A series of letters from people who are trying to disengage but don’t know how. There’s some really toxic addiction and abusive behavior described in some of the letters, so, know that going in.
Hey Captain Awkward,
This is the LW of #776. This time my question isn’t about dealing with Toby’s parents, but Toby himself.
Firstly, some good (ish?) news – Toby did make the visit to his parents and came back fine (although I did have to loan him money so he could secretly go pick up the 5 antipsychotics/antidepressants/antiepileptics that they refused to let him go to the pharmacy to get) and his mother is now paying him $50 a week to not talk about his life to her (so they can keep their relationship ‘light and airy’) so at least he’s slightly richer for it.
Anyway, around that time he met a guy, who I’ll call Judas, who at first seemed like a really positive influence in his life – he’d been present for a major dissociative self-harm episode and got in touch with me to work out a recovery plan, he’s quite a lot older than either of us with a good, stable career and what seemed to be his head on his shoulders. After a while he and Toby started a sexual and emotional relationship which was undercut when Judas told him that he was already in a semi-open long-distance relationship with a boyfriend who was coming back to the country in a matter of months. This was a warning sign for me, considering Judas knew about Toby’s BPD and severe abandonment issues from the beginning. Since then, Toby’s had an up and down time which has included another protracted period of homelessness during which he stayed on my couch until I moved cities to focus on some chronic health issues (he was originally planning to come with me, but later decided to stay).
The first week I was here I found out incidentally from a mutual acquaintance that Toby has not only relapsed as an alcoholic, but was only ‘sober’ for around one or two months and had been maintaining the illusion for me that he hadn’t had a sip of alcohol for a year. I confronted him about this – calmly but emotionally – and he told me that he’d never lied to me, that he’d just ‘never debunked the lies I was telling myself’ or something. When I told him that his sister, Jackie, had told me that she thought he’d been drinking again on her last visit, he said she brought him the bottles herself. He also said that Judas has been actively enabling him (in addition to a bunch of other stuff that Toby said he was hurt by – focusing on his weight and dress when he has severe dysmorphia and bulimia, encouraging him to remove the tattoos he got to match his own self-image) by buying drinks unasked every time they hang out. After this I sent Judas an angry letter outlining the ways I thought he was letting Toby down and failing to responsibly manage his addictions. Toby at first agreed with me about the contents of the letter and said Judas was responsive and remorseful, but then didn’t talk to me for weeks and when confronted said that the letter had greatly affected our relationship and that we were still best friends but he’d ‘hated me for it’, that he shouldn’t be surprised that he’s still drinking because ‘he’s an addict and if it’s not one thing, it’s going to be another’, that ‘it’s his life and he’ll fuck it up any way he wants’ and that I’m ‘meddling in his relationships when he has no problem with the way he’s being treated’. When I brought up his past complaints and asked if being strung along by Judas was the way he wanted to be treated Toby said ‘you know it is’.
We’ve had big fights before but they’ve always blown over quickly. Even though at the end of that one we reconciled I still have a huge empty feeling. I feel incredibly disappointed in him for lying to me, in myself for not recognising this, in everyone else he holds close in his life for actively encouraging his addiction despite him being clear he was in recovery. What you said about me taking on the emotional legwork of this relationship resonated but I still feel regret for almost a full year where I could have helped him get back on track if only I’d known. It casts all our past interactions into an odd relief, because I thought he’d changed into a much better person, and it makes me doubt the point of the effort I made to help him through past relationships with similar to much-worse issues. Toby hasn’t talked to me in over a week, since that conversation, and I feel like I’m just out-of-sight, out-of-mind for him and that he has no genuine sense of apology for what he’s done. He’s been my best friend for years and the prospect of being without him makes me feel so alone, but I’m not sure how to come back from this. Is this salvageable? Should I even try?
Hello again. I’m sorry things are still a roller-coaster with your friendship with Toby and that his recovery is compromised.
Once again, you are describing a situation where your instincts about what the best course of action is might be absolutely correct, but Toby is still the boss of how he wants to handle his life. Once again, I’m not sure you really believe that Toby is the boss of his own life. For example, Judas does not sound like the world’s best partner for a recovering addict, but Toby is right that it is his decision to stay, and if he says “No more letters to my partner about me!” or “You have overstepped here!” or “It’s my life to mess up” or even bullshit self-justifications like “That thing where I lied to you wasn’t really LYING-lying, it was just sort of lying,” it’s still his decision.
(Like, the letter to Judas thing really IS an overstep on your part, even if every word of it is well-meant and based on truth. I don’t think you’ll ever get a “thank you” for that one from any of the parties.)
Once again, you can’t control what Toby or Judas or Toby’s family does. You can only control what you do. So how much of yourself do you want to pour into fixing things with someone who sabotages his own recovery and lies to you about it?
Once again, I don’t have access to Toby, I only have access to you, so you are my priority and concern.
I know that it is probably literally the hardest and most painful thing for you to imagine right now, but the best thing for you might be to detox from your friendship with Toby. He is avoiding you, so what if you stopped trying to make things work? You can wish for good things for him without actively engaging with him, especially now when he doesn’t want to talk to you. Channel the energy instead into shoring up your own mental health and physical health. Look into a resource like Al-Anon which supports the loved ones of alcoholics. Nurture your relationships with people who are not Toby. Kick ass at work or school, sock money away in your emergency fund, and try to figure out what “normal” and “happy” and “safe” feels like for you. Stop being the Toby Information Clearinghouse – “You’ll have to talk directly with Toby about that” can be your mantra for family, Judas, and mutual friends. When intrusive thoughts of Toby come to you (and they will), practice saying to yourself “I hope he’s well, I wish him well” and imagine your worried thoughts transforming into little butterflies or clouds that will find him and surround him with positive vibes. If Toby ever needed a place to stay or called you needing someone to talk to, I have no doubt you’d help him however you can, and it’s okay to leave that door open in your heart! But I don’t think it’s helping anyone for you to be on this day-to-day roller-coaster with him.
I know you love him, and I know your heart is broken, I know you have a lot invested in being Toby’s #1 Person, and I wish I had more to say than “It might literally be unfixable right now, I’m so sorry.” You can care about people, but you can’t do their caring instead of them, and I’m so sorry that Toby seems determined to drive that point home just now.
I’ve made alot of mistakes in the last year or more. The biggest was
rushing into a rebound relationship shortly after my marriage ended.
He was way too needy and wouldn’t know a boundary if it smacked him in
the face. I ended it, but life, despite years of infertility, decided
a whoops was in order and I’m expecting. I’m happy about the baby and
she’s due very soon.
Her dad is a constant stress. He’s engaged in behaviour my lawyer says
classifies as stalking, verbal abuse and sexual harassment. He has
some diagnosed mental conditions that he doesn’t really accept,
despite being under involuntary treatment for them and some major
history of stalking his ex wife (all of which I found out after we
My lawyer says if I push, I can probably keep him away from the baby
on a pretty permanent basis (he has a habit of emailing/texting me
clear evidence of all the crap he pulls). However, it will still
likely cost lots of time, lots of stress, oodles of cash and involve
some fairly heavy government stuff, like independent children’s
lawyers, etc. And of course, if I charge him with stuff it has a
really serious long-term impact on his life, which I don’t take
Sometimes he is fine. He can be really helpful and thoughtful. He can
be nice and funny and willingly helps people whenever he can. I (sigh)
do think there is still good in him – though I don’t want any kind of
physical or romantic relationship with him whatsoever.
I also want my daughter to have a Dad in her life if she can have it.
And every website I go to says to try to avoid family court and settle
things yourselves if you can.
But…he pushes so hard he’s almost sent me into early labour a few
times. I use my words, but he just won’t hear me. He constantly tries
to pry into my personal life (jealousy is also an issue with him), he
has threatened to “ruin my life”, to prevent me from traveling back to
where my family lives (another country) by putting baby on a no-fly
list, has tried to trade the promise of sex for a favourable custody
I really struggle with whether by relying on the “good times” when
things are calm and okay, I’m being naive and foolish and letting him
get away with appalling behaviour I always said I’d never put up
with…or if I’m being a good mom and a responsible adult.
How do you know when it’s time to draw that line in the sand that
Turns Out, Rebounds ARE a Thing
I’m glad you have a lawyer, so, please listen to that person above all, but you asked for my opinion and this is it: My instinct is that you should gain full legal custody of your future child, and to have any future interactions between father and child happen at your sole discretion and 100% according to your terms. You should do it now, before the baby is born, before there is time to develop a relationship and before he has any kind of access to her. I am not a legal expert, but my sense is that the longer your ex has a relationship with your actual daughter, the harder it will be to get the court to sever that relationship in her and your best interests.
Right now you are looking at it as “denying my daughter her father, maybe forever!” vs. “giving the father the maximum chance to show his good side!” which is not a decision to be made lightly. Nor is the decision to trust in the legal system or involve it in someone’s life. But really what you are doing is putting in place a legal structure that gives you the maximum amount of freedom and control to protect yourself and your daughter from violence. Your ex is already threatening to use the baby to control your whereabouts and to give him permanent access to your life on his terms, he is already stalking and harassing you and has a history of the same with his ex-wife.He is already ruining your life by adding to your stress and almost sending you into labor! These patterns won’t suddenly change for the better when there is an actual baby involved, they will escalate because now he has the ultimate trump card that he can play on you again and again and again. He feels ignored? He will use the baby. You start dating someone new? He will threaten the baby. He will act like a great dad when everyone is watching but also let you know that he could hurt you and the baby any time he wants to. He will drag you into court (or make you do the calculus of whether court, etc. is worth it to you) again and again and again if it gives him what he wants, which is control over you. When someone says “I will ruin your life,” believe them!
It’s natural to want things to be better and fantasize about a world where your ex behaves much better toward you. However, if you re-cast the “good times” you notice as “moments he is choosing not to stalk & harass & threaten you,” maybe you can start to see the bad moments as moments he is choosing to stalk & harass & threaten you. Does he stalk and harass his boss? His friends? Random men he meets on the street? You say there is mental health stuff going on, and I believe you, but it’s interesting how he chooses to stalk and harass only the women in his life.
I don’t know how you get mentally & emotionally free of this guy, but when you measure “The generic idea of a good dad, maybe” vs. “A man who terrifies and stalks and threatens women, definitely,” please let your lawyer be your advocate and use all the resources available to you. Suggested reading: Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft.
Hi Awkward crew!
My friend and I had sex, hurt each other, and things are messy. I would love for the wisdom of the Awkward community.
This story does not present Friend in the best light, but he has many wonderful qualities.
Friend and I were close and spent a lot of one on one time together. I liked him and also felt obligated to him. I was his only friend, and he was suicidal.
He was veeeeery helpful and kind to me – sometimes too much. He asked if he could give me a Valentine’s day gift, I said no, he brought me one anyways.
We had chemistry, I got a bit of a crush too, and we eventually began having sex. I was clear that I did not want a boyfriend.
I eventually wanted to stop the sex, but somehow we kept going back to it. I was very lonely and worried I would lose his friendship. I felt trapped and so I became unkind. I said many hurtful things to him and I regret this deeply.
After we graduated college Friend took a summer job several states away. Suddenly I felt free. I told him the sex was over. He was upset but eventually seemed okay with it.
We had been planning a post-graduation trip since before we began having sex. I visited him right before the trip. We did not do anything sexual. He was upset whenever I texted my other friends. He followed me step for step around a museum and cried when I asked him to stop. Eventually Friend broke down and said he still had feelings for me. We decided to call off the trip and take a break from our friendship, with the possibility of rekindling a friendship in the future.
This was three months ago. My questions are
- I want us to have a healthy friendship with solid boundaries. Is this possible? How do we get there?
- Should I reestablish contact with him?
- If so, when and how? Any scripts?
- What can I do to alleviate the hurt caused by the things I said to him?
- I blame myself for most of this. Is that reasonable?
- He has reason to be angry at me, but I think I am angry too. How can I navigate that?
- He lives 300 miles away, so our friendship would have to be rekindled long distance. How would we do that?
- How do I stop feeling gross and sad about this?
Relevant: I am a woman (she/her pronouns). I feel like it is also relevant to say, I have been in an abusive relationship in the past.
It’s okay to be angry and it’s okay to still be processing everything that happened between you, but I can’t help advising you to disengage. What if you could say to yourself”I did the best I could to be honest and be a good friend, but it just didn’t work out” and then let this friendship go? What if you told yourself “I don’t have to fix this?” or “I made some mistakes but I won’t make those mistakes again,” and let yourself move on?
It’s time to forgive yourself for any mistakes you made in the past.
It’s time to give yourself your own closure for the things that didn’t work between you.
It’s time for you to see the time apart and the distance and silence as a gift you are giving each other.
It is not time to reopen old wounds by processing all of this with your former friend.
It’s time to take all that energy and effort you sunk into fixing your relationship with him and put it into making new friends or nurturing friendships with people who don’t have all these complications.
I think rituals can really help here. You could write him a letter that you don’t send, or talk to a therapist to process all the old lessons and feelings, or write in a journal, or imagine thoughts of him turning into puffy little clouds that float away. Whatever you do, it’s time to let this friendship (and all the attendant guilt and shame and worry) go from your life, dear Letter Writer. You can want good things for this person and think kind thoughts about him without bringing the work of being friends with him back into your life.
Wishing all of you strength and courage in the coming year.
Thanks for all who contributed to the Winter Pledge Drive, and thanks for the very supportive and respectful discussions last week. You can always donate if you like, but I will stop bugging people about it every day.