Dear Captain Awkward,
A few years ago, I broke up with a friend who’d been casually shitty
to me for the majority of our friendship. Shauna is smart, witty, and
gets my sense of humor. We met and become close friends in high
school. Junior year, she ditched me for an ever-changing rotation of
BFFs, and the timing was tough because I was dealing with heavy family
stuff. But we kept in touch sporadically, and reconnected after
college. We ended up working at the same place and became pretty
tight, but grew apart after we both moved on to other jobs — but were
still close enough that she was a bridesmaid in my wedding.
Despite the brief flashes of closeness, our overall friendship was
lousy on my end. Shauna’s all-about-me and our relationship was based
on her needs 90% of the time. I mostly felt exhausted by her drama
and stressed out by her demands. But for reasons I still don’t get, I
valued the relationship and did my part to be a good friend. Happily,
I finally had a moment of clarity when she stood me up for dinner,
with no apology, after several months of escalating rudeness. I did a
quick fade – no big announcement, just a total end to calls & invites
and increasingly slow responses to emails & texts. I was upset over
the lousy treatment but overall felt happier and more hopeful. We’ve
barely spoken in the 3 years since. My other friends who know her
aren’t surprised – they think she’s a self-involved flake.
Shortly after I tapped out, she met a guy. Recently, they got
married. In the many months leading up to their wedding, her
endlessly facebooking started to get me really down. (Thought train: 5
years ago, she was in my wedding. Today, we’re barely in touch.
Result: Sadness. Baked goods.) I hid her feed for a while and thought
I was over it. Apparently not so much.
I don’t hate her, I’m not nostalgic, I definitely don’t want to
restart being in each other’s lives. I’m just… sad. And I’m
starting to want to kick my own ass. Why am I having such trouble
moving on from an unrewarding – actually, negative and draining –
relationship? I have some major life stress going on right now –
beyond my control health and family stuff — but am otherwise pretty
You have an uncanny ability to unravel fused layers of unconscious
baggage, and I could really use some clarity. Any thoughts on grieving
a non-loss? This particular sore spot has been hanging on way too
I have a simple-but-not-easy answer for you:
If the mean people in our lives were crappy 100% of the time, it would be easy to leave them. We would shrink from becoming friends with them or jump aboard the nope rocket in the early stages of trouble, and we would feel only relief when they are gone from our lives.
The problem is that very few people are evil all the time. They don’t wear villain costumes purchased at ForeverEvil. They don’t laugh maniacally and stroke their evil goatees while monologuing about their evil plans. They appear in our lives as People-Who-Would-Be-Awesome-Except-For-That-One-Glaring-Problem. They have potential to be awesome, and sometimes they are awesome, and they make us feel awesome, so we relax and let out that breath we’ve been holding in, and then BAM! They show their mean side, and we do a ton of mental work trying to reconcile the mean stuff with the awesome stuff.
Breaking up brings relief, as you lose the constant mental labor of managing the relationship AND the stress of being constantly disappointed and hurt, but it also brings grief. Shitty people who forget your birthday and give little backhanded compliments and gossip about your secrets sometimes give really good hugs, or presents, or are your favorite people to get drunk and watch figure-skating with, or were the sole witness to an important time in your life. The good times were real.
Sometimes selfish friends can be converted into small doses friends, where you get to hold onto a little bit of the good stuff but release yourself from the toxic stuff. But sometimes you’ve got to deliver the African Violet of Broken Friendship in order to protect yourself. That’s never an easy decision, and it’s totally understandable to me that you would be grieving for some of the time and closeness you shared with “Shauna,” Letter Writer. In a weird way, you are summoning her by beating yourself up the way she would beat you up if she were around.
So grieve, the way you would for any loss. Write letters you don’t send as a way to fully express and feel your feelings. Distract yourself. Be really nice to yourself. Reach out to people who make you feel good and schedule time with them. You did a brave and self-caring thing by standing up for yourself and deciding that you deserve better than Shauna’s disregard. But you’re not weak or stupid for missing the closeness and wanting someone by your side as you go through a shitty time. My wish for you is that you find someone who prioritizes and nurtures your friendship with the same care and attention you show your friends, and that the hard times pass soon.