My best friend won’t see me any more. Now I’ve lost confidence | Ask Philippa

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The question Two years ago, my closest friend of 20 years stopped messaging me. Until then, we’d had almost daily contact. I was worried that something had happened to her. About a week later she replied and said she was “taking a step back from our friendship”. There was no explanation and no invitation to talk about it. It hit me like a bereavement, and I began to go over the last months and years of our interactions in my head, searching for what might have gone wrong. My mother died five years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child. My friend was a rock for me. I did rely on her heavily at that time.

About a year after her message, I contacted her again asking for more clarification, seeking to understand what had led to it and whether she envisaged our friendship continuing in the future. I wanted to understand her perspective and wanted closure if that wasn’t an option. Her response said that I’d leaned on her too much and that it had felt like a one-way street with me not supporting her. It opened my eyes to the fact that grief is selfish and I apologised for not having the self-awareness to see that perspective for myself, but I never received a reply. Another layer to this is that our lives have developed differently. I’m married with two children, while she is single and doesn’t have kids. And I guess my husband and I are more materialistic than she is.

The whole situation has left me hurting. I’m constantly second-guessing myself in interactions with other friends and new friends we’ve made through being parents. It has sapped my confidence. What can I do?

Philippa’s answer One thing you haven’t mentioned here is the pandemic and I’m wondering whether it could have had a bearing on your situation. In a survey published by Life Search in 2022, they report that one in three people in the UK have fallen out with friends and family since the start of the pandemic, which rose to one in two for the under 35s. Isolation caused people to re-evaluate what they wanted in terms of their social life, so you are not the only one to be unfriended in the last couple of years.

Having children is another reason that there are shake-ups among friendships. You have two children, and she has none so to some extent your head is probably taken up with kids and hers with other things – you will have less in common than you once had. Friendships may last a lifetime, but we also need to accept that it is normal to move in and out of closeness when it comes to friends.

There are also different layers of friendship: an inner intimate group of two or three people, perhaps a partner and a best friend; a close circle of about six; a wider friendship group usually comprising about 12, and a larger circle of about 50. Then, encompassing all of these, there’s everyone you’re just about in touch with, your Christmas card list, amounting to about 140 people. It is not uncommon that someone we think of as a best friend might only see us as a friend belonging to their bigger group. Nor is it uncommon for someone we may only regard as an acquaintance to see us as a friend. There is some inequality in most friendships in this way. It’s good not to take mutuality for granted.

It is not nice to be rejected and a shock when you didn’t see it coming, but as it seems this isn’t something that happens to you a lot, I would hazard a guess you are not habitually doing anything that generally winds people up the wrong way. You and your ex-friend’s lives have gone in different directions and she wasn’t getting what she once did from the friendship.

Then there’s you leaning on your friend for more support than she felt she had to give. It would have been nice had she put down a boundary before she reached her limit, but she didn’t and so, unwittingly and unknowingly, you went over that limit. It is not your fault. You could not know you were overstepping what she could cope with if she didn’t say or indicate it was getting too much.

We know who our friends are because we feel good when we are around them. You’ve made new friends through your children. Enjoy yourself with these new people and with your family and your other old friends. Don’t overthink or torture yourself about why this friendship ended. Beyond what she’s said it can only be guesswork. Accept that there could be a vacancy in your most inner circle for a new best friend and, if you don’t worry or become too self-conscious, I’m pretty sure that vacancy will be filled in the not too distant future.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t known rejection, I certainly have, and you know, in the long run, it’s OK, it’s just group dynamics shaking themselves down to reconfigure in a new way. We are not made of stone, we change, we adapt, we regroup and all will be well.

Philippa Perry’s The Book You Want Everyone You Love* To Read *(and maybe a few you don’t) is published by Cornerstone at £18.99. Buy it for £16.14 at guardianbookshop.com

Every week Philippa Perry addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Philippa, please send your problem to askphilippa@guardian.co.uk. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions

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