She’s become very money-motivated and super flashy since she moved back to America
Question: I have a very close old friend, as in I’ve known her from my college days so we’re talking 15 years of friendship (and I really treasure my female ones as I don’t have sisters), but over the past few years, our relationship has changed a lot.
As I see it, when she moved back to America, she became very money-motivated (always talking cash and being super flashy) and very self-obsessed. It’s now almost a running joke with me and our other shared friends that she never asks us questions about our lives.
So she’ll visit and literally not ask a single thing about work/love life/family etc — nada. And it’s the same on the phone: she will ring, rant away about her life for 20 minutes and then be like, “OK, gotta go”, so she hangs up without ever getting any info from you at all.
Is there a way to tackle it without starting a huge fight or making everything very uncomfortable? The one-way thing can’t really be sustained anymore, so do I just need to accept it and back away? What should I do?
Answer: In the midst of a so-called ‘friendship recession’, we’ve all become more aware of nurturing the friendships we hold dear and, likewise, reconsidering the friendships that may have run their course.
The idea of limiting the number of friends you have with an ‘audit’ or ‘cull’ has also gained ground. People no longer feel obligated to sustain old friendships for the sake of it. Still, making the cut is hard — and matters of the heart are rarely cut and dry.
I shared your dilemma with psychologist Dr Finian Fallon, who thinks it might be time to decide how important this friendship is to you. If you decide this issue is too important to ignore, he cautions that it “can be risky to challenge someone about a change in their outlook, or even their values, that does not sit right with you”.
“Be prepared for conflict if you do confront this issue with your friend,” he adds. “Sometimes conflict in a relationship can be very constructive — we seem to hate these kind of confrontations in Irish culture — but it can also destroy trust and damage friendships permanently.”
By the same token, being prepared for conflict, should you choose to confront the issue, means you can also prepare to mitigate that conflict. Keep your tone calm and neutral and prepare what it is you want to say, and how exactly you’re going to say it.
“It might be better to ask your friend if you could meet her one-on-one and explain to her how you are feeling about how things have changed for you,” says Fallon.
“Accusing language — saying things like ‘you are this or that’ — usually puts the other person on the defensive, and isn’t often successful,” he adds. “Use ‘I’ statements like, ‘I miss our friendship’, for example, rather than finger-pointing.”
Curious to hear an alternative take on your issue, I also shared your dilemma with Liam Burke, the co-founder of new Irish platform BFFinder. Burke’s start-up helps Irish adults make friends, so he understands the challenges people can face in maintaining friendships that change over time.
“If you’re hesitant to confront her, I would suggest messaging her with a minor issue and getting her advice on it,” he says. “During your next face-to-face or phone call, see if she follows up to see how it went. If there’s no mention of it, casually bring it up in the conversation.
“Tell her you took her advice and see if she continues with the conversation or if she tries to push the focus back to her. Hopefully, with her contributing to your situation, it might help to reel her back into the friendship and how rewarding it can be.
“If she proceeds back into ‘main character syndrome’, she might just be too oblivious to how she’s treating the friendship. At this point, the pure joy of going for a coffee and chat is not an escape; it’s extra baggage on your shoulders.”
I also shared your dilemma with psychotherapist Amy Plant, who says many readers will relate to the “evolution of friendship and people changing over time”. Most will choose to avoid the “emotional labour” of confrontation and hope the situation will rectify itself, she notes.
“Still, there is something going on that isn’t being addressed and that is going to foster distance or maybe even resentment.”
Plant wonders if you are hopeful this friendship can return to something “reciprocal and nourishing” or “are you just over it?”. If you think you can get the friendship back on track, the next question is whether you’re willing to face this issue head on.
There are ways to confront the issue that are “more likely to be received as constructive”, says Plant. “Deliver it in a way that acknowledges the reason you’re discussing it at all is because you value the friendship and you want it to survive.
“Say something like: ‘I’ve thought about this for a while and the only reason I’m bringing this up at all is out of respect for our friendship and the desire to continue it. If I didn’t care, I would just leave this go… This is not an attack. This is not a desire to criticise you. This is a desire to resolve.’”
It may also help to consider the cultural context of your friend’s changed behaviour. You mentioned she changed when she moved back to the US, which is more of a consumer economy than Ireland. The average student leaves college with a debt of roughly €35,000. American workers get significantly less paid time off. This creates undue financial stress, which can manifest as a sort of status-anxiety. Our environment can shape our personality, so it’s worth considering that point of view.
If you have a dilemma, email firstname.lastname@example.org.