Killing a Friendship Over Email

Modern relationships end in strange ways. Last year, a friend terminated a friendship with me over email. We had not met in over a year, and had been exchanging emails on trying to find a time and place to meet and ‘catch up.’ Arranging a meeting time with another ambitious New Yorker that works is an intractable task at the best of times; still, my friend and I, thanks to our emailing back and forth, seemed to have found a rendezvous space-time point that worked. But that meeting fell apart thanks to my parenting commitments, and as it did, and as I asked to reschedule, my friend accused me of inattention, of not reading our communications carefully enough. I quickly and briefly apologized, and stunned by the anger on display in the accusation of inattention and distraction, retreated into embarrassed silence. A couple of weeks  later, we ran into each other on the street, and found our conversation brief, rushed conversation–it’s New York City!–awkward and stilted. Having noticed that personal contact hadn’t helped, I tried again, over email, to reach out. But it didn’t; my email met with an another angry response; the relationship was well and truly over. Yet another attempt at reconciliation, hopefully in person, made by email contact, again ended in disaster, as I was accused of insensitivity and selfishness. I stared my email exchanges thread in some disbelief; there it lay, the forensic record of a relationship gone well and truly bad, down the tubes.

A year or so later, I’m still surprised by the speed at which an ostensibly ‘healthy’ relationship degenerated so quickly. My friend did send over a couple of accusations of self-centeredness on my part in our relationship, so the demise of our friendship was perhaps foretold, but I certainly had not been forewarned or been given a ‘call-out’ or a ‘heads-up’ to try to make amends. At the very least, as another friend of mine suggested, I should console myself with the thought that the friendship hadn’t been that great to begin with if all it took to end it was a ‘simple misunderstanding’ over email, one that did not even prompt a suggestion for a ‘conversation’ to sort things out. 

I’m inclined to think too, that the intersection of our extended email correspondence with our hectic modern schedules and commitments had some role to play here. The endless back-and-forthing, the desperate hunt to find a time-slot that worked, the mounting frustration of scheduling details, the pressure to try to maintain a relationship through making appointments, the irritation of feeling another email to be replied to mounting – I’m inclined to think that trying to maintain a ‘friendship’ in the face of this can generate a temptation to just call ‘the whole fucking thing off.’ It’s tempting to want to trim ‘friend lists’ in the face of scheduling pressures; only some make the cut in the face of the imperatives of limited time and energies.

No doubt, my personal faults, as pointed out by my friend, had something do with the demise of our friendship; I’m deeply flawed like we all are, and these flaws often exert a damaging influence on my social interactions. But they might have been tolerated in a different social and cultural setting, where, if we had enough time and space to attend to personal relationships, my friend and I might have been able to work on ours.

3 thoughts on “Killing a Friendship Over Email

  1. Ten years younger, you would have had more energy. Ten years older, more time. Your own age counts as mightily as does the context.

      1. It’s been remarked in any number of studies that American men find it harder to make close new male friends as they get older; in fact it’s in direct relation to one’s age. So, yes, you’re exactly right Samir. Unfortunately. Makes your loss, and ours like it, more costly… : (

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