I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. I was trapped by my own inability to leave what I believed to be a “happy” relationship with a person I no longer had any business even speaking to. We were in bed during a holiday weekend, and the idea of a barbecue came up. As we ran through the list of friends to invite, it occurred to me that the list was incredibly one-sided and that the only people named were the “new friends” we had made during the course of our time together. I realized that none of my girlfriends were on this list and even more painful was the fact that I knew why.
My boyfriend (at the time) and I were in a long-term, off-and-on relationship. When we were good, we were unstoppable and great. But the bad days and breakups were the worst. It took me years and a patient-therapist to finally admit that there was a lot of verbal and emotional abuse that I normalized as “love.” We would break up and get back together, take breaks, see other people, and then come back impassioned to be in each other’s orbit again until we would hit rock bottom and repeat the cycle. Like I said, two people who had no business being together.
I reached out to one of my best friends at the time and sent her an invite to the barbecue. At first, her hesitation to come was due to the fact that it was so last minute, but I pressed further because we’ve had many a last minute hang with no issue. She was just about to give in to my whiney pleas for her to come when she asked if “so and so” would be there. “So and so” was my boyfriend and when I confirmed his attendance, she sharply declined my invite. At this point she didn’t even make up an excuse for not being able to come, she flatly said she would not, but offered to set aside a day when we both could spend time together–just us. The barbecue came and went. I feigned happiness and was the ever gracious host. We looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, except my sadness and grief at not having anyone in my corner was seething beneath the surface.
The day came for my friend and I to sit and I was riddled with anxiety. I had prepared comebacks for any possible attacks against my relationship, but they never came. I lowered my guard, we chatted and made small talk, and I realized how much I missed my friend. We reminisced about all the great times we had spent together, which all seemed to me, in hindsight, like we were speaking of an entirely different person. It was then that my friend explained why she hadn’t been around that often and, quite frankly, stayed away. She said that she had accepted that I was not going to leave the dysfunctional relationship I was in, but could no longer be a part of my even more toxic use of her as a sounding board.
“Everytime you broke up, I breathed a sigh of relief until I realized you were only just going to keep going back,” my friend told me. “I really just couldn’t do it anymore.”
It was the first time that I realized my relationship was bigger than me and had begun to permeate other meaningful relationships in my life. I even reached out to other friends who were honest in their disappointment that I was still in said relationship, especially after multiple bouts of breakups where I’d promised that I was “done,” but in fact was not.
One could make a very solid argument about this being a reason for keeping one’s relationship private, but the truth is my friends were doing nothing more than employing self-care. I was too entrenched in my own feelings to acknowledge that for the people in your life who wish you well, the continuous back and forth in an abusive relationship or life situation can be equally draining when you are not actively working to do better. It is possible to love someone, but do it from afar, especially when their own lack of self-love or self-care fundamentally affects your peace of mind and subsequently your relationship with one another.
After much soul-searching and really sitting in my filth and doing the work, I made the decision to just leave. And like Lot in the Bible, I never turned back. After a ton of therapy, I was able to mend fences, rebuild, and reconnect with some friends I’d lost in the whirlwind of my own dark season. I realized sometimes a friend’s self-love manifests as tough love when it comes to you and I can say for sure in this case that I’m much better off for it.