how to work with a friend who has stopped talking to me

A reader writes:

I could use help with handling a work friendship that is going through some ick.

Lou is a remote worker (now in another country) whom I have never met in person. Shortly after he started a few years ago, we became close friends even with that distance. We’ve provided personal and professional support to each other, especially with our mental health struggles (ADHD/PTSD for him, anxiety for me). We chat online frequently about personal issues and about the projects we work on together.

This past year he has gone quiet a few times, usually when dealing with personal issues. By quiet, I mean he stops daily personal chats and check-ins. It affects me as his “disappearance” is sudden and without explanation before or after. I haven’t addressed with him how this affects me because being direct is something I’m still working on and I don’t want him to feel poorly about it if he’s struggling.

Six weeks ago, he “disappeared” again, only interacting with me regarding work issues. I’ve chatted to him a few times that I’m concerned and checking in and he either doesn’t respond or just talks about something else without acknowledging my post. I alternate between trying to be an understanding supportive friend and feeling hurt and angry.

It’s clear to me that he is not going to talk about it which is hard as we have talked about everything. But I also get sometimes we can get into a mental health space where we just can’t. If that’s the case, I’d appreciate even something as simple as “I’m struggling and can’t talk right now but will try to when I feel better” — just something to acknowledge that yes, something is up and he’ll be back when he can be.

Now to the main issue. A new project is ramping up and we will need to work together closely again. I’ve decided not to keep checking in as I’ve made it clear I’m here if he wants to talk and additional checking in could just add pressure and make things worse. However, if we need to meet (virtually) 1:1 to discuss work stuff, there will be an elephant in the room — at least for me.

Normally, I would want to at least acknowledge that there’s an elephant present (i.e., his lack of personal interactions like before) but I’m concerned it could just make things worse. Yet not acknowledging it feels fake.

Any suggestions on how to address this (or even if I should) in our next meeting? I’m ready to leave it up to him now regarding our friendship, but still need to be able to work professionally while dealing with my anger and hurt in therapy.

If you talk to people on Lou’s side of this — people who periodically “disappear” from their friendships for mental health reasons — they will consistently tell you this: It’s them, not you, and the kindest thing you can do is not to take it personally. When it happens, it’s because they’re struggling in some way (often depression, sometimes something else). Yes, everyone on the receiving end of it would appreciate a note like the one you want (“I’m struggling and can’t talk right now”) but one of the defining features of this kind of retreat is that people in the midst of it often can’t. Sometimes that’s because they’re barely staying afloat doing the things required to keep their jobs and feed themselves, sometimes it’s because their depression is telling them no one wants to hear from them, and sometimes it’s something else.

That doesn’t mean that you just need to accept that in a friendship. It’s a gift to the person who’s struggling if you can, but it’s also okay for you to decide it’s too difficult on you or it’s just not a relationship that works for you, and you can decide to distance yourself. You’re allowed to do that!

But either way, I strongly recommend that you not take it personally; don’t be angry, don’t be hurt, don’t make his silence An Issue between you. I know that’s easier said than done, but it’s almost certainly not about you in any way. “Don’t be hurt” in this situation means “choose to see that Lou’s behavior is a sign he’s struggling, rather than happening at you.”

Of course, that all assumes that you know Lou well enough to know that’s what’s really going on. If this were a different set of circumstances — if you could see him online being a gregarious social butterfly with everyone but you, or if he kept picking fights with you before going silent, or if it seemed like he was reacting to something you said or did — I’d give different advice. But from everything you’ve said, this is about Lou’s mental health, not a reflection of his feelings about your friendship.

As for what that means for the work relationship … don’t address his going quiet. You’ve already tried to do that in a social context, and he ignored it. Trying again as part of the new project you’re working on together would be using work to force him to talk about a social situation that he’s already indicated he doesn’t want to talk about. This is part of the deal with work friendships — if something happens in the friendship, you’ve still got to carry on working together, and you can’t bring any friendship awkwardness into the work piece of things. He knows you want to talk about what happened, because you communicated that. He’s declined. You shouldn’t use the work context to push it again.

Does that suck? Yes! And if Lou tries to resume the friendship at some point, you might conclude that it’s not a dynamic you’re up for anymore. But meanwhile, assume he’s doing the best he can with whatever’s going on, mentally reassign him to the category of “colleague I have good will toward but not a deeper relationship with at this moment in time,” and approach the project through that framework.

{ 230 comments… read them below }

  1. Sloanicota*

    Oh boy, OP. Friendships with coworkers can be fraught; I feel like this is a situation where it would be best to pull back and just be professional with this colleague going forward – and I don’t mean “cold and formal” when I say that, I mean warm and polite but just not so personal. It sounds like this is a bit too much emotion that’s now creating work difficulties for you and possibly also him! Hopefully you can find other outlets to share your own mental health challenges and avoid getting into deep or fraught conversations with Lou even if he does resurface and seem like he’s receptive, because it’s not working for you professionally.

    1. Olive*

      Agreed – this reminded me of the update to a letter that was reposted a few weeks ago. The LW had some boundary issues with an employee who had also been a personal friend:

      Out of all of my employees, one named Andrew was the one I had the best and most ideal working relationship with. So my internal rule became “if I wouldn’t talk about this with Andrew, I won’t talk about it with Mike.”

      I think the LW might be well served to do the same – whichever of her coworkers she has the best professional relationship with (not personal friendship), start having the same boundaries with Lou.

    2. Georgina Sands*

      Honestly, I think a bit colder and more formal is probably appropriate in this kind of scenario where someone you thought was a friend is pulling back. Not in a rude way obviously, I just think it’s a bit impolite to be warm to someone who is pulling back from a friendship – they don’t want warmth from you!

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I’m not Sloanicota, but I think they meant “warm and polite” on work related matters. I see it as the difference between responding to Lou’s project updates with

        Cold and formal: “I appreciate you sharing the update on this project” (said stiffly, without smiling)

        Warm and polite: “Thanks for the update, Lou!” (said cheerily, with a smile)

        I think it’s good advice for the letter writer to pull back from personal/friendship conversations with Lou (just as Lou has pulled back from those conversations) but I think there’s still a place for (polite and professional) warmth during work interactions with Lou.

        1. Bitte Meddler*

          And, if meeting in person or over video, having a facial expression that says you are genuinely happy to see them, even though you’ll only be having light chit-chat before or interspersed with work stuff, and we be crossing back over into the personal.

          I have co-workers I am genuinely happy to get a chance to talk with, even if the deepest non-work thing we’ve ever discussed is their dog or that one time I drove halfway to the office still in my bunny slippers.

          1. allathian*

            Oh yes, this. I’m basically at the equivalent level with the vast majority of my coworkers. I talk about more personal stuff with my close coworker whom I consider my work friend.

            But I still come across as warm and friendly, I know because people have told me so, even if my professional relationships aren’t particularly personal.

            I save the cold and professional demeanor for people who’ve hurt me in some way, either professionally or personally.

      2. anon today*

        Work-warm, not like, family-warm. Occasional friendly sprinkles of normal small talk overlying smooth and professional work interactions. The occasional abbreviation or exclamation mark in emails or text if that’s your general work style. Not, like, “I know this time of year is rough for you so I’m holding you in the light” or “I’ve been dying to know what you thought about the Barbie Oscar snubs! Let’s grab coffee soon :)”. If I were to hypothetically pull back from a friendship, my priority would be making things appear as normal as possible to outsiders, so professional warmth is appreciated over professional coolness (which can definitely raise a red flag to observant colleagues, particularly if it is different either than in the past or with how former-friend is with other colleagues).

      3. ferrina*

        I think it depends on what you mean by warmth. You can be warm without being personal. If you’re someone who tends to engage in personal chat before starting the meeting, yeah, pull back on that. But you still should say “That’s a great idea” or “Lou has more expertise than me on this- I’m going to turn that question to him”. Compliment Lou with the same frequency that you would if there wasn’t the personal history. Same with other warm behaviors (smiling, nodding along, etc., whatever your personal tendencies are)

        1. Georgina Sands*

          ferrina*, I can see this and in that context “warm” makes a lot more sense! Like I wouldn’t consider myself as warm to any of my colleagues apart from the ones I have a particularly good relationship, but I’d do all these things but consider them just polite and normal rather than particularly warm. So just a semantic difference there I suppose, and taking this as the definition of warm then definitely OP should continue to treat ex-friend warmly, exactly as if he were any other colleague.

          1. ThatOtherClare*

            If you’re looking at it in a binary sense – i.e. a person is either warm or cold – then yes, be warm. Be ‘not-cold’.

      4. Quantum Possum*

        I just think it’s a bit impolite to be warm to someone who is pulling back from a friendship – they don’t want warmth from you!

        I think everyone appreciates warmth. I’m someone who is prone to pulling back from friendships due to physical and mental health issues, but it certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize and appreciate them being kind. Someone who’s struggling doesn’t necessarily need cool, formal treatment. (Too much of that might inspire them to dig deeper in their hole.)

        I agree, it shouldn’t be to the level of friendship-warm. And LW is perfectly within reason if they decide the friendship isn’t worth trying to save/resurrect ever, and just restrict all conversation to work.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, I agree with you.

          Lou’s already done the disappearing trick a few times, and the LW’s perfectly within her rights to tell him that she’s done with it. Maybe I’m assuming genders here, but women are often socialized to emotionally support their friends/family in a way that men aren’t.

          Regardless of the mental health issues, the friendship sounds very one-sided to me at the moment. Lou obviously has the right to pull back from the friendship when his mental health requires it, but that’s where it ends. LW has the right to tell Lou that she can’t deal with being his emotional dumping ground anymore. Sadly, her anxiety probably makes this more difficult than it needs to be.

          1. Despachito*

            I would dispute the “one-sided”.

            Lou is not using OP as his dumping ground unilaterally, he is retracting and therefore neither offering nor receiving this “service. When they were in contact, I think the “dumping ground” thing was mutual.

            1. allathian*

              Fair point. I guess the point I was trying to make but didn’t express clearly was that it’s one-sided in the sense that Lou sets the terms for their interactions with no input from the LW. They talk about their issues until he basically ghosts her socially even though they interact professionally. When he wants to resume the friendship the next time, the LW can say that they aren’t up for that.

              1. Willow Pillow*

                This makes it sound like Lou’s acting intentionally. I’ve had multiple burnout periods where I’m lucky I eat. That doesn’t mean it’s anyone else’s responsibility to suck it up when I disappear, per se, or that things will/should return to their previous level of closeness… but if Lou’s circumstances have been anything like mine, the shame and not knowing how to explain things isn’t going to get any better when a mindset that I’m “setting the terms”.

      5. Sofia*

        I think youre viewing his actions in the same exact way the person who wrote the letter is…You should keep in mind that the best analogy for someone struggling with mental health issues is someone who is both ill and grieving. This isnt him being “mean.” Also, being icy because you yourself are overbearing, cant manage anxiety, cant take social cues, and have bad boundaries, while they are just struggling, isnt great all around.

      6. JSPA*

        Tone-wise, same level of warmth you’d give any pleasant colleague is the recipe for least drama, and thus best overall. Anything much more or much less is going to be noticable, and potentially disruptive, and potential drama.

        That doesn’t extend to the level personalized chit-chat…which is in any case a bit fraught if you’ve been working through mental health challenges together, and know all to much about each other.

        Knowing too much and mixing the streams of public persona vs private life is why the workplace is broadly not an ideal place to delve deeply into mental health, in the same way that it’s not an ideal place to start romances. While it’s possible that Lou is in a deep depression, it’s also possible that Lou has decided to un-cross the streams (a healthy choice), has found someone outside the work place to get their mental health needs met (a normal and healthy choice) or has found DIY “therapy” to no longer be working for them.

        After all, patients sometimes have to move on from even highly trained therapists, when that therapy isn’t working for them. If Lou’s relationship with the LW is not working for Lou as therapy, or not working for Lou as a friendship, or if Lou just feels like too many boundaries have been crossed, there’s really nothing for the LW to do, besides respect the fact that people are allowed to leave all sorts of relationships.

        LW, just as people are allowed to unilaterally end a romantic relationship, they’re allowed to unilaterally end break up a friend relationship, or break up with a therapist, or make some distance with a coworker who’s somehow also become both friend and therapist. They don’t owe you an African Violet, to do it, or a “let’s just be pleasant coworkers” card.

        LW, you are at work. So is Lou. So long as Lou is pleasant, just…be pleasant. If he’s a bit quiet, that’s fine too, you can do that too. You were hired to work together. Not to rework each others’ psyches. Letting your need for some sort of relationship status update undermine your work relationship does neither one of you any favors.

    3. oranges*

      Yeah, OP is really emotionally overinvested in this coworker.

      Work relationships are hard because people aren’t usually put together by choice, nor can they easily leave by choice. The forced and sustained proximity can often be misinterpreted as a closer friendship than is the case.

      Let the codependency with Lou fade and resume a cordial, professional relationship.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I did wonder if this was possibly a combination of both Lou not being in a mental space to engage for a bit but also OP thinking they were “friends friends” and Lou thinking they were “work friends.”

    4. sw*

      I have been in Lou’s position with a work friend. In my case I pulled back because I felt like I had lost all professional boundaries with my friend after sharing so much about my personal struggles, to the point where I couldn’t work with them effectively anymore (I realized this when my friend kept trying to get me to badmouth my boss due to a feud he had with her, but that’s another story) I really feel for OP, but the truth of it is that some relationships are just not sustainable, especially when they start to interfere with work. I hope that OP can regain a friendly professional relationship with Lou, even if it isn’t as intimate as it was before.

    5. Jade*

      Yes. Be professional and polite. Work friendships are situational. He may not want to talk about his personal issues anymore and that’s ok.

      1. allathian*

        And even if he wants to talk about them at a later date, the LW can tell him that they don’t want to resume the friendship.

  2. North of the Wall*

    LW, it really sucks that you have anxiety issues in this mix, because Alison’s advice is great but also requires you having to do a lot of the ‘this relationship is now formal’ heavy lifting potentially with your brain shouting at you. I don’t have anything to add, just that this is a lot and it might be helpful to plan more of whatever wellbeing-supporting activities, even just downtime, to recover from that extra labour throughout this project. Look after yourself and very best wishes!

  3. Lizard Day*

    I’ve been in LW’s shoes and I think Alison’s advice is 100% spot on. It sucks to go through, and I totally understand the impulse to bring the question into the work situation, but paradoxically IME the other person will be *more* likely to come back to you on the personal side if you demonstrate that you can accept the work-life boundary without fuss.

    I hope things work out for both of you and that the friendship recovers in time.

    1. Cj*

      I have been Lou, but not with a co-worker. I pretty much ignored it anytime a friend would reach out to me for a couple of years. I appreciated the birthday and Christmas cards, and and occasional text, but constantly asking me what was wrong would have just increased my anxiety.

      fortunately, my friends didn’t abandon me when I was ready to be social again.

      I understand that a work situation is different, but I wanted to reinforce Allison’s thought that it isn’t about the letter writer, it’s about lou.

    2. allathian*

      The LW can also decide that they no longer want to be friends with Lou. Mental health issues don’t excuse being a jerk to others, and at the very least, if and when Lou is ready to resume the friendship, he owes the LW a sincere apology. He may not be able to help himself when he pulls back, but he should be able to see how it affects the LW. If he doesn’t, he has empathy issues as well as depression or whatever it is that makes him withdraw from social contacts periodically.

      That said, I’m very glad that my friends didn’t abandon me completely when I was depressed as a student in a bad relationship. At the time, I was so unhappy that I was incapable of being a supportive friend to others. Thankfully I had access to therapy, and as soon as I realized that the relationship was unsalvageable and ended it, my depression lifted and I was able to be a good friend again.

      I returned the favor by being supportive when a friend had a psychotic episode and was hospitalized for a while. For a long time after that, she was incapable of returning the friendship because she was so passive. In 1:1 meetings you had to carry the conversation because at the most she was capable of answering yes or no, and in a larger group she’d be completely silent. She’d also often cancel at the last minute because she didn’t feel up to seeing anyone. Being her friend was tough for a few years, but worth it, and when she started feeling a bit better, she often said how much she appreciated just being surrounded by her friends even when she couldn’t contribute much to the conversation. She’ll be on medication for the rest of her life and she retired on disability in her mid-20s, pretty much as soon as she dropped out of college. Thankfully her parents are fairly wealthy, so she’ll never be destitute.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Lou doesn’t owe LW an apology, at least not from the letter as written. He isn’t being a jerk; he just needs to withdraw for his own sake. LW is the one who is threatening his boundaries rather than the other way round, and she very sensibly wrote to Alison in order to short circuit actions that would probably end up with her apologising to Lou.

  4. Onyx*

    It’s hard to read between the lines here, but I’m getting the feeling that Lou is not as invested or interested in the friendship as OP is. “Sudden and without explanation before or after” sounds to me like he’s not aware of how OP values the relationship, or otherwise is unable or unwilling to put the effort into maintaining the friendship. I think OP needs to accept that this relationship isn’t what they thought it was, possibly grieve for it, and move on.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      It’s possible but I’ve also read a lot recently that ADHD can manifest like this and that the person may either be embarrassed afterwards and feel guilty about it (and perhaps not want to draw attention to it) or they may not even notice how long it has been. I’ve read comments about how people with ADHD can experience timeblindness and genuinely not realise how long it has been since they have spoken to another person.

      This stuck in my mind as it resonated with me as I have a work friend, who I am pretty sure has ADHD and who seemed to back off from our friendship for a while. I think it was partly (mostly?) that this person has been very busy both at work and in their personal life, but for various reasons, I also think it may have been an ADHD thing.

      The situation in the letter sounds very like what I have read repeatedly does not necessarily mean a person with ADHD is not invested in the friendship, that they can truly love the other person and greatly value their friendship and yet, they can still go long periods without contacting them, not intentionally, but simply because ADHD affects attention and where it is directed.

      (This is a very poor explanation, as it’s from a number of people’s comments about their own experiences that I mostly read online.)

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Oh yes, I’d been meaning to text a friend to hang out. Finally did text and saw that I last reached out in AUGUST. I had no idea it’s been that long. The friend’s been on my mind off and on in the intervening months; I just never … implemented the actual communication piece of it.

        Add in any sense of shame (as may be happening with Lou, and is definitely happening with a couple of tasks in my work email) and follow through gets 1000% harder.

        1. COHikerGirl*

          ADHD plus more and yep. My sense of time is horrible. And I often craft responses and they remain in my head, even though I swear I sent them.

          1. ferrina*

            ADHD, and YES!
            I’ve got several messages sitting in my inbox from people that I’m so excited to hear from, but I haven’t responded in several days because…..I don’t know. I know what I want to say, but the Wall of Awful is in the way.

          2. Worlds Worst Texterer*

            I have this habit of texting friends…then forgetting to press the send button…then I get mad at them for not replying in a timely manner…only to discover weeks later that I NEVER pressed Send (shakes head)

        2. Jaydee*

          The struggle is real! Back in September a friend texted me who I hadn’t seen or talked to for a while. When I went to respond I found a text I had typed out and never sent.

          That text said “Oh my goodness, I had a text all typed out saying XYZ…and then I guess I never hit send.”

          The text I had tried and failed (twice!) to respond to? It was from December of 2019. Nearly 4 years earlier!

          That was truly a record, but it’s totally not uncommon for me to respond to texts and emails days or even weeks later with “sorry, had this typed out and forgot to hit send” or a “sorry, thought I responded but apparently I just composed the response in my head and never typed it out.”

      2. LWH*

        I have ADHD myself and know what you’re describing but I don’t think this matches with the letter at all. This person is still replying consistently to work messages, just refusing to engage with the personal discussion. Sounds to me like they want this personal relationship to just be a work relationship now and LW needs to respect that boundary.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        That’s very interesting – and it entirely describes me, I’m afraid. I have friends (former friends, by now, I’m sure) who I have lost contact with, but who I think very fondly of. ADHD time blindness is definitely a thing.

    2. Lydia*

      This isn’t very helpful, especially to tell someone who has anxiety. This is one of those situations where what the OP tells us should be taken as true.

      1. Double A*

        Silence is also an unkind way to draw a boundary if he hasn’t made his boundaries clear previously. I mean, yes, absolutely read into it that you need to respect a boundary, but you can decide if you want to have a friendship with someone who enforces boundaries this way, even if you have sympathy for the reasons they do it.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          The question though is, IS this intended as enforcing a boundary? As noted by Alison and by Irish teacher above, it may not be a boundary of the sort you’re thinking of; they may not have the capacity to talk now, but very much intend to do so later when they have a few fewer forks digging into their mind – and if they have a degree of timeblindness, they may not realise how long it’s been dragging on and therefore how it comes across.

          I mean, you can respect that they aren’t up to talking about it without considering it them drawing a boundary.

          1. sparkle emoji*

            Yes, it’s fine to interpret Lou’s actions as “doesn’t want to talk right now for [unknowable reason]” and proceed by not talking to Lou outside of work. But puzzling about what that reason is doesn’t fix the problem with Lou and will make things worse for LW’s anxiety. My anxiety brain in this scenario would already have a list of potential reasons why Lou’s silence was my fault. IME, it’s much more helpful for others to point out that knowing the why isn’t important than having them reaffirm that Lou probably is annoyed w/ me, and I need to keep pondering what I did wrong.

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        I don’t know about this.

        As a person with anxiety, sometimes it’s the “are we/aren’t we?” that’s upsetting rather than just calling it “aren’t” and being done with it. This sounds like a bad mix of issues, honestly, with one person prone to dropping out from time to time and the other person worried about the state of the friendship. The mental health issues don’t line up with OP wanting desperately not to trigger their friend with increased pressure, but with the friend triggering OP with a lack of open communication about the state of the friendship.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I agree that it sounds like a bad mix of issues, though I don’t think the blame is on either party. I have a friend who frequently pulls back or drops the ball when it comes to meeting up, not because she doesn’t value our friendship but because she doesn’t always have the spoons.

          I used to put a lot of effort into the relationship and let it get to me whenever she cancelled. It’s been a lot better since I decided to put less effort in and accept that she’s a good friend when her mental health issues allow her to be.

          OP, if this sounds like something you want to try, start by taking the time and effort you’re investing in this relationship and move it to other personal relationships. That way you aren’t relying on someone for emotional support who can’t support anyone else right now.

        2. sparkle emoji*

          Yeah Lou and LW sound like they have conflicting needs and this type of friendship w/ a lot of mental health stuff involved is poorly suited for the two of them.

      3. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Agreed. And there is a LOT in the letter that indicates friendship prior to Lou closing off. Assuming everything LW said is true, and why wouldn’t we, I think it’d be much stranger for them to have concluded Lou was never a friend.

    3. Warrior Princess Xena*

      As a “Lou” myself, I can say that it’s not a question of me not being invested in the friendship! Sometimes I only have spoons for the essentials, and work eats up a LOT of those spoons. I’ve been learning to tell people “I’m sorry, I need to focus on X right now, so I’m going to be incommunicado for a bit” but there’s a shame barrier to overcome because that involves saying “I’m not OK”.

      That doesn’t mean it should be OP’s burden to carry the relationship if they don’t want to. However, it can be helpful to know that it’s not a situation of “I don’t like you specifically” and rather that it’s a situation of “essential communications related to keeping a roof over my head are taking all of my energy and leaving me with none left over”.

      1. Bast*

        I have also been “Lou” and I cannot agree more with this! I am already a fairly introverted person to begin with, but when I am really “going through it” sometimes it feels like I am moving through sludge. I can’t even begin to describe this, except even simple acts like taking a shower or brushing my teeth take a LOT of will power to do, and I have to practically force myself to go through the motions of what a normal day is “supposed to” look like. After work, I am zapped but have just enough energy to do the bare minimum to take care of myself and family, and have no energy for even a simple discussion about “how my day went.” The issue I have found when people want explanations is that when you give it, a lot of people either seem to take it personally or want to keep engaging. Even if I can manage a “I’m not really in the mood to talk right now, just really having a tough day” they either a) assume it’s about them and then get angry/passive aggressive about it or b) keep texting and texting and asking what’s wrong, what happened, why aren’t I answering, etc, etc. The absolute last thing I want to do when I get like that is try to explain what I can’t even put a name to — nothing “happened” and nothing is “wrong” this is just the way my mind works. The worst is when you do engage and people insist that “something must be wrong, just tell me.” It’s too exhausting for me to even contemplate those exchanges anymore. Anyone who communicates with me regularly knows this, but a good deal of people just don’t seem to respect it when it actually happens. “I am not in the mood to talk right now” is not a test to see if you’ll keep trying. It means I genuinely do not have the spoons.

        1. Bast*

          Also wanted to add that sometimes life just has “busy seasons” even if I am not in the midst of a no spoons day. In a very short period of time, sometimes life changes drastically and leaves people reeling and overwhelmed. As a mom, I am ALWAYS busy even when not working, but in the span of one month, I switched jobs, and had my grandfather and father end up in the hospital and on death’s door, and had to figure out how to tell my kids this, while trying to adjust to my new job. It was a lot all at once, and some plans I previously had fell through trying to juggle all of that.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Then it’s been several weeks and you haven’t replied to their last message, and the shame spiral starts.

      3. LWH*

        I’ve been Lou, but in my situation the person I was discussing mental health issues with started getting too personal and started relying on me to be their personal therapist. I realized I couldn’t be that for them and started dialing this conversation back and they started getting very upset that I didn’t want to talk about it with them anymore. This was one of several reasons I ended up just breaking the friendship off but I don’t know what I would have done if this was a coworker.

        I don’t want to sound harsh to LW, none of us really know why Lou did this because we weren’t in these conversations. But I think LW needs to consider a variety of possibilities, and I don’t think it’s fair for everyone to just tell LW that Lou probably wants to still be their friend and only isn’t replying due to their own struggles. It’s a possibility, but it’s only one possibility. I think no matter what LW has to just accept that this is how it is and Lou will reach out to them if they ever want to, but otherwise they have to drop it and keep things professional now. We don’t know Lou’s reasons, and we never will. LW may also never know.

      4. Twix*

        I have severe chronic depression and anxiety and ADHD, and so does my boyfriend. I’ve been on both sides of it and 100% this. The problem is that doing things like setting boundaries and communicating feelings would be most helpful at the point I’m least capable of doing it. I’m already doing bad and don’t have the energy to deal with people, and that would mean expressing something painful and embarrassing to people who are going to be concerned and want things (like updates) from me, which is even more draining.

        I’ve found that a lot of neurotypical people are (understandably) unable to relate to something like sending a text message being so overwhelmingly emotionally painful that I’d rather deal with the consequences of not doing so when I’m feeling better, but that’s just how it is for me sometimes. The “spoons” concept is essentially how much ability I have to push through the pain/exhaustion, and when I don’t have enough to do everything I want to, I’m forced to triage my to-do list. Work is pretty close to the top because at the end of the day I need to be able to buy food and pay rent. Keeping up with friends is not, even though that’s the one I’d much rather be doing. My therapist calls it “being in survival mode”. I absolutely get being able to interact with a friend at work but not being able to emotionally invest beyond that.

        That said, having been on the other side of it with my partner, I absolutely feel for LW here. It’s awful to have a brain that’s predisposed to irrationally assuming the worst and then have someone you care about act in a way that makes you question whether or not those thoughts are actually irrational. I know that that tendency is hard for the people around me, and over the years I’ve learned how to manage my conditions better. Part of that was surrounding myself with people who understand that this is how I am. A huge part of that was learning to be more upfront and communicative about my issues before I’m doing bad.

        LW, it won’t solve your immediate problem with work, but if you want to continue this friendship and you haven’t already done this, I would strongly suggest having a conversation with him about how to navigate these periods the next time he’s not doing badly. It probably will be a bit awkward, but it’ll be far better for both of you than avoiding the issue. A lot of times finding solutions to problems can seem insurmountable in the moment, but if you already came up with a solution and a plan it’s not nearly as daunting to simply follow them. For example, my boyfriend and I have an “emotional safeword” – using it means “I’m safe but I need to be left alone right now and I’m not in a good place to explain why”, and we agreed on how to respond to it. Following that set plan is soooo much easier for both of us than having to figure out how to say “Leave me alone” nicely not knowing how the other person might respond, or hear it and not being sure whether to take it personally. That exact system may not be appropriate for a friendship, but the point is he may be willing to set up a way of communicating that he’s okay but needs space that meets your needs if he can set clear boundaries on how and what he’s willing to communicate.

        1. allathian*

          I’m so glad the two of you have found a system that works for you! I have dealt with moderate depression in the past and I’m still dealing with some situational anxiety, but…

          If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my life is that I’m not compatible with ND people as friends, certainly not as a life partner. I can’t deal with the time blindness aspect because I’m always early to everything and get anxious if there’s any risk of ever being late. I’ve finally abandoned the idea that time blindness is a moral failing, but I’ve ended friendships with people who were otherwise great and who did nothing wrong except that they were never on time to our meetings. When it happened, I was convinced that if they really cared about me as a friend, they’d be on time. But it would be unrealistic to ask a friend to treat a meeting with me as they would something they absolutely had to be on time for, like a doctor’s appointment or an international flight. By the time I learned how much effort that can take for someone with ADHD, it was too late (by a couple decades) to salvage the friendships.

          In this case, it sounds like the LW’s and Lou’s respective mental health issues make them incompatible as friends for each other. Lou’s way of dealing with his issues hurt the LW, and I’m not sure if there’s any way of getting past that except dropping the friendship.

          1. Twix*

            It really is great to have a partner who just gets it, even if it’s frustrating sometimes. But yeah, having a relationship (romantic or platonic) with a ND person is not always easy, and I absolutely include myself in that. There’s a reason we tend to form social circles with other ND people; they’re far more willing on average to tolerate the frustrating parts as long as the consideration is mutual. I always tell people not to make a ND person a part of your life unless you’re prepared to accept them the way they currently are, and I don’t judge people for deciding that a pathological behavior is a dealbreaker despite not being anyone’s fault.

            I have to disagree with your last paragraph though. LW’s and Lou’s respective issues might make them incompatible as friends, and it’s okay for LW to decide the relationship isn’t worth it, but there’s no reason to assume it can’t work without actually trying to communicate about and address the problem. The point I was trying to make with my anecdote is that while the status quo isn’t working, it’s possible to set up systems that take into account both peoples’ emotional needs.

            As an aside, it’s also worth pointing out that “ND people” is a very large and diverse group. The vast majority of people who full under that umbrella do not exhibit time blindness or any other individual symptom.

            1. Bast*

              I just wanted to agree with you on the last point; couldn’t be more true. “Time blindness” for me is the exact opposite — time anxiety? I am not sure what to call it, but I become paralyzed by the idea of NOT being on time. Supposed to make a call at 2:00? I will stop everything at 1:50 and watch the time tick by to make sure I call at 2:00 ON THE DOT. Meeting for lunch at noon? I’m there at 11:30 because I plan ahead for everything from plain old traffic to a meteor crashing through my street. I become so anxious sometimes I just leave super early to avoid being late, even though I know I will be excessively early, because my mind goes into a “holding mode” where I cannot do anything lest I accidentally end up leaving a minute later than I wanted to. GAD is one of the diagnosis I have, although I am not sure if this is something universally experienced by those with GAD. I do have some friends (both with and without ADHD) who had time blindness, and it can really throw me through a loop. 10 minutes late with no text or call will have me panicking and wondering if either I’m being ghosted, they forgot, or maybe they were in an accident.

            2. allathian*

              Thanks for responding, and I appreciate the heads-up about ND people. My issue is with time blindness specifically, as it’s connected to my anxiety about always being early or exactly on time. I have friends who have various forms of mental health and ND issues, including dyslexia, depression, generalized anxiety, OCD, etc. Some of my friends have chronic health issues that affect their ability to socialize. I have had moderate depression before and I’ll probably be dealing with situational anxiety for the rest of my life, and I’m also dealing with chronic fatigue that means that I’m genuinely not always able to see my friends no matter how much I want to.

      5. Despachito*

        “but there’s a shame barrier to overcome because that involves saying “I’m not OK”.

        Not necessarily.

        If someone tells me that work is currently taking up all their capacity I’d assume that they just have a lot of work, not that they are “not OK”.

        And also in this moment you describe the person IS NOT OK. Why do they want to hide it from their friends (and I mean FRIENDS, not acquaintances).

        For me, friendship must be at least somehow “readable”. I think even a sick friend owes this readability, maybe not in the worst point but afterwards/before.

        I also wonder if the only base of that friendship is mutual venting about mental health issues because for me that would not be a very strong base and it has a potential to drag each other down rather than the other way round. This may be a me thing but when I feel anxious or down the worst thing I could do is to talk to another person who is ALSO anxious or down because we would mutually reinforce those negative feelings. I would need someone with much lighter approach because it would make me re-grasp the reality.

        1. Twix*

          It’s not as simple as that. There’s an internal shame barrier you have to get past to admit to yourself that you’re not okay and need to do something about it. Then there’s the fear that people will see through “I’m going to be busy for a while.” Then there’s the actual shame barrier because the people who I’m close to will see through it. My coworkers and acquaintances may not know what me going incommunicado means, but my family and close friends know exactly what it means (and will jump to that conclusion even when that’s not the reason).

          You want to hide it from your friends for a bunch of reasons. Here’s a few: You don’t have the emotional energy to deal with their concern right now. You don’t want to dump your problems on other people. You don’t want to scare people off with how screwed up you are (which is something that has actually happened to most of us at least once.) You don’t want to deal with people who know a lot less about your condition than you do second-guessing your treatment decisions. You don’t want people to think less of you when you’re back to being functional. You don’t want people to discriminate against you, even with good intentions. You don’t want people to see exactly how broken and how ashamed of that you are. I could go on for a long time here.

          Don’t get me wrong, my friends and family are wonderful and I love them dearly and do try to communicate with them about how I’m doing. But it took many, many years of medication and therapy and developing coping skills and a support system to get to the point where I didn’t have so much shame and self-loathing around my issues that I’d rather hurt myself than ask for help.

          1. Despachito*

            I see where you are coming from, and I get these are internal barriers and it takes a lot of work to overcome them.

            I consider it always preferable to do the damage control in matters related to me myself, because then people are more likely (and will be possibly relieved) to follow my lead.

            I have a friend with bipolar disorder. I have been with her through thick and thin, and it helps immensely she is totally upfront with me about how she feels at the moment, is able to tell me what she needs and I therefore have a chance to respect her wishes and do what she wants/needs at the moment, even if it is “leave me alone for now, I will contact you when I am ready”. I would never think of pestering her or suggesting any “solutions” because she knows a lot better, and I absolutely do not think about her in terms “how screwed up she is”. I see it as an illness same as a heart condition or a broken leg, and do not think any less about her for it. On the contrary, I admire how she handles it because it takes a lot of courage admitting “I am suffering right now” without being ashamed for it, because there is nothing to be ashamed of.

            This said, I am aware of the risk that strangers or acquaintances may react in a way that is obnoxious although well-meant, or may even hold it against that person, and would recommend more of information diet for them. There is a good chance that if you say to a someone who is not your close friend or family (and sometimes even to them) “I’m going to be busy for a while”, they will take you at your word and not think twice about it.

            1. Twix*

              With all due respect, no, I don’t think you do. What I’m saying is that there are barriers both internally and externally, and they’re very real ones, not just perceived ones. You’re absolutely right that a stranger or acquaintance will probably take “I’m going to be really busy for a bit” at face value, but strangers and acquaintances aren’t the problem. It’s wonderful that you’re supportive and compassionate and open-minded with your friend and I wish more people were like you in that respect. But the concerns about how other people will react are not irrational anxieties, they’re based on very real experiences and prejudices.

              I was explaining why people with mental illnesses are guarded around this topic with loved ones in general, and the answer is because a lot of people, even loved ones who are generally wonderful people, are not like you. It’s not always safe to be open about it, and you don’t always know who is or isn’t safe to be open about it with. For example, my parents are two of the most wonderful people on Earth and are incredibly supportive and we have a great relationship. But if they know I’m struggling they tend to second-guess all of my decisions. There is zero doubt in my mind that it’s not conscious and they do it out of love and concern, but when I’m already struggling I don’t have the time and mental and emotional energy to deal with that shit. So… I don’t always tell them when I’m struggling.

              You’re absolutely right that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. But that internal struggle is only one of the issues. The much larger issue in terms of dealing with other people is having your agency be respected. It seems like you’re equating being close to someone with being able to trust them not to do that, and that’s simply not the case. Sometimes people are more inclined to disrespect your agency precisely because they care about you.

              1. Despachito*

                I see.

                And I recognize that while I am able to do what I said in relation to my friend, I am not in relation to my children.

                The relationship is closer and (unlike in case of my friend who has her own close support system in her immediate family) I feel the responsibility, because for my kids that support system is me, and if I miss something important it may have serious consequences for them.

                If you say “I am fine and do not need anything” and I can see you are not fine, then
                – if you are an acquaintance, I will take it at face value because basically I am not in a position to solve it
                – if you are a close friend I will point out that you do not seem fine (sometimes people in their manic phase think everything is OK), but I will not insist unless you seem suicidal or in another direct danger because you have your close family who have a lot more information than me and are the ones to help you
                – but if you are my kid, I will panic: here, the closest person who can help am I and your father. Are you at the brink of suicide just not telling me? are you immensely suffering and not knowing how to tell me? And I know you have a history of suffering in silence for quite a long time before. I should and want do something for you but what this is? I need all the information from you!

                I think you are spot on in this, and I am afraid that I am acting better towards my friend than towards my kids because I am so invested in my kids that I am unable to be fully rational.

                1. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

                  Twix and Despachito, this is going to come out sounding trite, but I really appreciate you having this conversation so earnestly and self-aware reflectively, where it can be a vicarious learning experience for others reading the comments — if they want to listen.

                  I’ve been on both sides of person-with-mental-health-issue and
                  responsible-loved-one-of-person-with-mental-health-issue. Occasionally both at once, similar to the LW dealing with their own anxiety in addition to their work-friend’s- withdrawal (but in my case the other person was close family I was responsible for, not an independent adult).

                  It’s so very helpful to be aware of the constraints inherent in each position, to recall that each person is doing the best they can *for* themself, not *at* the other .
                  I appreciate you both for making both sides of the equation so visible and sympathetic.

                  Warmly, a stranger on the internet.

                2. Despachito*

                  To Higher Ed Cube Farmer (nesting seems not to work here):

                  Thank you.

                  I think that this is really a complex and multifaceted issue, and for me it is a lot related to “how much am I expected to do for you”?

                  We certainly do not owe anything to strangers because they owe us nothing, are not invested in us and we can easily cut contacts.

                  But if I am a member of your support system and you (rightfully) rely on me if something goes wrong, I think you do owe me something. At least clearly articulating what you need from me and what is acceptable for you. If you are my child and expect me to help you if you are in trouble, you must give me enough information for me to be able to act on, not because I am being nosy but because I need that information to be able to act correctly. Crystal clear communication in a language the other person is able to understand, and clear boundaries are key.

                  I know that a lot of parents (and other close people) sometimes myself included, have problems with those boundaries, and if they are helping they think this gives them the right to tell their (adult) children what to do.

                  This is why I say it is so multifaceted, and “strings attached” are not always perceived similarly by all those involved.

                  I would like to think of myself as of one helping without strings attached but this does not equal to “you can act however you like and I will always somehow cope because you are my kid and I love you”.

          2. allathian*

            With some mental health and ND issues the self-loathing is very strong. I don’t think that people who haven’t experienced it themselves can understand how all-encompassing it can be (I’ve had moderate depression so I have some idea, but it was never as bad as what you’ve described). I’m glad you’re able to ask for help when you need it now.

    4. Cj*

      I have been Lou, but not with a co-worker. I pretty much ignored it anytime a friend would reach out to me for a couple of years. I appreciated the birthday and Christmas cards, and and occasional text, but constantly asking me what was wrong would have just increased my anxiety.

      fortunately, my friends didn’t abandon me when I was ready to be social again.

      I understand that a work situation is different, but I wanted to reinforce Allison’s thought that it isn’t about the letter writer, it’s about lou.

    5. ferrina*

      I wouldn’t try to read between the lines on this- there are too many possibilities. I’m ADHD/cPTSD, and here are some of the reasons I’ve ghosted a friend (including ADHD reasons, cPTSD reasons, and neurotypical reasons):

      -I forgot to answer their text, and now it’s been a month and I’m mortified and paralyzed by guilt.
      -Wait, I forgot to answer the text? I composed a response in my head repeatedly- did I get distracted before I could hit send?
      -Has it been that long? It can’t have been. It has? Oh shoot, is there a time limit to how long you can not respond but still be friends? I guess I accidentally timed myself out of another friendship.
      -All I talk to this person about is my struggles. I’m not struggling right now, and I’m not sure what to talk to them about.
      -All I talk to this person about is my struggles. I’m struggling a LOT right now, and it’s embarrassing how in my own head I am. I know I should do better, but I’m not, and I don’t want to admit that to anyone.
      -This person inadvertently triggered some rejection sensitivity (RSD- extremely common with ADHD). I don’t know how to respond because I’m frustrated, scared that I’m a burden to this person, and I’m not equipped to handle that frustration and fear.
      -This person inadvertently triggered my cPTSD. I don’t know how to respond because I’m in the midst of an emotional trauma flashback, and I don’t want to dump that on them.
      -I’ve outgrown this person, and I realize that they aren’t healthy for where I’m at. I’m focusing on new activities.
      -I am just not feeling this friendship right now.
      -I read between the lines on some other situation (maybe someone made a passing comment at work?) and now I think that this friend is only friends out of pity, and I don’t want to be a burden, but I don’t know another way to have a relationship with this person.
      -My toxic family got in my head and now I truly believe that I am a burden to everyone around me, and I don’t want to be. So I pull back to not be a burden to anyone…which also means no personal relationships for me.

      You don’t know what’s going on in Lou’s head. Don’t make assumptions- it will drive you mad and it won’t help Lou either. Figure out the best way to be the professional person you want to be. If Lou can come back and wants to come back, they can reach out to you. But also figure out what kind of relationship is healthiest for you to have with Lou. I’ve had friends that I rekindled the friendship, only to later learn that they were frustrated by my ADHD symptoms and needed me to change in a way that I couldn’t. It was more frustrating when I lost them a second time (and an absolute nightmare for my trust issues). I would have rather they set warm boundaries from the get go. Not saying this is what’s happening here, but it happens with surprising frequency.

      1. M2RB*

        ferrina, all of your reasons here resonate so strongly with me. You are not alone – I feel these ways so very often.

    6. Boof*

      IDK I think based on the info it could be a lot of things, and we just don’t know. Lou could love the friendship but, as Allison suggests, just be unable to deal with anything personal beyond what is absolutely necessary to get through the day/week/what have you. Maybe Lou keeps meaning to write a big explanation “later” and later keeps getting pushed off, etc. Maybe Lou indeed is a fair weather friend who runs hot cold and is not a good fit for the OP to continue any personal ties with. Only OP can really decide if it’s worth it to be available if/when Lou is ready to reconnect, but I agree mentally OP should assume Lou’s silence is a Lou thing, not about something the OP did/didn’t/should/shouldn’t/will/won’t do

    7. Beth*

      There are a lot of reasons someone might fade back from a friendship for a while–not being that invested is one, it’s far from the only one. It could be a mental health thing. “There’s a lot of chaos and trouble in my life right now and I can’t juggle it all, and of all the balls I could drop, this friendship will hopefully be one I can pick back up later” is another thing that happens. In a long-distance friendship, something innocuous like taking a break from technology and being online less could explain a drop in messaging (though presumably Lou would just have said that when OP checked in).

      Regardless of Lou’s reasons, OP, it sounds like he’s done this a few times now and therefore might just be a person who does this periodically. Given that, I think you have two paths forward. One is to decide that this friendship is too hot-and-cold for you to feel good about maintaining in your personal life, and to focus on just maintaining a professional relationship going forward. The other is to decide that Lou is being Lou, he does this periodically, you still want him as your friend, and you’re down to reconnect if and when he pops back up again. The difference isn’t really about him–it’s about you, your needs in a friendship, and what you want to prioritize for yourself.

    8. MM*

      I’m with Alison. Some people really do do friendship this way, including ones they really value. We have a family friend who’s been close to my parents for over 30 years. He flakes on plans, he disappears for months without warning, all that. But I know that he loves my parents very deeply. He’s just not capable of the type of responsible care-taking that we think of as normal in relationships, and so–while anyone can certainly judge that they don’t want a close relationship with such a person (I have)–one really can’t judge his investment in the relationship by the standards we normally would with other people. Speaking as someone who used to do some things like this, if anything, the silence could be a sign of caring a lot: the more you care, the more overwhelming trying to address your own behavior that you know isn’t ideal toward this person you value becomes.

      This isn’t a defense of Lou, just a reason why I think the things you’re pointing to don’t necessarily mean what you think they do.

    9. Kella*

      Having been Lou quite a lot, I can say this is not necessarily true at all. We know that Lou is not investing energy in *consistency* in his connections with OP and also not investing much in transparency around the reasoning for his actions. The fact that he is not investing in those qualities does not tell us *why* he’s not investing. Because when you’re dealing with mental health issues, you can really really want to invest in something and simply be unable to, or the emotional cost to you if you invest will be too high to sustainably recover from.

      And as someone who also deals with anxiety, I think it’s not useful for OP to engage in speculation about whether or not Lou truly wants this friendship or see’s it as equally important. There is no way to definitively know those things, unless Lou shares it with them. Anxiety is driven wild by uncertainty and mindreading is a frequently used coping mechanism that rarely helps.

      Ultimately, it’s not necessary for OP to determine the reasoning behind Lou’s behavior because that is fairly irrelevant to OP’s decision about whether to continue this friendship. OP can still decide that consistency and transparency are things they need in a close friendship and that even if Lou has the best of intentions, the fact that he can’t offer those things is a dealbreaker for OP.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, your last sentence really says it all. I think it’d help the LW to realize that they don’t need to understand why Lou is pulling back from this friendship periodically to decide that they’re done with it.

        Even if someone’s pulling back for a reason they can’t help, you are allowed to decide that you can’t deal with the hot and cold of this friendship and to stick to a purely professional relationship. Sure, Lou may be unhappy about it, but that really is his problem, not the LW’s.

  5. Kel*

    Alison this advice is AMAZING, compassionate and nuanced with regards to mental health. Thank you so much.

    1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Here to say the same! Feeling very seen by Alison’s advice, as a fellow Lou in many parts of my life right now.

  6. snowfall123*

    LW, it seems like in regards to your friendship, the ball is in Lou’s court.

    All you can do now is act as a professional colleague to him, and leave your personal relationship with each other to the side. It sucks that you have to deal with ignoring the elephant when working alongside him, but that’s just the downside risk of being friends with the people you work with.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, absolutely.

      Let this be a lesson to you, LW. Don’t allow your professional relationships to develop into friendships, life and especially work are a lot less complicated that way.

      1. Allonge*

        That’s – pretty harsh. Most adults spend a huge portion of hteir waking hours at work, and don’t necessarily have a lot of other places where they meet new people. Excluding coworkers from potential friends makes it pretty complicated to form new friendships.

      2. Kel*

        That is unrealistic, and unfair. I spend 9 of my waking hours a day at work; I get to have friends. I’m not operating as a machine.

      3. Despachito*

        My lesson would rather be – don’t confuse friendship with free therapy.

        Don’t make venting its only base.

        Don’t vent too much altogether. Constant venting is overwhelming for most people, and rightly so.

        Don’t be too quick to thinking of someone as of a friend – I cannot imagine considering someone I never saw in person a friend in the true sense of the word.

  7. WorkerDrone*

    First and foremost if you’re having these deeply personal conversations over a work platform, that should stop immediately. I might be assuming and be completely wrong, but I got the impression that you might be talking about these things on the same platform you use for work and you really really really shouldn’t be.

    That having been said, not acknowledging a personal issue during a work conversation isn’t fake. There are LOTS of personal things I don’t acknowledge during a work conversation even if they are the elephant in the room. I think your friendship really blurred the lines between “colleague” and “buddy” and it may help you to neaten those lines up and start thinking of him as “colleague” now – or, at least during working hours.

    I’d also push back on the idea that not acknowledging this would be “fake” even in a social context, but that’s not really here nor there.

    I agree 1000000% that you cannot use a work situation to try and force an acknowledgement of a personal issue.

    1. nopetopus*

      Yeah, this is where I fall on it too. I hate to say it but getting that personally close with a remote colleague is full of pitfalls like this, or using your work resources to talk about things that can get you discriminated against.

      I’m also an anxious person and I’ve learned that it’s better for me to invest in in-person friendships and connections. Sometimes I do meet friends at work, but I have a rule to only socialize or talk about those topics outside of the workplace. It keeps things from getting messy and blurring lines that you don’t want blurred.

    2. Kel*

      I get why the instinct isn’t to talk about these things on a work platform, but that also depends on the job, the industry, the level etc.

      1. WorkerDrone*

        I could be wrong in this but is it not the case that legally there is no expectation of privacy on a work platform? Like, I *can* use my work email for personal emails, or I could use my work Teams account for personal chats, but is it true that by doing so, my employer has the right to read/access those emails or chats at any point?

        If there was a job or an industry where this wasn’t the case – or, alternatively, where one was using a personally-owned account for work stuff – then maybe OP is in the clear?

        But otherwise, I can’t imagine at any job, any industry, or any level that I would want my employer to have access to intimate, personal conversations between myself and anyone else. Even if that access was never used, that seems to be a dangerous risk.

        But I also have a pretty limited work history in a specific industry, so there can definitely be a lot I don’t know!!

        1. Kel*

          Sure, but that also means that if you don’t care, you don’t care. As long as LW knows that what they’re sharing isn’t legally private, that’s an informed decision they’re making.

          Personally, I don’t care about my employer reading about my anxiety.

        2. allathian*

          It really depends on where you are. I’m in Finland, and letter secrecy, including email, is very strong here. For my employer to read my email requires a document that’s pretty much equivalent to a court-ordered subpoena just to read the *headers* of the email, and even then, my employer is only allowed to actually read the contents of messages that appear suspicious.

          This is why all essential business is carried out via role-based emails like, or a ticketing system, to ensure that they can be read by whoever needs to read them.

          So yeah, I pretty much trust that nobody’s going to read my company email out of idle curiosity, even if the technical tools to do so exist. This doesn’t mean that I write private stuff on company email, but that’s mainly because email’s disappeared as a channel for private communications in my circle. I have no reasons to send messages to my social contacts by company email, we text on our personal devices (and generally after work or at the weekend) instead.

          The only person I talk about more private stuff at work with is my work friend. We have exchanged private contact info, so in a pinch I could text him on our personal devices, too.

  8. Caramel & Cheddar*

    LW, I wonder if it would help to reframe the silences as Lou telling you “I’m struggling and can’t talk right now” despite Lou not explicitly saying that?

    It’s really normal to interpret silence as the absence of a response, but I think it’s Captain Awkward who has pointed out regularly that silence *is* a response, just not the one you were hoping for. In her letters, it’s usually someone who wants to go no contact, period, and that silence means “Stop getting in touch with me.” In your scenario, it very likely does just mean “I’m struggling and can’t talk right now!”

    Like you, I have a lot of anxiety and I worry about friends like this because I’m also not always the best at filling in the silence blanks with what they really mean. The best I can do is pop in periodically with a “Thinking of you!” (substitute for whatever is appropriate for your relationship) so that they know I’m still there. If they don’t respond, that’s fine! I know it’s not personal.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Was just getting on here to say this: The disappearance is the communication.

      Literally the underlying cause of “I can’t right now” is that they can’t right now. They’re not going to have the bandwidth to spell everything out.

    2. The Accountant*

      I’m not sure if this is true or helpful though. When I read ““I’m struggling and can’t talk right now but will try to when I feel better” — just something to acknowledge that yes, something is up and he’ll be back when he can be” my first thought was…maybe that’s not what Lou means. I’m sure the LW means well but they sound a little overbearing and like they really want Lou to need them.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        The point is that no one knows what Lou actually means by the silence, whether it’s my interpretation or yours. What we do know is what Alison mentioned: that people who are in a tough place are often not in a place to communicate that information to people who might benefit from hearing it. So, starting from there because it’s a generous place to begin, LW might find solace in understanding the silence to mean “I’ll be back at an undetermined point in the future” and not “goodbye forever.”

    3. Hawk*

      I’m someone who has been on both sides of this, OP. I’ve been the person who has been silent and I’ve been the friend with sudden silence from someone I thought was a close friend. I’ve also got anxiety and ADHD.

      Alison’s advice is spot on. I also want to add that I wholeheartedly agree with Caramel & Cheddar said. Also their advice of a “thinking of you” message is spot on. The one thing you shouldn’t do, if you get a response to that “thinking of you” message, is to let your anxiety brain do the thing of a giant response (which I’ve been prone to do but also realize can be too much for the recipient). Instead of saying a literal “thinking of you”, you could try sending an article or a meme that is related to them but not so tied to them that you aren’t emotionally invested in hearing back about. Like, “ooh, I just saw this new board game came out you may like” (but it’s not a board game you yourself would normally play).

      My therapist once put it this way for me: imagine the relationship you have in the past is now in an archive of “past friendships”. I took it one step further and applied my personal knowledge of that kind of space. The great thing about archives is that they aren’t static. An object placed in them is pulled out for study and then placed back. You place an object or document in an archive because you care about it, or it may be needed down the road. As you work on this new project, put the past in the archive. You can go back to it, it’s still there, it’s just… not the elephant in the room anymore. It’s the elephant in the archives, which are a separate room.

      1. juliebulie*

        If someone sends me a meme, I’m going to stay silent that much longer.

        I like the archive metaphor though.

    4. Olive*

      I don’t like assuming that Lou must be struggling. I think it would be more appropriate to reframe the silences as Lou saying “I need privacy right now and am not interested in talking about my personal life at work”.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        LW used the word “struggling” in their example of what kind of response they wanted to hear from Lou, which is why I also used it.

      2. LWH*

        Right, if Lou is not in a bad place, and simply wants to step back from these conversations, reinforcing the idea that Lou is in a bad place may drive LW to be more likely to keep reaching out out of concern when Lou may not want that. Or, it may lead LW to interact with Lou as if they’re in a bad place when they aren’t, which isn’t exactly welcome either. We don’t know why Lou stepped back from these conversations and we don’t know if Lou is in a bad place, and it makes more sense to just accept the uncertainty than go from the angle that Lou is definitely in a bad place.

  9. online millenial*

    OP, if you’re seeing a therapist, this is definitely something to talk to them about! (And if you’re not, highly recommend looking for one who can help with the anxiety stuff.) You’ve got a lot of big, complicated, valid feelings about how Lou is treating you, and Lou can’t fix or deal with those feelings for you. You don’t have to deal with them alone, but you do need to deal with them outside of work and your relationship with Lou.

    I’ve been on your side of friendships where people go cold or vanish (one person completely fell off the face of the earth for a year, I literally thought she was dead, then she reappeared and expected to pick up like nothing had happened), and it sucks. It hurts a lot, especially when there’s no explanation. But you can’t force people into the kind of relationship you might want, nor can you force them to explain why things have changed. Be warm, kind, and professional, and find someone safe to work through all the messy, painful friendship feelings with outside of work.

    1. Despachito*

      “one person completely fell off the face of the earth for a year, I literally thought she was dead, then she reappeared and expected to pick up like nothing had happened), and it sucks.”

      It is curious how different can be the angles under which we see the same situation.

      I consider this as nothing especially out of the norm – if we did not have a conflict I’d just assume the person has a lot on their plate, and of course we will pick up like nothing had happened when they free their hands again. For me it doesn’t suck, it’s life, and it is nice to reconnect once the person is ready.

  10. Peach-State*

    I’m wondering if maybe Lou got into a romantic relationship recently, and his new partner is uncomfortable with the kinds of conversations/emotional intimacy you two had?

    1. juliebulie*

      That was my thought. I had a friendship go bad that way. (Either that or Lou has feelings for OP and is trying to avoid dealing with it.)

      Either way, it sucks. When you think you have that great relationship with someone and suddenly you don’t, it’s easy to come up with lots of theories, but you are just guessing. It can be devastating.

    2. allathian*

      That’s possible, but it’s by no means the only explanation. Lou has done the disappearing act before.

  11. Bex (in computers)*

    As someone who’s been a Lou before – Lou might also have realized that the information shared with you exceeded what he was comfortable having a colleague know about him (and especially one he’d never met!). He might not know how to graciously pull back.

    Lou might be lost in a pit of mental health struggles that mean it’s all he can do to address work questions on a day to day basis. Because work has to be handled because it’s keeping Lou alive. I’ve also had those days … weeks … months … once it was a year.

    Remember that it is highly unlikely this is directed at you specifically. This is about Lou. Make the upcoming meetings pleasant and socially superficial if needed – “we’ve got some lovely sunshine here. How’s it out where you are?” and similarly banal polite bits work.

    I think I’ve always most appreciated the friends and acquaintances who have kept the tenuous line open so that when I have capacity for anything more than breathing, I know I can reach out.

  12. Momma Bear*

    While I can understand that it stings, I also think there’s a bit of anxiety talking. Since you said you’re already in therapy, I’d dive into it with your therapist. Maybe think about if there’s any RSD involved, too. But I agree to be just professional with this person – perhaps imagine boxes of interaction and right now he’s in the box marked “coworker” and not “friend”. I agree to be *friendly* and interact with him like you would anyone else on a similar project. I had a run-in with a coworker at a time everyone was very stressed out. Three months later we’re fine. Sometimes people just need space and it’s not personal. Good luck on your project.

    1. Florp*

      Good point. From the headline (which OP may not have written) and the first sentence about “ick,” I was expecting a disagreement between people who were friends first and now have to work together, but it’s more like a cool period between very friendly but remote colleagues who bonded while working together. It doesn’t sound like anyone did anything bad to to anyone else. Lou might be surprised to know OP is framing it to themselves as a friendship gone icky.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Sometimes people are also situational friends. Old office regularly went to lunch together, but only one person was truly my outside of work friend and they are the only one I’ve talked to since leaving that job. It may be that something changed in the cadence of their interactions and that situational-ness broke.

        Or, as others have said above, folks with ADHD sometimes have both time blindness and lack object permanence. Sometimes I’ll hear from a neurospicy friend out of the blue and it’s not that they didn’t like me, but I was “out of sight/mind” for a bit. They can pick right back up where we left off. May not be the case here with Lou, but could be a reason he hasn’t replied. There may be an unsent text somewhere. But if there’s not, I still think LW needs to just go forward with professionalism.

  13. Florp*

    I don’t have a solution, but as someone with ADHD I can only guess that he has hit a wall of overwhelm. The wall might be one big problem, like a family illness that has derailed other parts of Lou’s life, or it might be a thousand little things that have piled up on him. ADHD sufferers can feel a lot of shame and anxiety around the long list of things we didn’t handle well or should have done (or just *think* we should have done, or that other people are pressuring us to do).

    When we hit overload, panic sets in for some and depression for others, neither of which is conducive to good communication or decision making. Some things get done, and others drop. Sometimes those dropped things really are important to us, but we just…can’t. Because we have ADHD, and figuring out what to do in what order without getting distracted is kind of the whole problem. We might respond to whoever is yelling the loudest, or whatever we think might make us the most miserable, even if that thing isn’t actually important to us. We might do busywork to avoid confronting a problem head-on (i.e. overhauling our filing system rather than doing our taxes). And eventually, we might hit the point where we need to preserve our sanity by ignoring as much as possible.

    So OP, (who is kind and caring!) has some anxiety about the relationship and concern for Lou’s mental health which would be assuaged by a little communication, and communicating is yet another item on the to do list that Lou just can’t get to and feels shame about. Vicious, vicious circle. It’s not you OP, but the kindest thing you can do is give Lou his space, and be warm and friendly when you do have one on ones, or the shame spiral will just keep going. It’s hard to do this when you need to manage your own anxiety, and asking for what you need is so perfectly reasonable. For whatever reason, he just can’t right now.

    I’ll put in a plug for the book Dirty Laundry by Pink and Emery if anyone is interested–it’s literally about this.

      1. Florp*

        LOL, the more I read about it, the more I am relieved to know that my ADHD is normal and I’m not a chaotic unicorn.

    1. ferrina*


      The authors of Dirty Laundry also have a YouTube channel called ADHD Love. They have great information, and they are so charming and relatable!

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Oooh, I’ll have to check that out! OP, I know that How to ADHD also has a bunch of videos about how it can be really hard to make friends if you have ADHD because you might fall into hyperfocus and neglect everything else around you, or you actually sometimes just completely forget to respond to the text or email from a friend who you really care about but because it never gets top of mind you never get to it. And sometimes you might feel ashamed about that and then you just kind of ghost on the person not because you want to but because you are embarrassed about forgetting to respond for such a long time.

        It may also be that he’s embarrassed about having had such personal conversations with you in the first place; it is another known ADHD symptom that we can come on very strong sometimes (especially early in a relationship) and that’s yet another reason why we can have a hard time making friends.

        All this to say, OP, that it would be a kindness to Lou to treat him just like any other work colleague and not remind him that he has stopped communicating with you about more personal issues. I don’t know that being so personal at work was such a great idea in the first place, so don’t punish him for trying to be more professional with you.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, I agree on this. It’s unfortunate that the LW’s anxiety makes doing these sensible things more difficult than it would otherwise be. I’d say that their respective mental health issues mean that Lou and the LW aren’t compatible as friends. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it’s just a fact. Lou’s ADHD and depression mean that he can go cold on the LW with little or no warning, which spikes the LW’s anxiety and makes them worry about the status of their friendship. The very thing that would assuage the LW’s anxiety, Lou being more communicative again, is the thing that Lou can’t do.

          I don’t think there’s any other long-term solution to this than to give Lou the space he needs and to stick to a professional relationship, because it’s what Lou needs now. But if Lou ever attempts to come back and start sharing, the LW can (and IMO should) say that they prefer to stick to a professional relationship from now on because they can’t deal with having a friend who keeps disappearing with little or no warning. This will no doubt hurt Lou’s feelings, but that may be something the LW has to do to protect their own mental health. What’s more, it’s an entirely reasonable boundary to draw. Some people aren’t cut out to be friends with people who disappear with little or now warning, and that’s okay. You don’t have to be friends with everybody who offers you friendship.

          1. LWH*

            I do want to push back on this idea a bit as an ADHD haver myself. I would not be happy with OTHER people assuming that an action I took is because of my ADHD. I’m the only one that can really tell that. If I deliberately decide to not talk to someone about something, I would be pretty miffed if they thought “oh, it’s just because of their ADHD, obviously they wouldn’t want to not talk to me about this”. Having your deliberate actions dismissed as side effects from mental disorders you have is extremely dismissive to me. All of the ADHD stories in this thread are people talking about their own personal experiences they had from their own ADHD. This is not that, this is applying someone else’s ADHD to their actions. I don’t find that okay. It’s a possibility, but it’s not an assumption someone should ever make.

  14. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

    LW, I feel for you, but you need to let this go. I’m sorry.

    About two years ago, my best friend of 20+ years “disappeared”. She stopped responding to texts, she stopped participating in group chats, she stopped coming out for drinks or food with us. I gave her about a month before I sent her a text that basically said I was concerned, I knew she was likely struggling (she’s had trouble with depression and anxiety in the past), and I was requesting one text to let me know she was alive, safe, and not in any danger. I got a very brief response telling me she was alive and with her mom. I thanked her, told her I loved her and was here for her. And then I let her be.

    Remember, this is my best friend from childhood. I just don’t think you have enough standing to expect someone from work who is struggling to make things easier for you. If having this dynamic in your friendship is too much for you (and it might be! and that’s ok!) you can keep everything professional with Lou and be civil and cordial and nice, but maybe not friends.

    Saying this bit gently… I think your own issues may be exacerbating how Lou’s behavior is effecting you. Please don’t put yourself in a bad spot over this.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I had a high school friend with whom I became very close in college and into our mid-twenties. And then she got married, got pregnant, and disappeared. (It was not her husband/an abusive relationship.)

      She had always been someone who did not have great coping mechanisms and at some point I had to accept that my continued efforts to get her to communicate were going to end up being invasive, and I was going to have to be OK with the idea that our lives moved in different directions and that there probably wasn’t a concrete answer. We’re faintly in contact again now, but haven’t seen each other in over 15 years even though we live fewer than ten miles apart.

      1. Clap Clap Clap Clap*

        20 years, 1 month and 1 text and that’s it?

        I would hope that someone would try harder than that.

        1. londonedit*

          Sometimes it’s what you have to do, though. I have a friend who struggles with anxiety and always cancels plans at the last minute. It’s frustrating, but we always thought OK, we need to keep inviting them to things even if we know they’re going to cancel, we need to be good friends, we can’t just abandon them, etc. Eventually they said to us look, please just stop inviting me to things because it causes me more anxiety having to say no, or feeling like I’m always saying no, or feeling like I have to agree to things and then cancelling at the last minute. They said it would be easier for them if we did things on their terms and waited for them to suggest meeting up. As it is, they haven’t suggested meeting up, and contact for the last couple of years has been limited to texts for birthdays/Christmas and the odd brief check-in. But that’s their choice, and they’ve made it clear they feel anxiety and pressure if we try to do more. So we need to leave it alone.

        2. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

          Yes, that’s it.

          We’re all adults with lives and jobs and families. It isn’t uncommon for one of us to “go dark” for a week or so when stuff comes up in our lives. We aren’t texting 24/7. Sometimes none of us talk for a week or better, because again, we’re adults with lives.

          I’m curious what more you would expect. Did you want me to send her daily texts? Show up at her house? Call her until she picked up (or, more likely, blocks me temporarily)? At some point, it becomes too much caring, too much help, and so overbearing that you become part of the problem.

      2. Letitgo*

        yep. my very,very best friend and inseparable companion went through a tough time and became completely unresponsive. I finally reached out to her (soon to be ex, although I did not know that) spouse in a panic as I had this horrible feeling. it pretty much ended the friendship to my, still a decade plus later, profound pain. I miss her to the bottom of my soul. lesson to me- give space when it is clearly communicated that this is what is needed. we chat occasionally every couple of months now, but never initiated by her and always surface stuff.

    2. ferrina*

      This sounds like a really sweet and compassionate way to handle this! As someone who has ghosted on multiple friends (ADHD + cPTSD + busy life), I would have loved seeing this text.

  15. AvonLady Barksdale*

    A couple of things: with work friendships, even good ones, work is the priority. I made a great work friend and we talk about everything, but when we’re both slammed, it’s silent. We live in different countries and do not hang out after work or on weekends, so our friendship is entirely within the proverbial four walls of work. Silence is far from personal– it’s usually just busy or even overwhelmed. Then… Lou is not going to respond the way you want him to just because you want him to. He hasn’t said “Sorry, busy, nothing personal” because he either hasn’t thought to say it, doesn’t think it’s necessary, or just doesn’t. You can’t control his reactions to you, nor can you control his chat style.

    Your job now is to be a professional, and to be as kind to him as you would to any other colleague, and to completely forget about “the elephant in the room” because I would bet that where you see an elephant, Lou sees a teeny little caterpillar that doesn’t even register.

    1. allathian*

      Absolutely. The time to take action would be if and when Lou tries to restart the friendship with the LW again. If Lou is intentionally pulling back because he wants a purely professional relationship but for whatever reason hasn’t said so, this will never happen. If Lou is simply dealing with his mental health issues as best he can, he may resurface at some point. At that time, it would be entirely within the LW’s rights to say that the professional relationship worked fine for them, and that they prefer not to be friends with people who are liable to limit contact with little or no warning. Sure, for a person with mental health issues that would suck, but that doesn’t mean that the LW can’t state boundaries to protect their own mental health. Lou’s needs don’t trump the LW’s here.

  16. Honoria Lucasta*

    It sounds like Lou might also be trying to move the relationship away from one of non-work friendship to one of simple work-collegiality. LW said that he “he either doesn’t respond or just talks about something else without acknowledging my post”, which sounds to me an awful lot like he’s following the textbook “pivot to work” conversational move. It’s possible that he has decided for his own well-being that he wants work to be a place where his mental health issues don’t come up in conversation. I can see that being part of a larger strategy for handling the issues LW mentioned (e.g. keeping work spaces for work talk only might be one step in managing his ADHD, or establishing clearer interpersonal boundaries might be part of approaching PTSD). If that’s the case, it is obviously going to be a challenge to navigate for LW as a person who used to be more involved, but it doesn’t have to be a sign that he’s struggling. It could be a sign that he’s getting better!

    1. sunny days are better*

      This was my thought as well.

      When I was younger, I had work friends that I socialized with outside of work. In some cases, it went very well and we are still friends 30-odd years later.

      But in other cases it didn’t end well (for various reasons), and now I would never tell any colleague anything very personal ever again nor would I socialize in a non-work setting.

      Lou may have decided to draw a similar line in the sand, and it may have to do with a bad work experience with a different colleague – and may have decided that he will no longer socialize with anyone at work at all.

      1. Kel*

        Similar to what someone said below though, a boundary that isn’t communicated isn’t a good boundary. IF Lou wants to pull away because he feels like he needs to recalibrate the relationship, he can tell LW that.

        1. HalJordan*

          But that’s not something the OP can do anything about. If Lou were writing in, or we were his therapist or friend or whatever, we could say “hey Lou, it might be kinder if you were clear about this with OP”. But—–Lou’s not writing in, and he’s not obligated to be kind, and we’re not able to give him that advice.

          So the best advice for OP, regardless of what’s going on behind Lou’s scenes–which we can speculate on for ever–remains the same: to adjust based on the information they actually have. That information is: for whatever reason, Lou doesn’t want to have these conversations.

          So OP needs to stop pushing for those conversations and pull back their own emotional investment in continuing to have them! Which is tough, definitely, but … kaiidth. At the current moment, this is the relationship OP and Lou have. OP is entitled to withdraw at any time, or to decide not to reopen the friendship at the same degree of emotional intimacy if Lou comes back to the conversation; Lou’s entitled to the same.

  17. Olive*

    I don’t love the way this advice was framed because I don’t think it’s necessarily a “It’s them, not you” situation. It sounds to me like Lou is trying to set some work boundaries. If he wrote in, I think he would be advised to be more clear and direct with his boundaries, but refusing to engage with a coworker about his mental health doesn’t mean that he’s barely staying afloat. It might be that he’s doing better when he’s able to hold his boundaries.

    I am not trying to be mean to the LW but this sounds like an absolute work nightmare: “However, if we need to meet (virtually) 1:1 to discuss work stuff, there will be an elephant in the room — at least for me. Normally, I would want to at least acknowledge that there’s an elephant present (i.e., his lack of personal interactions like before) but I’m concerned it could just make things worse. Yet not acknowledging it feels fake.”

    I really think she needs to step back and reassess her own professional boundaries.

    1. Sloanicota*

      It’s true that most of us are assuming Lou is having mental health struggles (and the framing of the letter makes that seem likely) and it’s really not about OP at all, but one reason this is a difficult situation is that you’re right; it’s also possible that Lou is trying to re-set a boundary with OP and doesn’t want this level of intimacy moving forward. The good news for OP is that the advice is basically the same – stop chasing Lou, give him all the space he needs, and aim to reset a more professional relationship moving forward. It’s really just about whether you’re expecting Lou to resurface some day and re-engage. My advice would be to not expect or hope for that, and even if it does happen, to kindly rebuff him and keep it collegial.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        The good news for OP is that the advice is basically the same


        The only things we can control are what we say and what we do. OP, focus on taking care of yourself and ensuring you have healthy boundaries. Maybe you’ll be friends and coworkers with Lou, maybe you’ll just be coworkers. But there definitely will be other friendships in your life.

    2. Ms. Murchison*

      I agree that he could be trying to set better work boundaries and that the LW would benefit from reassessing their own work boundaries, but refusing to tell a former confidant about your choice to pull back and semi-ghosting them instead doesn’t indicate a healthy or mature attitude towards workplace relationships. There’s definitely still a him problem.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Fair, I suppose, but since OP’s the one to write in, I think the advice given is the best for her. I assume there would be different advice to Lou if he had been the one to ask how to handle this.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          100% this. The advice is given from the context of the letter writer, not the person the letter writer is asking about.

        2. LWH*

          Right, if Lou wrote in I’d say to be direct, but Lou didn’t write in, we can only work with the current situation. That being said, it can also be tricky being direct at work as well. This isn’t purely a relationship question, it’s a work question, and some people won’t be direct about social situations at work because they have to keep working with the person. If Lou doesn’t want to be friends with LW anymore, he can’t easily say “I don’t want to be friends with you anymore” to someone he then has to work closely with. If Lou is struggling, he may not want to share with someone he has to work closely with what he’s going through personally right now. Either way I would sympathize, but either way we can’t give him advice anyway, we can only send comments to LW.

      2. Lydia*

        Yes. This is a situation where Lou and OP did share a close relationship. If Lou is trying to recalibrate that, he at least can say something along those lines to someone who used to be his friend.

        1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

          Okay, but if he doesn’t…then what? Because the only actions LW can control here are her own. Lou’s stopped responding. She should stop messaging him about personal stuff, and not bring it up if they have to meet.

    3. Axel*

      A boundary that isn’t communicated is not an effective boundary. If he *said* ‘I’m not going to engage with a coworker about my mental health’ or anything to that effect, that would be a good assessment of this situation. He hasn’t, though, and he’s done this repeatedly in the past with no communication to that effect either. It’s not about being *more* clear or direct with boundaries – if this is a boundary, it hasn’t been communicated at all. This is certainly one possibility, but it’s in no way clear.

      1. Olive*

        I think that the way Lou is choosing to communicate isn’t effective and I’m sure he would get advice to that effect if he’d written in, but I also think that not responding to personal messages about mental health is a clear sign that he doesn’t want to talk about his mental health.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Welllll now … I’m thinking of all the discussion around “soft no’s.” If you ask someone out and they say, gee, I’m just really busy these days … and then you show up at their cubicle to chat and they say they have to go … and then you start texting them … I am generally on the side of the person who is giving a pretty clear soft no and the other person should pick up on that. There’s *always* someone in the comments saying, “but why don’t you tell them clearly that you don’t want to date them, that would end this whole thing?!?” But … people have their reasons, direct communication is tough, and in general I think we should try to learn to recognize and respect indirect nos. Which is what I feel Lou is giving OP here.

        1. Axel*

          That’s a very different context, though. This is not a soft no at the beginning or a clear shift point between people who’ve just met each other or who have an established dynamic that doesn’t involve that – like being asked out. That’s a shift. Soft ‘no’s are much easier to understand on the receiving end when this is the case. When you have an established dynamic and way of interacting with each other, though – like LW and Lou – and someone wants to establish a boundary to change that, a soft no becomes much harder to interpret and navigate. This is not someone who is following a coworker around repeatedly asking them out while they make excuses. This is someone with an established friendship who has previously experienced this kind of behaviour and had things return to normal afterwards. This is not a situation in which a ‘soft no’ in the form of radio silence except for work is a clear indication that Lou wants the relationship to change entirely to be purely professional. LW has stopped checking in, and is worried about a friend. It sounds like they’re respecting what has been communicated with the silence – I don’t want to talk about this – but I think saying this is a ‘soft no’ that needs to be interpreted as setting workplace boundaries with someone he was previously friends with is a pretty unreasonable stretch to ask LW to make.

      3. too many llamas*

        But the lack of communication is the communication. He is telling OP that he doesn’t want to engage with a coworker about his mental health by not engaging with the coworker about his mental health.

        1. Axel*

          And the fact that he’s done this before and returned to normal after means what, exactly? LW is respecting the desire to not talk about this. They are already not checking in any longer. My response was to the assumption that this was Lou trying to ‘set work boundaries’ around their relationship as a whole, when the fact that this has happened before several times makes that way less clear and makes it way more unfair to accuse LW of being a ‘work nightmare’ and having poor workplace boundaries themself.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, I agree.

            The time to act would be if and when Lou resurfaces and wants to talk about his mental health again. The LW would be entirely within their rights to say something like “I’m sorry, but I can’t be friends with someone who keeps disappearing with little or no warning when they’re going through a rough patch, even if it’s to protect their mental health. Let’s stick to work talk from now on, what’s the status of that TPS report?” This is a boundary the LW is allowed to state to protect their mental health. I’m only afraid that the LW’s anxiety makes this boundary harder to state and stick to.

  18. Anon for Now*

    As someone whose health has taken a nose dive in the past year and whose situation is bad enough that I’m now in discussions with HR about going on long term disability as a 40-something, I feel the other side of this letter hard. Of course I have no idea what’s actually going on with your work-friend, LW, so this is a bit of projection. But I know that every single co-worker who is willing to just… talk to me about the work-thing? Is doing me a huge kindness.

    I’m terrified every day that my health issues are going to bleed over so much into work that everyone will “see” that I’m falling apart. It’s taking me so much effort to get through my tasks , I’m making more mistakes, and I’m always about 1mm away from an emotional (or physical) meltdown.

    The people who skip over the concerned “How ARE you? Are you doing OKAY?” and just get to the work? Those are the people I appreciate the most right now. They are the ones I feel safest with. Who honestly feel the most caring. Their willingness to just make it normal gives me a chance to BE normal, which is the one thing keeping me going. It is a huge comfort to exist in the polite, shared fiction, that I’m just fine, just doing the work, nope, not about to see my entire professional journey crash and burn!

    You clearly care about your friend and this friendship. I encourage you to be just a warm, competent co-worker right now, and that may be the best way to be a true friend.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, usually when I’m really going through something, I’d honestly rather most people didn’t “fuss.” Sometimes I don’t have the energy to manage everyone else’s emotions as well as my own. I’m grateful to people who follow my lead. It’s a kindness to create an opening once, but it’s also a kindness to keep things moving if you don’t sense you’re helping.

    2. Florp*

      That’s a good point. Whatever is going on with him, Lou may already be talking to his doctor, therapist, spouse, best friend, and priest and just not want to hash through it all again at work.

    3. Lenora Rose*

      Yes. If he’s having mental health issues (or any other kind of personal overwhelm) to the point where he can’t deal with both that and work, sticking to work is a gift to him until he’s up to reaching out later.

      And even better, if he isn’t having mental health issues and just wants to back up and is doing it in a poor way, sticking to work issues looks like graciously accepting his boundary, so it’s still the right choice.

      I can believe that it’s hard to wait and see if this is a permanent new state or a temporary one, but unfortunately, it’s also the best thing to do. Follow his lead for now. And if/when he opens up, try not to deluge him then, either.

    4. Quantum Possum*

      Invisible hug – I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

      It’s so crappy when our bodies/brains decide to screw us over, isn’t it? There’s so much grieving that goes along with it, so much fighting with yourself – “why can’t I just stop falling apart?” Feeling completely out of control. Ugh! It does get better eventually, you reach some sort of acceptance. It’s important to let yourself grieve.

      Their willingness to just make it normal gives me a chance to BE normal, which is the one thing keeping me going.

      I agree 100%. When I was going through disability stuff, those people kept me going.

    5. Anxiety like whoa*

      Yes! I suffered a significant trauma last year. When I returned to work and the time span after that my close work friends made sure I didn’t get as many of the “And how are YOU doing right now?” Just because having to have the same conversation over and over again just made me relive the feelings I was trying to bury while I was on the clock.

      I appreciated that people care(d). It just became hard when that trauma became my entire identity.

    6. Willow Pillow*

      Yes, I don’t know how I have managed to go through the last couple of years without going into burnout and I’ve been on the edge of such so long. I need stability and distraction from it at work, not a mechanism to mire myself in it. I genuinely appreciate people’s concern but the most caring act is to put it aside.

  19. Ms. Murchison*

    Whatever Lou is going through might be too big or too sensitive to discuss on work platforms, or he may have just realized the inadvisability of discussing such topics on work platforms as WorkerDrone mentioned above.

    I suspect that the best strategy for the LW is just to let this friendship go and accept that now they are only colleagues, that Lou’s silence is communicating that he’s declining the friendship. It sounds like even if Lou wants to revive a work friendship later, this kind of relationship with periods of frozen silences isn’t something that works for LW.

  20. BecauseHigherEd*

    I think it’s VERY possible that Lou realized talking about his ADHD/PTSD at work was causing him to ruminate and a friend or therapist told him to stop talking about it at work. I have a good work friend that I would often text about a less-than-satisfactory coworker, and eventually I realized it was making me feel so much worse about the less-than satisfactory coworker. I told my work friend, “I like talking to you, but I just can’t keep taking about LTSC…it makes me feel anxious.” I could see that maybe Lou felt embarrassed or uncomfortable saying that, and so he just ghosted.

    I am on the side of just letting it be–or, if you’re going to try to have more personal conversations, keeping it light. “How’s the weather where you are?” “How was your weekend?” “Did you see the game this weekend?” etc.

  21. Typing All The Time*

    I’m sorry, OP. My guess is that Lou felt he revealed too much or became too vulnerable and wants to back away from you in this manner and stay professional. I would put aside everything that you shared and focus on finding connectivity outside of work.

    1. K8T*

      Yeahhh – he’s pretty clearly (IMO at least) delineating what he want to talk about with you on the clock. LW I’d recommend letting it go best you can and just continue on as a normal work relationship.

      1. Broadway Duchess*

        I think the exasperated OMG isn’t necessary, but the sentiment isn’t wrong. LW is probably better off leaving Lou alone. At minimum, the friendship isn’t serving LW’s needs/wants. It doesn’t necessarily matter what Lou’s reasoning is — Lou isn’t interested in this type of communication right now. LW needs to recalibrate.

    2. Kel*

      LW has; they’re asking how to proceed with a work relationship that WON’T make it weird; a perfectly normal question.

      1. Jess*

        The LW proceeds by continuing to leave the dude alone. The intensity level of any relationship should be set by the least-intense participant and Lou is setting it.

          1. Jess*

            He’s doing that though, right? He’s still communicating effectively with the LW for work. The LW is hurt and angry because he’s not the friend they thought he was, or at least not acting like the friend they thought he was, but he gets to do that – he gets to decide on the lack of intensity of and closeness in his own relationships. *Especially* work relationships.

            1. Kel*

              LW literally is just asking about how to work with him. I’m not sure how else LW can ‘leave him alone’. They’re literally asking for advice on HOW to leave him alone.

              1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

                But it’s just …leave him alone. Don’t message him about personal stuff unless/until he does. Ignore the elephant you think is in the room, not least because Lou might consider it an elephant shrew.

    3. Kella*

      In what context? Should OP actively avoid interacting with Lou while Lou is trying to work closely with the OP on their joint work project? Should OP leave Lou alone when he comes back to talking about mental health stuff outside of work the way he has done many times before?

      This kind of withdrawing and then returning is often cyclical. You don’t connect when you don’t have the resources to, and then you reconnect when your resources are back, but at neither time do you have the resources to discuss the cycle. OP is not obligated to wait for Lou to come back if this inconsistency is too painful for them but if Lou’s desire to be left alone fluctuates significantly such that at other times he very much wants to connect, then “leave the dude alone” is advice that actually ignores Lou’s perspective of things.

      1. allathian*

        It ignores the LW’s perspective as well. If and when Lou wants to discuss his mental health with LW again, the LW can (and IMO should) tell him that this hot and cold friendship isn’t working for them and that they’d rather stick to a purely professional relationship from now on, because never knowing when he’ll be available is making their anxiety worse. It’s the only way to change the status quo.

    4. Frosty*

      I totally agree. This letter reads a bit like limerence or an (unacknowledged) romantic issue. Lou is making his needs and boundaries clear with his words and behaviour, and LW is reading a lot into the whatifs/whens etc.

      Even worrying about the one-on-one interaction is a red flag to me. If I have friends that are withdrawing for various reasons, I don’t worry about what it will be like when we actually see each other, unless there is some sort of very intense unrequited emotional stuff going on.

      If Lou has said he doesn’t want to talk about it and withdraws from the friendship, why would LW worry about that to the extent that they are? Just deal with them as you would with any other colleague. If they must deal with the “elephant” then mention “It’s been tough for me with our friendship taking a back seat lately, but I want to make sure that we’re able to get all of our project done so please feel free to contact me about work stuff without worrying that I’ll start probing further” etc.

  22. Hedgehug*

    I’m not sure why OP is angry and hurt over his keeping to himself. OP has made it clear he has no problem responding to work correspondence so I don’t see how the upcoming project will have issues.

  23. Jellyfish Catcher*

    The best way that you can support Lou is in the way that he is asking, which is focusing on the work.
    Be positive, be present in your work mode, be normal in work discussions. You may choose keep an eye on any complex parts of the work, for awhile, as he has stated that he’s struggling. The best support that you can give is make sure work is going well.
    I’m not saying that you do his work for him, but all of us have experienced a hiccup in life that leaves us being less than 100% and/or distracted as we process and recover.
    We will all need grace at some time.
    I’m sorry about the elephant in the room – but the elephant is in your room, so you get to tell the elephant to go away.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. And the LW also gets to tell Lou to go away if and when he wants to talk about his mental health issues again. They’re clearly incompatible as friends, and frankly I’m not sure what the LW is getting out of the friendship. It seems very one-sided to me.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        I suspect that LW would disagree, as it clearly worries and upsets them not to be treated as a friend. That in itself implies that the friendship matters.

        It is worth reassessing as a friendship, but we don’t know any of the rest of their connection, so it’s impossible to declare this is one sided.

  24. too many llamas*

    I think there is a danger to assume that, because someone had/has a mental health problem, all their behaviour can be attributed to that. OP doesn’t actually know that Lou is currently struggling with his mental health and that that’s why he isn’t having the daily personal chats she has got used to. It sounds like he no longer wants to keep sharing personal stuff with you, OP – that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s unable to, or that he will do once he feels able to. It means he doesn’t want to have that kind of relationship with you any more. I think you need to find another source of emotional support for yourself, and that needs not to be via work.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      People are wondering if it is due to a mental health concern/struggle because it’s rather rude otherwise. I’ve seen these types of responses before in the comment section, essentially that people shouldn’t be sad about losing work friendships because they’re not entitled to work friendships, and I find that so disheartening. While I think OP is correct in checking her initial instincts with Alison so as not to respond in an over the top manner, it’s just so judgmental to act like OP is wrongly sad about losing a friendship and is improperly using Lou for (apparently one-sided) emotional support.

      1. K8T*

        I don’t think it’s rude, I think Lou is pretty clearly (IMO of course) setting boundaries. Lou doesn’t have to list reasons why they’re pulling back – and I’d actually think it would be pretty rude of LW to make them do so. They can 100% be sad, grieving friendships is a real thing but they have to be able to get over it to complete their job.

        1. Prismatic Garnet*

          It is rude to ignore communications like that (esp when you were previously close/frequent) without acknowledging it. A brief/breezy “Hey sorry, I’m a little overwhelmed and can’t chat for a while” is all you need, but if it’s not brought on by mental health struggles, just blanking on a previously ongoing conversation IS shitty. Say one sentence.

    2. Kella*

      I don’t understand this position that Lou has decided to shift their relationship to a more professional one and his silence is not the result of mental health struggles. OP said in their letter, “This past year he has gone quiet a few times, usually when dealing with personal issues. By quiet, I mean he stops daily personal chats and check-ins.”

      So, for one thing it sounds like OP *does* know that these disappearances correlate with mental health struggles. And secondly, if this has happened a few separate times, that means Lou comes *back*. Lou has not switched from a connected, active friendship to a purely professional one. Lou has gone back and forth on the degree to which he’s present in the friendship, which is a very common thing for folks dealing with mental health issues to do.

      1. allathian*

        Indeed. And it’s also very common, and perfectly acceptable, to decide to withdraw from a hot and cold friendship like this to protect your own mental health. The LW has stated that they have anxiety, and that it’s acerbated by not knowing exactly why Lou as withdrawn. It would be entirely reasonable for the LW to decide that they don’t want to deal with that anymore and to stop being friends with Lou and maintain purely professional boundaries from now on.

  25. Axel*

    Echoing what earlier people have said about the ball being in Lou’s court now, friendship wise. Just proceeding like nothing is happening with you personally seems like the kindest approach at this point, as well as the most productive, work-wise. Just engage with him like you would any coworker you didn’t have a personal friendship with.

    I’m sorry this is happening. I’d like to take a moment and acknowledge that Lou is not the only one with mental health difficulties here, and while it’s very good to be aware of his and give him grace and be compassionate and not take it personally, your own struggles are also very real and matter just as much here. I’m sorry you’re in a situation where they’re being aggravated by what’s happening, and it really sucks to have to stuff your own issues down like that. Sometimes that’s what happens, and it seems to be the case here, but I did want to specifically take a moment and acknowledge that you’re not exactly approaching this from a 100% Mentally Well and Without Problems place yourself either, and this is really, really tough.

    1. allathian*

      Indeed. And while giving Lou the space he needs is the right thing to do now, the LW should consider what they want to do if and when Lou wants to be friends again. If the LW lets things return to as they were, it’s only a matter of time before Lou disappears again. The LW needs to consider if it wouldn’t be better for their mental health to tell Lou, if and when he wants to start engaging on a more personal level again, that they can’t deal with the hot and cold friendship and the disappearances anymore and that they need to stick to a purely professional relationship for their own mental health. And then to follow through by doing what Lou has done, i.e. only responding to work-related messages and the sort of casual small talk that you engage in with other coworkers, but nothing personal.

      Lou and the LW are clearly incompatible as friends, and that’s okay. There’s no reason for the LW to maintain a hot and cold friendship just because that’s what Lou wants.

  26. CRM*

    OP – I say this with the upmost compassion as a fellow worker bee with anxiety:

    You need to become way less invested in this friendship. Work is stressful enough on it’s own! Continuing this dynamic is just going to make your anxiety even worse, especially if you already have anxiety about work itself (which, honestly, who doesn’t?).

    Trust me – I been in a situation like this, also with a colleague I worked closely with. I won’t go into how things went down, but I’ll say that it didn’t end well and was a big part of the reason why I moved on from that company long before I was ready to. You don’t want a friendship to impact your career, which is why two need to live in separate worlds.

    To be clear, there is nothing wrong with having work friends! Sometimes, they are what get you through the worst days. But a work friendship needs to be EASY. It needs to be light-hearted and surface level. That doesn’t mean it can’t be authentic, but it can’t be so emotionally loaded. It needs to make your life better, not more difficult. Most importantly, work needs to be the priority in these friendships. Think about what you said in your letter, that not acknowledging all of this with Lou during a work call would be fake…. it’s not fake to want to focus on work WHILE YOU ARE WORKING. That’s why work friendships are different – work needs to be the focus, not your personal struggles.

    It’s unsustainable to have a work friendship as deep and emotionally fraught as your relationship with Lou is. It’s possible that Lou has already discovered this, which is the reason for his withdrawal. Or it could be what Allison said, or a million other reasons. Regardless of why, right now he needs work to be a productive safe space, and not one where his personal life is interrogated while he should be focusing on monthly widgets report.

    Trust that Lou is able to seek help from local friends and family, and I hope you are able to do the same. Keep work a safe space, and save the emotionally challenging conversations for other friends outside of work, where you are free to cry over a cup of tea (or glass of wine, plate of cookies – choose your comfort food).

  27. Kath*

    One thing about ADHD is that object permanence is often affected. By which I mean, if something, or someone, drops out of your mental sightline, it’s easy to forget about it, or them. Your routine is disrupted slightly so that the ten minutes that used to be for chatting are now used for something else, and whoops, it’s suddenly been 6 months since you checked in with your friend. It doesn’t mean we don’t care or that we’re losing interest. In fact, we usually are more able than most to reconnect without seeming to have skipped a beat.

    Just a thought, that might be part of what’s happening here.

    1. Georgina Sands*

      I think this would make more sense if OP hadn’t checked in a few times and asked him what’s going on and got no response. As as a person with an ADHD diagnosis I do this all the time if somebody checks in then I explain and apologise, not ignore them asking repeatedly while responding to other parts of the message like OP’s coworker

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Sure, but it’s still entirely possible that every time OP checks in he thinks, “Oh, right, gotta respond to OP’s message when I get a sec” and then he forgets about it minutes later and never responds. And the reason he responds to work-related messages is that he is already focused on work stuff or doesn’t feel bad about taking time to answer work questions but he doesn’t want to interrupt his work for personal stuff.

        Also, Kath, it’s not actually object permanence that ADHDers have issues with; that’s a small misconception that a lot of people have. I like this explanation I just found:

        Object permanence refers to the ability to understand that objects still exist even when they are out of sight. Technically, that ability is not impaired in people with ADHD. What is impaired is the ability to remember things without some kind of sensory cue, like seeing it right in front of you or hearing a verbal reminder.

        1. Georgina Sands*

          I think if that were the case he wouldn’t ignore the personal parts of messages which he is responding to entirely, that would be really rude. He would say something along the lines of “work work work, and I’ll respond to your non-work messages later, sorry I keep forgetting!”

    2. LWH*

      I don’t think it’s this at all if Lou is replying only to work messages, or ignoring the personal messages and replying to the work ones as if the personal ones were never there. It’s not silence LW is getting.

  28. KOALA*

    “I’m struggling and can’t talk right now but will try to when I feel better”

    I know it’s easier said than done, but try to pretend he did say this even if he didn’t. Given what you know about his mental health and history, his silence or glossing over you reaching out is him telling you this even if he’s not speaking the actual words.

    It’s a read between the lines situation, because he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation.

    It’s also not his responsibility to manage your/anyone’s feelings about his communication. At least as long as he doesn’t change his communication regarding work related things to a point that it makes you unable to get the work complete.

    “work professionally while dealing with my anger and hurt in therapy”-This is were you focus your energy, working in therapy to learn the tools to manager your own feelings about unmet expectations.

    Yes it hurts and yes unmet expectations about how friends/people will interact with one another sucks, those feelings are absolutely valid, but they are for you to work through not others.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. And one way to work through these feelings would be for the LW to pull back from the friendship if and when Lou wants to talk mental health with her again. If Lou reacts negatively to that, it’s not the LW’s problem.

  29. Have you had enough water today?*

    After my partner died people checked in on me incessantly. I was not in any state to have a discussion with them so generally sent a thumbs up emoji to let them know I was still alive, but this was not enough for some people. Some people were offended that I would not talk to them during this period & I know this was more about their comfort than mine. They wanted to feel like they were helping when all I wanted was to be left alone to process what had happened.

    Is this what is happening here? Are you wanting him to talk to you so you feel better when maybe that is not what he needs right now? It is a hard thing to hear, but maybe you need to examine your motivations here?

    1. Despachito*

      This is very true, but I think that for a real friend, it should not be a problem to understand what you just wrote – that you wanted to be left alone to process what happened, if you tell them.

      I found it extremely helpful when I was going through tough times to give those I cared about a sort of a script how I wanted to be treated. This helped both me and them – me because they respected it and did not bother me with well-meant questions, them because they really cared but without that script it would have been much more difficult for them to guess what I really needed.

  30. Chelsea*

    I think Allison’s advice is very kind, but I also think he’s not being a good friend to OP regardless of the reasoning for it. I had to distance myself from a girlfriend who did this a few times to me as well. Eventually I ran into her at a party a few months later and she apologized, said she was going through a breakup, etc. I was kind to her, and supportive, and we hung out once after that before I moved, but I made a mental note that I can’t trust her to be there for me, and that I shouldn’t mistake the friendship for a closer one than it is. Now we just like each other’s instagram posts. Maybe you should try that too, you might feel much better about the situation.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this.

      I’ve done the same thing with “friends” who were happy enough to use me as a listening ear when they needed to vent but were unavailable when I wanted them to return the favor.

      I’m an introvert, and the older I get, the less energy I have for socializing, as much as I love my friends. I’d rather use my limited resources on people who return the friendship. I’d rather have no friends at all than “friends” who only want to hang out when they need something from me but aren’t willing to do the same for me.

  31. Beans*

    The one time I ever did send the “I need to be incommunicado for awhile to handle some mental health stuff” I ended up having to field MORE “just checking in” “how are you” “saw this and I thought of you” messages… it was exhausting and I ended up ghosting the person because I just… couldn’t.

    Alison is right: pretend he did tell you he was going to dip for awhile, and just deal the work stuff.

  32. Tiger Snake*

    LW, also consider that Lou may simply not have realised how long this has been going on, how it’s coming across, or what you personally are feeling. That’s not a flaw or criticism against either of you and not a reflection of your friendship; it’s simply the nature of the fact we exist as individuals instead of a psychic hivemind.

    Sometimes we get into anti-social moods. You don’t have to have any mental health struggles for your brain to just go “nope, that takes too many spoons today. Work brain only”. If we’re not in the mood to hang out with anyone, then it’s very, very easy to just plain not realise how long it’s been since you’ve hung out. Everyone is living from their perspective only, so we can only rely on our friends to tell his when their social needs aren’t being met.

    When you’re hungry, your tummy rumbles. That’s how you know to go eat. If you’re not feeling hungry, then you might not notice that you skipped dinner time. When you’re feeling a bit lonely, that’s how you know it’s time to go speak to your friends. But if you’re in one of those moods where you just don’t get lonely for longer, you’re not going to realise how many of those normal chats you’ve missed.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      This is a great point. I’ve had multiple times where I reference something happening “a few weeks ago” or in a particular month and my husband will be like “uh, no that was 2 months farther back” and I don’t believe him until I check the date on photos or receipts from the thing. Lou may be feeling like it’s been a couple days or weeks, or only happens occasionally, and isn’t such a noticeable pattern.

  33. I Have Been Like Lou*

    LW, I have been a Lou, as recently as this past year (major health crisis). In my case, it stems from crippling anxiety, which is the result of having grown up in an abusive household. Despite having had a lot of therapy, I still default to avoidance in times of crisis.

    I know that it hurts the people I love — I know this. And I know, intellectually, that being in touch with people who care about me would make me feel better. Yet I literally can’t do it — can’t, not won’t.

    I know why I’m this way — that I do all sorts of things that harm me and cannot do the things that help (or at least sustain) me (it has to do with my being the scapegoat in my family) — but *knowing* isn’t always enough to help me make use of what I’ve learned in therapy, esp. when I’m in crisis.

    I differ slightly from Alison in encouraging you to feel whatever you feel about this — hurt, infuriated, etc. We can’t control our feelings, but we can control our actions — and your actions might be different if you could really accept that this is a Lou thing, not a you thing, and that although it doesn’t *seem* that Lou is doing the best they can, they are.

    I sometimes think of myself as someone who looks normal to everyone else but who in fact has no bones — that’s why I can’t move and make progress at anywhere near the rate others can. You’re allowed to feel frustrated by my snail-like progress even as you feel compassion for my bonelessness and all of the challenges it has made for me over the years. Good luck with all of this, and thanks for being a good friend.

    1. Georgina Sands*

      That sounds really difficult, I’m sorry. I hope you can tell the people who love you about your challenges and that with time, it can improve. Thank you for sharing your perspective!

  34. Georgina Sands*

    I have to say, the last time I told someone I wasn’t going to be available much for a few months for reasons, she went completely insane. She contacted my ex-partner, my estranged sister, neither of whom I talk to, and my mum, who told her I was fine. She then reported me to social services and told them I was going to kill myself (???), who then turned up the next day to ask me lots of very invasive questions (I don’t have kids, so I still don’t understand what they were doing). I was utterly confused and so were the social workers who turned up, but it was very intimidating to be honest, even though the social workers were very nice and understanding once we had figured out what was going on.

    The irony is… I told her why I wasn’t going to be in contact much and it was because my chronic health condition meant that using my phone was hard for me, so I would probably be not be in touch much until I had figured out a way to make it more usable again for me. Nothing to do with mental health at all, not that any of that would have made it more forgiveable. And this was someone who had been a reasonably close friend for four or five years and never before given me any reason to think she was actually made of bees.

    The point is, I am never ever going to say that to anyone again, and it’s not necessarily a thing that people will trust and respect. So while I suspect he is just not interested in being friends and drawing back from that, if it is a mental health or life issue going on, he may not feel comfortable saying that.

    1. allathian*

      Oh dear, I’m sorry that happened to you. Most people aren’t like your “friend” but I do understand why you wouldn’t want to take that risk again.

  35. Despachito*

    OP – I think the only reasonable thing to do is to just focus on the work part. When I read your title I thought the friend stopped communicating work-wise as well, which would have been very frustrating and would need addressing.

    But in this case, I would just talk about work with him and please do not feel bad if YOU do not mention the personal part. He made it sufficiently clear that this is exactly what he wants.

    I personally think that you may want to re-evaluate the nature of your friendship. Daily contacts with heavily loaded talk about health issues would be quite a lot even for a long-standing relationship with a very good non-work friend, and I would be severely concerned for that friendship. For someone you have not even met in person, I think it is outright doomed. Such a person cannot replace a therapist, nor is it fair to want them to. (Same holds for you in relation to them).

    I think distancing in this case is a must. The right person to support you in this is your therapist, and you can of course vent to friends sometimes but it should not become too overwhelming because their wavelength is limited, and they have their own issues to deal with.

    I wish you the best of luck, and just treat Lou as you would treat any other person you are working with and consider them a good coworker.

  36. Kella*

    OP, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. And I’m also sorry there are some commenters who are characterizing you as unreasonably needy or ignoring Lou’s boundaries. I don’t think either of those things are true.

    I have been on both sides of this situation, multiple times, and both sides really suck. On Lou’s side, I feel incredibly guilty that I’m so absent from my friendships and I’m constantly scared they’re going to get fed up with me and assume I hate them and I will be unable to repair the damage. On your side, ever since I was a kid, my mom has gone through phases where she is emotionally and mentally absent and then she’ll return as if the absence never happened. It is *still* painful to this day when she suddenly stops responding to my emails for three months at a time and makes me feel like she is never considering the impact of her actions on me.

    The fact that having Lou come and go in your friendship is painful to you is important to listen to. It’s completely valid to want consistency in a friendship AND if consistency isn’t always possible, to want communication around the reasons for the inconsistency.

    But it appears Lou isn’t able to offer consistency or communication around your friendship right now. Unfortunately, because of that, you also can’t know for certain what he would most appreciate from you right now and that’s really anxiety inducing. I know *I* would appreciate my friend’s following Alison’s advice about not taking it personally but Luke has not communicated boundaries or needs, and you are trying to respect his boundaries and needs *and* your own with insufficient information.

    I would think carefully about whether this friendship is something you feel you can sustain if it stays as is. Take your focus off of trying to guess where Lou is at and place it on things you *can* control. If there isn’t a perfect future in which someday Lou stops disappearing or always communicates, if everything stays exactly the same, can you get what you need out of the friendship? That is information you have access to and you have control over whether you continue the friendship.

    1. sherri*

      It is truly bizarre to me the number of people who are acting like OP is some kind of insane nightmare! Some of the commentary is getting pretty cruel – saw someone assuming that based on OP’s letter, she would completely trample any boundary Lou did try to set, which is an astonishing leap to make. I think your advice about thinking about whether this friendship is sustainable on OP’s end also is spot-on: maybe it’s time to decide to just be coworkers given it seems the disappearances are pretty painful.

      1. LWH*

        I think it’s important to realize that nobody in this thread knows Lou (or LW, but we have more from LW’s side to go on). Everyone here is projecting their own Lou (and yes that includes me). Look at how many of these posts start with “I’ve been Lou before”, but tell COMPLETELY different stories. I myself have been Lou in a situation where the “LW” in my story was a terrible person trampling all of my boundaries. You can see why that might make some people more hostile. Whereas the people who say “I have been Lou” in a situation that went a more positive way in the end aren’t coming off as harsh. The fact of the matter is, none of us are actually Lou and we don’t know how Lou feels. Because of that, I think the broad spectrum of stories is actually important. If everyone says “In my Lou story it was because of X”, then LW will think Lou is doing this because of X. But if there are also stories where Lou did this because of Y, or Z, or Theta, then LW has to realize that they may just never actually know. The “LW” in my story was in fact an insane nightmare who trampled every boundary I set. I’m not saying this LW is that at all. But we literally don’t know from Lou’s end what things look like and we will never know and LW will probably also never know. So we need to give advice based on the fact we’ll never know, and not based on making assumptions about Lou based on us all having very different Lou stories. Unfortunately a very large amount of comments here have just been people telling LW what they want to hear, about how Lou is definitely just doing this because of mental health struggles or ADHD or what have you, and definitely doesn’t want to stop being friends. But we don’t know this, and it isn’t a kindness to LW to set them up for that being the only possibility.

  37. Indolent Libertine*

    OP, I see and acknowledge your sadness about this change in a relationship that you really valued, but for whatever reason, Lou either can’t or won’t be that kind of friend to you right now. Maybe it’s temporary, or maybe it’s forever, but at the moment you don’t get to know which it is. The best way to honor the friendship you had, as well as the best way to get the work done that needs to happen, is by respecting his clear unwillingness to engage on that level and not pressing him either for more intimacy or for an explanation. That’s not “being fake,” it’s just being polite and giving someone the space they are unmistakably showing you that they need.

    1. allathian*

      Indeed. And then, if and when they want to engage in mental health talk again, firmly but politely telling them that you can’t be friends with them on their terms. If that feels too fraught, simply react to Lou’s messages the way he has reacted to yours, i.e. only respond to strictly work-related stuff. I think that giving him a dose of his own medicine would be entirely justified here.

      I know I wouldn’t want to be friends with a person I felt I couldn’t rely on. If you’re only capable of an intermittent, one-sided friendship, then I’ll yeet you to the sun. I have limited energy for socializing as it is, and I’d rather spend it on people who have my back most of the time at least.

      Lou has pulled the disappearing act before, and he will do so again if the LW is willing to reinstate the friendship as if nothing had happened.

      1. ThatOtherClare*

        That’s not so much a dose of his own medicine as just signifying “I’m not a person who can handle on/off friendship so I’m sticking to off”. There’s nothing wrong with setting that boundary if you want.

        I have several on/off friends, and while I know I personally know it’s not for everyone, I really enjoy the friendships. Sometimes I’ll get a message out of the blue or they’ll visit my city, and we’ll pick up exactly where we left off, have a fantastic time, then they’ll fall off the radar again for another few years. I don’t rely on them for my regular socialising and I wouldn’t say they “have my back” when I need it, but we still have a lot of fun!

        I’m in a place where I’m 100% ok with having different types of friendships with different people. It sounds like you’re not and that’s fine too! It’s totally ok to shift someone to ‘friendly acquaintance’ status, but you might find it helpful to consider why you feel the need to do it so vehemently? You can also choose to let their unreliability just roll past you, like water off a duck’s back.

        1. allathian*

          That’s a good question, and I suppose many people would see my regular socializing as pretty on/off. I see my bestie once a quarter if I’m lucky, we talk by phone about once a month, even if a call can take up to two hours easily, and we text about once a week. And this is my bestie! I have other friends I see at most once a year and text with every few months, and I consider them good friends. I don’t see these as on/off friendships, just that all of us are busy. I know that if I really need a friend to talk to, my bestie will have my back and she knows I have hers. Even with friends I haven’t seen for two years, I can count on starting pretty much where we left off when we do meet again. It would feel weird if a formerly close friend suddenly started limiting their conversation to trivial small talk without giving a reason for it, though.

          At this time in my life, I don’t think I could handle a friendship that required daily texts to keep going.

          The big difference compared to the LW’s situation is that I don’t work with any of my friends. I have friendly relationships with most of my coworkers, and I also have a work friend, but even that’s primarily a professional relationship. I’d never risk my professional relationship with my close coworker by intruding where I’m not wanted, and he’s shared some pretty intense stuff with me, mainly because it affected his ability to work for a while and temporarily increased my workload. I trust him to do the same for me if necessary.

          I think my vehemence came from reading so many posts where the commenters seemed to think that the LW was out of line for wanting to know why Lou had withdrawn from the friendship.

  38. Anony3738*

    So this might be a different take on it, but it is also possible that his manager got notified by IT that there were personal communications happening either thru email, or chat messenger that was non-work related. You say that you communicate with him all online but didn’t specify how much you share or how much time you spend sharing personal info during the work day. You might think it’s not taking up much time but if the company is strict or if his manager is strict, then he might have gotten spoke to about his communications with you and didn’t feel comfortable sharing that.

  39. Jon*

    While I agree with Allison’s advice on how to behave here, I question the premise that this is even a friendship or that indulging or accepting the oscillations between hyper-closeness and dodging/ghosting would be a kindness to LW’s coworker.

    This whole situation sets off alarm bells for me… having been in the LW’s position, and having the whole thing blow up in my face. I had a coworker who behaved somewhat similarly: oscillating between very close daily personal chats, to being very distant and dodging any discussion of the obvious shifts.

    It ended badly: the odd dynamics began to affect teamwork in multiple areas (it turned out I wasn’t the only one in a weird on-again off-again friendship), and there began to be tension on the team that affected our work output. Things got a lot worse before they ended up getting better.

  40. Anxiety like whoa*

    As someone with anxiety, ptsd, etc. I pull away when I’m struggling. i will cut everyone off because I’m trying to find balance in myself again. I don’t expect people to just “deal with it”, but those closest to me understand why I do it. I try to give people a little heads up when I feel it happening, but there are times where it just isn’t possible because I’m in too deep already.

    1. ThatOtherClare*

      Our society and medical system has very little understanding of mental health conditions and hence little empathy. Expecting people with mental health conditions to behave like your other friends would is, dare I say it, crazy.

      When they’re in a good place they’re actually some of the kindest, most loyal, caring, and thoughtful friends you can have, because they know what it’s like to feel bad and they don’t want others to have to feel that way. Just don’t expect them to be consistent or reliable is all. So yes, you might only get 1 in 5 birthday presents, but that 1 is going to be so thoughtful it’ll bring you to tears.

  41. Former Red and Khaki*

    Alison’s work advice here is good and I have nothing to add, but on the personal side, I want to build on her last point: there’s a concept of, being able to meet someone where they are. Not where you want them to be, or where you think they should be. From the evidence presented, Lou is a person who is willing to be social on their terms, but pulls away/disappears on a regular basis for reasons that have nothing to do with you. Are YOU able to accept those terms and work within them? No matter what that answer is, take the next steps with kindness, to yourself as much as the other person.

  42. KatL*

    As someone who struggles with depression, I think you need to give your friend some space. It’s not his responsibility to make sure YOU are comfortable while he’s struggling with his problems. By constantly badgering him about it, you’re trying to make this about you and your wants. You want to know why he’s withdrawn, you want to know why he’s struggling, you want to know that he’s still thinking about you, you want him to know that you’re there for him. You, you, you. By withdrawing from what otherwise seems to be an amicable relationship, he’s telling you what he needs: he needs space to sort himself out and work through whatever he’s going through without the constant pressure of having to reassure someone else that he’s not upset with them. That’s it. If that’s not something you can do, then you are better off being “work buddies” and not IRL buddies who talk about all the good and icky parts of life.

  43. I Would Prefer Not To*

    As someone that finds it almost unbearable not naming elephants in the room and also can get easily hurt by friends who, for whatever reason, unilaterally significantly reduces the intensity in a friendship, I feel you a lot, LW. However, it won’t help matters to name the elephant, you’re there to do a piece of work, and opening up the friendship as a subject is likely to cause harm to your work. But you do not have to engage in anything that otherwise feels fake to you. It is not your responsibility to care for Lou’s feelings or mental health or whatever is up in this situation more than the responsibility Lou seems to take for yours. If small talk feels weird, smile and pivot to work immediately. “Yeah the weather’s terrible, I want to get out here asap so let’s get to work!”. If acting warm feels fake, just be civil. You’re hurt and you get to also limit your own interactions to what is professional if that is what gets you through that project with a sense of dignity and self care. Good luck.

  44. ThatOtherClare*

    Letter Writer, would it help to reframe Lou’s silence in your head as a symptom of his disability?

    I have a lot of experience with ADHD sufferers, and dropping off the face of the planet is a very common symptom. If it helps, you’re probably not the only friend he’s gone quiet on, it often happens that sufferers drop everyone at once. It’s a sign of executive function overwhelm. His brain is literally preserving a short supply of neurotransmitters and only doling them out for survial-essential tasks like working to keep a roof over his head. If he was an unpaid volunteer he most likely wouldn’t be emailing you about work stuff either.

    Is that fair on you? No. Is it nice for you to experience? No. Can he help it? Not without high quality intensive medical care. There are 9 different stimulant chemicals alone, last I checked, and most people only get titrated through one or two of them. It’s likely not his choice that his condition is clearly un- or under-treated, it’s the system that’s failing you both. You don’t have to put up with that if it’s harming you, but it’s not personal.

    I’ll finish with an analogy. Say instead he was in a wheelchair and you were visiting him and you broke your leg, and he didn’t visit you in hospital because there was no ramp, or bring you your things when you got back to his house because your stuff was on a high shelf. Would that be painful and sad for you? Yes. Would a real friend bring you your phone and an ice pack? Yes. Would he have done that if he could? Also yes. You might need to go somewhere else where you could get the care and acts of friendship you need right now, but not by his choice. It would just be a cruel fact of life.

    You don’t need to be harmed by his condition any more than you need to let a person with tourettes accidentally punch you or a hoarder fill your house with yoghurt pots. You have a right and a responsibility to only engage at a safe level for you. But it’s also not personal. I hope that helps, somewhat.

    Best wishes to you both.

    1. LWH*

      I wrote a more lengthy version of this reply up above but myself as someone with ADHD, I do not want people speculating whether or not something I did is because I have ADHD, and I definitely do not want others saying it for certain. It really robs people with ADHD of their agency as if nothing they do is intentional or as if every single aspect of their life is governed by their disorder. I strongly advise against attributing his current actions to his ADHD. If I knew someone was doing that, I’d regret having even disclosed it to them that I had it.

  45. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    I have a dear friend like this and I have also been that friend.

    It’s pretty crushing to know you’re failing at being a friend. Lifting that burden for someone is amazing. So if you can get to a place of compassion and peace about it, and communicate that to them (with words or not), that will likely be helpful to both of you.

    What I tell my friend when they have guilt about their withdrawal is “I get it. I have been there as you have seen. I am just happy you exist in my life. When you’re able to spend time with me I’m delighted. When you are silent I miss you but I don’t feel resentful or burdened by your absence, I just know you are doing what you need to do to take care of yourself. And I’m just over here thinking fondly of you and sending you good vibes as we both go about our days. You do you. I’m just here, and I just love you, no matter what you do or don’t do.”

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