Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do, and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!
Several years ago I had a falling out with a close friend over a guy, which resulted in the complete dissolution of our friendship. We have not seen nor spoken to each other since. Next summer a mutual friend of ours is getting married, and we will both be attending the wedding.
I am torn between making the effort to say hello to her or continuing my policy of ignoring her existence, especially since I want to make sure I have a good time and help the mutual friend have a good wedding day. It’s been nearly a decade since the friendship-ending fight, and we both have families, so I am also wondering if it’s petty to continue this fight.
We are all in our early 30s. The guy I had the fight over was an ex of hers that she had broken up with two years earlier. He and I are married now. She’s married to the guy she was seeing when we fought. Our mutual friend knows our history. — Ballroom Blitz
Morgan Jerkins: Oh, wow.
Walt Hickey: My understanding was that the entire point of attending weddings in your early 30s was to catch up with all the people you had major beef with in your early 20s to see how they’re holding up.
Morgan: Here’s my thing, Ballroom Blitz, why do you assume that this ex-friend of yours still cares about something that ended 10 years ago? And even more than that, why do you?
Walt: Oh, she definitely cares. I would bet so much money on it. Pettiness is a universal human emotion. By now it’s just a vague grudge, but she will absolutely remember why they haven’t spoken in years.
Morgan: But the thing is, Ballroom chose her allegiance years ago when she married her ex-friend’s ex. That was her decision, and she needs to be comfortable with it, and I sense that she isn’t, which is a bit sad.
Walt: Oh, I don’t think she’s regretting marrying her husband. I think she wished this had gone a different way, but I don’t think the worries are that deep. I think she wants to patch up this friendship, though, so she doesn’t feel like the villain of someone else’s story.
Morgan: I feel like that’s something she can only fix on her own. I think she should go to this wedding and be cordial but don’t feel the pressure to try to be overly friendly to someone who you haven’t been friends with for 10 years.
Walt: I think she should make a pre-wedding overture. Maybe send a small gift and a short, sincere note opening a door. When I was in a fight with a friend of mine, he did that and made it right. I think they’d both be happier with one less enemy in the world.
Morgan: You don’t think that wouldn’t come across as sycophantic?
Walt: Absolutely not. I don’t think there’s anything sycophantic about reaching out to someone you’re not great with.
Morgan: If I wasn’t friends with someone anymore and that friend sent me a letter to my home asking to let bygones be bygones, of course on the surface level it is a nice gesture, but I would feel like it was sent for her to feel better, not me.
As you said earlier, Walt, she doesn’t want to feel like a villain, so it seems like she’s out for her own interests and not necessarily to bury the hatchet.
Walt: I totally agree. This would just be a note saying, “Hey. I hope you’re well, I know we haven’t gotten along recently and I understand why, I just wanted to let you know I miss our friendship and would love to talk before Susan’s wedding” or something like that. An olive branch, not a demand for a hug, you know?
Morgan: As long as she means it, because the impression I got from the letter is that she’s just trying not to feel awkward at a wedding. She doesn’t want to be friends again.
Walt: So your answer to “I am also wondering if it’s petty to continue this fight” is “no”? Because mine is “kind of”!
Morgan: But is it still a fight? There is no fight. They haven’t been speaking. The break in their friendship ended on bad terms, but it’s not like they are in the process of splitting, you know?
Walt: Then again, you’re talking to a guy 16 years into a 30-year plan exacting revenge on a kid who damaged my holographic Charizard in elementary school, so maybe I’m not a go-to expert on burying hatchets.
Morgan: LOL. OK, see, there you go.
I know people who I haven’t spoken to in several years, and although our friendships didn’t end in this way, they still ended, and it hurt, but I wouldn’t say we are still in a middle of a fight. We all moved on.
FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran April 12-13 and received 1,139 responses. We presented respondents with Ballroom Blitz’s letter and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were allowed to choose only one option.
Do nothing. Deal with the awkwardness at the wedding.
Send a small gift and note opening the door to reconciliation.
Ask the mutual friend if she has an issue with the fight continuing.
It’s petty to continue the fight. Try to end it somehow.
None of the above is good advice.
Walt: People want the feud to end! They’re not particularly sure how they want it to end!
Morgan: Yeah, how do they want it to end, with a face-to-face confrontation?
What about men vs. women?
|SHARE OF RESPONDENTS|
|1. Do nothing||16%||16%|
|2. Send a note||12||13|
|3. Bug the bride||2||5|
|4. Try to end your petty fight||60||57|
|5. None of the above||9||9|
Walt: Men were twice as likely as women to bug the dang bride about their petty personal problem. Read the room, fellas.
Morgan: Now, that was interesting. I thought men would’ve just voted to forget about it.
Walt: How did it break down by age?
|SHARE OF RESPONDENTS, BY AGE GROUP|
|1. Do nothing||12%||17%||12%||24%|
|2. Send a note||15||12||12||10|
|3. Bug the bride||7||4||1||1|
|4. Try to end your petty fight||58||55||65||57|
|5. None of the above||7||11||9||8|
Walt: I think the majority agrees that there should be a modest attempt to bury the hatchet before the wedding, with the elderly inexplicably OK with holding onto this grudge forever.
Morgan: Which is honestly the best choice. Don’t make things awkward for the bride and groom. Don’t ruin the atmosphere.
Walt: But the elderly. Can we interrogate that one? They say do nothing! At more than double the rate of nearly every other demographic!
Morgan: Now, why would they want that? Like, maybe, cross that bridge when you get there type of thinking?
Walt: As a scientist and scholar of feuds — by which I mean I just finished watching the show “Feud” about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — I guess at a certain point you’ve fought with someone so long it becomes a defining part of their relationship. So don’t end up there! End the fight now before someone steals the other’s Oscar.
Morgan: But drawing it out can be half the fun.
Walt: You’re trouble.
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