Q&A: Changing adult friendships

B writes:

"I have a friend who I met about 12 years ago. At the time, we had much in common – both sang in a local group, both single and starting out in our careers. Fast forward to today. I've been married, and divorced and am raising a boy. I've recently altered the direction of my career and I'm thinking about dating (finally) again. She remains single and has had some ups and downs in her career. She desperately wants to get married and have kids.

I don't have a lot of available time to simply hang out. The time that I do have (when my son is with his father) I divide between errands and alone time and other girlfriendships that, frankly, satisfy me more. I have tried putting a little distance between us, but if I don't answer her texts quickly enough she responds with something like "I guess I'm not important to you" which just pisses me off.

Is this typical of adult women friendships?"

I don't think it's typical, per se, but I do think it happens.

I think it especially happens when you're in different places, and I don't mean situations. You can be in radically different situations (I bet you have other single friends without kids, for example), but still be in the same emotional place, or at least able to identify with that place. It sounds like you're in a place of gratitude and exploration, and she's in a place of scarcity.

(I'd also argue that you didn't really have that much in common in the first place. One activity and a few demographics. It was pretty much, "You like peanut butter, too? *I* like peanut butter!" But when you're young that can seem like enough. See: Story of my first marriage. But that doesn't make for the kind of bonding that can weather a lot of stresses on the friendship.)

When people are happy with themselves and the direction they're going, it's easier to let go of friendships that may have served them at some earlier period and understand that things have changed. Ironically, though, it's also easier to maintain friendships with people you don't have much in common with anymore if both of you are happy with yourselves.

It sounds like you're happy with yourself, but she is not, and that's causing a huge disconnect. And you're willing to move on to relationships that nurture you and let this one go. So I guess the question is whether you want to talk about it with her and get things out in the open, or just hope she gets the message and moves on herself.

Readers? How would you deal or have you dealt with changes like this?

36 thoughts on “Q&A: Changing adult friendships”

  1. There was an article posted over the weekend by the NYTimes called ‘Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?’ that touches on some of the things you’ve talked about here. Essentially, we become pickier as we get older and focusing on family and a career often leaves us without many other friendship options.That said, for B, I’d say that this lady is being a bad friend and is offloading her baggage – you’d be better off putting more distance between her. People either give or take energy, and this lady is definitely a taker.

  2. Dear god. If anyone ever texted me with something so whiny and passive-aggressive, I’d block them on every device I could get my hands on. DITCH DITCH DITCH. At *ANY* age!

  3. I’m with Amy K. If any of my supposed friends texted me something passive-aggressive and presumably intended to GUILT me into responding, they’d be written off. That is so not okay.

  4. “I guess I’m not important to you” is emotional manipulation and is unkind and dirty handed. If you ARE friends, she should be aware of how legit busy you are and not pressure you with passive aggressive dings to get back to her OMG ASAP!!! that is inconsiderate of her, and disrespectful.So. You don’t have much in common, you don’t seem to enjoy hanging with her, and she’s disrespectful and manipulative. Time to cut loose, I’d say.

  5. It’s time to talk about it. The writing is on the wall. They’re over, but despite 12 years of friendship neither party will come out and say it because it is so hard to do.The OP writes “I don’t have a lot of available time to simply hang out” when what she really means is “This friend is just no longer a top priority for me anymore.” And that’s ok! There are ebbs and flows to friendships. What’s maybe not going to feel ok long term is the OP continually getting angry at the friend over and over again for responding that way via text. But can’t you see where she’s coming from?
    In defense of the OP’s friend who is getting a LOT of flack here (um, ouch), is it possible that she’s not the only one “to blame” for a friendship dynamic that’s gone sour?
    I’d say that this happens a fair amount and I’ve noticed it tends to happen when people have good intentions but just won’t be real and communicate because it is too scary/painful. One of them is afraid of hurting the other one (and just a hunch – maybe feels she owes her friend something after her friend supported her through divorce), and the other friend already probably feels totally rejected but also feels too vulnerable to say it because she cares more and will get hurt.
    Have the courage to have the conversation. It will suck, but you both could use the closure IMHO. Good luck.

  6. @ hush- thank you. I’ve been on both sides of the coin- some of my friendships have lasted through the ebbs/draughts/whatever ya calls ’em, and some of them haven’t. I have felt both the guilt over not communicating often enough, and the shame/frustration of not being communicated with often enough. It’s tough. I think most of us don’t handle it well; we just hope the person will go away. It really is like breaking up with someone… tough to do fairly/openly but better for all involved if done that way. AND if you feel like you can’t have a verbal conversation, maybe write her a letter?

  7. Add me to the list of people who doesn’t want to deal with guilt-laden texts ;)While I like Hush’s advice, I just wonder if having a huge open conversation about this is going to be horrible and not a quick way to end the friendship. There are some people who just won’t gracefully bow out after a conversation like this – instead they’ll get all defensive and make the OP continue to justify her arguments, etc. and keep laying on the guilt and questions.
    I feel that unlike a romantic relationship, you don’t owe a casual friend lots of explanations. Maybe it’s cowardly of me, but I’d probably send a quick email to the effect of “my priorities are elsewhere right now” and just ignore any more texts.

  8. Hush is a genius. 🙂 I personally suck at friendship (er, maybe the Aspergers plays a role…). I don’t even notice when I have let them go too long, and my ‘real’ friends are those who either take the time and make the effort to keep in touch, or who roll with it and just pick up where we left off whenever our lives manage to intersect. And yeah, no time, and when I blow off spending 2 hours with my mom to catch up on laundry and errands, really no time.I never end up having the conversation, but I do call my friends on manipulation, and in doing so ask what the underlying measage is – can we stick to that? At least once, in similar (very!) Instance, she was just in the midst of grieving the fact that I will never be the kind of friend she wanted, who would call her first. I pretty much never call first. My timing for noticing is just too long. But in that case, calling out the interaction was what was needed, not The Big Talk. We downgraded our interaction dynamically after that, but it was honestly done, and not from pique. And now, another 8 or so years later, we are on the upswing again.
    So – honest response is called for, but it may only require the ‘I prefer not to play the ouchy manipulation games, when you are angry or hurt, please just say so, so we can talk about it.’
    And remember that timing/pacing in all relationships is individual, and hers may just not match yours. That’s allowed, but it may need discussing, too, from a practical perspective.
    I am glad I didn’t cut off the friendship, but just treated it honestly. Since my friend was honest in return, we could just carry the thin thread through to another time in our lives. But if she hadn’t been able to be (several times, over the years), then The Talk may have been the next step.

  9. Please have the talk. If she continues to try to initiate contact after the talk I think it is ok to then just put the distance between you. A friend of mine just stopped communicating with me, I never got an explanation. I did not push it as its not in my nature but about a year later I did send an email asking her what happened but wishing her well at the same time, and got no response. I have no idea why, absolutely none and would just like an explanation. She never unfriended me on facebook so I knew what was happening in her life, so its all very strange. Anyway I just unfriended her and have decided to move on. Maybe the texts are passive aggressive but maybe your friend does not have any other way of telling you that she does not understand why you are backing off. Just tell her the truth. Personally I think ending a friendship by ignoring someone and hoping they will go away is cowardly.

  10. LOL, I would be so tempted to just respond “bingo!” in answer to that passive agressive BS, but as much as I like to play a badass on the internet, I wouldn’t actually do it. If you are both big talk sorts of people, by all means have a big talk; but if you’re not, don’t let anyone force you into it. It doesn’t sound like this was one of your major relationships where you would really owe the person an accounting because of the impact on their life. I think Moxie’s diagnosis (of you being happy and her not being happy) is on target, and Hedra’s response makes a lot of sense.

  11. I have friends/acquaintances who do the needy/passive-aggressive thing and friends who are direct, which I prefer. I like the thought of having a straightforward conversation with the friend, but in my experience, that doesn’t often work. It work occasionally and is worth a shot, but after offering something calm and neutralish — “That came out pretty angry/mopey; do you want to talk?” — I’d drop it. Because again IME, there are some people who are only going to want to talk if it’s you admitting that everything is all your fault and from now on we’ll do things her way. I think it’s best not to assume the worst, but having given someone the change to show that she is reasonable, you have the right to pass up what she’s offering.

  12. I’m with the hush/hedra crowd here. I think if friendship means anything to us, we need to honor it in the going as well. That doesn’t mean you have to repeat yourself endlessly if the friend can’t hear no, of course, which some people here are implying. It just means that you ought not to leave someone hanging or be cavalier with their feelings. That assumes there’s nothing weird or dangerous in the friendship that actually calls for an abrupt break — that everything’s safe.

  13. I’m torn here. I see Hedra’s (and others’) points, but decided ages ago about breaking up romantic relationships that the whole “what happened” discussion was usually pretty pointless. In my experience (and I was usually the one explaining why I didn’t want to continue in the relationship), it typically either involved something the guy couldn’t change, or something that he could but that would invariably be the single favorite attribute (of his) of the next woman he dated. So, you know, “I hate the way you leave your stinky socks on the floor” (my complaint becomes, “I love your carefree nature” (her adoration). And really, neither perspective’s better than the other — his trying to adapt to what I wanted him to do/be after I was gone (mentally if not literally) was just a waste of effort, and an agonizing one to witness (and no doubt undertake) at that.So.
    I say if the OP values the friendship and wants to put effort into continuing it then it’s worth having a convo, and otherwise I’d just “break up” with something approximating, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

  14. I had a very, very dear friend in my late teens/early twenties whom I finally had to let go. I hated doing it but her needs were not ones I could meet and it was toxic for both of us. One example: I was in a job where I travelled a lot and so I had clear phone records. She chewed me out for “blowing her off” while I was away but the phone records showed I had spent as much time on the phone with her as I had with my mother and fiance combined. It became clear to me that there was no way I would be able to live up to what she wanted, and she was unwilling to bend in what she asked of the friendship.I hated losing her in many ways. When things were good between us, she was the rock-steady friend we all dream of. But something shifted (when I got engaged, I think, looking back) and it was irrecoverable.

  15. Hmmm… I get this.2 Examples…
    Situation #1:
    As a college Freshman I started dating my now husband. He lived 2 hrs away at another school, my BFF lived 2 hrs away at a different school than him. I had never had a serious boyfriend (although she had had boyfriends for years) and I was madly in love. Add to that, I’m a poor initiator in communication on the phone (love to talk in person, but phones just suck the life out of things so much I’d rather just read a book or do my homework). When I had time to visit, I chose the love of my life over my BFF. Add to that, my BFF was the jealous type that thought we’d live in nursing homes together and never really fell in love with any of her multiple boyfriends… she didn’t get it. I was in love and being (admittedly) selfish and she just needed to keep up the emailing (which I was great at) and give me time to get through the passion of my first (and turns out only) love. She gave up after about 6 months, bashed me all over town, and we didn’t talk for 10 years. Then she got married, had kids, and now (through a mutual friend) we realize we have a lot in common again. She’s understanding that people have other lives outside of her needs, and she doesn’t demand more than others can give. Not my BFF now, but definitely a friend again.
    In situation #1, I just let it go and she got the hint. I don’t think a big “let’s break up friend” convo is necessary. It will be awkward temporarily, but DO YOU CARE? NO! I didn’t at the time. I felt she needed to give me some space to get my groove on and she couldn’t so we split. I suffered some mutual friend backlash, but it was somewhat justified so I just dealt with it. My husband was 10 times the person and friend than she was, so I just moved on…
    Situation #2:
    Ugh. My sister. I’m married, have two young kids, work outside the home, try very hard to exercise 4-5 times a week. I have ZERO extra time. My extra time is spent fantasizing about Thor (Hmmmm Chris Hemsworth) and enjoying the life I worked so hard to create. She is “off the grid” working nights at an illegal poker room, doesn’t pay taxes, has no kids, and usually drunk dials me somewhere between 3am and 8am when she gets off work. She is someone I love, but would definitely downsize a relationship with if I could. Unfortunately she’s my baby sister and I have to listen to her, “I wonder if I have a sister” and “I have scary dreams” texts and respond kindly or family drama ensues. I have downplayed our relationship as much as I can, but unfortunately she just doesn’t see why she should be a more involved auntie and less of a downer/leach.
    I’m a fan of just downplay your responses and they’ll get the hint. It’s not like a boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other. You are in different places but you don’t have to cut them off forever like you do an EX so the bit conversation about ending it all is unwarranted. Things may come back around…. no need to burn bridges.

  16. I wrote a letter ending a relationship with a friend. I couldn’t do a conversation – I’m a chicken and she would have sobbed, gotten defensive, etc. Nothing constructive. One of many issues was her need to hang out with my child. She had miscarried and was abused and had low-self esteem, etc. and actively sought nanny jobs to fill the hole in her heart. She was just so needy, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I tried not responding, but she’d just call more, sometimes stop by. Hence, the letter that cited codependency as the main cause of the end. The worst part is that I knew she thought that her behavior was friendly and that she would be devastated. FYI, she used phrases like that, too.

  17. Nothing to really add, but this is making me feel SO MUCH BETTER about my ex-BFF. We were friends from ages 7 to just before we both turned 36; unless she’s Facebook stalked me, she doesn’t know my son (second child) exists. Moxie’s response and the comments are very much validating what I went through with her (guilting and manipulation, being a taker and not a giver, etc.). And I think it does come down to being happy with yourself or not. She would never come out and say she resented the CRAP out of the fact I was married and had a kid and she didn’t, but she started throwing a lot of guilt at me that was totally unwarranted, especially given that my operating principle is to ask for what I want and expect others to do the same.

  18. This post is particularly relevant to me right now. A friend of mine suddenly stopped talking to me (quite a feat considering how we work together!) without explanation. It’s now quite awkward. I would have appreciated her just coming out and saying “Look, our lives have diverged a lot and I don’t feel like we have the time to devote to our friendship.” Rather than just the stoppage of communication (This has caused some rather awkward office politics. For example, I was questioned a lot about why I wasn’t in attendance at a big party thrown by my ex-friend that many of our officemates were invited to. The answer: I wasn’t invited!).

  19. I’ve been struggling with some of the responses – I visit here occasionally to see how the “other half” lives. I’m single and childless, and it can be helpful to see an explanation of parental behavior.I’ve been the one to pull away from some friends once they became mothers; it became evident to me that I was no longer a convenient fit in their lives so I moved on without them. In one particularly painful instance the ex-friend rather viciously mocked my “place of scarcity” at the time (ugly breakup, medical debt, work struggles) thinking that I would never hear of it. Naturally, it got back to me and I promptly dropped everyone in that particular social thread. At the time, I didn’t think they noticed as they all had children under 5.
    Fast forward a few years: I’m still unmarried and childless but doing okay these days. I don’t know how the ex bestie is doing, but I suspect not too great. She’s approached me me on FB several times to “reconnect.” As curious as I am as to her motivation to contact me after several years, I’m not about to give her a chance to behave that badly again.
    As easy as it is to disengage with someone who’s going through a period of “scarcity,” I’d warn folks that we never know what lies ahead for any of us. Perhaps it’s best to keep that in mind as we evaluate our relationships.

  20. I hear you. I too find myself being more picky about my friends. And it seems only natural to me, that id prefer the ones with kids. Some of my single friends want to get all nice and go out at late hours of the day. Id prefer chilling somewhere private without make up and going to bed by 9…..I dont need to go anywhere to meet new people, im busy enough with friends I have plus i want to talk to the person Im meeting, not some strangers. Yeeeah I might be a little too much on one side, but u know I dont have energy to try to be somewhere else..and about the text….well screw her, she is not a friend! LOL

  21. I’m going through this now with a friend and its looking like the relationship is over. Its not AT ALL that one of us is “dropping” the other because they are in a place of scarcity. But if you have two small kids and your brain is fried by 7pm each day, and you rarely have time to make an uninterrupted phone call, it is seriously irritating to receive passive aggressive voicemails and texts from a grown up. I’m thrilled to connect with a friend who has a different life and hear about their job, the restaurant they tried, the movie they saw. But I find that there’s not much interest on the other side to hear about my potty training success or crazy preschool application process, and that’s fine. I can understand that those things aren’t that interesting until you have kids. But I can’t understand using guilt to get someone to call you back sooner, and frankly, its a turn off to feel like I’m apologizing for being busy, all the time. I feel like I’m apologizing for having kids, and for something that isn’t going to change any time soon. I spent all of my 20s going to new restaurants, and now I’m doing this.

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  23. I remember Logan rnuning around naked when we were potty training him. One time our friend Burt was over, and his mother showed up for dinner. Logan answered the door in his birthday suit glory’ and my friend’s mom kind of flipped out! It was really funny then (and now actually) I say LET THEM BE KIDS AND BE FREE! Lord knows I would be naked all the time if I could! When you have a body like mine, nothing ever seems to fit right!) Good stuff Callie! Love y’all!Jasonww.TransparentChristianMagazine.com

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  30. Ugh, I hear you on this one, I have a similar friend.I have been trying to end the friendship for years, but nothing helps.
    I’m married and starting a family, and this friend is still in “high school mode”, always saying out loud that we are, “best friends” which I don’ agree with and never have. She calls and texts all the time, and the more I ignore the calls, (being busy with life!) the more she calls and texts!
    She seems to think that we should still spend time together as we did back in our school days, but the reality is, I have changed, and she is in a different place than me. (We graduated 10 years ago!)
    Also, in the past, she has been very creepy with me, almost coming on to me, so overall, I just don’t like spending time with her .

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