In What Did I Do Wrong: When Women Donít Tell Each Other the Friendship is Over, Liz Pryor explores the hurt and confusion felt by women who have been on the receiving end of an ended friendship, as well as the discomfort felt by women who have been the initiators of ended friendships. Common causes of ended friendships that Pryor highlights in her book are women simply growing apart over time, one friend not approving of another friendís life choices, one friend not being able to deal with the emotionally draining negativity of another friend, and of course, the group of friends that suddenly turns on the other friend for no apparent reason, displaying the ugly petty and competitive behavior often attributed to women in groups. Although Pryor does not present any scientific research studying womenís friendships, anecdotal evidence will provoke female readers to examine their own failed relationships with other women and ponder events leading up to the demise of those friendships.
Each chapter is devoted to a different facet of failed friendships among women and the circumstances surrounding the ending of such friendships. Pryor draws upon personal interviews with other women as well as her own experiences to present the information set forth in this book. At times the personal stories relayed seem somewhat extreme, perhaps dramatized for the sake of the book, although the reader has no way of knowing for sure. For example, in a chapter titled ďFinding Our Own Way: Unexperts and Unendings,Ē a woman named Jessica tells the story of her neighborhood friends suddenly withdrawing from her with no explanation. After months of happy family get togethers, play groups, and various daytrips, the three other women abruptly began ignoring Jessica and not allowing their children to play with her children. Even their husbands were unresponsive to Jessicaís husband; it had become a family affair.
After an uncomfortable period of time, the truth finally came out. What was an innocent interaction between one of Jessicaís daughters and another young friend at a community beach was misconstrued by a housekeeper supervising the girls. Allegations of sexual foul play within Jessicaís home ensued and several community members spread vicious rumors about Jessica and her family. Although formal apologies were eventually made and Jessicaís familyís name was cleared, the damage was already done. She and her husband decided to relocate and leave the neighborhood. Itís disheartening to think that women are capable of such atrocious behavior. The reader is left wondering was this just a horrible misunderstanding that was allowed to escalate, a deliberate act of cruelty by a group of women against another woman, or a truthful story embellished for dramatic effect?
Most of the women interviewed by Pryor found themselves struggling with the decision of whether to use avoidance as a means to end a friendship or the less appealing method of confrontation. When attempting to end a friendship, do you avoid the other person and hope she finally takes the hint, or do you approach her and air your grievances with the friendship? On the one hand avoidance seems the road easiest traveled; it saves one from a difficult conversation, but on the other hand, avoidance can also backfire. Not all people are willing to go quietly, so donít be surprised if the friend you are avoiding demands answers when you fail to return her phone calls, emails, invite her to do things, etc.
As a compromise to both avoidance and confrontation, Pryor suggests letter writing. After coming to the definitive conclusion that a friendship cannot be saved, letter writing gives a person the chance to organize all of her thoughts on paper in a non-hostile environment. Face-to-face confrontations often escalate until neither party is thinking or speaking rationally due to the heightened sense of emotion associated with the conversation. A letter also offers the receiver of the ended friendship more information about what went wrong instead of the confusion that accompanies a personal snub.
According to Pryor, letter writing can help resolve feelings of rejection that the receiver of an ended friendship experiences as well. Writing a letter to the person who has seemingly cut you out of her life can help bring some sense of closure. A letter lets the initiator know that her avoidance and wish to terminate the friendship are acknowledged, but also gives the receiver an opportunity to establish some sense of control again. In a letter, the receiver has a chance to hold the initiator accountable for her actions, or non-actions as the case may be.
Although the presented scenarios in What Did I Do Wrong? seem somewhat repetitive at times, the personal stories make for a quick read. Pryor doesnít reveal some deep, dark secret as to why friendships between women end, but she does make some interesting points. Women will often define themselves by their friendships with other women, making it is easy to understand the devastation of a friendís abandonment as well as the difficulty in being the one who has decided to end the friendship. Pryor states it best when she says there are no rules for ending a female friendship as there are for ending a romantic relationship.