Posted by: CJ | May 27, 2011

Asymmetries in friendship trajectories…

I’ve been thinking some recently about a college friend of mine, RT, that I haven’t spoken to in over a year and a half. We had a fairly big series of fights and decided we needed to not talk to each other for a good long while…which seemed like the right choice in retrospect, even though it hurt at the time.

It’s been long enough that I’ve wondered some if I should reach out to RT and see if she’s interested in trying to be friends again. But each time I think that, which isn’t too often, I eventually realize it isn’t worth it. This is a hard thing to accept, because RT was a very good friend that I often felt I learned a lot from. But…when I look at things in retrospect here’s what I see.

What I got out of our friendship:

  • First, and most importantly, I got the attention and friendly affection of someone I was deeply attracted to.
  • I also got emotional support.
  • I met cool and interesting people through her.
  • I felt higher status to have such an intelligent, successful, and interesting close friend.

What really, truly didn’t work for me:

  • The emotional support wasn’t a healthy kind. She had some fairly major self-esteem issues, but she felt better about herself when she felt like she was helping other people. I felt closer to her when I got that sort of attention. This was a bad combination, because as long as I was semi-consistently broke and needing fixing I’d get her attention…
  • I was often jealous of her. She was more social, beautiful, artistic, and motivated than me, and she was much better at some intellectual pursuits I wanted to be talented at.
  • The jealousy and feelings of inferiority often made it harder for me to accept some of the better advice she gave me because I was so focused on trying to prove I wasn’t any less perceptive than her.
  • My own insecurities and extremely literal interpretation of language didn’t mix well with her semi-faux-judgmental statements. She’d say things that she never meant to be taken seriously or literally, and I’d take them to be both and obsess over them. Not healthy.
  • Even though I met people through her, I rarely felt like they ever became my friend. They always were her friends that sorta enjoyed seeing me. Never my friends.
  • She had so many friends that she talked to or could turn to that I never, ever believed she valued me as a friend that much. This wasn’t rational on my part…but short of dating me, there just wasn’t a way I could believe she actually cared that much about me.
  • We didn’t know how to set boundaries, let alone stick to them.  I wanted to have her attention too much, and she never worried whether I was getting too close emotionally. Not something she thought of as a problem.
  • I never put myself really out there to say, “I’m incredibly attracted to you and it’s making it hard to stay objective about our friendship. I’m not sure I can tell the difference between you rejecting me as a significant person and rejecting me as someone you want to have in your life.” On the flip side, she never was willing to really shut down my attraction in a way that was unequivocal. She never was willing to tell me straight-out, “I’m attracted to you, but not enough and I never will be. So stop trying to impress me.” Instead she’d say, “I am attracted to you, and I’ve thought about the possibility a lot. But we live in different cities and I don’t think you’d be supportive enough.” That’s just too equivocal for me to understand what I’m being told, especially when it makes it sound more like the issue was her not understanding how supportive I am than her not being interested in a romantic relationship.

When I weigh things that way, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m healthier and happier without RT in my life. At least right now, and probably forever. Which is a hard thing to accept, given how close we had been.

But now, after over a year and the requisite distance, I can see the differences between my failed friendship with RT and my fairly successful (so far, at least) friendship with my college ex-g/f. My college ex-g/f and I are still attracted to each other, but we comfortable with that attraction without feeling like we should be dating. We also know and respect each other’s boundaries. And that regardless who else we’re seeing or how many friends we have, we each mean a lot to the other. These are all healthy things that I just never had with RT.

And when I focus on that, it’s pretty clear to me that I shouldn’t try being friends with her again. I don’t blame her for how bad our friendship turned out to be, but I’m not putting myself in that position again.

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