How to Cope with the Loss of a Friendship

Continuing to ruminate about the lost friendship will only make you more depressed rather than bringing about closure. Instead, try to reframe your thinking to allow for the possibility that it had more to do with her than with you.
04/29/2011 11:27 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Question:

Dear Irene,

My best friend of 18 years always called me "the sister she never had". We live in the same city and used to talk on the phone at least 5 to 10 times a day and got together frequently. About two years ago she and her husband began divorce proceedings. I tried to be a supportive friend. I read everything I could on divorce, bought her books (divorce as well as inspirational), sent her cards, dropped off little gifts at her house, took her to see her church pastor on a particularly rough day, etc. I truly, in my heart, feel that I was there for her.

About a year ago, my health began to deteriorate due to multiple autoimmune issues, rendering me homebound. About this time, my friend began disconnecting from me. I realized I was always the one calling her. The phone calls were always about her divorce issues, she never got around to asking how I was.

In December I decided to quit calling her. It took three months for us to talk again, and that was only after I sent her an email telling her goodbye and that she didn't owe me any explanations, but that I recognized our friendship was over. She insisted it wasn't and came over to talk. She told me that she had just sort of "shut down" lately and hadn't really been doing anything or talking to other friends (though she later talked about her weekly Bible study she attended, her weekly girl scout meetings she led, etc.) I asked her if she was depressed due to her impending divorce and she adamantly denied that she was. I also asked her if I had done anything and she adamantly denied that as well. She said that we could choose to live in the past or move forward and she wanted to move forward.

I chose to let it go and called here and there to see how she was doing. Again, I realized she hadn't called me once and the conversations continued to focus on her divorce. I have enough sense to let her go, as I realize that I've really been the only one hanging on.

I don't understand what happened and guess I never will. We didn't really involve our husbands in our friendship, so it wasn't a matter of taking sides during the divorce or anything. She experienced her own health crisis in the past (which I was there to support her through), so I don't believe that my health issues made her uncomfortable. I can only surmise that she just grew tired of me, particularly as I was homebound and had little to offer in the way of "giving."

She's my son's godmother and I don't understand how or why she's abandoned my son as well. I no longer want a friendship with her as she's made it very clear that I don't mean anything to her. I'm not foolish enough to put myself through this again. My question is: How do I finally let go? I've detached emotionally, yet feel like I need some sort of resolution in letting go. I'm not sure that involves having any contact with her though. Any ideas? Thank you for your understanding and support,

Signed,

Chelsea

Answer:

Dear Chelsea,

After losing such a long and close friendship, you must feel a terrible sense of betrayal and loss.

You reached out to your ex-friend multiple times and she really let you down, especially given your medical problems. I don't think you can "surmise" what happened, nor would it be productive to do so. Continuing to ruminate about the friendship will only make you more depressed rather than bringing about closure. Instead, try to reframe your thinking to allow for the possibility that it had more to do with her than with you.

Clearly, you can't depend on her for resolution. It would have been great if she had been able to tell you what had happened at the time, but either she didn't want to or she wasn't able to do so. Given these circumstances, you need to bolster your resolve to stay away from a friendship that has turned out to be so hurtful. Moreover, don't allow this emotional entanglement to deter you from reaching out to and engaging with other people.

People change over time, sometimes in dramatic and unexpected ways. In fact, your ex-friend's ex-husband may have experienced feelings similar to yours at the time of the divorce. It's important to recognize that this happens far more often among friends than people realize or are willing to admit.

You may have detached yourself intellectually but you still seem emotionally attached. Hopefully, a tincture of time will help heal your feelings of loss.

My best wishes for your health,
Irene

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