I know friendships don’t last forever. I’m not naive. I want them to last, and to be solid relationships. In my life, being sick complicates things. Not just in the ways you’d expect – like not being able to go out. But also in ways you wouldn’t – like not being able to be around a person who took advantage of systems in place to help people like myself (the ADA and protections for disability leave).
This is an open letter to that friend. It’s not a hit piece, it’s a cautionary tale. A tale of what happens when we ignore relationship warning signs. It’s a reminder that just because you cared for someone doesn’t mean you have to keep them in your life or continue to support them. Which happens to be a lesson we could all use to remember as we start to learn what kind of schmucks many men we know are. It’s a reminder to myself that bad friendships happen and it’s ok to let them go.
I have to say that you’ve got pluck. Or maybe you just have some nerve. I’m not really sure which.
This is an open letter to an ex-friend. A letter where I work through the emotions of losing someone I was close to. And I take the time to examine all the red flags.
Wait, yes I am. You’ve got some nerve.
I’m no longer blind enough to call it grit or guts. I’m also too old for this bullshit.
We were friends once, or at least I thought we were. You came to my birthday party, a friend of a friend. You were there with a guy I went on a date or two with. He lived down the street. It was a hot and sticky evening in mid-June. We could still hear the music from Midsommarfest, the street festival a few blocks away. Cocktails provided easy laughs and the comfort of mutual friends gave us an understanding.
It was the start of a dizzying rollercoaster. One whose warning signs I should have heeded.
We made dinners and met for coffee. Spent nights out and nights in. We talked about everything from clothes to Nietzsche, from boys to intersectionality.
We bonded over diagnoses.
I thought you understood. You weren’t “well” either. Your said your body was betraying you. You said you had limits now too and you understood me. You always offered help and kindness. You even brought Chipotle to the hospital for me once.
I didn’t need food. I needed understanding.
For me, every action has a consequence. Shave my legs? No pants for a week. Go out to dinner? No exercise tomorrow. Attend a party? Stay in a week before and after. Every relationship a balancing act. Who have I said no to recently? Have I had to cancel last minute lately? Will they freak out if I need to change our planned activity? I know it can be hard to be my friend. It’s part of why I felt so lucky to find you. I thought you understood.
But you didn’t.
When you got boyfriends, you would disappear for weeks. You would only make time on your terms, never on mine. If I was in a flare, I was blamed for ignoring you. If my body was failing me and I had to stay in, I was a bad friend.
You believed your diagnosis was crap and that the doctors were wrong. You told me you could cure a degenerative disorder with your diet (and suggested I do the same). It was almost as insulting as the “friends” who believe essential oils can do more than modern medicine for my CRPS.
I stuck around. I needed a friend who understood.
I still thought that was you.
I started struggling with work and being sick. Medication made me a stranger to myself. You still said you understood. We both had dudes with egos for bosses. The medication your doctor wanted you to take wasn’t going to be pleasant. I kept working and taking my medication until I was laid off. You took disability leave and never took what was prescribed. You traveled the world while you were “too sick to work”. I worked and got a new job when I was too sick to work.
I fought to make each day better. You complained about not getting what you were entitled to because of your “disability”. I got sicker and slowly started losing activities I loved and activities necessary to be a functioning adult.
I finally understood.
You didn’t understand.
You couldn’t see.
The last few months of our friendship, it started to slowly fade away. I couldn’t understand willfully ignoring a doctor’s guidance or lying about needing leave. But I tried. I tried to go back to the year I got the devastating news of my own diagnosis. I tried to understand your choices. I remembered my own fear. My own denial.
Spending time with you was hard. Every time we spoke, all I could see was abuse of the laws and rules that were supposed to protect people like us. I wanted to try harder. You blew me off for your travels. Your terms didn’t work for me when you returned. I wasn’t free on Tuesday afternoons for coffee dates.
I still wanted to be friends
Despite my misgivings about our friendship, I made it to a talk you gave. I went out of my way to support you because you came to the first show I danced in. I wanted you to succeed. Friends want that for each other. I was ready to support you any way I could, until you were mad at me for not wishing to discuss my finances with you under the guise of financial planning advice.
I decided I wouldn’t cancel plans with other friends when you finally had time for me again. I couldn’t rationalize our friendship anymore. The way you seemed annoyed the day I asked for a ride to get my hair washed after surgery. I should have known then. Or the times you invited others to hang out with us without giving me a heads up, like I wasn’t enough. They ways you managed to make me feel so small when it came to my body – its appearance or its abilities. All the times you couldn’t see that a fight with a friend I didn’t know was at least partially your responsibility.
The warnings were plain as day. I finally saw them when we had a break from each other.
Our time was up.
I was fine to fade into acquaintance-ship. That place where former friends go when they no longer have much in common. But you had to text me about how horrible of a friend I was. How the demise of our friendship was my fault. I believed you. I thought I should have tried harder. I thought I could have tried to see more of your side.
But it wasn’t my fault alone. You never saw my side. You couldn’t (or maybe wouldn’t) empathize.
It’s ok, friendships often end. You need to let it go, too.
I’m not angry. I was hurt. Now, I’m stronger.
Our friendship ended, but it isn’t the first one that I have lost. I’m certain it won’t be the last. I’m not angry that it’s over. I’m sad about how it ended. I’m sad that I watched you take your diagnosis and use it to get you out of a bad work environment instead of dealing with the situation like an adult. I’m hurt that you would think lying about your need for time off was ok. I’m confused as to why I stayed friends with you knowing that you did this.
I’m stronger now. I know I don’t need friends who only accept me on their terms. I know it’s ok to walk away from someone who manipulates the world around her. I know I don’t have to stay around someone who thinks it’s ok to lie your way out of a situation.
Thank you for teaching me so many lessons, however unintentionally. I hope at some point you reflect on your actions and see why I pulled away.
I have better friends who deserve more of me.
The biggest thing I learned from the slow demise of this friendship is that I made room for a toxic friend at the expense of friends I truly care about. I have friends who are always a phone call away and ready to chat. The kind of friends who always bring me up when I’m down. They’re the people who know I can be there for them, too.
Friendship is hard work, and as I get older, maintaining them is even harder. But it is time to make sure that I am putting forward the effort into friendships that truly go both ways. Friendships that make both of us better people.
Disclaimer: This is an illustration of a friendship, not a photograph. It’s my interpretation of events and how I understood them to have happened based on what I was told and what I experienced.