The Vine: May 2, 2012
This might be a "friendships have a lifespan" question, but it seems a little more complicated than that, and I could use some perspective.
"C" and I have been friends since college. She is a year younger than me, and we're both musicians, and we both play the same instrument. C has also been fighting an ongoing battle with cancer for years, even before I knew her. She is currently in remission, but it has been the type of disease that pops up again when she is least expecting it. I tried to be there for her as much as possible. She's a fighter, and has done remarkably well in all areas of her life in spite of major hurdles (the cancer is only one, and doesn't include family issues, religion/sexual-identity issues, etc).
C has been a wonderful friend to me in most ways. I went through some tough times: my mother got cancer three times (she is okay, thank heaven), my relationship of five years collapsed, I lost a job. She was there through it all, talking with me on the phone, knowing exactly the right things to say, visiting me, cheering me up. Sometimes I even thought we had some sort of weird psychic connection, because she'd always call uncannily soon after something major happened in my life. She, and many other close friends, even took a special trip to see me run my first marathon, flying hundreds of miles just to be there for me on the big day. I really love her a lot, and because of this closeness, it makes it much harder to address the things that are wrong.
The only way to describe my feelings after a visit with C, in spite of all the above, is this way: I feel worthless. Since we've met, she's always been one step ahead of me in every way. It might seem at first that my discomfort has to do with jealousy, or resentfulness that she's succeeded where I haven't yet, but I'm…not sure that's true in this case. For one thing, I am succeeding, though I'm taking a slightly different path (I specialize in a different musical field than she, though we play the same instrument). I also have many other very successful friends in the same field, and they don't make me feel this way at all.
Let me be more specific: whenever she visits, she talks about her current accomplishment or career issues CONSTANTLY. There was literally no point in 24 hours during her last visit during which she wasn't talking/asking advice about her new job. Then, when she met my friends and boyfriend, she proceeded to talk about it more, rehashing the same things she told me. She has a very magnetic personality, and most people are understandably awestruck by her. Somehow, during these group conversations — and I don't even know how to explain this in writing — I start to feel very small. She told my roommate about a very degrading name a boy called me in college that I hadn't thought about for years. My friends, who never act this way when she's not here, suddenly make little jokes at my expense, bringing up things from my past or poking at a part of my personality, all in a friendly, "nothing serious, just having fun," kind of way. Even my mother wrote an email to her friend saying how much less "picky" my friend C is than myself, and look at all the exciting things she has done while I have not!
Sars, when I re-read what I wrote, I look like a jealous, underachieving, over-sensitive little whiner. What I'd like to address is that I DO feel like that when I spend a lot of time with her. All the negative parts of my personality, all my insecurities, come out. I feel like a failure, and I feel like the worst version of myself.
Since that last visit 6 months ago, I distanced myself from her. I stopped looking at her Facebook page or following what she was doing. I haven't called her. There's been virtually no contact at all. I hadn't been feeling insecure, my career was going well, I didn't worry what other people thought about me…basically, I just felt like a normal person living life and enjoying it.
She emailed me the other day and asked if I wanted to catch up, maybe take a trip together with one of our mutual friends from college.
What do I do? Eventually she, or someone else, will ask what's wrong. Then I'll have to tell her what I'm telling you, which she might just perceive as, "L is too insecure to be my friend." But that's NOT me, at least it's not me in normal life. Maybe it's just me around her. Or would she be right? Is there something wrong with me, some issue I have to address that doesn't actually have to do with her? Should I suck it up and try to push down those feelings, because of all the other great things about her and the wonderful things she's done for me? Am I being immature? Oversensitive? Or could she really be subtly trying to compete with me and push my buttons, even subconsciously?
She's a good person. She's had a crazy difficult life. She deserves good things. I'm just not sure I can do this anymore.
Any insight would be wonderful.
Tired Of Analyzing It, Already
This is actually pretty simple, I think. C is a good person, as you say, who has had a crazy difficult life. She's also a self-absorbed conversation hog who isn't above passive-aggressive putdowns to get "in" with the group at your expense. She's also a loyal, helpful friend who's attuned to you in certain unique ways.
The friendship could in fact have reached the end of its natural lifespan, but it's more likely that it's your patience that's at an end — but you haven't pushed back on some of C's ickier behavior, because you feel guilty about thinking she's being an attention whore who should shut the fuck up with the hurtful-nickname dredging project. Because she had cancer! And you don't have the right to think she's acting a fool!
Well, of course you do. You can think whatever you want, and you do have the right to steer the subject to Not C after an hour or so; you should start doing that. You have the right to tell her that she may think that nickname is funny, but you found it hurtful then, and you find it hurtful that she'd bring it up at your expense now. You have the right to let her know that, while you love her and you appreciate her friendship, some of her behavior makes you feel like shit — because that's how it is with friends. People are complicated. Fiercely loyal, hypocritical, hardworking, tardy, brave, nurturing, snotty about feminism, hilarious, and a vulgarian: this is one person I know, and I keep knowing her, even though sometimes there's yelling, because she's awesome and I love her. That's the aw/argh beauty of friends, really; the mutual understanding of imperfection. You did the right thing taking a break, I'd say, but nothing really changed because nothing really happened, and what probably has to happen is that you have to get annoyed, out loud, and trust the friendship to survive it. And if it's worth keeping, it does. Comes out stronger, in fact.
What you do in the short term, vis-à-vis C's email: say you'd love to catch up; don't respond about the trip, but if it comes up, you don't think you can make work with your schedule. And when it's time to chat on the phone or whatever, mention the nickname thing, explain that it bothered you, resist the urge to apologize for getting annoyed, accept her apology, and try to move on.
If you want to move on, that is. You don't have to want that. But if you don't want to lose the friendship, you get into a headspace where you accept that 1) various interpersonal habits of hers ("dick tics," as we call them at Far Thill) give you an emotional blister from time to time, but it doesn't make her a bad friend overall, necessarily; and 2) not liking these habits and expressing that fact doesn't make you a bad friend either.
Nobody's perfect. Try to let that fact build trust within the friendship.