I waited a long time to write this. After 40 years of knowing someone, loving someone, defending someone, when they turn their wrath on you, you just have to know when to walk away. Such was the case 6 months ago when a ‘friend’ did something so out of bounds, so egregious, so unacceptable, I had to call it quits.
The specifics, while interesting aren’t really important in the grand scheme of things. I’m sure he’d say the specifics are everything, but truthfully, they’re not. Everything I loved about him, his wry sense of humor, his acerbic wit, his generous nature just couldn’t hold up against the things he said about me to others, his determination to paint me as mentally ill to my family when I began to resist his demands and the day he felt he was within his rights to contact my employer and ‘share information’. He had become the one thing I’d avoided my entire adult life… an emotional terrorist.
I know a lot about these people. My mother was and is one. I couldn’t help thinking this last Mother’s Day how, after having all those children only one really speaks to her – the one she created exactly in her image. Emotional Terrorists have common qualities: they seem caring and generous to a fault, but they do things in the background that kill your soul a little at a time. They convince you to do things to your own detriment. They say horrible things about you behind your back and they always seem to have a pity card in their back pocket they love to play anytime you attempt to call them on their shit. I understand the toxicity of such relationships and I cut off all communication with my ‘friend’ for a year before letting him back in the last time. I knew better, but I so wanted it to work. My first clue should have been when I opened my door and found a book delivery on my steps. It was entitled “Mistakes Were Made… But Not by Me”. Talk about having a huge set of nards.
He would send gifts – expensive ones and it made me uncomfortable. I never seemed to thank him enough or thank him correctly. He complained to all our mutual friends about how ungrateful I was and before I could attempt to make it ‘right’, another would arrive. It was a spiraling vortex of his disappointment in me I couldn’t fight my way out of. These were things I couldn’t send back either. Difficult to box up a stove and send it back, if you get my drift. Part of me didn’t care. In one round of our friendship, I’d taken care of his three dogs (who I loved) for months while he chased a lover across the country in a relationship doomed for failure. During that time, we formed a writing partnership that should have been lucrative for both of us. Since he was the one receiving the checks, the only one who truly got the lion’s share of the money was he and I was left being owed thousands of dollars after doing 95 percent of the work. When it was time to pay up, he manufactured a tiff and stormed out of my house in a fit of fake outrage. I don’t believe in fighting over money, so that I forgave, but part of me justified the expensive gifts as back pay for monies owed. I’m ashamed of rationalizing it in that way.
At one point, he even convinced me I was taking all of my childhood frustrations out on him, was horrible to people and needed to see a therapist – so I did. I took every email we’d ever sent to each other and shared it with her. I wanted her to fairly see both sides. She came to one conclusion: I was involved in a toxic relationship with him and she assured me I’d given him more than a fair chance and he was essentially a cruel S.O.B. and I should avoid him at all cost. Upon learning he was the only person with whom I had such a relationship, she assured me I was nothing he said I was. I was so convinced he was right I sought a second opinion. That therapist was less kind about his behavior.
So why did I let him back in? I wanted it to work. I have a tendency to be endlessly forgiving. I tend to remember only the good things and forgive the bad. He convinced me he needed me and I needed him and I wanted that. I foolishly forgot I was the only one to bend, to ignore bad behavior, to give second, third and fourth chances. And I realized I was in the same sort of vicious cycle as women in abusive relationships. My mother had taught me this is what love is and some habits are just so hard to break.
The call to my employer and the misdirected scathing e-mails he’d sent to friends about me and ‘accidentally’ copied me on were not an accident. They were meant to hurt and deeply. One day, you wake up and decide you have to love yourself enough to just walk away. I had the benefit of having done it nearly three decades earlier with my mother. I have to tell you, saying the words to him was the tough part, but my life in the past 6 months has been the most liberating of my life. No more guilt gifts. No more emails about my supposed mental illness, no more having to explain my whereabouts. No more five-hour phone marathons in which I was barely permitted to speak and my entire day was ultimately shot. No more hearing from friends about him making fun of my radio show and how it’s a perpetuation of my lifelong failures. No more criticism about what a terrible writer I am because at least his writing comes from “such an organic place…”
If a friendship is no longer emotionally fulfilling but merely a source of pain, it’s no longer a friendship. It’s a hostage situation. I learned I had plenty of real friends willing to pay the emotional ransom to free me from my captor. I appreciate my friends who can be honest with me without being cruel and I thank them for that. I still end every phone conversation with a friend or a family member with an expression of sincere love. Life’s too short to be living it for someone else. Share it with people who want nothing from you but your love and feel the need to give nothing more than that in return.
The payoff is huge.
Carol Baker is a political writer, satirist, and co-host with Vicki Childs of our Here Women Talk weekly internet talk radio show called BROADSIDED. You can hear their show every Thursday at 11 am Eastern/10 Central/8 Pacific.