THE BLOG
06/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Friendship in a Box: What's going on?

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I haven't seen anything like this on your blog, so maybe others have the same question. I have a close friend I met about two years ago in a support group. We both lost our husbands to illness in their prime. Needless to say, we feel connected in a way that is not common to most friends.

We started going out once a week for lunch to discuss our struggles and to support each other outside the group. Lately, that is the only environment in which my friend seems to want to be friends. She will not come over to my house but says she wants to; will not come to parties but says she will try. Even something as simple as meeting at a different lunch place is like twisting her arm. I called her one time letting her know I was at a different eating establishment to see if she wanted to join me and her response was to come by pick me up and drive us both to the same old hang out.

She doesn't seem to be embarrassed to be with me. I have met some of her friends, been to her house, been to her parties, met some her family. So I just don't get it. She is always asking me to go out of town with her or attend social events but if I ask it's never returned. Last week I had a big once a year event and she was the only one that would not give me a straight yes or no. I got excuse after excuse but she said she really wanted to come. I told her how much it would mean to me if she showed up and she said she would really try. Of course, she didn't show up.

She got upset when her tennis partner didn't show up to her 40th birthday party and yet she seems to think is okay for her to act the same way with me. She basically said don't be mad at her if she can't make it but has not called since.

I am confused, she is very supportive during our lunch chats, texts me every day until I am free like she really wants to see me. She even sent me an email one time telling me how much she valued my friendship. That being said, she will not move out of the lunch box.

Is there anything I can do to move her out of that box and try new things or go new places? I'm starting to feel like she doesn't care or is not capable of caring.

Signed, Linda

ANSWER

Dear Linda,

I understand your confusion because this is an out-of-the ordinary situation. If it makes you feel any better, this isn't about you; it's about your friend. For some psychological reason, she is reluctant to be with new people or do new things. It sounds like she has to control her environment. This could be due to something like social anxiety, agoraphobia, or some unresolved grief---but these are just possibilities. Without knowing her, it's hard to guess.

As you well know, when you lose your husband of many years, you lose not only your lover but also a big piece of yourself. Trying new things on your own and being in crowds with people you don't know can be very stressful. Maybe that's why she only wants to go familiar places and entertain in her own home, etc. Some people are able to recover more quickly than others.

Ask your friend to sit down with you and have a heart-to-heart. Tell her exactly what you told me: Tell her how close you feel to her and that you were hurt when she didn't come to your big bash. Ask her to replay her own feelings when her tennis partner wouldn't come to hers. See if she can give you any clues to why she is unwilling to see you except on her own terms.

Even though she values your friendship, she may not be able to explain her feelings or change her behavior. Then you will need to decide if you can keep your relationship with her limited to the box she has chosen or not---at least for the time being. It sounds like you have been through a lot together and treasure her friendship otherwise, so I would give her some wiggle room right now.

I hope this is helpful.

Best,
Irene

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.

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