Trying to figure out whether or not a close friend still likes you is a tricky task. Their slow withdrawing only sends vague messages, which makes the whole thing more confusing. If you call them out on it, you run the risk of looking crazy and insecure. If you don’t call them out on it, then the friendship just continues to disappear.
As told in the previous blog post, I now stood in this exact pit of quicksand with my friend Brad. If you didn’t read it, here’s a quick recap: He was a great friend with whom I hung out regularly. He had become distant in the fall of 2017 - unfollowing me on social media and being less and less responsive to texts. I tried my best to maintain our friendship. And on New Year’s Eve 2017/2018, he left me feeling truly alone in favor of his other friends.
After that night, I was left with a massive decision as to what to do next. Do I keep trying to be friends? Do I just let go of the friendship? Do I put on a designer ski mask and go slash his tires? Or should I simply reach out and try to talk? What? Like mature adults? No. We couldn’t do that. Could we?
Technically, I HAD already tried talking to him about it when I first noticed his distance in the fall. He said he was merely feeling depressed since the weather changed. Like a good friend (who has battled depression), I gave him the number of my therapist and offered to help in any other way that I could. God, was I an idiot.
In order to make peace with the end of this friendship, I needed more solid evidence that it was actually done. I decided to stop reaching out to Brad - no more phone calls, no more texts, and no more funny memes over social media. If I didn’t hear from Brad in any context, then I would have the info to better understand the situation.
I began this experiment on New Year’s Day. A week passed by. I hadn’t heard from Brad. Two weeks passed. I STILL hadn’t heard from Brad. A month later, still…nothing. If action is information, his lack of action was giving me all the info I needed. My plan was working.
Simultaneously, my plan was backfiring. I could now visibly see that he no longer had much, if any, regard for our friendship. His absence was like him sprinkling salt all over the little wounds he’d been jabbing into me over the past months and the pain was making me really, REALLY pissed off.
What had been a milky love for a good friend was now curdling into hate. My revenge fantasies no longer involved slashing his tires. Some cutesy vandalism just wouldn’t suffice for how angry I felt. Instead, I fantasized about how nice it would be to walk right up and punch him in the face.
Of course, I am NOT a violent guy and would have never physically harmed Brad. At age 37, I‘ve still never even thrown a punch. It’s just not in my nature. But, by week six of not hearing from him, I had succumbed to full-blown rage.
“So, if I were to see Brad in public,” I told Luke one night at dinner, “I‘ve decided I’m gonna spit in his face.”
Seeing as how I said this so matter-of-factly (hence no exclamation point), Luke was concerned. “Are you serious?” he said.
“Yeah. I have given this a lot of thought,” I continued. “I think it would be good for me to spit in his face. It would show him how much all this really has hurt me, and it would make him feel hurt too.”
Admitting this now, in front of you all and the entire world, makes me feel a bit sick at my stomach. Or maybe it’s the fact that I had way too much coffee before writing this essay. Either way, looking back on this, it is not one of my prouder moments.
Luke gently suggested that I should go see my therapist. I am fortunate to have an incredible therapist. She helps reframe things more objectively without over-criticizing or over-coddling (coddling is the worst). I only see her now on an as-needed basis. And clearly this was needed.
In our session, we went over the reasons why Brad’s actions could have been more about Brad than it was about me. Then we got to my anger. She had pegged me as having a problem with anger before and how it was the way I responded when coping (or not coping) with hurt. And this time, the hurt had gotten severe enough that my anger was out of control.
By the end of the session, she talked me down from saliva-fueled desires and helped me understand that, in the end, I have no control over his actions. But I do have control over mine. It was not up to Brad to help me find peace. It was up to me.
She recommended a book called “Anger” by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh...again. She has recommended this a few times. As much as I try to be proactive about my mental health, I failed to do this homework. When you’re busy writing your own book, it gets incredibly tough to read other people’s books.
I supposed this time I could see if there is an audiobook that I could listen to in the car. But listening to an audiobook by a Buddhist monk might put me to sleep at the wheel and crash. Then I would have to take Brad on Judge Judy for indirectly causing me to wreck my car. It wouldn’t be worth it - especially because she would yell at me a lot and most likely rule in his favor.
It might have been Brad who made me feel like a desperate teenager, but I alone was responsible for acting like one. I came to realize I had actually been going through the mourning process and had no awareness of it. The stages of grief (shock, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, and acceptance) are, unfortunately, not linear.
Since I failed to recognize this as grief for the loss of our friendship, I kept blindly bouncing between shock, depression, and guilt, always to land back on anger. It had become a vicious cycle of shame and rage, and none of it was getting me closer to that final stage of acceptance. It was ‘mourning mayhem.’
I spent the next couple of weeks working through my grief so that I could stop acting like a child and respond like a mature adult. I hadn’t handled this well and I didn’t want to be angry and vengeful anymore. The only soul it was hurting was my own. I wanted to find grace in my heart so that I could let Brad go peacefully.
On March 1st (the tenth week of silence) I decided I had gotten as close as I could get and needed to send one last text in order to genuinely put this thing six feet under. This is what I wrote:
“Hey buddy, I’m sorry for this weird text. But I wanted to let you know that after New Year’s I decided to see what would happen if I stopped reaching out to hang out. And now, two months later, I haven’t heard from you. And over this time I’ve seen you hang out with your other friends regularly on social media. I don’t understand if this distance was intentional or accidental. But it feels lousy on my end and I think the time has come for me to just make my peace with it and let it go. And I needed to write this in order to do that. I mean all of this with love and grace. You have been one of my favorite people to befriend and I am truly thankful for the friendship that we had. I am also grateful for all the ways that you helped me. And I will always be there for you if you ever need me. No need to reply. Love you, Brad. Take care.”
Six hours and nine minutes later, Brad responded:
“Hey Scotty, I’m glad you reached out, it’s been on my mind too. The space was somewhat intentional, the length of time accidental. I’ve felt a shift in our friendship since the blog and brand launched and I haven’t done a great job of letting you know that it’s been bugging me. That’s on me. I started pulling away because I felt that most of our conversation and connection became centered around your brand as opposed to around you or me. I think that’s the nature of this portion of your life being so wrapped up in this goal/pursuit - that’s not a bad thing! It’s just shifted what we bring to the friendship a bit and I felt like our main connection shifted to brand updates and feedback. I hope that makes sense. I guess it’s just getting hard for me to separate Scott the Friend from The Bare InkSlinger. I do want to reconnect at some point and I want you to know I love you so much. The next 2-3 weeks of March are fucked with work travel, but I’d love to hang out when things settle and talk through some of this in person.”
I guess it would not stay six feet under after all.
To clarify what he meant by some of this, Brad had helped me brand The Bare InkSlinger. He was the one to point out that my writing is very naked and to make the bold move of sometimes getting physically naked with it. With his line of work, he knew branding and marketing and I relied heavily on his knowledge to help me figure this stuff out.
When someone calls me out on something, I try my best to remain open to it and to own my actions. I texted back that I think there was truth in what he said and that I would like to get together to share some perspectives and shine some light on this. I wrote that, when things calm down, he should touch base with me.
Twenty-four hours later, I realized this was utter bullshit. While I had talked a lot about the blog, I always remained conscious of not letting our friendship become all about that. Therefore, most of our ‘in-person’ conversations circled around the many woes of his self-proclaimed ‘slutty heart’.
My brain fragmented into a hundred pieces. I tore into my notebook, writing down all the ways we chatted about his life in lieu of the blog: the constant love triangles he found himself in, the falling apart of his last major relationship, and all the other boy-crushes that led to his constant state of unhappiness. I was able to quickly list off fifteen different things we talked about. And over a year’s time, since starting the blog, hanging out once a month or less, this felt significant.
At this point, my anger had returned and I was exhausted. I just wanted to be done with it. But I also wanted to meet up so I could find out what in the hell happened, let him know how much it hurt me, and make peace. Well, this might shock you, but Brad did not ever message me back to set up a time. However, I wasn’t going to give up. I needed closure and I needed it face-to-face.
On April 13th, I texted, “So when can we get together and chat.” (And yes I failed to put a question mark instead of a period.)
Brad did not respond.
On May 10th, I texted, “I’ll give this another shot. Do you want to meet up and talk?”
He replied quickly enough that my phone does not distinguish the time the text was received. He did want to meet up - maybe between May 21-25th. His life had been so busy. He looked forward to reconnecting. He quit his job. He got a new job. He started a new relationship. This new guy lived in Seattle, but was now planning to move here next week.
Maybe I really SHOULD just spit on him, I thought. No! No! I had to stay strong! What would Thich Nhat Hanh do? I still hadn’t bought that “Anger” book. But it was safe to assume that Buddhist monks probably don’t spit on people when they’re upset. I wanted to be the kind of man who used honest and gracious words, not vengeful and destructive actions.
Finally, we made lunch plans on May 24th. Brad picked the restaurant right across the street - a place we had gone to constantly because he didn’t like venturing out more than a five-block radius.
I arrived first and got a table on the patio. A few moments later, I saw him crossing the street from his apartment. Brad walked up to the table and we gave each other a big obligatory hug before taking our seats. But even the waitress could feel the tension as she poured our waters.
My heart pounded as I now sat across from my new former best friend. I was finally about to find out what in the hell happened. And as it turned out, the bullshit reason Brad mentioned in his text was, indeed, far from the truth. To be continued.
Edited by George Paraskeva
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