What to do when a friend thinks you’ve insulted them

awesome101 asks: I’m having friendship issues. My friend took something I said the wrong way. She thought I called her fat, but I meant buff. And buff is different from fat because buff means that you’re just strong and built well, it has nothing to do with being fat. But she is mad at me because she thinks I was talking behind her back and I feel awful. I apologized to her over and over again but she just ignores me. I feel absolutely terrible. 🙁 Please tell me what to do. Thank you so much.

Hi awesome101 –

I have seen this situation at all sorts of extremes.  At the mildest, someone thinks their friend said something, the friend says “Oh no, I said _________,” the person accepts that, and everyone moves on well.  At the worst, I’ve seen friendships completely destroyed because one friend is convinced the other one said something horrible about them, no matter how much the other insists they never did or would.  It sounds like you’re right in the middle between these.  And I’m sorry, because that’s still a tough place to be.

One issue here is very important to state:  This would never happen if your friend felt good about her shape.  Like think about the actor/wrestler The Rock.  Imagine if he thought a friend of his called him fat.  He’d just laugh.  He’s famous for his build, and wouldn’t worry about that at all.  But if a person is worried that they might be a bit overweight, then they could be devastated by thinking their friend called them fat.  Clearly that’s your friend’s case.  So your job, which is difficult, is to make her feel that you wouldn’t have said something bad, about a subject that makes her very uncomfortable!

So the first step, you’ve already done.  Which is to tell her the truth about what you said.  That’s the most important thing, of course.

But there’s another side to it.  Did you maybe say it in a way just slightly more misinterpretable (is that a word?!) than “She’s buff!”?  Did you maybe say she’s “big” or she’s “imposing,” or something else that someone who worries about their weight might take badly?

If so, a really good thing to do is to tell her exactly what you said.  To say “I didn’t mean to say anything against you, but I understand how it could have sounded that way when I said you were a big girl,” or whatever it was.  Then you’re making her feel like there’s nothing wrong with her having misinterpreted what you said, which makes things much easier on both of you.

Okay, the next step is to really reach out to her.  And to say something like “I am so sorry that what I said came off in an insulting way.  You mean so much to me and I would never want to hurt your feelings.  I will make absolutely sure I don’t make this mistake again, but I also need to know we’re okay.  Can I take you out to lunch, so we can talk about this?  I want to know exactly what I can do to make things better.”

That can help.  That can help a lot.

If she agrees to it, then you’re in good shape.  Just make sure that you really do talk about what happened when you meet, so she can know for sure that you understand how she feels, and she can see how sorry you are.  As well as talking about all the fun silly gossipy stuff you’ll need to catch up on!

But if she doesn’t agree, then I would suggest you then acknowledge her feelings, say you’re sorry, and step away.  For a couple of days at least.  No more than a week.  And then try again.

You see, it’s not like you ran a car into her living room and injured her pet cat.  All you did was hurt her feelings.  So all she wants is to make sure that you’re seeing her hurt feelings, and that she can trust you won’t do it again.  And that might take some time.  So give it to her.

But it’s very hard for me to imagine that you won’t win her back soon.  After all, friends like you, who reach out to clever pooches because they’re so worried about their friendships, are hard to find, and very very worth keeping!

Best of luck,


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