Everyday Ethics

Ever had a friend who simply vanishes from time to time? Well, I’ve got three. Yes, three. And not just acquaintances, but dear, close friends. We’ll be gabbing on the phone, emailing, hanging out and doing girl stuff like bffs for a while, when suddenly, they’ll drop off the radar. No amount of calling, emailing, or texting will garner a response from any of these three. (Though all are very different ladies in very different places in their lives, they share this common trait almost identically.)

At first I was more than unnerved, I was hurt. Crushed, in fact, when one of these friend (we’ll call her J) first dropped the friendship ball. We’d planned to hang out over the weekend, and then…

…nothing. No call, no explanation. Just bye-bye J. For two months. I called, I emailed. I began to worry that something had happened to her, and considered calling the cops to do a wellness check on her until a mutual acquaintance said he’d seen her at a function. 

Then the hurt set in. What had I done wrong? Why wasn’t she speaking to me? 
After that, the anger. Hey, wait a minute. I hadn’t done anything wrong! I’d been a good friend. She was the flake, not me. And she wasn’t even giving me the courtesy of an explanation.
Then, more hurt. And more anger. Gnash, rinse, repeat. Finally, acceptance. I’d lost my friend, I thought. It hurt. It felt bewildering, unfair, and sad. I missed the relationship. But I’d move on.
Then, out of the blue, she called. And explained she’d been going through a really bad patch: depression, family issues, medical problems. She was sorry, she’d missed me, but she’d simply, psychically been unable to pick up the phone.
I was chastened, but also appalled to hear how bad things had been for my dear chum, and then – again – both angry and hurt. Why, I wanted to know, hadn’t she reached out? Why hadn’t she leaned on me if all this heavy stuff was going down?! Naturally, I’d want nothing more than to be there in a crisis for my friend. She hadn’t let me help, and I didn’t understand.
When I confronted J, saying I wasn’t sure I could deal with another disappearing act if she was planning to vanish again, I thought she’d reassure me, tell me she’d never do it again, because she valued my friendship so much. Instead, she told me she needed the leeway to make mistakes and personal choices that might not be the best for our friendship, but were the best she could do. More than that, she needed my understanding. I couldn’t place impossible conditions on our friendship. Instead, I needed to adjust my understanding of our friendship to accommodate the reality of who she was. And, if I wanted 100% reliable companionship, I’d have to find it in someone else. Could I live with that? She hoped I could, because she cared for me very much, and she was sorry for the strain her needs put on our relationship.
Eventually, I came to understand that reaching out for help just wasn’t her way. And it wasn’t the way for my other two friends, either, both of whom are prone to down patches. All three need to go to ground, like wounded animals, when they are aching. 
And they needed me to accept that. 
My evanescent friends just aren’t quite like me (or a lot of my other friends, who DO want to be chased when they’re MIA – each friendship is different, so I apply different rules for different people, according to their needs). They don’t look at friendship as necessarily a daily contact, share everything kind of thing. They want to deal with the difficult stretches in their lives in their own way, and they don’t ask for – or want – a helping hand.
Still, it’s always when they’re blue that they go silent, which makes me ache for them when too long goes by without word. I know they’re in a bad place, and I know there is nothing they want or will let me do for them, and that’s hard. The impulse to make things better doesn’t go away, even knowing I’m respecting their wishes and their privacy.
Do you have any friends who do ‘disappearing acts’? If so, how do you handle it? What’s the right thing to do? Stay hands off, or wade right in?
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