Please Live Without Me

In 2019, I fell out love with one of my closest friends, A. I remember a couple of our FaceTime calls during the last few months of our friendship, when she talked about how she and her boyfriend felt unsure about where they would live after she ended her internship year. My friend wanted to move closer to her family down south, whereas her boyfriend wanted to stay closer to his family in the mid-Atlantic region.

“And after we talked I just thought, what if he’s gonna break up with me?” A said to me, after one of those tenser conversations with her boyfriend.

Who the heck cares, I thought to myself, though I said other things to my friend: I’m sure you two will work it out, it sounds like you’ve both been practicing healthy communication, I hope you can take care of yourself through this. Taking a step back, of course I understood why my friend cared about if her boyfriend would break up with her. She had moved to a new state where she knew no one, then she started dating this guy, and he acted as her only in-person support system. Whenever they got into fights, she always asked me: what if he breaks up with me, and I’m all alone in [name of state redacted for confidentiality]?

Deep down though, I expected more from A. During the first year of our friendship, we had bonded over feminism, over never needing a man to feel happy or fulfilled. But when she started dating this guy, that changed, and toward the end of our friendship she admitted that she spent most of her time with him. Even in this conversation about her and her boyfriend wanting to live in different places, I thought to myself, why is it that you’re always concerned if he’ll break up with you, when you could break up with him if it turns out his life plan is incompatible with yours?

A few days later we FaceTimed again. Out of obligation, I asked her about how she felt about her and her boyfriend’s situation, if there had been any updates.

“He’s actually decided to move with me so we can live together.” I could see her face glowing, even with the slight blur from my iPhone screen. I could hear the giddiness in her voice as she spoke. “He said that he couldn’t imagine a life without me.”

when you were everything ashley woodfolk cover

I read this book about a best friend breakup in March 2020 and it felt so healing and connecting, definitely my favorite fiction title of 2020 so far. Yay for friendship representation! Image via goodreads.

A few weeks ago I talked with one of my best friends about relationships, amidst a flowing conversation about books, finding meaning outside of our work, and much more. This best friend and I both live alone, and we both fill our time with our hobbies – she cooks amazing food and practices martial arts and writes beautiful poetry, I listen to pop music and play tennis and write extremely vulnerable Goodreads reviews and blog posts. We both love our lives without men. This friend and I agree, also, that in our relationships, we always want to be able to survive without the other person. While we care a lot about our loved ones, we want to feel able to stand on our own two feet, so that our love for our loved ones comes from a place of caring for them on top of our already complete lives, instead of valuing them from a place of desperation or loneliness.

A and I differed on this view though. I remember how happy she felt when she told me her boyfriend could not imagine a life without her, whereas if any man said that to me, I would gently ask him to please develop more supportive and sustaining relationships and hobbies so he could survive if anything were to happen with me. I view making a man the center of my life as heteronormative and patriarchal, whereas A saw herself as someone in a healthy and satisfying relationship.

In one of our fights during the last few months of our friendship, I told her that I felt betrayed by how she had chosen to engage in a romantic relationship that looked exactly like the ones we both used to criticize when we were single. She wrote to me that she didn’t know it at the time, but when she had said those things about patriarchal relational norms and the wedding industrial complex, she said them to avoid her fear of vulnerability, to avoid confronting how much she wanted an intimate relationship with a man. When I read her words, I felt a knot of dread form in my stomach. If A had been an ardent feminist and then turned into someone who valued a man above her friends, would the same thing happen to me if I ever dated a man?

we used to be friends amy spalding book cover

I read this book in January 2020, closer to breakup with A, and it also felt so cathartic and healing. While I think When You Were Everything is an overall stronger novel, I love books that center friendship and hope we can get more of them. Image via goodreads.

My other best friend told me last night over FaceTime that A recently announced her engagement with her boyfriend over Instagram. I felt my heart clench a bit when my bff shared this with me. I had avoided all of A’s social media to give myself space from updates like this, updates that felt hard to hear while I still wanted time to heal from the breakup. When my best friend informed me of A’s engagement though, I felt some angsty thoughts reemerge: should I have invested so much time in a person who would ultimately prioritize her male romantic partner over me? Should I have detected sooner that when A got a boyfriend, she’d behave the way she did? Did I fuck up by letting this person into my life, into my heart?

Now that more time has passed since our breakup, I can see our friendship with more nuance. I do think that if I had known A would ultimately end up prioritizing a man and pursuing a heteronormative relationship and family, I would have invested more time in other relationships, or even in my research, mentoring, therapy work, or hobbies. At the same time, I feel so appreciative of what we shared together: the hours spent laughing about debauched fanfiction, how I convinced her to go to therapy which helped her deal with her issues, how she helped me feel less lonely during my first two years of grad school. I still think A is a compassionate, empathetic, wonderful human. I will always wish her the best, whether we reconnect as acquaintances or friends awhile down the line, or even if we never speak or see each other again.

My friendship with A taught me a lot about what I want in my closest friends and potential romantic partner, too. In addition to valuing people who care about compassion and social justice, I connect with people who possess both a willingness to share emotional intimacy and a self-assuredness that they can stand on their own two feet, even without me, and especially without a romantic partner. In 2020, I have spent most of my time loving my two best friends and loving myself. I’m not trying to rush into any new best friendships or a romantic relationship. At the same time, I’m keeping my heart open, for the sake of connection, for the sake of love.

selfie in elliott bay book company seattle

Here is a selfie of me from January in the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, when I visited one of my best friends. I’m sharing this because 1) I haven’t shared a selfie in awhile, 2) I miss the days when I could go to independent book stores, or outside in general, and 3) bookstores have provide me with more fulfillment than any man I’ve felt attracted to.

Hello internet friends, how are ya’ll doing? Apologies to the 1.8 people who read this blog for the delayed post, I had been keeping to a pretty much weekly schedule on this blog but last weekend I wanted to finish a final draft of my dissertation proposal, so. It’s weird, sometimes I forget I do things aside from over-sharing on the internet and listening to “As If It’s Your Last” by BlackPink. Anyway, how have ya’ll negotiated friend breakups? Or what do you look for in close friends, or more casual friends? How are you reacting to what I shared in this post? Until next post and hope everyone is staying as safe as possible with amidst Coronavirus!

8 Comments

Filed under Personal

8 responses to “Please Live Without Me

  1. Yurena

    Ultimately a genuine caring friend feels happy about their friends’ happiness. Your ex-friend is in a relationship which is non-violent, mentally stimulating and it even makes her face glow, how is that in any way toxic? What about having a little bit of tolerance in accepting how others want to live their lives instead of repeating to yourself all that heteronormative patriarchal bs over and over again?

    • Hey Yurena, thanks for taking the time to read and I’m glad it sounds like this post elicited some strong reactions! I don’t think my friend’s relationship is toxic and I don’t think I wrote that in this post. I do accept how she wants to live her life even though it’s not what I want, and that’s totally fine – I just don’t think we’re necessarily compatible, and as I said I wish her all the best. I think part of friendship or any relationship is being able to appropriately draw boundaries, and I feel like I was able to do that effectively here.

  2. Very thought provoking post….I reflected on my relationships as I read this. I was in a very toxic marriage relationship which ended in betrayal that felt like it murdered my soul. When I rose back up out of those ashes, I started to love myself and others more. I don’t really get emotionally entwined as much as I was in the toxic relationship, perhaps in an effort to protect myself, perhaps I just can’t do it anymore. I love my friends and support them, and it feels right.

  3. First, your final draft of your dissertation!! I hope that your work continues to go well despite the state of the world! A final draft is no small thing.

    Second, this post brings up a lot of interesting questions about friendships and their place alongside (or above/below) romantic relationships. For me, I view my friendships and relationships like rings around me, so there’s varying degrees of closeness even with my closest friends. I do think that there’s something to be said about heteronormative expectations and the patriarchy for what women are raised to want in their lives, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that presence in ones formative upbringing. And I think that threads of that still are in positive statements like, “I married my best friend” or “they’re the only one I need” and etc.

    “He said that he couldn’t imagine a life without me.” – I definitely balked a little at this phrase, too, but I think there’s room for distinctions to be made. I do think there’s a difference between wanting someone in your life as the main reason, or wanting someone in your life to support you in being your best self. Sometimes people can’t see the difference in that, or to them it doesn’t exist, but I think it comes down to critically analyzing what someone brings into your life as far as supporting you/advocating for you/pushing you. I can imagine a life without my friends or my husband, but it’s not a life I think I would plan for. I know I’ve been able to grow into a kinder and more vulnerable person because they have steadily been there for me.

    As far as approaching friendships, I’ve always tried to be as meaningful/intentional in my friendships as possible, even if they’re casual. I think it’s important to uplift and support people, whether they’re one of my oldest friends or someone I chat with casually online. I met someone off of Bumble BFF when I first moved to the Bay Area, but we talked candidly about mental health and childhood trauma at our first meeting. I still would consider her a “casual friend”, but we talk near daily about work and our lives. I’ve been trying to practice real vulnerability, where I’m not only open with someone but also able to ask for help in situations when I need it; this is still a work in progress!

    • Thank you for the validation! Yep it’s my final draft of my proposal so not the actually completed dissertation itself, yet it is still something to be proud of, especially that I was able to get it done during this hectic time. (:

      I appreciate the nuance and perspective you bring to this conversation about friendships and relationships. It makes sense to me to deeply value people and recognize how relationships have helped you or me grow into kindness and vulnerability, while also acknowledging varying levels of closeness and making space for multiple types of relationships and bonds. Glad to hear that you’ve been able to develop that supportive relationship with your casual friend – it seems to me like you are someone who would be able to maintain a supportive and caring friendship or relationship so I’m glad that person and the others in your life are blessed with your presence.

  4. Those look like good books about friendship and I’m glad this topic is written about. One of the things I loved about reading “Queenie” was the portrayal of the friendship group, where the friends met each other and where the friendship breakup was as important as the relationship one, I felt.

    I would say that also being too independent and “Hey I could live without you” can be quite nerve-wracking for the romantic partner involved and quite upsetting, just if they have a different way about them. Often my first reaction when threatened is to fall back on my own resources and isolate myself, probably coming from my unsafe background, and that can really hurt both partners and friends. So there’s a balance to be had there.

    I think as I’ve realised the fragility of life and how easy it is to lose track of people I have been more forgiving of friends if the fundamental core is there. But ultimately it comes down to what is most important to you, of course. To me it’s honesty, genuine care and support that matter. Having the same religious views doesn’t. Having the same political views is quite important but having the same views on society and equality is probably more (so I’d be friends with the kind of Conservative John Major is, for example, but not a homophobic left-winger).

    • Aw yes I loved the friendship group in Queenie too! I feel like the Candice Carty-Williams did a nice job of showing the nuances of friendship too, about how certain friends can be supportive and emotionally available while others can be dismissive or cruel or just not the right fit at a certain time.

      I appreciate that perspective about being *too* independent! Something I value is possessing both a desire to be okay on one’s own while also being open to and invested in relationships. I definitely think someone can have both and I’m glad you’re reminding me that there’s a balance and duality to have there.

      Yes, I also love how you remind me that ultimately it is up to us what and who we want in our lives. I do have more casual friends who I don’t hold to the same standards or expect the same things as I do my closest friends. And I’m acknowledging that I’m 24 so with age and time perhaps my expectations or standards will change. It’s cool to hear your self-awareness about what and who you want. (:

  5. x

    Hi Thomas,
    I love this post. I have thought about it so many times, of being independent but still care about the love in a romantic relationship, and I know it is common sometimes people have to choose between the two. I mean people sometimes have to give up the freedom of choice (such as locations, foods, tv, etc) when they are single, which I understand. What makes me a bit concerned is that the thing of “it’s us against the world” “without you I cannot live”type of feeling. It must be hard, and I haven’t had this kind of feeling before and i wish I will not. But I have seen people have this feeling in their relationship. And I am a bit surprised it works out sometimes. But ideally, it is not my choice.
    If that’s a romantic way of expression, I can understand it more, like in songs and tv, it’s fun. But if it’s a realistic status, when someone have to live with particular one person to make their life function well, it seems co-dependent to me.
    xin

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