I recently got a call from an ex-friend, someone who betrayed my trust one time too many, and ultimately decided that it was better for us to never talk to each other again than have to bear the thought of his betrayals. I was just fine with this, as it meant I didn't have to listen to any more lies or rationalizations. I could move on with my life, safe in the knowledge that this person wouldn't bother me again. The last I heard from him, via email, was more than six months ago.
So obviously, the call caught me off-guard. But I managed to maintain composure and listen to my ex-friend's apology for all the terrible things he'd done and for being such a lousy friend in recent years. He claimed he didn't want to try to renew things, just to apologize. I thanked him for the apology and told him to have a nice life.
If only caller ID was this informative.
And I shook for several minutes afterward, angry as all hell. I called my best friend and left a message on his phone: "Fucking _____ _______." When Bran called me back, I spent more than half an hour venting my spleen about the call, which had lasted all of a minute. The nerve of that guy! How dare he call me, especially after the way he ended things? And for forgiveness? The bastard!
Eventually I calmed down, but every time I thought about it for the next few days my ire would rise again blood would start to boil all over again. But with some distance, I could see what my ex-friend was doing, and recognized an impulse I was very familiar with.
I haven't had to end very many relationships, romantic or otherwise. Sure, I've broken up with girlfriends, but I've stayed friends with most of them, preferring to let the relationship fade away rather than burn out. Most friendships have ended the same way; I am in fact a master of leaving things open. Gotta keep those options available, you know.
On those rare occasions when the relationship must end forcefully, I haven't been so masterful. In fact, I'm pretty awful at it. I let a dysfunctional relationship linger for years before finally putting an end to it, and I'm not sure why. Maybe I'm just too optimistic -- I hoped that the friendship could be salvaged, or at least turn into something positive eventually. I was dead wrong, and the longer it lingered the more bitter it became. But even now that all contact has been severed for more than a year, I still go over our last conversation in my head every so often. And I still feel the impulse to get in contact with her, to see if things can be patched up or at least hash things over one last time. Fortunately I don't have her number (and she's finally refrained from calling mine.)
What is it that makes some people unable to let things go? I think it's a fundemental element of our existance as social creatures to want to maintain a good relationship as well as possible. It's better to have friends than enemies, and so we're programmed on some subconscious level to keep relationships alive, even if they're unhealthy for us. Even when they're way past their expiration date.
For some of us, the urge to maintain a relationship is so strong that it becomes a compulsion to make sure that not only does everyone pretty much have a positive opinion of us but that no one hates us. The thought of someone having bad feelings toward us is so untenable that we find ourselves going out of our way to avoid it, even doing things that are almost sure to garner more ill will. We try to please people at the expense of our own feelings, or at the expense of the truth. We do things that we know are counterproductive, like lying about things in order to avoid a painful truth.
That's how my ex-friend fell from grace: he lied about things to keep people happy, and as the lies compounded he found he could no longer keep up. He found that not only was he not keeping his friends happy, but he was no longer happy. Rather than coming clean and rebuilding, though, he extricated himself by building an escape route out of a series of new lies, the other end of which was a new life with new friends, a clean slate.
But it's hard to let go of relationships, even after you've ended them. You're still tempted to try again, to see if things can work out in the end. That's what I think my ex-friend was hoping to do: Hold onto our relationship, try to move me back to the allies column instead of the enemies. At the very least, he was trying to redeem himself enough in my eyes so as to not be hated outright. It ended up being too late, but it was worth a shot. And as mad as I am at him for calling, I can't really begrudge him for it, because I probably would have done the same thing were I in his shoes. Hell, I have done it.
Doesn't mean I'm going to be friends with him again, the jerk, but at least I know where he's coming from.