Longtime reader here, first time writer and not a native English speaker so please excuse any mistakes. You sometimes tackle the topic of friendships instead of romantic love so I wanted to get an outsider’s perspective on my situation.
For context, I (29/f) attended private schools throughout my childhood thanks to different scholarship, but that meant I was smart, nerdy, of lower economic status than my peers, extremely shy and, to top it all off, my body started to develop early (which lead to insecurities about my body that I haven’t quite managed to overcome). Needless to say, I was bullied mercilessly. I have no experience with male bullying but female bullying is… I guess I’d call it insidious. I had instances when sometimes other girls pretended to be my friends only to gossip behind my back and I was isolated and lonely. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t care what others think about me but, at the time, I was naïve and trusting. So, tl;dr: I didn’t have any friends at all for several of my formative years.
When I was about 12 years old, a new girl joined my school and we hit it off right away. We developed an extremely close friendship and she became my first true friend. All the way until I moved to college we stayed in constant contact and I considered her my sister. I moved to a city not too far away, (about 3 hours) and I went back to our city 2 or 3 times a month to visit my parents so I absolutely tried my best to keep in touch. I sent her e-mails weekly talking about my experiences and asked her to respond, I scheduled lunches and tried my best to keep her in my life. Even with all of my efforts, we started to grow apart and, when she married, she invited me to the wedding but I was not included in any part of the planning. I didn’t demand anything and was always open to help in whatever capacity I could, but it hurt me deeply that she just wasn’t working at all in our friendship.
I was so emotionally involved with her as my friend that some people though I was in love with her or that we were in a romantic relationship, however that wasn’t the case at all. For the longest time, I even thought I was asexual and aromantic (I’m married myself now to a wonderful guy). She is an active poster on social media but I don’t like social media sites and I’m of the idea that if someone wants me to know something, they should tell me directly, otherwise relationships lose that personal touch. So, over the years we lost contact. She stopped responding to my messages and I couldn’t bear the idea of stalking her on Facebook or Twitter. It is very difficult for me to form close attachments, so to this friendship I gave it my all, tried to be supportive of her even if sometimes I disagreed with her (example: even though I believe her husband was not the best option for her I kept most of my opinions to myself after ). In the end, I let if fade away and moved on with my life.
There was a few years ago a situation in my city that made it to the news and she sent me a message through FB to check on me but I didn’t respond, first because I didn’t see it right away and then, because I was hurt by the radio silence and wanted to get back at her (petty, I know). Some more years pass until last year she sent me a message again asking if we could talk. I answered her and we started discussing the usual, how was I, how was my family, her family and such. I learned that a close family relative of hers passed away (maybe that was the reason she contacted me again in the first place) and eventually, we started to talk about our friendship and the reasons behind our distancing. She told me that when I moved to college, she became jealous of me and my new opportunities and that that was the primary reason behind her closing off and excluding me from her life. The comment cut deeply and opened wounds that I thought had closed. I started crying and trying to understand where we went wrong and in the end she promised to keep in touch because she wanted to rekindle our friendship, she told me that she missed me and that she didn’t have any other friend that knew her as well as me.
She didn’t keep her promise to contact me again at the time. She sent me a message again a few months ago so petty me decided to not answer in a futile attempt to hurt her back because obviously she doesn’t care as much about me if she can’t keep her promises. So, after the novella-length letter, my question is: Is it worth it to try and rekindle the friendship? Should I try to contact her again? Should I open myself to further heartbreak if this doesn’t work? I miss her a lot and she knows things about me that very few do. And, apparently I haven’t gotten over this issue as much as I thought if months pass and I still think about what to do. She lives in a different country now so meeting in person would be difficult, it would be a long-distance friendship.
Thank you for your time reading my rambling letter.
Broken Friends Forever
So, some thoughts on friendship…
For all that we as a culture focus so much of our time and attention on romantic relationships and what it takes to make them work, we tend to neglect friendships and the fact that those require care and maintenance too. Friendships can be just as intense and meaningful as romantic or sexual relationships — even moreso in some cases. It’s all too easy to forget that friendships don’t “just happen”, nor are they self-maintaining.
And, unfortunately, like a lot of romantic relationships, not every friendship is going to last. Some friendships are inherently temporal; they are relationships of the moment, based around who you are at this particular place and time. As you grow and change, those friendships tend to fade away — not because they were never “real” or “true”, but because you and your friend are no longer who you were when you started as friends. You, for all intents and purposes, outgrew your friendship. Others… well, others whither and die from neglect. Sometimes that neglect is intentional. Sometimes it’s accidental, like getting too distracted to remember to water a plant. But regardless of the reason, the effect is the same: the friendship falls apart.
And sometimes… well, sometimes it’s a mixture of all of the above.
Case in point, BFF: the way you and your friend lost touch. There was always going to be some strain on the relationship as you and she went off to college; much like romantic relationships, a lot of middle school and high-school friends tend to find that they’ve drifted apart. This isn’t terribly surprising, honestly. At college — or moving away from home, or other transitional periods of life — you’re meeting new people, having new experiences and trying new identities… you are becoming your new, adult self. And because you’re doing so without your old friends around, you’re growing and changing in ways that may well be changing how well you and they can mesh.
That, it seems, is at least part of why you and your friend started to drift away. Her jealousy of what you were experiencing clearly made her worry that you were going to leave her behind; rather than deal with the seemingly inevitable friend-breakup, she decided to distance herself first. It’s not the most mature decision she could have made, nor a kind one, but one can at least can understand the reasoning behind it.
If you squint.
But unfortunately, that is what ultimately set the stage for the two of you falling apart, because that’s what seems to have set off a pernicious and honestly kinda petty tit-for-tat afterwards.
Now, remember what I said about growing apart and the people you are no longer meshing? That’s part of what happens next. What we have in your letter is a classic case of failing to meet someone where they are. Social media, for all its sins, has become a cornerstone of how we connect and maintain interpersonal relationships. Your friend lives a lot of her life on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter… that’s part of who she is. Maintaining a connection with her means that social media would be part of the price of entry. That seems to be a primary point of contact for her — as it is for a lot of folks these days. So if you want to interact with her, then you’re gonna have to be on the Instabooktoks. Preferring to keep social media out of your life is a fine choice and, going by what Facebook has done to the world, a smart one. But that means having less of an opportunity to find out what your friend is up to.
The fact that you prefer that someone tell you directly what’s been going on, over reading their posts or pics? That’s a choice. It may be right for you… but that choice also means that you’re going to have less contact with your friend. That doesn’t mean that you or she are in the wrong; it just means that you and she aren’t meshing the way you used to.
However, it’s what happened afterwards that more or less drove the nail into the coffin. There were a number of times where your friend reached out and you ignored it. Her reaching out to you after the incident in your city was a bid for your attention. By trying to get back at her, you rejected her bid. You functionally told her “I’m not interested in communicating with you anymore”. This is part of the problem with giving folks the silent treatment; they don’t know what you’re doing or why. They just know you’re ignoring them. Absent any other information, they’re going to assume that this means you don’t like them and you don’t want to talk to them.
Small wonder, then, it took years for her to try again. And even then: you made the same decision. You ignored her again, even after you and she had that conversation where she tried to clear the air and — importantly — was making another bid to try to reconnect with you. I’m not surprised that you don’t hear from her; the times she’s tried, you’ve rejected her.
It’s understandable that you’re upset and somewhat resentful of the long stretches of time where you never heard from her. But it seems that, especially after the first attempt to check in on you, you haven’t made any effort to connect with her. You can say that you’re upset that she wasn’t putting in as much work as you were, but honestly, by this point you’d sent enough “fuck off and die” silence that I’m not surprised she didn’t try harder. You were functionally punishing her for doing the things that you wanted; small wonder the message she took from this is “BFF doesn’t want to talk to me.”
In an ideal world, when she reached back out to you — either when she checked on you after the incident, or after the “can we talk” message — you would’ve taken this as an opportunity to start a new friendship with her. It would’ve been one colored by your shared history, sure, but so much time had passed and you two had changed so much that this would be a new friendship for all intents and purposes. And one of the uncomfortable truths is that, especially in the early days, some folks are going to be putting in more work than others. Not every relationship — platonic, sexual or romantic — is perfectly balanced, and especially not at the beginning. Some folks tend to do more work than others and then an equilibrium is found.
You and she never found that, in part because you were nursing those grudges about feeling abandoned.
Which brings us to now. Can this friendship be saved? Honestly… I don’t know. If I’m blunt, I don’t think it can, in part because you keep letting your ego get in the way. You keep wanting her to “learn her lesson”, but all you’re doing is saying “I don’t want to talk to you.” Nor, for that matter, are you willing to bend and meet her where she is. If your view of “second or third hand knowledge is bad” is more important than keeping up with her… well, that’s a choice. But it’s one that’s going to keep you and her from being friends again.
If you want to be friends, then you’re going to have to address the pain you’ve been feeling ever since you went off to college. However, at this point it’s self-inflicted, self-sustaining pain, because you never let the wounds heal and you pick at them whenever she reaches out. That’s work you are gonna have to do for yourself.
The other thing you’re going to have to do is accept that, for now, you’re going to have to model the behavior you want to see from her. That means being willing to shove the whole “she’s not putting in as much effort as me” feeling aside and recognize that you burned the bridges you’re trying to rebuild here. You may not have realized that’s what you were doing… but the bridges got burned regardless. So if you want that friendship back, you’re gonna have to put in a lot of work until she realizes that you do want to be friends again, that you do want to reconnect and that you’re sincere in trying to stay in touch. Until and unless you do that and she can get over the hurt you have likely caused her?
Well… then the only thing you can do is let this friendship go.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
This is a question with a lot of background, so thanks for your patience.
I’m a 57 yo woman who has had an ongoing… thing… with a 71 yo career cop for 30 years. We met I was trying to get sober (I did shortly thereafter) and was just out of two quick, consecutive, abusive marriages. He didn’t tell me he was married at first; I found that out after sleeping with him a few times. I continued to see him over the next three decades. His wife died a dozen years ago and he took up with a girlfriend. He refused a traditional relationship with me but was happy to continue what we had.
I finally recognized that for me, he was the embodiment of the pinnacle of success that every NYC girl from a working-class immigrant family dreamt of – except that I never wanted the policeman/fireman husband and the house in East Cupcake with the barbecue in the backyard. I went to school and have forged my own path.
I have kept going back to him, though, because in many ways, he is a connection with a loving past that I never had (my childhood was horrific). I recently wound up living with him in his house for several months, and I have found out a few things.
He continues his pattern of disingenuousness. He did not tell his girlfriend he was sleeping with me, and he told me he knows she wishes he would change his mind and marry her, but he won’t, and he stays with her because it’s convenient. He went out and shagged some other woman while I was staying with him. When he owned up to it, his response was full of a lack of agency: “I really didn’t want to,” “we usually wind up sleeping together,” etc. Then he compared me to this woman and told me the sex was better with me!
From my viewpoint, the sex with him is lousy. When he touches me, it’s as though he is trying to wrestle with a rusty lug nut. It may have been better in the past, or I may have been less experienced, but it’s terrible now.
I had a separate bedroom in his house but mostly slept in his room. The few times he slept in “my” room, he said things like, “I’ll catch up with you later,” and “I hope I didn’t forget anything,” as though he were leaving my apartment to drive home instead of going down the hall to his own room.
His habits are so engrained. He has health problems: diabetes, HBP, bad back and knees. He smokes cigars, drinks too much, lies to his girlfriend, hangs out at Hooters, and sleeps around. I suspect he tries to fill in empty spaces within himself but that the effects are only temporary.
He has stated he does not want to remarry, and despite the fact that I wanted a relationship with him for many years, I see now that it would not work with him. He told me I am a square peg (I am, it’s true), and that I would have to sand off my edges to fit into his round hole. I can’t do that, so that’s that. I agreed with him that it wouldn’t work, and he seemed surprised. I think he’s also confused because he is not in touch with any of his other affairs. I moved away, but I kept in touch over the years. I see that he breadcrumbed me for years and allowed me to entertain fantasies about a future with him that he knew he had no intention of fulfilling, as he is doing with his girlfriend.
He does have good points. He has given me job references and helped me financially over the years. I have repaid all the money. He allowed me to stay in his home, even when he went out of town for several weeks. On the other hand, while he did attend two funerals with me in the past, he ditched me for my son’s wedding.
I am confused about why he trusts me and tells me the truth when he lies to his girlfriend. He trusted me not to tell his wife about the affair, and now, not to tell his girlfriend. I feel icky about the lies and complicit in his dishonesty. Also, I wonder about whether I was a victim. Was he taking advantage of an emotionally vulnerable person? Did I participate in that? I spent a lot of time over the years wondering why I was always available when he called.
Now I’m not sure what to think or feel, although I do feel kind of dumb to be dealing with these issues at my age. I would appreciate your perspective.
Not Lost Anymore
Not gonna like NLA: I have no goddamn idea why you kept going back to this dude. I mean, the sex is lousy, he treated you with contempt, he was cheating on all of his partners with you and made it clear that he had absolutely no interest in treating you like an equal, a partner or even with anything other than the bare minimum of whatever it took to keep you coming back around.
And why should he? I mean, look at all the shit you write about him and the way he treated you and you still kept going back. Even from a strictly utilitarian point of view, dude had absolutely no reason or incentive to change his ways. Leaving “maybe it’s good to not treat someone I sleep with like shit” or “I am hurting someone and I should stop” aside and looking at this with pure, cold-blooded calculation… there’s no motivation or incentive on his part to change. There’s not even a glimmer of “well, if I want NLA to stay, I have to change things up”.
That’s part of why he’s continued to trust you and tell you about how he’s been lying to his wife and to his girlfriend. He trusts you with all of this because you’ve never gave him reason not to. You never told any of his partners that you exist, you’ve never advocated for your own needs, your own pleasure… he gets exactly what he wants from you with no pushback.
Though, to be blunt: I don’t exactly see that there’s any value in pushing back. I mean, I’m sorry, the person you’ve described is garbage. Bad sex, shitty treatment, disrespect and he’s cheating on his partners with you? Woah, what a total catch! And again, in the spirit of blunt honesty: his “good points” are baseline at best and certainly doesn’t make up for the giant pile of steaming sentient horse shit that is the rest of him.
I don’t think you were victimized or being taken advantage of; at least, I don’t think this guy was some Svengali who was manipulating you in secret and sinister ways. I think that you were trying to fill a need and there was something about him that at least felt like it was fulfilling you. A lot of times, we end up in shitty relationships because there’s that one thing that we’re getting from it. The problem is when we let that one thing blind us to the rest of their bullshit and, worse, we fail to realize that we can get that need met without the death of a thousand mistreatments that comes with them.
In your case, it may well be as you say: it felt like a way of connecting with an idealized past you never had. Problem is, the present was shitty and the future ain’t showing any signs of change. Which, again, brings the question of “why in pluperfect hell is he even vaguely in your life again?”
I think the best thing you can do for yourself is figure out exactly what this dude is bringing in your life. Not the relationship — that’s clearly not great — but just the thing that makes you come back again and again. Get to the root of that, and you’ll be in a much better place. Specifically, a place where a) you can figure out a healthier way to meet this need, b) and find a better partner in the future and c) where he is nowhere to be seen.
The next best thing you can do for yourself is dump this guy. Dump him so hard his ancestors feel it. Cut all ties, burn all the bridges behind you and don’t bother roasting marshmallows in the blaze because the smoke is probably gonna be enough to turn the whole area into a relationship Superfund site. And if he does reach back out or tries to pull you back into his orbit, do yourself a favor and light the dude up so much that people will speak of what happened to him in hushed tones, leaving his shattered remains as a lesson to children in the future about how not to behave with people who care about you.