Dear Captain Awkward,
I feel like my question is probably strange and not a little bit over-specific. But it is indicative of a larger issue I’ve been facing recently. However, some context is in order.
I grew up a diplobrat, moving from place to place ever 3 or 4 years. I therefore became accustomed to friendships lasting for about as long. I have had no friends since childhood, and most people barring family fade out of my life in a few turns ’round the sun. I am great at making new friends; although I’m probably more of a natural introvert, my lifestyle has led me to develop excellent people skills and a perfect “public face”. I’ve even turned that ability into a career in PR. I’m also the best bridge-burner you’re ever likely to meet. Friendship goes sour? Best end it now, no sense postponing the inevitable. Make a polite exit stage left, collect flowers, leave theater. Pretend friendship until curtain falls. There is no blood. I am a master of emotional control, but I only feign emotion for those I don’t respect. (Oh what a lovely cat sweater, thank you, kind neighbor. I adore it! If only I had a kitty of my own) But now I find myself in a bit of a situation.
My fiance’s best friend/roommate is a very different person from myself. As such, there is an enormous potential for misunderstanding between us. Something happened recently that brought this to a head. At fiance’s instruction, a couple weeks ago I left the front door open en route to go take a nap, so he could go out and get the mail. He decided he also fancied a snooze, so we both fell asleep. 2 hours later the roommate arrives home to discover his expensive laptop has been stolen. Fiance feels horrible (it was our faults after all) and is generally prone to letting his own remorse take over his reaction to the crisis, instead of trying to support his friend. We agree I will be the one to offer reimbursement and apologies/whatever roommate needs. Roommate objects to my “politicizing” and tells me he doesn’t want to hear it. I’ve just enough of a clue to recognize he actually *wants* the overemotional thisisallaboutmeI’msosorryI’manawfulfriendIswearitwasn’tmyfault, and since I was going to offer anything he needed I promptly put on my best “I’m the WORST FRIEND EVAR” sulk and he is appeased. But remember I don’t normally do that for people I respect enough to give the truth. But he asked me to lie to him, essentially. I’m really offended. Do my genuine reactions/personality mean so little to him he’d have me perform a task only reserved for the irrelevant? But I lie (it’s for the best, he was angry, and I’d promised to provide what he needed), and a little bit of me dies inside.
Normally, this is an excellent cue to sever proper friendship ties (not in a material hangout way, more in an emotional respect way). As it happens, it’s also right around the three-year mark, which is the duration of my experience with friendships. However, as the best friend of fiance, this is not someone so easily ditched. I don’t want to mentally demote him from Real Friends status to You Think We’re Pals But I’m Just Being Nice if he’s going to be sticking around, because not even I have the endurance to maintain that kind of bullshit for years. My other option is to “patch things up,” an experience with which I’m entirely unfamiliar. I have zero experience “patching things up” because I never was in one place long enough to have to learn. Considering how diametrically opposed our personalities are to start with, I’m not even sure if the effort is worth it or if we suffer from irreconcilable differences. I guess where I stand now is at the edge of a bridge, torch in hand, wondering whether I should drop the torch as I’ve done so often before, or if I should learn a new script from scratch. How on earth do people patch things up with others who aren’t very sympathetic in terms of personality? Can it be done at all? Will I always have to pretend? Should I just move on and make new friends because this one was insulting? But mainly, how do normal human beings overcome the rifts between them when building and burning bridges is impractical?
Your description of friendship sounds really lonely and crappy. I get that the pattern of “dump them before they dump me” developed for a reason in your childhood, but you might want to visit a therapist and get that whole ability-to-feel-feelings-and-empathize-with-other-people’s-feelings thing checked out. “I maintain perfect emotional control!” isn’t actually something to brag about. It makes you fake, and honestly, kind of scary.
What you describe here is that you & your partner did something careless and your friend’s expensive laptop (and all the contents stored on that laptop) got stolen, and even though you offered to replace it (good), your friend had some angry feelings about the whole thing (normal), and now you feel “offended” that you maybe had to offer him some empathy or deal with his negative emotions for a short period of time (NOT GOOD).
You didn’t have to totally prostrate yourself with WORST FRIEND EVAR stuff (by the way, that’s the kind of apology that makes it all about you, because it puts him in the position of having to say “No, no, you’re not“), and he didn’t “make” you have to do that. Even if he wanted some kind of catharsis, you decided to try to manipulate the situation when you could have just said “Listen, I get that you’re angry, and you have a right to be. We’re really sorry and we’ll make it up to you however we can.” Show some empathy, own your part in what happened, let the person vent a bit, then absent yourself from the apartment and let him stew. I’m also confused as to why you had to be the one to apologize, if they are roommates/best friends? Eh, bygones.
If you want to patch things up with this guy, follow through on replacing the laptop (I assume with the help/contribution of your fiance) ASAP, apologize one more time, and then give the guy a wide berth for a couple of weeks. Adjust your routine so that your partner comes to your place instead of you staying over there. Then resume normal relations. You don’t have to do anything special.
But don’t call it “friendship.”
I mean…this sentence…”Do my genuine reactions/personality mean so little to him he’d have me perform a task only reserved for the irrelevant?” gives me the chills. “The irrelevant”? What is that even? It’s like there’s this secret audition he doesn’t know he’s performing, and if he passes it he’ll become a real person to you and earn the privilege of seeing your real emotions (which by the way, sounds like a TREAT), but since he failed it he’s disappointed you and will now only get the mask. It’s his fault, you see! Not yours for turning a shitty thing that happened to him into a way he “offended” you.
If you could lose respect for someone and feel totally justified in lying to them because they display emotions in a less-than-perfectly-controlled way (and then blame them for “making” you do that), you’re not their friend. You’re just a person who is faking it until something better comes along. Seriously, get that checked out. It’s a good sign that you’re re-examining this pattern now. Eventually you’re going to want a relationship (like a marriage, for instance) that lasts longer than three years.
One of The Irrelevant