Dear Carolyn: I really hurt my friend of 20-plus years when I backed out of a group vacation at the last minute. I emailed what I thought was a truly apologetic explanation, offering to try to make it up. I should have called, but I feared a bad reaction on my friend’s part, which is exactly what happened.
She flipped out and became very emotional, quickly sending a very raw email and voice mail that frightened me in their intensity. I’ve apologized again, asked to get together to talk about what happened, tried to have some light communication, but I’m being shut out.
It’s been six weeks. This vacation excepted, I have always been there for this friend through many trying times. Now I’m the one who’s hurt by not having my appeals for forgiveness accepted. Am I still in the wrong, or is my friend being as irrational as I feel she is?
The email was a truly terrible idea, as you say, and “light communication” was probably a “don’t” as well.
Her refusal to hear you out, especially after all those years of friendship — that’s on her.
I’m not saying this to minimize your loss, just to put it in context: The implosion was probably inevitable, unless you somehow managed to do and say all the right things in perpetuity around this volatile friend.
So while I can see why you feel hurt, I think that misplaces the blame. “Hurt” suggests she’s harming you personally, with intent, where I’d argue she is simply unable to get over herself.
I do think a one-last-time call is appropriate. Explain to her (i.e., her voice mail) that you regret emailing, since you should have called; that you’re sorry you let her down on the vacation, though you didn’t do it lightly; that you value this friendship; and that you believe the 20 years you and she have shared warrant at least one chance for you to say your piece. Say you hope she’ll grant you that much, and you’ll gratefully take her call whenever she’s ready.
Re: Friends Who Explode: Good rule of thumb, people: If you have a good reason to be terrified of someone’s response to bad news, then that is NOT a person you want to have a close relationship with. Period. All too often, people keep coming here and saying, “How can I stop X, who always reacts badly, from reacting badly?” Simple. Stop interacting with them unless you absolutely have to. And try not to keep any lit powder kegs in your house while you’re at it.
I’ve advised (probably too) many times that predicting how they’d handle a breakup is a great way to screen potential romantic partners — but you’re right to extend it to friendships, thanks.
Re: Friends Who Explode: Sadly, it seems to me that many people put more energy into maintaining those high-standards friendships. It really bothers me when people assume that because I don’t throw a hissy fit, it’s OK to cancel on me. So don’t choose friends who punish you … but also don’t be someone who needs the threat of punishment to do the right thing.
So right: Show some extra love for wheels that don’t squeak.