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.

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