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Advice for the Modern Man: Friends Forever?


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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)

I recently had to break up with a good friend after she accused me of being rude and inconsiderate. She said that I stood her up twice and failed to respond to some of her texts.

The first instance of me standing her up: I texted her asking she’d be interested in visiting the Cat Cafe that just opened in our city. She replied that she was. We texted about the best time to visit (when the cats are the most active), and eventually, she said that I should call the cafe to ask. I told her that I would — then I totally forgot about the whole thing.

Can you stand someone up if you haven’t actually made plans?

The second instance: We made plans to go on a trip with several other people, but unfortunately, it turned out I had to work, so the day before, I texted her that I could not go. Would that be considered standing her up?

Did I overreact here? Was I at fault for our friendship ending?
–Bewildered; San Diego, CA

In many ways, friendships are like romantic relationships. Both parties must be on the same wavelength for the arrangement to survive. And when they’re not, they have to work through whatever roadblocks there are to get back in harmony.

That’s not always easy to do, because there are (often) two valid sides to every disagreement.

Of course, when it comes to the disagreements submitted to this column, I’ve always had to answer based solely on the questioner’s version of events.

Until now.

Bewildered of San Diego was so bewildered that he sent me a screenshot of the text exchange that served as the climax of this argument with his friend.

Below, I’ve pasted each side’s communications, and beneath each picture is my commentary.

Since we’re dealing with a male-female dispute from San Diego, I see no choice but to refer to the questioner as Ron Burgundy and the friend he dumped as Veronica Corningstone.

For clarity’s sake, Veronica’s texts have the pinkish background, while Ron’s have the bluish-gray.

Screenshot 1

(Every celebrity news anchor needs an alias…Ron’s is apparently Wayne.)

I’ve written about this before, but ‘I’ statements are far more effective than ‘You’ statements. “I feel hurt when this happens,” works better than, “You hurt me when you do this.”

It seems insignificant, but when you express dissatisfaction from your perspective, you’re letting the other person know how you feel without attacking him.

Unfortunately, Veronica is attacking Ron here. She outlines all the ways he’s disappointed her, stopping just shy of saying jazz flute is for little ferry boys. The only mention of her own emotions is about how Burgundy has been inconsiderate of them.

She’s not telling him how she feels; she’s telling him how he feels, which is unfair and presumptuous, and likely to put him on the defensive.

Screenshot 2

But Burgundy isn’t defensive. Yet. If anything, he’s, well, bewildered, unsure of how things escalated so quickly.

In his mind, he’s done nothing wrong, and certainly nothing egregious enough to push this friendship to the brink. He seems stunned that these offenses have offended Veronica so deeply.

Thankfully, Corningstone makes it clearer:

Screenshot 3

By and large, this is textbook communication. Veronica tells Burgundy the source of the problem (she’s been stood up multiple times); she explains how that has impacted her (she’s been inconvenienced); and she describes how his actions made her feel (she’s been upset by them). And she does it using ‘I’ statements.

That last line — “It hurts my feelings to have made plans with you and to be stood up” — it’s as if it were written by a therapist.

We’re all guilty of it, but too often we expect others to read our minds, to know what we’re thinking and what’s bothering us. This is unfair and unrealistic, and it’s what typically gets us in these disputes in the first place.

All we can ask of one another is that we tell each other what we want and need, and that we do so in a respectful manner.

Veronica does that perfectly here.

But sadly, it’s too late. Ron is already gone:

Screenshot 4

Enter Ron’s defensiveness.

When confronted, people either bow up or back down. Burgundy is bowing up, throwing all responsibility back on Veronica, claiming she’s too sensitive.

But in doing so he highlights an interesting aspect of friendships/relationships.

We’re all wired differently, with varying insecurities and sensitivities. Things that bother one person can be shrugged off or go unnoticed by another, and vice versa.

That doesn’t mean people with disparate sensitivity levels can’t be friends. It just means it’s that much more important they adhere to the following principles:

1) Communicate. So obvious, yet so often butchered. For the proper technique, see Veronica’s previous message.

2) Listen. More than getting their way or being right, people want to be heard. For the improper technique, see Burgundy’s previous message.

3) Know your audience. This heightens your communication abilities.

Just as you’d talk differently to your boss than you would your buddy, you sometimes have to talk differently to one friend than you would another.

Some have to be handled with kid gloves; others respond to blunt force. It’s the cost of doing business. And if you’re unwilling to pay it, you probably can’t be friends.

I, for one, fall into the “kid gloves” category. When someone inflicts blunt-force trauma on me, I’m likely to shut down — except when I’m dead-set that I’m right, which activates my “fight” gene.

That’s what Veronica does here:

Screenshot 5

Screenshot 6

With the use of ‘You’ statements (again), the exchange devolves, headed toward a sea of hurt egos and hard feelings.

Until Ron ends things with this mic-drop haymaker:

Screenshot 7
I’ll give it to you Burgundy, that’s the type of line most people dream of saying. I’m sure it felt great to hit ‘Send.’

But man was that harsh. And I don’t know what it got you other than one fewer friend.

Clearly, Veronica leans to the sensitive side of the spectrum. To me, nothing you did prior to this text exchange seems worthy of ending the friendship over. (Although that last message could now qualify.)

Of course, I don’t know if these incidents are part of an extended pattern, which might change my opinion.

Still, this was never about the details of these infractions, nor was it about the mechanics of cancelling or what constitutes standing someone up. The specifics are almost irrelevant.

This was about the way these situations made Veronica feel: hurt, slighted, unimportant. Nobody wants to feel that way as a result of their friend’s actions. That’s why she reacted the way she did.

And on some level, I’m betting you know this. It’s why you wrote in asking if you had overreacted and if this was your fault. There’s something about all this that’s not sitting right with you.

Perhaps you’d like to jump back into the bear pit and send Veronica another text?


This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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