DEAR AMY: “Burt,” my best friend in college, and I always got along like brothers. After college, we stayed in the same town, where I met my future wife. He was the best man at our wedding. We remained best buddies. After my wife and I moved to the East Coast, Burt and I got together whenever we could, over holidays, vacations and family gatherings. I always felt that we would be best friends forever. That changed a few years ago. Out of nowhere, I received a letter from him. He said, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.” I was shocked and hurt. I wrote him a letter telling him that I apologized if I had ever done anything to hurt him, and detailed all the fun we had together in the past, but I was completely stumped. Finally, he sent me a return letter. All it said was “It has more to do with me than you.” Since then, I haven’t heard a word from him. Since he has never been married, the only thing I can think of is that he loved me (in more than a brotherly way), and that when I moved away, it hurt him deeply. Is there anything I can do to win back his friendship?
DEAR CONFUSED: More clarity about what is really going on with “Burt” might help you to renew your long-standing friendship, but if your theory is correct, then the burden is on him to somehow change in order to cope with having a platonic relationship. He doesn’t sound inclined (or able) to do this.
Be aware that your friend could be wrestling with any number of issues, including disagreeing with various life choices you have made. (He also might be in love with — or dislike — your wife.)
Unfortunately, if someone says he does not want to have a relationship with you, you are forced to absorb the hurt, even if you don’t understand the reasons behind it. You could contact him again, sending him a newsy and neutral update about your own life and asking him to keep in touch, but pushing too hard — even for answers — isn’t wise, and may make things even more painful for him.
DEAR AMY: I’ve been married to “Laura” for 25 years. Our early years together were sometimes unhappy because of my character flaws. I have expressed regret and apologized. She says I’ve matured, and we are much happier now. I understand that Laura still has scars from past hurts, even though she’s forgiven me. When I repeat a past mistake, she still holds her scars over my head, and I feel helpless because I can’t change the past. Do I have to bite my tongue and feel helpless for the rest of my life? Does the emotional statute of limitations ever expire? I have no problem being told when I’m wrong, but is it necessary to remind me that a similar mistake hurt her 20 years ago?
Lost in Time
DEAR LOST: It is unfair for your wife to dredge up mistakes you made years ago, certainly if you have acknowledged and apologized for these mistakes. Doing so just means that you two are basically locked in a loop of repeated actions and reactions.
“Laura” hasn’t actually forgiven you for your long-ago actions. If she had, she would be able to release both of you from this cycle. Let’s chalk this up to a character flaw on her part.
Your wife might return to pick these scabs because reminding you of your flaws may redress a power imbalance she perceives in your relationship.
The ability to truly let go is a liberating experience. You and your wife could both examine your relationship dynamic with the help of the insightful book, “The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships,” by Harriet Lerner (2014, William Morrow).
DEAR AMY: This advice is for “Left Out Liberal,” who was struggling to get through this election season with her conservative husband. I participated in the last presidential election by delivering pamphlets and encouraging people to vote. One of the first things we were taught was not to argue with anyone. In my 72 years, I have never seen anyone’s political views changed as the result of an argument. I suggest she remember what qualities about her husband made her marry him in the first place and simply refuse to argue about this.
DEAR VOLUNTEER: Sound advice.