#1317: “I ruined a perfect friendship and I want it back.”

Dear Captain,

She/her or They/Them Pronouns please! Everyone else mentioned uses He/Him.

I had a friendship that lasted about a year and a half, exclusively online via an MMO we both played, and Discord with Dave. Dave and I got along great, and had a sibling like relationship, and come from very similar backgrounds (bananas parents who wrecked any sense of normalcy for us, boundary stomping narcissists.). Dave helped me stand up for myself during a break up in an LDR where my partner was just not able to communicate, infantilized me, and much more. Dave had attempted to be there for me in ways I couldn’t gather together until my current S/O. He got the anxiety, the depression, how I struggled with being afraid of myself when I am struggling mentally. He just *got* it.

So where did it all go wrong?

Well, for lack of a better phrase, I fucked up. Big time. A mutual friend (Ron) was behaving unusually in our MMO and being a long time MMO player, Dave decided to talk to me about it, and get my opinions before doing something.It was at this time I learned Dave was *staunchly* against botting in MMOs. Botting had never occured to me beforehand, even when hit with the absolute worst, sitting and clicking for hours kind of grind. I got to watch Dave (politely) dress down Ron about the behavior, and admit that since he couldn’t prove Ron was botting, he would want proof from Ron about his innocence. That was never resolved.

But I got curious.

So I got a bot, and tried it out. And Dave caught me. Since it was my first major relationship fuck up, he sat me down, and plainly told me if I did it again, no more, game over, friendship gone forever. I promised I wouldn’t, that our relationship meant more than the game to me.

But, I caught COVID, fell behind, and got hit with FOMO. Put up a bunch of excuses why it would be okay. So, I botched it again. Botting, got caught, this time we were in voice, and I tried to wrangle out of it, tried to lie. No dice, ‘Good Bye Forever’ as he said. I got blocked in game, on Discord, he even moved servers so I can’t run across him. I cried *hard*, like I had just been dumped hard after that happened, and I still tear up thinking about why I couldn’t just let it go, and take the FOMO on the chin, as the relationship is worth far more than the game. I have respected his wishes to be left alone, no contact, nothing. I haven’t said a word negatively about him to mutual friends, and have let him be.

But I didn’t, and looking back on it sixish months later, I’m ashamed of my behavior in both instances. I can firmly say I was absolutely a complete idiot. I wasn’t in therapy at the time, and have been for four of the six months since we last spoke, and I realize now that I was not mentally all there, and for the second incident, I wasn’t physically all there either. However, I still have to own the consequences of my actions, and I do not want to exclusively blame my mental health. If this was one of my other friends, I would be hesitant to even accept an utterance of ‘I would like to make amends’, even passed through by a third party.

But I do want to make amends with Dave. But I want to respect the boundaries he has put in place, as the last thing I want to come off as is like one of the people who raised us; a boundary stomping narcissist. I think, at this point, it’s not in my hands anymore. So how do I cope? Not only with the internal anger and frustration at myself, but the desire to disrespect his boundaries by reaching out, in the naive hope that he’ll see I do genuinely want to make amends?


An awkward MMO player.

Hello Awkward MMO Player!

I had to look up “botting,” is this roughly correct? They’re characters who have been automated to grab resources and loot without a human manipulating them in real time, and when they are identified and reported, they eventually get banned from the game for cheating.

It sounds like Dave had pretty much one rule: No botting. Knowing how strongly he felt, you tested this rule, twice, knowing what would happen if you got caught. It’s a good sign that you are up front about this in your letter, without excuses, though it’s interesting to me that it never even occurred to you to create a bot until after you knew how strongly Dave felt about it. There is something perverse and self-sabotaging there*, and it’s probably worth exploring with your therapist so that you can recognize this impulse and interrupt the pattern in the future. (*Ed. The “sabotage” is not the botting, a topic on which I am agnostic, at best. Botting breaks the rules of the game, the friendship-ending part is deliberately breaking rules that a friend told you outright were a deal-breaker for him, after he told you that he felt this way).

But, I’m sorry to say it, I think you need to grieve your friendship with Dave and leave him alone. You show someone that you can be trusted to respect their boundaries by actually doing what they asked, and not looking for exceptions. If Dave misses you and wants to give it another go, he knows where to find you. But the kindest course of action for everyone is to assume that he won’t, and find a way to move on. It’s done.

As for what to do with the feelings of shame and regret, you’re already doing a big part of it by getting therapy and working on yourself as best you can. You survived a terrible illness, you lost an important friendship, it’s been a tough year, and it’s healthy to let yourself feel your feelings, even the sad ones, so you can figure out what to do about them. You probably won’t feel this bad forever, but you might feel this way for awhile yet, until time does some of its work and the shame starts to recede

Second, you can’t make it up to Dave, but you can actually curb the impulse to chase him down and make it even worse. He lost a friend, too, and he’s allowed to be mad, and to take care of himself in his own way. You can do a good thing by separating your own healing from demanding anything more from him. Personal growth and increased self-awareness are valuable, but they aren’t transitive or measurable in a way that grants you currency from other people. Give yourself credit for doing the right thing even when it is painful and hard for you, and let go of the idea that acknowledgement from Dave is coming, or even necessary.

Third, you called this “a perfect friendship” in your email subject, but maybe someone who would end an important friendship over game rules and refuse your attempts to make amends isn’t the most compatible friend for you. Maybe one step to forgiving yourself is found in telling yourself a shorter story about what happened: You and Dave clicked well at first, you did something that made him angry, and ultimately, “it wasn’t meant to be.” I’m not talking about “meant” in terms of destiny, a concept I don’t believe in, I’m talking about a simple, real-time test: If a person chooses not to be in a friendship or relationship with you for whatever reason, however subjective, however fair or unfair, then by definition, it wasn’t meant to be.

I once ended a budding friendship in the time before cell phones because the friend arrived 30 minutes early to brunch, I was running 15 minutes late, and the person went home before I got there, to, quote, “teach me a lesson about the importance of respecting her time.” Should I have been on time? Sure. But another way to look at it is, she didn’t like me enough to pull out a book and wait a few more minutes, and I didn’t like her enough to risk taking three busses to her neighborhood only to end up eating shame instead of waffles a second time. I was inconsiderate and disorganized, and she was patronizing, and it was right for us to go our separate ways. Do I need to anchor every feeling I have about friendship, loss, shame, and time blindness to this person, this story, forever? No. It wasn’t meant to be.

In the end, sometimes the only amends you can make are to the future, with changed behavior that the person or people you’ve hurt in the past will never acknowledge, or even see. In the absence of some kind of Central Redemption Arc Authority who hands out gold stars for “most improved,” the knowledge that you’ve learned from your mistakes and will do better next time has to be its own, lonely reward.

If it helps you to know that someone else can see how hard you’re trying, I do see it. Gold star.