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Request for advice! I read your advice on emailing a friend about a drifting friendship and am looking for help! I have a ‘commitment’ friend (15 year friendship). Our friendship has been drifting for the past 5 years, despite being in each others wedding parties and both having babies recently. The things I attribute the drift to are: – geographical separation (though, c’mon – 30 min is not that far!); busy lives (toddlers and full-time jobs); husbands with slightly different interests (her husband seems to have all the friends he wants). This last point is what I blame the drift on the most, with busy lives and kids I feel it’s tougher to connect and I feel more resentful that they don’t welcome my husband into their lives. Fearing that we are lost forever (my last-ditch effort to reconnect with our babies has officially failed), I need some advice. The sadness I feel from mourning her loss in my life (and jealousy of the new friends she focuses all of her efforts on) is on my mind constantly. I was a zombie of sadness (not at all like my old perky fun self!) at our last group gathering when I attended her son’s 2nd birthday. I even feel that my daughter is getting pushed out. Do I email her? Help?!
Dearest Zombie of Sadness,
Oh my heart breaks for you! It is SO painful feeling like we’re losing a friend. Much like a break-up except sometimes worse in that we don’t have the conversations that help bring closure and we try to keep up appearances for so long, unsure what the status really is. It makes sense that you feel sad– something feels lost and sadness is the healthy and appropriate response!
And in answer to the question you asked: “Do I email her?” My answer is a resounding yes!
- You’re commitment friends. My rule of thumb is that the more we’ve invested in each others lives, the more I’m willing to do what I can to repair the friendship (or at least end well).
- You still like her! This isn’t a drifting apart case where you two don’t like each other– you’re both still in each others social circles and want to be closer!
- You’ve both gone through a lot of changes. Weddings and babies– either one of those changes can be tough for us to even figure out, let alone all our friends who have to figure out the new normal, too! It makes sense that it would feel different and a bit hesitant since neither of you have practice at this yet! Be gentle on both of yourselves, if you can!
- You have a lot in common. Besides all the history you have, it’s actually amazing you both are married, had kids at the same time, and are choosing to keep working.
But…. my read on this (and granted I don’t know what you mean by last-ditch effort failing OR how she’s feeling and what she’s noticing) is that if I were you I’d focus less on the problems right now and more on trying to add more positivity to the friendship.
My next book (Frientimacy) covers this big time because a friendship has to have a positivity:negativity ratio of at least 5:1 which means that sometimes we can’t eliminate all the stressors (busy lives, disappointments, jealousy) but we can add more joy. And as we get that number back up (enjoying each others company, laughing, playing) then we have more room to have tough talks. It’s not to say you can’t have that talk now or that you have to keep it bottled up, but it is to say that ultimately what you want is to feel closer to her so the highest priority is strategically figuring out the best way to accomplish that goal. To feel mad at her for her husbands choices (which possibly causes friction in her marriage) or for her making new friends (which is actually healthy and normal and probably a good idea for you, too, no matter what happens with this friend!) may not lead to you feeling closer.
So what I’d suggest, in this case, is an email that isn’t focused on the frustrations, but rather on your end-goal: more time together. Your goal in this email is to solicit her help brainstorming suggestions for your time together– you show care to her by reaching out and prioritizing her preferences and schedule, and depending on what she writes back you have more information as to what, if anything, she’s actually willing to do to keep this friendship in her life.
“I miss you… and I was wondering what you feel like works best for us in terms of staying in touch? In your opinion is it easier/better trying to do more family time together with our husbands included or is it easier/better on you when it’s just us girls or do you prefer trying to include our kids more? Does it feel better on your end knowing that we have something scheduled regularly that we can count on (i.e. meet for drinks once a month, talk on the phone every Thursday on the way home from work) or does it feel better to keep it organic and spontaneous and just both take on the responsibility of reaching out when we can? So much in our lives has changed and I’m just trying to figure out what our friendship can look like in this phase of our lives. You’re important to me and I want to do what I can on my end to keep our friendship healthy! I know it’s realistic that our friendship will ebb and tide, and shift as we keep going through all these life changes, and yet as I hear about so many friendships that simply drift apart, I also would hate for us to lose touch with each other or have our time together decrease in meaningfulness for either one of us…I look forward to hearing what feels easiest and most meaningful to you these days.”
The good news with this approach is you’re not opening a can of worms or starting a big fight. You’re not blaming or accusing. You’re simply saying that her opinion matters to you and that you want to be intentional about your friendship!
Best case scenario– it opens up the door for you two to figure out how your friendship needs to change to accommodate your new lives. And hopefully you both feel more valuable to each other in the process!
Worst-case– you have clarity that she’s not going to make time for you right now (which isn’t to say that next year couldn’t be different. Remember you have both gone through SO many life changes recently and are both just trying to do the best you can to adjust!) and you can set your expectations accordingly.
I have so much more I could say but I’m already above my word count (no surprise there! ha!) so hopefully that at least gives you my vote that I think it’s worth you writing her.
My prayer is that someday you can write me back and it would be signed, “My old perky fun self.” With or without her– you WILL get there.
p.s. What about the rest of you GirlFriends– what advice would you give her? Should she write?
p.s.s. Want my advice? Fill out this form!
I ruffled a few feathers last week with my post about being willing to be the friend who initiates more with others than they seem to reciprocate. Several of us feel like we’re making more time for our friendships than others are…
So first a hearty thank you to all of you left comments and shared your feelings! My answer was in response to a girl asking how to build relationships when it seemed others didn’t make the time. But for many of you, you expressed that for you this isn’t a strategy issue but rather one that actually hurts your feelings and leaves you feeling insecure.
Therefore, I want to jump off from that post to talk about the danger of taking the actions of others personally.
In my upcoming book Frientimacy I share amazing research about how painful it is for any of us to think we’re being rejected. It’s a very real feeling and it hurts. I totally understand why we all feel so fearful about being seen as wanting a friendship more than someone else, or worrying about whether this is their way of saying “I don’t want to be your friend.” But if we take the busy-ness of others as a personal offense then we’ll not only stay lonely for a long time, but we’ll be miserable and sad, too.
Their Actions Hurt Our Feelings
In my first marriage I cried myself to sleep a number of nights. At the time I was convinced those hurt feelings were his fault. I was in graduate school and had to be in class by 7 am so our needs would clash when he wanted to stay up late watching some new show called The Daily Show instead of come to bed with me. (Ha! Little did I know how much I’d come to love that show year later!) I held an ideal image in my head that couples go to bed at the same time. I wanted to talk and cuddle and connect with him. To make a long story short– despite my invitations, my tears, and my begging– I occasionally went to bed alone. And when I did… my heart would break.
To many others this story might not sound so bad. He certainly wasn’t an awful person for wanting to stay up and laugh. But I had gotten it in my head that he was choosing that over me. In other words, I believed a narrative that whispered: “If he really loved me, he would see how important this is to me and come to bed with me.”
We do this all the time in all our relationships, even our friendships:
- If she really understood me then she’d know not to ask that question…
- If she really trusted me then she’d have told me about that problem…
- If she really appreciated me then she’d have done more to say thanks…
- If she really valued me then she’d remember my birthday…
- If she really cared about me then she’d have offered to help me…
And the one that hits a little closer to home from the last post:
- If she really liked me then she’d initiate us getting together more often…
Our feelings are hurt and it makes sense that we’d be tempted to look for who is causing that pain. When we see them doing something we don’t want, or not doing something we do want, then we’re quick to assume they are to blame for our hurt feelings, insecurities, or anger.
It’s Not About Us
But here’s the truth, that’s easier to see when it’s someone else’s narrative (hence why I shared from my marriage) and not our own: how other people act says more about them than it does about us.
And what it says about them isn’t the bad that we often assume it is.
Take my ex-husband for example. I valued going to bed together early. Nothing inherently wrong with that desire, but neither is it better than his needs and desires. Perhaps he valued decompressing after a long day, perhaps his life was draining and it needed more laughter, perhaps he needed more freedom, autonomy and independence in life, or perhaps his body cycle was just different from mine and he wasn’t tired yet? All of those are just as valid as my need.
And here’s what I know to my core now that I have experience more growth and maturity since those fights long ago: I don’t believe for a second that he ever stayed up thinking to himself: “I hope she knows now that I don’t love her.” I absolutely know that was never the message he was trying to send.
Yet, I cried in bed, suffering, worrying, and shrinking because of the meaning I assigned to his actions.
Many a woman goes to bed before her partner and isn’t crying and hurting over it. I chose my suffering because of what I chose to think about someone else’s actions.
In the best-selling book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz teaches that the Second Agreement, if we want to live lives full of joy and peace, is “Don’t Take Anything Personally.” He says,
“Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about ‘me’.”
In the case of a friend not calling, inviting, and reaching out– it would be easy to take it personally: she doesn’t like me; or to blame and devalue her: “I don’t need friends like that– I deserve better!” Our ego is convinced it either means she doesn’t think we’re good enough or that we don’t think she’s good enough. But one way or another: someone is bad.
But no friendship will ever blossom with that fear and frustration. The best chances we have for creating the love around us that we want is to keep putting out love and ensuring that our actions are in alignment with that desire. We want to keep inviting and stay as warm as possible.
So am I saying be a stalker? No. If she is rude, ignores your invitations completely, has never once said yes, or just acts miserable when we’re together– then, you’re right: move on. (It’s still not about you though!)
But recognize that our tendency to assume others are trying to reject us is just our own made-up story. Most women out there want more meaning relationships in their lives and you can help show the how that’s done– most of them will thank you for it someday. (And in the meantime you get what you wanted: more time with friends!)
- It’s okay to keep inviting if she sometimes says yes and answers our invitation– it doesn’t need to be 50/50.
- We can’t expect a new-ish friend to make the same kind of time for us that she might if we were close friends. We can keep building the relationship slowly and trust the growth.
- If you’ve been friends for a while and she’s not as responsive as she used to be, check in with her and see how she’s doing… (she may be feeling hurt too!)… it’s not stalking to keep trying to engage with those who we are in relationship with.
- If you’re trying to start friendships– put out a net instead of a fishing line! Don’t zero in on one person, but stay open to developing several friendships at once.
We’re the ones well aware of how important friendship is to our life… for us to keep reaching out doesn’t help them as much as it helps us. We aren’t doing them this amazing favor as much as we are gifting ourselves with the likelihood that with our efforts we will keep developing the intimacy and love with others that we crave. It is a mutual relationship if we enjoy being with them when they say yes.
I’d rather error on the side of having reached out one too many times than to have stopped one time too few? If I can not take it personally then I can go down swinging for love and friendship.
Does that make sense, in general? I know it’s easy to try to find the exception… but overall can you see that it’s better to put love out there than to keep track of scores, and better to assume the best of others than take it personally? I’m not saying it’s easy but I think it’s worth practicing!
The more we can call you “Making the Time” the sooner we can call you “The Girl With Healthy Friendships!”
Good luck, much love, and thank you for being a woman who prioritizes friendship!
Update on 11/5: For more on this subject, in part inspired by some of the comments from this post, see the follow-up post: “If my friend really liked me then she’d initiate more…”
In late September, before I left for a vacation with my husband, I was caught up with all most closest friends and family and bid them goodbye. While I was going to be on Facebook a bit and try to scan my emails occasionally, I was planning to be off-the-grid as much as possible. I said farewell and off we went on our dream trip to Greece.
Cue forward three weeks and I felt like I came home to a rapidly changed world!
One of my closest friends, who was scheduled for a c-section the week after I
was to get home ended up having her baby two weeks before I returned. Not only was I not at the hospital with her as planned, but I wasn’t even in the country. Others surrounded her, organizing meal drop-offs, helping babysit her other daughter, and cheering her up with love. All I could do was send an email of congratulations from afar… I whispered a prayer of thanks that she had built an entire community of friends who could love her well in my absence.
Another close friend, in the span of those three weeks, was so inspired by a friends detox program that she ended up not only starting the 21-day process herself, but already had other friends paying her to do their shopping, chopping, and cooking so they could join her in the cleanse. She and I are friends who tell each other everything in our weekly calls, but in missing 3 weeks– I wasn’t there to bounce ideas off of, cheer lead for her courage, or help think through pricing and possibilities. This diet wasn’t even on her radar when I left; when I returned she had the beginnings of a business! I whispered a prayer of thanks that she had other friends who not only supported her in that entire launch, but who first gave her the idea, and some who became her first clients.
A similar thing happened with my sister who had a job opportunity come up, interviewed, got it, turned in her two-week notice, and started a new job, all in the span of my vacation! Again, prayer of thanks that she has an awesome community around her who helped validate and cheer her on along the way.
My life felt like it was placed on pause while I went off on a much-anticipated vacation, but there was no stopping the lives of everyone I loved while I was gone. All I could do was come home and give them my time on the phone to catch me up on everything that had happened in their beautiful lives: new babies, new vision, and new jobs! (What relief that it was all good stuff and not any crisis’s!)
Our Friends Deserve All The Love They Can Get
I hear from many women who feel threatened if their friends make other close friends. Their egos get wounded because they interpret that interest in more friends as though it means that they are inadequate. And that can’t be further from the truth.
The truth is, that when our friends make other good friends, it means our friends are healthy! It means our friends know the value of community and know what it takes to foster love in lots of different places. If we love our friends– we will want others to love them, too.
All I did was go on a vacation. But it limited me from being “there” for my friends. All of us will have times in our lives where we can’t be as available– busy work periods, parents who need us, kids who are going through a rough patch, wedding planning that consumes our attention, having a baby that puts us out of commission for a bit, or going through a health challenge that leaves us without energy. There are any number of things in life that can constrain us from being the kind of friend we ideally would want to be; and many of them are to no fault of our own.
Our friends deserve having as many friendships as they can foster. They are better off with it. And so are we.
We’re better off with them having other friends? Absolutely!
- Less pressure and obligation: They don’t lean on us too much, expecting us to be and do everything.
- More meaningful time together: They’re typically happier and more centered with more friends so our time with them will feel more energetic and positive.
- More fun and opportunity: We will get to meet their friends at some events and possibly get exposed to more people we already know are wonderful (because our friend has chosen them!)
It’s Our Responsibility
If we’re feeling jealous, it’s not her fault. It’s our responsibility to make sure that we are initiating time with her and making the most of the time we have together.
If we feel resentful that she isn’t meeting all our needs, it’s not her job to do so, but rather our responsibility to surround ourselves with a circle of love.
We need to foster additional friendships, too; not to replace her (and maybe not even ones we’ll enjoy as much as with her!) but to feed other parts of our lives and to ensure that we have our own support system of meaningful friendships.
We all — us and our friends — need as much love as we can handle!
Leave a comment: What other perks have you experienced in your friend having other friends? Or… what has made this especially hard for you?