One thing that’s apparent on social media is that the problems we have all had in friendships since time eternal can be magnified and made much more dramatic. A falling out with a friend turns into an unfriending. An oversensitive friend takes something the wrong way and blocks you. Using these so-called nuclear options can be harder to come back from than an old-fashioned public argument and subsequent apologies.
This week, I address a problem that has happened to many of us – whether in real life or online. But at what point do we draw the line and stop going back for more?
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I have a dear online friend who I’ve met in person a couple times. He always seemed like a really good person, but he kind of flipped out on me and a couple other friends about two years ago, said nasty things and unfriended us everywhere we were connected.
My friends and I were baffled, but when he didn’t respond to any of our questions about what had happened, we moved on. A few months later, he reached out to us, one by one, apologizing. We were all happy to accept his apology, as he had really only hurt our feelings, and we had a history of friendship.
It happened again about a year ago, again, we accepted his apologies when he came back a few weeks later.
It happened again last month. He called us really nasty things, unfriended and blocked us everywhere and refused to respond to any questions about what had happened.
I figured that was that, and didn’t get too caught up in it this time around. Then, a couple days ago, he started reaching out to friends again, apologizing again.
I’m really hesitant to reconnect to him, because this just seems like a never-ending roller coaster. I feel badly, because there’s probably some sort of underlying problem – health, addiction, family problems, something.
I don’t want to be mean, and I will accept his apology, but I don’t really feel like becoming “friends” again. Should I just accept his connection requests?
Riding the Rollercoaster
I hope it makes you feel better to know you’re not the first group of friends to go through this – and this kind of thing used to happen before social media, too. It just wasn’t as widespread, and the groups of friends tended to be smaller and co-located.
It probably doesn’t, though.
The thing is, you’re almost certainly right. And you feel badly because you know there is something going on with your friend that is making him hurt and lash out like this.
That doesn’t mean you have to keep taking it. There is a difference between forgiving someone and accepting that person back into your life. You can forgive very graciously:
“I absolutely forgive you and I hope you’re doing well.”
But you’ve ridden this coaster three times already. It is completely understandable to not want to take another spin.
Realize this person might be angered by that. Other friends are probably accepting his apology and his friendship. And that’s their right. You should do what’s right for you.
If your gut is telling you “all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again,” you’re probably a huge fan of Battlestar Galactica (sorry, couldn’t resist) and you’re probably correct.
We don’t need to be punching bags available to our friends whenever they need to lash out. Particularly if these people has a history of this behavior.
Look, everyone has bad days. And most people have said things to friends at some point or another that they regretted later. Or maybe even immediately. That’s understandable. And it’s reasonable to expect forgiveness and to forgive in those circumstances as well.
But to commit this behavior over and over and to expect those you hurt to forgive and forget time after time after time – that is unreasonable.
In your case, Riding, your desire to accept his apology but not reconnect is completely reasonable. Who knows? Maybe after a few months of observing his behavior, you will see some real change and decide to accept him back into your life. At this point, he’s done nothing to really show why you should do that.
The only other suggestion here is whether you feel comfortable enough to confront this friend and ask what is happening. Maybe he will open up and tell you what has been happening in his life and causing him to lash out like this.
If you feel comfortable enough and care enough about the friendship you had before this cycle of behavior, then ask him before you cut him off completely. Maybe just talking about it will help him see what his cycles of behavior has done to his friends.
Even if it doesn’t do that, you may choose to reconnect to some degree because you have a better understanding of where this behavior is coming from. But even if he does confide in you about a major issue that has happened in his life and it puts his behavior in an entirely different light, that still does not mean you have to reconnect.
It may make the pain of disconnecting a little less, because you will know why this behavior happened. But just because he is having pain in his life does not mean he has the right to cause pain in your life repeatedly. That is a decision only you can make. Just know that you’re not a bad person for choosing not to reconnect.