My close friend has clammed up

What's with the reticence? Is she shining me on?

Published August 16, 2007 10:44AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

A dear friend of mine and I have barely spoken for the past year. About a year ago, she told me that she had started dating someone but wouldn't tell me who it was. Needless to say, that piqued my curiosity and I asked a lot of questions. She didn't answer them. I complained about this to a mutual friend, whose curiosity was also piqued and who ended up asking her a lot of questions, too. She got really mad (I heard), and then she pretty much went off the radar.

Recently, I was having a party and she came (which historically isn't unusual, but for the last year I haven't seen her much), and while there she mentioned she was single. I asked her, "What about the mystery man?" She said, "Oh, no, that's been over for like six months," as if I should have known or something. This was at a party and I'd had a few drinks, so I started asking questions again. (Sans drinks I would have deferred to her obvious discomfort.) She refused to answer, and the only thing she would say is that "it's nobody you know."

Now I really don't care what this person's name is, or whether this person is male or female, or married or Republican or what. I don't want to work up a dossier on her. She's my friend. I simply want her to share with me the narrative of her life. She can change the names and ages and genders and whatever she wants, to protect whatever she feels she needs to protect -- but this whole "I had a six-month relationship and I'm never going to tell you anything about it" jazz is infuriating. I find myself being so mad at her for this, I feel like we can't be friends anymore. And we've been friends for a long, long time. And I love her. But this just seems like such a purposeful cut to my heart, I can't stand it.

After all, aren't friendships really all about sharing the story of your life? And if you have a chapter in your life you can't share, don't you have an obligation not to flop it around in your friends' faces? I feel like the second she told me she was seeing someone, she owed me something. Not a name, not whatever details there are that she doesn't want to talk about -- but there must be some part of the story that's about her and not this other person that she can tell. What it was like for her and what she has been feeling, how her life changed over the last year, and whatnot. She has always been such an open and loving friend, a truly intuitive-extrovert-feeling-nonjudging type, ENFP, to use the handy personality code. (I'm ENTP, if that helps.) And this turn of events really has blindsided me. I am a person who is very committed to my friends, and I work very hard to maintain and keep healthy all my friendships, but this one feels like it's had flesh-eating bacteria working away on it ever since that day ...

Can you recommend anything that would either a) get her to tell me just enough so I don't feel like I'm being screwed with or b) convince me that this friendship is worth hanging onto, despite this deep wound that I feel?



Dear A.,

I share with you an interest in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. According to that system, I, like you, am an ENTP.

So you and I are thinking types. Hurray for us. And you are dealing with a feeling type.

To get a sense of how this may be playing out, just take a look at the very simple and direct summation of the thinking/feeling difference on the Myers-Briggs Foundation site: "Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)."

Note that this is precisely concerned with making decisions. So, true to form, you ask, isn't it the norm, isn't it logical, for a friend to decide to give another friend the full narrative? Whereas for your friend, in this particular instance, given these people and these circumstances, the right decision is to not tell.

As I read your account of what happened I can imagine that, emboldened by alcohol, you did in some way accidentally trample her feelings. Perhaps you did this by too sharply inquiring, by insisting that she tell.

One tricky thing about ENTPs is that we really like the stories. We like to hear the material. Come on, out with it! we say. We are interested in the story. But our interest may seem so intellectual that feeling types fear we are forgetting that the story also matters, that there is a living, breathing, feeling person attached to the story. I suspect that this "interest" of ours can at times seem dangerous to feeling types; I suspect they do not find our "interest" flattering at all but, rather, offensive and invasive. They do not want to be "of interest." They want to matter. They want to feel our emotion. And they will wait, through all of our amusing and clever talk, until we finally start to speak with genuine feeling. Only then will they feel that we are connecting. Only then will they speak their own feelings.

Feeling types will withhold until we ourselves speak with feeling.

Your conversation with your friend may be made more difficult by the fact that in your discomfort with her reticence, you tend to fall back on your most comfortable and confident mode, your thinking mode. But well-thought-out arguments for why she should confide in you will probably not be persuasive to her. You are going to have to use your weaker mode, your feeling mode, to reach her.

So do not put her in a logical bind. Do not argue with her if what she says does not make sense to you. Just speak honestly with her, from your feelings. Confess to her that you really, really care about her, and that it was hurtful to be kept out of her confidence. I predict that if you do that, she will finally hear you. She will see that this thing matters to you as a feeling person, not just as a matter of curiosity and interest. She will adjust her decision based on the new circumstances, and on you -- not on your ideas and arguments but you, as she sees you, as a person with feelings. And then you may be able to find out what you really want to know.

This may sound a little like trickery. But I do not think that it is, unless you are lying to her. If you are telling the truth, then it is the opposite of trickery. It is telling the truth in a way that she can hear.

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