Dear Joe,

I have a close friend who lives a long distance from me. It is very rare we see each other in person. Our interactions are by phone and email, and during the pandemic, we have had a few Zoom lunches. Either he or I contact the other every few weeks, or sometimes perhaps a month goes by. Recently, he has started to send me needy emails of the sort, “I haven’t heard from you in so long,” or “Where are you?” even though we just had an email exchange two weeks earlier. Given that I have a lot of personal issues going on lately, I feel pressured by him and made to feel guilty. If I respond, I’m giving in to the behavior that guilt trips will elicit a response from me. I don’t want guilt trips to become a norm. I want to be able to maintain a certain distance when I need to.

I’m wondering if a respectful confrontation is in order? The distance is a limitation since we can’t meet in-person. Can you give some tips on confronting long distance? Is Zoom better than phone? I expect an email would just generate defensiveness.

Thanks,

From a Distance

Hello From a Distance,

Thanks for reaching out and sharing this situation that seems so familiar in relationships. I can’t tell you if you should respectfully confront your friend or not without knowing all the circumstances, but what I can offer are different perspectives that may offer you some clarity on what you are feeling, as well as inform you as to what you feel in your heart should be the appropriate next step for you.

What you describe seems to be the logical progression of what happens in relationships. Whether you call it a respectful confrontation or not, this is a chance to define and clarify expectations and boundaries.

Let’s break it down: It seemed that the interactions you had in the past satisfied both of your needs up to that point. It seems that he wants to take the relationship to the next level. Unfortunately, he hasn’t informed you of this and is using a clunky way to communicate to you that he feels his needs aren’t being met.

First thing to consider is if this relationship matters to you. You may come to the conclusion that you no longer want to stay connected with him. That’s up to you. If you do still want to stay connected, then I would suggest you say something to him about this.

Next thing to contemplate is what do you want or need out of the relationship? That is how you establish your boundaries. This is the “No, and…” approach where you can communicate that you want to have some level of interaction but perhaps not to the level that he desires.

Before you speak to him, I suggest you do your “Iceberg” analysis (Mastering Respectful Confrontation, p. 148). Your 90% and his. What in your 90% got activated? Could you have suggested you wanted a deeper connection, consciously or unconsciously? What in his 90% could have triggered his increased attachment to you?

When you have more insight on this, then you have a clearer way to communicate to him. Some things to consider though: the only person who can make you feel pressured or guilty is you. Remember, you name his behavior based on fact, not interpretation, accusation, judgment, or criticism. You can then say to him that when he does that behavior, you feel pressured and guilty. But he is not making you feel that way. What could be in your 90% that results in you feeling pressured and guilty when someone expresses their needs, even in a passive aggressive way. You may want to check with him to see if that was something, either conscious or unconscious, that gave him the impression that you wanted a deeper connection.

At this point you can share with him what you need, what your expectations are and how often you would like to interact. Ask him what he thinks of that, and see what the two of you come up with. He may not like any of this, but at least you have been clear and made an attempt to take care of yourself and the relationship. 

I would suggest you try to do this on video, maybe phone. Perhaps not the best idea to do it in an email.

I hope this helps clarify what you feel is the best approach to this. Remember that even though we are all figuring out how to do relationship, companionship and intimacy from a distance, the heart transcends all that and brings us closer.

Keep a clear heart,

Joe