Monday, April 4, 2016

She Was a Hot Mess: Friend "break-ups," Worry and Regret

The folks over at The Witching Hour podcast featured some of my writing on an upcoming episode (#15) on friendship. Thank you Andy and Kathleen!
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Adult friendships are odd. You could meet any other person and just like them and spend time with them. We have cars now. We can set our own schedule. We can make our own dates. No more friendships based on your neighbourhood or their geographical proximity to you. No more forced-play-dates. We can now freely dislike people and opt-out of spending time with them. We can now say, “I like you,” to a person and then go grab a coffee.

After university I was navigating panic attacks on top of my chronic depression, so naturally I was loads of fun to be around. I figured the best way to avoid my life was to go back to school. Audrey and I met in technical college. We were both studying graphic design. She lives with a learning disability, so she signed up for a service where a classmate acts like a sort of official nag, reminding you of homework and critical deadlines. I was that nag. We gradually spent more time together, bonding over the fact that we weren't born in the 90’s like most of our classmates.

As I got to know her, I learned she was from Nova Scotia and that she was new to Montreal. One afternoon after class I visited the condo she shared with her boyfriend. The condo was perched at the top of a large, red-bricked building by a large public market. I was instantly impressed by the place. It was the nicest place I’d seen in the city for someone my age. There were no milk-crates anywhere. The building had underground parking and an elevator. She had a guest room!

Over the span of the next two years we became increasingly close. Her boyfriend was rich. He had summer homes and a winter ski retreat in the mountains. We gladly trekked all over the province to babysit his families' dogs while they were off, being rich internationally. Dog sitting in fancy locations was a nice time, but I always found it odd her boyfriend never joined us.

Having enjoyed this mystery boyfriend’s many vacation homes, I was glad to finally get the chance to meet him. Audrey and I walked into a small café near her condo. It was small and familiar, seemingly filled with regulars. We were the only women, and I read the space as being a popular hangout amongst gay men. I made my way to the counter and was met by a smiling barista. He was slender and blonde, well-coiffed and at ease, flicking a towel over his shoulder as he pushed a coffee over to Audrey. We all exchanged pleasantries until I received my order, at which point he pointed out how happy he was to finally meet me.

As Audrey and I walked through the city I skirted around the assumed gayness of her boyfriend. I made it clear that relationships take all forms. Sexuality is a spectrum, as is gender. People want and need different things. Monogamy isn't for everyone. When I finally broached the subject of her partner, she confirmed he was gay and that his family disapproved so she felt he asked her to move in as a beard. She casually talked about how she slept with whoever she wanted, and how she was seeing some of his married friends.

I felt for both of them, he for needing to lie to his family, she for being away from hers, desperate for a tribe of her own. I was uncomfortable with all the lying though. Seeing married guys, knowing their wives, not caring about outcome or after-math. She was so nonchalant about all of it.

A few weeks later we went for drinks. Audrey got very drunk very fast and left with a stranger. On Monday she asked what happened, casually referring to her propensity towards getting blackout drunk. I filled her in the best I could, and worriedly asked her if this happened a lot. She laughed it off and told me not to worry. I did anyway.

We were at a friend’s bachelorette party at an equal-parts cheesy and disheartening strip-club, when things shifted. Things were already awkward and uncomfortable due to the setting. I was sober and wished I wasn't. It was all so distressing to me. The hairless man-boys and their weird “sexy” dancing. The really aggressive women, pawing at them and hooting loudly. It was funny until it wasn't, and it quickly wasn't. Audrey spent more and more time with the show MC.

She stumbled over to our table, slurring confidently, “That MC totally wants to fuck me. I'm totally going to get him to cheat on his wife.” She stomped off assuredly and everyone shuffled uncomfortably, especially the bachelorette, no doubt relating to the mentioned wife more so than to Audrey.

This became a pattern. Every school-related social event came with the eventuality of Audrey’s heavy drinking. It wasn't uncommon for bartenders and doormen to ask us to rein her in. One night a classmate I was close with told me he didn't like being alone with her when she was drinking because she’d often proposition him, even if his girlfriend was around. It slowly became a known-thing: Audrey doesn't have boundaries when she drinks.

She eventually left the red-brick condo with good lighting, and I helped her find a new place and get situated. I was hoping that getting out of a situation where lying was often implicit, she’d feel better, and experience less drama. The following few months involved a lot of new suitors. She was always excited to introduce them, and I was always charming and overly friendly, knowing I’d never see them again. I didn't see the point in remembering their names. I was constantly worried and dreading her phone calls. She soon got pregnant and it was unclear who the father was. Her drinking started and ended that problem.

I have friends who live lives where casual sex is part of the way they live. But with Audrey, it was different. It’s as if with every new person she was filled with hope and got really excited about him, even if she felt the same way about someone else only days before, she fully committed to this. She was naive in a heartbreaking way. I just didn't know how to help her, and I didn't know how to be friends with her either, since all I wanted to do was help her.

It was at a friend’s wedding where her drinking lead to an early night in for her, and an enjoyable night for me. I reflected on that afterwards. Friends pointed out how much fun it was that she had clocked-out for the night. She wasn't my drunken baby.

I began resenting her. She was kind and very sweet, but she was so comfortable lying and putting herself in harm's way. I was perpetually worried for her in ways she would never worry about herself. I think the worst part was that whenever I talked to her about harm-reduction, her first reaction was always to apologize. I tried re-framing the discussion, I did not want to shame her, that was never my goal, but it always seemed to be the outcome.

One day I received a call from Audrey while driving. I let it go to voice-mail. Safety first. It was an easy going message about this one dirt bag and then there was this other dirt bag. I rolled my eyes. I didn't return her call. I texted her and told her I needed some space. That summer, I pulled away from Audrey. Shortly afterwards she moved back to Nova Scotia.

It took time to realize she wasn't going through a singular “hard time.” It seemed to follow her. I still feel shitty about it, because life can be brutal and we do what we have to do to get through it - I get that. I never felt I could really talk to her about any of it, I knew she’d just apologize, and that wasn't my intent.

I don’t like the way things ended between she and I. I guess I also don’t like that it had to end at all. I don’t regret the split - but I regret the indirect route it took. Sending a text message was lame. We eventually talked, but the conversation was short. She would immediately apologize, and I was steadfast that she didn't have anything to apologize to me for, that it just wasn't working for me.

I don’t really see what I could have said that would have suitably answered any question she might have had whilst making it clear she’s free to her life and the way she wants to live it. It just became very hard to watch. I couldn't shake it off, I was always worried. Within nine months of leaving Montreal she bought a motorcycle, got engaged and became pregnant. I didn't question what order any of that happened in and I try not to think about it. I didn't want to judge her or her choices, but ultimately I did. I couldn't live so close to someone so visibly struggling and not intervene. I wasn't able to “let go and let live.” Eventually it became about my inability to care for her without compromising caring for myself. I know I did what I had to do. I was unable to be around her anymore. The decision made itself. But why do I feel so shitty about it?

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