4 thoughts on “Relationship Problems? Try Going Neutral

  • June 5, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    I have a childhood friend who is now married. His wife is rather demanding and commands a premium upon his time. Whenever we have meet for coffee, lunch, or any other type of informal outing, he soon received texts and calls exactly at the 1 hour point that prompted him to move along and tactfully end our time together. Well, after his first child came along, predictably, his time for socializing had shortened. Things progressed to where we would make plans, and he would reliably cancel a few hours before meeting, citing family or business obligations, and an honest onus toward stating poor self-time management. This happened 3-5 times in a row, and I called him out on it. “I don’t care if you have one wife or ten, one child or twenty, your time is every bit as important as mine!” is what I told him. This was acknowledged and an apology issued. However, no behavior change resulted. His solution was to decline to meet altogether, even with 1-2 months spaced apart between plans. I was flexible and could even meet him at his home for a quick chat from time to time, which is a very convenient option for a very busy person. I soon came to understood that these dynamics were far bigger than me. I saw that there was no conscious effort to place or include our friendship within his life. This was his marriage, his wife, and his own choice to “go neutral,” essentially to de-prioritize our friendship and let things fall into neglect, in order to relieve his friendship obligations. After building feelings of hurt and even resentment, I realized this was something that I could not manipulate or fix. Therefore, I myself chose to go “neutral.” It was amazing how much better I felt. He emails from time to time asking “how’s it going?” I am kind and respond generously and promptly in writing, but invariably, after a few email exchanges, the communication tapers off into silence with no plans for re-establishing a meaningful connection. Now, nearly 1 1/2 years later, we generally no longer speak. He might not really know the reason for my going quiet, but he is pretty intelligent and should have some idea. However, I do know that he does not meet my [reasonable] expectations for a meaningful and valued friendship, and honestly, because of his behavior, I’d rather not have him be a part of my life. So long as I don’t hear from him, I’m actually quite happy to no longer have a friendship with him. Going neutral can be an option when all else fails. It is better than scorn and attacking the friend, especially when you are relatively sure that whatever you say or do will not make a difference.

    • June 5, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      My further interpretation:

      Sometimes I feel like barking up the tree to summon my friend. Or, digging a hole to dig my old friend up and bring him back to me. However, I just have to realize that he has vacated the tree. Or, if he is in the tree, he is wearing earplugs and has turned a blind eye and chooses to not look down. I also have to realize that my paws are drying to dig through a concrete slab. I can’t go through that barrier, which is, their choice to no longer invest or participate in what I once thought was a solid and valuable friendship. This is something that I can’t fix or decide. It is ultimately up to them.

      This is a prime example of what disappoints me with people. This is what makes me feel like giving up and saying altogether that relationships and friendships are ultimately futile, not worth it, and are bound to dissolve with time. Why even try? Why even invest and participate? They, or even I, will eventually become “too busy” and lose interest. But then, I try to remember that this very thought is futile in and of itself. It entraps one into a cycle of cynical hopelessness and isolation, the end result of which will be loneliness, depression, and perhaps even a hopeless despair. Therefore, I can say, that at best a friend just might always be a part of my life. More typically, he may go on vacation, but he might be back, and he will always remember to come back and renew/maintain the connection, even if interspersed by several months, because I know that this is most likely the best that can be done considering the finite resources of time and life. At worst, people are “just here to visit.” They come into our lives for a season, they teach us something and vice versa, and then for some reason, we part ways and move on, as if we were lone travelers in a vast universe. Even in this case, the template of our relationship, all of its richness, remains within us, and we can apply and share what we’ve learned with others, and keep it within us as an understanding of what a satisfying human relationship looks and feels like, in such a way that we will recognize it quickly when we find it again. In the end, any and all contingencies have value and are worthwhile, even if some significant heartache is involved.

      • June 9, 2016 at 12:19 pm

        Wow. It looks like you have been through a major loss with this friendship. In addition, it seems you have been through this a few times with different friends. Am I wrong on that?
        I agree that neutrality is important when one finds themselves over and over again trying to “get” someone to do what we want. In addition to doing this, I recommend you get support from a professional therapist. This may help you with insight in how to manage your other losses as I suspect this goes much deeper…
        Thanks so much for writing in. It is extremely helpful feedback for others.
        And, as always, take care.

      • June 9, 2016 at 5:14 pm

        You are correct. My friend was a major loss. I have purposefully separated from childhood friends [close to me as siblings] when they started experimenting with drugs [early losses]. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the discipline, insight, and perspective to know all my life when to “go neutral” for the greater good.

        Going to therapy was one of the most amazing and revealing experiences I have done. My therapist was masterful. He died rather quickly of pancreatic cancer [a loss]. He encouraged me to read “The Haunted Self,” and I have many, many kernels of knowledge from him and others who have come and gone. My second therapist was likewise a very good helper, who assisted me to cope with the loss of a person whom I’ll consider to be my soulmate. She [“the soulmate”] and I were together for 3 very happy and growth-filled years.

        The losses are a part of living. The risk of loss is most certainly worth taking on. Losses will occur, it is not a matter of if. Change happens and things happen, even if it be through death, or merely a loss of interest experienced by a party within the relationship.

        Drilling down to the roots is what allows me to contribute what I have written above. Otherwise, I might not take the time. Letting the oil lay where it lies, so to speak, is the option to not feeling, not expressing, and therefore not creating an environment of greater empathy toward self and others. You have to tap it to use it.

        Thank you for your post. It has helped me to process some concepts through my writing and reflection. This is helpful to people.


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