Ask Elaine: Can I fix a 50-year friendship after she ghosted me?

Hi, Elaine: I had a friendship of 50 years that ended abruptly, though my ex-friend had often said that she hoped we could be friends forever and that she felt like we were sisters. The breakup, which ended by her ghosting me, was due to her saying, “You always criticize me.” I didn’t think I ever did, but I asked her for an example. She refused.

We continued on as usual, but her comment bothered me, so I asked her again for an example. She responded by ghosting. Does this happen frequently? I wrote to her expressing my sorrow for how things ended, but she gave me no response. Anything else to do? We met in college.

Ghosted: I’m sorry you’re going through this. I don’t know how frequently it happens but as someone who has been on both sides of this scenario, I do know it is often more complicated than it seems on the surface. And it can be extremely painful, no matter which role you play. Especially when you have made honest attempts to better understand where things went wrong so you could repair the damage.

As trite as it may sound, I encourage you to search for what this situation can teach you. There are always lessons in the pain, for both parties, if you look for them. Once, after a friendship breakup left me reeling, I was so heartbroken that I resorted to speaking with a psychic (don’t judge me!) who helped me see that I would grow exponentially more from this glorious friendship plus its devastating breakup than I would from the friendship on its own. Both were meant to be. And both taught my former friend and me some essential lessons that will stay with us. This helped me accept the good with the bad, let go of the urge to fix what was invariably broken and remember that even painful endings happen for you, not to you.

Ask Elaine: Can I fix a 50-year friendship after she ghosted me?Follow this authorElaine Welteroth

Now, there’s no telling if this is actually the end for you and your old friend. Sometimes people just need time to process from a distance before they feel ready to face an issue. It can feel easier for some people to just disappear for a while rather than communicate directly when they are upset. Is it the most mature or loving way to handle conflict? No, of course not. But people are imperfect and, if we love them, we must accept them, flaws and all.

Speaking of, have you stepped back to really take stock of your own flaws and how they may have shown up in your friendship? What are the challenging parts of your personality that she may be pulling away from? Rather than putting the onus on her to provide examples that justify her hurt feelings, can you own that her expressing hurt feelings to you is enough of a reason to apologize and reflect on your role in this? In the absence of immediate or direct answers from your ex-friend, it is important that you go into deeper reflection on why she felt criticized by you. Are you self-critical or critical of others? Does that come through in your words or actions? Sit with yourself and these questions; journal about what comes up.

As you work on yourself, you must make peace with letting her go and loving her from afar — at least for now. While it is impossible not to take something like this personally, it is helpful to zoom out to contextualize this experience a bit. You said you’ve known each other since college. Have you ever noticed a pattern of avoidance come up in any other areas of her life? How has she handled conflict with other people? Is ghosting a trait that surprises you or are you just surprised she could ghost you — someone she said she loved like a sister? Was your connection strained in other ways before this breakup?

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After taking inventory of it all, does this friendship feel in alignment with where you are now and what your expectations of friendships are? Is this a friendship that you still genuinely want to invest in? Or are you more interested in getting closure? It is important that you get clear on these questions.

For now, give it time. You can’t control what happens next with this friendship. The only person you can control in this situation is yourself. Focus your energy on being more mindful of your words going forward to preserve other important relationships in your life. My husband says embedded in almost every interaction is an opportunity to build someone up or tear them down. You may not be aware of how your words impact people until it’s too late.

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