General Etiquette > general

When to take the hint

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My oldest friend and I have lost touch over the years.  No hard feelings or anything, just going off to college, having kids, moving around, things like that.  We get in touch once in a while, hang out for a day, and then a few months later get back together again.

The last time I saw her, I was in my first trimester of my second pregnancy and was grumpy and exhausted, both from the pregnancy and from a nine-month-old who suddenly decided she didn't feel like sleeping at night anymore.  She brought her somewhat unruly son, and while I think I was justified in being put out with her over her (lack of) parenting while they were here, I also think I could have been a kinder friend to her while she was going through a very rough time.  I wasn't angry with her while she was there or anything, but I knew she had some things going on in her life, and I didn't call her after that to offer support.  I think I really dropped the ball.  I spent most of those days on the couch, half asleep, so it wasn't that I was holding a grudge.  But she's a perceptive person, and I think it's possible she picked up on my irritation.  That plus the lack of contact may have sent her a message that I just didn't care.

When I feel guilty about something like this, I tend to avoid the problem, and as time wears on I feel more guilty, and then I avoid more, and so the cycle goes.  I finally called her a few weeks ago.  No answer, so I left a message, just to say hi and to ask if she wanted to talk or hang out sometime soon.  A week or two after that, I sent her a message on Facebook.  Still no answer. 

In the past, it's often taken a few tries by either of us before the other calls back, but given my Bad Friend behavior the last time, I'm paranoid that it might mean more.  If she just doesn't want to hear from me anymore, I want to respect that.  But if she's till depressed and having a bad time and can't work up the will to do much of anything, I don't want to misinterpret the lack of contact.

Is this enough to say she just doesn't want contact anymore, or should I try once or twice more? 

How long does it normally take before you can get back in touch with each other?  I'd give it at least that long before you start getting paranoid, and maybe even tack a week or two on just to be safe.

Honestly, though, I think the biggest thing you need to decide is how much staying in touch with this friend is worth it to you.  You need to figure out how much contact-with-no-response you're willing to initiate before you have had enough.  Since it's possible that your friend just has things going on her life that make her disinclined to reach out to you, I don't think you should be taking silence as a hint that she's done with your friendship just yet.  On the other hand, you shouldn't keep talking to yourself forever, because no matter what she's got going on, you have to give up some time.

So I would use your own feelings as your guide, rather than trying to interpret her silence.  At least for a little while.

My problem is that my feelings are often not very trustworthy when it comes to this sort of thing.  I got picked on in elementary school, from 2nd through 6th grade.  A lot.  In most ways, I think it made me a better person.  But it also made me incredibly insecure.  I often think people don't like me when, in fact, they really do.  It doesn't help that I'm a people pleaser to the core.  Terrible combination.  I do know not to act on my insecurity alone, which is why I'm questioning my feelings right now.

Our friendship has always been the sort where we can go months, even a year, without contact, and then pick up right where we left off.  We met in second grade and were best friends all through high school.  So if it hadn't been for our meetup last summer, I would say I'd want to try again a couple of times. 

If you've been friends that long, I would lay it all out. Something to the effect of:

Friend, I feel really badly about how things went the last time I saw you. It's been so long now, and I'm worried that you aren't responding because you're upset with me instead of just being busy or distracted. I really value your friendship and would like to try to get past the uncomfortable time we had last time. I really hope to hear from you so that we'll both know we want to continue our relationship and get past our rough patch!

You know, as much as you feel like you dropped the ball on your friend, maybe she feels like she dropped it on you.  If you think she picked up on your irritation, maybe she also picked up on the fact that you were physically exhausted.

I understand feeling insecure about this.  I had more than one person as I was growing up just sort of quit talking to me for no reason, and it's definitely caused problems for me even now.  I don't really react very well to people not reciprocating my efforts to communicate, although I also think I hold on to people who really aren't my friends longer than I should.

The only reason why I think you should still try to rely on your own feelings for this, insecure though they are, is that you're the one who has to live with what happens next.  If your friend gets in touch and things go back to normal, that's great.  But what if she doesn't?  Or what if she takes a year?  Or what if you call her so many times that you start to get angry?

The thing that I find I have to guard against the most, when it comes to maintaining sporadic-type relationships with people, is that I need to make sure I stop trying before I get angry about my attempts to stay in touch failing miserably.  But at the same time, because I'm insecure and second-guess myself all the time, I feel the need to keep trying until it's painfully obvious that it's just not working.  It's hard to balance between those two things.

But, long story short, I wouldn't get paranoid about it now.  She's your oldest friend, so trust in the fact that she knows you well and is understanding of your foibles, at least for now.  I'd keep contacting her occasionally (maybe once a month or so), and I wouldn't give up on the friendship until you've been out of touch longer than you can remember ever happening before.


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