When a Friendship Isn’t Reciprocated

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You’ve put yourself out there, gone to the girls’ nights and the Bible studies, and you are still struggling to make a friendship connection. You are giving your best and women aren’t reciprocating the efforts. This friendship thing can be so tricky!

As a classic initiator, I deeply feel the pain of someone not reciprocating my efforts. I have had many budding friendships meet their end when friends reschedule over and over, stop responding to texts, or just disappear. You may also have heard this disappearing act as “ghosting.”

In her book Give It a Rest, friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson talks about the damaging effects of our cutoff culture:

Cut-off culture refers to the increasingly accepted practice of completely ending communication with someone without warning or explanation. . . .

. . . We choose to ghost other women when we decide that moving forward would be too hard.

Silent treatment is, in my experience, the most common response in friendships when things have stalled. Many of us are left to wonder: Was I not worthy of her time? Was I not an interesting enough person to invest in? Friendship ghosting has made me doubt my worth many times. There is also the potential for new friendships to stall due to an unexpected conflict early in the friendship. Instead of addressing the issue, the stonewalling lasts a few months until the conflict has been “forgotten,” or it ends a friendship altogether. Being “cut-off ” is more painful than a difficult conversation would have been. This sort of ghosting has made me second-guess all my friendships (Does she really like me, or will she disappear without any explanation too?).

I had my first real friendship ghosting situation in my mid-twenties. Sure, I had already experienced plenty of mutual partings due to “growing apart.” But in this new friendship, a relationship I thought was healthy and fine did a complete 180- degree turn. My friend kept putting off my invitations to hang out, then ignored my calls, and finally sent me a text saying, “Wish you the best.” I had done something that hurt her feelings through a misunderstood text message, but her refusal to talk through things and reconcile was just as painful. I had enjoyed this friendship so much and invested a lot of time, and I still really liked this girl despite her callous behavior.

The friendship was clearly over, but without an actual, clear conversation, the vague conclusion was difficult to process. I spent many nights crying into my pillow. I called the friend to ask if we could please speak in person, but it wasn’t until many months later when I ran into her at a party that we had an opportunity to talk. We apologized for how we handled the situation and walked away with some peace. We respected what our friendship had been and would have genuine friendliness when we ran across each other in the future, but it was unlikely we would reestablish a friendship.

This may seem like a sad ending to the story, but I discovered that ultimately it was a rich opportunity to see God’s reconciliation at work. I was prayerful in this time, asking God to give me humility to hear where I fell short and to help me forgive my friend’s mistakes. I trusted God to work in both of our hearts even though we weren’t talking. I walked away from our last conversation with so much peace and praise, despite the outcome, because I knew God was part of it all. I had done my best to respect myself and my friend and honor God through the experience.

When we’re tempted to silently withdraw instead of addressing a friendship issue, here are some thoughts from God’s Word to comfort us:

If your [sister] sins against you, go and tell [her her] fault, between you and [her] alone. If [she] listens to you, you have gained your [sister].

Matthew 18:15

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:17-18

Whether you are the one backing out of a friendship or you feel that a friend has stopped putting in the effort, my best advice is to talk about it. Even if the reason for your withdrawal is as innocent as being too busy for her, sometimes communicating your level of commitment to the friendship is better than not communicating about it at all. The ghosting culture has to stop. It is unbiblical and damaging. Instead, with humility, approach your friend and do everything you can to make peace with her. At that point it is on her to respond in truth and love. If she doesn’t, she will need to work that out with God, not you. You have done everything you can, and that alone will provide you the peace to begin your friend search again.

Bailey T. Hurley

is everyone’s favorite community cheerleader. She encourages women to pursue a faithful relationship with God so they can build fruitful friendships in their corner of the world. She has written on the topic of friendship and faith for publications like She Reads Truth, Salvation Army’s Peer Magazine and Grit and Virtue. She also loves podcasts! You can find her chatting all about friendship on Sally Clarkson’s podcast Life with Sally, Kristin Schell’s podcast At the Turquoise Table, and a dozen more. 
Bailey holds an MA from Denver Seminary in leadership and uses her degree to create genuine connection in her home and host a weekly community group with her husband. She currently lives in Denver, CO with her husband, Tim, and kiddos: Hunter, Liv, and Henri. You can find more resources and say hello at baileythurley.com

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