Dear Auntie, I’m having trouble with my best friend. We met in third grade, and we’ve been best friends ever since. Our families got really close too, because we have kids of the same ages. Unfortunately, when we reached high school we had different classes and saw each other less and less, but we still texted and hung out sometimes. I realized a long time later that I may have taken our friendship for granted, and maybe I didn’t realize that she was drifting away, or it was just the circumstances that changed.
Eighteen months ago, I learned that her dad had an affair and her parents were now going through a divorce. I had thought she was mad at me because she left our lunch table abruptly, so I asked her why. I told her I felt like she was distant and that it was ok to talk to me, and I missed her, loved her, and had lost a lot of friends lately and couldn’t afford to lose her too. She said “I have tons of stress, but that’s not why I left. I felt like I should go join another group of friends. You’re not the reason, friends change throughout years, and it’s no one’s fault. Don’t feel guilty.” Then I told her I still thought we could be friends even if we didn’t eat lunch together, and that I was willing to work on it and didn’t want to lose her. She never responded. I made it my personal mission to be there for her; whatever she needed, a friend, punching bag, or shoulder to cry on, I was there.
I kept texting her like everything was normal, always smiled or said “hi” in the hallways, and invited her places. She never came, and rarely answered my messages—and if she did, her response was five words max. I could see she was a shell of her usual happy self. It made me so sad. I figured this was how she was dealing with it, by shutting everyone out. However, she seemed to talk to everyone but me, mostly other close friends that we shared. She would laugh and carry a conversation, and even hang out at their houses.
I have sent over 50 texts in a year (I spaced them out because I didn’t want to pressure her or be in her face). I even tried letters. I sent happy little postcards, with pictures, colors, and memories of us, but her sister said she never reads them. This fall I tried talking to her face-to-face. My mom and I went over to her house, and luckily her mom was outside. I explained my case, and she brought my friend outside. It took convincing though, because it was almost ten minutes before she came out. I told her how I felt and that I didn’t want to lose her. But all she said was the same thing—that friends change and she has no time to hang out with anyone.
And I’m going to stop you right there, Sparkler—even though your original letter continues on like this for another thousand words and a half dozen other anecdotes before you got to the point of wondering why you and your friend aren’t friends anymore and how you can get her back. It’s clear that this has been a massive source of heartbreak for you. I’m sorry.
Unfortunately, it’s also clear that you’re obsessing over that heartbreak to the point of having lost all perspective on some pretty important stuff, like, y’know, the bounds of ordinary human decency and the actual wishes of your ex-friend. And I’m going to be blunt here, sweet pea, because there’s just no gentle way to say this: when you continue to insist on being there for a person who’s told you clearly, repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms that your relationship is over, you are not being a good friend. You’re being a stalker.
Which I am telling you not to make you feel bad, but in the hopes that you’ll take this chance to do better, so that you don’t sabotage future relationships (or your reputation) by acting in unhealthy ways. Being gracious when a relationship ends isn’t always easy, but it’s an important skill—and showing up at someone’s house to demand a conversation after she’s stopped speaking to you or returning your (50) texts is the kind of impulse you need to learn to resist. Even if you think she’s being unreasonable, even if you can tell yourself a compelling story that she’s unhappy and not herself, even if none of it makes the kind of sense you’d like it to, you cannot force yourself on people, no matter how desperately you care about them. You just can’t. And the way you show care, in a moment like this, is to stop trying to drag back a person who is already lost to you—to see clearly the marks you make when you dig your fingers deeper and deeper into the flesh of something that is trying to pull away. The way you show care is to let go.
This is the part where you do that.
And then, wrap yourself in something fluffy, grab a bag of comfort food, and let yourself feel all the crap emotions that accompany the loss of something that mattered to you—because once you let go of the fantasy of persuading this girl to resume your relationship, all the painful reality you’ve been keeping at bay is going to rush in to take its place, and you should brace yourself. You are about to get clobbered with nearly two years’ worth of backlogged feels. It’s not going to be fun. But it is necessary, and importantly, it won’t last forever. Beyond your bewilderment at losing this friendship, there is a bittersweet truth waiting: that not all relationships are built to last. People grow up, or apart, or in unexpected directions, and that’s especially true at moments of transition where a lot is changing at once. The fact that your friend grew away from you as you went from childhood to high school, and as her parents’ marriage went from secure to broken, doesn’t mean you did something wrong. It’s just something that happens, not just to you, but to virtually everyone. It’s nobody’s fault. And while it never feels good to lose a friend, it is something you can learn to cope with gracefully, respectfully, and without shredding your dignity into the bargain. The pain is something you’ll move through, into a better, healthier, happier place—and a more peaceful one, too.
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