THE BLOG
11/29/2010 07:41 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

What do you consider a friendship-killer?

It isn't easy to know when to draw the line and give up on a friendship. There's a natural tendency to overlook and ignore little signs that something's awry until your patience is worn thin by that proverbial last straw: Your frenemy has done something really hurtful that you can't forget or forgive.

QUESTION

Hello Irene,

I really hope you can give me advice because I am feeling so low. In brief, I've had a friendship with a girl for the last 5 or 6 years and we have had some great times together. We have two kids around the same ages, the youngest of whom in both cases have special needs, so we have a lot in common.

There have been times in the past when I've felt let down by this person - cancelling things at last minute, not reciprocating favors of all kinds - but I always decided I would just take the good with the bad.

Recently, we had an arrangement that I would collect the younger kids from school at 1:30PM and she would collect the older two at 2:30PM. This was to facilitate a meeting she had at the school about her younger child. I collected the younger ones, as arranged, and then got a phone call at 2:45PM from another parent who happened to see my son in the school yard by himself. No one had picked him up. I raced to the school, all the time trying to ring my friend as I assumed something must be wrong but I couldn't get her or her husband (who was also at the meeting).

Anyway, it turned out the meeting ran late and neither her son nor mine were collected (her son was taken home by another mum). When my friend eventually arrived at the school, there was no apology or no inquiry as to whether my son was okay. When I asked what happened, I got a very casual "Oh, the meeting went on late." When I then said that my son, who is only 7, was left standing on his own, I got a hand put up in front of me and she said "Not now." I told her that I was at least expecting an apology, I got a sarcastic "Well it goes without saying that I'm sorry." At this point, I was so upset I just walked away.

Anyway, I was fully expecting an apology of some sort when she had time to think things over but what actually happened was that she accused me of handling the situation badly and not valuing our friendship. SHE was disappointed in ME. How this was turned around is beyond me but I just don't know what to do now. I feel that I can't win with her if I tell her how I feel. When I tried to pull back, she asked, "Are you not interested in meeting any more?"

It is a very awkward situation as I see her every day at the school and our kids are friends. Should I just try to keep things civil and ignore the hurt I am feeling? Help!

Thanks,
Anna

ANSWER

Dear Anna,

I can imagine how upsetting it was to be waiting for your son to come home and not know what happened to him. Clearly, it was irresponsible of your friend to leave him alone; if the meeting ran late, either she or her husband could have gone to get your son or one of them could have called you.

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, her responsibilities to you may have totally slipped her mind or she may have presumed that the two boys were together. Even so, she should have apologized. That she dismissed your feelings and maintained that YOU handled the situation badly was probably a big disappointment.

Sometimes we make allowances for our friends, especially when they're parents of our children's friends. Perhaps you've bonded more strongly with this friend because of circumstances rather than because you're soulmates.

The question you need to ask yourself is whether or not this incident and its aftermath feel like a friendship-killer for you. You knew your friend was a bit self-centered and a "taker" but you overlooked these traits before because you valued the friendship overall. If you still feel that way, let go of the grudge and accept her limitations. Try as hard as you may, you can't change anyone's personality.

If you decide that you can't accept your friend as she is, it's time to downgrade the friendship and treat her like a neighbor/acquaintance. Of course, you want to keep things civil for the sake of the kids.

Hope this helps.

Best,
Irene

Related prior posts on The Friendship Blog:

Friendship for the sake of the children

Why breaking up is so hard to do

Do you have a question/problem concerning a friendship? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.