by Ester Bloom

In Which We Dump Our Friends And Friend Our Exes

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[Introducing Aunt Acid, Lilith's go-to advisor for the heartsick, the stomach-sick, the yearning to be free.] 

Dear Aunt Acid,

I have a friend that I’ve known all my life who has recently moved to my neighborhood. She thinks we’re very close but–over the years–I’ve been feeling more and more distant from her. Actually, tobe totally honest, she drives me up the wall with her endless complaining, ridiculous drama, and energy vampire ways. I’ve never done anything until now because it seemed too hurtful to “break up” her, and besides, she’s lived far away since high school and our interactions were somewhat infrequent. 

Now that we’re in the same zip code, though, things are coming to a head as she’s been initiating a lot of plans together. I don’t want to be mean, but I can’t keep pretending that we’re close. But I also don’t want to passive-aggressively fade away… in some ways, that seems even more cruel than a break-up. What should I do? Am I a terrible person? We’ve known each other since we were babies but I don’t know how long that fact should keep me hostage in a friendship. Help!

Dear Patty Hearst, 

How does the song go? “Make new friends, but keep the old / One is silver and the other’s gold.” Of course, sometimes what looks like gold is actually just a gold-plated ball and chain, and songs don’t always understand that. 

You’re not a terrible person; you’re a decent person who needs to do a hard thing and hurt someone else’s feelings. You do know that you need to, right? I mean, you refer to her as holding you “hostage in a friendship.” That’s no one’s idea of a fun, let alone functional, situation.

The reason you ask if you’re terrible is because it is hard to value your own needs above someone else’s. We, ladies especially, have a tendency to call acting on our own behalf “selfishness.” But real closeness has to be based on compatibility, not the fact that someone once took pictures of you splashing around the same tub. If your friend knew you secretly groaned every time she texted you, she would probably be horrified. Don’t martyr yourself for her. That’s friendship at too high a price.

So, how do you break up with her—or at least restructure your relationship so that you have the space you need and she can get her drama quota met elsewhere? Our society doesn’t give us much of a framework, even though on some level it is the most natural thing in the world. People grow apart, change, start to vote Republican. If we can divorce spouses—even ones we went into debt, or alienated our parents, to marry in the first place—then by god we have to right to tell emotional vampires that we can’t watch The Good Wife with them anymore.

Arrange a hang out, and then let her down in a way you would like to be let down: be honest but tactful, clear but not cruel. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, dammit, you’ve got to be kind. You’re different people now than you were when you were babies—for one thing, hopefully, you no longer grope women and drool in public—and saying so is totally fair.

Just don’t close the door too hard. Your feelings might change again, or she might, and it is true that people who have known you through crimped hair and tube socks don’t come around every day. Stay alive to each other without pretending to be BFFs. That shouldn’t be too hard—after all, it’s why god invented Facebook.

Love,
Aunt Acid 

 

Dear Aunt Acid,

I’m a naturally nostalgic person, and it’s always been important to me that I have a pretty good relationship with most of my exes. I’m not completely sure why–but it makes me happy to know that if I were to run into (again, most of) them, we’d have a nice time catching up. But ever since recently getting engaged, my nostalgia has jumped into hyperdrive. I find myself mourning the loss of certain relationships as if the break ups have just happened, Googling and Facebook-stalking exes, reading old email and text exchanges. The strange thing is, I don’t exactly want to get back together with any of them, but I find myself wishing for an alternate reality where I could still have a close connection with all of these people who were (are?) so special to me.

Is there any sense in reaching out to some of these exes to catch up or even reminisce? Am I missing real people–people I can develop a friendship with in the here and now–or am I just missing the past?

Dear Nostalgic Nancy,

Getting engaged sure brings out the weird in people. In books ranging from The Age of Innocence to The French Lieutenant’s Woman and movies like—ugh—2001’s Serendipity, it is agreeing to marry one person that starts a hero searching for their actual heart’s desire. In books, it tends to end with tragedy; in movies, with hot chocolate. 

And with you? Well, your pull to reconnect with your exes may be nothing but a sentimental desire for closure, or perhaps a natural human instinct to let them know that you are headed for your own happy-ever-after.

Timing, though, is everything. If you weren’t moved to reconnect with former lovers before your current dude/dudette put a ring on it, then your current motives are a bit suspect. The way to know for sure is to talk to your partner. Tell them that you keep humming the theme song to The Way We Were. Ask if maybe your partner is also feeling a bit wistful, and how they might be handling it. Maybe you can do something together to mourn, or bid farewell to, your past selves, including setting up a group dinner with in-town exes you’re already friends with.

Especially nowadays, when young people tend to have rich and complex pre-marriage lives, it’s disingenuous to pretend that we’re not giving something up by getting hitched. But if you get too carried away by mooning after what you’ve lost, ask one of your single friends to tell you how they feel about facing another holiday season full of well-meaning relatives offering gift certificates to JDate. That should sober you up right quick.

Love,
Aunt Acid 

 

Aunt Acid is Brooklyn-based writer and know-it-all Ester Bloom. Email her at auntacid@lilith.org


Image via Tarja Ryhannen Mitrovic on Flickr.

© 2011 Lilith Magazine