What Friends Don't Do

I just lost a friend.

I don’t know why. When I went to her the other day, after over a month of sudden and unexplained silence, to ask her what had gone wrong, she told me that nothing was wrong: things were exactly as they should be, with me out of her life. When I asked what I’d done, she wouldn’t say. She didn’t want to explain herself, she said. She said: “I’ve got a tendency to talk too much, so I won’t say anything.”

It’s always been a troubled relationship. My friend—D—is funny, compassionate, generous to a fault. She’s a prolific writer, an inspiring teacher, and one of the most blindingly intelligent people I’ve ever known. But she is also one of the most difficult people I’ve ever known. She’s exhaustingly intense, easy to anger, quick to take offense, a holder of unyielding grudges. She’s incapable of apologizing or admitting she is wrong. She has told me stories, over the years, of former friends she excised from her life over a single comment, a single action.

D and I have been through this once already, over the death of someone close to her. I met this person a couple of times in casual social settings, but otherwise had no connection with them. But D believed that, as her friend, I should have endeavored to become her friend’s friend, too, in order to comfort her in her final illness. That I’d failed to do this was a slight D could not forgive. D never explained any of this to me, of course; I found out through third parties after her friend died and I suddenly became persona non grata.

We did eventually patch things up. But the shadow of that old conflict remained. I always knew it could happen again.

I’ve never had an easy time with friendship. I was shy as a child; interacting with peers was terrifying. My family moved around a lot, too; until I was fourteen, I never lived in the same place or attended the same school for more than a couple of years at a stretch. I’d go through the stress and dread of making new friends and new connections, only to leave them behind a year or two years later, knowing I’d never return. It’s instilled in me a deep sense that friendship is transient. That it’s easier to be alone than to work to build relationships that time or circumstance will inevitably force me to abandon.

I’m aware that this is not a good way to live. I fight it, and I’ve managed, pretty much against the odds, to build a handful of lasting friendships, as well as a full and loving relationship with my husband. But it’s a struggle. And I still often feel that friendship is a challenge I’m not up to, something I will never fully understand.

So maybe the rift with D is somehow my fault. But even if it is—and even as friendship-challenged as I am–I know that there are some things friends don’t do.

Friends don’t refuse to explain themselves. When something has gone wrong, they are willing to talk about what it is. They don’t look you in the eye and tell you that you don’t deserve to know.

Friends don’t refuse to let you explain. They are willing to hear your side. They don’t shut the door on discussion, end of story.

Friends don’t define you by a single action. They look at the whole of the relationship. They balance your good qualities against your bad, your faults against your virtues. One mistake shouldn’t be enough to kill a friendship, if it has a firm foundation.

Friends don’t make friendship contingent on keeping the upper hand. D’s and my relationship has never been one of equals. I’ve always had to dance around her hot temper and unforgiving nature. Where we’ve had disagreements, I’ve been the one who yielded, because anything else would have caused an unbridgeable rift. I might yield now, if I knew what was wrong. But I don’t—and in keeping that secret, D has once again made sure she holds all the cards.

My husband, and other friends, have told me that all of this demonstrates what I know intellectually to be true: D and I never really had a friendship at all.

Emotionally, though, it’s pretty devastating. This is a relationship that’s been part of my life for over thirty years. And there’s another dimension to the story, which makes it much harder to walk away: D is disabled and in failing health. Over the past year I’ve taken on something of a caregiving role. That’s at an end now too.

I don’t know who she’s turning to for help. I hope she has someone.

Goodbye, D.

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    23 comments to What Friends Don’t Do

    • Victoria Strauss

      Joni–

      Thank you! I hope we’ll meet some day.

    • Joni White

      Hi Victoria:

      I feel I know you better than I actually do because of my husband Richard and the Writer Beware project you both support. I’m very sorry this happened to you. As others have said, you’re not alone. It’s happened to me a few times as well, and I know it’s not a nice situation to be in.

      If you need a friend, Rich will be there for you, and I would like to be too.

    • So glad you have happy memories of your friendship with this lady. I pray for her physical and emotional health.

    • Katie

      Well obviously she was not like that all the time. We had a lot of fun cooking together, watching movies, exploring NYC. She was basically my social life for three years.

    • This is called “splitting,” and it’s a trait of people with either (or both, shudder) Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. If she has one of these, your friend is a very broken person, but she was your friend until she wasn’t anymore. You’re right in thinking it could happen again. It will. It is not really her fault she’s like that, but it’s not your fault either, so it might be in your best interest to grieve the relationship and try to move on. She is unlikely to change because she’ll never understand the need to change.

      I’m terribly sorry she hurt you this way.

    • Katie, it sounds like it was never truly a friendship. How could you “adore her” when you say she always treated you badly and criticized you? That is not a “friend.”

    • Katie

      I saw the link to this post through a FB friend and it drew me in.

      This just happened to me. My best friend all through college and I got in a minor fight and she crossed a line and hurt my feelings, and instead of apologizing blamed me for getting my feelings hurt then ignored me for a month. When I confronted her about it she told me “the friendship had run its course” and that was it. No explanation, no apology, no chance for me to continue the discussion.

      It still keeps me up at night seething. I had adored her, even though she had a habbit of treating me badly. She was super critical of my personality and never apologized for hurting my feelings, but if I hurt her feelings she made me feel like a horrible person who had to bend over backwards to make things right. I know all those things are true, and all my friends and family say I am better off without her, but I still wish we were friends, I wish I knew why she had done it.

      It just seemed so bizarre that someone could lack so much humanity that they would just walk away like that without any explanation. People have said to me “friendship is a one way street” and “no argument is ever just one sided”, like it was somehow my fault that she decided to treat me this way.
      I just want you to know I understand what you are going through and want to thank you for sharing your story. At least I am not alone!

    • I don’t think it is ever easy letting go. But, it can truly bring you peace.

    • Victoria Strauss

      Robin and Ann–

      Yes. Letting go. That’s so true–it’s so important not to hold on to what’s already gone. Easier to know it than to do it, though. But I’m trying! Thank you both.

    • Victoria Strauss

      Thia,

      Thank you. I’ve been thinking even more than usual about Ann these past few days–about the kind of friendship we had, and comparing it with my never quite easy–even at its best–relationship with D. Such a huge difference. There was nothing I couldn’t say to Ann, and nothing she couldn’t say to me. She knew my faults and loved me anyway. There was no tension, no subtext, just total acceptance and support. I miss her terribly, and always will.

    • I totally understand what you are going through…been there. I have recently drafted a couple pieces about relationships (family/friends)which will be posted soon. In the meantime here are a couple pieces which speak to your post here: “Friends” http://amarquette333.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/friends-2/ and then this which may be an even better response to your post “Letting Go” http://amarquette333.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/letting-go-2/

      My heart is with your Victoria as you go through this particular experience.

    • Hi Victoria, I’m really sorry to hear you are going through this. I’m the same as you about friendships – believing they are transient and unsustainable. Though my attitude comes from the experience of having friends use me as a convenience.

      My father did this same thing to me 2 weeks before my wedding. I haven’t seen or spoken with him since 2009. One of the biggest lessons I have learned with regard to relationships is if someone wants to walk out of your life LET THEM GO. You can kill yourself trying to hold on to someone who is determined to go (even if you’re holding on just in your mind/heart). Cleave to those who love and value you. Let the rest go. I hope you find peace about this situation. Keep your chin up :)

    • Thia

      Dear Victoria, Ann and I were friends for over 51 years. There were times when we didn’t talk to each other for extended periods, but when we did talk, it was as if we had just talked the day before. Life got extremely busy for me and I was unable to keep up on reading her books (I had kept up for years but when I started going to school along with working, I just didn’t have time to read). She was slightly irritated about that, but she was always unfailingly loving to me. She never changed! Even though she was world-famous, she never lost her humble sweetness with her friends. She always loved me and would do anything for me. She knew that I loved her tremendously and unceasingly. I still do. It is very painful for me to live my life without her, and I expect it will be for the rest of my life. To me, this is what friendship is all about – when hearts are joined with love and understanding. Your (former) friend does not have a heart or she could not just toss you aside like that. She probably has a personality disorder (bipolar or borderline). You did not deserve to be treated like that. But your heart must grieve the loss. At least you have a heart, obviously she does not. Keep smiling, keep shining…:)

    • Victoria Strauss

      JJ,

      If she changed her mind, I’d probably answer the call. I hate to think of her struggling with her illness, and possibly dying alone. I keep having this fantasy that she’s alienated me on purpose because she just got some kind of catastrophic diagnosis and doesn’t want to burden me–like some weepy Hollywood movie where the heroine, dying of leukemia, nobly chases the hero away. I know this is ridiculous, but I can’t help it.

      On the other hand, I am really angry about the way she’s treated me. And this is the second time. I don’t really think we could come back from that. So there’s a large part of me that hopes I never hear from her again.

    • Victoria Strauss

      Teresa,

      Thank you, that means a lot.

    • Victoria Strauss

      Elizabeth–

      I don’t think she’s full-blown bipolar, though she does suffer from depression. But there are certainly mental health issues. I think it may be something on the autism spectrum–Asperger’s runs in her family, with her father, cousins, sister, and nephew definitely having some degree of it.

      It’s so interesting–and a bit surprising–how many people seem to have had similar experiences. It makes me feel a little better about it all.

    • Victoria Strauss

      Maryn–

      {{{hugs}}}

    • I’m the last person on earth equipped to help with this problem, having so few friends myself. All I would like to say is: Leave the door open. If you can, leave your ex-friend with the message that you would be open to resume your friendship if she ever feels she needs it again. She probably loses friends a lot and may need your friendship again in the future, perhaps because of her deteriorating condition. If she is bipolar your support could be a life-saver some day. JJ

    • Teresa Bigbee

      Vic … I’m so sorry this has happened to you. I know that you are a kind and generous friend and I can’t believe that you would do anything (wittingly or unwittingly) to deserve this. I do know however, that the loss is -D’s- … Take care and I hope you feel better soon.

    • This post caught my eye as it was SOOOOO familiar. The pattern is there, all too plainly. Your former friend is bipolar. She is exhibiting all the symptoms of the condition and she may well have deteriorated more as a consequence of her other growing disability. There is absolutely nothing you could have done, or can do to make this right between you. She has made her move and she will never change her direction now. It is not in her nature, even if she gets on the meds she needs.

      I lost a dear friend in nearly identical circumstances. I was amputated from her life without any explanation and for no reason that I could fathom. Everything you describes previous to the split is something I also encountered. I know it doesn’t help the pain you feel now, but I can tell you that later you will feel as if the world has lifted from your shoulders.

    • Maryn

      Victoria, as an impartial observer, it appears to me that D has what I shall tactfully call “issues” with regard to self-esteem and trust. In my experience, those who cannot forgive and refuse to explain, who believe their way is the One True Way, are at their cores frightened of having no value to others and cannot trust them to continue to be friendly. That they can and often do manipulate others into doing what they want and into apologizing for wrongs which are not really wrong speaks volumes about who they are.

      You know me only slightly, more a recognition of my name than any relationship, but I’m a grown woman whose days run on a pretty even keel, as shy as you are, able to make a marriage work but with few friends at the moment. (Can you say “hermit”?) Tell you what: Let’s be friends. And if we disagree, or you’ve inadvertently hurt me, or I feel you should do something differently, we shall talk about it and laugh at how different we are and maybe go out to lunch, because that’s what actual friends do.

    • Victoria Strauss

      Miramon,

      I really think you hit the nail on the head–”an asymmetric form of sacrifice and service that has to keep on proving itself with ever more painful forms of devotion.” I never thought of it that way, but it does make a lot of sense, and fits with D’s character (as well as her very difficult childhood–abandoned by her mother, brought up by a distant and indifferent father). Thanks for commenting.

    • Miramon

      Just randomly coming in from your link on twitter to drop an Internet $0.02, but possibly not even worth that much.

      I think it’s facile for anyone to say you and D were never friends; but friendship is of course a two-way street, and also of course it’s not a magically permanent state of affairs. Perhaps needless to say, both people have to want it and contribute to it. And also both people have to have some mutually similar understanding of what it is to avoid the kind of clash you describe.

      For some people, even a casual friendship is an unsupportable burden because of all the self-doubt they live with. This can lead either to that annoyingly self-deprecating state where the subject claims to have no friends because s/he can’t believe anyone would want to be friends with him or her, or to what I think you describe as D’s condition, a requirement for friendship to be an asymmetric form of sacrifice and service that has to keep on proving itself with ever more painful forms of devotion.

      Perhaps at one time D was sufficiently responsive and caring to really be a friend in the usual mutually supportive sense, but evidently she has developed greedy and even perhaps impossible terms of friendship, and so it’s no wonder she cuts people away from her over time. No doubt this is all exacerbated by suffering with failing health, with that mixture of petulance and despair that I think realization of mortality tends to bring.

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