Back in my 30s, I had a friend I’ll call Sara. We had met at work and even when we’d both moved on to other jobs, we remained lunch and happy hour buddies.
Then something unexplainable happened: I got pregnant — and Sara got lost. After I broke the news, she stopped asking whether I wanted to meet in the park for lunch or grab coffee in the afternoon. When I reached out, she made vague excuses and eventually — as my belly grew—stopped responding altogether.
Once I waddled outside my office building and saw her walking and laughing with another friend. I guess she thinks I’m not fun anymore now that I’m pregnant, I thought, bitterly eyeing the other friend’s chic outfit and trim waistline. I knew it was ridiculous to feel so hurt — it’s not like she didn’t have the right to hang out with other people. Still, I couldn’t help it. I felt betrayed.
Why friends sometimes “cheat”
Feeling as though you’re being pushed aside by a friend can be very painful. That said, it’s normal for your relationships with your friends to change over time, says Jan Yager, sociologist and the author of When Friendship Hurts. “There are some friendships that last forever at the same level of intimacy, and there are others that intensify or wane at certain times in your life.” She notes that sometimes this is due to the behavior of one of the people involved, and sometimes it’s just the result of life circumstances.
“When two friends have a relationship that is strong and wonderful, it seems like nothing can come between them,” Yager says. “No man, no job, not even the birth of a baby. But people’s priorities change, and their feelings may change as well.”
If you can’t think of a reason why your friend’s priorities may have changed, consider what type of friend you’ve been lately. Maybe you haven’t “been there” for her the way you once were, whether it’s because of problems with your kids or an all-consuming project at work.
Or maybe there are changes in your own life that she’s finding it difficult to handle. Three years after Sara and I stopped hanging out, I was surprised to get a heartfelt email from her announcing her own baby-to-be. As it turned out, she had been silently struggling with infertility at the time of my pregnancy and found it too painful to hang out after I told her I was expecting. Through no real fault of my own, our relationship had gone from a source of happiness to a source of stress for her.
What to do in the face of friendship infidelity
Remind her that you still care. You’re angry. You’re hurt. You’re dying to know — what happened? Rather than aggressively confronting your friend, try reaching out and letting her know that you still value the relationship. This could be as simple as sending a note: Thinking of you and missing our weekend Target runs. Let me know if you’re free sometime.
If you can’t help directly addressing the fact that she’s moved on, try to adopt a caring tone. “You could say something like, ‘I get the feeling that our friendship seems to be on the back burner. But you have always meant the world to me, and I just want to know: Is there anything I’ve done to push you away? Is there something we could work on to make things right again with us?’” says Yager.
It’s possible that your friend will insist that the friendship is on steady ground, and she’s just been busy or distracted. If that’s the case, your relationship may pick up again soon — or it may remain in a “waning” phase. Or your friend could admit that there’s a problem, which may — or may not — be something that you can solve together. There’s probably nothing I could have done to make Sara comfortable with my pregnancy. But had I talked to her about it, we probably would have both felt better about the way the friendship ended.
Refocus on your other friends. Shifting your energies to other people you care about can help ease the pain of a friend’s infidelity. “The best thing you can do is to find someone else who will be there for you in the same way that your friend once was,” says Yager.
If you’ve recently gone through a major life shift — maybe you’re newly divorced, or your youngest child just left for college — this might be someone who can relate to your new circumstances. In Sara’s case, she felt it easier to spend time with childless friends rather than those who were heading into the life-upending newborn stage.
Don’t write off the friendship. In many cases, “cheating” is a sign that your friendship is merely changing, not ending. Your feelings may be temporarily hurt that your friend seems to prefer the company of someone else. But unlike monogamous romantic relationships, friendships are meant to be abundant at various stages of intimacy, from best friends to close friends to casual friends.
“You’re changing and so is your friend,” says Yager. “Your relationship may be morphing from a close friendship to a casual one, and that’s OK, because you need casual friends too.”
Everyone needs a girlfriend!
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