How Personally Should I Take My Friendships?


It’s an odd thing to feel as if you’re a good friend and not see it reciprocated. Partly because, how often are you allowed to state that you’re a good friend openly? Does it sound douchey or self-aggrandizing? And does it seem like projecting or displacing your own feelings elsewhere?

I mention these things because I feel like I’ve struggled with self-confidence and self-esteem. It’s felt counterintuitive to talk myself up through the prism of my skills as a friend. Especially because I usually am a practitioner of “show, don’t tell” much like in writing, how in life it’s better to show and model something than explicitly tell.

I struggle with this in some of my friendships lately because I don’t know how I should go about telling some of my oldest friends I think they’re being, quite frankly, shitty friends. Granted, in a friendship you should be able to tell the person anything right? And being open and honest with them is a cornerstone of that relationship, or it should be. How honest would someone realistically want you to be if you were saying, in so many words, “You mean the world to me and I love you dearly as a friend but honestly, you’ve been acting like an unworthy asshole lately”.

Does a friend have an obligation to tell someone they’ve known for upwards of 7 or 8 years (the milestone friendships reach after which they’re predicted to be friends for the rest of their lives) that they aren’t feeling appreciated?

I want to say yes but lately, my instinct has been no. I feel like I do know my friends quite well and if I apply my own expectations to them, I would hope they would feel or know this on some level – that they’ve been dropping the ball. And is it worth adding insult to injury to point it out to them?

In the last six months or so I’ve had not one but two friends tell me that their absence and lack of involvement in our friendship “isn’t personal”. A much slower than usual response time to texts or not following up on suggested plans might seem minor, but when compounded over a few weeks, it makes me feel like I’m supposed to be taking a hint. But how am I supposed to remove that from being personal? To me, it is one hundred percent personal – you are not reciprocating what you should be in a mutual relationship for whatever reason, be it work, family, or personal obligations. It points out how easy it is to be in touch these days – and how personal you can be with someone across a distance of five blocks, six miles, or seven states.

I understand this will probably sound angry or bitter or resentful — and in part, it is. I do take a friend’s absence personally, because in my life because I put a lot of myself, my time, and my energy into my friendships.  Even if it might be unwise to do so at times, it makes me feel taken advantage of after the fact; especially if someone suddenly goes MIA. I want to pick back up where things left off in fact, I relish it when that happens. It is a wonderful feeling when you see or meet up with a friend and it is like nothing’s changed, no time has passed. But if that feeling is removed, and you do feel that time and distance, what then? Is it fair or right to call it out then? Or is it better to be polite and save face for everyone’s comfort?

I’ve been wrestling with this because at some point – I want to be able to pick myself and take care of myself first. I cannot give anything in good faith and effort to my friends if I’m not able to look after myself. And if a friend is letting me off the hook in a way because it’s “nothing personal” should I let them?

When and how do you let go of the hope a friend will surprise you and seem to care again? I’ve been waiting for a few months, to see if that happens, and the more time that’s passed, I feel more okay. I feel thankful for the friendship we’ve had and continue to have but maybe it is changing. Perhaps I’m selfish for wanting things to be how they were before and this is just a part of growth and aging.

But I do take this lack of staying in contact personally because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t care. And I do care probably more than these friends realize.

Katharine Donohoe : lives and works in Virginia. She (sometimes) has very little chill but enjoys the simple things like GChat, Trader Joe’s frozen snacks, and listening to a healthy amount of podcasts.