Honesty, not avoidance, is the better course of action, says Liz Pryor, Good Morning America’s advice guru and author of What Did I Do Wrong?: When Women Don’t Tell Each Other the Friendship Is Over.
My friend Rooney had majored in psychology and obtained a master’s in sociology before joining the ranks of television producing. She now wanted me to meet an old friend with whom she’d gone to school, Dr. Susan, a practicing psychologist with a specialty in counseling women. I called her, and arranged to meet for lunch.
She was sitting at the table when I arrived, nicely dressed, much younger and hipper than I’d imagined. We greeted and after a few moments, I could see Dr. Susan was not only sharp, she also had a great sense of humor. I took advantage of an opening at the end of a funny story about Rooney and decided to get to my subject.
I explained that I’d become interested in the topic of women and friendship, specifically how women end friendships with each other. I shared my own story and how I had excavated my ended friendships. I touched on the guilt and shame I feel around it all. Dr. Susan agreed with my belief that society and people in general overlook the significance that the loss of a friend can have on a woman’s life.
Then I asked her, “What advice might you give a client if she came in seeking help during a fallout with a friend?”
She looked down, moved her water glass around, and said, “I’d tell her to try and be as direct as possible.”
I added, “But to do what feels right for her?”
“Yes, something like that.”
“And what about the woman on the receiving end of this, the one who is basically getting dumped. What would you tell her?” I asked.
“She usually doesn’t have as many choices. I would remind her she is only in control of herself and then suggest she ask her friend why she seems so unavailable.”
I then asked, “Even demand it if she has to?”
“Right.” She smiled.
I took a few seconds and then asked, “And what if this happens to you? What do you do?”
“Oh, my God,” she said, and took a sip of water. “Well, nowhere near what I advise, unfortunately.” She fussed around with the silverware and then said, “It’s ironic actually, but I have a situation going on as we speak, with a friend from graduate school. It’s been long in coming, but it’s here. I’m avoiding, I haven’t returned calls, all of it. I’m really unsettled about it.” I couldn’t help wondering, was the friend a shrink also?
She continued. “This is a very murky situation for me. I mean, obviously I need to give this subject in my own life some serious thought.”
I asked her, “Have you considered your own advice in terms of dealing with your friend?”
She responded, “No, that wouldn’t exactly work for me.” I wanted to tell her it doesn’t exactly work for anyone, as she continued.
“If I really think about it, I guess what most women want from me when they present this situation in my office is permission. Permission to feel and to do whatever they want, and I must admit, I usually give it to them.”
“Are you looking for permission?” I asked.
“Maybe, but I already know that however I decide to end this friendship, I am free from judgment. I only have myself to answer to.”
We ordered our food, and then she asked me what I thought she should do.
I said, “I can’t answer that. I mean, I don’t know you nearly well enough to answer that.”
She displayed her savvy therapist side and offered, “Okay, then I’ll rephrase the question to make it so you can. What would you do if you were me?”
I thought about it and then blurted, “I was you many times over, and when we were just talking about permission it made me realize that it’s actually permission that helps navigate the course we choose to take at an ending. The tricky part is that the permission needs to come from ourselves.
It’s not going to come from the outside, from our mothers, or society or whomever. I mean, it would help, I’m sure, if the world around us would force an expectation of behavior, but they don’t, not in this area. So we have to do it alone. And that is a tall, tall order for some of us. As I’m sure you’ve seen, even with no threat of judgment from the outside, women still grapple with whether or not they’re doing the right thing, and that is coming from inside of them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liz Pryor, author of What Did I Do Wrong?: What to Do When You Don’t Know Why the Friendship is Over (Copyright © 2006 by Liz Pryor), has devoted the last five years to helping and commiserating with women on her website, www.lizpryor.com. She guests regularly as a go-to girlfriend dispensing advice on Leeza Gibbons’ nationally syndicated radio show Hollywood Confidential and is the full-time advice guru on ABC’s Good Morning America.