The Friendship Limbo

Today I’ll change things up and kick the week off with a question: What do you do when you know a friendship is drifting apart, but neither party wants to actually end it? Or rekindle it?

I have a friendship in limbo. We don’t live in the same state, so we don’t see each other often. Our relationship has become approximately four months of phone tag to every one semi-awkward conversation.

You know that feeling when it’s been so long since you’ve talked to someone and there’s so much to say that there’s nothing to say? It’s not like you’re going to tell stories about work or what you did over the weekend, because that would require backstory that your friend doesn’t have and you don’t feel like getting into.

So you talk every few months–not because you want to, necessarily, but because you think you should. You’re supposed to. And on those calls you catch up on the basics: Work, family, relationships, kids. Perhaps you quickly catch up on mutual friends. And then someone finds an excuse to get off the phone because neither of you are saying much anyway. And then you think: we haven’t talked in four months and that was our conversation? Are we even friends anymore?

It’s not that either party wronged the other, so you aren’t in a fight. And you’ll see her eventually—mutual friends, remember?—which means you’re not about to initiate some dramatic break up. There’s no cause for one anyway.

So you continue along this path of half-assed phone tag, talking every so often, and wondering after each phone call why you even pretend in the first place.

I feel like this is one of the most uncomfortable stages of friendship, but also a common one. It takes a lot for someone to break up with a friend. We ladies feel so guilty about it that we try to avoid such action under all circumstances. But the infinitely-more-common slink away only feels possible when you know you won’t see her again. Otherwise, it just gets mucho awkwardo when you come to face-to-face and there was no real reason for the drift.

So you ride the friendship wave, right? Is there even another choice? I’m truly curious, because this exact thing happened to me last week. I talked to a lifelong friend on the phone, and it wasn’t that we didn’t like each other, but we just had nothing to say. Our friendship, for all intents and purposes, is over, but neither of us would ever say such a thing.

What would you do? Just keep talking every few months, more out of the respect for the friendship that was than out of actual interest? Or just disengage entirely?

12 Comments

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12 responses to “The Friendship Limbo

  1. Yes. This. Most of my college friends fit into this category: we’re friends because we share a history and genuinely like each other, but our lives have become so different that we’ve mostly drifted apart.

    And for these friendships? I’ve mostly relegated them to email friendships, with the occasional face-to-face meeting tossed in. I find it’s easier to send a chatty, almost-detailed, catch-you-up email than to do it over the phone. Then I feel like they have some clue as to what’s going on with me, and — to me, at least — it’s easier than the phone call. Seems like the backstory details that make talking about something more substantial than the weather are more easily put in writing.

    So – I’ll send out my missive, wait for a reply, and then maybe send something short back acknowledging/responding. And then put it on hold for a month or two and rinse and repeat. More in depth than Facebook, but less awkward than a phone call. Voila!

    • Jean

      Exactly my suggestion: email and Facebook contact. I’d add a birthday phone call as well. And I also like Suzannah’s suggestion of no-obligation emails with fond remembrances of the good ol’ days.
      Sorry to hear it’s happening to you Rachel. Does it make you feel any better to know that it happens to everyone? Probably not. It’s so sad while it’s happening….

  2. Kate

    My college bestie and I are not good on the phone. We’re not witty on the phone and we just don’t conversate in our usual style. So after some lousy attempts to “stay in touch” after college, we decided, hey, let’s not force it. Things are always as we left them when we get together in person and that’s enough for us.

    It worked. For a while. But now that it’s literally been over a year since I’ve heard her voice and we email only once in a blue moon (that’s if she even writes me back) I no longer have the confidence that things will be the same the next time I see her, if I ever do. Which does make me extremely sad.

    But are we still friends? Of course. Are we still BFFs? Probably not. In my life, best friendships do not always last forever. But she will always be one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

  3. I comfort myself through these friendship transitions with that cheesy email that sometimes goes around about people coming into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. The fading friends, I tell myself, are some of the season people.

    I know that it’s not personal and that if we were ever to pay a visit to the city where the other lives, we’d be sure and get together, but it’s ok that I no longer know what kind of car she drives, what her boss’s name is or how Timmy did at his t-ball game. We still have affection for each other and I know if I had a crisis, she would help. That’s what REALLY matters.

  4. Marie

    This totally describes how I feel when I see my extended family! There are 50 aunts/uncles/cousins/etc on my dad’s side and 100+ on my mom’s side. Both families get together a few times a year, but it’s just not enough to have a relationship with anyone. Conversations can be awkward because I don’t know the details of their day to day lives, but I feel like I should know more. Therefore I’m afraid to say much of anything which continues the cycle of awkwardness. And since it’s family I don’t have the option of letting it go and disengaging. This is definitely an area where I need improvement.

    • Jennifer

      Marie – my interaction with my extended family is just like this! Large families on both sides, most of them live in the same area where we all grew up, but I’m a half-day drive away. It’s close enough to visit every couple/few months, but there are so many relatives that a visit can’t include quality time with many of them! I feel so much anxiety and guilt related to my interaction with my family. It’s gotten better over the years, but still often leaves me feeling so empty. I don’t want to move closer. In fact I am hoping to move out of state in about a year. Maybe it will get easier then, maybe I won’t expect much then?

  5. Melinda

    This reminds me of that saying “Some people are will be in your life forever, others were just meant to make an appearance”
    It’s not always a bad thing, it’s just life.
    I have a friendship like this and it makes me sad sometimes but the truth is, we live in different towns, we have kids the same age but she has a girl and I have a boy. We used to hang out with the same group but that group has split as well so we both have new friends that the other doesn’t know. She is married to my cousin so I do get to see them a few times a year but mostly we email and facebook. However, I do know that if I needed her, she would be there in a New York minute and it goes the same for me.

  6. Laurie Lee

    It sounds like the relationship is naturally fading. I would let it fade and not force these awkward phone conversations. When you see her be yourself. My opinion is that the relationship is transitioning from friends to acquaintances. I too would move contact to email.

  7. Ana

    Ooh this is a tough one, and I don’t think I have a good answer. I have a few of these friends—I’m just not ready to let go of years & years of closeness, but we are living so far away & so busy with our own growing families, that we have no energy to really keep in touch (I originally wrote “time” but realized what a cop out that is; I clearly have time to read & comment on blogs, I could pick up the phone & hit a number once in a while).
    I like the idea of email updates mentioned above, as long as we are talking about personal one-on-one emails, and not the mass “this is what we’re up to” emails sent to 100 of your “closest friends” (HATE those!)
    Basically, for a really true soul-mate former-BFF, I would love to at least keep the channels open, so that the option for rekindling closeness is still there. I know there will come a time in life (I know this, because I’ve read it here!!) that we will not be so all-consumed with our young children and busy careers, and may be able to re-connect. And while you know a true friend will be there for you in a heartbeat should you need her, knowing that you made the effort to keep in touch will make it easier for YOU to ask her for that help.

  8. Julie

    I have a friend who moved 2 years ago, but only about 5 hours away. I considered her my best friend – she was in my wedding last year – but I haven’t seen or talked to her since I got married last year. Our communication has been limited to Facebook chats and comments, but even those are few and far between. She has 2 kids, a new boyfriend, is back in school and is moving into a new house, so I get how busy she is. But not talking for this long really hurts – I really miss her, but I’m tired of being the only one to make any effort. Sometimes I wonder if I should just let it fade, but that hurts even more because there’s no real reason for our friendship to end – at least that I know of – I just feel like she’s forgotten about me.

  9. I’d probably go the email route, too. I had a best friend from high school and college who was a bridesmaid in my wedding. But, after my husband and I moved out of town for him to go to law school, we started drifting. I’d call her and sometimes she’d answer. I’d email her and occasionally she’d write back. I gave up after a while, but with no hard feelings. Now, we’re facebook friends, but she’s so different. She’s bitter and angry because of some bad relationships and college/work choices. The last time I saw her was at a wedding and we just had very little in common anymore. But, I don’t regret our friendship at all. And, since we’re still linked together through mutual friends and whatnot, maybe we’ll reconnect down the line.

  10. Suzannah

    I heard a saying once that gave me some clarity on a fading friendship, my closest friend of childhood. It went…” have we been best friends for 15 years or were we best friends 15 years ago?”
    Now due to the deep feelings of fondness, I do send emails, but they are phrased so they don’t require a response. Just every so often, an email saying I was remembering something fun or heard a song we loved! I try to remove any obligations, just a when you get a chance, and since I changed my expectations our phone conversations have become super enjoyable, and we both actually have a hard time getting off the phone. We only talk about once a year, but the feelings of friendship are much deeper since there is no feelings of disappointment.

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