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Auntie SparkNotes: Can I Save This Friendship?

Dear Auntie,

A few months ago I completely cut off my best friend, Anna, of six years because she did some things that really hurt my feelings, and made realize that she hadn’t always been a very good friend to me. All I really wanted was for her to apologize and start being a nicer friend, but I ended up making her completely pissed at me. She tried to apologize once, but afterwards she didn’t change her actions and we gradually stopped talking again. We had the same friend group but I started to feel like I couldn’t hang out with them because I knew Anna would be there, and I was angry at her/worried things would be awkward. This led to them feeling like I was cutting them off too, and now they are also mad at me. I am incredibly depressed now, I feel like I really have no friends. What hurts the most is that Anna acts like we were never friends, she seems perfectly content and happy, unaffected by our split, still hanging out with the people from our friend group, while I am completely miserable and feel like my life is ruined. Anna wasn’t the best friend in the world but she was better than no friends. I want to apologize but honestly I’m still angry with her for being a bad friend, and she seems so angry with me that at this point I don’t know if there’s any way to save my friendship with her or the others in the group. Should I just move on and attempt to find new friends? Is there any way she would accept my apology? Is this all my fault?

Funny thing about that question: I’ve started and restarted this answer a half dozen times, Sparkler, and I finally realized why it’s giving me such a headache.

It’s that “fault” just isn’t the right word when you’re talking about the complicated fallout of a relationship like this. “Fault” is for the straightforward stuff, like when you rear-end someone in traffic or accidentally spill hot sauce all over the cat.

… Not that I have ever done that.

But having established that we’re not in the business of assigning blame, I will say this: Throughout this scenario, you made various choices with the hope of a particular outcome in mind. And yet, what you accomplished (isolation and misery) is the literal polar opposite of what you intended (happier, healthier friendships.)

And when that happens, it’s generally a good idea to ask yourself what happened, and why, so you can figure out where you went astray and recalibrate your approach.

You may already have some ideas yourself about what you would do differently, given a second chance, but here’s what I’m getting hung up on: According to your letter, you were best friends with Anna for six years without any problems at all. But when she hurt your feelings, you didn’t just say ouch about that; you accused her of being a bad friend to you for more than half a decade, and demanded that she atone. Not just by apologizing, which she did, but by becoming “nicer.”

Of course, “nicer” could mean any number of things in this case, from “I want you to alter your whole personality to suit my personal preferences” to “Please stop stealing my clothes and calling me ‘Farts McGee’ in public.” But the point is, if you want a relationship to change on a fundamental level, then dumping six years’ worth of pent-up rage and resentment into the other person’s lap and saying “DEAL WITH THIS” isn’t how you start that conversation. And not only that, it has to be a conversation. Even in the best-case scenario, this is the kind of conflict you have to talk through, a lot, to resolve. It was never going to be as simple as you making a bunch of demands and your friend giving you everything you wanted.

And yet, not only do you seem genuinely surprised that it didn’t work that way, you’re also still angry at her. Not just over the recent hurt-feelings incident, but over your relationship in its entirety, dating back to 2010—to the point where you were willing to torpedo your whole social life to avoid ever seeing her again.

In truth, Sparkler, I don’t know what that means about your friendship, specifically. I don’t know whether it’s worth salvaging or whether you’d be better of starting fresh. Maybe this was an end that’s been a long time coming, or maybe it was a little thing that spiraled out of control. But here’s what I do know, in no particular order:

  • The way Anna has always been, as a person and as a friend, is the way she will likely continue to be.
  • It’s difficult and pointless to be friends with someone if you don’t like how they are as a person.
  • The value of a sincere apology should never be underestimated, and friends who apologize for hurting your feelings are worth extra consideration.
  • People who apologize for hurting your feelings are also more likely to accept apologies themselves.
  • Communication is the only way to resolve relationship conflicts.
  • Conversely, refusing to communicate is the one best way to ruin your relationships.
  • There is no solution to your current scenario that doesn’t involve having at least one of the difficult conversations you’ve been avoiding.
  • You can heal a friendship or hold a grudge, but you cannot, in general, do both at once.
  • And finally, when you’ve made a series of choices, and they’ve only made you miserable, it’s probably a good idea to try making some different choices.

I realize that I’m leaving you with more questions than answers here, and for that, I’m sorry. But the answers you need in this situation are the ones you’ll come to on your own, after thinking hard and honestly and humbly about a) what you really want and b) what you can reasonably hope to accomplish. So sit with it, consider your options, and then choose whatever path leads in the direction you want to go.

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