If reading about suicide and suicidal ideation would be troubling for you, stop here.
Dear Captain Awkward,
One of my closest friends from university told me that she had been in love with me for about 3 years. She also told me that she was really depressed since leaving university last summer and hated her job, and that she’d been thinking about hurting herself, and that I had been an awful friend over the past year, and that as she now knew for sure that I didn’t love her back we could never see each other again, and she was only telling me because she felt she had to, and that I couldn’t tell any of our mutual friends.
She was fairly drunk at the time, so I don’t know which bits of it to take seriously and what to do about it. Her feeling this way about me makes SO MUCH SENSE but it really hadn’t occurred to me at all before this year, and even then I hadn’t really taken the thought seriously. She had always said she was straight, and I’ve been out the whole time she’s known me. Obviously people lie about this sort of stuff for other reasons than fear of external homophobia, but I just didn’t put it together.
I don’t know what the best thing to do for her is. Should I leave her alone like she said? Or should I try to get in touch more and see how she is? I don’t want to make things any harder for her than they have to be, but I’m also slightly terrified that she’ll kill herself. I know she’s not told our mutual friends what she told me so I don’t know what sort of support system she has. I have a feeling it’s pretty non-existent. I think some of her friends from home might know at least some of it, so I got in touch with them in the first few days after I saw her in the hope that they could talk to her and see if she’s okay, but I didn’t want to tell them anything she hadn’t already told them. And I got in touch with our mutual best friend from university and told her I was worried and that she should get in touch with her, but again I couldn’t really say why. I sent her a few texts over the next few days, as she had intimated that she might hurt herself over the next few days and I was quite scared, and I did finally get a response (I think when she realised why I was texting) so I know she is alive.
The thing is, I have been a terrible friend over the past year. I’ve struggled to feel particularly friendly towards her for a couple of years. We had quite a big fight two years ago, when she asked me to do something for her and I said no. I felt completely justified at the time, but she was very hurt by my actions. I felt like she was asking way too much. It felt to me like what she wanted from me was something you might perhaps expect of a boyfriend, but not of a friend. Like I said, this makes more sense now. No matter what excuses I had at the time I do realise it was pretty heartless to refuse when she was clearly so upset. After this, we had a pretty horrible time of it. She would come and rage and cry at me in the middle of the night and I was at a loss as to what to do. I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it because (in my self-righteous eyes) she was behaving so horrendously that I didn’t want to tell anyone and make them think less of her. I didn’t even realise it was depression until what was going on came out amongst all our friends after the year had finished and one of them pointed this out. Anyway, we made a peace at the end of that year, but I didn’t have a chance to get over it really as we ended up spending quite a lot of the summer together looking for somewhere to live (we didn’t end up living together thank goodness – I really didn’t want to live with her but was terrified about what would happen if I said that), and then had to work together really closely the next year organising a club, which would have been stressful enough without all the extra baggage. I just felt like I hadn’t had any space to take a step back and deal what had happened, so when we moved apart after university it felt like the perfect opportunity for me to get some space and distance myself from the whole thing.
So we’ve seen each other a few times over the last year when mutual friends have had parties, but not met up just the two of us. She’s called me a few times, often while drunk and upset, and I did call her once or twice at the start of the year but not as often as she’s called me. And I’ve ignored pretty much all of her text messages, which I didn’t even realise I had done until she said and I checked my phone and she was right. When we have seen each other over the past year I’ve felt like she tended to monopolise my time and I didn’t like it, to the extent that I didn’t invite anyone from uni to my birthday this year in order to avoid having to invite her. That’s how awful I’ve been. I feel really bad about it, because she has clearly been feeling really depressed and alone. Now she’s said all that stuff can I change my behaviour without making her life harder?
So, yeah, I need your help. I can’t talk to any of my closest friends about what’s going on and I just feel helpless. Should I start getting in touch with her more to see if she is okay, or will that make things harder for her? Would I become the focal point of her depression even more? Should I talk to one of her friends from home about it to make sure she’s got someone looking out for her? Or could I talk to our mutual best friend from uni? And what can I say if I do talk to someone? I need to get across how depressed she is, but I have absolutely no desire to out her. I really don’t know what to do if I can’t help her directly myself.
Confused and Worried
Dear Confused and Worried:
It’s not your fault that your friend became romantically interested in you, and her current depression is in no way your fault. It’s not your fault that she held onto those feelings for years without expressing them. It’s okay that you didn’t want to live with her. It’s okay that you got annoyed at her sometimes for monopolizing your time. It’s okay that your friendship drifted because you weren’t so into it.
Also, maybe what she asked you for two years ago WAS way too much and you made the right decision about what you were willing and able to do.
She’s trying really hard to make it all your fault with her drunken FEELINGSDUMP. She wants you to leave her alone forever! She wants you to worry that she’ll kill herself and feel guilty! She wants you to keep everything secret from your mutual friends! Here you are suddenly texting her and showing an interest in her life the way she’s wanted you to all this time, except it’s super-fucked up and dramatic and secret and you have to do everything entirely on her terms.
I think when people threaten suicide you get to break their confidence about that. You get to call anyone and everyone, from family members to the local emergency services, to save someone’s life. I once had a friend threaten to kill himself if I didn’t do (x totally unreasonable and fucked up thing that I wasn’t going to do). I sent emergency services to his home. He was embarrassed and furious at me and it ended our friendship. Okay. Maybe it was a serious threat and maybe it was an attempt to manipulate me. Either way, he is alive.
If you think it will do some good, talk directly to your friend. “Friend, I want to respect your request to end contact with me, but your comments about harming yourself the other day really worried me. I must ask you to call someone – a therapist, a hotline – or even check yourself in somewhere if you feel like you are in danger of hurting yourself. Can you call someone today? Can I call someone for you?”
If she threatens suicide with you in any way again- via text, on the phone, email, whatever – find out where she is and call emergency services and send them there. If it’s a false alarm? Better than death. If she gets really angry and embarrassed? Better than death. If it’s expensive and awkward and leads to massive inconvenience? Better than death. Let the pros handle it.
Also, there is a list of hotlines in the US (and outside the US in the comments) here. I’m sure if you called one yourself and told them what’s up with your friend, they would have helpful and kind things to say. It would be good for you to talk to someone who is trained about this stuff.
I think you did a great thing by contacting mutual friends and trying your best to keep your friend’s confidence. If you feel like you need to break it in order to stop her from hurting herself, tell yourself “Really angry with me is better than really dead” and do what you have to do. A good script for her closer friends:
“Friend and I had a very awkward and painful conversation the other day where she asked to end our friendship. She asked me to keep the conversation in confidence, but I want some people close to her to know that she is extremely depressed and mentioned harming herself more than once. Can you please check on her and encourage her to get some professional help as soon as possible? I don’t want to embarrass her, but from the things she said I think we should take this really seriously. She’s asked me not to contact her, so it can’t be me.”
Once you’re no longer alone with the knowledge of her mental state, you don’t have to monitor it. If she contacts you and says something suicidal, call emergency services. If she calls you and yells at you for telling her friends how depressed she is, you can say “I can live with you being angry with me if it means that you get the care you need.”
Her pain and shame and depression are entirely real, and it must feel truly fucking horrible inside her head right now, and my heart goes out to her and to everyone who has been in that dark place. She may in fact harm herself. She may claim that it’s all your fault, if only you had (loved her back) not told mutual friends (loved her back) not called the emergency number (loved her back) she wouldn’t have done it. She may claim that something you did (telling/calling cops/not loving her back) triggered it. The humiliation of having other people know might be extremely triggering.
No matter what you do, her actions are not your fault. A suicide is a person who has gotten to the point where they are willing and motivated to commit extreme violence to themselves. Also, to say “I love you, but you don’t love me back, also I might kill myself, don’t tell anyone!” is emotional manipulation in the extreme. Frankly, it’s what stalkers do to terrify their victims and keep them engaged. If you’re still feeling unsure and guilty, think about what you’d do if your friend said “I think I might murder someone this weekend. Don’t tell anyone, though!” and you had even the smallest reasonable belief that they might do it. That would not be a confidence you are obligated to keep. You are allowed to take care of yourself around this. You are allowed to call in the cavalry. You are allowed to take her threats very seriously and take very serious action. You don’t have to fix her. You don’t have to be the kind of friend or lover to her that she wants you to be. You don’t have to give your life over the possibility that she might harm herself. Even if you were *a* therapist you wouldn’t be able to act as *her* therapist.
Based on the parts of your letter where you say that you were “terrified” of telling her you didn’t want to be roommates, I think it will ultimately be good for you that this friendship is ending and your instincts to pull away were exactly right, but that’s the long run. In the short term, you can’t be the only person who knows this secret about your friend both for your sake and for hers. Even if it *were* just for your sake, it would still be okay to tell someone.
The second poem here, by Mary Karr, is relevant to your interests.
“…More than once you asked
that I breathe into your lungs like the soprano in the opera
I loved so my ghost might inhabit you and you ingest my belief
in your otherwise-only-probable soul. I wonder does your
death feel like failure to everybody who ever
loved you as if our collective cpr stopped
too soon, the defib paddles lost charge, the corpse
punished us by never sitting up. And forgive my conviction
that every suicide’s an asshole. There is a good reason I am not
God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten.
I just wanted to say ha-ha, despite
your best efforts you are every second
alive in a hard-gnawing way for all who breathed you deeply in,
each set of lungs, those rosy implanted wings, pink balloons.
We sigh you out into air and watch you rise like rain.”
Call someone. Call everyone. Depression is treatable. Embarrassment is survivable. Awkwardness = better than death.
96 thoughts on “#361: Friendship, obsession, and depression.”
People who tell you that they are going to kill themselves are either really desperate for help and really are calling out for it OR they want your undivided attention, and it ends up being a form of emotional blackmail (“Listen to me or else…”). CA is right, if another threat is made, call the professionals in and direct them to her. If she gets angry and blustered that you did that, just point out to her that you care enough for her well-being that you recognize you came to point where you don’t have the skills to help her anymore in a good way and that’s when the help of professionals was called for.
People who tell you that they are going to kill themselves are either really desperate for help and really are calling out for it OR they want your undivided attention, and it ends up being a form of emotional blackmail
Or both, or something else, or all of the above. I remember what it’s like to be in that space, and it’s confusing and terrifying. HOWEVER. Just because it is confusing and terrifying for the person who is suicidal and/or having suicidal ideation, it doesn’t mean they aren’t also engaging in emotional abuse or blackmail at the same time. I do some hotline volunteering, and part of the training is that you somehow hold empathy for the person in question along with setting limits and not taking abuse.
LW, you personally do not have to hold empathy for your friend: you aren’t a hotline volunteer and you didn’t sign up for this! I mean, you sound very concerned, which is also fine! I just wanted to emphasize that you can be concerned and worried and scared and angry at your friend at the same time, and it’s okay. This type of stuff brings up a lot of emotions, and it’s okay to just have them. It’s okay to want to completely disengage too.
I am kind of biased because of aforementioned hotline volunteering, but—and ONLY IF you feel like engaging&mdashI’d encourage your friend to call a hotline or a counselor or someone trained for this for help when she tells you about feeling suicidal. You can always listen to her if you want, but again, it’s not your job and it’s not your responsibility. Also, if it’s really stressing you out, I’d definitely go with assembling Team You. You can also call a hotline or talk to a counselor, because a lot of times, being around a depressed and/or suicidal person brings up a LOT of stuff, and you have to take care of you before you can take care of anyone else (oxygen masks! Put your own on first!).
Dittoing everyone’s advice that it’s better to have your friend angry at you or to have things be awkward than to have your friend be dead.
I personally think it might work better if you stay out of it and get other friends and support to her side, since I have my own experiences with being depressed and making a single other person the focus of everything (not good!). I think a lot of your reactions about being terrified of being roommates with her, of wanting your own space, of feeling monopolized are your brain flashing giant warning lights. And don’t get me wrong, I feel for her a lot, and I hope things get better for her. Her emotions and problems are very real, but they’re also still hers. I’ve also been on both ends of the codependent depressive relationship where one person is the fixer and one person is the fixee, and it kind of sucks for everyone.
Also, whatever happens, you are not the person responsible for her life, even if she says you are. Giant jedi hugs to you, and seriously, take care of yourself. This is really really really hard stuff.
Yes, exactly. Either she doesn’t mean it and is just trying to provoke/guilt you into continuing some type of relationship with her, or she does mean it and what she told you was a cry for help. Either way, the best course of action is to get professionals involved. If it’s the former situation, she’ll learn very quickly that threatening self-harm leads doesn’t lead to the reaction she wants (i.e. you staying in contact with her and paying attention to her). And if it’s the latter situation, then she needs help that only professionals can give her and calling them in is the very best thing you can do for her.
I think the Captain is right, also, that threatening self-harm overrides the usual courtesy of keeping a friend’s secrets. Not only are you uniquely badly placed to be her support system right now (because you don’t want to–which is a totally valid and sufficient reason not to–and also because she has tried to make this issue about you and has said that she doesn’t want you to contact her), but also you are not in touch with her enough to actually be an effective support system for something this major. I wouldn’t broadcast it to the world, but I would tell someone you know is a close, trustworthy friend of hers, and if you know her family I would also tell a relative you know she gets along with. I would probably give her a heads up that I had done so (“Ex-Friend, what you said about hurting yourself worried me and is really serious. I know you asked me not to tell anyone, but I want to make sure someone in your life knows about this issue so I’ve let [person] know. I think you’re right that it’s best for us to disengage, but I hope that you are able to get help and heal.”) so that it doesn’t seem like you were trying to go behind her back. And then I would not respond to any further contact from her. If she sends you messages saying she’s going to self-harm, I would call professionals (if it sounds imminent) or tell the trusted friend/family member (if not).
LW, I’m sorry that you’re going through this and I’m sorry that your friend is going through this. It hurts my heart to hear it.
I just want to re-iterate that this is not your fault. I can almost hear the wheels grinding in your head figuring out what parts of her problem are your fault, because she said it’s all your fault and you must have done something, right? Wrong. If it wasn’t about you, it would be about something else. I mean, even if you were cold or callous or a bad friend or any other bad thing that you can imagine– the proper response to you being a bad friend is to no longer be your friend which is an option that was always available to her. From what you’ve said, I have an inkling that you’d have let her go gracefully and not been all, “But we’re best buds and you should stick around FOREVER while I be a bad friend to you.” So, not your fault. The only thing you could have done about her being in love with you and you not loving her back is to not encourage those feelings, which you didn’t. So, no, stop the wheels grinding. This is not your fault.
The only things you can do is to help ensure that the people who are in the best position to help her with her depression know about it. Other than that, I think you should stay out of it. If her depression is using you as a focus (and if it weren’t you, it would be someone or something else so don’t feel badly about that) then you hanging about trying to help probably isn’t going to actually help. Or at least in my case, when I was suffering from depression coupled with unrequited love, every single interaction with the object of my adoration resulted in a multi-day examination of every detail searching for signs of FEELINGS. Yeah, didn’t exactly help. You can’t love someone better no matter how much your heart is in it, and yours ain’t. That doesn’t make you heartless and it’s a good thing that you’re not in this to the point where you’re taking her emotions as your own and trying to love her better.
So, heck yeah, when someone talks about wanting to hurt themselves, then you get to break that confidence to tell their other friends or their family or a social worker or the cops or the hospital. And if they’re mad at you and don’t want to talk to you anymore, you get to walk away knowing that at least you did what you could. But you can’t save her and there’s nothing you can be or do or say to fix this for her. So tell the people you think are in the best position to help her and call a hotline or talk to a therapist who specializes in depression to see what you should/shouldn’t do. But first, tell someone. Neither you nor she should be shouldering this alone.
Quoting: “Also, maybe what she asked you for two years ago WAS way too much and you made the right decision about what you were willing and able to do.”
Just wanted to check – if one feels it’s too much, then it’s just plain too much, isn’t it? In an honoring my own feelings and learning to accept them way?
Yup. Boundaries are awesome.
Thanks! I’ve learned a lot here that helps me.
LW, I want you to keep something in mind. This isn’t an either/or situation. It isn’t “maybe she really needs help or maybe she’s manipulating me”. It could well be, in fact I would almost bet it is, “She really needs help, and she’s manipulating me”.
Let’s take everything she’s told you at face value. She’s loved you all this time, in secret. She pressured you into moving in with her, despite not having admitted to wanting any more intimate relationship with you, to the point that you felt terrified of saying no and drifted away from her after she got upset over it. Since admitting her feelings for you she has called you a bad friend, threatened to harm or kill herself and told you to get out of her life. When you have seen her, she’s monopolised your life.
Your friend does need help, but you can’t be the one to help her. Because while it feels like what she needs from you is help getting better, what she wants from you is for you to give her loads of attention and sympathy and feel guilty over something she’s convinced you was “wrong”. You cannot provide effective help personally under these circumstances, for similar reasons to why you wouldn’t ask a friend or relative to be your therapist.
Take her threats seriously. And do this by letting her other friends, family and loved ones know what she has told you, and that she needs help and support. Do everything the Captain told you – all excellent advice.
You were not a bad friend for declining her offer to move in together. She is allowed to want something from you, and you are allowed to not want to give it, especially when what she wants is something above and beyond normal friendship. You were not a bad friend. She was, when she made you feel like shit over it. This guilt is not yours to own and nurture.
It sounds like the emotional manipulation is an existing pattern in your friendship, crystallised now that the older, less extreme methods have stopped giving her the results she wants. I had an ex like that. The night we broke up he started fights with huge, known violent local thugs and got himself hospitalised, then used that to guilt me into pity sex for almost a year. Then when I stopped giving him pity sex and pity cybersex, he started threatening suicide and self harm. I believe that his emotional pain was real – but that doesn’t make it my fault.
I believe that his emotional pain was real – but that doesn’t make it my fault.
I want this tattoo’d on my forehead so I have to read it every morning in the mirror or something. Okay maybe not, but still. This is so important. Whether it’s real pain or emotional manipulation or some confluence of the two doesn’t ultimately matter.
Totally true. And, Britt, you could write it ON your mirror, thus avoiding the forehead-tattoo issue…!
On the mirror is very clever! I’m tempted to go get some of those wash off glass markers and do this, now.
I once called emergency services on a friend who had threatened suicide. It was not fun. Our relationship was rocky for a couple years after that. People rarely thank you for doing something like that; if they really were going to go through with it they’re angry that they’ve been thwarted, and if they weren’t then they’re angry that you called their bluff. In my friend’s case it was the former, but for years I didn’t know that; at the time, she made out that I’d overreacted to an innocent comment and gotten her stuck in the hospital under supervision when she didn’t need or want to be there and it was a horrible breach of confidence that I’d told anyone and now she couldn’t trust me, and so on. I was upset by this, and sometimes I wished I hadn’t done it, but I kept telling myself that it was better to react as though she was serious when she wasn’t than the other way around.
When she was finally in a better place mentally/emotionally, we were able to talk about it and now we’re friends again, and I am so, so glad that I did call 911 then, especially now that I know that she really might be dead now if someone hadn’t done that. Since your friendship seems like it’s been on the rocks for a while, you may not patch things up with your friend as I did (having read this letter, I think it would be totally understandable if you didn’t want to), but like the Captain says, awkwardness is better than death.
Which is all to say that I absolutely agree with the Captain that this is not a secret you have to keep. I called a hotline myself. I told a couple of mutual friends in a “hey, could you keep an eye on so-and-so, I’m worried about her” way. I also vented about the horribleness and stress of the situation–privately and without naming names or giving details–to a couple of close friends who didn’t know the person in question (mostly people I was in contact with via the internet who didn’t live nearby and were unlikely to ever meet her), because that was something I needed to do for my own mental health.
TL;DR: This kind of thing is always awful to have to deal with. You don’t have to do it alone.
Nthing the recommendation to talk to someone, or better yet someones, about her suicide threat. An ex-boyfriend threatened suicide a bunch of times. Most of the times I didn’t know where he was so I couldn’t call emergency services, but the last time I tracked him down at his new gf’s house and called the local police. He was angry as hell when the cops showed up – because he was, once again, faking to try to get me back under his control. But it relieved my conscience – and, if he had been serious, it could have saved his life.
Just do it, even if it makes her angry. It’s better for both of you.
A number of years ago, I had a trainwreck of a relationship that ended very messily; I went on to a relationship with the wonderful man I would havein. He a child with. The ex took this very hard and took to drunkenly phoning me in the middle of the night to tell me how terribly depressed he was and it was all my fault he was in this state and how he didn’t know how he could go on living in this state.
He and I were both working for London Underground at the time – I was Line Controller on the District Line whilst he was a train driver on the Bakerloo Line. I decided to take his statements at face value and spoke to my line manager who agreed that whether E was serious or not, evidently he had some pretty serious problems that were not actually my problem directly. My line manager called his counterpart on the Bakerloo and they had E pulled off the trains, because you really don’t want someone who claims to be suicidal and with an obvious alcohol problem driving a train carrying thousands of passengers.
Occupational Health got called in, there were psych evaluations and referrals to alcohol counselling services. It was a good 6 months before he was allowed near the front of a train again. He never forgave me and he never called me again. But at least he didn’t cause himself or anyone else any harm, he’s still alive to resent me – and he doesn’t bug me any more. I’ve never doubted I did the right thing.
LW, she may never forgive you and resent you for telling others – but at least she’ll still be alive to do it. And it sounds like bowing out of this messed up friendship will be what is best for the both of you.
One thing about this story makes me incredibly happy, and that is the fact that his employer didn’t just fire him and toss him out on his ear to make his own way, but that he got the help he needed, and it sounds like eventually wound up back in his job. So he did not lose his livelihood over this. In the US it probably wouldn’t happen that way. I really envy you your country that has institutions that give a shit about citizens in that way.
“In the US it probably wouldn’t happen that way.”
In my experience, at least for government employees, it seems you get never ending allowances into rehabilitation health centers and keep your job, meanwhile the rest of us have to do their work and not get paid extra for doing so. In theory it’s humane but if that person is determined to drink himself into functional oblivion regardless of the upteenth rehab and end up getting 3 feet of his small intestine removed while still getting paid for the work he’s not doing, well, it can harden the hearts.
Are you seriously complaining because your workplace has ways to let depressed people get help without losing their job?
Ugh. Are you a libertarian?
Have you heard of this thing called society, embodied by the state, where people should look after each other? For mutual BENEFIT at the very least, if selfishness is the only language you speak.
He is not getting paid for the job he’s not doing. He’s on paid leave. A substitute should be hired; if there is no substitute hired the problem here lies with management, not with the worker who is ill and has addiction problems. Go on strike or something.
*Sniff, sniff* Am I smelling the smoke of a burning martyr? You know what Ika? How about instead of angrily nursing your resentment about the support received by your sick colleague, you instead do what the Captain so often advocates and use your words to talk to your employer about your needs (which may or may not be the result of the absence of your colleague).
Oh, also. I’m sorry arkadyrose, I didn’t mean to sound dismissive of you or your situation there, and I hope I didn’t. I think you sound awesome and you did the right thing. Even in the US this probably would have been the right thing… I’m just happy it ended well for everyone.
*I’ve felt like she tended to monopolise my time and I didn’t like it, to the extent that I didn’t invite anyone from uni to my birthday this year in order to avoid having to invite her. That’s how awful I’ve been.*
That’s not awful. If you’d invited other people but not her? Still not awful. If you’d dedicated a portion of the evening to a party game centred around mocking her and putting her down behind her back, *that’s* awful. But I doubt you did this, because what you’ve written here suggests to me that you’re not awful, at all. That you were friends with someone who, for whatever reason, you came not to like being around all that much. You didn’t intentionally pull the slow fade, you just didn’t prioritise her highly because… she wasn’t a high priority for you. Them’s the breaks, and you have every right to set your priorities in your life as you choose. You don’t owe her your love – or any more affection than you naturally feel. And yeah, the fact that you were worried about her reaction if you said something as innocuous as “I don’t think we’d be a good fit for living together”? Red flag.
Do what you need to to secure her safety and get your own closure – do “tell on her” to others, her safety’s more important than you being a good ex-friend.
And try to adjust to the idea that now she’s just somebody that you used to know. That can take some getting used to sometimes.
*I’ve felt like she tended to monopolise my time and I didn’t like it, to the extent that I didn’t invite anyone from uni to my birthday this year in order to avoid having to invite her. That’s how awful I’ve been.*
I’d like to replace the last “I” with “she”. Cos if she’s been acting in a way that made you not invite anyone from uni (!) means she’s been acting in some seriously messed up ways.
This, oh, so much this.
LW, you do not owe anybody affection, friendship, or sex, and the idea that you do is some straight-up patriarchal indoctrination that is nigh on impossible to shake completely. Because people shouldn’t have to be unhappy, and people want to be with you (and isn’t that a compliment, really) and not being with you makes them unhappy, and isn’t it unfair to deny that. It sounds like you’ve shook that enough to assert your boundaries, but not enough to not feel bad about it. You deserve to only have relationships/friendships with people who make you happy.
There is no end to blackmail – it just goes on and the price gets higher.
Get her family to act, now. Only a parent or a spouse can make decisions for someone else, and you are neither.
If you must continue this conversation with her, tell her that while you like and respect her, she’s not your problem to fix or your child to protect. Tell her that you respect her adult judgement regarding her own life and well-being and that that is her responsibility alone, not yours.
Tell her that If she wants your help she should ask for it and not try to coerce or blackmail you into rescuing her. Putting the blame and guilt on you is a hostile act, not something a friend would do. Holding you accountable for not responding to her unexpressed thoughts is all very romantic, but terribly unfair and very hostile. Friends talk.
I think she stopped being your friend a long time ago.
LW, I think the Captain has given great advice, but I want to emphasize something here:
You don’t have to be friends with anyone. You are allowed to end a friendship at any time for any reason or no reason. What I got from your letter is that, basically, you have a long history with this person and that makes you feel guilty for not wanting to be her friend anymore, but you don’t want to be her friend anymore. You haven’t liked her or enjoyed her company for a few years, you avoid situations where you have to see her, and you don’t call/text her back. That all says to me that you don’t want to be her friend, and that’s okay.
It really sucks that the end of this friendship is being accompanied by her trying to dump all her depression and self-harm on you. You shouldn’t have to carry all that. But I just want to say, among all the other things the Captain has said, you can give yourself permission not to like this person. You can give yourself permission to feel relieved that she’s ending your friendship. Not liking someone doesn’t make you a bad person, even if the person you don’t like is hurting. You don’t have to feel guilty about that.
Do all the things the Captain said. Find someone to share the burden of your ex-friend’s FEELINGSDUMP so it’s not all on you. Then allow yourself to be free of this relationship.
I think it’s easy to talk yourself into friendships you don’t want with people who are hurting, especially via guilt–“if I was a better friend, this person would be okay.” For one thing, in my experience this isn’t true. In my experience, most of the time, people who are emotionally manipulative in the way of saying, “You are the reason my life is awful, so you have to be a better friend/lover/whatever to make me stop hurting” will always step up the requirements. You can never be good enough to “make” them stop hurting (as if that were something under your control!). There will always be something else that you aren’t doing, or need to do, or did wrong, and now it’s all your fault again.
BUT. Even if that weren’t the case, you still wouldn’t be obligated to be this person’s friend, if you didn’t want to. It is not fair and not right for someone to make their happiness contingent on the compliance of someone else. It doesn’t matter if the relationship is romantic (“You have to love me enough or I’ll never be happy again”) or friendly (“You have to be this kind of friend or I’ll never be happy again.”) That’s not a reasonable thing for someone to ask–and it’s not a kind thing for a friend to ask, either.
The standard metaphor here is a cup with no bottom, or with a hole in the bottom – the person keeps saying ‘fill me!’, but pouring water in doesn’t work, and regardless of how stingy you’re being with the water, the problem isn’t with you, it’s a structural issue with them.
I love this metaphor! It so perfectly captures this sort of situation!
>Not liking someone doesn’t make you a bad person, even if the person you don’t like is hurting.
Also, even if you love someone to the core of your soul yet you’re not able to be what they say they need, that doesn’t make you a bad person, even if the person you love is hurting. This letter hits so close to home. Being told you’re an awful friend or not a friend at all feels brutal, I know, but you being an awful friend is not what is going here, not at all. LW, you do not need to get in touch more to see if she’s okay. There may be no level of ‘more’ that would be enough, no matter what she says, and that doesn’t make you a bad person. Do let the people in her life who need to know, know about the suicide ideation. (Outing her is not necessary for that.)
/Also, even if you love someone to the core of your soul yet you’re not able to be what they say they need, that doesn’t make you a bad person, even if the person you love is hurting. /
This is gigantic, and I think also easy to overlook. Being able to clearly articulate what you need is hugely important, positive, and a good thing to learn to do. But it doesn’t guarantee that you will get it. When someone tells a friend (or family member, or lover, or whatever), “I really need X from you,” the other person may very well say, “I can’t do X.”
And that doesn’t make them bad people. It may mean that the relationship has to change hugely. It may even mean that the relationship is over. But a person can’t say, “I really need X from you, and by the way you can’t say no.” That’s basically denying you the right to have boundaries. They can say, “Well, X is non-negotiable,” and end the relationship, but they can’t force someone to give them X (whether X is time, attention, a particular type of interaction, whatever).
I think this is easy to overlook because it’s so tempting to think that if we just interact in the right way, if we just find the right words and communicate clearly and listen with empathy and all that (all of which is good stuff, don’t get me wrong), that there will never be relationship-breaking problems. But sometimes everyone involved can mean well and care about one another and communicate well and listen compassionately, and it still boils down to one person needs X, and the other person can’t promise X. Sometimes it’s not a communication conflict. Sometimes it’s a needs conflict. And it doesn’t make it your fault if you’re the one who can’t give the needed thing.
If someone says, “I need X,” and you say “I can’t give you X” and they respond with rage, guilt-tripping, and/or threats, that’s a huge red flag. It means that they don’t respect your boundaries, fundamentally. It’s okay if they really do need X and have to end the relationship. It’s not okay to try to push you into overstepping your own boundaries.
“The thing is, I have been a terrible friend over the past year. I’ve struggled to feel particularly friendly towards her for a couple of years.”
That phrase right there is the way she has already started messing with your mind. Friends are not guaranteed, if you act like a jerk than a friend has the right to back off. I am sorry, I am sure that she has an awesome side and you two have some great memories. However, she has a pattern of getting pushy, drunken calls, blaming and hiding something really serious. Now, when you are moving on, she calls and dumps a giant pile of emotional TNT in your lap and it is all “your fault???”
People struggling with mental illness or depression tend to be like a drowning victim. They will take other lifesaving people down with them. They may not even see it. Whether or not your friend is seriously thinking about hurting herself, she has already made a choice to hurt you and make you obsess about every interaction for the last couple of years. That is not the action of a friend. Sorry if I sound angry but I had that manipulative crap pulled on my by “a friend” for almost 2 years. I fell for it bad. I was the only one they could talk to, the only one who could save them, etc. I was the one who ended up chasing away good friends, and a good GPA, etc. trying to rescue someone.
The best thing for you and for your friend is to tell everyone what she said and to refer her for professional help. No one can stop someone who is seriously that deep in pain by being a friend. That is why professionals go to school for 6-9 years. Plus you will go forward with a sense of doing what you could without the 2 years of emotional game playing. Good Luck!
LW, I want to touch on something you say a few times in your post–that you were a horrible person/a horrible friend for not being the kind of friend this person wanted. Or for stepping back the friendship when she started to make you uncomfortable.
I’ve been in that situation, so I know how real those feelings are, but I want to tell you that it’s just not true. You aren’t a bad friend for failing to do and be exactly what your friend wanted. You aren’t a bad friend for being creeped out by demands, manipulation, and pressure. You set boundaries, and that’s good and healthy! When someone is making demands of you and then subjecting you to late-night rage-storms (plural, ye gods) when you don’t do what they want, distancing yourself isn’t heartless or awful–it’s a good thing to do for yourself. It’s a good response.
You are allowed to decide what favors you want to do, who you want to live with, whether you want to put up with drunk FEELINGSCALLS, and how much time you want to spend with people. You say “When we have seen each other over the past year I’ve felt like she tended to monopolise my time and I didn’t like it, to the extent that I didn’t invite anyone from uni to my birthday this year in order to avoid having to invite her. That’s how awful I’ve been.”–but I don’t see ‘awful’ at all. I see maybe scared, maybe sad, I don’t want to impute emotions to you–but if you can’t see your other friends because of the potential fallout, that’s not because you’re awful, that’s because you’re being manipulated and emotionally held hostage.
And that’s not your fault. It’s not your fault, it’s just not. You aren’t responsible for her expectations of you. You have your own life to live; you can’t bend it around what she wants from you. Don’t blame yourself for maintaining your boundaries.
This, so much. I felt so sad to read all the not-awful “I am so awful!” parts of that message…
For some reason, people tend to analyze breakdowns of platonic friendships and romantic/sexual relationships very differently. I’m not sure why.
It sounds to me like you had a good platonic friendship, but for whatever non-specific reasons you started not feeling it so much anymore. Which happens in platonic relationships just as much as romantic/sexual relationships, without either person having Profoundly Changed or become a bad, selfish person; people grow apart. But because it seems weird and unduly hurtful sometimes to formalize a breakup and make a big deal of “I don’t want to be your friend anymore” when it’s “just” a platonic friendship (so keeping this one does not affect your availability for other ones), and perhaps because you did sometimes enjoy her company, you didn’t make that break. You made yourself act like more of a friend than you felt like in your heart, which probably felt bad and hypocritical, even though the reason you were doing it was (mostly) to spare her feelings (and probably to spare yourself drama and guilt).
The problem is, precisely as you were perfectly legitimately wanting less from her, she was progressively wanting more from you. But she didn’t just say so. She does not deserve condemnation for that — I imagine for someone strongly self-identified as “straight,” fighting sexual attraction for your same-sex friend and reassessing what you think you know about yourself and your sexual identity would be traumatic and painful. But neither do you deserve to feel lousy for not knowing what she not only was not telling you but was probably actively hiding from you as she struggled to figure herself out.
So she engaged in some testing behavior — things like asking for a Really Big Favor and then getting pissed off/upset when it is not granted as a right is kind of classic testing behavior. Trying to determine her value to you, but doing it in a way that was almost doomed to hurt her because the Favor really was unreasonably big, especially when from your side it was without context. Showing up drunk and kind of ranting at you but never disclosing the Big Issue. As she struggled with her identity and self-worth she tumbled into depression, and in her mind that’s all snarled up with her feelings about you because they were all swirling around her head at the same time.
Meanwhile, from your side, her “friendship” was feeling less and less pleasant and healthy. You were friends mostly because you had been friends in the past, not because the quality of your interactions at the time was something you would have made her your friend on the basis of. The more messed up she has gotten, the more your role in her life has been based on guilt (and artful manipulation).
The problem is, platonic friendships don’t work well when one of the people is only in them out of fear, guilt, and remembered affection any more than romantic/sexual ones do. What she wants from you is not something you have to offer her. Which means that the absolute best thing you can do for her is help her transfer her affections and relationship energy to ones that are more likely to nurture her. Absolutely, do what Captain Awkward advised: engage the rest of Team Her, alert them to your concerns (though her gender identity issues and crush on you do not seem like your tidbits to share), and generally do what you can to see her into their nurturing arms — but let them be the ones who see her through this crisis.
And try to cut yourself some slack. You’re judging your actions back then based on what you know now. But the whole point is you didn’t know it then! You had a right to be an ordinary, flawed person trying to find your place in the world just, bumbling about a little and being more focused on your own affairs than on hers! Don’t buy into her retelling of the story where you are a horrible person for not being what she wanted/”needed” you to be, especially when you had no way to know what was going on behind the scenes. Having compassion for the hard times she’s going through does not require buying to that narrative.
What an excellent insight into platonic vs romantic friendships. Sometimes we need to say, “I can’t be friends with you anymore” because otherwise the relationship is assumed endless.
Your comments are always both so deeply understanding and compationate! Can I be your fan-girl?
oh man I like this comment so much. I also want to draw out another fact that’s true about both romantic and platonic relationships: sometimes two people who really genuinely care about each other are still better off if they’re not in a relationship together.
LW, despite often feeling like you need to withdraw from her, you clearly care about your friend and want to do what’s best for her. What is best for her (beyond getting the help she needs so that she will not commit suicide) is for you to not be in her life. She needs to get over you and move on, and she on some level realizes that in order to do that, she needs to not have you in her life anymore, but you’ve been so central to her life for so long now that she’s scared of letting that happen. The nicest thing that you can do for her is cut the ties that she on some level realizes needs to be cut.
She probably won’t ever thank you for doing so, and she might even think of you as a bad person forever more. But you’re not a bad person. Helping her to move on is the kindest thing you can do.
Of course none of this matters, because you need to do what is right for you, regardless of her feelings on the subject. A chorus of commenters have made this point quite eloquently. It’s just that you happen to be in a situation where what’s right for you and what’s right for her are the same thing.
The Captain is spot on, please take her advice LW and jedi hugs to you if you want them!
I just wanted to add that this part of the letter broke my heart:
“Then we have seen each other over the past year I’ve felt like she tended to monopolise my time and I didn’t like it, to the extent that I didn’t invite anyone from uni to my birthday this year in order to avoid having to invite her. That’s how awful I’ve been.”
You are not awful for not wanting to invite someone to your birthday party! It seems awful to me that your friend would apparently guilt trip you so hard that you feel like you can’t invite anyone from the social group your share to your own party. This part just made my heart hurt for you LW, this isn’t how friendship should work.
Can I just point out, LW, that you do not feel safe with this woman? You were terrified about what would happen if you told her you didn’t want to live with her. Terrified is not a light word, and it’s definitely not a light emotion. And that was, what, two years ago? You have not felt safe with this woman for years. You have not been a ‘terrible friend over the past year.’ You have been harassed by someone who makes you terrified. Don’t dismiss this idea simply because you never straight out told her ‘stop contacting me’; you told her by not responding to a single one of her texts, for a year, by not inviting her places, by trying to get away from her whenever you were around her and she monopolized you. If she were a dude who was taller and bigger and stronger than you, what would you call him?
As the captain said: Call that mutual friend back, and tell the mutual friend exactly what happened. Call several other mutual friends; consider calling a family member of hers, if you know how to get in touch with them. Your harasser has upped the ante to violence. Tell people. Tell your people, tell her people, and tell the police if she contacts you again.
You know, even IF you somehow had a responsibility to love back anyone who loved you, which you so absolutely do not do, someone who is well-adjusted is not going to react to unrequited love by actually seriously wanting to die. Ergo, not your fault. This is absolutely your friend’s problem. A very real problem, quite likely, and you’re a very good person for recognising that and wanting to help her even though she’s announced the end of your friendship instead of going into denial as many people would do, but nothing you did caused this. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Know that, recognise that, and do what you need to do to keep her safe – tell mutual friends that she’s having trouble and if she makes any immediate threats, call emergency services.
LW, I feel for you so much. I think the Captain’s advice is spot on.
I want to share my own perspective, because the LW’s friend’s situation is a little like my situation earlier this year. (My situation was less extreme, but otherwise similar.) I was hugely in love with my close friend and housemate, who I’ll call Tom, but then I did something that crossed the line (a declaration of my feelings in a text that made him extremely uncomfortable in a way that I didn’t expect) and our friendship fell apart. I was extremely depressed, angry and miserable for months, and could barely cope. I self-harmed and never told anyone, though I did luckily have one friend I could talk to about my feelings for this guy. But the thing is, it wasn’t Tom’s fault that I felt that way. He was asserting his boundaries and had every right to do so, even if I couldn’t see it at the time. It was my responsibility to deal with my emotions, and my untreated depression, separately from him. I think it would have actually made me feel worse if the situation had been different and he’d tried to help me, perhaps if I’d used my depression and self-harm as weapons to get him helping me, because my feelings for him and my continuing hope that he might develop feelings in return would have coloured every interaction we had and made me go backwards emotionally, if that makes sense.
You haven’t been awful to her. Her feelings are not your fault. Help her in the indirect ways the Captain suggests, and don’t feel guilty that you are not devoting your life to trying to fix her. Her behaviour towards you has shown that this would probably do her more harm than good.
I mostly agree with CA about the suicide stuff so I’m going to focus instead on the part of your letter that really stood out to me.
YOU ARE NOT A TERRIBLE FRIEND.
You may not have been the friend (lover) she wanted. You may not have called as often as she would have liked. You may have refused to do a (unreasonable) favour for her. None of these, or any of the other things you mentioned in your letter, make you a terrible friend. You obviously care about her. You want her to be safe. You want her to be happy.
Everything you describe as proof of your terribleness sounds to me more like you were protecting yourself. There was something off about the favour so you refused to do it. Do you really think that just because she got upset you made the wrong choice? Do you really think it would change how things are now? You were protecting yourself when you gave yourself space and time away from her. Don’t second guess that instinct now. She’s made you feel guilty with her FEELINGSDUMP but at any time she could have called and said, calmly and rationally, that she missed you and would like to make time to meet up just the two of you.
In fact, rereading your letter, I’m going to go ahead and say I think she’s the terrible friend. You can’t tell her you don’t want to live with her because you were ‘terrified’ of her reaction? She sends you a bunch of texts and makes you feel bad about not answering them but did you really ignore them or were they just not the sort of texts that you’d usually reply to? Of course there’s also the big one of making you solely responsible for her well-being, physical and mental. That isn’t your job and she shouldn’t be making you feel like it is.
Focus on the friends that have actually shown that they care about you. Follow the Captain’s advice about what to do if she threatens to hurt herself again but other than that I strongly feel like you don’t need this person in your life anymore.
“When we have seen each other over the past year I’ve felt like she tended to monopolise my time and I didn’t like it, to the extent that I didn’t invite anyone from uni to my birthday this year in order to avoid having to invite her. That’s how awful I’ve been.”
NOPE. That’s how awful *she’s* been. That’s not on you, friend. You wanted to avoid her so much that you didn’t invite anyone from Uni to your birthday. That’s huge! Do what you have to do to feel you’ve done right, but after that, continue moving away from this person.
I feel so much empathy for the LW, and I am so sorry that you are going through this. I feel like in your letter what you are saying in summary is “She wants all these things from me, and threatened me with some really upsetting things! Shouldn’t I just give those things to her? How can I just give her those things?! I want to help her.”
And if it were a case of I AM STARVING AND I MIGHT DIE or I AM COLD AND I MIGHT DIE, then Yes yes! Just give her those things! Food and warmth are easy, and if she didn’t want a turkey sandwich or hates that maroon blanket OH WELL. She isn’t dead, problem solved!
But she isn’t asking you to fix food or warmth. She’s asking you to give her FEELINGS and RELATIONSHIPS and those aren’t all interchangeable like foods are. Any old FEELINGS isn’t going to work like any old FOOD would fix starving. And you have a relationship already, one you were okay with but now you come to find she very much isn’t. Relationships are not like Legos where you just swap the right sized one in for the one that isn’t working. And because there are SO MANY ways/kinds/correct relationships and feelings out there, you have no way of even knowing what exactly she wants or needs in her life, much less if you can give that to her to help her. There kinda isn’t a way to ask a “Hey, I know you’re starving, and whatever food you want, I’ll buy it for you” but swap that out with FEELINGS that isn’t disingenuous and probably harmful to one or both of you.
And it super sucks that she’s in a terrible place in her life, and you wanting to help, even though it would be unpleasant for you, is super nice of you. Above and beyond. But I think you should be super careful about your expectations about what you *can* do, what is reasonable and on that I second the captain’s advice, especially this bit:
“If you’re still feeling unsure and guilty, think about what you’d do if your friend said “I think I might murder someone this weekend. Don’t tell anyone, though!” and you had even the smallest reasonable belief that they might do it. That would not be a confidence you are obligated to keep. ”
It’s time to call in the cavalry! Maybe a low-key trumpeting, maybe a emergency services, maybe asking everyone in her vicinity to check on her every day, lot’s of options! But please don’t feel like this is your fault, that you could have stopped it, or that it’s up to you to fix it.
Hey, LW. I just wanted to say that you don’t have to be awful, just because your friend feels bad. She’s clearly been having feelings at you for a long time. And even if you didn’t consciously know, on some level, you’ve recognised that this person is not a good friend for you. So when she asked you to do that massively boyfriendy thing and you said no? That doesn’t make you a bad person, because maybe she was secretly trying to shove you into that role, and you rightfully balked.
I can almost guarantee that if you had done that thing,or if you had lived with her, or if you had been in touch with her as much as she liked, you’d now be on the hook with her for leading her on. Because the problem here isn’t what you have of haven’t been doing. Her problem is how you don’t feel.
You haven’t been awful, you’ve been subconsciously protecting yourself and trying to create distance from someone who wanted too many things from you and has too many feelings for friendship.
I lived with someone who for about 4 months of our roommating was clearly obsessed with me, completely emotionally and socially dependent on me, and potentially in love with me (though she never said that). It took me a long time to understand her behavior as stalkery and abusive because a lot of the scripts were flipped. Instead of losing her temper and saying “you’re worthless, you can’t do anything right, what would you do without me,” she would lose her temper and say “I’m worthless, I can’t do anything right, what would I do without you.” Instead of “nobody will ever love you like I do” it was “why would anyone like me, you’re the only one who gets me.” But the outcome was the same– I was terrified to go home and terrified to not go home, walking on eggshells, focussed on appeasing her first and foremost.
It’s so hard when you can see how hurt your abuser/stalker/harasser is. But you have to take care of yourself too. I think the Awkwardeers are right on– alert mutual friends/authorities, set other people in motion in compassionate and caring ways. Then give yourself permission to be angry and sad and wounded and traumatized and all the things you would otherwise feel if someone used some of your most intimate and trusting moments to make you feel like a malicious person for daring to assert the right to define what your relationships and friendships look like. You deserve that. You deserve to be safe within all your relationships.
LW, I just wanted to chime in as someone who was on the other side of a relationship very much like this, where I was the manipulator, the one with FEELINGS, the one with a crush and self harm and suicidal thoughts. I want you to know that there is nothing you can do or say to fill that yawning chasm she almost certainly has inside her.
It can be fixed and she can be better but that is not your responsibility. I got better with drugs and therapy and boundaries, not because I found someone who could love me enough to fill the emptiness and cover my naked horror of being alone.
If you can contact/rally Team Her, that would be awesome and she will hopefully be able to appreciate it in a few years. Other than that, allow yourself to fade from her life, for your safety and comfort.
Brave of you to say, and glad you came through it.
Thank you! Borderline Personality Disorder – not as fun as Angelina Jolie makes it look.
Joking aside, I thought it would be good to let the LW know that the fade is for her friend’s benefit as well.
At the time, I screamed and wailed and poked that wound every day, even while I was taking steps to stop seeing the person. I knew it was a good idea to not be around them but I hated the idea that they knew that too. They had done a lot of fucked up things too but it’s only really now that I can see how awful it must have been to watch someone they cared about try to pull themselves to pieces and how difficult it must have been to make their own decision to stop trying to fix it.
The belief you can love someone back to health is as strong as the belief you can be loved back to health. And they’re both false.
Jesus, you poor thing. This is a horrible situation to be put in.
I think The Captain and the other commenters have pretty much got this, but I do just want to point out one thing. You say she told you she was only throwing all this at you because she “felt she had to.”
Here’s the thing: no. She may very well have *felt* she had to. But she didn’t. It was her choice to try to make all her problems your fault, and to try to drag you down with her. She has the right to feel however she feels, and if she blames you for her feelings, well, she’s allowed to do that too. What she doesn’t have the right to do is tell you about it, or demand that you take responsibility for how she feels or what she does.
Also, I’m not going to say that anyone who treats you like this obviously doesn’t love you, because that’s not true. Love can be destructive. What I would say is that if you needed any more proof that whatever love she feels isn’t a love that could possibly do either of you any good, this is it. Love that leads you to manipulate and abuse the person you love, that’s a love that needs to be run away from like the proverbial house of bees.
It’s possible that she’s just fixated on what she feels for you as the cause of all her problems, because that’s easier. It’s also possible that she’s really in love with you. It doesn’t matter which. What she feels about you isn’t your responsibility, and isn’t your fault.
I think you’ve tried desperately hard to be a good friend, and she’s taken everything you gave until you have nothing left to give. It’s okay for you to not to have anything left, and to acknowledge it and try to disengage yourself from a relationship that is only going to make both of you more unhappy.
Please don’t feel like this situation is your job to fix, or that you have to do it alone. By all means do what you can to make sure she’s safe, but first and above all, try to make sure that you are.
Yes, I could not get through the Letter without going “AAAAAAA THIS ‘FRIENDSHIP’ IS FULL OF BEEEEEEEEEES” because what this ‘friend’ is doing is totally Not OK.
If, in order to say ‘someone held a gun to my head, so I HAD to tell you’, someone has to hold the gun to their own head, it doesn’t really count. They’ve made the choice to artificially limit their choices, no matter how it seems to them, and their choice does not obligate you.
What I would say is that if you needed any more proof that whatever love she feels isn’t a love that could possibly do either of you any good, this is it.
This is so insightful. Like, write-it-on-my-mirror kind of insightful.
LW, her doing this to you, her telling you she was in love with you, her telling you that she’s thinking of harming herself, this entire breakdown of the friendship…is something that happened to you, too. So you are allowed to talk about it.
Particularly when you’re being put in a situation in which you have no good choices, or when, in the way she’s set this up, you can only possibly do the wrong thing, you have a perfect right to talk to people to try to get help both for her and for yourself.
She doesn’t get to co-opt your life this way. There are things that it’s basic common decency to hold in perfect confidence if someone asks you to. This isn’t one. This whole situation *belongs to you, too*, and you deserve to have support.
Oh, LW. This is really close to home for me because I have been a Friend In Love with someone who was not a bad friend, but also did not return my feelings, and who is good-hearted but emotionally clumsy. I experienced a lot of hurt because of it (partly because I went about EVERYTHING the wrong way, and was manipulative and shitty and for some reason that never works out well for friendships, GO FIGURE), but it was absolutely not my friend’s fault in any way.
You have absolutely NOT been a terrible friend. You have been operating on the information that you had, and even if she had told you earlier, or you had figured it out some other way, she would not have been entitled to anything more than you were willing to give. It sounds like SHE has been a terrible friend to YOU, pushing your boundaries and getting angry at you when you enforce them. That isn’t okay. It would probably be sad but okay if she’d said something like “I have secretly been in love with you for a long time, which I guess explains some of the shitty things I’ve done over the past few years — I’m so sorry about [incident]. I think for sanity’s sake I need some space from you so I can move on. Let’s be out of contact for a while? Maybe a long while?” Instead she seems to be saying “I never want to see you again, I hate that you don’t love me back! BUT YOU’RE GOING TO FIGHT FOR ME, RIGHT? Because maybe you secretly love me in your heart of hearts? Oh, and here is a reason you have to fight for me: I’m threatening suicide.” It is a way for her to get you to give her attention so she can feed her obsession with you.
I agree with all the Captain’s advice, and would like to also say that IF SHE HURTS OR KILLS HERSELF, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Even if, immediately after email this letter, you said “Fuck this!” and went on a two-month-long vacation to the moon and didn’t tell anyone, it would STILL not be your fault, because YOU CAN’T CONTROL OTHER PEOPLE’S ACTIONS. But you sound like the kind of person who worries about things like this. You sound like someone who is a wonderful friend. Don’t be afraid to tell people that she needs help and she is threatening suicide, and try not to blame yourself for her actions. And in the meantime, have ALL THE JEDI HUGS.
“I have been a Friend In Love with someone who was not a bad friend, but also did not return my feelings, and who is good-hearted but emotionally clumsy”
Just realized this sounds really blamey, like there is a fabulous right way to react to this sort of situation. There is not. I would not have done any better had the situation been reversed.
LW, I want to pull some quotes from your letter:
“I’ve struggled to feel particularly friendly towards her for a couple of years.”
“I felt like she was asking way too much.”
“I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it because…she was behaving so horrendously that I didn’t want to tell anyone and make them think less of her.”
“I really didn’t want to live with her”
“had to work together”
“I’ve ignored pretty much all of her text messages”
“she tended to monopolise my time and I didn’t like it”
Are you sure you were/are friends? You may have noticed the Captain saying two things: 1. Not everyone will like you (which has its corollary in “You will not like everyone”) and 2. People who like you will act like they like you (which has its corollary in “When you like people, you will find yourself acting like you like them”). It is okay if you did not and do not really want to be friends with this person. I think your behavior and your thinking (at least as expressed in your letter) are pointing to the fact that, at the very least, you have not liked this person in some time. That is okay!
I was (and still sometimes am, when I get in a bad way) terribly clingy and passive-aggressive and depressed in high school and college. You know who was and is responsible for my emotions and actions? ME. It has always been ME. And now (having learned through therapy and books about psychology) blaming my depressed feelings on someone else (“she’s been ignoring me! he didn’t react the way I wanted him to! how could they not do that thing I asked them to do?!”) is a giant blaring warning sign to me saying “WARNING: ENTERING DEPRESSIVE EPISODE. PLEASE CHECK REALITY. AND GET THEE TO A THERAPIST.” Seriously. So you? Not to blame. The world looks really different from inside depression, but people open and grow in their own time. You can’t do her emotional work for her, and you would make YOURSELF miserable trying. It took me a lot of repeating my bad patterns and having everything blow up in my face in identical awful ways for me to finally open up to it and learn.
So yeah – if you can contact someone who is close to her (if those other college friends are distant, they are probably not your best bet, because by telling them about her threats, you are asking someone else to become a support person because HER FEELINGS and not because they want to be there with her), do it. Then keep living your life.
AS A SIDE NOTE:
“I do realise it was pretty heartless to refuse when she was clearly so upset.”
That right there is fucked up, ok? We are not required to give into other people’s requests merely because they are upset. “It was so heartless of me to refuse to do it, just because I didn’t want to.” |-> “I was so heartless to refuse to have sex with hir, just because I didn’t want to.” See how these ideologies are intertwined? I don’t know what she asked of you, but you seem like a pretty reasonable person, and I think from your letter you probably err on the side of giving too much. You do not have to give more of your time/energy/effort/body than you want to, to any person for any reason.
BOTH comments were eaten. But here you are!
Thanks Captain! I saw that the second comment got eaten too, but had forgotten to copy it also and decided to adopt the Zen philosophy below and go “eh” and do something else. Thanks for fishing it out!
I had a brief friendship with a very depressed, suicidal person who used similar methods to get the comfort he wanted from me. Twice in the same month, I drove the 1,400 miles between my residence and his, going 90+ MPH the entire time, because I was terrified he would kill himself if I didn’t race to his side. Finally, I realized that I had to alert a higher athority (his parents) and stop neglecting my own sleep, nutrition and sanity. It was heart-wrenching and I felt very guilty for months. But the mantra I repeated, which I now pass on to you, was this –
“I am not magic. I cannot fix his life. Although he wants my attention, it’s not what he needs. And responding to his threats is only holding him back.”
Good luck to you, LW, and to your friend.
After the experience someone very close to me had with calling a suicide hotline, I would be *exceedingly* leery of setting that machine on anyone, unless I was nearly certain that it was the only way to stop them from committing suicide.
Basically, this person proactively calling a suicide hotline to express their thoughts, resulted in emergency services coming to the door and taking this person against their will to a clinic where the psychiatristic equivalent of a public defender had to be convinced to let them go against a basic preconception that anyone who calls a suicide hotline and expresses a desire or potential plan to kill oneself will automatically require committal. they described a level of manipulation, and emotional abuse (complete failure to listen or respect boundaries) that was staggering to me.
Someone without fairly significant level of family support, or advanced verbal self defense techniques would almost certainly have been committed against their will. This person had both and felt that it skated very close to the line.
This could easily have caused them to lose their job on top of all the other stressful things in their life leading to their depression and suicide ideation.
Ever since hearing about this experience I have been wondering who it is safe to call with thoughts of suicide? Are therapists required to report specific plans in the same way a hotline worker apparently is? If they are, I don’t know who you can go to without being ready to be committed against your will.
But I would warn anyone against fully trusting the system. I have discovered that it is not your friend.
I’m sorry you had that experience, Michael. I’ve also known a hospital to discharge some who was suicidal and had been sectioned for it even though the persons entire support network was begging for them to be kept on.
What I’m saying is the system isn’t perfect. It’s made of people and even health care professionals make mistakes. But please don’t think of the system as an enemy. When it doesn’t work you should challenge it but it’s also important not to be afraid of using those tools, those skilled professionals.
It’s like, we all know cops can be racist, but if you get attacked or robbed you should still call the cops. Handle the potential knock on effects as a separate issue.
I’m so sorry someone close to you had that experience.
I have had some of the training (not all of it) towards volunteering for a suicide hotline, and I have had friends call that hotline, and also have taken a suicidal friend to the emergency room several times, and my experience was totally different. I’m not saying there aren’t horrible people working in the system, because there are, but it’s not universally horrible.
Here’s what’s supposed to happen according to ASIST, which is an international protocol for suicide first aid: is the suicide already in process? If so, you call the cavalry. If not, you talk to them. Establish whether they are, in fact, contemplating suicide. Listen to their reasons. Don’t try to talk them out of it at this stage, just listen. Wait for them to express some ambivalence, some hint that there is a part of them that does not want to die. Then ask if they’re willing to make a plan to protect the part that wants to live from the part that wants to die. The safe plan has to be things that the suicidal person is willing to agree to – it’s for them, not something imposed on them from outside. Like, they might decide to call someone they know and tell them, and to give their suicide weapon to someone they trust (particularly if it’s something like their meds that they need to keep.) You make it for a duration that the suicidal person can agree to – like “I can wait an hour until my dad gets home” or “I’ll be okay until Monday when I see my therapist.” And you arrange for a follow-up to make sure they are still safe and that they’re getting the help they need.
That said, if I was talking to a suicidal person and between us we could not come up with a plan to keep them safe, I would call the crisis team because I don’t want them to die, and also I’d have a duty of care.
I would be curious to know where this occurred. I suspect laws and working practices vary a lot between countries.
For what it’s worth, I volunteer on a helpline in the UK (not a suicide hotline, a rape crisis line, but we do get suicidal callers and are trained to deal with that situation) and what you’ve described is not remotely how we react to a call like that. The Samaritans’ policy is basically the same as ours. We also can’t see your phone number, so we can’t call emergency services for you unless you actively give us your phone number or address.
I hope that’s reassuring to some readers stories about bad treatment at the hands of helplines really get to me.
The thing is, it’s a balancing act: the need to respect people’s autonomy and right of self-determination, including the right to fuck up your own life even if you have depression or other mental illness and even if you are really conspicuously flaming out versus the knowledge that when someone has fallen down the rabbit hole they can lose perspective and forget how good life can be topside or lose all hope of ever getting there again, and truly the act of a good friend/family member is to get them professional help whether that’s what they want or not because dead is dead and there’s no treatment for it. Whereas lots of us here can tell you treatment for depression, anxiety, and other mental illness *can* work, and the person can be really glad they stuck around and got it.
It would be a horrible world if well-meaning friends (or eek — parents) could force a person to undergo *any* kind of therapy (even outpatient) just because they believed that the person was acting “irrationally,” making “bad, self-destructive decisions,” etc. Couldn’t most of us have been forcibly treated at some point in our lives if that were the standard? Yet I’m sure most of us would agree that coercive treatment would be a freakin’ nightmare, a huge invasion of individual liberties, and probably permanently damaging in a zillion horrific ways. Gah! If you doubt it, consider the days when a man could get his wife committed on his say so that she was “hysterical.” (In some places, the standard still is not much better, especially for teenagers.)
Yet (just by way of example) I have also seen the pain of parents whose “child” is acting in ways that are profoundly self-destructive (not just not-what-we’d-like-to-see), but who have no leverage whatsoever to get him help because he’s over 18.
Legally, the pendulum seems to swing back and forth in terms of where we as a society draw the line between individual autonomy and the right to fuck up your own life versus our desire to protect people from their worst impulses — in terms of the standards that are applied, the procedures and evidentiary rules used, the consequences of an adverse determination, and the opportunities for appeal. And of course the “system” consists of millions of flawed human beings, some of whom may not be good at nuance or respect for people’s struggles.
Still, if somebody is actively threatening suicide, it’s not a good idea to take all that and say “the system is not safe! Don’t use it!” Because leaving someone who is suicidal to his/her own devices is not safe, either. And again, one is fixable the other is not.
If a situation is going bad, though, you should be aware that the person you want on your side is (at least in the U.S.) someone who practices disability law. If I needed one, I’d contact the Disabilities Law Project in Philadelphia for a referral to someone in my area. (The professor who raised my consciousness on this issue years ago was affiliated with them).
Oh man, I am so sorry you and your friend went through that.
I volunteer at a hotline, and we try to go with the least invasive intervention possible. So hopefully calling the police or having someone involuntarily committed is the absolute absolute last resort, after you’ve tried everything else and the person is intent on killing themselves thisverysecond. (i.e. they have a method, the method is in hand, they have a plan and a timeline and that timeline is rightnow, as opposed to having thoughts about dying or killing yourself but not being committed to it)
Also, this is for the US only, but from what I know, it is very hard to trace a cell phone call from the hotline, so you can always call from a cell phone or pay phone if you are worried about being traced and located.
That said, I do know there are always abuses of the system, and that the mental health system of the US at least has a lot that could be fixed about it. From the little I know, therapists in the US are legally mandated to report if their client is going to hurt themselves or others, but usually you’re supposed to explore that with your client to try and assess just how concrete the plan is.
I’m sorry your friend had that experience, also, HOWEVER:
If your ex-friend is threatening suicide, it is ethically okay for you to refer them to even an imperfect system.
You don’t have to take all the imperfections of that system on yourself as a burden. “What if…?” is a big question and you don’t have to have a solution to every version of it before you hand out a phone number and say “call someone today.”
And you don’t have to investigate every possible way to prevent someone from killing themselves, especially since you can’t actually prevent that and also, in the LW’s case, this is someone who she wants to be shut of and who is manipulating and threatening her.
If a particular doctor/hospital/hotline/resource is imperfect, that’s on them, not on you for making them that way.
Reading it over, I don’t want to say your advice here is bad, or that one is ethically bound to take on the imperfections in the system.
That said, I think it is important to understand what the system *is*. If what my friend experienced is normal or typical, then I would never choose to call in the cavalry for anyone who was not already in the process of committing suicide.
But unfortunately, I have no good way to know that on my own, which is one of the reasons for my comment, even though it’s obviously something of a derail of your response.
I am very glad to hear that many people commenting have worked on hotlines that run more along the lines of what I would have expected — calling in emergency services only for those who declare they are in the act. Thank you all for your responses.
The answer I was really looking for is “Who is it safe to call?” I’ve been borderline suicidal but I’ve never made that call, ended up talking to friends or acquaintances who brought me back from the edge before it got that far.
I just can’t imagine what it must do to a person to be going through this, and step back just enough to *make a call to a hotline, instead of actually proceeding with your plan*, and then end up being treated as if you no longer have adult decision making capacity because you dared to question whether life was worth living.
Michael, I hope you got a good answer to your question from some of the posters here. I am ending this derail. People (like the Letter Writer) do not have an obligation to audit the mental health system before referring someone to it. Your fears are understandable, but they a) based on one anecdote that happened to someone else and b) are your fears and you don’t get to work them out in this space until you get a satisfying result possibly to the detriment of the person who wrote the original letter.
If you personally have suicidal thoughts I recommend you seek out a therapist. If you’re risking death, risk talking to someone imperfect for a little while. Life is risk. There is no guarantee that calling a hotline or getting therapy will be a good experience or get you the exact help you need, but it’s worth trying. Laws about mandatory reporting, who can involuntarily commit someone else, how long & under what conditions you can be involuntarily committed vary from state to state, country to country so if you have anxiety about this research the laws where you live and figure out what the parameters are.
Please do not post more comments like this in the thread.
I’m reacting to this letter on two different levels, one is a way in which I identify with a small part of what the LW’s friend is going through, the other is an insight about being in relationship with someone who has suicidal ideation.
First: there was a time when I was stuck in working through major aspects of my sexuality and settled into a years-long unrequited infatuation with a friend who was safe because she was not interested in me and as long as my crush was active, I did not have to test my Stuff on any real, live human beings: the crush was my shield and my fortress! In my case, my friend did know about it, and yes, things were awkward! But she was kind and I was, well, I tried not to be an ass about it. This was 15 years ago and so I did not know then the things I know now, but in retrospect, probably I was volunteering to be all Nice Girl-ish, only she had good boundaries, which of course is what made her safe, but I digress! The point being, the interaction-based relationship I had with my actual real-life friend was not the same as the crush, which was actually quite independent of my interactions with her and ultimately really not about her, but about me and my Stuff. The fact that it lasted so long with no encouragement from her is making me think that is also what’s going on with the LW’s friend who was so super-duper secretly in love that the LW thought she was straight. From the behavior described in the letter, it seems like the LW’s friend has built up an imaginary LW over the three years of this one-sided love affair and has decided that it is time to break-up with the imaginary LW and has decided that the way to do it is to bring the break-up to the LW’s real-life doorstep.
LW, you are not responsible for whatever feelings your friend has been secretly projecting onto you for the last three years. There is nothing you could have done that would have made a difference to her need to project her Stuff, she did all that projecting without your participation or permission, and the times when she tried to pull your actual self into it tipped off your alarms because she was trying to get you to behave like her holographic projection of you. It is *healthy* to have your boundaries up around people who are having pretend relationships with you.
Then, second, I’ve been reading other commenters’ reactions to the friend’s suicidality from the perspective of having been in something like the LW’s shoes, and I’ve been there, too, though I think what I have to offer on the topic is actually not that relevant to the LW, more to the general discussion: in my case, my relationship survived my partner’s suicidal ideation not because my partner stopped feeling suicidal (the incidence and severity of her bouts have both lessened but they still happen). Instead, we each recognized just how toxic it was for both of us for it to be my job to rescue her–we have different stories about that, but that’s fine. Mostly, we were lucky that we came to the same conclusion at the same time so making the changes was never about one person doing it for the other but both of us doing it to get the relationship right. A lot of people have spoken up about needing to establish a boundary even if it means you lose the relationship, but I want to say that in my experience, fixing the boundary is the thing that allowed the relationship to survive.
I suffer from depression. I have, in the past, been low enough to self-harm and to attempt suicide. It’s a desperately horrible place to be in, I would not wish anyone into the black pit of demons that is my head at times like that.
It’s nobody’s fault.
My feeling like that is a facet of my illness, something that my demons do to me. It’s not someone else’s fault (or mine, although that’s hard to believe when I’m low). It’s not because someone has failed to love me enough, to return feelings that I have for them, to run to my side ever time I went quiet or said something worrying. It’s not because some ONE person has been a horrible person and not rescued me. It’s because I’m ill.
OP – not being able to ride up on a white horse and slay your friend’s demons does NOT make you a bad person or a bad friend. You can’t rescue her. You are not and CANNOT BE solely responsible for her happiness and mental health. And yes, this sucks because you strike me as a kind, compassionate soul who wants to fix it – it’s hurting you to see her suffer like this. But although you can help (and have been, no matter what your worries), you cannot fix her. I know this because, while I want so much for someone to be able to fix me, I know only I can do that. If I hang all of my recovery and happiness on another person, then that person has the power to take it all away. It’s a house of cards built on quicksand foundations.
Depression is a selfish bitch of an illness. It makes people selfish – and the worst thing is you can see it, which makes you feel even worse because you KNOW you’re being clingy and irrational but you can’t seem to stop. Your friend is in a bad place but she is also putting you in a bad place and that’s not fair. No matter how ill she is, no matter how terrible she feels, putting this pressure onto you is not fair. It’s a reason, but it’s not an excuse. Making you stressed and scared, emotionally blackmailing you – NOT ok. I know it might feel like a shitty thing to do but you have to step back from her. Do what the Cap & commenters have suggested – contact other people, professional people, get others on board to help out. Check up on her, yes, but don’t run to her side every time she calls or change your life to avoid upsetting her.
And stop beating yourself up about text messages and whatnot. What you’ve ALREADY done is above and beyond what many would have. You are NOT a bad person.
Mods, I want to leave a link to my blog piece on depression here because a lot of people who’ve read it said it helped them. Please feel free to remove it if that’s breaking rules, though.
LW, you’ve gotten plenty of good advice on handling the ethical and emotional issues presented. I want to offer a couple of suggestions about concrete steps you can take to be better prepared if the situation escalates. You should make a plan in case your friend contacts you and continues to articulate suicidal thoughts. Take a few minutes to search out the phone numbers for the crisis hotline in the community that you reside in for your own support (and the he crisis hotline of the community your friend resides in), actual addresses for her home/work/school, and a reliable method of contacting the emergency services in her community. Then you can assure yourself that if your friend contacts you with an further threats of suicide you have a plan get her an intervention and means to enact it.
Great, great idea. Hits the twin buttons of “doing something productive” and “actually might help in actual crisis.”
I posted a reply and it didn’t show up. But when I tried to re-post, it said I’d already posted it. Is there a moderation queue?
See Site Policies.
Yeah, I know, but comments before had gone up fine. And that one which you just replied to went up fine. So er…
Just hoping I didn’t screw up in some way.
Rowan, you should be sorted. I’m not staring at the spam filter 24-7 (and especially not at 4 am my time, when your comment came in, and I was asleep, and also did not see your follow-up comments), and it is hungry. So hungry for words.
Ta. Not getting on your case, truly. Was just a bit confuzzled.
If it’s more than 24 hours, email me. Less than that, sorry, just wait it out.
It eats my posts all the time. Then doesn’t. Then does. Patterns are hard to find. It’s annoying, but I try to think of comments as offerings; I said whatever I had to say and now I need to let the universe do what it will with them.
This is a beautiful way to express a wise philosophy.
[tries to be more Zen about the comments going where they go sometimes]
So naturally the universe has decided to test my sincerity by eating still another.
So true! I like to think of it as an exercise in humility. My little words are not so earth-shattering after all. The earth will continue turning and the internet will continue internet-ing without my input. My ego needed to be taken down a notch anyway.
I have an ex-boyfriend who also threatened to kill himself when I was trying to break up with him. It went on for months, and I ended up miserable and compounding on all a really awful episode of my own depression and at the end of it all I felt for him was anger. I hadn’t told anyone what was going on because I blamed myself and I feel into a really awful depression myself, which took me months to drag myself out of.
What I realised in the end of that was that all of it was him. If he’d chosen to follow through (he didn’t) it would have been his choice, and while it would have been tragic and devastating it would not be my fault. None of it really had much to do with me, except that our situation happened to be what pushed him over the edge. When people are at that stage (having been suicidal myself) anything can push them over the edge. I’ve had a paper cut induce suicidal thoughts.
It’s not your fault. None of it is your fault. Whether she does or does not – it is NOT your fault. I really admire you for reaching out for help dealing with the situation and how to best help her. Giving her the option to take the help she needs(or calling emergency services so they can help her) is the best thing as it’s really likely that you would not be able to stop these feelings for her anyway. She is the only one who can really help herself, even though she probably can’t see that yet.
Oh, LW, I feel for you so much.
When I was 16, I was (to a much lesser extent) your friend, and I placed the responsibility for my mental health onto somebody else, and it was such a wrong thing to do.
And in my most recent relationship, I’ve been the one who was given the responsibility for someone else’s mental health, and it was awful for me, and really fucked me up. In the wake of it, I realised everything I had done at 16 and apologised to my friend (we maintained a friendship, it wasn’t a FEELINGSMAIL kinda deal).
And now, my new partner talks about his past and all the people that made him responsible for them, and I can assure you none of that worked out well either.
I guess what I’m getting at is that this is a horribly common, awful thing, and you’re not alone in terms of what is happening here. It’s disturbing frequent, it seems, that people with mental health problems let them affect another person’s wellbeing. I don’t know why that it – what I remember from 16 is being desperate and sad and not knowing what the fuck to do to get the help I needed, and deciding that she could maybe provide it. Years later, I wish that A) I had spoken to a professional and B) she had spoken to a professional because these were not her responsibilities and if I was being too much of a dickhead to realise that, the best way for her to protect herself would’ve been to cut me off and send in the people with training.
That’s what I should’ve done when I was on the other side of it, too. I didn’t and someone drained the life out of me for three years as I tried to take care of them. It makes me so ashamed to think that I also did that to someone in the past and I hope to God I did no lasting damage to her.
Basically: don’t be me in my last relationship, and don’t let her be me when I was 16. Draw the boundaries now, and hard, and get people involved who can take care of her without the weight of romantic feelings drama, and get people involved who will get professionals involved. If she threatens suicide, even if you think she is lying, call an ambulance – because whether she’s going to go through with it or not, being in a place where she will lie about that means something is seriously wrong and she needs help that you can’t provide and shouldn’t try to.
I promise you, disengaging is the right thing to do now, for both of you.
I wanted to add that I’ve actually been through something similar, only without the part where the friend dumped responsibility for everything in my lap.
My senior year in college, my best friend (and suite-mate/room-mate/apartment-mate for the whole time except for the semester we both studied abroad) started acting weirdly and, from my perspective, awfully. I’ve described it on another thread; she’s a lot more outgoing than I and basically she became very competitive with me in social settings, so I felt deliberately wallflowered (though I now know that wasn’t what was going on from her perspective). Within two weeks of returning from Christmas break, I realized I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with her.
Fast forward 2 years, to when I learn by letter from her that she had been falling in love with me. We were both straight (or she thought she was), and though we were ardent feminists with lots of lesbian and bi friends and she knew at least in theory I wouldn’t be horrified, it was still not an easy thing for her, and she never crawled out on that limb and said what she was feeling. Fair enough, because regardless of the gender and sexual orientations of the people involved, there’s always that fear of telling a friend “I think I love you *that* way,” and having them say “Hunh! Ummm… That’s nice?” or frankly anything other than “Awesome, me too, I was just afraid you didn’t feel the same way!”
I didn’t mention the story right off, despite obvious parallels, because of the big difference: my friend never dumped all her crap on me as if it was my fault, much less upping the ante with the ranting and name calling and threats of self-harm.
But overnight I realized that that’s actually what’s important! It emphasizes that the two things are not as inextricably linked as your friend would have you believe: her falling in love with you and having to reassess her sexual identity and not getting back from you what she secretly wanted did not inexorably, inevitably cause the rest. It wasn’t irrelevant, of course – but the fact that it went that way for her had to do with other stuff inside her, and some of the choices she has made along the way. Choices that are understandable, sure — but not things for which you are responsible.
I’ve been in the same place as your friend and I think most people will have some experience of either being the one who has feelings for a friend who doesn’t return them or being the friend on the receiving end of those feelings. I’m also pretty sure most people don’t deal with it as well as they could (or would want to if they were thinking straighter). It’s also complicated and painful when the feelings you have for a person cause you to question your sexual orientation, even if theoretically you don’t have a problem with bisexuality/queerness/etc.
While I’m sure a lot of this stuff contributed to the LW’s friend’s depression, or at least didn’t help matters, none of it can be described as their fault. I do think it’s hard to keep those feelings from affecting the friendship but most people who value their friends will try to minimise that. The LW’s friend isn’t trying to do that, in fact she is doing everything she can to make this as much the LW’s problem as it is hers, which would suggest to me that she doesn’t really value their friendship and has instead made up some completely artificial relationship between them that exists only in her head.
LW–as someone who’s been severely depressed, and someone who’s dealt with suicide threats, I feel you. And let me tell you this: it is okay to not want to do something for this friend. I don’t care if it was “I don’t want to give her a marshmallow from my bag of marshmallows,” if it was too much for you, it was too much for you.
It sounds a bit like you’re trying to force yourself to like her. Maybe she’s a great person and lots of fun to be around and the depression is bringing out the awful–that wouldn’t be the first time. But it sounds like she’s been wearing on you for a long time.
Now–this woman’s behavior creeps me right the fuck out.
This woman has placed expectations upon you–romantic expectations, and expectations of favors and help that a romantic partner would give–without letting you know she felt that way about you and without your enthusiastic entrance into/participation in a romantic relationship with her. When refused, she showed up at your place and raged and cried at you. You were making the motions of looking for an apartment with her because you were afraid of what she’d do if you said no. She’s making her feelings and her actions YOUR responsibility.
Please remember that HER actions are HER choice and HER responsibility. And while it sucks to have an unrequited crush, it’s actually not the end of the world, even if you are depressed. In fact, it’s objectively shitty to use such revelations as a way to guilt someone into your life. And it sounds like she’s doing that.
Your reluctance to be around her–that’s self-preservation right there. Honor that. Honor it because this woman has ignored each and every boundary you’ve established and been retaliatory (crying and raging at you, threatening self-harm, etc.).
I’m sure she’s got stuff to work out about relationships, etc. But you know what? She needs to do that with a therapist. So I agree with CA–let people know. Tell fucking everyone. If she threatens to hurt herself, call for help. If she gets pissed off, tough shit. And really? It’s okay to put a lot of distance between yourself and this woman. It’s okay to not like her, or not want to be around her, and to want some peace in your life.
Everything in this, 100%. I was starting to think my original comment sounded a bit too forgiving of her, so in light of that, despite being someone who has in the past behaved in ways which are similar in some respects, so strongly seconding this. What she is doing to you is fucking awful, manipulative, abusive (if you ever feel like calling it that – feel free! Lots of people will agree) and it needs to stop *for you*. All my advice was about what is best for you both, because I can see that you want to help her, but seriously, it’s ok to not want to help her in the slightest, and it’s okay to be angry at her, and it’s ok to want her out of your life and away from you forever.
When people behave like this plus are clearly unwell, it’s very easy to let sympathy that over and feel like you have to do something for them. You don’t. Bottom line is, why ever she is acting like this, she is ignoring boundaries and fucking with you emotionally, and that is never okay. Bad things are still bad things no matter the mental state of the person doing them, and you have a right to prioritise your well-being over hers.
I have no idea how I ended up reading this post today? I am currently in major depressive episode and am trying very hard to get well. I am safe. I made an agreement with my husband and P-Doc that I would not be left alone for any period of time so I could avoid being committed to keep me safe. So I have my husband, sister and two daughters with me round the clock. All my meds have been bumped up to maximum therapeutic level. I see my P-Doc and therapist once a week (or more if needed). I am going to intensive outpatient therapy. So there really isn’t much more anyone can do.
I have made a suicidal cry for help once and actually attempt suicide twice. The last time was pretty significant and it is only due to a bizzare set of circumstances that I survived at all (I call it a miracle from God, but dont want to have that discussion now.) I remember waking with all these machines beeping, and a tube down my throught and my hands were tied down. All I wanted to do was rip that tube out of my throat, it was horrible. My husband was right there when I woke up. He started crying and was SO ANGRY with me. He told me that this was the last time. He can’t go throught this anymore. I didn’t know I was in a coma for two days at this point. We have been married for 30 years and he has been by my side every step of the way. It was then that I realized for the first time how my actions so severely impacted those who love me. I didn’t do it to hurt them, I just couldnt stand my pain any more. But I must tell you the truth. The biggest deterent to sucidal ideation for me, now, what hearing my husband say he wouldn’t stand by me if I ever did that again. Those words, more than anything, more than all the meds, and therapy, ECTs, or any other treatment have had a profound impact on me. I commend his honesty at a time when it was the last thing I ever expected out of his mouth.
So what’s the point of all this? To the young man (everyone feels young to me these days) i say, do all you can do with encouraging your friend to get help. If that means breaking a confidence or losing her friendhship, so be it. There are two sides to every story and my heart goes out to the girl who is the subject of so much debate. On the other hand you appear to be a wonderful friend and are so concerned. I agree with the major consensus of this thread in that you are absolutely not the cause, reason, or responsible for her depressive state or actions past, present and future. I would personally thank you for taking the time to write and for caring so much about what happens to another human being. Unfortunately, I know from experience that if she intimates in any way, shape or form, that she is going to harm herself, all gloves are off. Call in the calvary, whatever that means to you and know you did the best you could for her. There really isn’t anything more than that you could do.
My two cents worth. Living with bipolar affective disorder, PTSD and anxiety disorder for over 35 years. Member of NAMI. Thank you all for this short time today. I feel so much better now and am inspired.
Dark Lady of Depression
Reblogged this on My Bipolar Affective Disorder and commented:
Okay …. I’m not really sure how this works???? I am following CaptainAwkward.com and I posted there today. Low and behold my two post from my blog showed up on his thread? Hmmm. Will someone explain this to me please. Not up on all this social media stuff yet.
Jedi hugs, LW.
A few thoughts:
First, none of this is your fault. Toss that thought overboard. Your friend is suffering from a disturbed mental state which you did not cause. If she were to kill herself tomorrow, it would not be because of you. It’s because she’s ill.
Second, we cannot love to order. Friend may be a fabulous person, but if you don’t have romantic feelings for her, you don’t. Pretending you do, or forcing yourself to act as if you do, would be a betrayal of your self and your integrity and would do her no good.
2.5- We do not owe anyone a relationship. Whether it’s friendship or romance. If you want to be friends, fine. If you don’t, that’s your call and your right. In any case, your friend has been making you feel actively unsafe for a while now, so for your own sake getting out is best.
Third, Friend can be both ill and manipulative. She may be in bad shape, but she’s made her issues your problem. It’s not.
Fourth, you cannot fix this. Not by staying friends, not by being in a relationship with her. She needs people on Team Her, but you cannot be one of those people for both of your sakes. The best thing you can do is let someone who can be there know what’s going on, and then stay away. You can’t help her because there’s a big hole in her now that she thinks will be filled if you become what she wants you to be. You can’t fix it because you are not a human Bandaid. You are a person with thoughts and feelings and baggage of your own. You can’t change into her perfect person- who would end up being a cardboard cutout and not a three-dimensional human being anyway.
Good luck, LW.
LW, about your friend: she sounds like a real drama-llama, and someone whose idea of boundaries is somewhat on the sketchy side. One of the all-time really important things about romantic feelings is NOBODY is under the obligation of reciprocating them – especially if said romantic feelings aren’t mentioned by the party having them to the party they’re feeling romantic about. What your friend says she wants is you. What she actually seems to want is a telepathic dream-figure with your face on it. She’s trying to get that by throwing a massive tantrum, complete with kicking her heels, screaming, and holding her breath until she turns blue (or at least threatening to).
You say you’ve been struggling to feel friendly toward her for the past couple of years, and quite frankly, I’m not surprised. Most adults have trouble feeling any strong degree of reciprocal friendship toward a two-year-old child (and even if your friend has an adult body, that’s how she’s acting). Affection is possible. Indulgence is possible. But genuine friendship isn’t.
You’re allowed to have boundaries. You’re allowed not to like someone you used to be friends with. You’re allowed to not feel the same way about her as she says she feels about you. None of these are Wrong Things.
In this case, it seems the threat of suicide and self-harm is being used as a club to beat you with. My take on such things (speaking as someone who has genuinely wanted to take her own life, and who has made attempts toward such a thing in the past, and who has fought against the temptation to do so as well) is people who talk about wanting to commit suicide need to be treated seriously. With the full weight of the mental health system, if necessary. So, pass on the number for the Samaritans, but also make it clear to your friend if they confide such things to you again, you’re going to take serious steps to prevent them from harming themselves, and you’ll start by calling the cops. This is really the best-case option here – if they’re mentally ill, they’re probably in need of treatment no matter how much they feel they aren’t; if not, they’ll learn you’re not the one to try that particular performance in front of.
Entirely agree with every point CA makes in her answer. None of it is your fault, and you should not keep silent.
I’d add one small suggestion though. While you should call mutual friends and try to get her support that way, and absolutely call emergency services if she makes a suicidal peep at you again, I think you should also try to call whatever lgbt hotline is near her, and see whether you can get them involved. It sounds like your friend is deep in the internal closet, and that this is a lot if not most of the source of her pain. You can’t be responsible for representing all of Lesbiandom to someone who doesn’t want to face this basic fact about herself or tell anyone else.
Regretfully, I also agree that you’d be better off without this particular friendship. Please don’t feel guilty over it.
I have an ex who used to threaten suicide literally every time I talked to him. Not to get back with me – oh, no, he was very clear that he didn’t want to get back with me, despite him asking if he could see me maybe (we lived in separate states) and also he missed having a girlfriend – but it was emotional blackmail to make me talk to him. I truly believe that he was in a dark place, and that he was asking me for emotional support, but it was a sort of emotional support that never ended. Nothing I did was good enough. And I wasn’t nearly qualified to help him out with his other issues, and he expected me to be.
Here’s the thing about suicidal people: if they do in fact commit suicide, their death is not your fault.
I’m going to say that again because it needs to be said: if they do in fact commit suicide, their death. Is not. Your fault.
Sometimes, outside people are indeed to blame for suicide. Bullies are responsible for the suicides of their victims. Fanatical religious extremists are responsible for suicide bombers.
But you not giving in to emotional blackmail is not bullying, and it’s not the deliberate manipulation of a person’s beliefs in order to get them to kill other people with themselves.
If your friend does kill herself – now, a year from now, ten years from now – it is not your fault. It is the fault of her depression, her emotional environment, but it is not ever going to be because you decided to not give in to emotional blackmail. Not ever.
Back to my ex boyfriend. He threatened suicide one too many times. He tried to make me feel like I was being deliberately hurtful by dating someone else and being happy in my relationship. That, along with some things I found out about him, made me delete him from my contacts, block him from all social networks, and ignore him.
When I last asked after him through a mutual Facebook friend, he was still being emotionally unstable and he was still threatening suicide to anyone who would listen and he was still alive. Me taking some space did absolutely nothing to help or harm his mental state. That might end up being true of your friend.
>>Sometimes, outside people are indeed to blame for suicide. Bullies are responsible for the suicides of their victims. Fanatical religious extremists are responsible for suicide bombers.<<
I don't think these blanket statements are justified. I think it's safe to say that situations, interactions, and relationships are too complex for that. I do think we bear some responsibilities for each other. I also think there's a limit, if we honor others' autonomy (my ethics coming out). And I think words have incredible power.
But, though I pretty much totally agree with this post, I felt need to respond to this one detail.
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