The Friendship Doctor

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Friendship: Timing Counts!

Relationships help shape the person we become.

Two close male friends with a long history drift apart

QUESTION

Dear Irene, 

My friend and I became friends when his family moved into my neighborhood when we were both kids. My friend was an outcast and very different from other kids at an early age. Parents questioned his sexuality early on and not in a good way. He loved cleaning, girls' things, dressed differently, talked differently, and had feminine mannerisms.

A lot of parents in my neighborhood asked my parents if it was a good idea for he and I to be spending time together. I kind of became the only person he had. Because at that age we are so influenced by peer pressure, I felt guilty and was sometimes embarrassed to be seen with him. He had no other friends, ate lunch alone, never did extra-curricular activities or went to summer camp---nothing.

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As time went on, we continued being good friends who could talk about anything, confiding in each other about the issues of growing up, feeling different, and not "normal." I was the only person he could talk to. When I would hear people make comments about him, it would ruin my day. I was even brought to tears by some of the things people said about him.

What became so noticeable about him besides his mannerisms was his voice. It never changed and was extremely high pitched, making him very self-conscious. People would always ask me about it when he wasn't around.

It got to a point where people thought I was gay because I spent time with him. Though I was, I was still young and confused and didn't want anyone to know. I didn't want the friendship to out me, even though he and I had never been romantic. The reason I liked him so much was that he listened and dissected problems, gave good advice and was always there when I needed him. Of course, I did the same for him. It was a very special friendship, more like a family member or confidant.

When he started college, he continued to struggle making friends, even though he was not judged as much as he and his peers matured. He would drive home almost every weekend. When he graduated, he moved to another city and we would talk on the phone every night. After being there for a few years, he started to make friends and I saw a great change in him. He felt more accepted and free to be himself. That is when things changed.

One night when he was drunk, he made an angry comment about how frustrated he was that he and I never dated. He said we were a "sexless marriage." All I said was, "I don't feel that way about you and it's never going to happen, so let's just move on." After that, we continued to be friends but his enthusiasm for the friendship slowly weakened as he started making other friends. He went away to graduate school out of the country and had an amazing time. His voice finally changed at age 24 and he had his first relationship.

We barely talked that year. Now he's back and we both moved to the same city at the same time. I am having trouble adjusting as I have always had a lot of anxiety, and have battled depression since early high school. My friend knows both these things. He lives with one of his best friends while I live alone. He has a job and I don't. He's in his second relationship, while I still have never had one. He doesn't seem to care about me anymore and I feel betrayed.

Now that his life has gotten better, now that he's had a relationship, every time I try to reach out to him for someone to talk to, to give advice, he is very lackluster, seems bored and annoyed. He has ditched me a few times. When I confronted him on this, he became angry and couldn't see it from my perspective. He told someone behind my back that I was exhausting and that if I wasn't his only friend, then he would probably have nothing to do with me, and that being away has allowed him to see me as what I am.

It really makes me feel badly because it's like now he can't get anything from me, so he's done with me. He knows I'll never be his boyfriend and he views me now as competition. I went to the better school, I was more normal growing up, I was always better looking etc. I was the ONLY person he had for the first 20 years of his life. My parents treated him like family. I put my own reputation on the line when I was a closeted confused kid. I was always there for him, stood up for him when people would make comments and laugh at him. Now it's like he isn't willing to help me when I am in a new city, still on depression and anxiety medication, trying to feel like I am not alone here in this new city.

He has lost what made him special to begin with. It's hard because he has been such a huge part of my life since I was seven years old. It's weird when someone you think will always be there is now gone. He knows so much about me; my backstory, the major events of my life, the catalysts to maybe some of the reasons I am the way I am today, the friends I've had, the friends I've lost, the good times, the bad times, etc.

Should I continue to be friends with him, though he will never be a genuine loyal friend like he used to be? Do I have a point or am I overreacting and expecting too much? Is he wrong in this whole thing? I'm very confused and wonder if salvaging this friendship is even worth it.

Thanks a lot.

Signed, Henry

 

ANSWER

Dear Henry,

This certainly sounds like a very special friendship that shaped both you and your friend in fundamental ways: This relationship helped you both learn how to navigate growing up in a straight world of peers and parents that wasn't always very kind or nurturing.

By listening, accepting, and being trustworthy and loyal, you seem to have played a pivotal role in enabling your friend to feel comfortable with his sexuality.

He seems to have been less accepting of you---in terms of allowing you to find your own path at your own pace. His anger was probably an over-reaction to the frustration he felt in being unable to connect with you in the way he hoped to.

During the time that you were apart in different countries, it's likely that you both underwent major changes in your lives---during these very formative years after college. (By the way, you haven't mentioned how you both wound up in the same city and whether it was coincidental or intentional.)

It's hard to connect with new friends or old ones when you aren't feeling good about yourself. Given that you are still battling anxiety and depression, it is important for you to continue to get professional help. I hope that you are receiving some psychotherapeutic support in addition to medication.

I think the best way you can salvage this friendship is to work on yourself, make other gratifying connections in your new city, and to be less dependent on your friend for helping you at this point. He may not see himself as competition with you; rather, he may see you are more peripheral to his life than he is to yours.

One last thought: It might be useful to write your friend a note covering some of the same bases you covered in your letter to me, making it considerably shorter, however. Explain how important the friendship has been to you and that you're feeling vulnerable right now. Tell him that although you know he can't solve your problems, you hope you haven't inadvertently created a wedge in your friendship. Then leave the ball in his court. This may help give you some sense of closure as you move forward.

What has happened has to be disappointing but your friend may not have the capacity to give you now what you gave to him then.

I hope this is somewhat helpful.

Warm regards, Irene 

 

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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