I’ve mentioned before that I have difficulty opening up in friendships. It’s very hard for me to take down my carefully built walls – built to insulate and protect me. I took a chance in opening up recently, and I’m not sure it was a good thing for me.
A couple of years ago I was going through an extremely difficult time. I had just received my “official” diagnosis of atypical major depressive disorder. On the one hand, this was a relief; on the other hand, it was soul-crushing. I was deeply, fundamentally flawed and always would be. (I now have a different understanding of my diagnosis and my reality, but that’s how I felt at the time. Yay for me that I can recognize the flaws in that thinking! 🙂 )
So I had just gotten my diagnosis. I was struggling with meds – “pooping out” on a number of them. I’d be better for a month or two, and then the effects would drop off. Back to the GP, then off to a psychiatrist. Tweaking and more tweaking. So much for my naive hope that I’d find the magic meds and have only yearly checkups. (Hilarious, in retrospect!)
At the same time, my husband was gone for months on end, mostly out of communication. I was a single-parent, trying to hold it all together for my 3 kids while having little emotional support.
Enter Julie. She lived across the street and we became friends. I gradually opened up to her and she did the same with me. Julie was also experiencing a very difficult time in her life, so we leaned heavily on each other. We took care of each other, and we held each other up during each of our dark times. I had never had a friend like this before – one where I could be fully, truly open – and she became my lifeline. Just as I became hers. She knew about my depression, and I knew about her anxiety, her depression, her panic attacks. She was the kind of friend who could ask “What’s your risk level today?” and I would answer her honestly.
Next enter Melissa. Melissa became Julie’s new partner. She lived out of state, and Julie and Melissa began a long-distance relationship. You can see where this is going, I’m sure. Melissa resented my relationship with Julie. Julie, on the other hand, resented a lot of Melissa’s controlling behavior and insisted that she would not be forced to give up a friend whom she loved. We managed to juggle these pieces for quite a long time, with Julie and I attempting to continue our close friendship while Melissa wasn’t there. But when Melissa visited, or Julie went to visit Melissa, Julie put me on a shelf until she was on her own again.
I understand Melissa’s objections to the intensity of Julie’s relationship with me. And if Julie had been truly dedicated to Melissa, and talked to me honestly about needing some space, I like to think that I would have honored that. But those things didn’t happen, and the truth is that I was absolutely desperate to hang on to Julie – my lifeline. So while I didn’t do anything to undermine Julie’s relationship with Melissa, I also didn’t do anything to support it either.
I hate having to admit all of that, but it’s true. I was in such a dark place and Julie was the one light I had. I couldn’t bear to give that up.
Fast forward a year or so – a year with a lot of ups and downs with Julie, times when she would be fully there for me, and times when she seemed to act in ways just to hurt me. It was an emotional roller coaster, and despite the support I got from the friendship early on, it now became emotionally unhealthy for me. But I couldn’t walk away. Julie kept insisting that she was committed to our friendship, and I meant the word to her, and I was the only one who had ever fully understood her. So I kept hanging in there, kept waiting for a time when Julie would figure out how to be friends with me and partners with Melissa at the same time. Or waiting for a time when Julie would accept that she really wasn’t happy with Melissa – that she was just playing a role because she couldn’t bear to be alone.
Last summer Melissa and Julie had a huge blowup just as they were about to move in together. Julie spoke to me at length about how free she felt, and how Melissa wasn’t the partner she had hoped she would be, and how all of her concerns about Melissa had finally come to fruition. She was done and she was looking forward to being my friend without having Melissa constantly looking over her shoulder. Julie was no longer across the street, but she would come into town periodically and wanted to be able to have lunch or dinner with me freely.
Two days later I received an email from Julie, saying that our friendship was over. The email was clearly authored by Melissa – it didn’t sound at all like Julie and there were editing marks in the text (seriously???). That was our last contact.
I was devastated. I had realized in the previous few months that our relationship was likely unsustainable. I had also realized that I was exhausted by Julie’s inconsistency (come here, come here, come here – no, wait – go away, go away, go away). Our relationship had become toxic and it was no longer a positive thing for my mental health. And yet…how could she do that to me? How could she end such an intense, close friendship via email? How, how, how??? I deserved so much more. I was mad, and hurt, and devastated that I had opened up so much – only to be cast aside.
Obviously I tried to hash all of this out in therapy. I made some progress, and the anger and the hurt dissipated somewhat. I no longer winced every time I walked by Julie’s old house. I no longer thought of all of the deep conversations we used to have on my stoop. I was healing and moving on.
Until Christmas, when I received an “anonymous” package with some presents for me. It was clear that it was from Julie. It was upsetting for me and I was mad that she couldn’t think enough of my feelings to recognize that additional contact would be even more painful for me. It seemed like a selfish move to ease her conscience. She could tell herself that she was letting me know that she still cared. Yes, it was somewhat satisfying to know that she still remembered me, but… the pain and hurt that resurfaced far outweighed that.
More therapy, more processing. It took several weeks but once again I was able to find the place where I felt reasonably okay with all of this, where it was no longer something I obsessed about in my head.
And then the day after Easter, I found a chocolate bar in my mailbox. Again, I knew it was from her. This time I wasn’t at all satisfied by her thinking of me – frankly, it kind of creeped me out. I just wanted her to leave me alone.
You might think that since she moved out of the area, I could ignore these things and forget about it. But – there’s a catch – Julie’s daughter attends the same school as my daughter. I knew that I would see her at periodic school functions…one of which was yesterday.
I’ve been anxious about this event since last summer when Julie “broke up” with me. I knew that I would see her there, and I also knew that I wanted to be fully present for my daughter, and not distracted by my anxieties over Julie. I was afraid that Julie would come up to me and behave as if nothing had happened. I was afraid that she would try to justify her behavior in the hopes of winning me back – and I was afraid that I wouldn’t have the strength to tell her no.
What actually happened is anti-climactic more than anything. I avoided her. I knew that she was there, but I avoided any kind of contact. Surprisingly enough, she made no attempt to interact with me. So is this the end? Can I really put it to rest? Maybe. I hope so.
There’s so much here to process in terms of how I choose friends, how I expect to be treated, how I operate within friendships. I’m not sure I want to process all of it since I know I won’t like the answers.
I realize this post is somewhat rambling and not my most well-written. I also realize that I’m doing an inadequate job of depicting the closeness of our friendship early on and the depths of the dysfunction that evolved. I think it’s just one of those things that I’m writing and putting out there in the world – in the hopes that maybe it will help me to put it behind me.
Thanks for reading.