Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What Did I Do Wrong? What to do when you don't know why the friendship is over.

by Liz Pryor
New York, Free Press, 2006
192 pages   Non-Fiction

Liz Pryor is the advice guru on ABCs Good Morning America. She wrote What Did I Do Wrong? several years ago in response to discussions she had been having with women over failed friendships. It is an anecdotal account utilizing conversations with women who have either been dumped by a friend, or women who have done the dumping. The major gift of the book is to let women know that they are not alone in the experience. Pryor does not offer advice, but does have some suggestions; mostly suggestions made by other women involved in the endings of friendships.

She quotes one woman who was dumped by two women who she thought to be her friends. “Women can be vicious. . . Vicious, as in vicious. Some of the worst betrayal in my life has come from the women I’ve known. It must be the way it takes you so off-guard. See, men have been betraying women for centuries. Literature, movies, television, all have warned us to expect betrayal from men, but not so much from women. When a girlfriend betrays you, it’s a shock.”

Pryor tells story after story of betrayal and abandonment. Many of the stories come from the woman who was dumped or abandoned. Many of the “unendings,” as Pryor calls them, come when one friend decides she just doesn’t want to be friends any more, or because she “wants to move on,” or because the friendship just isn’t a good fit any more.

When my daughter was about twelve, her best friend of five years told her they couldn’t be friends anymore because they had “nothing in common.” Rachel said to me, “That’s ridiculous Mom. We have everything in common.” I responded that this was just a momentary blip in their friendship, and of course, I was right. They remained fast friends through high school, and although their lives have taken different roads, they connect frequently. Last week when Rachel was in labor, her friend in Chicago was in constant contact with her. Are they as close as they were as teenagers? Of course not. Do they love and respect each other? Of course they do.

My step-daughter had a very important friendship break apart over religion. Her friend thought that Felicia wasn’t following her religion closely enough and told Felicia that she couldn’t be her friend any more. Felicia says that her hurt was so deep it felt like her friend had died, and she went through all the stages of grief. She has not spoken to her former friend in over a year, and she grieves every time she allows herself to think about it.

When I asked my daughter-in-law if she had an experience to relate, she told one that could have been a story right out of Pryor’s book. It was a story of unreturned phone calls, snubbing, and then a few vicious words on a Facebook posting. She did remind me that the reason why her best friend has remained her best friend since childhood is because they have no expectations for each other. They each have three children and extremely busy careers. If one doesn’t call the other for several weeks—or even months—the other friend understands. It is a friendship of great depth, understanding and a history that transcends pettiness, time, and place.

Here are some questions I have about the kind of friendships that end in other ways than by people moving away from each other or drifting apart because of time and circumstances:

• Can you call a friendship you want out of a “truly close” friendship?

• In a friendship you want out of, are you feeling smothered by your friend?

• Is this a friendship that comes from your children’s friends, or a sports team, or the gym, or some other casual meet-up?

• Do you have more in common than just proximity?

My major concern about What Did I Do Wrong? is that Pryor offers no real advice for either how to dump a friend gracefully or how to accept the end of a friendship gracefully. She does offer some suggestions including letter writing and confrontation, but nothing that a woman could really latch onto. One reviewer suggests: “While the book may be reassuring for a person currently hurting from the end of a friendship, it offers little in the way of real answers as to why friendships end, nor any sort of emphasis into the value of self-inquiry to address why a friendship may have ended. I would have liked to have seen a chapter devoted specifically to the subject of WHY which I felt could have provided readers with wisdom going forward in their relationships.” The book remained superficial, although interesting. I had to question the depth of the relationships and why they were so easy to walk away from in the first place.

I wanted to see a chapter devoted to what makes a good friendship. Also a chapter could have been devoted to good endings to friendships. Sometimes it is OK for friendships to end. Perhaps Pryor has another book in mind which can address these issues. Certainly issues of social media, such as Facebook and email, should emerge in this discussion. I am surprised there was nothing about Facebook and social media in the paperback edition. It is so easy to maintain long distance and long time relationships with social media. It helps keep friendships intact. It can also cause devastating “defriendings” and rude and hurtful comments.

What Did I Do Wrong was an interesting book for me to read because I had a hard time personally relating to it, although I must say that the book probably rings true for a lot of people. My daughter says, “Mom, you’re just not that kind of person.” And what is intriguing about that fact is that my step-son had just told me that one of my strengths as a reader and reviewer was my ability to personally connect with the books I review. This one left me a bit baffled. I had to rely on my children to fill in the blanks for me.

What Did I Do Wrong was published in hard cover several years ago, and has just been released in paperback, most likely to capitalize on Liz Pryor’s new popularity as an advice columnist and television personality. I received this book from the publisher, and it is part of a book blog tour today. Wonder what others are saying?

Liz Pryor’s website:, which, by the way, looks really interesting.

Here is her website at ABC:


Kady said...

I completely agree that while the exploration into breakups is relevant and serves a lovely purpose in tying together our personal experiences, I felt it was missing concrete solutions. From the beginning, Liz noted that she was no expert, but I felt that the book, like so many of the friendships, lacked effective closure.

Stephanie M. Hasty said...

i think that the point is that it happens and the reasons why it happens are so myriad that they can't be contained in one book, she does touch on several reasons (rumors, growing apart, picking a wrong person to be a friend to begin with) and frankly, as a person who 'dumped' a friend several years ago, writing a letter is the way to go (not a catty one, but a truthful honest one) and if you are dumped without notice, learning to live with the pain of it (regardless of the reason) is the best advice around. i do like the 3 questionsn that you pose in your review and my answers about the friend that i stopped hanging with are:
1]yes (we were friends from 1980-2004
2]no, but i was feeling that we were growing differently and always talking to her and always going to her and always addressing her needs was stunting my growth and told her so the last two years of our friendship and we address these things, but in the end she told me that she 'thought' i was 'joking' when i brought up all of my concerns. frankly, it felt like breaking up with a boyfriend who didn't see that you had changed and therefore didn't adress the changes.
3] no we met at pre-school
4] yes, but that didn't mean that i could go on with it the way that it had been going and while my letter said all of these things...i didn't realize i was following such good also left an opening for us to be friends just not like we were before. she did not respond. i really wasn't and still am not angry and i think she i am still friends with her family, her sisters, her other close friends...we just couldn't be like we used to be, it was killing me.

again, thanks for the questions and the honest review that made me look at the book a little more closely!

Anonymous said...

I had a friend when I was 19, she was like none other. We were opposites in a lot of ways, but we were crazy over each other. Some bad things happened to me at that time. I am the type of person who holds hurt in and I don't believe she even ever knew of these things. I don't understand myself at that age, I got walked on alot and just sucked it up. I was in a bad way psychologically, and she got pregnant and we basically just drifted apart. It really hurts my heart to think of the two of us at that tender age. We could have been of help to each other, but circumstances worked against our friendship. I think we were both too proud to lean on each other like we needed to. But, as I said, she was like no other to my heart.

Miriam Downey said...

Interesting that the discussion continues. In a spiritual growth class at church just yesterday, one class member mentioned that some friends had just warned her that a woman she considered to be a friend was stabbing her in the back. A deeply spiritual person, the class member decided after discussion in our group to just let it lay for a while in her soul. No confrontation--just let it be in her prayers. A good solution I thought.