ASK COLETTE: Seeing Both Sides of a Lost Friendship

Here, Zoomer guru Colette Baron-Reid on when an old friendship slips away.


Dear Colette,

I was on a stressful work trip, out of the country, when the husband of a friend of mine suddenly got ill and passed away. She and I have been friends since our teenage years (very close for 15 years or so) and now, 30 years later, I’d love to say we are still close, but our lives went in different directions. I went off to a big city for a corporate job and was 40 before I married, and she married early and had children. I hadn’t spoken to her in a couple of years and when I received her email while I was away, I knew I wanted to connect with her when I got back to the U.S. and could get settled. 

When I regrouped, I sent her a message to the only email address I had for her (the same one she used to connect with me) and I never heard back. I had a few different phones in the couple of years since we had not been connected so I knew email was the best means of reaching out. We had known each other for a long time, and I really love this person but, over the years, we drifted apart a bit with life’s distractions.

A couple of weeks went by when I received a very accusatory note about how I was a terrible friend and that I should be ashamed of myself for not caring enough to see how she was doing. 

When I realized she must not have received my message, I immediately apologized. But to no avail. She made the decision that I was not a good friend. Recently, I reached out again, many months later, to acknowledge what had happened and to reconnect and I was rejected. What do I do in this circumstance? We’ve been friends for many years, and I really care about this person, even though they don’t think I do and our lives have gone in different directions. —Defriended


Dear Defriended,

There are a few things to consider here, and it requires looking at both sides to garner the best perspective.

Many times, our lives take different courses and for many reasons, our friendships slip away even when we care a great deal for each other. Either one of you or both of you faded away from each other for any number of reasons, whether you are ready to acknowledge it or not.

Also, we have expectations for our friends that can be higher for long-standing friendships than shorter ones, just as they can be for emotionally close connections versus casual ones. She may see you as a longtime close friend and expect you to be there for her no matter what the circumstances. However, you recognize the separation you’ve both had over the last few years, and although you still care about her well-being, you did not drop everything to get connected and follow up as much as you might have a few years ago. Either way, she felt rejected by your lack of urgency and concern because you did not meet her expectations.

Another issue to consider is that your delay (or, in her mind, absence) of response was just the final straw for her. She may have felt you pulling away for some time and the hurt she carried for that loss was exacerbated by what she saw as a lack of concern for her health. She may have been disappointed in your friendship for a long time, and this one incident was what sealed the deal. She could have also been feeling that she was always the “giver” in the friendship, and this was yet another example of not being on the receiving end. In that moment of vulnerability and fear that she reached out to you, you were not there for her.

The truth is if you are really honest about what happened and you try to apologize and she doesn’t want anything to do with you, she has chosen to stay in the anger or the resentment or the rejection, and there is nothing you can do about it. This is really for her to work through, and it’s okay to love somebody even if they won’t love you back.

In a way, you are the unavailable partner for her, and it’s not good for her to be friends with you. Maybe that’s what you have to live with and take responsibility for – the hurt that you’ve caused by not being able to be there for her. Perhaps you’ve been moving away from her on purpose? She may have been too negative or too high drama or not a nice person. Regardless of your perception of her and your decision to let the friendship fade away, the rest is out of your control.

But it’s really about both sides of the story, and they both have to be accepted. In your case, you let the friendship fade away, and perhaps that’s your M.O., whereas she may need to make a clean break because it was too painful to be in a one-sided relationship, and she is honouring a boundary or expectation of a “good” friendship.

Some friendships don’t survive the growth of each person, not because of any deliberate action but because some people come into our lives for a reason and some for a season.

Only you know how and why the relationship faded in the last couple of years. Both of you are right – for your reasons – and it helps to accept it and find forgiveness. One last attempt at an apology may be in order, if it will help you feel as though you did all you could. Then, it’s time to move on. Otherwise, learn the lesson in the defriending and be more aware of your friendships going forward.

I hope you find comfort in what was great about your friendship with her, and you honour what she brought into your life.

Colette Baron Reid

The InVision Project
Founder, CEO

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