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
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.”
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.
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.
Have a question for the Grumpy Introvert? Write to her at [email protected]!