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Can you pause a friendship?

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I have a group of girlfriends, basically six of us, who've known each other since high school. Anyway, I got very close with three of them: Annie, Carole and Beth. I thought we would be best friends forever just like in the movies.

I was, and probably still am, very insecure. I have low self-esteem and need to seek out some sort of "recognition" from the others. At high school, Annie was the prettiest; Carole was the most intelligent; Beth was the nicest and the most popular, and I was only a very average girl. In order to "stand up" in the group, I always felt like doing something unique to make me feel better, or simply to impress them. So, I decided to be the "adventurous" one and further my studies in Europe for a few years.

We kept in contact about every detail in our lives and met every summer. The girls were moving on, and moved to different cities, and Beth moved to Australia. One day, I realized that no matter what I did, I would always be that "little average high school girl" in their eyes. Strangely, I am now a grown woman with a few accomplishments, but I still need recognition from the girls and it hurts me.

Annie confessed to me one day that she didn't like the "new me", and it bothered her a lot that I wasn't around. I was annoyed, as I was alone and far away from home. Beth ignored me for a long time. She returned mails to the others and flew back to our hometown to meet with the other girls. I didn't know what was wrong but she clearly refused to communicate with me. Later, I got a hint from the girls that they were upset with my constant "bragging" about my European experiences. I might have added a little "spice" here and there in my stories, but I honestly didn't exaggerate or make it all about myself. They continued to leave me out and I felt deeply rejected.

I am very depressed about this and it's getting worse. I finally moved back home heart-broken and jobless, I don't want to talk to anybody, especially my old friends. I went out with Carole, the one who lives in the same city as me, a few times; then later, I just backed-off smoothly. I don't want to return to any calls or emails; I just hope that they could forget about me. I don't know what my problem is, but I think I may have lost trust in female friendships.

Annie accused me of being the "bad guy" in our friendship. Ironically, she planned a trip overseas with the girls without me, and copied me all their email conversations. I have no other choice but to change my email address. I know this is drastic, and I honestly don't want to lose contact with any of them, but Beth had blocked me out of her life a long time ago, and I couldn't deal with the ignorance of the girls for the moment.

Whenever I initiated the contact (e.g. phone calls, emails, meet-ups), they didn't seem to care; but when I thought I got the hint and decided to back off a little bit, they would suddenly "care" about me, but never really wanted to spend time with me. I got confused and tired.

What is this all about, Irene? Will they ever forgive me for taking this "friendship pause"? What should I do, because I don't want them to think me as an arrogant girl who is too good for their friendship? Or should I just walk away without any explanation (knowing that I have already been hiatus for months)? Will I ever be able to make close female friends again?

Hopeless,
Maren

ANSWER

Dear Maren,

It's difficult to return home and pick up all the threads that were there when you left. You're also missing the structure that school or work provides and I think you may be spending too much time thinking about yourself and your high school friends. And NO, not all friendships last forever, even very good ones. People grow and their lives change directions.

If you are unable to see your own virtues, without "spicing" them up, it's understandable that others won't be able to see them either. The feeling of not being able to measure up and truly belong to a group of friends seems to be something that has plagued you since high school. Even when you were included, you felt like an outsider. Perhaps they are very competitive women who were more comfortable with you as the "Plain Jane" as opposed to the adventurous traveler.

There was no excuse for Annie to copy you in her email about the trip without including you; that was insensitive. But you've reacted to this group with ambivalence, sometimes trying to get close and sometimes pushing people away from you and you may have sent your friends mixed messages.

It's okay to pause a friendship and take a break when you're feeling confused and I think that's what you need to do in this case. You might even want to send one or two friends you feel closer to an email saying you are focusing on your job search right now. Then, I have two recommendations: 1) Begin looking for a job that is satisfying and helps you feel accomplished and productive; 2) Speak to a mental health professional to begin the process of figuring out how you can feel valued for the person you are and learn how to trust others. Both of these efforts will help you develop new friendships and feel appreciated.

Perhaps, you'll be able to reconnect with one of these high school friends in the future but right now the situation sounds too complicated.

Hope this helps.

Irene

Other posts on taking a friendship pause on The Friendship Blog

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