As I watch yet another friendship founder and break apart on the rocky shore of my life, I can’t help asking why!?!
What is behind this heart-breaking trend? Why do all of my relationships, except my relationship with my husband, crash and burn?
Is it me? Is it the friends I choose? What!?!
Once upon a time, there was a little six-year-old girl whose best friend taught her to say the “F” word on the school bus. She didn’t even know what it meant! But when she got home and told her parents about it, they demanded she never look at, speak to, or acknowledge her best friend again. Ever.
That was the first friendship I lost. But it was only the beginning of a lifelong trend.
If your relationship skills, like mine, were forged in the crucible of narcissistic abuse, we’re at a disadvantage. We’re almost certainly codependent. If we weren’t codependent when the narcissist incorporated us into their lives, we most certainly became codependent to cope. We had to. It wasn’t an option. Our survival depended on it.
Unfortunately, this very coping mechanism seems to be the death knell for my relationships. I’m much too “nice.” Much too yielding. Much too generous. I play the stupid comedienne, even needy one to allow everyone to feel superior to me. When hurtful things are said, I bite back an honest retort. I swallow my pain in the interest of niceness, kindness and friendship, giving my friends the benefit of the doubt. “They didn’t mean it personally,” I think, “they just didn’t think before they spoke.”
Then it happens. The final straw. Years of hurt and anger seethe from the recesses of my memory. Suddenly, I never want to see my friend again. Ever.
Is it just my codependency that is to blame? Or is it something else? Do I choose the wrong friends because my cult-like narcissistic family inclines me to choose friends who are also narcissistic, codependent, alcoholic and/or members of cults?
Yes! A resounding “yes!”
Alice and Nance† were in a fundamentalist don’t-think-too-much cult led by a man who creeped the heck outta’ me. Cathy is married to a narcissist, Joe, and deeply involved in a cult that forbids their women from wearing slacks, make-up and cutting their hair. And just last week at a garage sale, I took one look at the lady-of-the-house and got strong “comfort level” vibes from her. Later, Michael told me he’d seen stacks of cult literature for sale in her garage.
Do we see a trend here!?!
Oh, I’m not saying these ladies weren’t nice. But the friendships were all temporary. Sooner or later, they said hurtful things. Cultish things. Nasty things. Gossiped viciously about their other friends to me. I swallowed the hurt and then one day, couldn’t take it anymore. The relationship was over.
But other people seem to be able to maintain life-long, strong friendships. What are they doing so right, while I am doing things so wrong? Is friendship a myth, I wonder? Are my standards too high? Why does my relationship with my husband “work” while I can’t maintain any other relationships? Why!?
I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, but here are a few observations.
Other people seem to define and conduct friendships differently than me. To me, friendship should be based on mutually liking and enjoying each other’s personalities. A friend should think before they speak. A friend should be on my side and in my corner. A friend shouldn’t gossip about me behind my back. Being raised by narcissists who never hesitated to “constructively criticize” everything from my hairstyle, voice and walk to my smart-assery, I expect friends to talk to me if I piss them off, not about me to everyone else except me.
But that’s not how other people seem to define and conduct friendships. Firstly, it’s often based on monetary gain or services rendered. They befriend someone who has something they want or provides a service they need. For example, I have an acquaintance, Petra, a retired executive assistant who drives local senior citizens to the store, doctor appointments, etc for a small fee. At first, everything went swimmingly. Her passengers seemed happy to pay her fees and would often invite her in for coffee and a sweet roll. Friendships were formed and bonds woven.
Then things began to change. Even though she never raised her prices regardless of fluctuating gas prices, her “friends” began to gripe and complain about her fees. They tried to bargain with her, but Petra held fast. Sometimes they threw the cash down in a huff. Even though she was the cheapest driver around, they still got stroppy with her. “I thought they were my friends,” she told me sadly, “but it was just all about the money. They’d rather go to the doctor with Ted who charges exorbitant fees, because he borrows money from them. They think they can control him because he owes them. I didn’t owe them anything so they couldn’t control me and they didn’t like it.”
Even in a non-monetary based relationship, hurtful things are often said. Goodness knows, I’m sure I’ve said my share of them too. But when my friend habitually criticizes people for being “fat” when I’m carrying around my own share of extra weight, I’ve got to draw a line. When she repeatedly speaks degradingly about “lazy white collar workers” my remonstrations fell on deaf years. I am white collar and we work damn hard, but when I stuck up for myself, I was met with stony silence. When she criticizes everyone who’s garden isn’t as amazing as hers, yes, I take it personally. When she gets edgy when I talk about narcissism, I realize I’ve hit a sore nerve. When her husband knew I needed to cover an event for the newspaper but said, “Oh you can do it tomorrow,” I’m getting hot-under-the-collar (but too weak and yielding to stand up for myself!) When her husband tries to cheat me for services rendered, I’m seeing red.
When she invites me over for supper, but I find out she’s really acting as an emissary for her little brother, who’s too weak to look me in the eye and work our disagreement through himself, then I’m getting pretty pissed off!
When she denigrates those forced to rely on government assistance because of ill health or mental illness, full well knowing my own husband is disabled, I’m taking offense. When she knew the abuse I bore and could only say “I feel so sorry for your mom,” even after my parents threatened to sue me, then I’m calling her out for “lack of empathy.” When she calls over and over again, but won’t say what she wants on the voicemail, then I’m getting a little creeped out. When she comes to my home only to watch movies and more-or-less ignores me, then I’m thinking she’s pretty rude. When she won’t respect my post-therapy need to stay quietly at home and sounds so disappointed when I won’t bring take-out over to her house, then I know she doesn’t respect me. When she accused me of being hateful about her good fortune, when I have busted my ass to be kind and supportive, then the relationship is over.
Another friendship bites the dust.
I like to think true friendship does exist. But my Friend-Picker is definitely broken. And my codependence makes me a poor friend cause I don’t stand up for myself when I should.
But on the other hand, should I have to? If I have to keep standing up for myself, is that a friend I should have!? If they’re that insensitive, then maybe they’re not the friend for me?
The friendship that underpins my marriage is based on a mutual background. Michael and I were both abused, so we treat each other with kid gloves. When we do say something insensitive, we let each other know. And apologize. No grudges are held. We keep current. Maybe it’s fellow survivors of narcissistic abuse, those who understand what’s really going on, who would make the best friends!
Until I find a real-life lady friend who’s not empathyless, married to a narcissist or in a cult, I’m happy to have mere acquaintances. Heck, I prefer acquaintances like the group I play fiddle with. You don’t know them well, so you can’t get pissed off at them. The relationship is shallow. They merely skim the surface. You’re not so familiar that it breeds contempt.
But until the day comes, if ever, I’m perfectly happy with acquaintances and my wonderful readers, many of whom are also my Facebook friends. Thank you for being my friends.