Dear Virginia, I'm sure you'll think I'm paranoid, but I have an old university friend who seems to have gone off me – and I don't know why. We've always been close and often lunched together. I'd always drop in on them when visiting friends in the country, where they live. But for the last year I've heard nothing. Every time I suggest popping in on them, they say they're busy. I know something's wrong but they assure me it's nothing. What can I do? Best wishes, Margie
I'm sure you're not paranoid. But even if you are, it doesn't mean to say they're not out to get you, as they say. It's so hard to distinguish strong feelings of paranoia, or, sometimes, just intuition, from complete fantasy. But I've learned that although instincts are tremendously uncertain guides – I'd never suggest anyone trusted their instincts (they're as fickle as an alcoholic's promise) – I would say it's always worth at least bearing them in mind when dragging in the rational bit of your brain to make practical decisions. In other words, don't rely on them completely, but do, at least, offer these unreliable tormentors a short spell in the witness box before making your judgement.
It seems to me, however, that in this case your instincts are actually endorsing the facts. Let's look at what the prosecuting council has to say. One, you've heard nothing from them for yonks. Two, they're always busy when you call. And three, despite many attempts, you haven't met for ages. On the defence side, however, they're saying that there's nothing wrong.
Well, if you want my verdict, as a member of the jury, there is something wrong. Any normal friend, the moment you asked, worriedly, if anything were wrong, would say: "Of course not! I've missed you! Let's make a date right now!" But these friends don't say that. They haven't contacted you, when normally they were always in touch.
If I were you I'd make a last-ditch attempt at contact. Put them on the spot. Ring them up and say you're dying to see them, so when would suit them? You're free any time. If they get out their diaries and make a date, you're okay. If, however, they fudge it and say they're going away and they have a sick mother and can they ring you at the end of the month, I think you can say with certainty that in this instance your instinct is right.
In which case, how do you find out what's bugging them? They're clearly not going to tell you. So you have to enlist a mutual friend to work as a mole on your behalf. It sounds to me as if someone's repeated something you've said that's upset them or, even more likely, has repeated something you didn't say. There's clearly a misunderstanding going on somewhere and because they're such cowardy-custards and daren't face you man to man, as it were, you'll have to do all the work instead.
Failing the friendly mole, write to them and say that you know something's upsetting them and you are in torment and could they please let you know so you can clear the air? Don't say you suspect. Say you know. If they still stay schtum, then you've lost them, sadly. But let's hope they crack, and you can finally find out what's behind their cold behaviour. And start to make things right.
Friendships do fade
You say you always drop in on them when visiting other friends. Why? You make it sound as though you always put them second. Maybe they're fed up with always playing second fiddle to these others? Maybe you should put them first and drop in on the others?
Or maybe it's simply time to realise that they've moved on and left you behind. Friendships are funny old things and have always been a bit of a puzzle to me; for example, why is it that one friend can be out of touch for ages and then when you do resume a conversation it's like you never stopped talking, and yet another one you might send a text and then worry if you don't get an instant reply!
Here's a helpful little phrase someone once told me: "Some friends are for a reason, some friends are for a season, and some friends are for life." Maybe these belong to the first or second group?
Rachel Hill, Southampton
Find some new friends
There's a saying in the dating game: "He's just not that into you." If your friend wanted to stay in touch with you, she would. There's no point in speculating about what has gone wrong. The blunt fact is that your friend isn't as dedicated to maintaining the friendship as you are. Why not? Who knows. In the dating game, you rarely discover why the other person isn't into you. It's not something you should expect to be told, and perhaps you don't want to hear the answer anyway. It's a shame that old friendships fade away, but that's the way it goes. Move on. Find new friends.
Mike Hockney, Newcastle upon Tyne
Only time will tell
I hope my personal experience might help you. I, too, was close to a couple – I was even Godfather to one of their children – who at one point began to make me feel that they did not want to see me again.
I wrote them a letter asking them if I had done anything to upset them, and if I had would they please tell me as they were special friends to me. I got a brief postcard back, which did not seem to say anything, so I decided to leave it, as I felt I had tried everything I could.
About a year later I got a postcard from them asking me to go and see them when I was next in their part of England. When I next was, I contacted them and they gave me a wonderful dinner and we had a very happy evening as if nothing had ever been wrong. I still don't know what had been the problem, and I certainly won't ask
Ronnie, By email
Next Week's Dilemma
Dear Virginia, I'm really worried because my wife, whom I love very much, doesn't seem to want to spend any time with our two children. She works all the time, often going away for days at a time and rarely giving them a call. I work, too, but try always to get back as early as I can, and make a point of spending all the time I can with them at weekends, but she doesn't seem to be interested. She just says she's exhausted. I feel the children are suffering without a mother's presence and, let's be honest, love. But she just says they're fine. Is there anything I can do? Yours sincerely, David