Breaking Up With a Friend
Yesterday I broke up with a friend.
This friend — I’ll call her Debbie— and I had met shortly after I’d discovered drugs in my house and that my husband of six years, significant other for nine, had been secretly abusing drugs for nearly our entire relationship.
We quickly became close, and she became the one voice of reason I would listen to: “Tara, that shit is nuts. You need to leave him. You know you need to leave him. I’m just telling you what you know you need to hear.”
Living with an active drug addict for so long and not even knowing it, I’d become super codependent, awash with his disease. My mantra for years had been, it’s not that bad. When he punched a wall, called me a bitch, or was physically but not emotionally present: it’s not that bad. it’s not that bad. it’s not that bad.
But after Debbie and I became friends and I kept finding out more secrets, like how my ex-husband had run up over $20k in a month on a credit card in just his name, or embezzled another $8k from his employer, I couldn’t use that mantra anymore because Debbie would tell me, “It IS that bad. YOU NEED TO LEAVE.”
Finally, when I was ready to, I left my ex-husband: to rush into another man’s arms.
What no one could have made me realize was that divorce is like having a limb removed without any anesthesia or pain…theascent.pub
But that didn’t last very long.
I took a break and then re-entered the dating scene. Debbie had a lot of experience dating. She’d been basically single for six years and done her share of dating and had a lot of wisdom for how to improve myself too.
She told me I needed to dress in a way that complimented my body more, that what I was wearing on a regular basis wasn’t working. She suggested I buy a certain kind of clothes. I bought them. She started telling me to come to her house before we went out, so she could assess my outfits. She didn’t understand why I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, so she strung her own necklaces around my neck and handed me pairs of her earrings to wear that matched whatever outfit I’d chosen.
“You’re hot, and you need to show that off! And you need to look nice,” she kept telling me, and “nice” for her meant an outfit that she approved of and lots and lots of jewelry.
When we went out of town together, she brought extra clothes to dress me in because, she said, she knew she wouldn’t like whatever I would have brought.
I have never worn a lot of make-up and always been complimented for my “natural beauty,” but she told me I needed to wear more, and one day she pulled me into a Walgreen’s and demanded I buy a smoky eyeshadow set. She taught me how to apply it, and I started wearing black eyeliner around my blue eyes to accentuate them.
I believe a lot in, “Take what you like, and leave the rest.” I looked better in the clothes I was dressing in because I was mixing my own style with pieces that fit me better. I refused to wear any one of the seventy-five shades of eyeshadow in the large palate she bought me for my birthday (she is the kind that will match her eyeshadow color to her outfit of the day), but I would wear some eyeliner and mascara. I started to wear some jewelry, but small delicate pieces usually because that was more my personality.
Before I’d go on dates, she’d text me to send her a picture of whatever outfit I’d chosen and she always had a problem with it. “You look great, but…” was her most common sentence opener. After dates, she’d want a re-hash of all of the details, and she’d liberally give me advice, which I mostly ignored. She had a pattern of sleeping with married men, definitely not something I wanted to do, and I was approaching dating differently than her. I started out just dating for the sake of dating myself and then eventually I started dating seeking a long-term relationship.
Few people would consider using Tinder as a way to heal self-esteem issues, but I did.theascent.pub
I’ve had my hair short for over a year now, and I’ve received plenty of compliments along the lines of, “That is totally the haircut you should have forever. It looks perfect on you.” When I got a haircut that was a little shorter than previously and made me feel a little insecure, I snapped a picture of it and sent it to her. “You look a little butch,” she sent back to me. But a day later, after I’d gotten over the change, I really really liked it, and I’ve kept it that way ever since.
What started to dawn on me, rather slowly, is that Debbie had been my voice of reason when I hadn’t been able to do that for myself, but now that I was more secure and confident, I didn’t need that from anyone else anymore.
What I now realized was her desire to control me started ratcheting up when I started dating my current partner. She didn’t like him. She didn’t like that he had some jealousy or anger issues. She didn’t understand why I liked him so much, and she told me that. A lot.
When my boyfriend and I went on a double date with her and a guy she’d started seeing seriously, she kept bringing up conversations that excluded the men, and once we started dancing, she kept trying to pull me away to dance with just her and leave our dates to watch. I called it early because I was tired of being yanked around. It felt more like she wanted me to be on a date with her than with her guy.
As the months passed, I started reaching out less and less, but she responded with reaching out more. Her texts or our phone conversations circled around her issues and seemed manipulative. She told me she hated her job and was miserable. She told me she was contemplating suicide. I demanded she get professional help. She started seeing a counselor and updating me after every session. “It’s not that I actually want to kill myself. It’s just that I want a bus to hit me,” she told me. And her little comments seemed weirdly in line with whenever I was trying to pull back more.
The last time we met up, I paid attention the entire time: to how I was feeling, to how the conversation went.
When she walked up to me from her car, I said, “You look nice.”
“I dressed up for you,” she said. And then she looked me up and down, frowned, and after a beat said, “Why aren’t you wearing one of the necklaces I bought you?”
“I didn’t feel like wearing any,” I said, recalling how she’d bought me several statement necklaces that are clearly not my style. I thought, not for the first time, Why did you think I would like any of those? Those are not me.
Throughout the dinner, she continued to complain about everything going on in her life, but asked me very little about myself, and I felt a growing irritation with her. She mentioned I wasn’t dressed “right” or “nice enough” for this dinner with her. I looked around at the other diners in the small cafe. Everyone was wearing jeans and t-shirts. I told her, “I like how I’m dressed,” but she responded with, “I don’t know why.”
After we paid and walked outside, I pointed out there had been a female server that had been gawking at me openly and come to our table several times to “check” on us, even though she hadn’t been our server. “She probably wouldn’t have done that if you’d been wearing earrings,” she’d said, like my lack of earrings had for some reason indicated my sexual preferences.
I wrinkled my eyes at her because, seriously, wtf. She laughed, gave me a hug that I didn’t really return, and then she walked to her car.
I withdrew even further, taking longer and longer to return phone calls or respond to text messages, but she continued to reach out, calling me at least three times a week and texting me several times everyday.
My final breaking point came after she’d been sending me regular tirades against my current partner over several days, telling me over and over again that I needed to leave him, that he was just like my ex-husband, that I shouldn’t trust him. When I told her that I didn’t understand her issues with him and that I was not having any of those same concerns and I am the one in a relationship with him, she demanded I explain my reasoning. When I told her I didn’t need to “explain” anything to anyone, she told me, “He’s brainwashing you.”
After ten text messages in a row railing against him and telling me, “ You deserve so much more” and “you shouldn’t trust him. I’m telling you what you need to hear,” she then said, “We should get together next week.”
“I’d rather not,” I responded.
Then came several more text messages that I didn’t even bother reading.
I sent one last text: “You’re going to have to accept that you’re powerless over my decisions and have no control over them, and that I don’t need someone telling me what to do in my life right now.”
She sent me ten more texts that I skimmed briefly. A few choice sentences jumped out: “I can’t believe you’d choose him over me.” and “I love you and just want what’s best for you.” But I didn’t respond further.
I realize now that these issues were there all along with our friendship, but because I was in such a weakened place, I was perfectly okay having someone call all the shots and tell me what to do. I was willing to be controlled because my life felt so unmanageable, so out of my own control, that it was easy to nod my head and do whatever someone else told me what to do.
Relationships can last for a reason, season, or a lifetime.
My decision to end our friendship came long after it should have. She carried me through my divorce when I couldn’t carry myself, but now that I’m standing on my own two feet, I want to keep walking on my own — without her.