I am an 18-year-old German, I live in a small (~100 citizens) town neighboring a somewhat bigger (~2000 citizens) town. We have our own small local fire-station but we do not do regular training. To get my first firefighting certification me and a group of friends from my station took a course at the neighboring town's station. That station is way bigger, it has more/better equipment, regular training courses, and way more emergencies.

A male (~25), let's call him Leon, lead the course. I have known him before but I did not have much to do with him before this course. Leon is a very skilled and passionate firefighter and I very much admire him and the station he belongs to. I had the impression that Leon liked me and I also liked him. Strictly speaking though, our relationship is centered around the fire-station as we do not have much contact outside of that.

So after I successfully completed my certification I asked him if I could join in when they do training exercises. I asked him personally and he agreed to message me the next date when they would be training. About one and a half weeks went by without a message, so I took matters into my own hand and asked him again via WhatsApp.

He answered the next day saying he did not forget about me and gave me the date.

The next week a member of my neighboring town who was also a part of the fire station and a friend of Leon went missing. They searched for him for two days and when they found him, he had committed suicide. This person was just an acquaintance to me, but I was still sad/shocked about it.

Leon messaged me that day (which was also the day, the training was supposed to be) saying that the training would be canceled. I messaged him back saying (roughly translated) "That's a shame:( But I thought that would happen."

I am socially awkward and that in hindsight was some extremely poor wording, I messaged him a week later again asking him when the next training would be. To which he did has not responded for the last 2 days, but he read my message.

I'm now afraid Leon ignores me or is mad at me because I reacted rudely by not showing that I regret (don't know if that is the correct English word) the death of his friend, and asking him a week later about a new appointment. I am afraid of him thinking that I am selfish as in I only care about the trainings / It doesnt matter to me that a member of the station died. Which isn't true. He is a "different" person than I am emotionally speaking.

I don't even know if he is mad at me or if he just forgot to respond. But I am too afraid to ask at this point.

How can I express that I am sorry for what happened and clear up any believes that he may have built up while politely ask him for an invite to the next training?


1 Answer 1


You don't know what Leon is thinking, of course. But I can pretty much guarantee he isn't thinking about you at all. He's going through a lot right now. He lost a friend to suicide. Some people may have consoled him amazingly well. You didn't do a terrible job: you didn't make him explain, and you said it was a shame (though a clearer response would have made it more obvious you were lamenting the death of his friend more than the cancelling of the training.) If I went and found Leon right now and asked about you I bet he would say


And then with some more details

Oh yes the one who is very enthusiastic about the training and wants responses to his messages

Nothing about how you handled his loss or his trauma because it's not yours to handle.

So why hasn't he answered you? Partly because he doesn't answer super fast. You've seen that in your previous interactions. And I bet also because he doesn't have an answer for you yet. To you, it's been two weeks, come on, let's get back to normal here, when is the training? But to him, there are other things to do besides this. He may be having trouble finding the place to do it now. Some of the other attendees may not be ready to attend yet if they were also friends of the one who died. Or he may have put off a lot of other work while searching and grieving and has to catch up on that before he can get back to the training stuff. There are all kinds of stuff swirling around and getting it rescheduled and telling you is just not making it to the top of the list.

Ok, let's say all my guessing is true (and I've arranged my fair share of volunteer things, and I've gone through losing someone, so it's very educated guessing) - what should you say to Leon to make him answer you? I would suggest this:

Hi, Leon, I hope you're doing well. Condolences again for the loss of your friend, Name. It was such a shock. [If you can, say something nice about the friend such as what a cheerful smile he had or how funny he was or how helpful. One sentence.] I don't mean to bother or pester you, but I was wondering if you've been able to reschedule the training yet? I am really looking forward to it. If not, should I just ask you again in a week or so? Perhaps it will be longer until you know? I'm very eager and at the same time, I don't want to be a pest. Let me know your rough plans if you can.

Of course, reword this for yourself but notice:

  • you start by focusing on him and his feelings
  • you offer condolences early in the message
  • by saying "again" you encourage him to interpret your other comment as your attempt at condolences
  • you ask not when the training will be, but something earlier in the process: has he even managed to decide that?
  • you express an understanding that asking repeatedly may be annoying, and you provide a positive reason (looking forward to it, eager) for that. Sometimes people who pester for updates come across as entitled and selfish, thinking their need for a date or other information is more important than whatever else the person being pestered has on their plate
  • you give him something he can actually answer (your rough plan, is it ok to ask again in a week) instead of something he can't (when is the training)
  • you acknowledge that he maybe can't answer even that

These points are all important in asking someone who is possibly delicate and overburdened right now to take 30 seconds and type a reply to you. Because of the asymmetry in your circumstances (his friend committed suicide, you were mildly inconvenienced) there is an opposite asymmetry in the effort you put forth when communicating. You work hard now to make it easy for him to answer you. Another time you can go back to idle texts like "do we have a new date yet?" but not so soon after this incident.

TL;DR: Leon probably isn't mad at you, he probably isn't thinking about you at all. To get an answer, put a lot more work into your question and include a question he can answer even if he doesn't have a new date for you.


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