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.
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- Emphasis mine. [↩]
- 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. [↩]