Ask Ellie: If you canʼt offer support, itʼs time to gently distance

Dear Ellie: My closest friend from high school and I kept in contact (both mid-40s), but I now doubt that can continue.

She was from a different city, full of spirit and fun. We became instant besties. We went to different colleges, each married and had children, managed to visit each other or meet somewhere with our kids every few years.

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During a very tough period, she had a lot of losses — close grandmother, father, and tragically, her brother. I’d listen for long periods when she called and cried. Just when she seemed to recover from so much grief, her marriage ended. I kept in contact, stayed supportive.

When a younger man came into her life, she seemed very happy. We were both busy with jobs and growing teenagers. During the pandemic, we emailed several times. Then, no response. I arranged a virtual date to catch up.

She didn’t join the “meeting.” When I called very worried that she or someone close had contracted COVID-19, she emailed that she’d arranged with her partner for a threesome sex date that evening. I went silent. She immediately said that I was being judgmental. (I wasn’t, just hurt at her disregard for my concern). She launched into a “lecture” on polyamory as a healthy way to be loving and intimate with more than one person, and that it’s made her current relationship better than that with her ex who’d cheated repeatedly.

I said that I only minded that she showed no respect for our friendship. I also said I was surprised at her taking health risks of having sex with people who had other close contacts, too.

She now keeps calling, trying to convince me that I’m only angry because of prejudice against her lifestyle.

She insists that I’m only acting so hurt because of my intolerance. What do you think?

End of a Friendship?

It obviously still matters to you that she doesn’t acknowledge that you were so worried about her.

It’s also obvious that her change of lifestyle, especially at this time, has disturbed you. What’s sadly apparent too, is that she still looks to you for approval. But by ignoring your reaching out to her when you were worried, she put enough distance on the friendship to set up this divide.

Polyamory had gained committed followers before the coronavirus arrived. For its adherents, having intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners involved, means “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy.” During this time of virus spread, risks are greater, so it’s wiser to practise polyamory on video dates, or private chat rooms rather than in person. Still, that’s her business, not yours.

I believe you were shocked at her choice as much as worried. Own that reaction, to be honest with yourself, even if this friendship fades.

Your friend had very different experiences from you — tragedy, losses, and a husband’s deceit. Move on from hurt/anger. Either keep up some contact, or gently distance if you feel you must.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Friendship is about caring and supporting. If you can’t provide these, don’t pretend or protest. Gently distance.

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