Edition remake, people who bully their assistants front of the client are failing at so many things simultaneously.