Why Am I Friends With People Who Treat Me Like Dirt?
Toxic friendships are kind of like toxic boyfriends or girlfriends, which makes sense since at the end of the day they’re both relationships. At the beginning everything can seem great (you like to go out dancing to 80s music? I do too! OMG, we have the same major! Can you believe we’re both vegetarians?!), and much like romantic relationships, you want to share everything and perhaps even call a little too much. So much so, that little red flags go ignored, like when you get aggressively guilt \[tripped for cancelling dinner at the last minute because of food poisoning. Its so rare to find people that we connect with, and its so much nicer to just make excuses (she must just be PMSing, I can be a total bitch when I’m PMSing too) and skip happily into friend-land.
As with any toxic relationship, things get ugly slowly, at an imperceptible pace so that you don’t notice until you look back several years later and see that you’re actually being treated pretty shitty. What makes it so easy to slip into toxicity unnoticed is that, while I can’t speak for the fellas, women can be so cleverly and sneakily mean to one another. When I was getting married, my closest friend tried to convince me to hire a makeup artist, or at minimum go shopping for some fancy makeup. I couldn’t afford it, and I made a joke about using the same cheap makeup I always use. Her response? Telling me that “cheap makeup always looks cheap,” and offering to pay for a makeup artist as a wedding present. It was so hard to understand what felt so shitty about this, since it was so nice of her to offer to hire a makeup artist for me, but underneath that she was also saying that I was running the risk of looking like Erin Brockovich at my wedding since thats how I always look. When I asked if she knew of a florist after I had been quoted $200 for a bouquet (for ONE BOUQUET. That will die in a matter of days. Seriously?), her response was “well are you just going to get carnations then?”. Hisss. Nothing like the threat carnations to seal the deal on my apparent hood ratness, which I had been previously unaware of.
On the day of the wedding, instead of showing up early to hang out and drink champagne while I applied my wet and wild “makeup” with my fingers, I got a text message while I was on my way to the venue asking if I could coordinate a ride for her since she wanted to be able to drink and didn’t want to drive herself, and that she needed me to do that since apparently the only other person who could drive her was a friend of hers who I had not invited and who I said she couldn’t bring when she had asked to bring her a week earlier. My husband-to-be had to arrange her ride at the last minute, and my “friend” showed up just as the ceremony was starting.
My question isn’t really why she acts that way, because it is just too complicated, and there are too many reasons. Its more like why did I stay friends with her? A year before my wedding we made plans to go out to drinks on my last day of law school. I waited, and waited some more, and when I finally called she said she was busy. I cried, but never once did I think to move on to someone who can celebrate my successes. I can’t count how many events she wanted to go to, only to cancel at the last minute after I had already bought tickets, at her insistence, or how many times I listened to her talk about her relationship drama, only to have the conversation turn back to her when I tried to ask for support with my depression. It would always hurt, but I would always stay in it for the good moments, when my loyalty would be rewarded with a fun outing or a text message. The summer that I studied for the bar, my friend was always guilt tripping me about being too busy to be there for her, but when she was sick I’d still break away from my desk to take her food or to take care of her dog. The more she pushed me away, the more I wanted to jockey for that attention that I found so rewarding.
The friendship ended finally, when too many lines had been crossed (including responding when I said that I felt suicidal by talking about her own brush with depression as a teen before launching into talking about her relationship drama). She texted me and asked why there was so much tension in our friendship, and I replied saying that I needed space and that I wished her all the best. No response. And that, anticlimactically enough, was the end. Later, I was recounting what had happened with another friend who I had known since elementary school. “Why are you always friends with girls like that?” she asked, “why can’t you just be best friends with someone who is nice to you?” I was stumped, and that question fluttered around my mind like a bird trapped inside for the next several weeks.
I am always friends with girls like that because honestly, I am a very insecure person. When I tell myself crappy things all day long, it isn’t going to seem weird when another person says those same things. At the end of the day, people treat us how we expect to be treated, and if I am depressed and feel worthless, people will probably treat me that way. With romantic relationships I’ve always gone for the guys who reject me while still stringing me along, getting some sick satisfaction from the small doses of attention that keep me hooked. Winning their love is a project. I always knew this, but never understood that this bled into friendships as well. I’ve never felt a strong platonic attraction to someone who was really nice to me; if anything it was a turn-off, too eager to be interesting.
At some point, I will need to stop being friends with girls like her, but in the meantime, I still feel the sting of a breakup, romantic or not, and the shame at having accepted being treated the way I was and then sticking out my hand for more. Nice girls out there, I’m available.
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Will it feel the same when you tell me you love me over the phone? Will the peacefulness of those words still floor me from thousands of miles away?
I was conflicted. It felt like one eye was trying to look away while the other soaked it up. I felt the heat rise in my face. This was wrong. But it didn’t feel wrong.
Any nervous flyer knows the progression of descending panic: bile, sweaty palms, social awkwardness and self-induced sedation.
I know how it feels when the weight of darkness crashes down onto your chest in the middle of the night, and how you wish things would stop spinning because the axis seems tilted now. I know, love, I know.