Masochistic friendship

(I almost don’t want to post this because there is a chance the person I’m talking about may see it. I don’t know if she knows/remembers this blog address or has it bookmarked and would be checking it. If she did see it, she wouldn’t be happy. I have cut or limited her access to what I post on social media because it became clear to me that she couldn’t be trusted with my words as her idea of me is wildly inaccurate and anything could be new fodder to support her negative view of me. As Aaron Burr says in Hamilton’s “Non-Stop” (and lol, wouldn’t this person just love a musical reference), “Every proclamation guarantees free ammunition for your enemies.” I’ve been following that philosophy in dealing with her, and publishing this post runs directly counter to that. However, the friendship is effectively dead, I don’t want it revived as I’d just be signing up for more abuse and sarcastic tolerance of my quirks from her, and while we have mutual friends they would not really care if she ran to them to complain about me and they would not stop being friends with me as a result or anything. She would definitely show this post to her newer friends and trash talk me over it though, and perhaps leave a salty comment – though she seems fairly committed to radio silence. Well, I guess if it provides her entertainment, so be it. We aren’t in high school anymore and she can’t ruin my social life in retaliation again.)

In the spring, I let a friendship with one of my supposedly closest friends fade away, and she did the same. It’s becoming clear to me now that we never really liked each other all that much anyway (or well, I did a lot in the beginning, and it was partially hero worship for me, but I’m not sure if she ever really genuinely liked me), and while I don’t know why she continued to make token efforts to stay friends (she’d gchat me, usually something like “WHAT UP” every few months, encourage me to visit her or move to her city, etc), the reason I did was increasingly because I wanted to be the person who remained in her life after so many others had left it. I knew she was toxic and frequently insulted me or belittled me. I didn’t feel good about myself when I was with her; I felt like I had to shrink myself down to be the tiniest, most palatable version of myself, and even then I could tell she didn’t like me. She put down the things that I liked (Japanese culture stuff, etc) even though I made an effort to get to know the things that she did, so we could still have some things in common. My ex Kirk picked up on it and openly disliked her for how she treated me (she didn’t care for him either). Later, after I moved to Japan and began dating Japanese guys, she started telling me things like I “only like him because he’s Asian” or that I had yellow fever, or that she couldn’t see why I was still there if I was “so miserable.” (Never mind the fact that I could say the same for her and her life in her city.) The word just about everyone who knows her uses to describe her is “abrasive.” It’s very true.

But as I watched her beloved boyfriend leave her and it hit her in the gut, messing her up for years and possibly still to this day, as I witnessed friends storm out of her life (quite literally once, and supposedly that friend shouted “Good luck with that one!” to her roommate as she left) and give up on her, I felt like I owed it to her to stay, to stick around. I felt like I could take the abuse, that we could keep being more superficial friends, who just talked about fandom-related stuff and shared fic links.

I also started off very much adoring her. When we met we were in middle school, which for me was the first time meeting people who had gone to other elementary schools (I went to the same one from kindergarten to 5th grade) before we all converged in this one middle school. I was making lots of new friends with girls from other elementary schools, and I had met her through another new friend. I was immediately impressed by how cool she was. She wasn’t preppy popular (her style was more punk/goth/alternative), but she had a lot of friends in a lot of different circles, and she seemed so above everything with her sarcastic attitude. I always saw her as a social butterfly with very high social intelligence, and as someone who struggled to make and keep friends growing up, I admired that deeply. In some ways, I very much idolized her, and so I treasured our friendship as we grew older and closer especially in high school, bonding over shared nerdy interests like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings movies and actors (which she always seemed half-ashamed of, especially when in front of her friends from the non-nerdy circles). In a lot of ways, I felt proud to be her friend, I felt cool hanging out with her (those moments when I got into her car and we would drive around town together were everything to me), and I felt proud to have stayed her friend. And that was a reason why I put up with a lot of how she treated me. (Writing this all out, it sounds pretty fucked up and I have to question a lot of my own motivations.)

But it just got to be too much. She started going to therapy, which I thought would be good for her and tone down her personality, but instead it just made her self-righteous. She began pressuring me to go to therapy regularly, implying that I had so many problems I really needed to be doing that. I explained to her that seeing an English-speaking therapist in Japan costs an average of $100+ a session (the English-speaking therapists are not insured) and I just couldn’t justify it when I didn’t feel out of control of my life. She seemed to get it but I could feel her silently judging and disapproving. Apparently the whole time she thought I needed to get serious help.

The argument began over the stupidest thing. I made what I thought was a joke, which clearly wasn’t a joke to her and she said “Because I know you, I know you didn’t mean to be offensive when you said that, but that was offensive,” and I reacted badly and defended myself saying that it’s offensive when she tells me I have yellow fever, to which she exploded and told me that I always do this, I always make it about me and make myself a martyr and keep things bottled up and then burst out with them and it’s not healthy, I need help because this isn’t okay, etc. She called me toxic and narcissistic. (I remembered later that in high school she’d encouraged me to read this book she’d just read called Don’t Call Me a Drama Queen! about people who have drama queen tendencies. I was a bit bemused as this didn’t seem familiar to me at all*, but I did read it.)

I’m not saying my response was a good one by any means but really my greatest sin was getting defensive (“no, you’re the offensive one!”). I just don’t think it was indicative that I need urgent mental help. (I did end up going to one session of therapy to discuss this issue, and I laid out all the facts and my therapist agreed she was better off gone from my life.)

What she said really threw me and I went around to my closest friends and family members, showing them the conversation (including the not-great things I’d said too, of course) and asking them if she was right, begging them to be honest with me, that I really needed to hear it if it was true. But no one agreed with what she was saying.

So I went back and told her that while I’d considered what she said and asked those close to me to see if it was true, no one agreed and maybe she’s right but I just couldn’t see it. I apologized for getting defensive. And she never responded, and it’s been months now.

What’s surprising is how easy it was for her to let this be the last straw. It makes me wonder if she ever really liked me at all over our 18-year friendship, and I have a suspicion that she didn’t. I always had the feeling she was more amused by me than actually genuinely liked me, but then she’d encourage me to visit or talk to me and I’d think, well, maybe she does like me. But I’m not sure she ever really knew me at all. I suppose part of that is on me, though–anytime I tried to show her who I really was, I could sense the waves of judgment coming off her, so I’d go back in my little box approved by her to be my space to take up in her presence. My goal was maintaining the friendship as opposed to us growing together, because that might mean us growing apart.

In the end, I just feel sorry for her. So many people have left her life voluntarily or she’s driven them out. Her closest friends at this point are, with one exception, people she met in the past few years, and she always makes a great show out of how much she adores them, calling them by special nicknames (which I never received – or actually, to be fair, we tried once and it didn’t stick). But she did the same thing to the other friends who ended up leaving her, and I just feel like the cycle is only going to repeat. She uses up friends and then just finds replacements. It’s like she can’t sustain real friendships for very long.

I also have to notice how much other people’s mental health issues play a role in the friendships she’s lost. She had another friend, her best friend since middle school, and she also lost that friend last year because she didn’t approve of that friend, who has struggled with bipolar disorder and depression, getting pregnant and having a baby. And now she apparently thinks I have serious issues and need help.

I also remember that during the biggest drama I had with her and some other people in high school (detailed below), I had a dream that I was so angry at her that I was trying to hit her – slap her, I think. But my arms would lose strength and the blow would never connect. If I’m recalling the dream correctly, she only laughed at my attempts. I felt powerless and ashamed. This is how it felt in the friendship – that she held all the power and I could never fight back. I’m realizing now that we had a very twisted connection and a lot of dark history and misunderstood feelings that sadly will never get sorted out, and I definitely have a role in that – it is not all her fault by any means. It may well be what’s called 腐れ縁 in Japanese – literally a ‘rotten connection,’ an undesirable but indissoluble karmic bond. Except that I feel fairly confident now that the bond has been severed, and we will not be reconciling unless she changes in a major way, and I just don’t think she will.

I may catch some shit for this post in the end if she sees it, but writing all this out really helped me sort out my thoughts and realize some things. Sometimes I can be kind of a masochist…

* At one point in high school I did stir up some shit within my group of friends, mostly by making posts on LiveJournal (lol) that people didn’t agree with and unintentionally hurting feelings, which caused further drama, but I hadn’t done any of that to be dramatic on purpose. I actually hated being in the center of that shitstorm and at one point turned off my computer for a week so I wouldn’t have to even look at it. At that time, this friend I’ve written this post about was the ringleader of the girls calling for my head and gleefully trash talking me. We ended up reconciling, but she really was a very enthusiastic leader of the anti-me brigade. Anyway, I can see why people who don’t know me very well might think I’m a drama queen, but the truth is I’m just too sensitive (things bother me more than they would others), too blunt (I come right out and say things that others feel hurt by as I was too honest), and to some degree not socially intelligent enough (it just simply doesn’t occur to me to predict the fallout that my words will cause, because to me they’re perfectly innocent). The fact that one of the friends I’d known the longest couldn’t see that about me and preferred to view me as this narcissistic drama queen who enjoys stirring shit up and being at the center of attention is just proof that we needed to stop being friends, as she didn’t know me at all and was apparently happy that way.

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3 thoughts on “Masochistic friendship

  1. Monica says:

    Wow, I have had a few similar experiences. I’ve gone to 8 different schools, and all that moving around has taken a toll on me and my relationships. I grew up around the same friends until middle school, and then my mom made me go to a new school where I didn’t get along with most of my classmates. I made friends with the seniors and then they would graduate and I would feel empty again. Finally, when I was a senior, all of my friends were juniors, so when I left for college, once again, I was on my own. I hated the first university I attended, and even though I made some friends by joining clubs, I transferred after a year, so most of them forgot about me and it was hard to keep in touch with them. Then, I went to my new university for a year, studied abroad in Kyoto for a year, went to community college in the summer, and went back for a semester to graduate. Then, I moved to Japan for two years and now I’m in Korea. I go through periods of feeling lonely, and then I try to pull myself out of it, find a group to join, etc. But I never feel 100% included, and I don’t have lasting bonds with anyone I physically see. My three best friends all live in different places, and we are in constant contact, but it’s hard to feel like it’s a real friendship if we barely see each other. I can never go to dinner with them when I’m having a rough day or just call them when I want to talk. I have to use facebook and wait it out.

    I also had a very toxic relationship, like the one you’ve described. I bonded with a girl over J-pop idols and we went to movies and concerts and bookstores together every weekend, but she’d always make snide remarks about me and I felt like she was putting me down. I visited her in Japan a few months back, and it was the last straw for me. She made me feel like absolute garbage. I haven’t really explained to her why she made me so upset because I know she will be defensive and won’t be willing to see from my perspective, so I just stopped messaging her.

    I still wonder if this was the right move, but I have so much less stress in my life, and I respect myself more for knowing when something shouldn’t be tolerated. I did what you did and analyzed everything she said, asking my friends for their opinions, and everyone told me to let her go. She doesn’t live anywhere near me now, and I will probably never see her again. It’s kind of sad, but our relationship was built around shallow interests and proximity (and loneliness, as both of us were essentially friendless). I hope that I’ve learned something about myself from that experience, and I try to be more genuine and honest with my feelings now. No one should ever be allowed to put you down and call you a friend.

    • seira says:

      Oh gosh, yeah, fandom-based relationships can be really toxic. I knew another girl here in Tokyo who I bonded with over anime and stuff, and she was a nasty piece of work too. Very passive-aggressive, believed she was always right, never wanted to compromise. If I was going to hang out with her I had to swallow my tongue and go along with whatever she wanted, or I would get endless passive-aggressive remarks about how it really would have been better if we’d done things her way. And her general attitude is that she was smarter than everyone else ever. I also just stopped messaging her. I would wonder if this wasn’t the same girl you knew but the one I knew wasn’t into j-pop idols.

      I think you and I are better off without them, and I’m proud of you for cutting her out. But I understand it’s painful, especially when it’s someone you can share a hobby with.

      As for making friends abroad and feeling cut off from your friends at home, definitely it’s hard. I’m fortunate that my best friend is an ADHD insomniac and so whenever I send that LINE message, I’m going to get a reply within an hour normally. The rest of my friends at home I message fairly regularly, but I don’t feel our bond has weakened because we’ve been friends for so long. I’m really glad you have three best friends to talk to, even if conversations don’t normally happen in real time. Maybe see if you can all arrange to be online at the same time once a week? It makes a huge difference getting an instant reply!

      I would say instead of joining a group and trying to be included, focus on friendships with one or two people you meet through the group. Hang out with them one on one. That’s what I tend to do and it’s resulted in much stronger, long-lasting friendships here. I don’t get so upset if I find out “the group” has excluded me if I know I can trust that I’m still really good friends with several people in it anyway, who are willing to hang out with me when I ask (and vice versa). I don’t know if you do any sports or active stuff, but joining the Hash House Harriers was great for me and there is one in Seoul at least (not sure how far you are from Seoul). Lots of military guys to be sure, but also cool expat girls I’ve become great friends with, and locals as well.

      • Monica says:

        Same, I read your post thinking, “I hope this isn’t the same girl I know…” haha. But no, I never lived in Tokyo. I lived in Fukuoka. All of my J-pop based relationships are now over, except for a few Japanese friends who I still talk to. But that’s because they are really sweet people who connect with me over other things.

        The first real J-pop fan friend I ever had loved Arashi, and we lived far away from one another but went to Japan on the same program. When we got back to the States, we talked over AIM every day, and she started making fun of my NEWS bias. And I didn’t agree that all the members of Arashi were as fantastic as she wanted everyone else to believe, so we got in an argument over a comment I made about one of them, and she completely cut me out of her life over it. I was so mad. I also told her about my dream university and helped her prepare to get in as well, but my parents didn’t let me go because it was in Japan. Then she ended up going, and I was crushed. Later on, she messaged me and apologized, saying she knew she had been a b-word. I was glad she came around, but we don’t talk anymore.

        Well, the friends I have are also really good about replying (most of the time) or skyping with me, but we are on different time zones for the most part, so it’s complicated. And we aren’t all mutual friends, so it would be strange to call them all at once XD

        I am the type of person who would rather meet someone one-on-one to hang out, and that’s what I do with most of my good friends, but what I meant was, when I am looking to meet more people, the thing that has helped me the most has been joining clubs. I joined a book club and made a lot of friends that way, and I am also in a theater group where we have different people every time, but the ones who are regulars end up becoming close.

        I’m not in Seoul, but I am in a city. I’m an introvert, though, and I don’t really like walking around by myself or talking to strangers most of the time. My husband is Korean, so I have a lot of ways to meet Korean friends. However, it really depends on what sort of Korean friends I make, because some of them get my humor and others don’t. And it’s hard to express myself correctly in Korean all the time. I’m not really friendless, I just choose to stay at home a lot, and then I end up feeling like everyone is having fun without me. And then when I make good friends, they sometimes go back to their home countries, and I feel alone again. So it’s my fault, I guess, but I don’t mind most of the time. Just when I feel low and realize that a lot of my friends live far away.

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