Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Carolyn: About two months ago, one of my best friends told me she and her husband are officially getting a divorce (among other problems, he cheated). I told her I am of course there for her when she needs it. I can take a day off work and drive to her anytime; we live an hour apart and have differing work schedules.
I’ve tried via texting to find a time for us, and she keeps saying she'll let me know for a future week. I can’t tell if she’s just really busy or if she’s avoiding making plans more out of depression, and I should make more of an effort. I don’t want her to feel guilty for not having made time for me yet, since she’s likely stressed from having to relearn how to live alone for the first time in 10 years, finding out her husband cheated, etc. But I don’t want her to be avoiding her support system out of depression or something. It HAS been two months. How should I proceed?
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Stay in touch. Not to press the visit idea, but to send her a link to a non-marriage-or-divorce-related essay that made you think of her, or to recommend a book or movie, or to send an old picture you dug up. You can also text a just-saying-hello, or ship her a box of her favorite coffee you get the idea. It might feel like a one-sided conversation, but that’s OK.
In fact, make it clear to her that you’re just going to stay in touch, and she’s under no pressure to respond, because you get it, she has a lot to adjust to right now. Think of it as a benign hover.
For what it’s worth, I have no idea which way you mean “It -HAS- been two months,” since I can argue that’s a long time or an eye-blink. In recovering from a serious-emotional-blow-plus-upending-of-daily-life, I lean toward eye-blink. Provide a gentle presence then let her take it from there.
Re: Being there: People need different things from their friends in a crisis. You’re someone who’d want a friend to visit, were you in your friend’s shoes, so that’s what you’re offering. But it sounds like having a visitor isn’t what your friend needs right now.
I recently lost my spouse after an 18-month illness, during which we moved four times and I had to travel for work. The several friends who are offering to pay for me to fly out and visit them have their hearts in the right place, but the last thing I want right now is more time spent away from home. Listen to Carolyn. Stay in touch and let your friend know she’s on your mind; ask her what people have done that’s been helpful to her.
Thank you for this, and I’m sorry for your loss.
It’s also helpful to make specific offers — say, “May I buy you lunch?” versus “Is there anything I can do?” — because people often don’t know how to ask for what they need. Build flexibility into that, too: “If you’re not up for lunch, I can also drop food off or run errands for you. Just say the word.”
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.