Is the Boyfriend to Blame as the Friendship Starts to Fade?

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(The Vancouver Sun, February 2003)

Q: Hi Saleema, I am 14 years old and over the past year or so, I’ve been fighting with my best friend. Let’s call her Michelle. She has a boyfriend in Grade 12. She used to call me and we’d spend time together, but now things are different—she hasn’t even called me once this weekend! We have been fighting constantly and I just can’t take it anymore. I need your help because this has just gone too far in my life and I don’t want to let go of her and our friendship.
Thanx, P.P.

Saleema: I’m so sorry to hear that you’re having such a rough time with Michelle—I am certain that many other girls (and women!) can relate to feeling left out when a good friend gets a boyfriend. Not knowing too much about the situation or about Michelle, here are some things you may want to think about. Your brain will hurt after answering all these questions, but hopefully they will help you deal:

  1. Take a close look at your friendship with Michelle. Is it healthy? I mean, does she treat you with respect and kindness and appreciation? How do you treat her? Make a list of all the characteristics you think make a great friend. Does Michelle have at least most of these characteristics (no one’s perfect, right?)? Do you? Could she be backing off for reasons other than her boyfriend? What is it about Michelle that makes you value your friendship? Is it because you have been friends for so long it would just be weird without her in your life? Is it because of social reasons, for example, being friends with her allows you to hang out with a particular crowd at school? Or is it because you truly connect and have fun together?
  2. The reason why I’m asking these tough questions is because first you need to decide if this friendship is something you want in your life. That is, you have a right to choose who your friends are. As we get older we become more selective about who we spend our time with. We focus our energy on friendships with people who treat us with respect and value the bond we share. Does Michelle deserve to be your friend? If the answer is, from the bottom of your heart, “YES”….
  3. My guess is that Michelle is so absorbed in her relationship that she doesn’t even realize how much she is hurting your feelings. If you haven’t already, sit down and talk to her. Try to plan a time when you can be alone with her in a quiet place (and no, her boyfriend can’t come!). Be honest and tell her exactly how you feel. What I find helpful is to make a list of things to say ahead of time just so you don’t forget. Try not to be angry or aggressive, and avoid accusing her of anything. So instead of shouting, “You never call me anymore!” you could say (calmly) “It hurts my feelings that you didn’t call me this weekend” or “I feel that I’m not a priority to you lately”. You could even show her this column to help explain.
  4. Be as specific as you can, then invite her to tell you how she is feeling. Don’t interrupt, and be willing to make an effort too. You could ask, “What can I do to make sharing your time between me and your boyfriend less stressful?” or “How could I be a better friend to you?” If Michelle truly cares for your feelings, she will commit to putting more effort into your friendship. It may not happen tomorrow, but give her a chance to show you that she is trying. Make a commitment to do your part, too.
  5. In the meantime, keep yourself as busy as possible—focus on the activities you are involved in, and consider trying something new if you have extra time. Maybe you could use this opportunity to strengthen other friendships you have, or spend some time by yourself. Being independent is very empowering! And don’t be afraid to lean on others for support—have you talked to your parents about this? They’re smarter than you think when it comes to this stuff!
  6. As for Michelle’s relationship, I hope it is a healthy one. I have to say I’m surprised that a 12th grader and a 9th grader would have much in common. Be prepared for her to come to you for support if things don’t work out. And remember, boyfriends can never replace good friends. It may not seem like Michelle believes that now, but in time she’ll figure out how lucky she is to have you in her life.