I ran into an old friend recently. Our friendship ended badly, and although I made several overtures to rekindle our connection, I was repeatedly rebuffed. So I let the friendship go. It had been a few years since I'd seen him, but there was this awkward situation when we ran into each other at the same theater, seated in the same row. I tried to ignore him and pretend he didn't exist, but that only made the situation worse. I was miserable and I caught him staring at me in the dark during the performance. I no longer wish to rekindle the friendship but I do wish him well. Help me, Mink. What's the best way to handle encounters with estranged friends?
No Longer Bitter
Dear No Longer:
When one has gone through all the painful mental exertion of banishing a former good friend or lover from one's consciousness (and anyone who thinks it's easy to lose a friend never has), you'd think the least he could do is have the common decency to stay banished. But no, just when he's almost totally forgotten, the bastard will pop up like a cold sore, tossing you temporarily back into the same emotional sinkhole you thought you'd finally crawled out of. When this happens, you just have to suck in your breath and assume an attitude of courteous, casual indifference. Saying something like "Oh, hello, you're looking well" then excusing yourself to speak to someone else can be very effective. You've been polite, which is always important, and at the same time sent the subtle but clear message that, even though you may not hate the guy, he's had his chances, his time is up, and, most importantly, you are totally unfazed by seeing him.
After you've escaped from the encounter as quickly as possible, let out your breath and congratulate yourself on an excellent performance. Sadly, no one hands out Oscars for real-life acting, but you've earned some reward, so go ahead and treat yourself to a big old Hershey bar and a good cry if you need it.
Let's just say you asked a friend if you could store a really beautiful but not all that valuable old-fashioned wooden chair in your friend's garage. And when you get around to asking for the chair back, your friend tells you, "Oh, I found a place for that chair in my beach house and I really like it there." This happened to me, and I'm totally flummoxed as to how to get my chair back. It is not all that valuable but it came from my grandmother's kitchen, and I just really like it. OK, I know, I have to get new friends. But how do I get my chair back?Grandma's Boy
Since you don't want to come right out and call this guy a rotten, dirty thief, tell him you're glad he was able to enjoy the chair and you realize how he could have become attached to it. You're really sorry if he misunderstood and thought it was a gift, and if it hadn't belonged to your grandmother you'd be glad to give it to him. But it did, so you can't, and you'd like to pick it up this Saturday. If you want, you can add that you'll keep your eye out for something nice he can buy to replace it. For the future, it might be wise to remember that old saw about no free lunch--when you need a place to store stuff, rent one.