Ask Sahaj: My cousin was my bestie. She dropped me ‘like a hot potato.’


Q: My cousin and I were very close friends growing up. After a long period of time when we lost touch with each other, we are now back in contact, or we were until about six months ago when she suddenly stopped emailing me.

I emailed her to ask if everything was all right with her, and even emailed her family, thinking that they could explain her reluctance to answer my emails. She responded with a litany of responsibilities, chores and other things she has to do to explain why she just doesn’t have time to drop a quick line to me. Ever.

I am deeply hurt and I know I can’t force her to like me again, but how can I accept that this special friendship is over? We joked about being like twin sisters when we were young. That’s how close we used to be. Now she can’t spare a few minutes once in a while to touch base with me. At first she was really happy to be renewing contact with me, but now she has dropped me like a hot potato, and I am hurt. How do I look at this in such a way that it doesn’t hurt any more?- Hurt

A: I can’t help but wonder if something happened six months ago, between you or in her life, that’s making it difficult for her to maintain the relationship with you right now. It can be difficult and painful when relationships change, but in the grand scheme of hopefully what will be a long-term friendship with your cousin, six months is not that long.

Being patient in our relationships is a skill. It doesn’t mean rolling over and being mistreated, but rather giving your cousin – and your relationship – the grace to evolve and adapt to life situations. I would assume you both deeply care about each other as you both made the effort to reconnect. Now it’s about rewriting a new way for your friendship to exist, regardless of how it was in the past, that’s still meaningful for you both. Looking at the big picture may help you reframe what feels like an issue as something that is a normal part of deep and long-standing relationships.

It sounds like you’re both trying to communicate your needs but not as clearly as you’d hope. For instance, when you asked if things were okay, you may have actually meant: “I miss you and we haven’t talked in a while.” Or, when you reached out to her family, I wonder if your cousin felt frustrated that you brought them into your relationship, when you actually meant to express concern for her well-being. Or, when she responded with “a litany of responsibilities” to your email, maybe she meant: “I am overwhelmed and stressed right now. Please bear with me.”

Trying to figure out what your cousin is thinking or feeling is not productive. Instead, consider reaching out with: “Thanks for sharing all of that with me. It sounds like you have had a lot going on. I know it’s been difficult for us to connect lately, but I am here if and when you ever need to talk.” Or, if more time passes and you still haven’t heard from her you can say: “I have felt like it’s been difficult for us to connect lately. Do you feel the same way?” This can open up a general conversation about your relationship and both of your expectations within it.

We expect our loved ones to know what we need or want, especially when a shared history and family dynamics are at play. We sometimes assume they know what we’re going through without our having to explicitly share. However, these assumptions are antithetical to healthy communication.

I wonder if you are also projecting how you feel onto your cousin. Did she literally say she doesn’t have time to ever drop a quick line, or are you interpreting her needing space as something personal and a direct rejection of you? Even more, maybe she handles stress differently than you. Maybe “a few minutes once in a while” feels more strenuous for her given other things going on in her life. Or maybe she feels like your friendship is strong enough to withstand periods of silence. Either way, the expectations you each have are different right now.

It’s okay that you feel hurt. It’s okay for you to accept that pain. It’s okay for you to wish that your relationship with your cousin was different or that she would be in contact more often. But the bottom line is: We can’t force people to be in a relationship with us. And we won’t always understand why people do what they do.

How you heal your hurt starts with releasing that why. You are trying very hard to understand why your cousin isn’t responding and that’s stalling your grieving process. Instead, try to accept that you may never really understand why she’s behaving the way she is. This will also help you accept that this is how things are right now. Acceptance doesn’t mean you won’t be friends in the future or that she won’t reach out.

Holding any relationship in a tight container based on the past only prohibits the relationship from evolving. It’s stifling. Change in friendships is not a sign that the friendship can no longer work. It’s easy to let your negative thoughts spiral out of control. Try to catch yourself when you start to make assumptions about how she’s feeling or what she’s thinking. Instead, focus on what you can control, like how you communicate with her, how you can manage your own grief and feelings about the friendship, and how other relationships can fulfill your social needs.

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Sahaj Kaur Kohli. Photo Twitter @SahajKohli

Sahaj Kaur Kohli is a mental health professional and the creator of Brown Girl Therapy and Culturally Enough, communities focused on people with bicultural identities and immigrant parents. You can submit questions here:




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