When I was in junior high, I met the girl who would be my best friend for most of my formative years. I was extremely shy, but I would see her around campus surrounded by friends, always smiling and happy, and wished I was as confident as she seemed to be. In the 8th grade, her PE locker was next to mine and she would say hi and make small talk. At first I was too shy to respond much, but she was so nice and friendly that before long, I got over it and we became friends.
At some point, we started to identify each other as best friends. But for some reason, she held part of herself back from me, and that made me jealous of any of her time and attention that was not given to me. For example, I would ask if she wanted to hang out after school, but she would say she needed to study. Then the next day I would find out that she spent the evening hanging out with another friend. I’d get angry, but she would explain it was because the other girl was her neighbor, and I lived so far away (a 20-minute drive).
She would pull stunts like that on me all the time, and it drove me crazy. I was forever writing long, angst filled notes to her about how I thought we were best friends, that she needed to make more of an effort, and we would eventually make up and then the cycle would begin again.
It was just a really odd friendship where we were always walking on eggshells around each other all the time. I’d never had a best friend before her, and I didn’t know what it was supposed to BE like. At the same time, I was coming out of my shell and making a lot of new friends, the type of friends where I could say whatever I wanted and be completely myself around them. It wasn’t that my best friend was against self expression or anything like that…because she couldn’t be herself around me, either. Looking back I think we were just two completely different people, and that I shouldn’t have kept trying to force this “best friendship” on the two of us.
After we went to separate universities, it became even harder to keep up the relationship. But I tenaciously held on, convinced that our friendship would overcome any obstacles standing in our way. She grew increasingly distant, prompting ever more forlorn letters from me, asking why didn’t she return my phone calls, why didn’t she ever write to me? All of my (true) close friends would ask why was I still friends with her if she made me feel that way. I don’t even know if I had a satisfactory answer for that.
The breaking point came after my first year as a consultant. I was living it up, making good money, and enjoying life. We still called each other best friend, but I was getting more and more exasperated with her self righteousness and not-so-subtle disapproval of my lifestyle (she wasn’t into drinking and clubbing). After one too many phone calls where I felt like I was talking to the air, I’d had enough. I sat down and wrote the most vicious email I’ve ever written before or since. I was feeling really hurt by her treatment of me and wanted to hurt her back. Without even thinking about it, I sent it off. I immediately regretted it, but there was no way to take it back.
I called her, we cried, I apologized profusely, and she said it was OK and that we were still friends. But over the next few days and weeks, I realized it was not OK. Whereas she was merely distant before, she began to actively avoid me – not difficult when we lived hundreds of miles away from each other. Finally, I wrote another email – “what’s wrong? I thought you said you had forgiven me.” Her response was slow in coming, but it was the final nail in the coffin. She realized, after thinking about it a lot, that she couldn’t be friends with me anymore. My letter was so hateful and so unwarranted, that she could no longer trust me not to hurt her like that again. She said maybe we could be friends again one day, but for now she wanted to keep her distance.
We haven’t been friends since. That was 10 years ago. About a year after she first stopped talking to me, she wrote me a letter to explain why she had to take a break from me. She admitted in the letter that she was jealous of my success and that she had consciously given up on our friendship years before (without telling me) because she thought I didn’t “need” her anymore. She said she was in a bad place and just couldn’t handle the stress of our relationship at that time. Yet the letter was sort of opened ended…I read it 100 times and couldn’t tell whether it was an attempt to become friends again or not. In the end, I felt more annoyed than happy, especially at the idea that she had deliberately pulled back from me while I was making so much effort to maintain our friendship. I dashed off a scathing letter to her saying that if the situation had been reversed, I would never have stopped being her friend, or some such nonsense. She didn’t respond. A few months later, I felt bad and wrote another, more mature letter, but she didn’t respond to that either. About 3 years ago, I wrote one last time…. and again got no response. So yeah…. that’s about as dead as anything can get.
I still think about her quite often. I wonder how she is doing, whether she ever thinks of me.
But I learned from this friendship how to be a real friend, and how to pick real friends. I’ve learned not to be as crazy demanding as I used to be. I’ve learned to be very discerning in choosing a good friend. I AM still a demanding friend, but within reason, and I try to give as good as I get and better. I mostly have only very high quality friends now.
And I learned that friendships do have limits. And that once you cross a line, you can never go back.
I’m now experiencing the death of another friendship. This time, I’m the one who is choosing to withdraw my friendship from somebody else. It has made me think of my best friend of my youth and wonder if this is how she felt when she chose to end her friendship with me.
It’s been an emotional week for me. I guess I jinxed myself.