How I dealt with a friend that didn't keep in touch

Ah the age of technology. We're all meant to be so connected and yet there's still so many people who just can't call or write back. It used to be that heavy prices for international calls were to blame or even time-zones. Whilst we've more than eliminated the former thanks to the likes of Skype, Whatsapp and Facebook. Even the latter isn't really such a big deal as far as just sending a few photos, following someone on Instagram or conversing through voice messages don't require both people to be awake and online at the same time.

So why in this era of extreme connectivity, are some people absolutely terrible at keeping in touch? I'm sure we all have more than one friend that has the default slew of social media accounts and uses them semi-regularly. They might even have hundreds of friends, like 500 or even over 1000 of them on these accounts, but when it comes to actually talking to people directly, you'll find them severely lacking in that department and often waiting even weeks for a reply.

Unfortunately there is no real one discernable cause as to why someone doesn't care about keeping in touch, despite the ability being right at their fingertips. Without actually asking that person something along the lines of “Why are you so bad/hesitant at keeping in touch with me?” You're going to be hard pressed to actually narrow down the reason(s) behind their lack of motivation in writing or calling back. In fact, apart from asking them directly you are most likely never going to get a solid answer “Why?” So it's important to be wary about putting too much effort into the wondering.

When I was growing up I had a friend that stood out from all the others. We had similar parents, lifestyles and likes that well and truly transcended those of our other friends. Both of us were more observant and analytical than our other friends and due to our family situations we both had a few additional strong bonds between us. In short, best friends.

At times in our early teens we also fought on the bus to school and didn't talk to each other for days at a time until one of us gathered the courage to apologise to the other. In our first year of school I punched him so hard in the face for talking out of turn to me that he had to go to hospital to have his teeth checked. 8 years later, now a black belt in Tae Kwon Do he palmed me the full length of a tavern bar for consistently (and drukenly) antagonising him about a girl he liked. Again, when we were younger he never returned my console games when he said he would, at times prompting me to go over to his place and get them myself whether or not he was at home. None of this stopped us being close mates and a lot of it added to the level of respect we had for each other and our mutual understanding of each other's differences. Back then at least, we kept in healthy contact and it seemed that this would never ever be a problem.

Until some years later, we both moved away at almost the exact same time. Two months later it was like we never knew each other. I tried to keep up the friendship using what manner of social media and communication options we had at the time.

I wasn't asking him to call me every bloody day, but send a picture or video of what he was doing at least every-so-often and just generally keep in touch with any cool news about his life. So nothing out of the ordinary and nothing impossible to manage for any normal person with a smartphone, laptop and internet connection.

I tried at times letting up on conversation and going weeks without talking. Months even, all despite how many ways we could have even just barely kept in touch. The occasional photo. Text. Voice message. Phone call. He wasn't prepared to do any of these things. I hated doing this, it wasn't like me to wait and see if he cared about keeping in touch. And yet...

And yet, he was uploading photos with his other friends on Facebook. Replying to their posts and making his own on their wall. Following them on Instagram and liking and commenting on their photos. In other people's pictures he was tagged in, it was quite obvious that he was certainly getting around and being social. I saw this all the time, I couldn't not see it because there was always something in my feed. So I started to think was this personal? Had I done something wrong?

Granted, he wasn't outright just completely ignoring me. He was just taking absolutely forever to get back to me. Exactly 7 days minimum, sometimes up to 3 or more weeks. On top of that, he never started a conversation and only replied back to messages I sent.

In my mind I mulled over hundreds of reasons why he could be behaving like this. Adding a bit of context, I'd moved to a nearby country, landed a great job and had a new girlfriend. He was single and I knew he hated that and he was also working at a bar that I knew he hated working at. Was he a bit jealous of me then? Was talking to me akin to rubbing what he didn't have, in his own face? At the very least I tried a different 'plan of attack' and I asked only about his life and left out any of the things I could be doing. I certainly didn't talk really much about myself and my life before, but now I even tried leaving it out of the messages I sent altogether. Nothing changed though, so I ruled that out.

image Outdoor gatherings such as these, absolutely rife with complete strangers were some of his favourite events.

Ultimately I went through my own few stages of coming to terms with the fact that we weren't really even friends any more. How could we be with this almost total lack of communication... Sure I had made new friends but that didn't mean that I had replaced him somewhere in my heart and mind. There was still so many reasons I had for us to keep in touch. Why didn't he share those reasons?

It wasn't until I came across this term years ago near to when this all started, “opportunistic friend” or more thoroughly described in articles of psychology as: “Opportunists disguised as friends”. After reading through a bit, I came to the saddening conclusion that my 'friend' did indeed have almost all of these traits... of not returning calls or messages and only contacting me when he kind of wanted something from me, be it even just basic information. Of a person whose replies were short and basic and more like he was barely keeping up pretences more to satisfy his own guilty conscience than actually because he gave a damn about our friendship. Could this guy who I would have described as “a brother” really just be this kind of cheap, fraudulent opportunist? Even though I didn't want to resort to some kind of ridiculous level of psychoanalysis, it mattered to me so I went over the evidence.

  1. Almost all of the photos he publicly displayed himself in were group photos.
  2. Any other photos he took or displayed publicly were those showing he was present (but often not himself present in the photo) at events, social gatherings, gigs, concerts or parties.
  3. Most of his public replies were directed at more than one person, instead of any specific individual.
  4. When he made textual posts, they were usually articles, images, memes or other fluff and he tagged multiple people in them instead of just one person.
  5. In none of his photos, was he the only person in the image.
  6. He never started any direct conversations with anyone.
  7. His replies were always a somewhat lengthy amount of time after the original post.
  8. Many of his friends publicly asked him how he was doing or where he was, almost all of these messages went unanswered and those he did answer were always short excuses like “been busy”, “been sick” et cetera.
  9. The rest of his posts were general questions directed at everyone and not anyone in particular about information concerning events, parties and so on.
  10. None of his photos or posts conveyed any level of dedication or obvious effort/care and were always hastily taken or seemingly written as briefly as possible and always for some kind of personal gain (eg. information).

Summing it all up, all of his behaviour was directed towards reinforcing to himself and/or others that he had a strong social circle and participated in social events. Anything else was just inquiries or 'checking off' any additional miscellaneous replies or remarks.

It was clear. My 'mate' didn't really treat anyone like a mate unless he was face-to-face. Social media for him was about keeping on top of what was going on around him. Maybe due to some kind of FOMO (Fear of missing out) or attempt to refrain from getting too bored. I couldn't blame him for those two things but it was now absolutely clear to me that he really didn't put any effort into actually conversing with any of the people he spent time with. You could argue that he clearly was just using social media for what it was intended for. Keeping on top of things around you, but I argue back that it was only for personal gain and not remotely to grow his friendships in meaningful ways. In truth it looked like he was just chasing the next thing that was going on around him.

In possession of this new information I contacted the guy's mother. Something that I realise isn't really normal, per se, but actually her and I are also long time friends (as are our parents) and she is somewhat guilty of the same behaviour to her friends, although to a lesser extent. She explained to me that she really didn't understand what the cause of his lack of enthusiasm was in keeping in touch but that she had even mentioned it and was sad that we didn't speak at all like we used to. Other than that she had no advice and even remarked that he doesn't return her own messages so she stressed that it wasn't anything personal.

Now having a good understanding of my position. I decided on one final act of reaching out, and if nothing came of it, I wouldn't bother again. Certainly I am not in favour of offering people any kind of 'ultimatum' so that's not what I did here. I sent what would be my last message as a simple “Hey, hope you're good, it would be nice to keep in better touch on Instagram some time”.

Two weeks went by. A third week went by and somewhere during the fourth I got a short reply (not even on Instagram) of “Hey sorry for not replying sooner. All is well here, just working a lot in the hopes I can move into a better place. Hope things are good where you are”.

So I deleted his number. We didn't have any connection on social media because I don't have any accounts except Instagram. I don't really blame this for why he didn't keep in touch either because when I did have social media, he never made an effort to use it to keep in contact with me. I did still have Instagram, mostly because it's something my mother and father enjoy looking at and also my girlfriend's mother, together with a small amount of our close friends. My mate never followed me back there and he never messaged me there in the 4 years I had that account. Despite me sending him my profile link at least twice.

It wasn't until the next day that I realised what I lost wasn't really much in the end. Even though he was certainly my best friend when we were teenagers. He became someone who I had less of a connection with than my librarian who I see and have a quick chat with when I use the library at least twice a month. I shared everything I had with this guy when we were younger, my games and consoles, my money and food at school and of course my time and ambitions. We both listened to each other's problems and we were both accountable. It wasn't ever even but I didn't care and I never expected him to reciprocate everything back 50-50. I didn't give any more effort than I felt I wanted to anyway.

Now, if he did contact me again and actually made an effort to keep in touch, I think I would be permanently wary of investing much effort into doing the same. I can't say when or how, but I do feel like something got permanently damaged along the way. I suppose it happened when I realised that he really did have seemingly all the traits of an 'opportunist' that cared only about being part of a crowd.

Going into my 30s though, I felt I had to draw the lines somewhere and consider the fact that, maybe we're actually both better off not speaking again. I hope however that in the future I can make an even better friend, one that is as equally invested in the friendship as I.