I think I’m pretty much an expert on this topic. I am extremely lucky to be able to count my long-term, close friends on two hands. I’ve known some of my oldest friends since before I could talk. Some of my newer friendships, still with considerable longevity, started at university.
And then there are the many that fell by the wayside, that either ended in an explosion of angry fireworks or fizzled sadly, and inexplicably, into oblivion.
The ones that have ended, whether badly or quietly, have always run their course for the same reason. There was a fundamental imbalance in the friendship that ended up causing quiet, or not so quiet resentment. So what are the types of unbalanced friendships? And when can you salvage the situation or how do you know when it’s really over?
They stop responding
One day you’re besties, chatting every day and counting on each other for everything, the next they’ve gone silent on you. Replies to your messages, if any at all, are curt and abrupt. Suddenly rather than asking how you are they send you a conversation-ending “hope you’re well”. Because nobody wants to answer a question that wasn’t asked. Once or twice and you can assume they’re just busy, but when it becomes a frequent pattern you have to start asking yourself the tough questions. Was it something you said? Something you did? Or worse, and most dreaded, something you are?
Whether or not you can fix it is dependent on whether this is based on a short-term cause of offence, or something that’s happening in their lives, or whether it’s something more.
The first course of action is to check in that your friend is OK. “I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit quiet lately, is everything alright?” If, after a decent amount of time there is no response, the second question is “have I said or done something to upset you? You mean a lot to me and I hope we can talk.” If there’s no response to this, I’m afraid you have your answer, but with no closure.
For whatever reason, the likelihood is your friend was trying to quietly phase you out without the awkwardness of having to do so explicitly.
This isn’t necessarily about you so please don’t be hard on yourself – sometimes you’re just in different places, your lives have moved at different paces and you don’t have as much in common any more. Unless circumstances come to light that you weren’t aware of, it’s probably time to move on. Remind yourself of all the friends that do love you for who you are and don’t take it as a slight on your character.
You’re their shoulder to cry on, but they disappear when you’re in distress
When they have a problem, you’re all ears. You’ve taken midnight sobbing phone calls, dropped everything to help them out, but when you’re going through a difficult time they are suddenly and mysteriously busy. If you do manage to catch up with them their reaction is awkward. Confusing, given the intimate friendship you share when they need it.
Some people just aren’t equipped to deal with the emotional needs of others. The fact that they lean on you so often is probably indicative that all is not well with them. It can feel very rejecting and lead to resentment when you’ve invested your heart into someone who can’t invest it back, but instead of getting angry, just wish them love and let go of the idea that you share the reciprocal bond you thought you did. Lower your expectations and decide on whether or not you are happy to be more therapist than friend, or if you need to quietly back off.
Your friend blows hot and cold
One minute you’re flavour of the month, the next they’re seemingly excluding you from their plans. Then, without warning, they’re back again as if nothing happened. It’s important not to take this personally, people have busy lives, people go through things. I’m sure when I’ve been going through difficulties, some of my friends have thought I ditched them.
However, if this happens on a regular basis, it’s important to question whether or not they’re a fairweather friend. Is it something you feel comfortable enough to talk about with your friend? The likelihood is they aren’t aware that you feel left out or hurt when they become more aloof and are probably just busy flitting between groups being social butterflies and completely unaware that you’re upset at all. Don’t be accusatory when you approach them, the likelihood is that their “ignoring” you is just that it didn’t occur to them you’d want to be a part of their plans.
The bankrupting friend
I’m sure we all have at least one friend who expects you to whip out your wallet for every hang out. Maybe you offered to pay the first time and they didn’t realise the offer expired, or maybe they’re not too plush themselves and think that you’re the wealthier party.
In any case, a couple of subtle hints ought to do the trick here. Next time your friend suggests hanging out, say that you’d love to but you’re a bit strapped for cash. Either they will offer to pay their own way (or, by some miracle, for both of you) or they will stop expecting you to act like a walking cash point.
How to cope when a friendship ends
Sadly, not all friendships are meant to last forever. Some friends are around for a few months, some for a few years, and some you can go months without talking and still know that they love you and will be there for you if you need them – and that nothing will have changed. Sometimes the universe just sends you a friend at the right time and for a short time.
A true friendship doesn’t breed insecurity or resentment, it’s as comfortable and familiar as a fifty year marriage. Don’t be heartbroken if someone you care about isn’t in it for the long term, if you look at it without negative thoughts clouding your vision, you’ll realise that plenty of people are – focus on them and forget the rest.