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Detour

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.

08012003_phone.jpg

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.

Comments

Wiz of Odds / August 1, 2003 1:49 AM

Andrew- Right On. If people don't know how to be adults, you don't need to coddle them and teach them. Most things are forgiveable, but betrayal is mortal. Just ask Dante. Betrayal can be condemned in perpetuity. A very wise local once said, "Motherfuck them every chance you get."

Shylo / August 1, 2003 9:48 AM

Ok, I can see why he wanted to let you know how sorry he was. Maybe his treatment of you keeps him up at night. But such apologies should not be done over the phone. The apologist put you at a disadvantage, surely. A letter or email would have been better.

lacey / August 1, 2003 11:34 AM

Must be the season for coming out of the woodwork: something similar happened to me recently. I attribute it to that person's life not uh..going as planned and thus, by apologizing to you, it makes them feel like some of that bad karma is being lifted. Try not to let it get under your skin...but I feel ya.

jocelyn / August 1, 2003 11:38 AM

Reinserting ones self into a severed relationship to ask for forgiveness does not make amends for wrongs done, but is often an attempt to absolve ones self of guilt. I agree with Shlyo. A simple letter saying "so you know, I was wrong" without asking for anything in return is most apropo. Forgiveness is not something one can expect, it's only granted by the gracious. Generally one doesn't have to notify those one has offended to confess that one was a heel. Everyone is likely well aware.

Naz / August 1, 2003 1:29 PM

While I've had my fair share of fall-outs, I have forgiven and forgotten though things will obviously never be the same. And at the same time, I have cut people out as easily as they came in, in the gravest of circumstances. I just don't need to deal with drama and bullshit, just like it sounds like you didn't either.

ruthie / August 2, 2003 2:20 PM

Sure, seeking forgiveness from someone you've wronged may be selfish, but I still think the gracious response is to accept the apology. This doesn't mean you have to go back to being friends with the person or even liking them, but it can't be healthy (or grown up) to hold on to grudges just on principle.

heather / August 2, 2003 6:15 PM

in my experience, the few severed ties that have come back to haunt me have done so in the guise of twelve-step programs, actually.

I've endured that whole "I apologize and take full responsibility for all the shit I did when I was under the influence of my addiction. which may have hurt you. for which I'm sorry. so. anyway. I gotta go....take care."

it makes them feel better, surely. but I, like Andrew, come away from this situation with wounds re-opened.

only the shield of recovering from their addiction protects them from my railing against their insensitive intrusion into my wound-free existence - I'm just immature enough to believe that if I stayed up nights trying to heal from their fuckosities, they SHOULD stay up nights with their regrets.

but, of corpse, grace trumps immaturity, in this, and accepting the apology is the way to go.

Eric / August 3, 2003 12:32 PM

Sounds to me like the ex-friend in question was feeling guilty about his past behavior. Perhaps his attitude had shifted over the last few months and he was trying to patch up old, festering wounds. It is possible his repentance was motivated by more than selfishness. Just a theory. One I personally don't believe but am willing to consider. I surmise, given his personality type, that his call was a way of regaining control, having the last laugh so to speak. He knew you didn't need to hear from him but by cornering you on the phone, if only for a minute, he took the reigns of the relationship, he got to choose how it ended, on his terms. That explains your anger, which was probably a result of frustration because you were the one holding the reigns just a minute ago.

There's something unique about friendships, something we don't' find in any of our other major commitments. There is an assumption of permanence. Nobody approaches a new friendship with the idea that it will end. Granted, there are some that due to certain circumstances are temporary and Ford Escort relationships (dating someone you don't particular like just so you have someone you can date until you can upgrade to a better model) don't fit the criteria to be called a friendship. I'm talking about NEW, burgeoning, meaningful friendships with people. It's irrational but don't we sort of approach it with the idea that it will last forever? Houses, apartments, cars, kittens, jobs all have horizons, some more distant than others but they are there from the beginning. Friendships don't; they are permanent. In reality, of course, they are anything but. How many of your friends do you think you'll be speaking with when you're in your 60s? I have one and I can't even be sure about him. Hopefully I'll find a her that will want to hang out with me when I'm in my 60s. Still working on that.

Friendships are contracts, except only the name and first few lines are visible. We sign them not without reading the rest but without being able to. You don't really know what you are getting yourself into. A person is rarely completely honest about who they are the first few times you meet them. Some never are, as Andrew found out. Breaking the contract is so difficult because of the assumption of permanence. Either they're slow, agonizing deaths, or violent and explosive, over in a bang, but just as painful.

Lena / August 6, 2003 4:43 PM

Andrew, I am so with you. I think you're completely justified and did the right thing. Friendships are a two-way street and you have to get as much out of them as your putting into them. Also, friendships take a lot of work and it can be difficult to decide to end a friendship. I applaud your friend for apologizing and I applaud you for accepting it and moving on. And kudos to you for venting and being mad, damn straight, I would be too. It's only human and natural. You were hurt but did the right thing, I think.

 

About the Author(s)

Andrew Huff maintains his do-not-call list at me3dia.com.

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