Friend of 15 years can't handle me now standing up for myself
Q: I have been working on being more honest in relationships, and more willing to address issues rather than stay quiet and feel resentful. I have always been too afraid of hurting people's feelings, so I tend to stay quiet even if I'm upset.
I sent my friend what I thought was a nice-as-possible e-mail saying that I understand she's busy, but I am sad that she wasn't in touch with me when she knew I was going through difficult times this summer. This is the first time I've ever addressed an issue like this with her.
She blew up and now says I owe her an apology for confronting her when she is so busy and overwhelmed. I am at a loss — other than not bringing it up at all (and getting more and more resentful), I don't know what I could have done.
This could end a 15-year friendship, because I am not willing to apologize for raising what I think is a reasonable concern. I'm now even more hurt at her refusal to recognize my feelings as valid. Because I have always avoided things like this in the past (and now I'm reminded why!), I don't know how to handle this.
A: Actually, you do know what you could have done: You could have remained Old You, and been the friend who never says anything. After all, that's the person your friend plucked from the crowd 15 years ago.
More to the point, she didn't choose a friend who stood up for herself. So it's important to realize that when you decided your character had room for improvement (a difficult and laudable step), you took the chance that you were changing traits others liked.
It's a natural assumption that our self-improvement will be well-received, since our loved ones wish us the best, right? But to be valid, that assumption requires universal agreement on what constitutes strength and weakness — when in fact human qualities are highly subjective. Plus, some people seek out convenient or compatible flaws in their companions, or simply like someone as-is, and regard metamorphosis with a sense of loss.
It's also possible she'll be your most enthusiastic supporter, if she comes around to considering your needs along with her own. It's worth a try to find out. Be kind and firm in maintaining that you didn't ask anything from her that you didn't have a right to request; remind her, too, how difficult it is for you to speak up. Her failure to recognize this herself, by responding more charitably, probably compounds your hurt feelings.
At the same time, be open to the possibility that your "nice-as-possible e-mail" was a clunker. Wording intended to be honest and gentle can come across as quite the opposite — contrived, say, or mealy-mouthed — to a reader. Misreading tone is a hazard with all communication, but it's a particular danger with writing. (Another thing you could have done differently is called, or confronted her in person.)
Here's the variable on which I believe your friendship hinges: If you spent 15 years caring about each other, then there's a good chance she will come around. If she spent 15 years taking advantage of your compliant nature, then the new you might not want this friend anymore.