goodbye my friend
July 5, 2011 3:30 PM   Subscribe

How do I gain closure on this lost friendship?

This is going to be long.

I met Drew in second year university - a quiet, reserved, intelligent guy, and we started dating. We dropped out of school to spend a year traveling around the world, never tiring of each other's company and having a fantastic time. We came back to Canada and moved to a big city we'd never been to before, sharing a little apartment and getting along great.

As great as our relationship was in many ways, it did have its problems. From the beginning we never had much physical chemistry, but I didn't give it too much weight. He never went down on me. He seemed much less interested in sex than I was. At first I just thought that this is what sex was like with 'nice guys' (I was young and naive and had only dated an oversexed 'badboy' up to then), but over time I started wondering if he had been abused, or was gay, or if I was repulsive, etc. Talking about it with him led to him shutting down and just saying that he didn't know why he didn't feel sexual, and that he wasn't willing to go to therapy about it. A few things made me think he probably was gay (especially when he got drunk), but the sexual rejection I felt led me to break up with him.

Then, it turned out I was gay! Or at least way more into women than I had ever admitted to myself. Talk about projection (although in the relationship with Drew it was really me who wanted to be physical and him who didn't). I started dating women, and Drew was heartbroken that I had broken up with him. We still hung out all the time, and his friends called me his 'lesbian life partner'. Over time he got over the heartache and we were just best friends (which is pretty close to all we were when we were dating).

Our friendship was so important to me. We had been through so much together and I felt like he understood me more than anyone. Then he met Rebecca. They started dating and he was really into her. She's beautiful and interesting and I was happy for him. I was dating someone and I wanted us to all hang out.

Rebecca was jealous of me though. Which I can understand, since Drew and I had been so close. I felt Drew drifting away from me, and talked about how sad it made me to him. He said that it made him sad too, but that whenever he told Rebecca that I had been in a group of people he was with that she would get really jealous, and if she was drinking she would say mean things about me. Drew is passive and kind of a pushover, and Rebecca is fiery and bold, and he wouldn't argue with her. He did say however that he would talk to her, and then said that he did, and that he wanted to maintain our friendship.

I didn't expect our friendship to remain the same as it had been. I was up for only hanging out in groups of people, for always inviting Rebecca whenever I invited him anywhere, etc. But he just dropped our friendship completely. At one point, when I felt like I had been the only one making an effort, I just decided to stop trying. This led to about a year of no contact as he didn't ever initiate. I was kind of heartbroken. A mutual friend said that she got the impression that he thought that I didn't want to hear from him.

Eventually he sent me an email. No hello, no how-are-you, just a link to an article he thought I might enjoy, with a corresponding 'thought you might enjoy this'. I wrote back saying thanks, it's been a while, how are you. His response was a 2 page letter, updating me on all aspects of his life, saying him and Rebecca were doing great, saying that he thought of me and that I was wonderful and he hoped that my life was as wonderful as I was and how was I? I wrote back a similar email, and his response was again distant. I didn't write back to it and haven't heard from him since.

In my long email I never mentioned how sad I was about the loss of our friendship, but I feel like I want him to know it. I also feel anger, resentment, and hurt that he so willingly let our friendship go. I'm leaving town in a couple of weeks and I have some of his stuff. He's out of town for a month, so I'm giving the stuff to a mutual friend to give to him.

I can't figure out how to gain closure with him, either internally (by just accepting that the friendship is over and moving on) or externally (by letting him know how sad it's made me to have lost the friendship). In my leaving I'm feeling regret about several things I never did (ex: asking certain people on dates) and I don't want to just always feel regret at having never said anything to him. In addition, I don't think he wants our friendship to be over completely....I know he loved and cared about me...I think he's just in a new relationship and forgot about me/let me go. I don't know. I just find it really sad because I wanted to know each other forever, and it feels like I just have to forget about him and can't (it's been a year). Even in that year of no contact I never really got over it, so I don't think it's a matter of time.

The stuff of his that I have includes a bunch of pictures of us on our voyage. I could just let the mutual friend give them to him and let him be sad as he looks at them. THe problem is he's not very communicative or emotionally expressive, so I think even if he did regret losing our friendship, he wouldn't be the one to say so or try to reinitiate it.

I also realize that this is more than a friendship since we loved each other and were together, so maybe it is best to let him go and be in his new relationship and forget about him. I just don't know how. I've tried but never stopped feeling sad/missing him. I don't want to be with him or date him - I guess I don't even know what I want now that I'm leaving. When I was here I wanted to be in each other's circles of friends - invite each other (and our respective partners) to dinners, hangouts, parties, etc. Now that I'm leaving I guess I just want to know that I won't never see/speak to him again, or else I want to know how to accept that fact.

If I knew he hated me, or really didn't care about me at all, I think this would be easier to accept. I don't think that's the case though.

I don't know if I've managed to articulate any kind of clear question in this post, but I'm looking forward to your interpretations, advice, and illuminations of my blindspots nonetheless. This is on my mind a lot and I just want to get past it somehow.
posted by whalebreath to Human Relations (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
From an outsider's perspective, I'd disagree that you need to "gain closure" here or forget about him or to know that you will never see/speak to him again. Life is long, and fluid, and there's no reason to conclude (conclusively) that he has let your friendship go forever... unless you want to let his go, which is your prerogative. My point is that I would not be at all surprised if, in six weeks, or six months, or six years -- either when he's split with Rebecca or when life throws you together again or when enough time has passed that one or both of you find yourself/ves with fresh perspectives and a way to reapproach one another that works -- you end up being close again. Maybe not, sure, but why not leave that option open?

Clearly he cared and cares about you, and you should feel free to consider that that can actually be consistent with not being actively involved in each others' lives right now, for now.
posted by mauvest at 3:41 PM on July 5, 2011 [9 favorites]

Sounds like Drew is torn....and he misses you, but he's caught up in a weird situation and doesn't quite know how to navigate between you & Rebecca and have things be okay. Seems like Rebecca is making it very difficult and that sucks for both of you.

I do think you need to let him know how you feel. That more than anything will make it infinitely more difficult to either move or with or without him in your life.
posted by SoulOnIce at 3:44 PM on July 5, 2011

I am the sort of person that very, very rarely makes long-term friendships. I have good, close friendships, sure, but when circumstances change for some reason, I'm just not good at keeping in touch, and friendships fall away. I'm usually completely uninterested in really re-connecting with people, though I'd absolutely do something like send a link that i thought someone might like, or send a "what's up with me" email. I don't dislike these people, I just re-prioritized for whatever reason. And regretting losing a friendship is, for me, very very far from wanting to re-initiate that friendship.

So, if he's like me, that thing you want, externally? You can't have it. Those reactions that he's having in your imagination? He won't have those in real life. Why would old pictures make him sad? Pictures of a me and a friend I once had would make me happy, not sad, even if I wished we were still friends. What are you hoping he says if you tell him that you're sad you lost the friendship? My answer to that would maybe be "I'm sorry you feel that way" or "OK" if someone said that to me... but I wouldn't justify myself or feel responsible for their feelings (because what they'd really be asking for is validation of their feelings, and that always feels manipulative), and if there is any friendship left I'm likely to take an extra step back from them after that.

His priorities have changed, and you aren't them anymore. Any closure you want to have can only happen internally, because external closure doesn't exist. He won't say what you want him to say, he won't think what you want him to think, and he won't do what you want him to do. Time to accept it and move on.
posted by brainmouse at 3:44 PM on July 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

I'll have to agree with brainmouse- I think you're going to have to continue to mourn this alone. Is it possibly bigger than Drew? Are you sad about losing the life you led when you were with him? Traveling, moving to a big city together, all that adventure- I could understand why not living that life anymore could make a person feel sad. Are you feeling lonely because Drew is with someone you sense must really be fulfilling him? Think about the things in your own life that you might be projecting onto this situation that you could remedy.

Also, and this may sound harsh, but I don't know how to say it: You were Drew's girlfriend, and then you broke up with him and broke his heart, and then he found a new girlfriend. Maybe it's possible that he doesn't need to be close friends with someone who once broke up with him; maybe it's better for him to keep you at a distant, think of the fond memories, and keep it at that. Maybe bringing you close is more drama than it's worth- for starters, his new girlfriend doesn't like you, and maybe it's because she can sense you're trying to keep your claws on him. Like, what's with you giving him back his stuff- are you giving him stuff he misses that he asked you to send, or are you sending him stuff unsolicited in hopes that it stirs up some feelings in him (like in the way you described)?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:58 PM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

>So, if he's like me, that thing you want, externally? You can't have it.

This doesn't sound like that type of guy.

Actually, he just sounds very passive, and as though Rebecca is calling the shots.

With that in mind, as mauvest writes, there seems to be little pressing need for "closure", except that coming from you.

>I wrote back a similar email, and his response was again distant. I didn't write back to it and haven't heard from him since.

Mentally file him away. If he pops back up, he pops back up.

>I'm leaving town in a couple of weeks and I have some of his stuff. He's out of town for a month, so I'm giving the stuff to a mutual friend to give to him.

You have his stuff; you're on friendly terms; send him a goodbye note, along with directions to his stuff.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:59 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't see a downside to just sending him an e-mail expressing your sadness at the loss of the friendship and letting him know that you'd like to stay long-distance friends. There's all this unspoken stuff between you and wondering what he's thinking--I would just tell him what you've told us and clear up any possible misunderstandings about what you want. Then the ball is in his court. I would think about how you'll feel about it, though; I'm sure writing this would give you some closure, but how will you feel if he doesn't respond? You'll probably be right back where you are now.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:05 PM on July 5, 2011

It's always hard to lose or feel like you've lost someone that you love; there's no discounting that. Relationships are rarely 50-50 and they tend to change over time. Even if Rebecca hadn't come into the scene, it's not unlikely that you and Drew would have drifted apart due to other life circumstances including job responsibilities, moves, new interests/social circles and eventually family responsibilities if either or both of eventually have children.

Also people are different (just call me captain obvious but bear with me for a minute). An ex, with whom I remained close friends and in fairly close contact via phone calls and emails for a year or two after our break up once told me that even if we didn't keep in contact and he figured we wouldn't --eventually life would get in the way--it didn't mean that he didn't still care about me. That he had friends that he only spoke to or emailed once every year or two but it didn't mean that he didn't still consider them friends. Now that doesn't really fit my definition of a "friend." I would consider someone with whom I had contact only every couple of years as someone that I used to be close to but who was now more of an old acquaintance than an active friend. I wouldn't think any less of him as a person, I just wouldn't consider us best buds. So it maybe more that Drew thinks of you as a friend, but not one that he's willing to commit a lot of time or effort to. You feel that friendship involves more commitment. The pair of you are probably never going to come to an agreement about that. You can't force your definition of friendship on someone else.

Also, I understand that you're feeling sad and hurt, but I agree with brainmouse that anything that you're likely to do that you think will make him sad probably won't. He's obviously not in the same place you are. You need to wish him well in your head and heart and move on.
posted by kaybdc at 4:12 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can write him, but consider that he might not write back. You might wind up feeling worse than you do now if you feel like you stuck your neck out.

But true friendships are worth salvaging if possible, and especially since you're leaving town, there's not much to lose, is there? The fact that you're leaving provides a good excuse for a note. Let him know you're going, that the memories of your friendship in your old town are precious to you, and that in the new chapter of your life you'd welcome having him as a "somewhere out there" friend; and that you mean no harm to his relationship and are glad that he's happy.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:15 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Closure is overrated. Write him a note and tell him what you want to tell him and let that be your final word on things. This was part of your past. You're glad you had him when you did, but you don't anymore and there's nothing he can say to make you feel better about it.

There are no magic words to make you feel less hurt.
posted by inturnaround at 4:56 PM on July 5, 2011

Why did you never talk to him in that year of no contact? Did you say to him, "I feel like I'm the only one making an effort, I don't feel valued as a friend". Then he thinks that you didn't want to hear from him! Did you ever talk to him after that?

He tried to reach out to you by sending that email; he wasn't all "how are you" because he was testing the waters. Since you were responsive, he totally opened up. I don't know why his response to yours was distant, but then you didn't respond! Why weren't you communicating with him?

At this point though, I think you should just let it go. It sounds like you need some time and distance and to learn and grow some more. Get on with your life and when you feel like the time is right, check in on him. But don't hold any grudges against him or whatever. Let the friendship be, and let him be, whatever he is at that point in time. The friendship you had, and the friendship you hoped to have, are things you need to let go of. But at least be open to the possibility that you may be friends again in the future, and for that friendship to be different from the past and your hopes.
posted by foxjacket at 5:28 PM on July 5, 2011

I think you need to look at the situation from his perspective, with a hearty dose of empathy. He was dating someone he cared about, but because there was a mismatch in libido, you broke up with him and subsequently started dating women. It's possible that he had feelings for you all along--whether or not you say it was solely platonic. His girlfriend might be jealous not because she doesn't trust you, but because she knows how emotionally involved he was with you--an involvement that might not have made him happy, as you rejected him, in a very real way.

It doesn't sound like you want closure. In fact, if you wanted the last word, you have that: you've already told him that you're mourning the loss of his friendship. Problem is, when these relationships start with romance, it's not really up to the departing party as to whether or not they still get the platonic benefit of a friendship out of the exchange. It's up to the person who was dumped. Right now, his actions are telling you that he doesn't want to be interested. I think you should accept that, and move on.

(Just a note: generally, I've found that my friendships--with both sexes, but especially with men--are happier when I put less emphasis on the obligation of contact at a steady level. On fewer obligations generally, really. Accept that friendships ebb and flow with time and situation and that friends will disappear and then reappear and you might just be a little happier.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:35 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

In my long email I never mentioned how sad I was about the loss of our friendship, but I feel like I want him to know it. I also feel anger, resentment, and hurt that he so willingly let our friendship go.

Whoops, sorry. I misread this.

When it comes down to it, though, I don't know that it's really your place to impose these feelings on him. Perhaps this space--long coming after what sounds like a painful break-up--was what he really needed to move on with his life. It sounds like he's happy and doing well; perhaps, as his friend, it's time to just be happy for him.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:39 PM on July 5, 2011

What stands out is me is that you want contact but keep dropping contact because it's not the kind you want or something. You broke up with him, stopped initiating (even upon learning he thought you didn't want to hear from him), and didn't reply to his last email.

I kind of understand why you might do this, but it does seem like it's not only that he isn't doing enough to maintain the friendship. There's also a piece that has to do with you, a choice that you are making. Maybe this can help you feel less powerless?
posted by salvia at 5:46 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Always choose the girlfriend over the ex. You dumped him and he wants to be with her. This is easy math.

Sure, there are some unknowns. Maybe it took him a long while to get over you, and now that he's moved on, he doesn't need you in his life. Maybe he would like to have you in his life but doesn't want to fight that fight with his girlfriend right now.

What do you want to have happen here? It seems unlikely that he will suddenly decide to engage in and maintain an intense long-distance friendship with you. This isn't an exclusive sexual relationship where there's a clear "it's over." We already know he doesn't hate you. You could make him feel awkward or uncomfortable, I guess.

If you want to be in touch, do your best to keep being in touch. Otherwise, stop making an effort and let the chips fall where they may. Things have changed and are never going to be the same -- this has already happened. Things aren't black and white, and the type of closure you're looking for isn't there to be had.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:19 PM on July 5, 2011

Sometimes no matter how much we want closure, it still chooses to show up on its own time frame. I find that if you can accept what is, it's easier to let things go. As in "I may not get what I want here" (a response from him, a rekindling of the friendship, an acknowledgment that you feel sad).

But if you keep hanging on, leaving the door open, then you continue to feel incomplete. I'm not saying close the door or jack it open, I'm saying let it be. Ask yourself how you can be at peace with situation as is. Feel your feelings, but don't make him responsible for them. It sounds like he's got a load of his own that he's stuffed down and doesn't know how to make sense of.

I also recommend doing The Work.
posted by healthyliving at 6:32 PM on July 5, 2011

Your ex-boyfriend cannot or will not be the type of friend you want him to be.

That's what you're left with when you strip everything else away. It's unfortunate for you but it's hardly a unique situation.

I started dating women, and Drew was heartbroken that I had broken up with him. We still hung out all the time, and his friends called me his 'lesbian life partner'. Over time he got over the heartache and we were just best friends (which is pretty close to all we were when we were dating).

Quoted because I think that's a key part. He was still investing his emotional energy and time into his relationship with you, even after you'd broken up with him and started dating other people. His friends even keyed onto that when they called you his lesbian life partner. It's certainly understandable how a situation like that can arise; it's always hard after a breakup to lose a lover and best friend and support network all in one, and it can be very easy to cling on to what you had, so I'm not trying to be judgmental of either of you here. But it's honestly better for him that he's moved on from that relationship/not-relationship thing with you and is now investing that kind of energy and time into his relationship with Rebecca. While it would have been nice if she hadn't been as jealous so you could all hang out like you wanted, they probably needed some time and space to develop their relationship in (one hopes) a healthy manner without you.

Maybe closure can come from taking a step outside yourself to see what's better for everyone involved. Drew's a good guy, right? Doesn't he deserve to be in a reciprocated relationship?

You're a good person, too. Allow yourself to grieve what was lost.
posted by 6550 at 11:22 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are just going to have to file him away as a happy memory and move on. Here's the thing: YOU will never be in a relationship/marry him and move his life forward. EVER. You have found love, now back away and let him do the same. His SO is not into the 2 of you hanging out-so move on. To continue to bemoan 'your' loss, and how his new love efffects YOU is selfish.

Give yourself time to grieve in private. The loss of any frienship is hard, but it sounds like the hurt is on your end only
posted by Frosted Cactus at 9:58 AM on July 6, 2011

I have many of these similar types of friendships from past, some sexual, most not, always love. I tell myself "we dissipated outward like an asterix", and just feel that ache, and know it is still love that I feel.

It's hard, but these things happen, and sometimes you have to carry an ever so slightly heavier heart, and remind yourself that your life would have been less without that experience.
posted by roboton666 at 10:30 PM on July 6, 2011

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