By Esther Mann, LCSW
Miriam, Sheila, and I have been best friends for quite a while. A couple of months ago, Miriam and Sheila had a misunderstanding and stopped talking to each other. I felt that Miriam was in the wrong and confronted her about what she had done to Sheila. My goal was to help repair their relationship, but I guess I went a little overboard explaining her wrongdoing. When Miriam tried to explain what motivated her behavior, I didn’t validate her experience. And frankly, I also mentioned a few things that I had been holding back for years—things that Miriam does that I’m not crazy about. Yes, I took advantage of the moment. I told her that even though I felt bad for Sheila, my goal was to help the two of them get back on track. I missed what the three of us had together and I also didn’t want to see my two closest friends fighting.
At the time of this conversation, Miriam seemed upset at me for getting involved and putting in my two cents, even though I explained my intentions. She told me that I had overstepped the boundaries and hurt her deeply. Well, fast-forward several months. Sheila and Miriam have patched things up, acting as though they never had any problems between the two of them. But it seems as though Miriam wants nothing to do with me anymore!
I have tried to repair my relationship with Miriam. I’ve apologized profusely, many times over. I even brought flowers over to her house with a lovely note, telling her how much I missed our friendship and how I hoped we could go back to being close friends again. I call her every Friday to wish her a good Shabbos. Usually she doesn’t take my call or return my message. Once or twice, she has answered her phone (probably by accident) and sounded cold and was quick to hang up.
I don’t know what else I could possibly do to repair my friendship with Miriam. I’ve asked Sheila to intervene, but she says that she doesn’t want to get involved—that it’s that kind of behavior that messed things up in the first place between Miriam and me. I miss Miriam and want things to go back to the way they were. If I could do it over, I would just mind my own business and let the two of them figure things out. But it’s too late for that and I’m wondering if you have any suggestions about how I might make things right with Miriam again.
Kenny Rogers had a song quite a while ago in which he sings, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em . . .” Though literally referring to cards in a poker game, I believe it applies to something much more meaningful—relationships.
When a relationship is important to us, we do whatever we can to hang on, even when we hit a rough patch. But it’s also important to recognize when a boundary has been crossed and we’re just chasing our tail by not accepting obvious consequences. Apparently, during Sheila and Miriam’s fight, you used that opportunity to say things that perhaps you would not have ordinarily taken the liberty of saying to Miriam. Clearly, you went too far. Maybe in that moment you felt that Miriam was an easy target and you took advantage of her weakened position. Certainly Miriam felt insulted and now no longer feels safe being your friend.
You say you wanted to help repair their friendship, but you inserted yourself where you didn’t belong. It doesn’t sound as though Sheila asked you to get involved and act as her defender, and possibly if you had asked her before you jumped in, she would have told you to stay out of it—as she stayed out when you asked her to get involved on your behalf.
It sounds as though you’ve learned a painful lesson. Even among the closest of friends, respect and boundaries must be honored. Your need to involve yourself and mouth off to Miriam has cost you, big-time. You’ve lost Miriam’s trust. Perhaps someday, events will unfold in a way that reunites the two of you. But for now, it sounds as though Miriam has made it clear that she has moved on from her friendship with you, and it’s time for you to move on as well.
Best friends are precious. They don’t come along all that often and need to be handled with care. You got a little sloppy with Miriam. Hopefully, you will never again find yourself caught up in such a triangle.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.