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Posted on Tue, Mar 13, 2012 : 5 a.m.

How much support should be expected in adult friendship?

By Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

This past year has been nonstop hell for me, starting with the death of a cat I'd owned since high school and ending with a still-fresh breakup after a lot of relationship ups and downs. Through it all my best friend has basically done a disappearing act. How much support am I entitled to expect in an adult friendship?

-- Boston

I'm sorry. Some possibilities:

(1) Your friend is going through her own annus horribilis and you've either failed to notice each other's misery while so consumed by your own (and she's off somewhere else typing, "I'm in hell and my best friend has vanished ... "), or she has tried to be thoughtful and chosen not to tell you, knowing you have enough to worry about;

(2) You've elevated a series of bummers into an annus horribilis and she's feeling less sympathetic than weary of your self-pity;

(3) She's one of the many good-hearted people who freeze in a crisis.

(4a) Your friend isn't as good a friend as you thought (bleaker view) -- or (4b) She was once a great friend, but you've grown apart in a perfectly natural way, and it wasn't until you really needed her that you were able to notice the distance between you (brighter view, sort of).

If you think it might be 1, ask her how she's doing, and tell her you're sorry you've gone AWOL while dealing with your own stuff.

If you fear it might be 2, make a list of all the things you're counting toward your conclusion of "nonstop hell," compare these with other things people deal with regularly, and see whether you need to toughen up a bit.

If history tells you it's 3, then be honest with her about what you'd like from her. "I'm having a rough go of it, and I realize it can be hard for friends to know what to say, but I'd really just like someone to ask if I want to see a movie."

If it's looking like 4, then paint a silver lining by deciding that if you were going to get this bad news, it might as well come now, when you're in full disaster mode, and take comfort in the fact that life is cyclical and things will get better. Plus, you'll be a more resilient person when those good times come, because you'll have the knowledge that you were able to process several painful losses at once and still keep trudging along.

--0-- --0-- --0--

To Boston:

One more possibility -- her life is going great, like really great, and she doesn't want to hurt you more by how great her life is while your life (stinks).

Is it the best/most mature reaction? No. But as someone who has been on the friend's side, it is really hard to be supportive and not feel guilty about great stuff going on in her life when the topic of conversation turns to you.

-- Anonymous

Entirely possible, thanks -- the situation where I see this most is when one friend is struggling with infertility and the other gets pregnant. I think all parties involved know that avoiding the struggling friend is the last thing the celebrating friend should do, but it happens nonetheless -- forgivably, if all are sincere.

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