Carolyn Hax: Take back a friend who went silent for years?

Carolyn Hax
Columnist November 7, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Your column [about dropping a friend who twice went years without returning calls] resonated with me. I’ve had much the same thing happen on both ends, where I was going through a rough patch for a few months and not maintaining friendships well, and one of my closest friends decided this was grounds for abruptly and completely cutting off communication.

Fast-forward to now, five years later, when I got a surprise voice mail from this friend. I may or may not be interested in resuming the friendship.

If I understand your prior advice correctly, are you saying that the most important thing is to make sure to hash out what happened and set terms before doing so? And if those terms end up not being met, to explain why you appreciated getting back in touch but that it’s not going to be possible to be friends?


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Promoting Back to Friendship?

I wouldn’t apply advice from one situation to the other because there’s a distinct difference in the details. The friend in the column dropped off the face of the Earth twice, not once as in your situation, and the disappearance in the column lasted for years, whereas you went silent only for a matter of months.

I think these matter.

The advice I’d give for any situation like this, when you’re weighing whether to trust someone again — that’s what it’s all about, right, details aside? — is to listen carefully to what your friend says; combine that with what she has done and decide whether your bull meter approves of resuming the friendship.

Once you have your answer, be honest about it with your friend. Leaving people to wonder is cruel.

Re: Friendships:

Why can’t people just accept the, “It’s not you, it’s me,” explanation for friendship interruptions? “I’m sorry, I need to work this through by myself, and I’ll be back in touch when I get my head above water.” What’s so terrible and hurtful about that?

Anonymous

You assume the “I’m sorry, I need to work this through by myself” message was delivered. In cases where the friend just goes silent in a way that sends one checking the obits, and stays silent for years, “terrible and hurtful” fits.

For what it’s worth, when someone is too depressed to write even a measly, “I’ll be back in touch when I get my head above water” e-mail — which a lot of depressed people genuinely are — then an after-the-fact delivery of same wouldn’t give me those two years back, but I hope I’d at least understand.

Re: Friendships:

I think a good rule to follow is this: If your friend is trying to reestablish a friendship, then it’s a good thing to say something. I had a close friend abruptly turn hostile and I truly had (have) no idea why. It was confusing and hurtful, and an explanation would have been welcome, if difficult to hear.

If, on the other hand, friends simply grow apart or a friend doesn’t seem to notice when you start to pull away, then there’s really no need for a big formal breakup or “demotion.”

Anonymous 2

Right. No need for answers when no one has asked the question.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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