October 17th, 2016

Those friends who disappear

Today I read this WaPo article by a woman whose best friend stopped communicating with her with no explanation, and how ten years later the author still grieves the loss of their friendship and is mystified by it.

I could relate, because it’s happened to me, only it was someone I’d known and been very good friends with much longer than the woman in the story, who was nineteen at the time it happened. I was about to turn fifty when my friend stopped returning my phone calls, and we had been good friends since the age of eight.

I never really understood what had happened, although I tried to find out. I wrote her a note saying that, although upset, I accepted her decision, but that it would really help me if she could just tell me what had happened, so perhaps I could learn from the experience. She didn’t reply. I called her mother, whom I knew very well from my childhood. Her mother was so upset that she wept, but when she asked her daughter what had happened, my ex-friend refused to discuss it with her, either.

About a decade later, my friend died. And although I had actually encountered her unexpectedly a few years earlier at a class reunion and we had managed a short conversation, when I’d asked her what had happened she gave some cryptic replies. They will have to do, though, and I’m grateful for them, because to have had that conversation was definitely better than nothing. But the meeting occurred by accident.

I still grieve both the end of our friendship and her death.

When I looked at the comments to that WaPo piece, I was surprised at how mean-spirited many of them were, more or less saying “Quit whining; get over it already” and/or “Have you ever wondered what you did wrong to make this happen?”

Well, I think this woman has gotten over it, because she seems to be functioning and going about her business. Does “getting over” something mean one doesn’t bear the scars, or doesn’t think about it very sadly sometimes? Is that our new standard, to wipe all pain from our memory banks in order to prove how stalwart we are? And why would people think the writer hadn’t examined whatever her own role might have been, and searched for an explanation there? Just because she didn’t devote paragraphs to that pursuit in what is meant to be a rather short essay about the effects of a loss of friendship?

As for “quit whining,” I think it’s pretty clear that the writer wanted her article to let other people who’ve had similar experiences know that their strong reactions aren’t that unusual, and to suggest to others who might leave without saying goodbye that perhaps it would be good, when “breaking up” with an old and once-dear friend, to offer a simple word of explanation.

It certainly would have helped me.

I think that people are used to the idea that there’s a lot of grief with a romantic breakup. But friendships—even deep, long-term friendships—are considered more fungible. They’re not, at least not for many people. For many many people, the loss of a friend—especially when the friend doesn’t confront the issue head-on and explain, if only in a relatively perfunctory way (“we’ve grown apart,” “I’m angry at you because…”)—the reaction can be extraordinarily painful, all the more so because there’s little acknowledgement about how painful it can be. Do we have songs about how our best friends drift away? I can’t think of any offhand (maybe you can, though), although there are countless laments about the heartache involved in the loss of a lover, and rightly so.

[NOTE: Some people might say that once a friendship has reached that point, it’s the point of no return and repair isn’t possible, so why not just walk away and make it easy on everyone. But my observation is that although walking away is usually easier on the one who makes the decision to leave, it’s rarely easier on the one who is left, although the leaver may sincerely think it will be. Telling the truth about why you left is almost undoubtedly hard for most people, but it’s much kinder in the end.

I also have had serious fallings-out with good friends that have been repaired—sometimes quickly, sometimes over a number of years. So it can be done, if both people are motivated to do it.]

69 Responses to “Those friends who disappear”

  1. Janetoo Says:

    I also have lost a dear friend with no explanation. It made me very sad for years and often, I would hear of “girl trips and spa days” that she has organized where I would have once been included, but was now excluded from. Oddly, she friended me on Facebook only to ignore me there as well. It has taken me ten years to get over it. I no longer wonder about the whys. I personally think it was a culling on her part, she has a delightful wit and is very fun and I just think she has too many friends and I did not make the cut.

  2. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    At the very least, the unilateral ending of a deep friendship carries with it the obligation to offer an explanation. Whether the motivation for refusing is contemptual or cowardly, a refusal to explain is a purposeful cruelty.

    It says much about the person inflicting it upon another. Ironically, it is an indication that the person inflicting the cruelty is at base guilty of the very same offensiveness that they now find intolerable in their former friend. When we cannot face another with the truth, it is ourselves we run from…

  3. Oldflyer Says:

    I have had two similar experiences. In each case it was after I had reached out to old friends in a time of their distress. Maybe they were embarrassed by their circumstances, or resentful of my sympathy. I don’t know. On reflection I could find nothing in my communication that would have been anything but supportive.

    So, you never know how people will react.

    Confession; one of them reached back years later, and I ignored him. By that time he had cruelly dumped his wife of many years. Aside from the risk of making myself persona non grata with the wives network if I appeared sympathetic to him, I was personally disgusted by his behavior. I wonder if he was as puzzled as I had been.

  4. Beet Says:

    If the friend won’t address the rift or attempt to explain it, it’s probably because she thinks she shouldn’t have to explain it because its causes are obvious.

    In some cases that’s a legitimate argument to make, though I’m not suggesting it is legitimate here.

  5. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    Do you think your political change had anything to do with it, Neo?

    About 10 years ago, a woman who had been one of my two dearest female friends ever since we met in our freshman year of college 30 years before slowly but inexorably drifted out of my life, without ever explaining why. This was after we’d shared every important earlier stage of life – college and apartment roommates, similar career choices, new mothers for the first time within weeks of one another, a great deal more. We took for granted, or at least I did, that we were friends for the long haul. For years and years, I had a faded card that she’d sent me pinned to a corner of my bulletin board, showing two very eccentric-looking, very old ladies in funny hats having tea together, one of whom looked rather like me and the other rather like her. But starting rather suddenly when we were in our early 50s, she eased her way implacably out of the friendship, without ever saying out loud that she was doing so – in fact, she kept insisting that she wasn’t – or explaining anything. For a while, I thought it was a political thing, as my politics changed at about that time and hers didn’t. But she said once that that wasn’t the problem, so I don’t know.

    After all these years I’ve made a kind of peace with it. That is, I’ve realized I wouldn’t want the friendship back if I could have it, now that I know how it ended. That’s a convoluted way of putting it; what I mean is that I’ve realized that it must never have been the friendship that I thought it was, or it wouldn’t have ended the way it did. This doesn’t mean that the loss has stopped hurting or that the hole in my life where her friendship used to be has healed over. It hasn’t – I’ve just gotten used to having the hole there and accepted that I have to live around it.

    It’s true that there’s not much of a cultural framework for this kind of loss. Look at how many of the comments on that WaPo article attack the author for being whiny. But it turns out that there are quite a few books out there about surviving the loss of a close friendship. A search on Amazon (using Neo’s link, of course!) will turn up quite a few. I didn’t necessarily find any great insights or literary value in any particular volume, which is why I’m not recommending one — but I found it comforting, at one point, to read a few other accounts of lost friendships and learn that others had been there before me and had just as much trouble getting over it as I did.

  6. neo-neocon Says:


    Not only was it not obvious in the case of my friend, but I submit that it’s usually not obvious.

    No, I think sometimes people do it even when it’s not obvious to themselves why they’re doing it. They also (I have concluded) often do it when they’ve stored up many unaired grievances, unexpressed (some perhaps based on misunderstandings, although because they were never aired, they have no way to perceive that it was a misunderstanding). The stored up grievances have caused a lot of anger to build, and by the time they decide to leave the relationship they find it almost overwhelming to try to explain, even though the other person hasn’t a clue what happened, or that there were grievances at all. And it’s easier for the person with the grievances to just walk away, and to justify it to themselves in various ways, whereas a true airing of the grievances might (accent on the “might”) lead to a healing of the rift.

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    Mrs Whatit:

    I can say with complete authority that my change had nothing to do with it, because the rift occurred before the change happened.

    My friend and I never even discussed politics, anyway, to the best of my recollection.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    Mrs Whatsit:

    And as I said, about ten years later my friend died, so now there is grief about that mixed in with the other grief. She lived in NY, and I happened to have been in NY at the time of her death (I had not even known she was ill; I found out about her death from an obituary) and I went to her wake and said goodbye at her coffin.

    Tears come to my eyes even writing that, as you can imagine.

    I was very fortunate, though, to have run into her several years before at the high school reunion and had a short (about 10 or 15 minutes) talk with her where I asked her point-blank what had happened to make her stop communicating with me. As I said, her response was cryptic, but it was a response. During the talk I realized this was probably the last time I’d ever talk to her, but I wished her well and had to accept her decision, and I realized that probably she had changed and the friendship no longer worked for her.

  9. Beet Says:

    Neo: Some cases might be exactly as you describe. Most cases? I don’t know. If person A has build up that many grievances and friend B is unaware of it, then either A’s grievances are unreasonable or B is failing to perceive something pretty obvious. It can happen either way, I think. There are people who imagine they’ve been slighted or let down when they have not, but there also people who cannot see the ways in which they slight and let down others.

  10. neo-neocon Says:


    True enough. But in my experience it is usually the grievances that are unreasonable and/or based on misunderstandings and/or miscommunications.

    It’s almost irrelevant which of the 2 hypotheticals you posit is it, though—unless a person is so obtuse that they don’t perceive much of anything—because friends should be able to air grievances if they are friends. People shouldn’t have to guess and intuit, and a friend shouldn’t pretend everything is okay when it is not. If you have a grievance that’s important enough to care about, discuss it rather than assume someone knows. That’s a general rule of friendship and of love, I think—a person needs to take responsibility for stating important things and not assume other people are mind-readers.

  11. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    I’m so sorry about your double loss of your friend, Neo. I hope it helped a little to be able to say goodbye at her wake.

    I agree with you that it may not always be obvious to the friend who’s leaving why they’re doing it. In the case of my former friend, I think it’s possible that when she repeatedly insisted that she wasn’t trying to leave the friendship and that nothing had changed, she was actually talking to HERSELF. Maybe she didn’t want to be the kind of person who would leave a lifelong friendship and cause pain to an old friend, so she tried to fool herself into thinking that she wasn’t really abandoning the friendship, even though she wasn’t fooling me. (Talk about convoluted!)

    Beet: over the years, I’ve come to realize ways in which I may very well have let down my old friend or been less than a great friend to her myself. I didn’t know about those things then, and she never said anything about them, but in reflection I can imagine some possible ways that it may have been in part my fault. That’s weirdly comforting, actually – it’s less painful to believe that we both messed up than it is to think that she just turned on me for no reason. But the trouble is that I’m conjuring up possible reasons, and I’ll never really know. Assuming that it was my fault, it would have been good to have had a chance to apologize, or possibly make things right, or at least, understand why it had to be that way.

  12. Clay Says:

    I have found that comment sections on news sites are almost universally mean-spirited. Some people just seem to spend their time being rude to total strangers. It’s a shame.

  13. snopercod Says:

    I don’t much care for Maya Angelou, but she’s right about this:

    “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

  14. LTEC Says:

    Here’s a great article on the subject of friendship marriages vs. same-sex marriages:


  15. Eric Says:

    Did your friend’s other social relations stay the same when she severed yours?

    If she generally ‘fell off the map’, my guess is your friend was depressed.

  16. rigeldog Says:

    This is an interesting and painful subject, Neo. I lost a very good friend in college, “Kate.” We were close in high school–fellow nerds—and we ended up going to the same college and living in the same dorm, along with one other high school friend. In our Junior year, I rented a one-bedroom apartment with the other girl, and Kate continued to live in the dorm because it was cheaper for her. Except her roommate that year turned out to be a total nightmare, so she asked if she could move in with us, rent-free. I went along with it because I knew it was a tough situation for her. Despite this, during our Senior year she stopped being my friend. I’ll give her this—she did make a clean break and she did tell me why. She didn’t like the way I skipped from one boyfriend to the next. It still really hurts to be dumped, especially since my flighty ways were not IMO a serious character flaw; just immaturity.

  17. AesopFan Says:

    neo-neocon Says:
    October 17th, 2016 at 4:21 pm
    … friends [and, I would add, spouses or lovers] should be able to air grievances if they are friends. People shouldn’t have to guess and intuit, and a friend shouldn’t pretend everything is okay when it is not. If you have a grievance that’s important enough to care about, discuss it rather than assume someone knows. That’s a general rule of friendship and of love, I think—a person needs to take responsibility for stating important things and not assume other people are mind-readers.
    * * *
    Having had some of my own dear friendships drift apart, I do resonate with many of the comments here. Most disintegrated organically, just because we started living different lives in different places. One I almost lost over the issue of SSM (although neither of us has SS children or spouses) – she made an impassioned comment, but it was an isolated incident that I simply chose to pretend had not happened.

    On mind-reading:
    I have been in several church leadership positions where I have encountered cases of “but you should have known..” something or other important to that person. I have since started any new calling by announcing that I am NOT a mind reader, nor do I have an email address for God, so if you want me to know something, you have to tell me.
    Doesn’t reach everyone, but it makes me feel better sometimes when I do miss “signs” that aren’t at all obvious.
    The other thing is to remind people that whatever is critical to them may not even be on someone else’s radar (lover, spouse, friend, or whatever), and most of us don’t live our lives with the other person as the central focus.
    In other words, it’s not always about you.

    I sometime think some people treat their friends etc. as if they were holodeck constructs, to be summoned when the “important person” — you — needs them, and sent back into the cyber-ether afterwards, rather than as real people in their own right, with problems that are just as important to them as yours are to you.

  18. Foxfier Says:

    I’ve got a cousin whose mother did this… to his father.

    Dad went to work one morning, came home that night, she swore she didn’t know who he was.

    It’s been over a decade, and she still claims to have no idea why everyone thinks that she should KNOW this guy.

    No other signs of mental illness. Their children were adults by that time.

    It’s apparently not utterly unknown, from what the cousin and his family have found out trying to deal with this– possibly some of the “dropped off the radar” friendships are less severe forms of it.

  19. Patrick Says:

    I read over that article fairly quickly, but my guess is the friend felt rejected or abandoned on some level when the author got engaged. Maybe she was getting even, or maybe she just didn’t want the author to have a closer relationship with the husband than there would ever be with the friend.

  20. The Other Chuck Says:

    Neo, we all lose friends. What you describe isn’t that uncommon. Growing up I had two friends who were like brothers. In fact one of them was in the same fraternity and we were “brothers” as well. I was best man at his wedding, was there for him through the birth of his children, and loaned/gave him the money for his divorce. I never figured anything, anything could drive a wedge between us. In the end we both just changed. The last time I tried to contact him he wouldn’t answer the phone, yet we had no arguments, no political disagreements, nor did either of us give voice to the estrangement.

    Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.


  21. Esther Says:

    Once in elementary school, my BFF and her whole family vanished without a trace. It was very mysterious and freaked out a lot of people besides me.

    My working theory is that her dad might have been a war criminal, and they went on the lam…

    My other theory is they moved to New Jersey.

  22. Ymarsakar Says:

    I was about to turn fifty when my friend stopped returning my phone calls, and we had been good friends since the age of eight.

    In Japan, they have a special nomenclature for that. An Osananajimi or Childhood Friend.

    One of their story telling dramatic settings is when normal civilians from Japan get transported to a strange alien world (reverse of Stranger in a Strange Land the novel by somebody I forgot), and their classmates, which includes some of their osananajimi, end up fighting against each other due to politics or military or religious issues in the new world. It’s not strictly about internal friendship conflict, as that would be more like Battle Royale, or battles in school themes.

    I’ve noticed that many things the Japanese put into their media and entertainment, which culturally crosses over to me here in the uS, was already present in 1950s American mainstream culture.

    Except the mainstream culture got killed by the Left, and one of the reasons is precisely because the media and entertainment no longer talked about everything normal Americans did. The normal became the abnormal and rare, as nobody talked about it but assumed it was still the mainstream culture. Then the abnormal and weird and rare cultures, became the mainstream, and few people noticed this switch, because they never talked about their own culture in such details.

  23. Marcus Bressler Says:

    “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.” I don’t think so. Those are called “acquaintances”. The word “friend” is too quickly used to describe those who we interact with at work and on a social basis. It takes quite a bit of effort to be a friend. I finally gave up on a female friend (I am a male) of over 40 years because she stopping being my friend. I hold to the doctrine that it takes only one person to be in love, but takes two people to be friends.

  24. Tom G Says:

    Stranger … Robert Heinlein. (I prefer The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, very Libertarian, less magical).

    I’ve reconnected a bit and discussed our old relationship with an ex-girlfriend from college; thru FB.

    There are a couple of very good High School friends I’d love to reconnect with, but haven’t been able to even thru FB.

    One guy just sort of disappeared, don’t even know if he still lives.

    The other guy needed me when I was in a sensitive state and was unable to help him out — we haven’t talked since then 30+ years ago; I still miss him. But some of our common HS friends are my FB friends, so there is still hope.

    I would like to apologize for being a bit too cold; but might never get the chance.

    One of the key differences between loss of a lover and of a childhood friend — one can, and most actually DO, get new lovers. Some “true loves” to last for the rest of your life (my wife and I celebrate 22 yrs in a week).

    But one can never again gain a childhood friend, once childhood ends.

    And typically there was a huge quantity as well as quality of time spent with your friend. The meaning of that time is related to the meaning of the friendship.

  25. Oligonicella Says:

    There’s a similar thing that happened to me. I found an old friend and she appeared to be delighted that I had done so. In fact, her first words on the phone were “I was hoping it was you.”

    We talked multiple times a week for a couple months then I noticed that I was the only one making contact. Phone, email; didn’t matter. Felt very much like I was just some form of light diversion. The new friendship just sort of faded out after that realization.

  26. saltlick Says:

    FWIW, I saw my mother break off several friendships while I was growing up. The breaks had nothing to do with the other people.

    As near as I could tell, Mom broke with them each time because she no longer needed their emotional support — sometimes because she’d moved on to another source — and keeping the old friendship involved too much time and effort. She was not as cold as that sounds; she just couldn’t bond with other people.

    My Mom was a smart, witty, engaging person who had a kind of charisma. Deep down, however, there was a nervousness about letting anyone get too close — even her children. On the surface she could seem engaged with people, and her friends often thought they were tight with her when they really weren’t. They were hurt when she stopped interacting with them, but the reasons were simply the old cliche — “It’s not about you, it’s about me.”

    Basically, Mom fled when the friendships were getting too intimate and her inner core was becoming vulnerable, which is, of course, the area where true friendship is born.

  27. Barry Meislin Says:

    The latest Murakami novel (published about three years ago) deals with this theme.


  28. Diane Says:

    I like this. Very sweet. I have friends who disappeared after high school. Different situaion. We just now are getting in touch. I missed them throughout my life.

  29. lehnne Says:

    If you live you experience loss of one kind or another
    Our response can be gratitude for what was or regret for what isn’t- choose wisely

  30. Lance Says:

    I have walked away from two friendships. Here’s why:

    The first was a friend in whom I had lost all respect. He had quit his job to mooch off of his wife yet constantly demanded positive affirmation for all of his pathetic excuses for being a slug. His wife complained to me about his situation, but if she tried to talk to him, he would shout at her, then withdraw to a 12-pack of beer. He became an emotional sponge who left me exhausted after any time spent together.

    The other was a girl friend, (not romantic) who became so narcissistic and self-righteous after adopting baby that I came to dread the prospect of her company. Her constant insistence on criticizing everyone was very depressing. She came to start every new chapter of a discussion with the phrase “and another thing that pisses me off”.

    In both cases, my former friends were not willing to listen to anything they didn’t want to hear, especially concerning themselves.

  31. Wise Inyears Says:

    Your mistake is in thinking you have any friends.

    None of us have friends. We have only acquaintances who have not yet found it expedient to betray us.

  32. scottie Says:

    Perhaps the hardest words uttered by human beings are: “I was wrong.” I’ve seen people react to things that appeared to be one thing, and turned out to be something quite different. The overreaction to the former makes getting over things when it turns out to have been the latter very difficult. As the Elton John song says, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”

  33. Diane Says:

    Marcus, hear hear! I was thinking similar thoughts. It took me a long time (well into my 30’s) for me to realize that some people have a much deeper attachment to friends than others. I really didn’t understand how much difference there was in the level of attachment people form. For me to think of myself as ‘friends’ with someone, rather than an acquaintance, means that I feel like that person is my family. In the age of FB it’s common now for me to also refer to people I know and like to spend time with as ‘friends’ but it doesn’t have the same meaning to me. I can count on one hand the number of actual friends I have – and I’ve always been that way. When one falls away, it is a terrible loss.

    I have also, unfortunately, and shamefully, been on the other side. FWIW in my own instance I felt unable to live up to expectations and rather than just be who I am, and admit my flaws, I pulled away feeling ashamed of my circumstances. I deeply regret that but have no way to attempt to reconnect. That’s all on me, and is just me saying that it wasn’t anything the other person did – no withheld grievances, no perceived transgressions – just me feeling bad about myself and not wanting to be reminded of it by interacting with someone who had a better opinion of me than I did.

  34. lost my cookies Says:

    I’ve noticed that major life changes usually end up pairing down the number of close friendships. School Graduation, that first move, and the biggest one (for me) marriage. I have some buddies for camping, cars, sports and beer and one close friend from way back whos kind of like another brother (and just as irritating), but I have a wife and family now and I don’t need much more human contact.

    The wife, of course, is a different story.

  35. Rachel Says:

    Neo… I wrote a private letter to you from the perspective of the “ghoster.”

    Here’s what I feel comfortable sharing publicly — I think you’re right (at least in my case) that there were years of unaired grievances and maybe misunderstandings. Now that I’m well into middle age, I can see that my own fears of overreacting or saying the wrong thing or saying it the wrong way have led to a general avoidance of confrontation in the hope that I’ll get past whatever grievance I have.

    But I guess I don’t always. And those grievances build up and fester.

    But yes, I think you’re right that a lot can be explained by chalking it up to built up grievances and misunderstandings.

  36. neo-neocon Says:


    The article calls it “ghosting,” but the previous term for it in the mental health field is “cutoff.”

    Some people are very reluctant to use cutoff. Some use it quite frequently.

    I have noticed—as I’ve gotten older, and contemplated the whole phenomenon more and more—that the people who have used cutoff with me tend to use it a lot, and tended to have cut off several friends earlier, and sometimes even family members. In other words, cutoff is a tactic they seem to employ a lot when faced with some sort of personal conflict or upset about someone.

    Others use it very seldom if at all.

    I would have had no way of knowing what this friend did with other friends at the same time, since she wasn’t communicating with me and since I wasn’t acquainted with her other friends, who came from later periods in her life. I did ask her mother how my friend was doing in general, because I thought something might be wrong, but her mother said things were fine. But earlier in life—back when we were still friendly—my friend had used cutoff with some other friends. I just assumed that they had done something wrong, and I also assumed (wrongly) that our friendship was strong enough that she wouldn’t use cutoff with me.

  37. John Stonebraker Says:

    My experience is a little different from those above. My two best friends supported one candidate in the 2008 presidential election and I the other. We’d been best buds since junior high and were in our 60’s. I broke off contact. One, at the urging of the other, offered an apology for anything he’d written that offended me. I responded, rejecting the offer. There was nothing in our commmunications that offended me. I didn’t mention this to him, but I know I projected my hatred for the other party onto my longtime friends. It was and is painful, but I’m fine with it. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Anyone believing what they believe, to, in my view, the ruination of our country, is simply not worth my friendship.

  38. Ron Says:

    I have had a very rough 3 years….the loss of a home, illness, wandering from place to place, no family….and in the course of this I have lost many friends. This has been very hard to deal with, and it has left a bad mark.

    This year things have turned around a lot, though I’m still fighting health issues. But people have not really returned, and only one of them was welcoming and supportive when I righted the ship and brought back some stability to my life.

    I do, at heart, still love people, though it seems they go out of their way to prove me wrong in doing so.

  39. Ex-Long Island Says:

    Here’s a different perspective. The author mentions that her friend had enlisted in the Marine Corps. A couple of years back, I read a book by Thomas Ricks called Making the Corps that followed a group of Marines through boot camp. Ricks found that after becoming Marines, it was very common for the new recruits to have trouble re-integrating into civilian life. Oftentimes, they would end old friendships, having found a new set of values in the Corps that their friends didn’t share. I can’t help but wonder if that happened here.

  40. neo-neocon Says:


    Sorry to hear you’ve had such a rough time, and glad to hear things are getting better. I hope some new friends come your way, too. It will take time, of course.

  41. neo-neocon Says:

    Ex-Long Island:

    That may indeed be the case. But it’s the “ghosting” aspect that’s so especially painful, and in my opinion so wrong.

    It’s one thing to say “we had an important friendship that worked for a while, but now we’ve grown apart and I have to move on.” That values the friendship for what it was, and gives the other person at least some modicum of respect. In contrast, to just leave and not even give the other person the courtesy of an explanation is an act of cruelty and cowardice, even though it is seldom meant that way, and often the person leaving thinks it’s actually kinder to do it that way.

  42. JellyBones Says:

    Sometimes there is no real reason. When I was a kid we moved around a lot. I learned that any time there is a major change in my life I have to kiss the old friends goodbye and make new friends. So I did this after high school, after college and when I moved across the country.

    To be honest, when people try to maintain friendships after any sort of separation, it feels creepy to me. I know it’s NOT creepy. But hey, that’s how I grew up and that’s how I feel. Can’t really help it.

  43. Caro Says:

    Although this doesn’t seem to be the case with your friend, sometimes I find that it feels one sided. I had a college friend who I was close to then, but then life got busy and I used to see her, not often, but regularly. About every 4-6 months we’d have dinner together. Until one of these dinners she joked about how she was speaking to another mutual friend who asked about me. She said, “I told her I should be hearing from you soon because I only get a call every 6 months or so”. It never occurred to her to pick up the phone and call me. It then dawned on me that as little as it was, the effort was always mine, and it was expected to be. So when the next 6 months came around I didn’t call. I haven’t seen her since, because she didn’t call then or in the last 5 years. No arguments, I just got tired of it.

  44. neo-neocon Says:


    Good point. That wasn’t a factor with the friend I’ve described in this post, but it certainly can be. I’ve thought about the issue a lot, and maybe I’ll even write a post about friendships and which person initiates contact, and how often, and what it means.

  45. nbpundit Says:

    My father told, when I was young, if in your life you can count your true friends on one hand, you’d be rich. And he was right. Neo, most likely your perspective of that friendship wasn’t the way she saw you as a friend. 99.99 percent of the people you cross paths with in your life are associates, sometimes they are close ones for a time. When you can go through the thick and thin, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and the silence and you both survive it, then that’s a true and very rare thing. A friend.

  46. Ferd Berfel Says:

    Friends may come, and friends may go – but enemies accumulate.

  47. JohnnyL Says:

    I wonder how the missing friends breaks down along traditional male/female lines? Just off the cuff, I bet it breaks heavily along female lines with females reporting many more cases of this than males. I could be wrong.

  48. Kate Says:

    I suspect that often when this happens there is already a disconnect or disproportion between how the two principles perceive the friendship. In recent years I’ve become more aware of how a friendship that seems central to me (as I have only few intimate friendships) can be peripheral to that friend, and friendships that to me seem peripheral can actually be quite important from the friend’s perspective. I’ve cut back on social interactions several times over the last few years with little explanation because of being personally overwhelmed on multiple fronts, and I never feel obligated to give a reason when I stop reaching out to “peripheral” friends and acquaintances because it truly isn’t personal.

  49. Chester White Says:

    I have dumped former close friends. Been a lot of it this year.

    I will not put up any more with being called a racist, bigot, sexist, misogynist, homophobe, Nazi fascist because I am conservative politically. I WILL NOT.

    I would rather spend the rest of my life alone in a 10×10 room than take that hateful ignorant vitriol.

    Leftists would do well to contemplate if that might be the reason someone dumped you as a friend.

  50. Losing Friends | Heh. Indeed. Says:

    […] This hit a nerve. It’s something I’d like to elaborate on elsewhere sometime, but I can’t right now, so this saves the link. […]

  51. tnxplant Says:

    I am sorry for your grief and loss. I appreciate your bringing up a topic that resonates with many of your readers. I am not sure whether other people’s stories are helpful to you, but I pray that they may be.

    My experience is that friendships do not usually involve equal investment on both sides of the equation. There are people who were friends of mine in the past whom I kept in touch with over several years, and then came that final phone call initiated by me where it was clear that there was no “there” there anymore. No harsh words or hurt feelings or disagreements, just nothing there anymore.

    I had to learn that it’s OK, that I tend to feel more connected to people than they do to me, and that what I considered friendships were often simply, as the saying goes, “for a season” (work, school, neighborhood, moms of kids) or “for a reason” (I could meet a need for a while).

    I observe others and am perhaps overly aware of them, but they certainly do not often reciprocate that attention to me. That said, I am richly blessed with a small number of lifelong friends who came into my life in my 30’s and beyond.

  52. Ben David Says:

    Those who think they are entitled to an explanation – confident in the idea that this is somehow more compassionate – should re-read Miss Manners’ discussion of the Kafka Relationship Dissolver

  53. Alexander Moon Says:

    I’ve had it happen twice to me with people I considered close friends. The first was a childhood friend with whom I drifted apart after I moved before high school and he left to attend college two years early. We reconnected briefly after I was commissioned in the Army and visiting my parents in his town, but after a few emails he suddenly stopped responding. I learned a few years ago that his father had passed, and sent him a letter of condolence. He thanked me, but never responded to any other emails. Apparently he had a breakdown in his early twenties, and I gathered that it took him a long while to recover.

    The second was a friend from college. I was up in Denver for a convention, which I did regularly, and made a habit of seeking her and her husband out for dinner and catching up. We went out one Sunday morning to a library book sale, were sitting on the grass talking, and when I turned around they had walked off. I never heard from them again.


    All Obama and Clinton supporters should be shunned. They are evil and should not be tolerated. Maybe the author was one of these leftists.

  55. NanGee Says:

    I have deliberately faded out of two friend’s lives for two different reasons. One was a college roommate who was a drama queen. Looking back, she was an alcoholic who used sex as a tool to get her way, but at the time what I experienced was an incredibly needy person who was always in crisis. She would *always* ask “what should I do”, and then listen and then not do it. I decided finally she would never, ever, do the logical or recommended thing, so I faded her. The second was a woman that Chester White describes. She was vehemently viciously anti-Bush and even after I asked her to please, let’s just not talk about it any more she literally could not help herself, and took up the BDS cudgels again after 3 minutes. I don’t need that and haven’t talked to her again since then. I have had several good friends at various jobs over the years, but have resigned myself to the reality that without the daily contact of the job, the friendships just wither and die, some sooner, some later. Possibly I myself am not a good friend because I just can’t see chasing after someone who’s gone in a different direction, and agree with the poster who said if it’s reached that point, you *really* should have some clue what the problem is/was.

  56. Pervy Grin Says:

    I have lost contact with a lot of friends due to my political conversion and also because I have a wife and kids and they don’t, still living like they did 30 years ago.

    As for songs about friendships drifting apart, I recommend “Burning Sky” by The Jam.


    How are things in your little world?
    I hope they’re going well, and you are too
    Do you still see the same old crowd?
    The ones who used to meet every Friday
    I’m really sorry that I can’t be there
    But work comes first, I’m sure you’ll understand
    Things are really taking off for me
    Business is thriving, and I’m showing a profit

    And in any case it wouldn’t be the same
    ‘Cause we’ve all grown up, and we’ve got our lives
    And the values that we had once upon a time
    Seem stupid now, ’cause the rent must be paid
    And some bonds severed, and others made

  57. Mark Says:

    You asked if we have songs about the loss of friends. Only one comes to mind… “James” by Billy Joel. From his “Turnstiles” album. It will take about 5 minutes to locate that song on Youtube and listen to it. I promise you…that 5 minutes will be 5 minutes well spent.

    The song is particularly meaningful to me because I have…had…a friend from childhood that I no longer really have a relationship with whose name really is “James”. The fault is mine, not his. And the reason is that I am simply too ashamed and embarrassed by things that have happened in my own life to speak with him. If you’re still reading this, you have probably realized that the loss is mine.

  58. neo-neocon Says:

    Alexander Moon:

    That’s an astounding and disturbing story.

  59. neo-neocon Says:

    By the way, to everyone who suggested that perhaps in my case it was an example of just growing apart without realizing it—or just the passage of time and change—

    I suppose that’s possible; it’s always possible. But there certainly was not a particle of indication of it right up to the point it occurred. Remember, this was a person who’d been very friendly with me—quite close—for over forty years. We had gone from childhood through teenage years, through college, early adulthood, parenthood, divorce, illness, both went back to school for graduate degrees at around the same time. Despite living about 6 hours apart the entire time, we kept in touch, talking at least once a month over that entire period (this was before email was commonplace), seeing each other several times a year, visiting each other’s families, too, and going on a trip together. We confided in each other all that time, and supported each other. It was not a superficial friendship, and it had already stood the test of time, a lot of time.

    I later learned that part of the impetus was an incident that involved a misunderstanding, as it often does. But if the person never explains to you what happened and how they perceive it and why, you never get a chance to even try to correct the record and tell your side of it. That can sometimes really help; I’ve had that experience, too. That’s one of the reasons I’m very much in favor of telling the person the reason—it can be a way to repair a friendship that both people may still value.

  60. Micha Elyi Says:

    There’s a book gestating in this topic.

  61. Ripple Says:

    I have a story with a happier ending. A close friend dropped me because of his wife, who was a bit crazy. He later divorced her, and after a ten year hiatus, we just picked up where we left off.

  62. snopercod Says:

    Wise Inyears writes:

    Your mistake is in thinking you have any friends.

    That sounds cynical, but you could be right. My wife and I used to wonder why people whom we thought were friends, never write or call or visit. It’s always one sided with our so-called “friends” We call or write to them or send them little gifts, but they rarely respond. This used to bother us, but now we just agree that “The more we get to know people, the better we like our dogs.”

  63. Eric Says:

    “In other words, cutoff is a tactic they seem to employ a lot when faced with some sort of personal conflict or upset about someone.”

    It’s like a circuit breaker.

    Referring to you, but really generally speaking instead of speculating on your case, her behavior might have had little to do with any conflict with you or only superficially was related to you.

    To run with the circuit breaker analogy, it may have been mainly caused by her wiring and capacity to process the ‘electrical load’ of life, causing abnormal responses to conditions that are otherwise normal, if not stress-free.

  64. Eric Says:


    To run further with the circuit breaker analogy – again, really generalizing rather than speculating on your case – perhaps hers tripped over something she perceives as related to you rather than you.

    For example, she might have connected you to otherwise normal questions you might ask or situations that come from interacting with you, neither with ill intent on your part, that are related to her upset that she would avoid altogether per her circuit breaker.

  65. neo-neocon Says:


    “Circuit breaker” is an interesting way to put it. I think you may have something there.

    Some people probably react to stresses by making a clean break. Like a more minor version of the proverbial guy who goes to the store for a load of bread and runs away to start a new life.

  66. Eric Says:


    I like the circuit breaker analogy because it implies an inward-focused defense mechanism that causes outward effect, but it’s not motivated by an offensive intent. ‘It’s me not you.’

    And what caused it to trip may not be readily identified, which again may have more to do with her wiring and perhaps extra-brittle capacity to process seemingly normal stresses of life.

  67. Sarah Rolph Says:

    Thank you for writing about this. I had two very strange breakups with longtime friends in the past few years and have been thinking about this topic a lot.

    I’ve concluded that friendship is a lot more complicated than we realize when we’re young — for all the reasons mentioned here — and also that it takes a very long time to get to know people fully and that just because someone is your friend doesn’t mean that what you learn over time is going to be positive!

    One person I thought was a friend for life just started becoming unavailable — every time I was in San Diego I got in touch with her and every time she said she was too busy. Even when my mom died she didn’t drop by the house — she lived a half-hour away. I really expected her to show up then; she knew my mom, and had been very kind to her. Finally after about ten times over two or three years I asked her in email what was going on and she said she didn’t want to be my friend any more, no real explanation, just “we’re going in different directions.” Not sure what she meant by that, but clearly she doesn’t need me as a friend. Her life was changing for the better when she dropped me; I am sad that I didn’t get to hear the stories about her dream job. I have a hard time understanding why she cut me off. I would feel better if I could at least send her a birthday card and Christmas card every year, even if I didn’t hear back. But the last card I sent was returned, she had moved, and there was no forwarding address. Even though she was very nice about it, I will always be sad on her birthday. But I love her, so if she is happier without me in her life, I support that decision.

    The other friend I lost recently — I think; she claims she is “taking a break” from the friendship, which I find quite peculiar — was completely different. Very dramatic and unpleasant. What’s odd is that about ten years ago I started disliking her. I wasn’t sure why. I just started getting really impatient with her. I felt like I didn’t understand her any more, that I didn’t like her attitude, that she wasn’t who I thought she was, etc. But I couldn’t figure out what to do about it. So I did nothing. That was probably a mistake. It might have been a good idea to discuss the situation at that point; but I had no idea what to say! I am very weak when it comes to addressing conflict. A new skill I need to develop in my old age.

    So we continued to show up for each other on our birthdays, giving each other lots of gifts. Both our moms have died and neither of our husbands is big into birthdays, so this became a big part of our relationship. In retrospect it seems like the friendship died away from its core as the outer shell remained intact. We didn’t see each other very often.

    A few years ago she contacted me via email and said she wanted to discuss our terrible relationship. She had a litany of awful things about me, and of course I got defensive about it. I remember one of the things on the list was that I didn’t like her cooking. I thought that was fascinating — how is it a character flaw of mine that I don’t like her cooking enough? I’m not particularly impressed by her cooking, especially since she’s a vegetarian and I’m not, but I don’t recall ever being rude about it. Clearly there was a long history of misunderstanding. After some annoying email exchanges that made me wish I had broken with her when she first started annoying me, I decided life is too short to have ex-friends and I told her let’s meet and discuss.

    She was very happy — so happy to see me that she didn’t want to have the discussion at first! She wanted to just have fun! Apparently she was conflicted, part of her still liked me and part of her didn’t.

    She is a very judgmental person and has a long history of cutting people off. First she puts them on a pedestal — of a certain type: they have skills and talents they don’t recognize, that only she can bring out, and so she sets out to make people realize how wonderful they really are. This happens both at work and in her personal life. Then the person turns out to be ungrateful for this assistance to be their best self, and then it emerges that in fact they are rotten after all and have been taking advantage of her or fooling her in some fashion and she drops them. I have watched this happen at least four times.

    This is essentially what happened with me, too, it just took a lot longer.

    When we met after her first burst of negativity, it went fine. She told me she was angry at the way I treated her the last time we got together, and when she explained why, I explained what had been going on in my head and her anger dissolved. It has just been a misunderstanding. Everything seemed fine.

    Then a year or so later she sent my husband a long letter about what’s wrong with him! He has serious emotional issues that led to him retiring from his job with a mental-health disability. He is basically fine now, on new medications and doing well with his personal growth. My ex-friend knew that but totally disregarded it, writing to him as if everything he is challenged by is a personal failing. So mean! And potentially very damaging, as he considered this person a good friend.

    I got in touch with her about this to see what I could do to initiate a repair, and her reaction was purely defensive. Then she unfriended us both on Facebook. Then she wrote me my own letter about how awful I am. Really laying it on thick, with stuff she remembers from years ago that I don’t think she even has right. It was so odd. She said she wanted to take a break from the friendship. My thought was, what friendship? You seem to hate me!

    Six months later we got together. Total disaster. She acted like we were still friends. I was flabbergasted. I was way too confused to have a normal conversation so we basically got into a fight, although it wasn’t even a real fight since we were so alienated. I keep remembering things she said — she would spit something at me like it was obviously bad, and I now I turn it over in my mind wondering what it meant to her! Total communications breakdown.

    One of the things I said to her in that meeting was that this seemed like the same thing she always does, where she puts people on a pedestal and then gets mad at them for disappointing her. She didn’t recognize the pattern in herself — even when I named the people it had happened with, and some of the details, she denied the pattern.

    She said at the end of that meeting that she was going to go back to being on “break” from the friendship until further notice. I felt I had behaved badly (I was out of my mind with anger and confusion!) so I sent a note the next morning apologizing for my behavior. I asked for a do-over — I was sincere, I think if I were prepared better I could have a good conversation with her. But she never answered.

    A few months later I saw her number on my phone in missed calls, so I called her back, but it turned out she had dialed me by mistake. She was condescendingly nice about it.

    I don’t like the situation but I don’t think I want to be her friend any more. A very odd situation for me because I almost never break with people. I did it once last year with a colleague who wanted to be friends, with whom I had developed an extremely negative dynamic. That’s how I’ve learned to describe it to the other people we worked with; it seems to me this person is crazy and possibly dangerous so I very carefully broke with her as kindly as possible. Only time I ever did that. (And in fact I saw that person this year, and we were civil to one another; she even said something nice along the lines of “I guess when stress is high sometimes the best people can do is just separate” and I said yes, sometimes that’s the best we can do. I felt better after that exchange and I hope she does too.) I’ve drifted away from acquaintance type friendships, and not followed up with former colleagues who wanted to be friends, but I’ve never purposely dropped anyone I considered a true friend.

    I have a friend who had a friend who wanted to end the relationship and my friend wanted so much to keep it that she asked her friend to go with her to mediation. They went, and the mediator suggested some things they could each do to repair the relationship, and my friend was eager to try those things, but her friend didn’t want to and ended the relationship anyway.

    Apparently friendship can be difficult!!

  68. neo-neocon Says:

    Sarah Rolph:

    Agree that friendship can be very complex. Much more complex than I used to think.

    It’s partly because some people are very open and some dissemble and pretend all is well when it’s not. Also, some are very loyal (and slow to drop people) and some very quick to cut bait when the going gets rough. We often tend to assume our friends are like us in those respects, but often they are not.

    I am more the loyal type (you seem to be, too), very slow to drop people. Almost never do it except for enormous reasons. Other people are quite different.

    One good thing in your stories: at least you got some answers. That’s a plus.

    One more observation, just a guess: friend number two sounds like she might be a borderline. See this.

  69. Sarah Rolph Says:

    Thanks very much for the supportive and insightful reply!

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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