BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

3 Steps for Salvaging a Friendship

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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)

I am a high schooler who is struggling. I just moved back to my childhood town, which is rough, because time didn’t freeze while I was away. All my old friends moved on, and I don’t fit in.

There’s one friend who I was really close with; he even moved into my old house when I moved away. A few years ago (when I wasn’t living here), he and his family got into a serious car accident. He was emotionally scarred by this and suffers every day.

Recently, after a school event, he found out that his cousin got into a car accident. His cousin was perfectly fine, but my friend’s PTSD got set off. In the middle of the gym, he broke down. I walked in just in time to see him being pushed past me, repeating, “Oh my G-d, no.”

This incident hit me hard, because I care about him as a friend, and as a crush. I talked to my counselor, and she suggested I message him, just to ask if he was OK and that I was there for him. So I did. He opened it, but never replied.

Ever since he has backed away from me. He’s stopped talking to me in school, and even on our school trip to Chicago. He acts like we are opposing forces — if I’m there, he goes somewhere else.

I really miss talking to him. He was one of the only people making me feel at home. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to forget about him or move on, because I can’t. We are friends with the same people, and our families are as close as families can get. And I don’t want to lose him.

How do I get him to start talking to me again? How do I get the courage to confront him? I’m completely clueless.
–Juliet, Peoria, IL

For some, high school is a highlight. It’s a time of letter jackets, parties and working on your “Night Moves.”

For many, though, it’s a more complicated time. Changing bodies and raging hormones create a confluence of physical and emotional chaos. And the hysterical teenager has neither the maturity or the experience to navigate this Armageddon.

In your situation, the deck has been stacked higher, as you’ve been uprooted and re-routed into a new environment. The fact that it’s where you once lived makes it that much stranger. The town, the school, the people, they all look the same, yet they must feel unfamiliar.

And now, your lone reference point, the one person who helped you feel at home, has turned his back on you.

It’s difficult to understand what led your friend to cut you off like this. In that note you sent him after his breakdown, did you say anything about having a crush on him? If you did, that could explain this change.

If you didn’t, his cousin’s car accident appears to be the tipping point.

In either case, the same questions remain:

What went wrong? And what can be done to fix it?

Here’s how you can (attempt to) get those answers:

1. Get an audience with him

You sent him a note. That didn’t work.

Now it’s time to talk to him, either on the phone or in person. The thought of doing so probably makes stuffing your Jansport full of snakes sound appealing. But it’s the surest way to elicit an honest response from him.

Aside from calling him or cornering him when you find yourselves in the same place — both of which are viable (and the most direct) strategies — there are a couple back-channels you can work.

First, your friends. This is standard high school protocol. People use their social circles to find out what’s going on, who likes whom and who just dumped whom.

You don’t want to carpet bomb the group with your turmoil, because then it turns to gossip.

Instead, pick someone he’s close to and mention how you’re worried about him, that you miss him and that you really want to talk to him. It might take some time, but word will get to him.

The other option is your parents. While this is more of a last result, it also could be your ace in the hole.

Your families are close, and once the adults are involved, it’ll be much harder for him to hide. There’s no better advocate you can have than a hocking mother.

And how do you get the nerve to set these processes in motion?

That’s the million-dollar question. While there’s no universal answer, it’s been my experience that at some point the sum of your pain, heartache and lost time becomes greater than your fear of failure and humiliation. And you just do it.

2. Express yourself

Your friend is finally listening, meaning it’s time for you to speak. What do you say?

I’d divide your message into two sections, and I’d deliver these sections in this order:

Validation, followed by explanation.

After asking your friend what’s caused his change in behavior, listen, then validate. Validating someone requires nothing more than saying something like, “I hear you,” or, “I understand you’re upset.”

That’s all it takes. You’re simply acknowledging his anger/frustration/sadness, and you’re letting him know you’re willing to hear them out.

And above all else, what most people want is to be heard and understood.

As for the explanation portion…

His response can take things in countless directions. But no matter where it goes, you want to be sure to explain how you feel. That could be how you’ve been hurt, or how you have a crush on him, or anything in between.

Making your feelings known is imperative. Because even if this conversation doesn’t rejuvenate your friendship, you will at least have taken care of yourself.

3. Accept the consequences

You’ve opened a dialogue, you’ve shown him support and you’ve let him know where you stand.

All that’s left is to hear him out, and figure out a way to move forward — with or without him.

The stakes are high, and the potential fallout is steep. So I get your frustration, anxiety and cluelessness.

But no matter how this situation turns out, you can rest assured knowing these two things:

You will have done everything possible to save the relationship. And at some point in the not-so-distant future, high school will be over. Forever.

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This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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