Too often we discuss getting rid of toxic relationships. But what happens when you are the one being pushed out, when you are the poison someone is trying to suck out of his life?
The end of summer feels so concrete. Kids’ playful laughter fades away with the wind as they return to school and that carefree, blissful attitude seems to melt away with the heat. The changing seasons bring renewed hope and guidance – the chilly air a sign to start fresh and start over. In June, I liked the ambivalent haziness of not knowing what August would look like. I didn’t know if I would stay with my boyfriend, move out of my apartment, or if I would choose Los Angeles or New York City as my new home in a year. Yet about one thing I felt sure: my best friend *Miles was part of that future picture. Our friendship was solid, secure, and stronger than ever. Never seeing or talking to him again just didn’t make sense.
Full disclosure, Miles wasn’t just a “friend.” We had been in a relationship for years. Even after the relationship ended, we said “I love you” and hooked up; and I kept mentioning how I was leaving my boyfriend as if to imply I was leaving him for Miles. Our friendship looked dangerously too close to the outside eye but I refused to worry because I kept his misguided feelings at bay. He would only declare rash statements when he was drunk (and sure, sometimes sober too) but I shrugged them off – no, he doesn’t want to marry me, he doesn’t want to be with me, and he only loves me as a friend. I believed Miles and I had moved far past the jealous, flip-flopping selves we were at 20. We could talk about our dating lives without fear of hurting one another, we vented about work and our friends – not just superficially sexting (although that, honestly, happened occasionally too) – and we discussed our big ambitions and shared our deepest fears. We challenged each other, and confided in each other at our weakest and most shameful moments. Our friendship had its flaws but it was stable and I thought that things wouldn’t shift into rocky territory.
In the middle of August, I spent a weekend in LA for a friend’s baby shower and my grandmother’s birthday. I said I was going back home for them but honestly I just wanted the excuse to visit Miles. I imagined our time together would be just as tender and romantic as when I visited in June before traveling to New York and Israel. And it almost was. I spent my days with friends and family not mentioning his name at all, but at night I relished being in his bed, laughing and kissing him between sips of beer and fragmented conversation until sunrise.
“You could make millions and buy a mansion for us,” he mused in his car, half-kidding, half-wishing, that Friday night before we picked up his friend. Yet I abruptly crushed that pipe dream, envisioning another reality where I move to New York City and write for a big news website instead. The two cities had been sloshing inside my mind for a few months – love was pulling me back to LA but ambition was pushing me closer to New York. The moment his hand playfully encircled mine and he joked that we could share a house — almost implying a life together — was my mind made up. I jerked back and corrected him that my plans didn’t involve being a part of his suburban fantasy.
Inevitably we fought that night. Miles expected one drink with his friend before sending her off so we could barhop together but I unintentionally, drunkenly ignored Miles all night and drew my attention to someone new. I was captivated by his friend’s aura as we immediately clicked over feminism and Game of Thrones. I sat closer to her at each bar and farther away from him, complimented her in that annoying way plastered girls flatter each other, and even invited her to Miles’ party the following night.
“That party was for you! Don’t you get that?” he yelled in his car after we finally dropped her off. He screamed about how I could label him my best friend yet brush him away the moment an intriguing new person peaks my interest. I sloppily pieced together an apology and we briefly made up enough to crawl into his bed.
But the rest of the weekend, he remained distant. I felt him slipping like sand through my fingers.
Before leaving, I hesitantly asked him what was going on.
He said we shouldn’t hook up anymore, which turned into the suggestion of us not talking. which finally led to an unwanted revelation.
“My mom saw you last night and she asked me all kinds of questions about you today,” he began. “I asked her what she has against you and she slams back with how I could be involved with someone who has a boyfriend – like what am I doing with my life?
“I should’ve gotten that part I auditioned for yesterday but because I was up with you all night, I wasn’t prepared,” Miles continued. “I could be going out, meeting new people, dating, writing, and working, but instead, because I know you’re there, I spend my Friday nights on the phone with you because it’s comfortable, it’s easy. You’re my crutch.
“I text you more than you text me and vent to you constantly. I’m so emotionally attached, and all it’s doing is pushing me backwards. I’m obsessed,” he said. “You’re my heroin.”
“So you just expect me to walk out of your life forever and you will date someone new and forget me?” I asked. “You were with your year-long girlfriend last year, but you admitted you thought about me, talked about me so much she assumed you were still in love with me. How can now be different?”
He sighed. “This might hurt, but I wish I never did that. If I could go back in time and change my behavior, I would,” he said. “I’ve learned from my mistakes.”
We sat in silence for a moment. The sky had brightened from a piercing black to a soft indigo. I felt that time was rapidly chasing us and pressuring me to regurgitate all my deeply buried last words before morning came.
“But I’m in love with you,” my voice trembled.
He looked away.
He kept his eyes down and said, “It’s not to say I wasn’t in love with you years ago, but I fell more in love with other people since then. It was deeper and more genuine.”
As if to make up for that agonizing sting, he continued, “But last night I know how mad I was with you hanging out with her, but I was also really happy because I saw how happy you were. If in a few years, I meet you randomly on a street somewhere and you are with an amazing person and you have a kid and you’re really happy, I’ll be happy,” he said. “Your happiness is all I want.”
After endless hours of talking, I finally left a little after dawn. I hugged him goodbye and felt him grip me tighter. He kissed my neck gently and as much as I longed to linger in his arms, I forced myself away.
I spent a week hiding from friends, sleeping in bed all day and drinking alone at night. I couldn’t stand to look in the mirror. On the surface who I was stayed the same, but my insides felt rotten. I didn’t want to be touched or spoken to and quickly withdrew inside myself. If I was so manipulatively sinister, so black and hollow within, why would anyone want me around? I grew to understand that the relationships I touch, I inadvertently squash in my hands.
I was supposed to be his best friend but I had turned into a distraction he had to rid himself from in order to be more fully committed to his work and relationships. To him, I was addictive like a drug – and just as toxic.
I replayed that weekend tirelessly in my mind. Where had I gone wrong? When did I make him realize I was so hazardous?
My memory was murky from that fated Friday night, but somehow I remembered him saying how we shouldn’t be in a relationship, then me immediately agreeing with him.
“Look what I’ve done to my ex-boyfriends, what I am doing right now with you. How can I possibly be trusted?” I shouted. “I don’t think I can be satisfied with just one person, so how would it be any different with us?”
I confirmed what his mom, his friends, and he already understood. I didn’t have any interest in changing for him.
Night falls quicker now, the air is brisk and the trees are bare. People are getting cozy underneath their large, bulky coats and next to each other underneath the sheets in their homes. Inside people are warm, but outside that gray dreariness has weighed us down. The cold keeps me inside more often than I want, but although I feel trapped behind closed doors that summertime looseness I crave has been replaced with grounding and strength. I spent months believing I was a bad person, trying to drain the poison out of my soul to somehow feel alive again. But I came to the conclusion that some people just don’t fit and sometimes these mismatched ingredients simply taste sour and bitter in your mouth, and sometimes they burst and erupt into flames. It’s not one person that is bad, just the combination that combusts.
*Name has been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.
More in relationships: Love Detox for a Year – Single and Loving It
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Photo: Ion Chibzii, Flickr user you me