Dear Wendy: “I Got Sick And My Friends Abandoned Me”

I’m 25 and earlier this year I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that I’ve yet to really get a handle on. It’s been very emotional for me to say the least, and to top it off I feel like I’ve been somewhat abandoned by my friends. The thing is, I know they’re all lovely people — it just seems like they get uncomfortable/unsure of what to say when I talk about my illness, so they think it’s best not to mention it at all or something. I’ve expressed to a few of them that it’s helpful for me to just be able to get the feelings off my chest once in a while, yet no one really seems to be making much of an effort to hear about it. I hate to be a Negative Nancy and certainly don’t want to talk about my illness all the time … I just want to know that my friends care. Am I going about this the wrong way? Is this not the type of thing that friends talk to each other about these days? My mom and boyfriend seem to think I should stop trying to get support on this from friends, but I don’t want to lean on them alone. — Not-So-Positive Pollyanna

If you hadn’t yet expressed to your friends that it’s helpful for you to talk about what you’re going through, I’d be inclined to say that maybe your friends want to be there for you but they just don’t know what to do for you. But if you’ve already explicitly told them that the thing they can do is listen and they don’t seem willing to do that, it may be that your chronic illness is just “too much” for them to handle or that they simply aren’t able to be the listener you think you need. That’s not to say that they’re bad people at all; they may have a whole host of reasons they aren’t able to be the kind of friend you want them to be right now. Maybe they’re going through their own stresses and don’t have the emotional reserve to help you through yours; maybe they’re freaked out someone their own age is going through something so serious and it’s reminding them of their own mortality; and maybe they simply aren’t good at listening and would prefer to “be there” for you in a more active way.

The key here is to meet your friends half way and respect their boundaries and limitations. If you sense that you are sharing too much about your illness and that your friends are uncomfortable, back off. Think of more active ways you can ask those people to be there for you. And keep in mind that just because you’re going through something really scary doesn’t mean everyone else’s lives have suddenly started revolving around yours. Don’t forget that friendship is a two-way street and you need to put in at least a little effort to keep up with what’s going on in your friends’ lives if you expect them to keep up with yours.

Finally, if you feel like you’ve been abandoned by your friends or that they just don’t understand what you’re going through and don’t seem interested in hearing the details, consider finding a support group for people who are in a similar situation. Your doctor or hospital can probably put you in touch with such a group, and if not, honey, that’s why God created the internet. Connecting to people — even if it’s just online — who understand exactly what you’re going through, know the right things to say and can be an empathetic ear when you need to vent may be just the thing you need to process your emotions and cope with your situation. When friends don’t give you what you need, adjust your expectations and find others who can.

I’ve been in a happy and healthy live-in relationship for nearly three years, but I have feelings for an old childhood friend. “Harry” and I grew up together and were always friendly but never close. Throughout college we kept in touch, and after college, we both moved back to our hometown and started hanging out, just as friends. We would go to family birthday parties together and grab a beer on work nights which would turn into awesome gabfests — we could talk about anything, for hours. None of these encounters was ever a “date” (never so much as a kiss or even hand holding), though I would have dated him, but I was never actually asked and I didn’t want to ruin the friendship. He did send me card on a significant love holiday, to the tune of “I’ve enjoyed getting to know you,” but I just chalked it up to a nice gesture.

During this time, I met my current boyfriend. I was always open with Harry about my relationship, and he even talked me through some trouble at the beginning. A few months into my relationship, Harry and I had a falling out and stopped talking. I was sad to lose his friendship, but obviously, I continued on with my life, moved in with my boyfriend and have been very content. He also started dating someone, whom he seems happy with. At a recent gathering for a mutual acquaintance, we ran into each other, sans our significant others. He apologized for upsetting me; I told him that I missed his friendship. We hugged it out and decided to try to hang out again (hasn’t happened yet). I’ve been a little haunted by this encounter; it stirred something inside me and I got butterflies. I was reminded how much I appreciate him, his opinions and his genuine character and his smile. For some reason, it’s easier to talk to him than my current boyfriend. I don’t want to create waves or problems, but I don’t want to always wonder “what if.”

Now, he’s moving away and I’m still here in my relationship. He has a girlfriend, and I don’t want to ruin anything for him, but I can’t help but wonder if I missed the boat. I never got a good bearing on how he feels about me. Is it too late? Should I just let it lie or should I say something to him? It’s the holidays, time for honesty, right?! Help! — Sally

If you think the holidays is the time for honesty, start with yourself and examine the relationship you’re in now. If you’re having some three-year itch, address it. Communicate with each other. Figure out why you have trouble talking to your boyfriend and see if you can fix it. If you can’t, move on. You don’t need some other guy waiting in the wings in order to leave a relationship that no longer works for you. If you’re having problems with your boyfriend, leave Harry out of it and deal with them.

Harry has a girlfriend now. If things aren’t working out with her, that’s his own business and for him to figure out. If you want to keep in touch with him, fine, but don’t put him in an awkward spot by telling him you have feelings for him — or you think you could have feelings for him — when you’re both currently in relationships. At the very least, have the decency to get out of your own relationship first. Do you think Harry really wants to be responsible for making some other guy feel crappy about a failed relationship at Christmastime? Don’t put that on him. Take care of your own mess first.

Finally, give all this some time to sink in. You saw this guy at one party, felt butterflies when you hugged, and suddenly you’re ready to potentially wreck not one, but two relationships? Slow down! Give it a couple months and if you really can’t get him out of your head, and you’ve freed yourself of your own relationship, you can put a little feeler out to Harry — maybe an email in which you tell him you haven’t stopped thinking about him since you saw him and if he’s happy with his girlfriend, that’s all you need to know, but if there’s any chance things aren’t perfect with them and he might have similar feelings for you, you’d be open to exploring what that means. If he’s doing great with his girlfriend, one little email from you probably isn’t going to change that. But if there are fractures there or she simply isn’t the right gal for him, your message may give him the incentive to make some changes. And who knows — maybe those changes could mean a new beginning for the two of you. But don’t get carried away with that rom-com fantasy and end up making rash decisions you may regret.

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