When the isolated break free
On giving advice, ending a toxic friendship, and moving forward.
I learned some hard lessons this week.
After severing an almost 15-year friendship, I’m in an early state of thoughtfulness, but also anger and worry for the friend who’s been fucked over by this—the former friend’s spouse—and for their newborn child.
My introduction to the new relationship in the ex-friend’s life invited me to add “adviser” to my role in our already untidy friendship. I tried to help them figure out why they kept doing this same thing over and over, and why are these love interests always so young?
I suggested they come up with a plan and collect resources to better help their spouse and child, as they’d decided monogamy wasn’t for them. This new person, and a polyamorous lifestyle was, apparently. They didn’t take that advice.
I repeatedly suggested they tell their spouse. Seemingly out of fear that I’d spill as a previous affair threatened to if they didn’t speak up, they told their spouse after about a month of text-prodding.
I suggested therapy, and they got a therapist.
I did my best with the information I had at the time.
I ran scenarios, remained generous, tried to be thoughtful, and I played “Devil’s Advocate” for months. I shared deeply personal stories with the intention of informing actions, and sympathized with them based only on a small amount of information from one source: Them.
I didn’t realize how the act of advice-giving, and sharing those personal stories would come back to bite me on the ass. Hard.
Giving advice is one of the most regrettable things I’ve ever done.
It’s an action in which the (potential) outcome temporarily lifted me up and made me feel good. Someone would say, “Thank you,” or “I needed this,” or “Great insight,” and I was all smiles and sunshine and rainbows.
It felt good to think I was helping someone in the world—even just one person—whether they lived next door, halfway around the world, or 2500 miles away.
Advice-giving wherever I could was fulfilling, and it gave me a purpose when my life felt like it was crumbling. It’s an addiction, much like any other. Some positive reinforcement bolstering a veil of “personal growth,” in this case, serving as proof of how far I’d come. A quick massage for the ego.
Then, when the advice-giving was flipped into a mindfuck, and this person who, I thought, was my friend tried to intentionally hurt me, I questioned every comment, every statement, every (purposeful?) breadcrumb of doubt they sprinkled throughout my marriage. A marriage, in fact, to someone they used to call a friend, too.
Our bubble popped, and nothing but pain came out of it.
It was the sort of friendship where I’d be angry and want to say something horrible, and they were the only person I thought I could share it with. I’d turn to my husband, but he’d get overwhelmed by the savage person fuming beneath the surface of the kind woman he thought he married. So, I’d text it to them instead.
I could say the worst things about anything to them. As far as I knew, it didn’t sully me in their eyes. But as time went on, that freedom gave me license to only bring my darkness, my worst self to them, with them.
It was a friendship of isolation. One rocked by the inclusion of someone new, who they later said they wished they kept hidden from me. Someone they fell in love with. Someone they are giving up everything for, but whom they’ve never met in person.
At one point, they would’ve been willing to give up everything for me, just like they would have for another before me, and their spouse after. And probably just like they will with the next relatively cute, naive, and gullible person hauling around their sack of trauma after all of us.
Only this time, they had everything to lose.
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