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I have lost touch with my best friend and I’m devastated | Friendship

The question I have lost touch with the person I thought was my best friend. We met at school when she came for an exchange year from her home country. For 10 years, she was the most important person in the world to me and we shared so much.

About five years ago she went to America for a job and before she left she visited me and it was wonderful. We had been struggling to keep in touch, as we started working and building our lives in our respective countries, but I never doubted her time on the other side of the world would only mean more for us to share with one another.

She wrote me one postcard from America and I kept asking her parents for her address, so I could write to her there, as her email address no longer worked. But it never came. Through social media (via her brother, as she is not active online), I see she has now married her boyfriend who followed her out to the US, and that she lives back in her home country again and has had a baby.

It hurts massively that such big life events happened to her and she seems not to have even thought about me. I wrote a letter to send to her saying how devastated I am (via the address of her parents’ house, which I still know off by heart). I can’t bring myself to send it, in case she never replies or tells me some horrible truth. Should I send it?

Philippa’s answer I receive many emails telling me similar stories to yours. A tale of two friends who were once close and then one appears to let the friendship go. It seems in your case that, even before your friend left for America, keeping up had been a struggle.

People’s inclinations when it comes to friendships differ. Some are still best friends with people they played with in primary school, while others, although possibly pleased to bump into someone they once knew well, lean more towards forming closer bonds with people who are more involved in their current lives. I’m not saying one way of being is superior to the other, or one is moral and the other not, just that these different ways of being in the world come naturally to each of us.

If you are naturally a good long-distant friend you may be baffled and hurt by a friend who has moved away and who lost touch with you – because, if you did that, it would mean there had been some sort of hurt or a misunderstanding. And if you cannot think what that is you might assume they are being cruel or that you must be in some way unlikable. It is just as likely that they have a different friendship pattern to you. If your friend is someone whose friendships tend to have more to do with the present than the past, she might be baffled to be told she has hurt you because she hasn’t been in touch. Her assumptions about friendship in general might not be the same as yours.

There are also those best-friend friendships that are almost like having a significant other, like having a partner almost, and then a real significant partner comes along, a true love interest, and the best-friend friendship, it seems, was just a rehearsal for a full-blown sexual relationship. Again, this is fine if this was so for both parties, but if one of you assumed your friendship was a bond for life and the other that such friendships are superseded by love, again, there may well be hurt.

Everyone will have their own inclination, habits and beliefs when it comes to how we make and maintain friends, and what we owe our friends and how we should be with them, what is acceptable, unacceptable, loyal and disloyal – and we will differ from each other. If we assume that others have the same ways of being with people that we have, it’s likely that it’s our own assumptions and expectations that cause us hurt, rather than our old friend doing anything intentionally to reject or hurt us. Your friend has been busy and involved in her life, she may have assumed that you were similarly involved in yours rather than feeling hurt that you had lost touch.

If you want to hear from your old friend maybe try to contact her through her brother on social media. You can tell her you miss her, but if you tell her that you are devastated because she lost touch, you would be in danger of making her feel guilty.

Our friends tend to be the people who make us feel good. We are friends with people who support our current view of ourselves and who confirm our identity. Your friend’s idea of herself may be different now than when you met at school. You say she was the most important person in the world to you. I’m sure at the time you mattered to her, too, but people’s lives move and change, priorities change. You cannot turn the clock back.

Being someone’s most important person might possibly be too much pressure for some people. If you do rekindle your friendship, it will be a different one to that bond you had back in school.

If you have a question, send a brief email to askphilippa@observer.co.uk

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