This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
I have a small circle of friends, and a particularly small part of the circle (me, N, and M) have been each dealing with our own problems. I do tend to play therapist for my friends, which is not exactly imposed by people, it just organically happens (I’m not very good at setting boundaries).
For the past year or so, N has dealt with a pretty intense situation with a former colleague. I have supported them a lot (and was happy to do that), by which I mean 3 a.m. calls, typing out a case with our workplace’s HR, walking from building to building (or staying on the phone with them while they walk) to make sure they felt safe. I’m not going to downplay the situation. Iit was pretty traumatic for them, and there was a serious question of safety.
As things resolved with HR, and their colleague is no longer allowed at their workplace, they’ve been reemerging socially. However, it feels like N is not making a lot of effort to follow through with plans they made with M and me. They have a long history of bailing on plans, and over the past year it was understandable, especially in terms of actually going out due to their safety concerns. They’re definitely a workaholic, and over the past few weeks have gone out with their coworkers multiple times to get shit-faced, texting both of us about their night the morning after. M and I haven’t seen them in like 5 months, and N has bailed on plans (some they’ve even initiated) several times. The plans have typically been very low-key hangouts, which makes it even more frustrating.
Overall, I feel like I’ve built some resentment towards them for this. I’ve known them for so long, and I don’t think this is necessarily worth throwing away a friendship for, but I also don’t know how to approach it. It’s difficult and a little painful, because I don’t want to resent N, and honestly I’m feeling pretty lonely. What also sucks is that N’s phone is constantly on Do Not Disturb. They take days to text back and never answer their phone. It just feels like they’re never there when I’m dealing with my own shit and need someone to talk to. It sucks, and I have no idea what to do.
Any advice is appreciated.
Ditched & Deserted
Hey there, D&D!
Do Not Disturb is so funny to me. Like, I know you’re on your phone. All of you are always on your phone. “Delivered quietly” is so silly. Are you doing surgery? Are you at church? I think I will turn mine on just to cultivate an air of mystery. I know some people “have jobs,” but still, it tickles me.
Regardless, it sounds like you need to have a conversation with N. I can understand dropping the friendship ball. Sometimes I get so hyperfocused on a project, or I get depressed, or I just can’t muster the energy, and I go quiet. I don’t reply to texts, and I bail on plans. I think I’ve been N many, many times to many, many people!
But I also know that regardless of my reasons, friendships require communication and effort. Not watering my plants because of my chronic depression is understandable, but the plants are still going to wilt. If N doesn’t put any energy into your dynamic, then the dynamic will peter out.
On your end, though, you could voice all of this to N. You are very clear about what’s bothering you in your letter. Your friendship with N matters to you, but you feel neglected at a time when you’re already experiencing loneliness. You don’t want to resent or lose them. What’s keeping you from articulating that to them?
I have this theory that all of the chaos, solitude, and suffering of the past few years has rearranged our approach to friendship, mostly for the worse. At least, that’s what I’m experiencing. I feel like I’m already on a knife’s edge, and I don’t want to rock the boat. Friends should be a refuge from the cruelty of the world, not another source of anxiety.
Only, conflict isn’t necessarily cruelty. Conflict is a key ingredient to a fruitful relationship. Differences are what make friendships fun, the way we have different personalities and goals and motivations leads to intrigue and excitement, giving depth and texture to our bond. Inevitably, there will be misunderstandings, mistakes, and problems. We’re different.
Sometimes, people don’t see the nature of their friendship the same way. One person might be more invested than the other. Different people bring different things to our lives, which is fine, but if a lack of clarity is hurting you, then you should feel empowered to ask for it. There’s no need to be combative. Ask N what’s up on their end. Tell them you care about their friendship and would like to continue it, but you’ve been feeling ditched.
A friend who is equally invested in your relationship will be willing to meet you there. It takes two, after all. There’s a chance you can talk it out and arrive at a good place, and there’s a chance it won’t go great, that N will brush it off and continue this behavior or react poorly. Either way, though, you’ll have a way forward.
If N doesn’t reciprocate your desire for dialogue, or if they continue to flake on you, then, well, that’s an answer. Not a fun one, but an answer nonetheless, and regardless of their reasons, be they valid or not, you can’t be expected to sit around in a lopsided relationship. You can move on. But hopefully the two of you can have a productive conversation that leaves you both in a healthier place.
Friendship can be tricky, Ditched! Just like any relationship, be it platonic, romantic, or the relationship with ourselves. In all cases, honesty, effort, and care are required, and conflict can be a great medium for those things. “Do not disturb” is all well and good, but sometimes you must “disturb” if you want things to improve.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on January 18, 2023.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.