to start with an end

The break­ing point hap­pened one night, when an acquain­tance I’ll call Thomas chided me for not get­ting back to him sooner about a din­ner invi­ta­tion. Thomas was upset enough that he needed some time off from hang­ing out. I didn’t under­stand, as he never expressed his con­cern, so I had no idea there was a prob­lem in the first place. I apol­o­gized for hurt­ing him, and pleaded with him to let me know next time so it wouldn’t hap­pen again. Still, the sit­u­a­tion didn’t sit well with me; my belated reply was due to the fact that I was in a dif­fi­cult place of my own, about which he never asked or con­sid­ered. I was left con­fused, and sad that I’d unwit­tingly hurt some­one so much as to need a break.

So I called my best friend at the time, look­ing for sup­port. “Avail?” was my usual code-word by text, to let him know I could wait until he had taken care of every­thing else, as I never took his time for granted. But this time, I was shaken enough that I needed more than just an ear, and told him, instead of ask­ing. When I finally got him on the phone, he dis­missed every­thing I tried to say, over­rid­ing it with, “This is what you need to do. Mark three months from now on your cal­en­dar, and call him then. He’ll for­get by that time”. I tried to explain my feel­ings over and over, that I wasn’t look­ing to make amends but try­ing to under­stand the sit­u­a­tion, and this was the most mean­ing­ful answer he could offer. I broke down when I knew I wasn’t get­ting through, when I real­ized he wasn’t an ally at a time I truly needed it, and that he never was.


Looking back now, I real­ize I should have known. Years before this hap­pened, I once can­celled my plans to spend time on the phone with him, only to have him for­get and go out, as I waited and waited. When I called to ask what hap­pened, grow­ing more upset about the fact I passed up an impor­tant oppor­tu­nity in doing so, he snapped back, “I’m already out, what do you want me say?“1. The fact that his first reac­tion was to dis­miss my feel­ings — even when he knew he was in the wrong — should have been a huge red flag. It was a sign he didn’t under­stand or even want to try, and I should have run, but I always for­gave him cause I wanted to2. Our friend­ship was pla­tonic, but I viewed it as my mar­riage; the rela­tion­ship I believed would last the rest of my life, the one I could turn to if my other rela­tion­ships were falling apart, and the one I’d try my hard­est to see through.

In order to fig­ure out how to sal­vage the sit­u­a­tion, I let him know how hurt he’d made me feel. My e-mail was long, reach­ing into the past, explain­ing that this was not the only time, and that I couldn’t take any more from this point. His response was to grow insulted with the parts he dis­agreed with, ignore every­thing else, and tell me to show my e-mail to my ther­a­pist (the impli­ca­tion being that there was noth­ing for us to dis­cuss or work on; the pain I was going through was all my own fault, and he had no part). Here I was, open­ing up about how dif­fi­cult things had been, that I wasn’t happy with the state of the friend­ship, and all he did was defend him­self and tell me to look for help elsewhere.

Not that ther­apy was a bad idea. Luckily, I was meet­ing with my ther­a­pist on a reg­u­lar basis at that point, and as a neu­tral party, he was con­stantly help­ing me recal­i­brate my expec­ta­tions of peo­ple and gain a more neu­tral per­spec­tive. In this case, he asked me to make a list com­par­ing the advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of con­tin­u­ing the friend­ship, as he didn’t want me to take any puni­tive actions. I broke down again when I couldn’t come up with a sin­gle for, com­pared to a grow­ing list against. This friend would con­stantly put down the hopes, ideas, dreams I brought to him, and I’d keep con­vinc­ing myself that he was being real­is­tic to pro­tect me3. He’d use my depres­sion as a rea­son for not mak­ing me a god-father, and even though I fully sup­ported his deci­sion no mat­ter what it was, I was dev­as­tated by the rea­son he used, and the fact that he’d judge me in such a way (I still have a hard time open­ing up to close friends, as a result4). I’d been lying to myself about the true nature of our friend­ship for so many years, and was now left with the real­iza­tion that I had noth­ing to show for all the time, work, and suf­fer­ing. I’d never expected things to be equal between us — or even close — but I’d already tried every­thing I could to make it work, and could com­pro­mise no more.

Eventually, I wrote a final e-mail explain­ing my rea­sons for going our sep­a­rate ways, but sat on it. Perhaps enough time would soothe the pain or change my mind. This wasn’t a light deci­sion, after all; it was one that would affect the rest of my life. Then out of the blue, he sent me a mes­sage. I was wait­ing (though not expect­ing) for some acknowl­edg­ment of the issues I brought up, but instead, a curt note, telling me he was glad I had fig­ured out more real­is­tic expec­ta­tions of peo­ple. It was a sign he wasn’t look­ing to put in any effort to make things work. Out of all the things I com­mu­ni­cated about what was both­er­ing me, he didn’t acknowl­edge a sin­gle one. To him, the friend­ship was fine cause there were no prob­lems on his end, and it was as if my pain never mat­tered or existed. No dis­cus­sion about how to make things eas­ier for me in the future, when I was bawl­ing the last time we com­mu­ni­cated. He didn’t even ask how I was feel­ing, but wrote, “I don’t know whether the entries I read mean you’re fully bet­ter or ready to give me a shout but when you are5 please do so.” It baf­fled me how he obliv­i­ous he was, at how he could pos­si­bly assume things would be okay after every­thing I said, while offer­ing no effort to help or change. By this point, I no longer had the emo­tional resources to edu­cate, and could only laugh at how a per­son could be so arro­gant and igno­rant at once.

As the days, weeks, and months went on, I real­ized I didn’t miss him or think about him at all. The friend­ship offered me so lit­tle as to be inef­fec­tual. The time he spent with me didn’t make me feel sig­nif­i­cant, cause it was always on his terms instead of mine. He gave me atten­tion when I wanted it, but never when I needed it, and as a result, I never felt like a pri­or­ity6. He’d offer to change only when I was already bro­ken and in tears. In the end, I may have been able to accept that he was never meant to fill a cer­tain role in my life, but not the fact that he was so dis­mis­sive of my feel­ings, let alone the fact that I couldn’t trust him not to hurt me any­more.

My foun­da­tions were shaken to the core. This was my longest and sup­pos­edly strongest rela­tion­ship, and I was left won­der­ing how I could have been so blind, whether I could trust in any­one again when I couldn’t even trust myself. The hard­est part was not hat­ing myself for it all.

I don’t hold him respon­si­ble for any part of the fall­out, cause it was my defence mech­a­nisms and life traps that made the friend­ship last as long as it did. It was safe for me to love him; his inabil­ity to empathize with me and con­stant con­trar­i­an­ism pre­vented him from ever under­stand­ing or sup­port­ing me, which meant he’d never get close. A toxic rela­tion­ship was the per­fect way for my old self-destructive per­son­al­ity to avoid any true sense of inti­macy, and my issues kept it going, until the break­ing point forced me to grow and learn to trust in the right people.

A hard les­son, and one not eas­ily for­got­ten, but maybe I’ll feel bet­ter about it in three months. I should make a note in my calendar.

  1. I had to use the exam­ple of a girl­friend caught cheat­ing, and using the excuse “It already hap­pened, what do you want me to say?”, before he under­stood how say­ing some­thing like that would be hurt­ful. []
  2. Or as my ther­a­pist would say, I always for­gave him cause my low sense of self-worth made me con­sis­tently try to be pleas­ing and nice to oth­ers, regard­less of what they did or how they treated me. []
  3. He didn’t do it out of mal­ice, it was sim­ply due to a con­trar­ian personality…not that this expla­na­tion made it any less hurt­ful. []
  4. Tip: if you want to cul­ti­vate a safe envi­ron­ment for a some­one to open up to you, never, ever hold their depres­sion against them for any rea­son. []
  5. Emphasis mine. []
  6. Not that this inher­ently made him a bad per­son, or even a bad friend; we had dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties, and his mea­sure of friend­ship was proven in quan­tity of time, mine in qual­ity. Another exam­ple of how fun­da­men­tally incom­pat­i­ble we were. []

14 comments

  1. Your ther­a­pist helped you recal­i­brate you expec­ta­tions of peo­ple and gain a more neu­tral per­spec­tive. I won­der if he/she also helped you recal­i­brate your expec­ta­tions of your own self, because self-approval, or lack of it, could be the rea­son why you yearn for unre­served, per­fect relationships.

    • Yes, that’s another rea­son I used to seek “per­fect” rela­tion­ships; my self-worth was strongly defined through the approval of others.

      Being able to walk away from this one was a huge step in the right direc­tion for me; it meant I finally put my own needs before some­one else’s, and was one of the most impor­tant deci­sions I’ve made to respect myself.

      • May be I don’t fully get it. But self-worth could be bet­ter rep­re­sented through the abil­ity to face up to dif­fer­ences, and not through with­drawal. The true proof of self-worth is self-worth itself.

      • It makes sense if you don’t get it, cause you’re not me; you don’t share the unique set of expe­ri­ences that have come to define my per­son­al­ity and mind­set. Even my ther­a­pist never pre­sumed to know what was good for me; the most he could do was help guide me on my jour­ney of self-discovery. At the end of the day, I’m the one who best knows what’s healthy for me, cause I’m the one who knows my limits.

        I didn’t with­draw because of my dif­fer­ences. I’m still friends with many peo­ple who are greatly dif­fer­ent from me, some of whom still hurt me by mis­take. I can eas­ily for­give and accept them, cause they show me empa­thy, regard­less of whether they believe they’re at fault. They make an effort to under­stand and change, to min­i­mize future pain, and the effort alone goes a long way in my book. Conflicts hap­pen in most rela­tion­ships; it’s how those con­flicts are dealt with that define them.

      • Hey, this last com­ment of yours sounds sen­si­ble to me, maybe you didn’t elab­o­rate enough before. Mind you, not every­one has the abil­ity to han­dle it when faced with a suf­ferer of depres­sion, it’s not easy, you may want to take that into con­sid­er­a­tion too.

        I’ve heard a psy­chi­a­trist say that 90% of depres­sion cases are con­gen­i­tal, patients’ brain scans are dif­fer­ent from non-sufferers. I take it with a grain of salt, because our under­stand­ing of the human brain is still at its infancy.

        More often than not, peo­ple say their way of han­dling unhap­pi­ness is by ignor­ing it, and focus on other things. Sounds too easy, eh.

  2. Look, I can’t be wif­ing you all the time, k? Grow a set of balls and stop crying.

  3. You make me sound like an ass­hole, how did I become your best friend then if I made no effort? Time for you to change … Into a man.

    • These com­ments are always hilar­i­ous. Like watch­ing a child try­ing to hurt an adult by call­ing him a stupid-face.

      This time though, I changed the name to pro­tect the iden­tity of par­ties involved…hope you don’t mind.

      • Stop twist­ing words as if every­one is try­ing to hurt you, no one is that impor­tant, I’ve got my own shit to mind: It’s called being a man. Stop look­ing for a mommy in every­one. You have one mommy and it’s not me. Man up, sim­ple as that sometimes.

  4. Jeff,

    Very nice post. I too know that self-worth is hard to come by when deal­ing with depres­sion and in my case emo­tion­ally abu­sive fam­ily. I hope to get there some day. Some days are bet­ter than oth­ers. Thank you for your hon­esty in your posts. I’ve been fol­low­ing you now since I stum­bledupon your blog in 2010. I see how you have grown and you inspire me.

    I book­marked your post­ing on sui­cide, and re-reading it has helped me through some tough times. It helps to know I am not alone in the strug­gle. I wish you well.

    • Brian, I appre­ci­ate your open­ness. It’s a small com­fort to know that my own expe­ri­ence is able to help oth­ers, and a large one to be reminded that I’m not alone. Thank you for shar­ing, and may your jour­ney get easier.

  5. From A to Z All the true com­ments are help­ful to me. Please con­tinue to be hon­est, and I will pick and choose what I need to help me. Thanks everyone.

  6. Hi Jeff,

    I can cer­tainly relate to most of this. I’ve had sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences with friends. The failed expec­ta­tions, enmesh­ment, judg­ing and back­bit­ing become too much. After the lat­est round of BS and block­ing, non-communication, estrange­ment, I still haven’t fig­ured out how to artic­u­late my posi­tion, so the space is wel­come. From what I’ve heard so far, I’m the prob­lem and need to change– they are good and don’t need to change a thing. I will admit that I’m angry and burnt out with peo­ple who are exceed­ingly stretched for time, attempt­ing to frag­ment their expe­ri­ences, and layer the moment, over­com­ing their bod­ily lim­i­ta­tions with as many peo­ple and dis­trac­tions as pos­si­ble. In real­ity, it seems like there is a kind of detach­ment from the real­ity of embod­ied life on the earth.

    Somehow there is virtue in this, effi­ciency, suc­cess, self-importance and I grow weary of tak­ing calls from peo­ple who need to fill up their com­mute with non-nonsensical con­ver­sa­tion that needs to abruptly end because they have arrived at their des­ti­na­tion. This obvi­ously works for them, but doesn’t work for me and makes a petu­lant and insuf­fer­able ass, REALLY?. I am done with the nar­cis­sis­tic artist who is chas­ing the dream and puts his whole fam­ily through his ridicu­lous sum­mons to pil­grim­age while the fam­ily suf­fers (kids act­ing out) When I have invested my time to engage, I expe­ri­ence chaos and the inevitable sense that I am out of place with the appar­ent knowl­edge the wife would pre­fer I not take up time with her man. I won­der, what am I doing? am I that much of a loser that I feel the need to con­tinue to be abused like this.

    How do you tell peo­ple with fam­i­lies and scat­tered lives and dis­trac­tions that you it’s time to pur­sue my own path, I will main­tain the dis­tance and space, wish them well and see them around the next bend. I think these peo­ple can be life­long friends after (25 years) but it will nec­es­sar­ily take on new incar­na­tions. I’m con­stantly look­ing inward (inse­curely) to see I’m judg­ing, being too sen­si­tive, etc. I’m often accused of being demand­ing and rigid. Their def­i­n­i­tion of “flex­i­ble” means to be able to adjust to capri­cious and feck­less inabil­ity to man­age their lives.

    Any thoughts?

    Is there a way to be an invit­ing and amenable friend who gives life rather than sub­tract from oth­ers? I haven’t fig­ured it out.…perhaps I am the prob­lem, or need to look for new friends and start over?

    Thank you for hav­ing the courage to share your experiences!

    • Hello Ashton, I appre­ci­ate your reflec­tive­ness. You don’t dis­count the fact that the root of dis­cord between you and your friends may lie within your­self; it means you’re open-minded, will­ing to lis­ten, and those are valu­able tools in suc­cess­ful relationships.

      I’m sorry your friends don’t keep you as high a pri­or­ity as you’d like. It sounds like they’re fairly nar­cis­sis­tic, and you’re not com­pat­i­ble with them cause you’re seek­ing deeper rela­tion­ships. Some peo­ple aren’t able to offer the kind of atten­tion you need, and there’s noth­ing wrong with that. It’s their choice to behave like that, or to pri­or­i­tize the peo­ple in their lives a cer­tain way. At the same time, there’s noth­ing wrong with your needs either, and you have a right to express them, or walk away if you’re unhappy. They risk los­ing out on your friend­ship if they choose not to rec­og­nize how their behav­iour makes you feel, or if they choose not to change that behaviour.

      Friendships go in cycles through the course of one’s life. It’s pos­si­ble to make new ones as old ones fall apart. It sounds like you’d be hap­pier with peo­ple who’d be able to bet­ter com­mit more time and atten­tion to you, cause those are your needs at the moment. I can relate: for a long time, I was in the sit­u­a­tion where I needed a lot from my friends so I could feel secure, more than they could offer. I even­tu­ally found what I needed in new friends, and I went through a lot of mis­er­able and lonely years, but I’m much hap­pier with my rela­tion­ships now.

      You don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to cut some­one out right away; you can sim­ply let the rela­tion­ship run its course. Relationships that aren’t nur­tured or main­tained tend to fade. If you need to sep­a­rate your­self from some­one sud­denly, stick to your truth — the feel­ings and expe­ri­ences that no one can dis­count or take away from you. You have a right to feel hurt when some­one does any­thing. I stay friends with the ones who feel bad about hurt­ing me, regard­less of the rea­son why. Those are the peo­ple I choose to invest my time into, and those are the rela­tion­ships that give me the most in return.

Leave a Reply