According to daysoftheyear.com, today is “Best Friends Day,” which makes it as good a day as any for this post, which has been brewing for a while.
I’ve been letting go of an old friendship – one I once described as a “best” friendship – that isn’t healthy anymore. I can be a little slow on the uptake when it comes to this kind of thing. Sometimes things aren’t right for a long while before I realize that hey, this shit needs to stop (see also: husband, former). I think in my relatively dumb youth, I burned too many bridges out of carelessness or callousness – too lazy to do the heavy lifting that being a friend sometimes entails – so now in middle age, I’m reluctant to let fall even the ones that have had giant orange “CONDEMNED” signs on them for years.
My friendship with Jane has, if not a “condemned” sign, at least caution tape strung across it. It took years for me to see how out of balance things had become — to realize that I wasn’t just being used, I was being used up.
I had been reluctant to say, “hey, it hurts my feelings when you do [this thing she kept doing], would you please stop?” – and then one day I finally said it, just as clearly and specifically as I could… and it made no difference. So I said it again. And she did it again. Lather, rinse, repeat… and finally, I thought oh, I see, now. There is no room here for my feelings. It is OK for me to let this go.
Still, I fretted. I told some other friends a story or two to get their take on it. They said, dude, that is not how a friend behaves. I’d gotten so used to thinking of Janie as the definition of “friend” that it took me by surprise to see that by objective criteria, she’d not been that to me for a very long time, and that when I need a friend, I don’t call her.
It still bothers me. Years ago, she’d been a dear and true friend, and I am not a “what have you done for me lately” kind of person. It’s been hard to give myself permission to let this friendship fade into friendly acquaintanceship, but I’m coming around to it. It’s liberating, in a way. What a relief to let those calls go straight to voicemail instead of answering with a kind of dread: what is going to be drained from me this time? How am I going to be dismissed in return?
It seems I’m not alone. Over the years, Jane’s other friends have dropped by the wayside, some backing away slowly, others cutting off contact as if with a machete. While validating, this does not make my best self feel better. I maybe should’ve been able to find a better balance. All these years, though her physical and mental illness, through her marriage and divorce, I’ve been her unconditional support – and it turns out that “unconditional” was a mistake. I should’ve had conditions, and the first one should’ve been to put my own oxygen mask on first, just like they say on airplanes. My allowing myself to be disproportionately used is just as much to blame as her doing the disproportionate using. It took two of us to get where we are.
Which is where, exactly? Well, I don’t intend to tear down this bridge. Time may make some repairs, the caution tape might come down, and Jane’s life and mine could reconnect on healthier terms. For a while, though, I’m going to heed the warnings, and quit crossing at my own risk.