Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
Last week I drove to the beach without my parents permission. The car battery ended up dying and I had to tell my parents what happened, knowing they would be angry at me. My close friend was the one driving the car and in a fit of stress/rage, knowing I would be in trouble, I blamed him for the battery dying (he had left the headlights on with the car off).
After I cooled down I apologized and told him that I didn’t blame him, I was just in a stressful position and didn’t often get in trouble. I didn’t yell at him or anything like that, and didn’t think it was really a big deal. We continued to chat and laugh in our normal way on the drive back home after our car was fixed. The only odd thing was, although we often fight (in a playful/teasing not actually fighting way) he accused me of making fun of him for being gay, something I certainly did not ever do and would never do. I obviously denied it and was confused but assumed he was joking or something, and we just moved on to a different conversation. I dropped him off at his house and I didn’t detect any anger from him.
The next day I texted him about something …he didn’t text back. I called him…he didn’t pick up. 5 days went by and I heard nothing from him, which was confusing to me, I didn’t realize he was mad at me at all. I texted a mutual friend who was there at the beach to ask if she thought he was mad at me. She said no, he didn’t seem angry on the ride home and he’s not the type to hold grudges. The next day I sent him a long text, I apologized if my blaming him for the car hurt his feelings and told him how much I appreciated his friendship and that I wouldn’t want it to end over something stupid that I did. A day later he replied, with just “I appreciate your apology.” Nothing else. After a few days I invited him through text/ voicemail to a party at my house with some mutual friends….no response. I have been friends with this person for a good 4-5 years and I have never seen him this angry or cold towards someone. He is universally adored for being nice and hilarious. I really enjoy being friends with him and have never seen him act this way, but I have apologized profusely and he is still not responding to me. I feel like a horrible person for making such a nice person so mad at me, but I’m also confused how my mistake could lead to so much anger from him, especially when he didn’t act like it was a big deal at the time.
Should I just give it up and not contact him anymore? I would feel horrible if this was how our friendship ended but I don’t see what else to do.
Because I hate to say this, Sparkler, but neither do I, which means that what you’re about to read is probably going to be the least useful response in the entire human history of advice columns. Assuming your description of events is accurate, Auntie SparkNotes is as mystified as you are as to the source of your friend’s bizarre behavior—especially when, not to put too fine a point on it, he should have been apologizing at least as much for the mistake he made that cost you the price of a new battery plus a chewing-out from your folks for the trouble. (You may not blame him for the battery dying in an angry/emotional sense, but as the one who left the headlights on, he’s certainly responsible for that happening, no?)
But at the same time, maybe the mystery offers an answer in and of itself. Because the more I read over your letter, the more I wonder: what is the actual deal with the dynamic in this relationship? Why did you feel so compelled to apologize to this guy for getting frustrated by his carelessness—while he apparently said nothing by way of apologizing for the inconvenience he caused? When he accused you of making fun of him for being gay, why did you not push back against that incredibly ugly slam against your character? When he didn’t return your text, why was your next step to prostrate yourself and beg for forgiveness, rather than questioning his incredibly disproportionate response to a single moment of minor conflict? Why are you so quick to conclude that whatever is happening here, it must be all your stupid fault?
All of which is to say, looking through the narrow window your letter offers into your relationship, it seems that there is a certain lack of balance involved—an issue which is not lessened by your description of this guy as “universally adored.” That’s an interesting word, adored; it evokes a person sitting at the center of a circle of fawning admirers, enjoying all of the attention while doing none of the work. Is that by any chance an accurate description of how your friend operates? You say you’ve never seen him behave this way before, but is that because he lacks the very capacity to be nasty? Or is it because anyone who criticizes him has a strange way of vanishing from his social circle—just as you probably seem to have vanished, as far as anyone not aware of your private text interactions is concerned? Have you ever actually known this guy to work through a conflict with someone he cares about? If not, does that seem strange to you?
To be clear, only you know the answers to these questions, and it’s certainly possible that I’m missing something which would explain why this whole scenario is actually normal and fine. But as it stands, what you describe doesn’t sound like an especially healthy friendship, despite the guy’s winning qualities — which might make him fun to be around, but do not necessarily mean he’s a good friend. Nice and hilarious are… well, nice (and hilarious), but these are surface characteristics. Nice is not the same thing as kind, or considerate, or generous when it comes to assuming the best of one’s friends (and not cold-shouldering them with extreme prejudice over a perceived slight.)
And of course, none of this makes it any less painful to be frozen out with no explanation. But on that front, you’re right; if your friend has unilaterally decided that this is how it ends, then there’s nothing you can do to stop him. Your only recourse on that front—and you shouldn’t expect much—is to zing the ball into his court in a way that might provoke a response. E.g.: “If you want to end our friendship, I can respect that, but I wish you would at least do me the courtesy of telling me why. I cannot imagine what I did to prompt you to treat me this way, and it is incredibly cruel.”
Just realize, if you do this, that you’re probably not going to learn anything from your friend’s response which you don’t already know—namely, that he did not care enough about your relationship to either a) give you the benefit of the doubt for whatever minor, ambiguous thing you did to upset him, or b) discuss what happened, or even alert you to the fact that something had happened, before summarily cutting you out of his life. Whatever his stated reasons for freezing you out, they are just window dressing; what really matters is that he did it. And while you can feel sad about that, I hope you’ll draw the line at feeling guilty and horrible over an outcome that was entirely his decision. If this is how your friendship ends, it’s not because of something you did; it’s because he chose to respond to it in this incredibly crappy way.
Personally, this is where I’d also reconsider my description of the guy as “nice,” but you are your own master.
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