The Grumpy Introvert’s Advice on Friend Breakups

Dear Grumpy Introvert,

There’s always plenty to read about how to deal with romantic breakups, but the biggest loss in my life is what feels like a breakup with my once-best friend. I’m an introvert in my 40s, and my friend’s gradual disappearing act in my life has been more painful than losing a lover. And before you ask, there’s no geographical barrier (she lives in the same town) and no issue of lifestyles not matching up (we both have kids around the same ages and work in a similar field). But for the past year or so, she’s shown zero interest in my suggestions to meet for coffee or go out to dinner to catch up.

I’ve asked if everything’s all right with her, and she says she’s just “busy.” Still, I know from other people (and I can see on Facebook) that she’s out and about with other friends. Occasionally, we run into each other and make a little small talk, which is the worst (at least for me). I find it excruciating to make small talk with this person with whom I once shared almost everything. I loved her like a sister, and I’m starting to wonder if maybe she never felt the same way in return.

What do I do? Do I let go of the friendship? Do I try to sit her down and have a heart-to-heart?

The Dumpee in Denver

Dear Dumpee,

You know why it’s occasionally lousy and super inconvenient to be an introvert? Because this. Because people. Because ALL THE SAD FEELS.

Like adorable, toothy little prairie voles, we introverts bond for life. Sure, prairie voles actually take it to the next step and breed—

[Ed. Note: Breeding prairie voles? Seriously?]

[GI: Look it up. They are totes #friendshipgoals #relationshipgoals #squadgoals.]

Our introvert hearts usually prefer a few lifetime bonds we can count on over a whole gaggle of acquaintances. We introverts don’t take friendships lightly. When we choose a friend, we usually friend for life—that is, if it’s up to us. We’re quality over quantity, as a rule. As a result, friend breakups can rip our prairie-vole souls to shreds. I mean, come on. Who wants to find a new best friend? It’s HARD making friends, and the thought of going through all the incremental steps of building intimacy again with someone else? UGH. EW. NO, THANK YOU. I’LL HAVE THE TV DINNER FOR ONE.

Most humans tend to like the familiar. Especially when it comes to people. And being Hall-of-Famers in the introspection department, we introverts tend to blame ourselves when a friendship inexplicably goes splat.

I can feel the questions you’re not asking: Did I do something wrong? Is it my fault?

Dumpee, maybe you could have done better in this friendship. Maybe you could have called her more often. Maybe you could have shown up with takeout coffee and bagels. Maybe you could have planned a Las Vegas weekend with male strippers dressed as firemen or nuclear physicists—

[Ed. Note: Are there really strippers who dress up like nuclear physicists? Asking for a friend.]

[GI: I know a guy.]

But really? I’d say it’s probable that you did just fine in this friendship. Once, when I was bemoaning a terrible situation I could not seem to fix, a very wise soul asked me, “Did you break it?”

“Did I break what?” I had asked.

“Any of it,” he said. “Because if you didn’t, maybe it’s not yours to fix.”

Ahhhhhhh.

Dumpee, maybe this friendship isn’t yours to fix anymore. You said yourself you tried for the better part of a year to suggest meet-ups with your once-BFF. That’s a long time for people who live in the same place. And still…the slow fade continued, with no (I’m assuming) matching overtures on her part. This is a pretty good example of actions speaking louder than words. Your actions sought to repair the friendship, despite not knowing for sure the cause of the breach or if there even was a clear cause; her lack of action or response is a choice not to repair it.

I am always especially grumpy in the presence of cliched statements like, “Maybe the friendship just ran its course.” But in this case, maybe it did. Some friendships are seasonal, part of the fall foliage or spring blooms of your life. You thought she was a lifer, in it with you for the long haul, all sleepovers and pinky promises well into your 90s. When really, she was just one of the crocuses in the backyard, popping her head out for five days, then BLAM, outta sight.

[Ed. Note: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Now crocuses?]

[GI: They are very fleeting. Haiku-worthy.]

If it were a shorter and more recent cooling-off that had you mystified, maybe an in-depth conversation would be in order. Maybe even now, you might still feel better just sending her a nice note saying you’re missing her company. As my teenage daughter (a grumpy advice columnist in training) likes to say: You gotta do you, Boo.

Beyond that—because this friendship has been deteriorating for months and your efforts to stay in touch have not been met with matching efforts from her—I think it’s time to bid your once-BFF a silent adieu. At this point, no answer you’d get from her would be likely to make you feel better.

I am not too proud (or too grumpy) to admit that I saw a quote on Pinterest the other day that is more comforting than Grandma Elsie’s pound cake. I am in love with this quote. I’d like to make out with this quote. And I think you, Dumpee, need this quote right now:

Stay away from people who make you feel like you are hard to love.

You go on and write that down and tape it someplace you can see it. Let it sink in, every day. If someone in your life consistently makes you feel like a big fat unimportant nobody, all the prior value you’ve attributed to them can (and probably should) go out the window. No need to make a stink about it—just quietly cross them off your VIP list. You shouldn’t have to do backflips to keep anyone in your life, ever.

And for the record, although I love me some Eleanor Roosevelt wisdom, I have to respectfully disagree that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. People can—and do—make other people feel downright lousy about themselves, all the damn time. It’s what comes next that matters. To KEEP pursuing someone who makes you feel like you’re a pest means you’re consenting to feeling lousy. But walking away from a diluted friendship to concentrate on the people who truly appreciate you shows strength, wisdom, and self-respect.

When friendship breakups happen, it’s a particularly good time to take stock of the people in your life and ask yourself a few introvertastic (I’m totally trademarking that) questions. Try these on for size:

1) Are you becoming more or less YOU in your friendships?

2) Who makes you feel like you ARE easy to love? Who makes you feel like you have to jump through hoops with a flaming cheerleader baton in your teeth to get their attention?

3) Are there any other friendships in your life that you DO have the power to change for the better? Are there friends you might be taking for granted?

Once you do some friendship meditation, express appreciation to those who are still around, those who have stuck by you through thick and thin. Maybe that’s a few people. Maybe there’s only one, and it’s your mother, who has to love you. Doesn’t matter. Borrow a page from our mouthy extrovert pals and speak your gratitude. Check in with your true supporters and love ‘em up. The benefits will be two-fold: people will feel appreciated, and you’ll realize that there are still people on the planet who think you’re pretty cool.

Don’t feel dumb about grieving your once-dear friend. Grief is a near-sighted mess, and our hearts can’t tell the difference between platonic and romantic. Loss is loss, and it is always terrible. Romantic breakups, as you’ve noted, are a dime a dozen, on every cover of every celeb magazine in the checkout line. But friends? We still somehow expect them to stick around forever—despite learning at an early age that the person who sits next to us on the bus in first grade is rarely the same person who’s sitting there by second grade.

So free yourself, Dumpee. Be mad, be sad—it’s all okay. This loss smarts, but it doesn’t have to keep smarting. Love from afar the-her-you-knew, like a calm and collected Super Buddha; love the friendship you had like a beautiful photograph; and be brave enough to let the-now-her go. It doesn’t matter that she let go first, and it doesn’t matter why, not really. What matters is that you let yourself start healing and realize the only people worth your time are the ones who make you feel like you’re worth everything.

Sincerely,

Grumpy

The Grumpy Introvert (otherwise known as Jennifer Mattern) is smarter than your average border collie, stronger than your morning coffee, and impervious to Comic Sans and all other forms of forced cheer. She has been an annoying know-it-all since the tender age of 8, when she first began correcting her teachers’ misspellings and offering copious amounts of unsolicited advice to her parents.

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  • caroline geoman

    Why wait till it get worst and broken?I was wondering before now why people talk more about him, before I tested and he proved his powers. Am offering praises to Doc Osaze, though I haven’t met him face to face, but his spiritual powers penetrated deep inside me. One thing I like most about him is he is “a man of one word”, he did accurate reading and cast the spell at the appropriate time, and I also got the result at the said time. Doc stated clearly that he is only interested in my happiness, after seeing my sleepless night.I promised to share my experience to people if he finally bring back my husband, which he did, I could have written badly about him if my husband didn’t come back as promised or if the spell had negative effects on me or my family. My husband and I are now making plans so Dr. Osaze can come visit and bless our family. Am so honored to share his email which I recommend to people who want their lover back, email: (spirituallove @ hotmail .com)

  • Amy

    How wonderful to read this! I recently went through a grieving process from suddenly losing a friend. It has almost been one year and I am finally starting to feel at peace with my friend “dumping” me. I couldn’t believe how hurtful it has been. I kept telling myself it was as painful as a breakup, and feeling embarrassed that I was feeling so hurt.

  • Tracy, from Bliss This Home

    Interesting, since I didn’t think “did I do something wrong?” at all. One of the best lines from this blog: “Maybe it’s not mine to fix.” Exactly! We care deeply… bond for life, and many introverts probably did everything possible to restore/repair the relationship. We do sometimes forget that some people are seasonal and certain relationships have a shelf life. After that: “just quietly cross them off your VIP list” and focus on those friends that stay in contact, show appreciation, and value the love & devotion we have to offer. And yes, grieve the loss and try to remember the happy stuff rather than the painful sting.

  • Karen Rhodes

    As an introvert who also suffers from social anxiety, I got a lot out of your advice to Dumpee in Denver. And I’ve always disagreed with Eleanor Roosevelt’s suggestion that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It happens to me just about every month, if not day!

  • Supatra Wendy

    This article has helped me let go of a long time friend and how I am happier than ever! Thank you Grumpy 🙂

  • Shirley

    I have a similar situation too, only it’s my first cousin who is more extroverted. We’re in our 70s and were close growing up. We lost contact after high school, but reconnected nine years ago. About two years ago, I wasn’t in contact with her for over a month because I was feeling awkward regarding our personal situations and, after I returned home from several weeks in Florida, I was feeling depressed and didn’t have contact with hardly anyone. I know it was wrong of me and I apologized telling her why I hadn’t been in contact. I expected a gracious acceptance of my apology as that is what I would have done if the circumstances had been reversed, but instead received a scathing rebuff. I apologized again and said I hadn’t meant to hurt her feelings. She grudgingly accepted my apology and told me that she would not initiate any contact between us and it would be us to me to do so. I accepted that because I had caused the problem and the relationship meant a lot to me. We got together often for about six months and, during that time, she was politely cool and clearly had not really accepted my apology so I stopped calling and seeing her. I feel sad about it, but I feel that she needs to meet me part of the way. We see each other once a month at book club and I greet her but she barely acknowledges me. I wish it were different, but I feel she doesn’t really care for me so I’m trying to let it go. It’s sad. I wish things were different. Life is too short for such things.

  • smartypants

    I made the difficult decision to end a 40+ year friendship with someone I’d considered to be one of my best friends. A pattern had started a few years ago and she would cancel plans with me CONSTANTLY just because she’d decided to do something else. No matter how many times I told her how hurt I was, the behavior would ebb, but it always returned. About a year ago, I was recovering from a shoulder surgery, couldn’t drive and had been stuck inside for about two weeks. She INSISTED that she wanted to help out, so I told her what I really needed was to get out of the house for some fun. She promised me an entire afternoon, then bailed on me at the very last minute. I was in tears. I had been looking forward to it for DAYS, and I was all dressed and ready to go. When I told her how upset I was, she basically said it was *my fault* that she didn’t tell me sooner “because I get so angry when plans change”. I knew at that moment that I never wanted to see her again. I want people in my life that value me and take my feelings seriously.

    • Heather

      That sounds like an abusive relationship. The last example you gave is, frankly, unforgivable – getting dressed/ready post shoulder surgery is no small thing and to leave it until the very last minute to cancel, and then blame YOU (for whatever reason), could be considered a form of relational aggression. What a crushing thing to do to someone. Unbelievable.

      • smartypants

        Heather – thank you for your kind, supportive words. I agree 100%. it *was* absolutely unforgiveable, and I knew that I never wanted to see her again as soon as those words came out of her mouth. I also figured out that she is a narcissist. She will do whatever she wants, whenever she wants and then will berate you for being hurt by her actions. I actually tried to talk to her about the cancellations three times over the years – you know, sit down, face to face discussions, and it fell on deaf ears every time. When it all finally came to a head, she said “if it bothered you that much, you should have talked to me about it”. AMAZING. It has been over a year since we have had any contact and I don’t miss her. YAY!

  • lennbob

    “And for the record, although I love me some Eleanor Roosevelt wisdom, I have to respectfully disagree that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

    I have to respectfully disagree with that disagreement. Although “consent” may not be the best choice of words, no one can make you feel inferior—or anything else, for that matter—if it isn’t something you already feel, whether you are aware of it or not. Otherwise, anyone could say anything and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. That’s why it’s particularly difficult when that kind of thing comes from a friend, who presumably has some insight into your feelings, and should not be saying the kinds of things that reinforce your worst feelings about yourself.

    • Tracy, from Bliss This Home

      Yes, I very much disagree with that part, too… I think shows some immaturity and/or naivete from the author (as do some other parts of the post). But overall, most of the advice is right on target.

  • Rona So

    As well-intentioned as I’ve been subscribing to various this-is-who-you-are-or-who-you-want-to-be and feel-good mailing lists, let’s face it: who’s got time to read and, more importantly, digest all of it? The philosopher in me constantly looks for mind stimulation – from books, articles, blog posts, TEDTalks, RSA videos to Pinterest quotes – my head is never short of words, explanations and advice. But what’s fed to the mind, if not digested by the heart to nourish the soul, is no good unless what you’re trying to accomplish is to sound intelligent at dinner parties (we don’t even like dinner parties).

    Lately, I’ve been learning to grieve and let go of past regrets and hurts. And I realize my head is not a good place to be for all of that. I have the how-to’s and the reasoning down, but I just can’t do it. Meditation has never been my forte. I think I need to take the internal dialogue outside. I think I’m desperate to feel seen and heard and understood, but I can’t even have an honest conversation with the few friends whom I’m close to. I always feel the need to appear strong, be the pillar, show that I can take care of myself. I recently told my therapist, I think I’ll feel understood if I could just be in someone’s presence and be sad and not have to say a word. Often I don’t even give myself the permission. What happens is this intense bottomed-up energy in the form of frustration and anxiety.

    Wow, I just went WAY off subject.

    Jennifer, I came across your article after having let Quiet’s newsletter gone to spam for a long time. It echoed. It touched me. It also made me chuckle at work. I felt like I had a conversation with a friend. (I also loved how the font size auto-adjusted to the size of the browser, and the words were so big I felt like I was reading a children’s book.) When I got to the bottom of the article and saw your picture, I was so pleasantly surprised. I have read your articles before – the photo essay on your father, the one about your daughter singing – even had a tiny chat with you over comments. So I felt like I really was talking to a friend because of the little connection we’ve established then. It seems like so far your articles are the ones that really reached me on Quiet. I am so grateful for what you do.

    Can I just say that I love you?

  • Mon

    Dear Grumpy and Dumpee. Thank you ever so much for writing the letter and reply. I have had a very similar situation, slightly more awkward as my friend was also my landlord and door-to-door neighbour. We used to not be able to stop talking and our last catch up was like a bad date you didn’t want to be at.
    However much it hurts I have now started feeling bad for it and accepting it.
    But it’s so great reading about others living through the same issues. We’re not alone!
    Thanks again!

  • JS

    FYI – over-the-top prose made it hard to follow your otherwise excellent article. Pull back on the “ALL THE SAD FEELS” and the “UGH. EW. NO, THANK YOU. I’LL HAVE THE TV DINNER FOR ONE” and you’ll have a much better reach in audience.

  • Anne Chan

    Thank you for writing this really cute and insightful post. As introverts, we are either detached from or attached to people, there is no middle ground. And it is really painful to have to detach ourselves from someone we were once attached to. Thanks for this healing message 🙂

  • I loved reading this because it spoke to my heart. This is the first post of yours that I’ve read but definitely not the last. I’ve experienced this kind of situation before, too, and it’s very painful. What saddens me more is getting the same sort of ‘hard to love’ feedback from family. Thank you for writing this, it helps to know I’m not alone in wanting to stand my ground. 🙂

  • Monica Espinoza

    Thank you Jennifer,

    It is so true that friendship dumps hurt. I don’t know if I would say that have hurt me as much as romantic ones but they are up there. And we always have a choice about letting go when clearly the ex-friend isn’t making effort in continuing to be a friend. I must say these days it seems that we have made it easy to dump others without expressing why. It is the “why, ” that leaves me bewildered and wondering if there was something “I” did and if so maybe I could have grown from it.

    That said, I now make it a point to give friends benefit of doubt and I ASK what happened. If they don’t muscle up strength to say then I let go. I acknowledge that it was a friendship that has expired. And I leave the door open should they change their mind.

    I allow myself time to grieve as I would with a romantic breakup. When our heart is deep and we like a few true intimate and real relationships – it is tough to just let go. It is a process. Thank you for sharing.