Q: 'I’m finding it difficult to be around one of my old friends. She says she wants us to be close and complains that I don’t share my life and thoughts with her, but there are often little barbs in her comments, which I find upsetting.
I would like to improve our relationship, but it feels impossible to build up goodwill. If something goes a bit wrong, she reacts very strongly and is angry and hurt, so it feels like we are back to square one.
Sometimes I feel like she doesn’t even like me. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells around her, yet she is one of my oldest friends. What should I do?'
A: If we kept all our friendships at the same level of intensity they start with, our lives would be full by the time we are in our mid-teens. It’s part of the fascination and privilege of knowing people for a long time: some things change; some stay the same.
I have to confess the phrase ‘walking on eggshells’ sets off a warning bell. Maybe we can have that feeling occasionally, if we know someone is having a hard time in their life but, if it continues, it is not compatible with friendship. I think we use these words about behaviour that is making us uneasy, possibly even frightened of the consequences if we step out of line. I know I’m amplifying what you said in your letter, but I don’t think it is a distortion.
It is almost as if there is a threat in the background – ‘be this sort of friend or you can’t be my friend at all’. I wonder whether this is a recent development because of a difficult time in your friend’s life, or are you both stuck in a friendship you might not choose now? Are you one of the few people who is still around in the face of these barbs?
Try what my teenage daughter calls ‘a month’s free trial’. Cut out most of your effort for that time and note your feelings. What is it about the friendship you miss? How can you communicate those positives to your friend?
Remember, longevity alone doesn’t make a friendship.
Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.