Ask Dr. Zoe – Should I Maintain a Friendship With Someone Who Keeps Pulling Away?

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‘Frosty in Fort Worth’ Asked How to Maintain a Friendship:

Hi Dr. Zoe, I have a cousin who is just over a year younger than me whom I have been close with since childhood. She was the person I would tell everything to, and I thought I was the same for her. Looking back now maybe it wasn’t quiet that balanced. As adults, we have the same friend group, go to the same church, and lived in the same house for some time.

When I went through a difficult time emotionally and became very depressed, feelings were hurt, and we withdrew from each other. We didn’t speak to each other, except for the obligatory “hi” at family functions for two years, even after we had a talk and I apologized for things I had done and said (she at the time did not do the same).

After two years of not talking, she asked me to meet her for lunch where she apologized for what had happened and for the two years of silence. She asked to pursue a friendship again but prefaced it with “I can’t be your only person.” I agreed and explained she was not my “only person,” but that as a friend, my expectation was to see her more than just once every 3 months, which she agreed with. I felt that my expectations were set pretty low, and I actively tried to keep my needy, oversharing tendencies at bay.

great reads on friendshipWell here we are another 2 years later, and it is like pulling teeth to even get her to respond to a text message. She has said multiple times in the past 2 years the same strange comment when it seems like I am too needy, aka text her to see if she has free time in the next 4 to 6 weeks, “I can’t be your only person.”

I used to see her as my sister, and now I just wish she would just tell me what she really wants from this “friendship” rather than ghost me when she feels overwhelmed. I feel like I deserve to be told that she needs space rather than her just ignoring me until I see her at our family Christmas dinner. I feel like I would be able to “give up” and not feel so thrown away if she would just let me know she can’t handle a friendship with me right now, that we just need to be family acquaintances. We will always love each other as family, but is it fair for her to keep dragging me along with the promise of friendship? Should I confront her with how she has made me feel, and be the one who says, “I can’t do this friend thing right now for my own health?”

Gritting my teeth and trying to give grace,
Frosty in Fort Worth

Dr. Zoe Answered:

It sounds like she’s made it very clear that she loves you and wants to be your friend but does not have the capacity or availability to see you often or be a container for you.

Some friendships are everyday, do life together type friendships, and some are see you a couple times a year friendships. And then there are those in between. It seems to me like you are asking her to either be present in the capacity that you want her to be or not at all. I’m not sure it needs to be so black and white.

What’s clear is that she is not meeting all your needs. That matters because your needs matter. It doesn’t mean that you ought to throw the friendship away, though. That’s why we have varied types of friends in our lives. Each relationship serves a similar but different role.

We must believe people when they say things to us, and she is clearly saying she can’t do the friendship thing in the way that you want her to.

My suggestion is that you back off and meet her where she is. Give her some space to come to you when she’s ready. If she never reaches out to you, then you have your clear answer. She’s not that interested in a friendship with you. Being friendly, yes, but a friendship, probably not. If she eventually reaches out, you have an answer about her level of comfort with the frequency of your contact.

Let it be what it is. Accept her verbal and non-verbal communication to you about your friendship. But honor your needs by getting them met elsewhere. Start paying attention to your friends that are more reciprocal—the ones who want to meet often and do life together. Cultivate those, and you may barely notice that your cousin isn’t as available.

No need to burn bridges with her. Instead, care for yourself by being honest about the role you each play in each other’s lives.

Relationships can be tricky and confusing. On top of that, they can morph and change just when you think you’ve got it figured out. It’s easy to feel hurt by people’s actions or lack thereof. Be careful of the all or nothing thinking, and remember to meet people where they are—not where you want them to be. You will find more ease in relationships if you do.

You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace.

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