When A Good Friend Lets You Down In A Bad Way

by Brandi Jeter Riley
milkos / GETTY

Making friends has never come easy to me. I moved around a lot as a kid, so I learned not to get too close to people. The few good friends I do have, I cherish more than anything. Outrageously loyal and filled with high expectations, friendship is a top priority to me. And it’s worth it.

That’s why it hurts so bad when a friend lets me down. It doesn’t happen often (I am a great judge of character, if I do say so myself), but when it does, it knocks me back and makes me reevaluate all of my relationships.

I understand that sometimes things come up and people aren’t able to do what they say they’re going to do for you. That’s not what bothers me. My pain comes from the intention behind the action. Why weren’t you there for me?

A few years ago, when I got married, I had quite a few friends let me down. Something about special events and family get-togethers can really accentuate the selfish side of folks.

Our wedding was small, so my husband and I had to work magic to come up with an attendee list that would accommodate all of our loved ones. On my list were a couple of friends who were non-negotiables. They had to be invited, no matter what. After going to bat for them, they both flaked out at the last minute.

At the time, I didn’t have a lot of energy or time to get into my feelings about some of my closest friends missing the biggest day of my life. I was planning a wedding, after all. It wasn’t until later, in the middle of my honeymoon, that I went through the stages of emotions you go through when a friend lets you down.

At first, I was understanding. My wedding was far away. A plane ticket and hotel accommodations is a big expense. I get it. But then I started to get mad. I mean, they knew about the wedding seven months in advance. That’s plenty of time to figure out how to get to California. I ended up feeling sad. They missed it. The ceremony and vows, the dancing, the cake — I wanted all of my loved ones there with me, and they weren’t. They didn’t not come because it was a hardship, or because an emergency came up. They just didn’t make it because there would have been some discomfort for them, and they wouldn’t be the center of my attention. And knowing that sucked.

My response was to pull away for a little bit. I think you need to do that when a friend lets you down. I needed time to breathe and feel my emotions, which, in that moment, was sadness and disappointment that I wasn’t as important to my friends as I thought I was. It was also important for me to work through what other people were saying about the let down and make sure I was acting on my own feelings, rather than what other people perceived the situation to be.

After stepping back, I approached my friends to tell them how I was feeling. I poured my heart out, cried, and let them know that even though there were 100 other people there, the fact that they weren’t there affected me. Neither one of them knew that their presence would mean that much to me. Maybe it was my fault that I didn’t make it clear to them how much I wanted them there. That happens sometimes when friends let you down. They don’t know they are hurting you because they don’t know what you expect of them.

In the past, the expectations that I had for my friends bordered on co-dependency. They were supposed to be there for me, no matter what. As I got older, though, I began to realize that sometimes it just wasn’t possible. Regardless of someone’s intention, there were times when they just could not do or be what I needed them to do or be on my time.

Now, when a friend lets me down, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt at the outset. I talk to them instead of letting bad feelings fester, and I move on quickly. In no way do I downplay what I’m feeling. I’m just understand that sometimes folks need us to show them grace. We’re all human, after all. And no one is perfect. Sometimes we (unintentionally) hurt the ones we love.

As far as my two friends who missed my wedding go, I’m still close to one. We don’t talk a lot, but she’s there for me when I need her, and I am there for her. The other friend started demonstrating a pattern of letting me down and not being there for me ever, so we drifted apart. It happens.

It takes too long to find great friends. One disappointment, or even a couple, isn’t worth breaking ties with people who mean so much to me.

It’ll take a lot more than that to get rid of me.