A letter written to a person whom I once thought of as a friend.
It is a long time since I last wrote to you, when I sought an audience with you in December 20**. We met at your place, and we spoke at length over an evening. I confessed that I had been nursing an anger with you for the better part of a decade, and that meeting you was in part an effort to redress this. After that night I spent another 2 months thinking about what transpired – not continuously, just a few nights here and there over the 2 months – in an effort to understand matters. Over these two months I made some notes in a journal. Eventually I achieved some sort of closure, and my journal was shut and has been mostly ignored ever since.
Since then I have thought of you only occasionally, and usually without any strong feeling. Nevertheless, you have recently been brought to my mind in a certain manner, and I find myself missing my friend. For the first time since we last met I have the urge to contact you, find out what you’re doing, find out what has happened to you in the interim. However, I will not track you down, not this time. I promised I would leave you alone. I have no desire to intrude upon your life.
To my mind it is a great tragedy that we did not remain on good terms, that we did not remain in contact, however sporadically. I consider it a large personal failure that I was unable to ultimately remain friends with you. In an ideal world I would have heard from you once in a while; we would have swapped occasional letters, emails and so forth, no matter how infrequently. In an ideal world we might even have met up occasionally. In an ideal world you would not have hidden your partner from me; you’d have introduced him to me, you’d have told me you were getting engaged, you’d have wanted me to come and see you get married.
I accepted the reality a long time ago: we are not friends, we have not been for some time, perhaps we never really were. I have lived in peace with this realisation since our meeting. At this moment however, I remember that we were once friends, at least in my mind, if not in reality. I am struck by the utter absurdity of the situation and it causes me angst. So, I write, and I thereby deal with it.
I became your boyfriend on the cusp of 19**. I was 16, you were 17. The relationship lasted until mid-April next year, when you called it off. I do not wish to reflect too much upon the relationship itself. It had its moments. I do have some fond memories of it. With hindsight, I will say that I think our relationship was far too deep for kids of our age. This was perhaps due to our relationship existing within the context of that Antioch group. I think Antioch as a whole was unhealthy, and I think its effect on our relationship was unhealthy. Ironic that we would never have gotten together without it.
It may surprise you to know that breaking up was not entirely a bad thing for me, not even at the time. I had gone through periods of wanting to break it up myself, without ever having the guts to pull it off. Mostly everything was alright when I was with you. Only in your absence did I want to end it. You may recall once that I visited you at your place of work with the intention of breaking up. I didn’t have the balls to go through with it and we ended up reconciling when you visited me later. Even at the moment when you eventually told me that you wanted out, my first reaction was quite positive; I recall saying “I can understand that” and was actually relieved. Then you jumped on me and kissed me, and I fell to bits.
I never had to tell anyone that we broke up. By the time I saw any of my friends, some days afterwards, they knew all about it. A certain member of our social circle bailed me up and demanded to hear the details from me. All I would tell him/her was to confirm that we had broken up, nothing more. This same person promptly called me a bastard. Such was the nature of our friends in common.
It is unfortunate that you only saw the bad effects of the breakup in me. Believe me it wasn’t all bad, not even half bad. I only ever expressed the bad effects to you: the initial shock of rejection, the later anger at what I perceived as mistreatment by you – and by others. Nevertheless, much good came from the breakup, enough to ought weigh the negatives.
I think in hindsight that we had been drifting apart a bit anyway. I was starting to move in different circles, making friends at Uni and developing a life outside the group which was our social circle. I wonder what your reasons were at the time? Did they come from within, was there influence from outside? From what little I understood of your subsequent missive to me, it seemed that you had been going through much the same as myself; you had felt uncomfortable in the relationship for quite some time but had not known how to deal with this. I respect the courage you showed in going through with the act. As mentioned above, it was something I had not the courage to do.
Within 2 months you had a change of heart – or so it appeared. You came to visit me at the start of the semester break, claiming not to have enjoyed the way things had gone and that you wanted to be friends. I told you that I wasn’t going to be your friend and sent you on your way. I received a card shortly before my birthday – not a birthday card, but a flowery heartstring-pulling apology for dumping me, telling me how sorry you were. Then at some point some poems appeared in the University magazine, authored by one “Soul Seeker”, who lamented the fact that she’d screwed her own life by dumping her soul mate. I never doubted that you were the author. At that point in time I knew you better than anyone else did.
This all gave me the impression that you wanted to reconcile but you didn’t have the courage to do it properly (i.e. explicitly ask me). At the time this just made me angry – you could tell the world that you wanted me back via Empire Times, but you couldn’t tell me to my face?!? Sheesh, come on… I didn’t want you back, and no action you could do (or abstain from doing) was going to change that. Your limp-wristed attempts to wheedle back into my favour just fed my anger.
This anger I’d been building finally burst up at the Vic Hotel that night. You waited until you saw me not conversing with anyone, then enthusiastically darted over to my side (I was watching out of the corner of my eye. You could not have been more obvious), tapped me on the wrist and asked an innocuous ice-breaker, all sweet-smiled and doe-eyed. I lost it, completely and utterly. I let you have both barrels at close range.
At that point in time I was in the middle of the lowest stretch in my life. I had quit my job, been dumped by my girlfriend, and nearly killed in an accident; all in the space of about 5 weeks. Once I had physically recovered from the accident I had to buckle down and work my arse off to catch up at Uni, with the result that I had no social life. Prior to the mid-year exams, I went out exactly once. (It was to a football game. My team lost.) By the second semester I again had leisure time and absolutely nothing in my life with which to fill it. I spent the semester doing the same routine: go to lectures all week then head for the tavern on Fridays, where all the money I had saved from my job was wasted by pouring it over the bar. I would drink until I was slumped over a table. This behaviour would sometimes repeat on a Saturday. My life had become a complete fucking mess. By the end of the year I was miserable; I was literally looking in the mirror and not liking what I saw.
Then you turned up one day to return a book which I’d loaned you at the start of the year. We had a bit of a chat. We were friendly to each other again. I loaned you a tape when you left. A week later I had to come knocking on your door because you hadn’t returned the tape, and we were nice to each other again. After a few more interactions I realised that I was enjoying your presence; that it was good to be seeing you. This grew to the point where I wanted you back. This desire to reconcile with you was fleeting. It lasted for four weeks, maybe six tops. Unfortunately, I was stupid enough to act upon it before the urge faded. Believe me my proposal was quite sincere. I gave it a serious shot, unashamedly abasing myself in the process. Nevertheless, I accepted your declination.
It might have taken a week or two for me to swallow this, but I moved on from our BF-GF relationship at this point. I had already had a brief involvement with another girl prior to my reconciliation proposal, and I started seeing other girls early in the next year. I was in another relationship by mid-year, thoroughly smitten. Coincidentally this relationship persists today. I had no lingering affection for you.
However, I realised that relations between us did not have to be binary: all-on or all-off. I had actually enjoyed the recent interaction between us and I wanted to preserve some friendship with you. I proposed that we meet up once a week for lunch. We always did get along famously when we sat together and had a chat. I wanted this to continue. I believe you agreed to this initially out of a sense of guilt, but I hoped that you’d appreciate our joint company for its own sake in time.
And we DID have fun. I believed you enjoyed our get-togethers as much as I did. In fact, this was much better than a relationship; you said so yourself when we last met. You described it as something like “all the good stuff without the relationship hassles”, and it was. I had the interaction with you that I desired, and I was happy with this.
After that year we did not meet in the same fashion with regularity. Nevertheless, we did have occasional meetings, sometimes with others. I always enjoyed your company, and I’m confident that you enjoyed mine. We ate at Fasta Pasta, we watched a video at your place, we had an occasional lunch or a coffee if our paths crossed.
Remember you wrote me a letter once, asking that I write you back because you wanted the calibre of conversation that I could provide? I was more than happy to oblige; that was a medium in which we might have continued good relations. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, you did not continue to write letters after my reply. That was a great pity.
At this point in time I viewed you as a friend. We were friends. We may not have been in regular contact, but you were of importance to me. You did once describe me as one of your better friends. I thought we had achieved mutual friendship.
At some point, having not seen you for some time, you surfaced at a party with a bloke on your arm. I noticed you talking to some others and figured you’d come and say g’day at some point. I had introduced you to my then current girlfriend in similar circumstances some years previously, and I anticipated that you would do the same. Instead you left after a short time, having not said a word to me. That was a bit disappointing, but I guess I didn’t go out of my way to get your audience either.
After another period in which we had no contact, I eventually heard that you’d gotten engaged. I think my mother came across your engagement advert in the paper and recognised the name. That was also a bit disappointing; I would have thought that you’d communicate something of that importance to me.
Sometime later I bumped into some former mutual acquaintances of ours. I mentioned that I’d heard you were getting engaged and expressed my disappointment at not being told. Within about a month of this you called me, having been prompted by these acquaintances, and told me you were getting married. I suggested that you should come over and have a coffee so we could catch up, but you declined, so we nattered on the phone for some time. At the end of the conversation you suggested that maybe we should get together in the near future and catch up, but I declined; I figured we’d just caught up, there was not much point in getting together so soon afterwards. I said that you should tell me when you were getting married and I’d come and have a look.
That information never came.
Sometime after you were married I bumped into you at the shops. I made some comment about you not telling me about your wedding, and you put on a quizzical look and said “oh, didn’t you get an invite”? I got the distinct impression that there was no invite, that there was never going to be one in the first place. I made a smart-aleck remark (“Did you leave J**** in charge of the invites?”) and left it at that. I have another vague memory of encountering you once more. This time I deliberately called you “Miss M*****” and made some remark about forgetting that your name had changed because I wasn’t invited to your wedding. You said nothing in response.
You had been avoiding me. You got engaged without telling me. You told me you were getting married only after being prompted by a friend. You did not ask me to come and watch you get married, despite me saying I’d like to see it. When queried afterwards you feigned ignorance.
This two-faced social exclusion is not the treatment that one expects from a friend. It is exactly the behaviour one experiences from an Anticoherer: all smiles and welcoming on the surface, but silently given the cold shoulder in private. The pretence of goodwill without actions to back it up. You gave me the Antioch treatment. You ultimately showed yourself to be an Anticoherer at heart. You became the last of the Antiochus to screw me over.
At the time I just shrugged my shoulders, shook my head, and got on with my life. I never heard directly from you again, and I no longer had any desire to contact you. I had put some effort into building a healthy friendship with you after our breakup, and I was angry with you for the manner in which you cast this aside. We did not simply grow apart. Rather, you explicitly excluded me. For years afterwards, I held resentment towards you. On the rare occasion that your name was brought up in my presence I spoke ill of you. On the occasions you came to mind, there was always negative feeling associated with it.
Many years later (late 20**) I was fossicking around in my box of memorabilia, looking for something unrelated, and I came across the letters you wrote me back in the days of our BF-GF relationship. I kept two items: the letter you wrote me immediately after our break-up, and the card you sent me three months afterwards. I discarded the rest. I didn’t even read them, I just tossed them into the rubbish. I knew I’d never read them again.
This act brought you to mind, and I found myself thinking about you with some intensity. This time there was no negative feeling towards you. Instead I found myself wondering what had happened to you, found myself remembering the good times we’d had as friends. Thinking that maybe the antipathy I’d harboured over all these years was wrong and feeling bad about this.
So, I found you. With a little detective work I was able to make a reasonable guess of your address and I dropped a letter in your mailbox, suggesting a meet-up. I wish I could have seen the look on your face when you opened the letter and saw who it was from. I’d love to know what went through your mind at that moment. A meeting was organised, and with much trepidation I turned up at your house at the appointed time. Thus, began one of the most interesting evenings of my life.
You answered the door with your son in your arms. Within seconds you’d introduced me to your husband. I remember thinking as I shook his hand, “that wasn’t so hard, why couldn’t you have introduced us years before?”
You offered me a drink, and I asked for something cold and non-alcoholic. “Oh, are you not drinking?”, you asked wryly. We went out the back, sat down and began talking. You asked if I had any news, thinking that I might have had a terminal disease! Eventually the ulterior reason for my visit came out: I confessed that I had been angry with you for years because you didn’t invite me to your wedding, and I wanted to apologise to you for this anger. You told me that I needed to let go. That was exactly what I was trying to do. I never got the chance to voice my disappointment with you, I simply bottled it up and wore it as anger for years. Through apologising I was getting rid of this anger.
Some days afterwards I remember thinking that I hadn’t expressed myself very well in telling you about this anger, and that you had likely missed the point. My angst was not that I was not invited to see your wedding, per se; rather it was the whole ostracism by you of which the wedding was the culmination.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter if you missed the point. I was not making this confession for your sake. What mattered is that I expressed myself; it was pure catharsis for me. At the time our friendship stopped I pushed the anger to the side. Through confessing to you I was letting it go. I never got the chance to deal with it at the time; I was dealing with it in the present. Expressing my anger as a confession was double-edged. First, I was acknowledging that my own behaviour, my own reaction to being snubbed by you, was wrong. Secondly, I was being diplomatic. Waltzing into your house and telling you how you pissed me off a decade previously would not have been any way to meet up. Through confessing my own shortcomings, I was letting you know that I wasn’t happy with your treatment of me. What you make of this is entirely up to you.
Having gotten that out of the way, we began talking, filling each other in, reminiscing, and so forth. Thus, began what has been arguably the best 3 hours I have ever spent with you. I asked after friends of yours, you asked after friends of mine. You gave me a tour of your naturopathy clinic. We went inside and had a yarn with your husband before he went to his basketball game. He seems like a nice bloke. Quiet. You asked after my parents and sisters, I asked after your parents. You described your holiday in Europe to me. I expressed joy that you weren’t a practicing catholic any more. We spoke of your motherhood experience. And many, many other things.
That night we got along like the proverbial house on fire. We got along as well as we had ever done – if not better. At one point you made the hypothetical suggestion “if we were to get together now Steve, it would probably work”, and I agreed with you; it would be distinctly possible. We always did interface perfectly on a mental level. That evening confirmed this, even after all those years of non-contact.
Eventually I left, after a goodbye hug. I went home in elation. The next day was one of the best days of my life; I glowed the whole day. That evening I taught one of the most inspired classes I have ever done. Being happy and positive makes all the difference. The techniques flow from your body like water down a stream if you hold a positive state of mind.
Surprisingly (to me) my emotional reaction to seeing you again was overwhelmingly positive. I was genuinely relieved to see you settled into your life and enjoying it; I was aware of being happy to see you in this state. Here is something I wrote verbatim in my journal:
She hasn’t changed much physically since I knew her: broad bum, chunky legs, character nose, petite body.
Sporty spice with Italian style.
Only the hair is novel. Orange streaks. Nice!
But she’s _beautiful_.
I never remembered her as _especially_ beautiful. Not that she wasn’t, in her way.
Now her beauty has _style_. It is complete, it is a part of her whole.
She radiates it.
Perhaps it is her attitude. Happy, mature, content, in love, in motherhood.
She oozes this. Confident and extroverted. Bubbly. Friendly!
It focusses the whole; holistically she is beautiful.
My memory of her was never as being well adjusted or at peace.
Frustrated and angst-ridden – as teenagers are.
Now she is without this – and she is beautiful.
Being in your company afforded me an insight into your mind; an understanding of your thought processes. Perhaps now I have a better appreciation of your point of view with respect to myself.
Late in the evening, long after we’d discussed your wedding, you brought it up again and said, “I think maybe the reason I didn’t ask you to my wedding was that it wasn’t appropriate to ask an ex-boyfriend to a wedding”. I said that I could dig that, but at the time I didn’t know what your reason was, and that was what caused me angst.
On reflection, however, I find that I can’t actually ‘dig it’. Was it appropriate to exclude a friend from watching you get married because he had once been your boyfriend? Was it appropriate to cut that friend from your life because he had been your boyfriend? Perhaps you did misunderstand my angst after all. The issue which bothered me extends well beyond your marriage ceremony.
Very early on you dropped phrases like “we are kindred spirits” and “we were in love”. Over the course of the evening you made various references to our past history, always in the context of the love-relationship: You told me that I was the only other person you’d loved. You suggested that our relationship was like that of Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. You suggested that a relationship between us now (as distinct from a friendship) would likely work. You referred to me as an ex-boyfriend when you gave a reason for not asking me to your wedding. Even when making a joke, you did it in the context of the love-relationship (e.g. “the reason we’re not together now is that I wanted babies and you didn’t”). And so forth. In all cases reflecting on the love-relationship, not the friendship.
You suggested that the phone call you eventually made to me, to say you were getting married, was your way of saying goodbye. (At that time, you did not explicitly say goodbye to me; you made no suggestion that you desired no further contact. In fact, you suggested a get-together shortly thereafter!) How should I interpret this statement? Was I regarded as some sort of relic, some connection with your past which had to be severed in order for you to move forwards? Was I still regarded as some sort of former love interest? You may have said goodbye to me in your mind, but this only existed in your mind, not in mine. The person to whom you said goodbye had died years beforehand. Had you not noticed the friend which took his place?
It seems to me, very strongly, that you still regard me first and foremost as an ex-boyfriend. To me, you were a friend. But to you, I was an ex-boyfriend. We were, and I think still are, living in different realities. I had been living under the belief that we were friends, after a fashion. In this light your ultimate treatment of me – actively excluding me without acknowledgement – was utterly reprehensible. Drop the assumption that we were friends, and your treatment of me is perhaps more understandable, though still unpleasant.
Were we ever friends? Or was I just someone that you tolerated? In hindsight I can recall times when you screwed me over quite badly. Funny how I rationalised away all that stuff at the time. I had thought that I had successfully engineered friendship with you from the flotsam of a messy, broken, teenage relationship. In my exuberance I completely failed to see that I was living an ideal. More fool me for not seeing the writing on the wall. This is my own shortcoming; I accept it.
Was it the case that you never got past the whole ex-boyfriend thing? Was it the case that you maintained relations with me only out of some sense of obligation, some sense of guilt? You’d have saved us both a lot of hassle if you had simply told me to get out of your life and leave you alone. Guilt is not a good motivator. Insincerity in your dealings with me was always going to end in distress.
But for all that, I am certain that we both did enjoy each other’s company, that we did have fun when we met up. When we were together we behaved as friends. When I came over that evening in 20** we got along as well as we had ever done, even after the better part of a decade. We always got along perfectly on a mental level. This never changed, from the days before our relationship, up to the time when we last met. In regarding me as an ex-boyfriend over a friend, in wanting nothing more to do with me, were you really being sincere to yourself?
Each of us has our own model of reality. In my model we were friends. In your model, it seems we were not. Since friendship is necessarily a mutual thing then it follows that we were not friends. Nevertheless, our meeting in 20** provided some evidence that my personal reality was NOT that far divorced from objective reality; we got along perfectly. There is absolutely no reason that we could not have remained friends. How could your beliefs be so far apart from mine?
Ultimately you owe me nothing, you have no obligation towards me. If it was necessary for you to exclude me completely then so be it. I question the necessity, but then I do not share your reality. However, the manner in which you excluded me was poor and I do not appreciate having been treated in that fashion. Had you simply told me to get stuffed – though again I question the necessity – then you’d have saved yourself a lot of effort in dealing with me over the years and you’d have saved me a whole lot of angst.
That brings me to the end. There is nothing more to tell. It has been years since I’ve had any strong feelings about you. I have no idea why the angst should resurface again at this moment. Nevertheless, the exercise of composing this letter, over several days, has enabled me to deal with it. The size of this finished product is almost embarrassing – who knew I had all that bottled up in me?
Despite all I have written, I have no great desire to resume any relations with you. My life at present is fantastic in all respects. I have a good relationship with my partner, happy kids, a perfect job, and several social circles. The only problem I have is a lack of time in which to indulge them all adequately. All these people and things return the effort I put into them and are thus worthy of my attention. Maintaining relations with you would only draw my attention from more important things, for little or no reward. Too much water has passed under that bridge; I will not cross it again. At this point I realise that my life is better WITHOUT you in it. This is a shame, there would have been much to gain from being friends with you, but I know now that the benefits do not outweigh the cost. You remain one of the great disappointments of my life and I lament what could have been. However, at this moment there is nothing; there will be nothing.