6 Suggestions for How to Email a Friend When Drifting Apart
I receive quite a few emails and comments from women who are left wondering what went wrong in one of their friendships when their friend stops responding or somehow indicates that the friendship is over, without explanation. Their desire seems to genuinely be one of seeking a better understanding of why the friendship drifted apart; with a secondary desire often stated of seeking "closure."
One such woman wrote me this week asking me to give her feedback on an email she had drafted up to send to a friend of hers. In the spirit of helping us all learn from each other, I asked her if I could share it here, including my comments back to her.
But before we go there, I want to highlight a few steps I think should be taken before we get to the "email her our thoughts."
Before Emailing Her Our Feelings and Concern
Here are four questions to ask before moving forward with your email:
- What type of friendship did you two share? Honestly. Look at the 5 Circles of Connectedness and objectively identify what kind of relationship you two created, not just whether she was your closest friend or not. This is important because it helps us know how much effort, how vulnerable, and how significant this loss might be to each of you. If you were Commitment Friends-- then, in my opinion, it's worth all attempts to heal the friendship; if it's a Common Friend, then it may be worth reaching out if we sense a rift or drift but we do so understanding that while this friendship was important to us-- we don't have the practice yet in our friendship of dealing with conflict and high emotions so we need to be mindful of not putting more on it than it can hold.
- Did any circumstances change around your friendship? If the friendship was held together by one primary way of being together (i.e. work, school, kids at same school, church, families on the same block) then it's possible that you were Common Friends instead of Commitment Friends and when that structure ended, you two don't have practice in maintaining the friendship in new ways, yet. When these relationships start drifting, it rarely is anything personal and usually is simply two people who aren't practiced at being friends with new circumstances. Any attempts to reach out should avoid blame and drama, and instead focus on "Miss you! When can we get together?"
- Is email the best way forward? Depending on how you two usually interact, how long the friendship has been developed, and how practiced you two are at in handling each others feelings, will dictate whether email is the route to go. But the goal of this email shouldn't be to solve everything or to vomit our every feeling and thought on her. Our goal should be to start the conversation on email, with hopes that it leads to a preferred method of validating, brainstorming, and sharing feelings. If we want a response from her, then short and kind is the best invitation to dialogue.
- What is your honest and ideal goal for this email? This is important... because if reconciliation is the goal, then now isn't the time to overwhelm her with drama, feelings, or blame. If closure is the goal (hopefully that means you've already tried reconciliation already), then end well with thanks and apologies, as needed.
1st Draft of Email
Huge thanks to the woman who agreed to let me use her email as an example we could all learn from:
I have gone back and forth for a long time now on whether or not to write you, and have finally decided to for some sort of closure for myself. It is clear to me that for whatever reason, you have chosen to end our friendship. I'm choosing to write to you in particular, because I feel like there had been some periods of time over the last couple years since we first met that we'd been pretty close. I know that had been much less so over the past year or so, but I (maybe naively) attributed that to the normal ebb and flow of friendships. It really saddened me to lose your friendship over the last couple of months without any explanation. If there was something specific I did, or even more so, something that was more of an ongoing pattern that 'caused frustration so much so that it made you not want to make room or time for me in your life anymore, it would have meant so much to me if you had been able to communicated that to me, even though that is hard, and letting something fade is so much easier. There are a lot of parts of who I am, specially in regards to social stuff, my sense of myself and my communication that could be improved upon (because I've let past baggage and experiences influence me), and I'm not trying to claim otherwise. Those are areas of myself and my life that I care a lot about continuing to work on and grow for the better. I'm not expecting or needing a response to this message, but it felt important to me to acknowledge what happened.
I hope things are going well for you.
6 Suggestions to Improving the 1st Draft
Without knowing any other context or back story that would help us each know what is most appropriate in our given circumstances, here is a summary of some of my feedback on the above email.
- DO be positive in your Opening and Closing: This is where we set the tone. I always start and end with what I want for us in a way that affirms her and our friendship. Perhaps, “I miss you….I’ve been tempted to not tell you that because I've wondered if you thought our friendship had run its course, but the truth is that I really treasure our friendship so wanted to reach out to you to see if, at minimum, we could at least have a conversation about what happened?” since in this case her read is that the other woman views the friendship as over. Otherwise, it would be more of an, "I miss you and would love to get together, but wanted to check in with you to see if everything was okay between the two of us, from your perspective?" And then I'd personally warm up the ending too, reiterating her value and my appreciation of our friendship.
- DO Ask for your ideal: she says: "I'm not expecting or needing a response to this message..” Is that true? I’d tend to leave that out, hoping that it DOES create dialogue and that she is willing to engage? I don’t know the circumstances but I’d even be inclined to say “I’m hoping to hear from you so that…”
- DO Share honestly, but error on under-sharing. I applaud her for naming her feeling and expressing her sadness. It's important to talk about what we experienced, but we don't have to explain it and give examples that risk placing blame. She shared her perspective and confusion without getting overly-dramatic.
- DO Avoid blame at this point in the game. She has one sentence "If there was something I did... that it made you not want to make room or time for me in your life anymore, it would have meant so much to me if you had been able to communicated that to me, even though that is hard, and letting something fade is so much easier," that I'd change to take out the blame of what could have been done and keep the focus on what can still be done: "If there was something I did... I very sincerely want to know what it was as it was never my intention to hurt you."
- DO Own what you can and be the first to apologize. Whether the goal is closure or reconciliation, make sure you own anything that you’re not proud of….. stronger for you to mention them than put all of that on her to do so. She does acknowledge her own baggage and desire to grow which would communicate to me that she is sincere, and capable of hearing why I pulled away. But she neglected to apologize.
- DO Format for ease. And finally— I’d break it up so it’s not one big paragraph but actually flows in shorter pieces so it’s easier for her to take in… Again, focusing on short and sweet, viewing it as the beginning of what you hope will be a two-way conversation.
Hope this helps you craft your emails... and I hope even more that the spirit with which you send them cares far more about communicating from a loving place than writing from the belief that you'll feel better if you vomit on her. No matter how hurt and disappointed you are-- she is a woman who deserves to be treated with utmost respect and love. Model to her how you hope the conversation can go....