Can a fractured friendship be renewed?

Six years ago she said she never wanted to see me again. The other day she called.

Published August 6, 2008 10:10AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have been feeling pretty lonely the past couple of years. I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area after college, and though I was born and raised there, I basically started over in terms of my social circle. I made lifelong friendships in college, but most of these people have moved back to their respective homes or to other metropolitan areas, and mainly our friendships exist over phone and e-mail. I have a couple of good friends here, and I spend a lot of time with my boyfriend, but I place a very high premium on friendship and I feel like I am missing that kind of friend whom you can call on a whim and they'll meet you anywhere to talk, who understands you through and through, and whom -- if you had to be trapped in an elevator for 40 hours -- you'd choose to go through the ordeal with (and hopefully she'd have a bottle of wine in her purse).

I was telling a family member that I was really longing for a great friend in my life who actually lives within 100 miles of me, and this family member said, "Put that wish out into the universe. The universe will respond."

Ooookay. But I decided there wasn't any harm in "putting it out there," so I asked/prayed that a great friend might come my way. This was about two months ago. Lo and behold, I received a voice message on my phone the other day from an ex-girlfriend. She was my best friend in high school and we remained close for a couple of years in college. We did not go to the same college, though, and I had a much better experience at mine than she did at hers. She became very angry that I had made great friends while she had not. In a very cruel and painful exchange our junior year, she told me that I was not a good friend, that I was selfish, and that she didn't want to ever see me or talk to me again. I was crushed. I thought we'd always be friends. But I had other things going on in my life, so I moved on from her and we haven't talked for almost six years.

Her voice message said that she missed me a lot, has thought about me often, and was hoping we could see each other soon. (Coincidentally, we live within several miles of each other now.) So I guess the universe delivered me a friend, just not the one I wanted.

My gut instinct is to not respond to her, or at least to politely decline. She hurt my feelings and emotionally I moved on from that friendship. But there's still a part of me that is feeling stumped on what to do. I asked the universe to send me a friend, and it made good on this request. I don't reject that lightly. And I do marvel at the way this thing turned out, and it does inspire some feelings of faith in me. I mean, the mysterious ways of the universe are something to be moved by. But I'd have to swallow a lot of pride and hurt feelings to reconnect with this person, and frankly I don't completely trust her not to hurt me again. So do I trust my gut, or do I trust the universe?


Universe: 1, Me: 0

Dear Scoreless,

I suggest you approach this in a thoughtful and deliberate way, rather than try to obey the edicts of a universe that may or may not be speaking to you. Mainly the question before you is, Will what happened six years ago happen again? If you think it will, then you will not want to be friends with this person. If you think it will not, then perhaps you can renew your friendship.

The method you use to think it through is up to you, but it is often useful to set aside a quiet hour or so and use paper and pen to get your thoughts organized. I suggest that you first write down a description of your former friend, the kind of person she is. Just write down the best description you can come up with for her.

Then look at what you have written. Have you written that your friend is a bitter, lonely, angry, vindictive, destructive, unsuccessful person who does not have your best interests at heart? Or have you written that your friend is basically a good and happy person who has had more than her share of difficulties?

If you believe that your friend is a good and happy person at heart, then you may be able to understand and forgive what happened six years ago. But perhaps you never believed that; perhaps your friendship was one of those friendships that grow up around circumstances rather than souls or personalities. What do you really feel about her? Was she a positive presence in your life? Aside from the traumatic end to your friendship, did you enjoy her company and delight in her presence?

Next, try to tell the story of what happened when you were juniors. Try to remember what happened and get it down on paper.

If you are going to renew your friendship, you have to come to terms with what happened. If you believe that your friend is basically a good person, then it may be that she had a string of disappointments, conflicts and emotional difficulties that she was too immature to resolve in a kind and thoughtful way. She missed you. Perhaps she felt abandoned by you. She lashed out. She said some things in anger.

Think about this. When she had her outburst, she did not mean, literally, that she never wanted to see you again. She was upset and angry. She felt abandoned.

You were hurt by what she said, so you moved on. My guess is that she did not want you to move on. My guess is that she wanted a chance to get closer to you. Instead of getting closer, you got farther. It's even possible that she experienced your moving on not as a reasonable response to her outburst but as a second and even more unforgivable abandonment -- as proof, in fact, of the very selfishness she was accusing you of.

Anyway, let's assume she is basically a good person and has your best interests at heart. You will want to move cautiously all the same. You probably have vulnerabilities to her that could be exposed if you meet. She may still be angry with you and, while not aware of it, want to hurt you or gain control over you or take revenge for her abandonment. So move cautiously.

I do think, though, regardless of what you decide about her nature, that you will want to return her call. By returning her call you are not committing to anything. You are just acting like an adult. But before you return her call you want to think this through. Otherwise you may end up committing to something you do not want to commit to or getting into an argument you do not want to have.

Having thought it through, call her. If you do not think you can be friends, tell her so. Tell her that as much as you wish it were otherwise, you know in your heart that you cannot be friends, and wish her well.

But if you think you can be friends once again, arrange to meet. When you meet, tell her that you were very hurt by what she said. Just put it out there. It may make things awkward, but at least the facts are on the table. It is better for things to be awkward at first than to take the same old path as before and end up in another monstrous misunderstanding.

You also may want an apology. If so, be ready to offer one up yourself. It will be interesting to see what happens. It will be a good clue to her frame of mind. If she genuinely believes that nothing need be said, or that she had none of the fault in it, then you may reliably conclude that even though you do sense that she is a good person, no friendship with her will be possible, because she has no sense of reciprocity. Likewise, if you yourself are unwilling to admit your part in the fracture, there is little hope for reconciliation.

So do call her, but proceed carefully and thoughtfully. Do not be in a terrible hurry. More opportunities for friendship will arise in time.

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