Ask Scary Mommy: I Feel A 20-Year Friendship Slipping Away

by Christine Organ
Originally Published: 
What Do I Do When A Friendship Feels One-Sided?
Scary Mommy and Vesnaandjic/Getty

What do you do when you feel like a friendship has become too one-sided? When you feel like you are making all the effort to maintain the relationship? Do you say something, or let the friendship fizzle away?

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Dear Scary Mommy,

I feel a close 20-year friendship slipping away lately. I’m always the one making the effort to keep in touch. Always the first one to call, first one to text. I know we’re in a busy phase of life with kids and work and other friends, but I feel forgotten. We used to be such good friends, and I feel the friendship slipping. Should I say something about how I feel? Or just bite my tongue and let the friendship fizzle away?

Oh, hon, I’m sorry. I’m sure you feel hurt and angry that you’re the one making the effort to maintain the friendship without getting what you need in return. Friendships are such a vital part of our emotional wellbeing, and when a friendship is struggling, it can be really painful.

I think it’s important to ask yourself a few questions in order to decide what to do. First, is the friendship toxic? Do you feel worse about yourself after talking or spending time together? Does this person have a dangerous impact on your mental, emotional or physical health? If so, you should move on and don’t look back. Don’t spend any time nurturing toxic relationships regardless of how long the person has been in your life.

I don’t get the sense that this is the case, however. Rather, it sounds like this is a close friendship with a person who still means a lot to you, but the relationship has changed lately. Assuming that’s the case, the next big question to ask yourself is: what would a likely outcome be if I bring my feelings up? If you talk about how you feel, would it bring you closer together or make things more awkward and difficult?

If you think talking about your feelings with your friend would be helpful in the end, then by all means, have the hard conversation. Say what you need to say. Get it out there. And remember, vulnerability can often deepen the bond of a friendship. So if you are open and honest, your friendship may actually be closer than ever.

If, on the other hand, you think the talking about your feelings would make you feel worse, then maybe wait things out for a little while. Perhaps the shift is temporary. Maybe things will get back on track naturally. I once heard someone compare friendships to collectibles on a shelf. Just because a friendship isn’t on the top shelf, it doesn’t mean you need to surrender it completely; it might just need to move to a lower shelf for a while. That’s okay. This doesn’t mean the friendship is doomed, just that it’s on a lower shelf for now. Tend to your top-shelf friendships for a while.

My one last piece of advice – and this is sometimes the hardest part – is to remember that not everything is about us. Just because your friend isn’t reaching out as often as you’d like, that doesn’t mean it’s a knock against you. It might have absolutely nothing to do with you. Your friend could be dealing with their own personal crisis. They might be struggling mentally or emotionally. Their marriage might be on the rocks and they don’t know how to talk about it. Or maybe they are just really overwhelmed with life.

Sometimes we need to be the friend we need. So if you do decide that the friendship is worth saving, and if you have the emotional bandwidth to handle it, you could try doing the things you wish your friend would do for you. Call first. Text often just to check in. Send a card and simple “just because” gift. Basically be the kind of friend you want them to be. The results might surprise you. You might see no change in your friend’s behavior, in which case you’ll learn a lot about the friendship as a whole. Or maybe it’ll start a trend of getting things back on track.

Friendships – like any relationship – can be hard work sometimes. We’re human, we struggle, we make mistakes. Just because things feel “off” now doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Cut yourselves – both you and your friend — some slack for feeling and doing (or rather not doing).

With some time, and some grace, maybe you’ll both get what you need. That is my hope for you.

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