I love you so we're done
October 26, 2014 12:38 PM   Subscribe

How do I maintain the resolve to cut off a great but unhealthy friendship?

I'll try to keep this short-ish:

15 months ago, I met this great guy online. We hit it off right away and saw each really often. I went on a month-long trip soon after that, and we talked every day. He initiated nearly all of it. When I came back, it was still great, so I eventually breached the topic of a relationship. His response was basically that he's interested enough in being married in the next few years that he doesn't want a relationship with someone that he doesn't see himself with forever (something he's repeated since in various discussions - he feels a lot of his friends wasted time in relationships with early red flags). He doesn't see himself married to me because of age/place-in-life differences (I was in the middle of undergrad then, now almost graduated, and he's 3.5 years older) and religious differences (we share a religion but it's a central part of his life and a very peripheral part of mine). Many of my friends disagreed, but I can respect him for saying that up front.

After that conversation, we continued to see each other and sleep together for months (this question referred to the same guy). Eventually, I broke down and said it was hurting me, he wasn't making enough time in other parts of his life, and that I felt kind of used. He was incredibly kind and understanding throughout that conversation and we tried to take a break from talking (which we did, for a while) and stop sleeping together (which took longer). In reality, we only truly completely stopped when I was (casually but exclusively) dating someone else for a while.

I'm pretty sure our relationship has been pretty dysfunctional since then, which was February. I'm still into him, I think it's obvious. I regularly go way out of my way for us to hang out and he doesn't really ever do the same. He initiates most all conversation, the times we hang out are pretty much all determined by him, etc. My friends don't like him much (in fact, they mostly kind of hate him), though I think a lot of that is twisted by me feeling hurt and then complaining to them about the situation with him. Our relationship has always been flirty, even when it's been "platonic" - and physical things definitely have happened now and again. Again, pretty much all determined by him. Because that's the tone of our relationship, I sense that I come across very needy to him and probably a bit manipulative. I'm always making time when he has time and getting mad at him when he doesn't follow through on things. And it breaks my heart every time I give him advice on people he's dating, even though he does the same for me. And he doesn't understand if I try to explain why I can't talk to him about that ("but we're friends, aren't we?") or why I don't want him asking me to set him up with my friends. I subconsciously hold out hope that someday we'll date (thanks, romcoms) even though he's made it abundantly clear that he doesn't see that with me.

Still - he's one of my best friends. We talk all the time. He's introduced me to great professional contacts (our interests overlap a lot, so we'd likely still overlap at professional events in our fairly small world even if we stopped hanging out one-on-one) and gives me great advice. He's opened up to me in ways I know he doesn't open up to others, and done things that he's never done for anyone else he's dated like invite me to his birthday party. When we talk, we just get each other; he knows me better than anyone and I can really be myself around him. Sometimes I have no idea if I mean a lot to him but I know he means a lot to me.

So. The logical conclusion from months of heartachey journal entries and relationships likely marred by my continued contact with this guy is that we aren't good friends for each other. But I've concluded that often and I haven't followed through. I've drafted emails to say "Sorry. I think you and I both know I'm still crazy into you. You're the best, but I don't think we can be friends." But then he comes through for me on something or we go dancing and it's just the best night. I don't know how to end this friendship and have the resolve to keep it ended, at least until I'm really and truly over him.

I hate that I'm playing into all kinds of stereotypes about relationships at my age. Every time I read over this, it seems overdramatic and petty. It was dumb for us to try to stay friends, I knew it at the time and I definitely know it now. But it sucks.

MeFi, where do I go from here? If I cut off this friendship, how do I maintain the resolve to keep it cut off?
posted by R a c h e l to Human Relations (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Block his phone number. Change it in your phone to "PAIN!" (or the like)
Filter your emails from him so they go into a folder you have named something similar.
posted by heathrowga at 12:44 PM on October 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

Ugh, this guy sounds terrible. He's dating you and having sex with you for MONTHS but won't call it a relationship? And now that you're sort of broken up, he's asking you to SET HIM UP WITH YOUR FRIENDS?! Wow. That is not acceptable "ex behavior," even if you two are now "friends." Agreed with the above poster to block him on everything and avoid him like crazy.

For what it's worth, I will say that every guy I've ever dated who my friends hated did in fact turn out to be bad news in the end. Unless you have terrible friends with bad taste (which, I suppose is possible, but hopefully not the case?!), they are probably going to be more objective observers of the situation than you are. Unless you can come up for a really good reason why their hatred of him is illegitimate (i.e. maybe they're super racist and he's black? in that case get new friends!!), then trust them. In this case, it sounds like their reason for hating this dude is "he makes Rachel feel like shit." And in fact, that's a really good reason to dislike him, and it's a reason you should trust and follow!

And, enlist your friends to help you stay away. Maybe you have a friend who will agree that when you're feeling tempted to call him up for sex, you can call her instead and you guys will get together to drink girly cocktails and watch America's Next Top Model (or whatever random fun activity).

On how to actually make it stick: again, enlist some close girlfriends. Write that email, and then have your friend be your cheerleader when you send it and block him on all media. In that email, let him know: "Please don't contact me. I'm sad to lose this friendship, but this is what is best for me and I will not be replying/contacting you anymore." Then schedule some quality time to grieve this relationship. It SUCKS, and you need some good solid time of watching sad movies, eating ice cream, drinking some wine, all with supportive friends. It's cliche, but sometimes that's what you gotta do to feel the pain and get through it.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:55 PM on October 26, 2014 [19 favorites]

Well, you can stop calling it a "great but unhealthy friendship" which is not what it is and diminishes the importance of what's going on and your experience here. You are breaking up with a crush and unrequited love and you need to treat it that way.

Your email doesn't sound dramatic at all to me; it sounds level headed and responsible. "I think you and I both know I'm still crazy into you. You're the best, but I don't think we can be friends. I'm sorry but I need to take an extended break from you and that means cutting off contact to take care of myself."
posted by DarlingBri at 1:01 PM on October 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

done things that he's never done for anyone else he's dated like invite me to his birthday party.

You sound like a really great person, so don't take this the wrong way, but this is not a sign that he thinks you are special. This is a sign that he has really severe issues with the way he interacts with the people he dates, unless he's never dated someone for more than 2 or 3 dates. Why wouldn't you invite the person you are dating to your birthday party? It's really odd and, combined with your description of your relationship, it strikes me that he likes to keep people on their toes, and keep them feeling insecure even when he is "in a relationship".
posted by one more robot at 1:21 PM on October 26, 2014 [35 favorites]

He is not "the best" nor is he your friend; he is (from your description) a jerk who is playing with your emotions. You deserve so much more than this.

You have friends, so spend time with them while cultivating new relationships with people who won't use you in this way.

Maybe think about it like this: for whatever reason (which you may want to explore in therapy), you are attracted to a person who is disrespectful of you, and the more you hang out with him, the more power you are giving to him. The only way to cut off his power over you is to cut him out of your life.
posted by girl flaneur at 2:19 PM on October 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

What if it was still like this 4 years from now? That's what'll happen if you keep this guy in your life. Is that what you want?
posted by lunastellasol at 2:34 PM on October 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh man, I've been where you are and I know how much it completely sucks. And it's unfair! The human brain should have a handy little "turn romantic desire off for this person" switch. Alas.

I helped myself through a similar situation. I was hooking up with someone and it turned out we had a lot in common, so we spent a lot of naked and not-naked time together but even though I wanted to date we definitely weren't "dating," to him. After I finally broke things off, I wanted to maintain a friendship and I knew it'd be likely we'd encounter each other at professional events. So my immediate goal was to kill the romantic feelings. I accomplished this by making use of 20/20 hindsight and really thinking about all the things that would make it really, really crappy to date this person.

The first reason why you don't want to date this person is that you seem kind, cool, and thoughtful, but he doesn't want to date you! Strike one. You've known this person for a good number of months and have spent a ton of time together, right? Yet you still don't know if you mean a lot to him. Strike two. He doesn't invite people he's actually dating to his birthday party. Strike three. He doesn't respect your healthy, well-placed boundaries when you asked him to not talk about people he's dating. Strike four. Yuck! I totally wouldn't date this person. He sounds like he sets up situations to make the tiniest morsels of his attention seem like grand gestures.

Sorry, I know I'm being harsh on someone you're close to. I'm sure that in most respects he's a great person, but right now you when you feel yourself pining for him, maybe it will help you to view him through a harsher lens like what I described above. This (plus a few months of no-contact/avoidance) helped me accept my own situation a little better. We're now truly good, platonic friends. We give each other equal time, and I don't feel like our friendship is uneven. It takes time, sure, and please be kind to yourself over the next few months. But in addition to that time, I'm not sure I could have done it without realizing that, you know what, he wouldn't have been all that great as a boyfriend.
posted by nicodine at 2:35 PM on October 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

How has he tricked you into thinking any of this is OK??

Until you admit to yourself that he treats you like shit (OMG, does he ever treat you like shit) you won't give him up.

Nothing you wrote is acceptable treatment from anyone, let alone someone you've been naked with.

I wish I knew of some way to break his spell and give you the upper hand. I wish I could save you this heartache.

The best thing would be if you could "fade," but you're too hooked and he's going to keep dragging you back.

The only answer is to dump him and block him on all social media. Cold turkey. DTMFA.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:05 PM on October 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

Send your email (DarlingBri's wording is spot on). Being young doesn't automatically qualify your emotions as petty, and what you're going through is a universally painful experience. Kudos on being so self-aware and for having such a level-headed grasp on the situation. You are, sincerely, almost where you need to be.

I'm not sure if the reminders/advice I received in a similar situation will help you, but these are the things that helped me most... passed on from friends and family who had also been in that piney-place.

-Block everything. Facebook, cell, any other form of social media that you can access each other on. Not drunk/sad texting is a lot easier if you don't have their contact information handy.

-All the great qualities you see in this man will wear themselves so much better on someone who is actually stoked to be in a relationship with you.

-This is going to sound mean, but pick apart every. single. thing. about him. Look for the asymmetry in his face. Focus on every unattractive thing he has ever done. Having problems thinking of enough things? Get your friends to join in a shittalk sesh when you get to a place where you stop making excuses for him and don't feel the need to defend him. Make a list. Do whatever you need to do to take your focus off of the things you enjoy about him. It's crazy how quickly someone's appeal can fade when you can tangibly see how unattractive they are.

-Surround yourself with people who enjoy you and respect you and let them remind you what a wonderful person you are; getting others to validate your worth as a human is going to help you rebuild your love and confidence in yourself (and you need that, because that self-love is eventually going to be the barrier you're looking for to help maintain your resolve).

-And when you're feeling your weakest? "This too shall pass."

Grieving the loss of the friendship is the most difficult part. The fun part comes after the healing - when you meet someone who delights in the privilege of knowing the real you.
posted by rideunicorns at 4:35 PM on October 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

This is what has helped me maintain distance with someone, when I've been in a similar situation. I hope it helps you, too.

When I feel like making contact, or checking in on this person (asking mutual acquaintances about the person, etc.), I run through a sort of proof of why it is pointless to engage in that behavior. Mine is something like this:

1. I cannot be happy in a relationship under condition X (it sounds like there's a bit of a power imbalance in the relationship, so maybe that could be your X).
2. All the information I have indicates that, with regards to person Y, condition X is still met.
3. Even if I did behavior Z (asked after this person, contacted them, or some similar behavior that would strengthen the relationship, even if only in my head), it would not change points 1 and 2. Points 1 and 2 are the reality I'm living in.
4. Ergo, behavior Z would be pointless.

I don't know. This helps me disengage from the feelings that urge me to do something that would be hurtful in the long run. I hope it helps you. Good luck!
posted by MrBobinski at 6:42 PM on October 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hmm...I worded my comment in a way that made it sound like you only had to worry about your own attempts to reconnect, even when it sounds as though he has been the one to initiate contact in the past, and might be a little boundary pushy-y in the future. In those cases, behavior Z can be picking up the phone or replying to a text from that person.

Again, good luck!
posted by MrBobinski at 6:56 PM on October 26, 2014

Ouch. My first love was like this, right down to the ages and the physical relationship after the insanely hurtful (pragmatic-seeming at the time) nuclear insult that I was not marriageable material. That on-and-off relationship, and unhealthy friendship, lasted for seven years. You don't know how much you mean to him: obviously you do mean something to this man, but the most important answer is, simply, not enough for him to reign in his solipsism to avoid hurting you in the many, blatant ways you're describing here. Asking you to be his therapist at his beck and call whenever he wants to talk, but flaking on plans you've initiated? No. Freaking out and calling every day when you slip out of his control, ie, are traveling for a month? No. Asking you for advice on people he's dating when he knows you're in love with him? Fuck no. You and I are not the same person, and I hate to hijack an ask thread with a bitter life story about my own dysfunction, but I at least was not able to even think about having healthy romantic relationships until I'd cut that guy out of my life. Even when we both knew we would never be seriously together, even when he was just "a friend" that I occasionally fell into bed with, even when there was a possibility of him being a close friend again, rather than a distant one. Like jbenben says, the slow fade is the best route; if you can, start progressively blocking him on social media and vague out of your talks with "I'm busy, can I call you later?" or whatever. Block him; if he asks, give a "sorry, I just can't" "it won't be possible" style answer and then stick to it. I promise you will find other people that you can feel like your authentic self around, who will click with you and get you and love you, and who also won't treat you like shit while conditioning you to accept it.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:51 PM on October 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fade out on this guy. No need to do the dramatic thing and email him. That never works the way it is intended. If he were bothering you and getting into your life and you needed to assert a boundary, I'd encourage you to say something. But it sounds like he will let you do the slow fade. If not, just a simple note will suffice: "I've gotten very busy lately; I'm sorry I can no longer maintain our friendship. I wish you the best" type of note.

And while you're trying to figure out what to do with the time that you used to spend thinking about him, pick up a new hobby. What's something really fun that you've always wanted to try? Knitting? Reading the collected works of Shakespeare? Learning to scuba dive? Now is the time. Focus some energy on that and you will be doing yourself a world of good.

Best of luck. You'll look back at this sometime in the not so distant future - perhaps while on an underwatwr dive or when you've just worked out a tricky knitting pattern - and you'll thank yourself for investing in you.

Take care. Situations like this are the pits.
posted by sockermom at 10:13 PM on October 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

MeFi, where do I go from here? If I cut off this friendship, how do I maintain the resolve to keep it cut off?

Baggage Reclaim is a great resource. The new design is harder to navigate, but there's a ton of great stuff there.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:51 PM on October 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

And it breaks my heart every time I give him advice on people he's dating, even though he does the same for me. And he doesn't understand if I try to explain why I can't talk to him about that ("but we're friends, aren't we?") or why I don't want him asking me to set him up with my friends.

All the other red flags aside (which other posters have pointed out), this alone is a huge, huge problem - he is NOT a real friend!
I'm assuming that you're quoting him, but even if not, a line like that makes me shudder in this context!
Friends do not emotionally torture each other. He very likely understands how rubbing your "friend status" in your face makes you feel, and doesn't care, or is playing with you for fun and ego-profit. And so I repeat - he is NOT your friend! A contact in your professional network, a sexual partner, a person you talk to all the time - but not a friend.

You are worried that you've given your (real) friends the wrong impression of him and this relationship by complaining when he's hurt you. Sometimes, that can happen, and it's smart of you to be wary of their response to one-sided complaints.
But this line here is a report. Rephrased: "I explained that his X and Y behavior make me feel bad. He continued with X and Y behavior, using our friendship as a justification." How would you feel about him if your (real) best friend reported the same situation, with this horribly ironic justification, to YOU?

There's lot of good advice above pertaining to other parts of your post... I just felt compelled to point out this specific, atomic-level problem (in my world, anyway) to you as a source of maintaining-resolve-fuel.
posted by Pieprz at 8:18 AM on October 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

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