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Hax: Friends dropped for a new man say no to reconnecting

DEAR CAROLYN:

I was widowed in my mid-50s a few years ago; my husband developed a rare disease and died after 15 harrowing months. We had an unhappy relationship; I was calling divorce lawyers when he was diagnosed. I did my duty caring for him but was not devastated when he died. We have no children.

Within four months of his death, I began dating a neighbor I’d known in passing, a widower. We’re very happy two years into our relationship. He has four children and several grandchildren, and I’ve enjoyed outings and parties and helping plan baby showers and the like. I admit that, at the start, I focused intensely on him and his family, to the exclusion of my longtime friends, including a couple of close female friends of decades who had helped me during my husband’s illness. I guess I needed a total change of pace.

Now I’m in the groove of a much happier life than I’ve had in 20 years, am retired, financially secure, in love and feeling loved for the first time. I’m at a place where I can reconnect.

Two of my closest friends have basically told me that they felt dropped and that I should have continued to make time for them if I expected to keep old friendships going, especially after they helped me through the down periods of my marriage and my husband’s illness. They weren’t hostile, just matter-of-fact and rather indifferent. They said they have moved on. I’m dumbfounded.

Yes, I suppose I could have been more inclusive, but I just needed to escape my old life for a while. Am I wrong, or are they hardhearted here?

- In the Groove

They’re right. So: “You’re right. I should have. All I can offer by way of explanation is that the whole experience was disorienting to me, and nothing I did felt normal. I’m sorry I didn’t make time for you, especially after you did so much for me, and I hope you can forgive me for that.”

It’s not just that you leaned on them when your husband was dying; if I understand their complaint correctly, you leaned on them at other times during your unhappy marriage as well. So to reserve your happy self for your new love and to bring only your needy self to them is the kind of thing that can wear a friendship down to a nub.

That’s the view I think you need when you approach them. If they’re reading this, here’s the view I hope they’ll take when they approach you:

A death or other stressful, draining life upheaval really can send people spinning off their tracks. For those who haven’t been through it themselves, it might help to keep in mind that a mid- or post-upheaval friend might make, wittingly or un-, impulsive or self-indulgent choices that you don’t understand and that might seem selfish. Maybe think of it as an overcorrection for the feeling of self-erasure that can come with a bad marriage or a difficult caregiving stretch.

If nothing else, consider that it’s circumstantial, not personal, and see where that takes everyone.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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