The Time My Close Friend Went Silent. Dead Silent
Why I grew increasingly anxious.
I met my best friend almost 40 years ago in college. We had an instant connection and became fast friends. We trusted each other and shared things together that stayed between us and never leaked out to the rest of our friend group. We were roommates and told each other everything, and because we didn’t live close to each other summers were especially hard without her. She taught me what a true friendship should look like.
She was my safe place, and she felt like home. She still does — however, I learned quickly that my bestie struggled emotionally. There were times she needed to work things out on her own.
I used to take it personally. One time in the year before we were going to be juniors in college I hadn’t heard from her all summer. I’d call her and she wouldn’t call me back. Back in those days, we’d write each other letters once a week and send them in the mail. Talking on the phone every day would have been preferable, but we were poor college kids and long-distance phone calls were expensive. I stopped getting letters from her for a few weeks and grew really concerned.
The longer she was silent, the more anxious I became. I wondered if I had done something, if she was OK, or if maybe she had found a new best friend. Then, she called me on my birthday and told me that she’d been feeling really sad and it was hard for her to talk and be social when she felt like that.
The following year I noticed she had more quiet spells. It was comforting to me that I could still see her, and I soon learned to respect her need for alone time when she felt it was necessary.
Our friendship is still one of the things I cherish most in my life. It has also taught me how to cope with her (and other friends who go silent). There are times this is to be expected — such as when your friend loses someone they love or is having problems with their children, or life is just really busy.
But there are also times when our friends need to take some space for no reason at all. Here are five things you can do to make it easier on both of you.
Give them space
If you have reached out a few times and have not heard anything back, give your friend a little breathing room. I’m not saying to completely drop off the face of the earth and assume your friendship is over, but if you have a friend who struggles with anxiety and depression or is going through a challenging time just remember they might be completely overwhelmed. Give them time without hounding them as to why they didn’t get back to you. They might not have the bandwidth, and you will gain their trust by letting them know you understand and telling them to please reach out when they are up to it.
Check in on them
You can give them space and check on them at the same time. One way to do this is to send a text or card saying, “I know you need some space but I’m always here for you.” Let them know they don’t need to respond until they are ready. Checking in on them lets them know you are still there. Oftentimes when someone goes silent, they would like help or to talk but they aren’t sure how to ask for what they need. If you completely disappear it may be harder for them to open up and share their struggles.
Remember it isn’t about you
It’s normal to be hurt and give them the silent treatment in return. Oftentimes we think, Well, if they aren’t going to get back to me then I’m going to stop reaching out to them. It’s easy to take it personally when a friend disappears for a while, but it’s important to remember (for your own sanity) that if you have spoken to them and they have told you it has nothing to do with you, you need to believe them and not ask again.
It is not your responsibility to try to read their minds, figure out what is wrong, or dissect the last few months and torture yourself wondering if you said or did something wrong. Take the responsibility off of yourself and remember they are an adult. If you’ve done something that is causing the silence or distance, it’s their job to tell you, period.
Ask them what they need
It’s really hard for some people to open up and tell you what they need. There are times they don’t even know. Getting peppered with advice isn’t fun for anyone who doesn’t want it. Ask your friend what you can do or if they’d just like someone to listen. This will show them you won’t judge them or try to fix them.
When my friend is sad, she doesn’t want to talk about her feelings. It makes her feel as though they aren’t valid. I know this because I’ve tried way too hard to cheer her up in the past and it didn’t work. I was so focused on getting her in a better mood that I was ignoring the very reason she was struggling in the first place.
Just because your friend doesn’t have the energy to be social or take on another thing does not mean they don’t want to be seen. We all want to be acknowledged and understood. You can tell them you’ve noticed a change in their behavior or moods, and you would like to help.
Ignoring the fact someone seems down can make them feel worse, even if they don’t want to talk about it. Yes, it can be uncomfortable — and some of us want to retreat to our normal ways without having to deal with someone else’s changes.
Again, it’s important to put the person who is struggling first and realize you can do something to help even if it makes you feel nervous or a bit anxious. It will break the tension and make it easier for both of you to move forward.
When a friend is going through a hard time and seems to completely disappear, it can leave a big void in our lives. Our natural reaction is to want to do something to make things go back to normal for both of us. When we come on too strong it only prolongs the process, so it’s important to realize we have to let them heal — and come back to us, in their own time.