She bails, again. When is it time to call it quits?
I have this old friend who lives far away, but we have been in a 35-year friendship. We get together periodically with our girlfriends, in various great locations. It hasn’t worked out the last couple of years, but this year she proposed we unite for an island getaway. Then she dragged her feet all the way and at the last minute, as we’d all rearranged our schedules and found child care etc., she bailed. I’m so angry with her now. This is a pattern. We all love her and enjoy her company, but she’s high maintenance. Should I talk to her about it or just let it go? The friendship feels so frayed I wonder, is it worth it?
—Brenda from Standish
I’m so sorry your old friend didn’t come to the reunion, Brenda, for you, and also for her, since that weekend sounds like a blast and she started out wanting to do it. Reading this, I was reminded of how frustrated I used to get as a kid because Charlie Brown kept accepting Lucy’s invite to kick the football even though we (and, surely, he?) knew she was going to pull it away. Fool me once, fool me twice and all that. Why didn’t he just tell her to stuff it and walk away?
Why don’t we tell people in our lives who establish a pattern of disappointing behavior to stuff it? And more insanely, why is it we often covet their attention more than the valiant and true companions who are always there, who always show up? It’s a glitch in our natures, I think; a shared masochism. The standard advice here would be to de-friend your friend; i.e. stop lining up to kick a ball your friend doesn’t have the decency to hold. That might feel really good in the moment, like what she deserves. When that hot feeling of being taken advantage of and disrespected rises, it feels like righteous anger, which—you know if you have looked at any self-help Pinterest stories—always stems from fear. In this case, the fear is obliteration. Being bailed on by a friend feels like an erasure; lashing out, cutting all ties, ghosting is a way the ego can stake some territory again.
But after 35 years of friendship, it might be good to pause and ask yourself, specifically, what your friend truly deserves. Or more importantly, you? The mere fact that you are writing me about this and not immediately blocking her on Facebook or Snapchat or wherever, makes me believe that you don’t want to totally give up on her. That despite her dippy cancellations and expensive do-overs, you still love her. You just wish she’d change: treat you better; follow through; recognize that you went out of your way to meet her expectations, and she did jack to meet yours. In short, that your friendship matters—to her specifically and (more profoundly) to everyone else.
In relationships, we all fear being perceived like ever-persistent Charlie—weak and gullible; that somehow if we keep showing up after we get pushed aside it’s proof that we are losers, but that is only our own self-doubt talking and not what I think your friend would tell you if you called her up and honestly asked her (without reprimand) if she cares about you. To serve you a little red-hot truth here: Her reasons for not showing up are hers to grapple with, and, in all likelihood, may have very little to do with you. For all you know she had expensive dental work or her mother just got diagnosed with an illness, or she’s in an illicit affair or broke or smoking too much weed and is embarrassed to show herself in all her frailty to friends who she imagines have it all together. Most humans, even our closest ones, aren’t thinking about us even remotely as often as we imagine they are—not because they don’t care, but because life is hard and chaotic for everyone, and humans are mostly just trying to deal everyday with little earthquakes.
You want your friend to live up to your idea of her, and your beliefs about how much she values your friendship—because YOU value her friendship and you have ideas around how that value is shown (showing up, doing activities together). She may have totally different ideas about what she needs—your challenge, as her friend, is to love her for who she is, if you can, for who she really is.
THIS is why I think Charles Shultz always has Charlie come back to engage with Lucy. He knows damn well she’s going to rip that football away, but Shultz makes it clear that Lucy’s failings are not Charlie’s. The whole strip shows his quality. His heart. His loyalty. So feel good that you are the friend who shows up. You live up to your own values. Have compassion for your scattered friend who doesn’t (and ask yourself what kind of crazy things are going on in her life to miss that unbelievably fun-sounding weekend?). Tell her straight out that you were disappointed that she missed the trip and whenever she can get her act together to see you, you will check your calendar. Let her know she can rely on your love, always, but not your availability. Be true to who YOU are, be kind, and then leave her to figure out her issues without a lot of judgment from you. Meanwhile, plan next year’s reunion with the other women who also showed up, because those ladies are speaking your language.
Who is Evangeline? She’s all of your best friends, rolled into one. She’s been through some major stuff. She’s a mother and a sister. She knocks on doors to get out the vote. Even your kid will listen to her. And she listens back. Evangeline can’t fix your car for you, but she can help with family and relationship advice. She also knows a lot about astrology if that’s your thing. Write to her via firstname.lastname@example.org.