One Question Quiz
Wea culpa. (Image: Archi Banal)
Wea culpa. (Image: Archi Banal)

SocietyOctober 5, 2023

Help Me Hera: Our couple BFFs won’t forgive us

Wea culpa. (Image: Archi Banal)
Wea culpa. (Image: Archi Banal)

We hurt their feelings badly, we said sorry, now they’re icing us. How long should I let them wallow?

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to

Dear Hera, 

I am in a couple, and there is another couple that are our couple BFFs, at least until recently. My partner and I offended this other couple, and we caused some majorly hurt feelings and pride. We talked things through at the time, apologised, and offered our sincere feelings that we wanted to work through things and gain their trust again.

For context, we have been friends for about 10 years (my partner has known them longer) and have been through many challenges together, and there are many examples of times where we have been there for each other. In terms of wider impact, no one else knows what happened between us, so no reputations have been affected, and there have been no material impacts. 

Since then, my partner and I have been trying to work on the friendship and build trust again, but they have been resistant to our advances: declining requests to get together, communication is curt. If me and my partner stopped making an effort at this stage, the friendship would just dissolve. 

Where do we go from here? It has been at least three months, and it feels like nothing is getting better. I am feeling frustrated and sad. I feel that they are being selfish by not receiving our effort, and it feels like they are punishing us. I’m aware that it’s their right to discontinue the friendship, but if that were the case, I’d insist they tell it to me straight. I know they are the ones we hurt, but how long is appropriate for them to wallow before I say they need to step up? I am not afraid to communicate and say what I need to, but I don’t want to overstep or cause further offence. 


Sorry and snubbed

A line of dark blue card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades
Dear S&S,

Oh my GOD what did you DO? I’m fascinated by the premise of this letter, and would love to offer some constructive advice, but it’s hard to know what kind of advice to give without understanding the underlying offence. I suppose it must have been bad if they’re still icing you out after three months. 

I can see you want to rehabilitate your friendship. But the vibe I get from your letter isn’t one of contrition, but irritation. To be honest, you sound pissed. You say you hurt them deeply, but also that they’re selfish and wallowing. You clearly value blunt and honest communication, but forgive me for wondering whether it was this style of communication that got you into this mess in the first place. 

Maybe your friends are being selfish. Without knowing whether you insulted their Arabian Nights Fantasy living room decor, had some kind of unfortunate polyamorous escapade, or told them they’d be terrible parents, it’s hard to know whether the offence is justified. But in another sense, it doesn’t really matter, as the problem isn’t who’s right, but who’s hurt and how badly. Being selfish is often a reasonable response to pain.

All of this is complicated by your coupledom. Hurting two people’s feelings is much more complicated than hurting one, especially if those two people are in a relationship and can nurture a shared grudge. It’s also harder to sincerely apologise as a couple. “Wea culpa” is a lot less convincing than “mea culpa”. When it comes to expressing collective regret, you run the risk of sounding like, “All of us here at Dunkin’ Donuts are deeply sorry for any distress our actions may have caused.”

I have some questions about your situation:

  • Are you actually sorry, or do you just want things back the way they were? 
  • Did you, a couple, do the hurting equally? Were they hurt equally?
  • You’ve been friends for a long time! Does whatever occurred fit into a wider behavioural dynamic? Would they say the same? 
  • You say you’ve been working on your friendship, but also that they’re declining all advances. Have you seen them at all since, or are curt text responses all you’re getting? 

If you haven’t seen them at all, you might have your answer. You’re frustrated at the lack of clarity and say if they don’t want to be friends you “insist” on being told. But it’s not really within your power to insist that. If you keep pushing for clarity they’re not ready to give, you’re only going to turn their soft no into a hard and permanent one.

You can’t force people to be honest with you. If you’re an up-front person who doesn’t have a problem asking for what you need, it can be easy to interpret wishy-washiness as cowardly and manipulative. It obviously sucks to be in emotional limbo, and I don’t blame you for interpreting their silence as a punishment. But have you considered it might also be a form of self-protection?

“Why won’t X tell me what’s wrong? I’m not a mind reader!” is a common complaint. But the question which often occurs to me is, who does that clarity benefit? Does the teller have reasonable grounds to believe expressing their anger is a safe or productive thing to do? Is it going to lead to deeper understanding, or just another argument? Is the person demanding an explanation going to listen, or use the teller’s complaint to retaliate, linguistically outmanoeuvre them, or adopt a position of victimhood? Often a request for clarity is disingenuous. We know what we’ve done and just don’t want to have to be the one to bring it up, because we feel guilty, and it’s easier to take a defensive posture than proactively apologise.

Not to mention that when we’re upset, the last thing we want is to give the person who offended us an opportunity to relitigate the situation. Especially if there’s wounded pride involved. It can be humiliating to confess the depth of your hurt feelings. That kind of honesty is an act of generosity, not emotional obligation. 

I know you’ve already apologised, and I’m not saying you’d intentionally use your friend’s honesty against them. But they clearly haven’t forgiven you, and sometimes in our hurry to explain ourselves, the outcome is the same. You’re viewing their silence as punitive. But I think there’s actually cause for optimism! Their grudging non-communication might actually be a way of preserving your relationship, or at least putting it on ice until they’re ready to reconcile properly. Take it as a sign that all isn’t definitively lost.

I’m not saying the best way forward is to shut up forever, and hope they come around. If I were you, I’d make one last ditch effort to apologise again – perhaps even in writing, so they have time to process the information. There are lots of resources out there on what a good apology looks like. If you’ve hurt their pride, you might also want to build them back up again. Tell them sincerely how much their friendship means to you, and that you can’t imagine life without them. Then put the ball in their court, and tell them you hope they’ll get in contact if and when they’re ready. This gives them a little agency, and it means you get to stop beating your heads against a brick wall. 

If they still don’t want to talk to you, that’s too bad. But at least you can sleep easy knowing you tried your best. Even if the apology doesn’t yield immediate results, they might feel differently down the road. You can’t force people to forgive you, but you can at least leave the door open. 

I’m sorry to be hard on you. Without knowing what the fuck happened, it’s difficult to deliver a relevant moral judgement. But it sounds like you’ve been through a lot together, and I sincerely hope things work out for you.

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to the previous Help Me Heras here.

Keep going!