Dear Carolyn: The behavior of a person I considered to be my closest friend changed — irritable, sarcastic, snippy and mean, mostly to me but also to my partner. This went on for months. When I finally brought it up, this person told me it was my fault. I had become “negative,” it was intolerable and a “vacation” from the friendship was required.
I won’t dispute the negativity accusation. I guess I slipped into that mode and needed to change before it became permanent. But although I was shattered with guilt when accused and accepted total responsibility for the “problem,” I have since been thinking about it. I have an issue with the manner in which this person handled the situation: I am extremely hurt and even angry. I did not inflict my negativity on anyone deliberately; I wasn’t even aware of being negative at the time. I feel that this person chose to be hurtful rather than constructive as a friend would be.
Since the confrontation, this person has occasionally reached out with e-mail invitations to activities, one-on-one and group, but I am now very self-conscious and feel that the friendship is over. It would take a lot of effort to rebuild, and I’m not sure it’s even possible. Is there any value in trying? I wish I could just shrug it off, but it is still a pretty deep wound.
Carolyn says: It sounds as if you haven’t even talked with your friend about your new insights on the situation. When you haven’t yet exercised the power of your truth, you still have many possible outcomes — and you’re at the very bottom rung of the effort ladder.
She’s still inviting you to things one-on-one, so all you need to do now is accept, meet up and say what you feel. Such as: “You were right that I had become unbearably negative. I still feel bad for that.
“With time to reflect, I also feel hurt and angry that you lashed out and didn’t just talk to me. I had to ask what was wrong for you to tell me.
“Also upon reflection, I see I didn’t talk to you right away, either: I noticed your irritation with me for months before I finally brought it up” — as you note in your letter.
“So I wonder what you think about this, and how we can be better to each other — and maybe why we didn’t communicate more kindly, more honestly, and sooner.”
As your recent reflections have shown you, it doesn’t sit well to be accused of something by someone who is guilty of the same — even if to a lesser degree. So the first step in testing the viability of this friendship is for you to make it clear that whatever you ask of her, you ask the same of yourself and more.
That’s the first piece of the answer to whether this friendship can be saved.
The next piece is hers: whether she’s willing and able to bring this same humility to her interactions with you, and apologize for her part.
Then you find out whether these pieces fit. I hope for your sake they still do.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.