Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to email@example.com.
I don’t know how to get my friend back into my life. We’ve been friends for seven years. She’s always been there for me, but lately she’s been getting distant. I was her bridesmaid and I always thought that she would be mine but now we barely talk. I had dinner with her and her husband a few months ago and it was fine but also awkward because, I don’t know, it seemed like she was looking for me to say something wrong. She’s always been sensitive and I end up apologizing to her a lot. I don’t think that I’m an oaf, but it’s hard to know what’s going to set her off this time. It keeps changing, like sometimes she gets mad because I don’t call her enough and then another time I stopped by her apartment without calling first and she was annoyed I was there.
I know I’m not making her sound great, but I still want to be her friend. She knows me really well. She helped me through some rough times and we used to have so much fun. I’m heartbroken. I feel like I’m begging her to still be my friend and, if she is done with me, I think I have a right to know why. This feels like a break up. Please help.
Ghosted By My BFF
Dear Ghosted By My BFF,
Here is something you already know: This person isn’t your friend. Not anymore. She doesn’t really like you and, honestly, you don’t really like her. She’s difficult, mercurial, and impossible to please.
Why do you want to resume your friendship with this person? In the past year, what’s the ratio of bullshit emotional labor you’ve had to do for this person compared to the actual good times you’ve had? 2:1? 5:1? 10:1? What evidence do you see that she is worth your efforts, and not the memory of her, but the her that exists in the here-and-now?
I’ve been dumped by friends before and I know how much it sucks. You question every interaction and spend so much time agonizing over what you did wrong. Close friends are so integral to our enjoyment of life. They shelter us from the chaos of the world, they make inappropriate jokes, they tell us when we’re being unreasonable, they listen to us even though we’re being unreasonable, they forgive us for our numerous unending faults, they make us laugh hysterically, and even when we fuck up they always assume that we have positive intent. Basically, they make life bearable.
There is a bond in close friendship that isn’t present in any other type of relationship, which is part of what makes “The Real Housewives” franchise so compulsively watchable. That show exists to show us the bonds of friendship so we may then watch in delighted horror as they then fray those bonds to the breaking point. The women hurt each other’s feelings, they give catty interviews during the show about those hurt feelings, but then, when they do make up, it’s so cathartic. Because unlike a romantic relationship, or a family relationship, a friendship is entered into with no ultimate goal in mind and no obligation. You aren’t hoping your friend will propose, and you also aren’t required to see her every year on major holidays. The friend relationship is completely chosen, completely free.
But this freedom means that you can assume, incorrectly, that friendships are supposed to last forever. Since there’s no marked progression in this relationship, we don’t prepare for our close friendships to change, which is why it’s so unexpectedly devastating when they do.
I had a good friend ghost on me and it was tough. This woman was, for many years, one of the most important people in my life, but then she suddenly stopped talking to me. Before that moment there had been clues—we had been growing distant and getting into petty misunderstandings. But we had such rich history that I didn’t want our relationship to end. I thought our difficulties were a blip that we would be able to work through because we ultimately respected and cared for each other. But then she stopped responding to my invitations and told my sister that she wasn’t going to be in my life anymore.
The last time I saw her it was a warm summer evening. I was six months pregnant, walking outside with my husband and another friend to get some ice cream. As we walked I looked down the sidewalk and saw her walking toward me. My mind raced—What do I do? Is there time to hide? No, shit. Should I hug her? Scream at her? Ask her how she is? Do I give a shit how she is? I settled on giving her a small smile and a wave. As we passed each other she said, “Let’s just pretend we don’t know each other.” Afterward, I was blinking with shock—Was that great? Or horrible? Was it what I wanted? How did I feel? Mad. Why was I mad? Because I felt that I should have been the one that said a shitty thing to her. Well, that’s not a cute look.
Here’s a weird truth: Life without her is lighter, easier, less messy, less dramatic, less fraught, less pointed, less difficult. Here’s another weird truth: I still dream about her, on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes we scream at each other, sometimes we’re friends again, sometimes our children play, sometimes I pretend I don’t know her. Eventually, I know, the dreams will stop, and that’s when she’ll really be all the way out of my life. Which may be why my mind is still holding onto her.
Your ex-friend is a difficult person, but difficult people often start out as seductive people. They pull you into their orbit with wit and charisma. They tell you how special you are and how everyone else is terrible and lame and mediocre, but not you, you’re one of the very few, rarefied, good ones and then they prove it by lavishing you with attention. They do all this because they have to, because you must first be fully enthralled with them in order to put up with the bullshit they’re getting ready to pull. But a difficult person isn’t always worth the effort. A lot of times, a difficult person is just a lot of thankless work.
Dear Ghosted, I’m not going to suggest ways to get this friend back into your life because I really don’t think that you should let this person back into your life. The people who don’t want you don’t get to have you.
If you’re still wondering what you did wrong, I want you think back on your friendships in the past that ended. How did they end? Why? Are friends constantly ghosting on you? Based on your level of confusion, I’m guessing that this is a rare case. Now, think back on conversations with your ex-friend—did she cut other people out of her life? Frequently? If friends leaving you is a pattern, then, yes, you may want to reach out for feedback to see what it is you can do differently in the future. But, if leaving people behind is normal for your ex-friend, then I really really want you to do all you can to let her go. Burn something she left at your house, or a picture, or write a letter to her and then burn it. Get some sage and smudge the shit out of your home, do anything you can think of that will let your brain know that this friendship is over and that ending is truly for the best.
Then, look at the space you have in your life now that she’s gone—what can you fill it with? What can you do with your time now that you’re free of this friend? Who else can you check in on, make plans with, enjoy the company of? Sometimes a person leaving us is a gift, because it allows a new relationship to flourish in its place. Let her go, and let yourself find a better friend.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.