My friend broke up with me today. This is a woman I met through mutual friends about two years ago. She’s one of those rare people I clicked with immediately, and we became very close very quickly. Although we both appear on the surface to be quite outgoing, we are very private people and neither of us makes good friends easily. We both have secrets and past lives and spend much of our time in our heads. Having her in my life, in my heart, was a precious gift.
One of the reasons we connected as rapidly and intensely as we did is because of our shared experiences: our remote and emotionally unavailable fathers, issues within each of our marriages. Even our educational backgrounds and regional sensibilities (we’re both Easterners living in the Midwest, which doesn’t sound like a big deal but is) meshed. As our friendship grew, we began sharing more and more. We spent a weekend together and literally did not stop talking for sixteen hours. She was one of the first people I came out to (outside of a yoga circle or in therapy) about my eating disorder. And she made it easy for me to talk to her, to trust her. In turn, I felt like I could be a good friend to her.
Within the past two months, however, the dynamic of our relationship has made a 180 degree turn as our roles have flip-flopped. Parts of my life have stabilized whereas her corresponding parts have become chaotic. We have essentially switched shoes with one another and are walking each other’s path from two years ago. Unfortunately, her path is one of emotional intensity and a fair degree of misery, and she has suffered a great deal in a short period of time. In contrast, my life has taken a turn for the better and for the first time in years and years, I don’t dread waking up to face another day.
I’ve tried to listen and be a good friend as she see-saws from anxiety to acceptance to despair. I have always recognized that as we switched places, it might become difficult for her to hear about how good I feel, how my life finally seems to be moving in the right direction. After all, it was difficult for me to listen to her when I was so miserable two years ago. But being around me and talking to me has become too painful for her. She called me today to say that she couldn’t really be around me–for now, she said–because we are in such different places and being around me is bringing up feelings in her that she doesn’t believe are constructive.
I completely understand why she felt she had to do this. When I was at my sickest, I realized that I had to set some boundaries with respect to food. I made sure that I cleared items I would binge on from my kitchen. I was curt with people when they made innocuous comments about what I was eating. I planned vacations around meals. In short, I created an environment that promoted healing. Now I can be around food and people and take a vacation anywhere without worrying to the same degree, but it took me a while to get to that point. She has to do the same thing with her issues.
Still, it’s very hurtful. Although I know she didn’t mean it personally, I feel like I’m being judged. I thought our friendship was broad enough that we could navigate around our hot-button issues. I wonder: Is she jealous? She shouldn’t be. I earned the right to be where I am now. I paid my dues and put a lot of hard work into making my life a place I wanted to live in, so that when circumstances opened a door, I was able to walk through it. For her, that door is closed as tightly as it was to me two years ago, and I guess she’d rather not see me on the other side.
And in all honesty, I feel cheated, too. In a friendship, you invest emotional capital for a rainy day and now I’ll never be able to get mine back. What happens when I need someone to talk to, just to vent? I was there for her, even if it took a toll on me. Maybe her boundaries are better than mine; I do tend to take on other people’s issues in an effort to earn their love or friendship. Maybe I did this for her and–wrongly–feel like she owes me. There are no quid pro quos in friendship; love is a gift. But still, whether it’s right or wrong, mature or childish to feel the way I feel, today I was left high and dry.
I’m being dramatic, and of course I have others in my life I can talk to. But what we had was special and now it’s gone. I keep thinking that when things have settled down, maybe we can go back to something, a friendship of sorts, but I know in my heart it will never be the same. I will never be able to depend on her the way I could in the past. It makes me very sad. Friendships come and go as people change, but I wish this afternoon had never happened.