Dear Charlotte,

Some of the friends I care about the most are also the biggest thorn in my side. I don't want to feel so bothered by the friends who are supposed to make life better but they behave so badly and I don't get it and I don't know how to handle it when they mess up. 

One example of this is how one of my supposedly best friends is still really close with another former friend even though she knows we haven't spoken in over a year because of a massive betrayal. You might wonder why I'm still friends with her if she's so disloyal but what does my head in is how fantastic a friend she is some of the time. 

When she's herself, we get on so well and there's no one in the world I'd rather spend time with, laughing, talking about anything under the sun, hanging out and supporting each other. She knows me better than anyone and we have shared memories that I cherish. But it's like I can't get through to her when she turns. 

It all got really bad a few weeks ago when she made fun of me for telling a story stupidly and it went too far. I told her she was out of order and she reacted really badly to being called out. She stormed off and we haven't spoken since. I don't want to have a falling out with her and I don't know how to feel close with her without talking about the way she makes me feel. 

I also feel like she can't handle my feelings and isn't interested in reflecting on any of the ways she might have upset me. It's like she doesn't care about me at all when she's called out on anything. If I don't tell her how upset she's made me I feel like I'm faking being OK when I'm not. I'm tired of being a pushover but she makes me feel like a diva for feeling hurt. 

I sound like a teenager in how I've described our relationship but you'll be shocked to learn that we are in our forties! Am I silly for caring so much? How can I resolve the conflict? 

Thank you for reading this and sorry for rambling about something that's so trivial! 

Oh I feel for you instantly. Friendship troubles are so incredibly tricky to navigate and there's nothing like the maddening angst and heartache of a friend you adore and can't stand. The push and pull of closeness is dizzying. One minute you know each other deeply; the next, you're disconnected and alone with your hurt. It's so often the people we care about the most who can be deeply disappointing. 

The fact that you care about your friends comes with the cost of vulnerability. You’re vulnerable to disappointment and loss when a friend matters to you. You may have different attachment styles from the particular friend you describe – she sounds combative yet avoidant. She wounded you with her remarks but couldn't handle your confrontation. It’s possible that she felt attacked by your holding her accountable — being challenged may have felt overwhelming.

I'm curious about her capacity for empathy and the give-and-take of your dynamic historically. You may be stuck in a cycle of enmeshment and abandonment. Either you’re entwined in your blissful togetherness or you fall apart when you’re at odds. Change can be so threatening in a long-term friendship, and the anxiety of contrasting attitudes and choices may be disrupting the rhythm of how you’d like to connect with your friend. 

Shared memories are wonderful, as you say, but expanding and making space for emerging developments matters hugely for the viability of ongoing relationships. I wonder from your message if you have very high standards for how you think friends should behave, and then there’s the difficult reality of how people actually turn out. 

It’s possible that you veer from being overly accommodating to suddenly feeling overcome with a sense of injustice in this particular dynamic. If so, think about timing. Strike when the iron is cold, or at least room temperature, when you do choose to have a difficult conversation with your friend. You can’t control her or tell her what to do, and it’s up to her if she’s friends with a former friend of yours. But you can be assertive about your boundaries and feelings, and if she’s teasing you sadistically and making you feel uncared for, you are certainly allowed to recalibrate your parameters for what you’ll engage with and tolerate. Hopefully you can both adjust to the twists and turns of your life trajectories.

As for what you say about being in your forties, friendships bring out childish and mature parts in remarkable ways, and no one in the world is entirely grown up. Hold space for yourself, and don’t apologise as you do to me for taking time to convey issues that are important to you. 

Warm wishes and compassion for the struggles of friendship throughout life. Some friendships feel impossible to live with and daunting to live without. Allow for your mixed feelings and be kind to yourself. It’s not easy. 

Get support if you can. Therapy can help with relationships of all sorts, including friendships.


Charlotte Fox Weber is the author of What We Want