Just recently I came across a post in a popular advice column. The query was something like this:
“My brother keeps declining invitations to family get-togethers. He used to live in another state, but now he lives within a 2-hour drive. He keeps making excuses not to join us. We are very hurt and we wonder why he doesn’t want to be with us.”
I’ve also seen dozens of questions like,
“Jane and I used to be really good friends. Suddenly she stopped returning calls and messages. I know she’s healthy and doing well. She won’t answer when I ask what happened.”
These questions leave me feeling frustrated. I’ve written an article in Medium arguing that nobody owes you help when you’re sick or otherwise in need.
Now I’d add, “Nobody owes you an explanation for anything.”
The truth is, a lot of the time, people don’t know exactly why they don’t want to continue the relationship. They just know they don’t want to.
Sometimes you have a clue. A friend retires. She abandons entrepreneurship for a corporate job or vice versa. His children begin to take up all his time.
But sometimes there’s just a vague sense of, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Advice columnists say, “Ask them directly, why are they doing this?” Sometimes they quote therapists who suggest a frank soul-baring discussion.
In my experience, that just makes everything worse. They don’t want to talk to you at all and now you’re asking for emotion work.
Sometimes they don’t even have an answer. “We don’t have anything in common,” they murmur.
Of course there can be consequences. They can choose to drop you; you can drop them from your will or from invitations for professional opportunities.
It’s frustrating when they’ve promised something, such as a joint vacation or a willingness to be the executor of your will or your emergency medical contact. But frankly, there’s not much you can do.
Sometimes a relative will write something like, “You are a horrible person! What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you visit more often?”
Now there’s a tempting offer.
The truth is, life gets easier when you start with, “Nobody owes you anything unless you have a legal, binding agreement. Even then, your agreement needs to have provisions for dissolution of the agreement, just in case.”
I’ve learned this from business. A client chooses an alternative? That’s their right, as long as I’m paid for what I did already. Who wants to work with someone who feels enslaved?
For that matter, how can you be friends with someone who’d rather not spend time with you? Do you want to be with someone who’s gritting their teeth and thinking, “I’d rather be anywhere but here?”
Frankly, I’ve learned to let it go. There’s some truth to that platitude, “One door closes and another door opens.” Once that person (or group) is gone from your life, you make room for someone – or something – that becomes a new source of fun and enjoyment. No stress, no strain, no difficult conversations.
I’ve also found that, as time goes by, I usually understand the reason the other person left. And frankly, I’m grateful. It wasn’t destined to be good for either of us.