Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Learning to Walk Away

I have a friend -- a 20+ years friend. Ed and I  met when I worked in Rochester, my first job out of college, and have remained friends, and occasionally friends with benefits, over the years. Between the two of us, we've shared nearly 10 moves, across four sates, but somehow managed to stay in touch.

In 2004, he got married and I moved back to New York. We stayed in even closer contact, as he was hopelessly in love and we were back in the same state, hoping to actually see each other. For lots of reasons -- none that were terribly traumatic -- we never ended up meeting up. Kids, jobs, life, miles. But we emailed and we talked by phone.

Ed supported me emotionally as I dealt with infertility and adoption issues; and I was thrilled at the birth of his first his daughter and then his son.

And then as often happens, as I've seen from the outside looking in, the shine of "hopelessly in love" wears off a little. Two small children. A bigger house. And just about the time I was getting ready to leave New York for Pennsylvania, things between us turned a little strange.

And what was once just harmless flirting between two friends who had been through a lot together, didn't seem so harmless. And didn't seem like a joke.

At first, I played along. What could it hurt? I was a state and several hundred miles away. But when the conversations, the texting, the emails only included innuendo and propositions, I had to make a difficult decision to push back.

As women, we are raised to be pleasing. To not hurt feelings. To go along with things so as not to create conflict. And I think that is the mindset I had; I let it go on for months too long instead of speaking up for myself.

Finally. Finally, I did. I told him that I was not the answer to the problems in his marriage, not the antidote for his unhappiness and we needed to get back to our normal conversations.

It was a proud moment. I came through for myself. (If that sentence doesn't sound like someone who has been through years of therapy…)

And then silence. I didn't hear from him again. It hurt at first, but I had to stand my ground. And as time went on, it hurt less but angered me more.

For two years, I only heard from him with the obligatory Christmas card. And then, seemingly out of the blue, last fall, he sent me an email and apologized, he wrote that he missed his friend.

It took me a few days to respond, but when I did, I told him that I missed him as well. However I couldn't just let go what had happened. I wrote that he had been shitty to me, that a true friend wouldn't have heard the no from me and then dropped me. I expected that from some guy I met in a bar, not from someone who had been my friend since 1994.

He agreed and apologized repeatedly.

And then the weirdness started up in a different way. Emails telling me what a mess his life is (with no elaboration, even when I pressed) and that he really needed to talk to me. I gave him home, work and cell numbers, best times to call me at each, and a reply would come that he was busy with the kids that week, couldn't talk.

A week or so of silence, and then, "I really need to talk to you."

"You know how to reach me. I'm here for you."

This pattern went on for several months and finally I called a mutual friend, one who lives in the same city as Ed and has known him even longer. I hadn't spoken with Dave in easily a year, but again that was due to life and nothing major. I had once been in love with him, he had once broken my heart -- but he is a part of my story and someone I only have positive and genuine feelings for.

Dave filled me in on the background: a house of their price range, a lost job, drinking (both Ed and his wife), emotional issues (Ed's wife). It sounded like a major mess and my heart broke not only for them, but their two kids.

Dave wasn't happy that Ed was pulling me into this, especially after what had transpired between Ed and me two years earlier. When Ed sent his next round of "i need to talk to you" emails, I gave him a very specific time. Shit or get off the pot. If he really needed to speak to me so badly, then let's just do it.

The morning we were supposed to talk, he emailed me and said he was helping his daughter with a school project and couldn't talk.

I didn't respond. There was almost a month of silence and then he emailed and said his wife would be out of town with the kids in February for a week, "maybe we can talk then, or I can come visit you."

Red flag! I responded that I would be happy to talk but a visit, at this point, would be inappropriate.

His response: "Ok, I'm just going to end it all. Good bye."

I forwarded it to Dave, feeling that was really all I could do. I didn't take it seriously, he was playing emotional blackmail with me.

This past week, he emailed me asking if I had time to talk this week. I replied with some nights and times. "OK thanks…PS I miss you."

And then last night, "If I don't connect with you, sorry…I'm working to fix things."

I have put up with more than most would, I think. He has been my friend for 21 years. I felt I owed it to our friendship, but last night, when I read that, I knew that I had done all I could. I was the only one thinking about the value of our friendship.

And so I replied:

I hope you find what you need. I'm here when you want to talk but I can't take the emotional roller coaster, the push and pull you are doing to me with your emails. We don't speak for two years, and then for the last few months you seem to jerk me around telling me you'll call then you're busy then we have to talk then you have to watch the kids then you want to visit me bc your wife is going away (do you remember why we didn't speak for the last two years?!) then you threaten suicide.

No matter how angry and disappointed I was in you, I have been trying to be your friend. No matter how fucked up your life is, you need to be a better friend to me.

I will repeat that I am here when you want to talk.

My heart breaks for him. I have empathy and sympathy and compassion and can't imagine how shitty he must feel every day, given all he's been through the last two years.

But I knew I had made the right call when he wrote back. "OK good bye then."

This is not someone reaching out to a friend, this is someone who wants what he wants when he wants it and the hell with me. If he were really looking to me for help, I had given him ample opportunities. Maybe he hasn't hit rock bottom yet. I hope he will be able to figure his shit out before he does.

But at this point, I can't help him. Not the way he wants me to. Not in the way he needs me to. What he wants would just create a bigger mess in both of our lives. And I am not willing to go back. I am not willing to be "that girl" again.

I'm sorry I couldn't help you, Ed. I hope you find happiness. But now, I have to walk away.

No comments:

Post a Comment