My best friend is distant.
Maybe she’s just feeling the same pandemic lethargy as everyone else or she’s mad at me or something else.
Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly beg people to either stop dating someone or to ask their crush out. Or I talk about weird things that came to my mind that no one is paying me to write about. I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not; apologies on lack of consistency.
I have been best friends with an incredible, thoughtful human since middle school, and even as we both left our hometown for our respective colleges and careers, we’re now in our late 20’s and still talk to each other regularly.
This past year, I’ve felt the already-present disconnect between us widen during the pandemic, as plans to visit each other have been canceled, phone calls have fizzled out — and these days, I feel like I’m sustaining our relationship almost singularly. I notice that when we do text, she seems overwhelmed by exhaustion, anxiety, even despair as she ponders how uniquely bleak and hard this year has been. She has a difficult job, and we’ve both felt unmoored to some degree. But where that sadness prompts me to turn to her for support and solidarity, it looks like that’s drawn her inward. Or maybe it’s something else, maybe she’s just feeling the same pandemic lethargy as everyone else or she’s mad at me or something else. I don’t know, because at this point I’m lucky if she’ll respond to me once a month.
A best friend growing distant feels almost too mundane to be worthy of mention during the pandemic, but there’s a relentless grief that sits on my heart all the same and I’m just not sure what to do about it.
Oh man, this is not mundane at all. You are 100% correct in labeling this as grief; it is! On the whole, we all tend to undervalue friendship. We don’t have the same rituals/expectations/sympathies for someone breaking up with a friend as we do with a romantic partner. It’s bizarre since friendships often last longer and offer more support, love and laughter. Of course you’re sad that your best friend is pulling away. Of course you’re sad that someone you have known since middle school is not putting in effort. How could that not be devastating?
It does absolutely seem like your friend is dealing with something. More likely, a lot of somethings. This year has been frankly dogshit for so many people in so many ways. Even if outwardly things don’t seem to be happening to your friend, even if her circumstances seem “fine,” this year has done a number on just about everyone’s mental health (as you know). So I think it’s very reasonable to assume that that is playing a large role in this, especially considering the type of text messages she’s sending when you two do talk.
But do I think it’s possible that there’s something else? Yeah, it’s certainly possible. I have no idea what that something else might be and it seems like you don’t really either. Because—as far as I can tell from your letter—you haven’t asked!
It can often be hard to confront the people we love the most about topics that feel emotionally loaded, and that goes double or triple or more so for someone whom you feel like is both struggling and pulling away. But it’s time to reach out and have a meta-relationship conversation. A conversation about what the heck is going on.
Be open and honest! The more open you are about what you’ve been feeling (lonely, unwanted, like maybe you did something wrong, sad, etc) the more space you give the other person to be similarly open. Start by talking about how you’ve been feeling. Something like, “I feel like we’re not talking as much and that I’m putting in a lot of effort to talk to you but that you’re pulling away or ignoring me. I’m really concerned that I’ve hurt your feelings somehow or that you’re no longer interested in being my friend and I really want to talk about it. Is there something that I did that we can address or is something else going on? I’m just feeling really X, Y, and Z about this and I’m also worried for you. You’re my best friend and I’m here to listen no matter what it is.”
If you can get her on the phone, that would probably be better, but if not, I still think there’s value in texting it out. Pretty much any communication around this issue is going to help.
Be prepared that she might not really be ready to face the fact with you that the friendship is strained or distant right now. She might deny this with something like, “Oh I’m doing fine. There’s nothing going on, just busy.” When someone’s mental health is suffering, they often don’t know how to or they can’t or won’t admit it. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t see the distance between the two of you, and how her actions are leading to this—it just becomes Real when someone else points it out. Because of that, I think you should see this conversation as an entry point. Either you find out that you did something that was hurtful (it seems unlikely to me, but it’s possible) or you open the door for more communication about what’s going on with your friend. It might take a bit of time and some extra effort on your part, but it sounds like this is a person who is worth it.
Two of my closest friends are long-distance right now and let me tell you, it sucks ass and takes a lot of work. It’s hard to build new memories or feel relationship growth in the best of long-distance friend circumstances without COVID going on. My two friends and I have had lots and lots of talks about feeling distant from one another, feeling like the other person isn’t putting in as much effort, etc. We try new things, we fail, we try again, we grow. It’s a process to figure out what works and mental health can really derail the best intentions of maintaining a good long distance friendship.
Try your very best to be gentle with yourself. You’ve put in a lot of effort and been a great friend and you’re showing up and trying. That’s lovely. This isn’t going to be undone in one day or with one phone call, but I promise you that it can be reversed. You two can be close friends again. I’m not saying that it will happen for sure; I’m just promising that it’s possible.
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