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SocietyJanuary 5, 2024

Help Me Hera: My friend dumped me and I don’t know why

Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie on a lime green backdrop
Image: Archi Banal

Summer reissue: Anyone has the right to end a relationship for any reason, without explanation. But that doesn’t make it a cool thing to do. 

First published on July 13, 2023. Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to helpme@thespinoff.co.nz

Dear Hera, 

I have (or had) a friend for a few years who was like, a proper mate (or so I thought). It was the kind of friendship where you can just as comfortably run errands together and be emotional support people at each others’ flat viewings, as go to raves together, or stay in and bake a cake and have deep-and-meaningfuls. 

We drifted apart over Christmas (in that she didn’t respond to any texts between November and January), which I didn’t think too much of because the holidays are a writeoff for everyone. She finally texted me with the following: she needed some distance from me, didn’t feel like hanging out with me any more, and wouldn’t be responding to my messages. No explanation, no warning.

Now I’m aware this sounds like something a deeply un-self aware person would say, but: I’d like to think I’m pretty self aware, and if I’d done something to disrespect or mistreat her I think I’d know and I’d absolutely apologise. The last time we’d met, everything was great – I really couldn’t think of anything I could have done wrong. 

I’ve grown to accept that either she’s going through her own shit and isn’t ready or able to talk about it, or she’s just decided she doesn’t like me any more, neither of which can be my problem if she won’t communicate with me. I’ve also been able to reflect on ways that our friendship dynamic wasn’t the healthiest, and that I’m maybe better off (I’m a recovering people-pleaser and she was a taker). I waited a few days to cool off before responding and said that I wasn’t sure where this all came from but I’d respect her boundaries, hoped everything was OK, and would be here if she ever wanted to pick things up again.

I feel like I’m doing all the right things to move on healthily (gone no contact, put energy into other friendships, taken up new hobbies). However, because I’m still thinking about this months later, I’ve gotta know, from the only advice columnist I can trust to step on my neck if I deserve it: what would Hera Lindsay Bird do?

Sincerely,

Dumped and Dejected

A line of fluorescent green card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

Dear DD,

As much as I’d love to write and tell you the reason your former friend cut off communication is because she’s obviously some kind of CIA informant who’s fleeing the country, I fear this is one of those mysteries which is purpose-built to haunt. 

First of all, I’m sorry. This is some girl Patrick Bateman shit. Unless you’ve perpetrated some grave and hideous sin that you’ve neglected to mention, freezing someone out and never telling them why is just about the coldest thing you can do. 

Anyone has the right to end a relationship for any reason, without explanation. Just like anyone has the right to go to the zoo and have a screaming fit in front of the gibbons because “their monkey fur is too soft.” You don’t owe anyone an explanation for that either. But that doesn’t make it a cool or enlightened thing to do. 

I feel like something is to blame for this, and it’s the HR-ification of personal relationships. She basically sent you an out-of-office auto reply to avoid having a difficult conversation. But maybe people have always been emotional cowards, and in the past they just did it via telegram, or carrier pigeon. Come to think of it, your situation is not dissimilar to The Banshees of Inisherin, only instead of doggedly following her around a small Irish village, you’re busy trying to respect her boundaries. 

I’m not against strategic ghosting on principle. You don’t have to, for instance, “take accountability” and hash out the reasons you no longer want to attend your workmate’s book club. But it sounds like you two were genuinely close. And you shouldn’t be able to end a genuine friendship as neatly and painlessly as if cancelling an audiobook subscription. 

I’m sure you’re worrying if your friend is OK. Does she have a controlling partner who doesn’t want her hanging out with anyone? Has she grown some kind of personality-altering brain tumour, or joined a religious cult? Has she been lying about her identity all along, and disappearing is easier than coming clean? Do you have a significant other she might have slept with? Is she having some kind of mental health episode? I’m stressed out, and I don’t even know her. Does her behaviour seem in character in any way? 

If it’s out of character, I’d be worried. Do you have any mutual friends that might be able to provide some insight? Can you tell anything meaningful about her safety and wellbeing from her internet presence? Is there any unobtrusive way you can check to see whether she’s been kidnapped, or having some kind of mental breakdown? 

If her behaviour is in character, that’s not great news either. Is she unusually spiteful? Or so conflict avoidant she’d rather change postcodes than have a difficult conversation? Perhaps there’s only a certain level of intimacy she’s able to tolerate before pushing people away. Has this been a pattern in other friendships in her life? 

If she’s so desperate to avoid this conversation, clearly there’s something going on. But putting you in the position of always having to wonder if you did something wrong is unnecessarily cold. Sometimes relationships end because of feelings and resentments that are too hard to fully articulate, but even so, you can make the effort to convey this sense of the unsayable, while still asking for space. 

Your friend’s behaviour is so insulting it’s tempting to scratch her name from your rolodex and move on. But it’s hard to move on, if you don’t even know what you’re moving on from. You’re trying to respect your friend’s boundaries, but I don’t think it’s crossing a boundary to tell her you’re hurt by what happened, and ask for a better explanation. You probably won’t get one, but it’s a reasonable request to make. The only problem with this approach is the possibility of hearing something you don’t like. But it’s got to be better than wondering. 

In a way, I think your friend knows that telling you the real reason – if there is a reason, and not an amorphous collection of unprocessed feelings – will only make her look bad. In giving you nothing to respond to, she’s insulated herself from any criticism, by taking on a mysterious higher ground that you’re afraid to interrogate, out of fear of hearing some horrible and shaming revelation about yourself. 

There’s a lot of power in withholding. There are hidden reserves of self-loathing in everyone, that if triggered by an event like this, would make anyone question everything they’d ever done or said. It’s a recipe for driving you insane. But as far as possible, you should try not to take it personally. Even if you did do something wrong, she’s done something wronger. Her behaviour says more about her than it says about you. And what it says about her is that she sucks. 

Hoping you have better luck next time around. 

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to helpme@thespinoff.co.nz. Read the previous Help Me Heras here.

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