Adapted from a recent online discussion.
I’m 17, and a junior in high school. Up until this year, I’ve had two best friends, “Beth” and “Carly.” Carly and I are still best friends, but Beth has decided to ditch us completely to hang with a crowd of people who drink and party, things my friend and I were never interested in.
We’ve seen for a while that she had no interest in being friends with us anymore, but now she won’t even talk to us, or look at us.
A huge part of me wants to confront her about how much she has hurt me by this abandonment, but another part of me thinks it’s better to leave it alone. She seems to be having so much fun, and that her life is all the better with her “cooler” friends. Should I just forget about her and move on, or should I confront her?
There’s a lot of room between those two choices you offer, because they represent the extremes — refuse to get involved or get overinvolved in her choices. They also have one important thing in common: Both “forget about her” and “confront her” are punitive responses to the choices she has made.
Whenever you’re not sure how to respond to someone, try using these steps:
1. Put yourself in her place. What you’re seeing now is only your hurt feelings.
2. Consider that you’re seeing only hero and villain, and try distributing more nuanced credit and blame.
3. The less sure you are, the less talking you need to do. “Listen” is your new rule.
You can apply these three by considering, for example, that Beth isn’t ignoring you because you’re not “cool” enough, but instead withdrawing from people who don’t validate her choices.
Or, consider that she suddenly has a strong need to “reinvent” herself, one you can identify with — and that’s wrongheaded only in the path she chose to do it.
Again, these are just examples, but they offer new ways to talk to Beth. Instead of, “You hurt me,” they call for, “I miss you. How are you doing?” I.e., an open-ended question vs. a declarative statement, and an expression of kindness vs. an accusation.
Asking nice, open-ended questions won’t magically thaw someone committed to shunning you — but you’ll at least lay the foundation for her to consider your friendship bookmarked for a later date instead of buried for good.
To the high-schooler:
I didn’t drink or party in high school either. I had a conversation with my two best friends who did and said I knew we were in different worlds on that, but still wanted to be their friend. We did a mutual respect thing — they didn’t bring me places they knew I’d be uncomfortable and I didn’t judge their choices, even though I disagreed with them.
I missed some stuff, and they were closer to each other than to me, but by respecting each other’s choices, we stayed friends. And still are 15-plus years after high school.
Thanks. This gets tougher when partiers go off the rails (or refuse even to look at you) — but, then, a kind overture like yours actually helps in those cases, too.