How to Stop Being a Bad Friend
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How to Stop Being a Bad Friend


This post was originally published on January 14, 2015.

I met Tara through a roommate wanted ad she posted on Craigslist. I was living in an apartment I couldn’t afford on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and I needed to move quickly as I was on the verge of being kicked out. Tara had just relocated from Massachusetts to Brooklyn to pursue her dream career in publishing. Her high school boyfriend, the one she lived with back in Massachusetts, back packed Europe with, danced at her high school prom with and planned to marry, was supposed to move with her but at the last minute and without any warning, he backed out and they broke up.

Tara and I exchanged a dozen exclamation point-laden emails before she invited me out to her place in Bay Ridge. I remember how nuts one of my co-workers thought I was for just going out there without really knowing anything about Tara.

“What if her ad is fake and she’s not really a she but she’s a he and he tries to kill you or something?” he asked as I Googled directions to the address Tara gave me.

I didn’t know what Tara looked like and I knew nothing about Bay Ridge but after living in Manhattan for a few years, I knew better than to let a cheap, even mildly promising, apartment pass me by. Just to be safe, though, I gave my co-worker all of Tara’s details.

“If I don’t show up for work tomorrow,” I mostly joked, “you’ll know exactly where to look for my body.”

Meeting Tara for the first time was, surprisingly, a huge success. Not only was she kind and welcoming but her apartment looked as if it had been peeled right of the pages of a Pottery Barn catalogue. After popping open a bottle of red wine, we moved into her living room, kicked off our shoes, curled up on the couch and talked for hours like old college roomies. We both practiced yoga. We both loved to bake. We both loved books. We both hated the smell of cigarettes and we were both in therapy over our jacked-up childhoods. Her parents had divorced and remarried just like mine. Her stepfather was a belligerent drunk just like mine and her mother was an alcoholic, too! She knew what it meant to be codependent and she understood the fear of abandonment. But more importantly, we understood each other and what it was like to grow up with addiction. By the time I left Tara’s, I not only scored a new and affordable place to call home but I’d also made a new friend.

In total, Tara and I were roommates for five years; the majority of which were fantastic. When I was depressed, Tara pulled me up off the couch and dragged me out with her friends. When I needed to moan about my job, Tara gave me her full attention. When I needed someone to remind me that I deserved better than a coke head, alcoholic pseudo boyfriend that was really just a drawn out booty call, Tara became both my coach and cheerleader. And when I got fired from my job, Tara was the one who managed my anxieties over being unemployed and repeatedly reminded me that it would all work out. But sadly, even though Tara had shown me over and over again that she indeed cared about me and valued my friendship, I wouldn’t let her in. I didn’t trust that she really wanted to be a part of my life. I didn’t believe that she really cared or that the help she offered me over the course of our five years living together was sincere. I simply wasn’t willing to trust her. Eventually, I started to distance myself from Tara. If I was sitting in the living room watching TV and she walked in, I’d walk out. When she would try to ask me how my week was going, instead of answering in a complete sentence, I would grunt and flash her a hostile eye roll. And at one point, I just stopped talking to her altogether. For two solid weeks I offered her nothing but the silent treatment. It wasn’t long before Tara, who had been nothing but patient with me, had had enough and kicked me out of the apartment. On the night that she told me she wanted me out in two weeks, I fell apart. I begged her to give me more time to find a new place but she wasn’t having it—I’d sucked the life out of her and destroyed our relationship and what I feared might eventually happen finally did: Tara really didn’t care anymore.

Thanks to a sympathetic Alanon friend, I found an apartment a week after Tara gave me the boot. And on the day that I left, Tara was nowhere to be found. I haven’t spoken to or heard from her in nine years, which is probably a good thing considering how angry I was with her. It took me a long time to get over what had happened and it wasn’t until I stopped blaming Tara that I was able to get both curious and honest about the dysfunctional, self-defeating patterns that kept showing up in my relationships. Why do I push people away so easily? Why don’t I believe that I matter? Why do I automatically assume that people don’t give a shit? Why do I go numb when someone says “I love you”? Why would I rather be alone than vulnerable? Why am I such a shitty friend?

Here’s what I’ve come up with: I was raised by alcoholics, people who could barely care for themselves, much less care for me. In my house, it wasn’t safe to have feelings. It wasn’t safe to talk about upsetting things and more than anything it wasn’t safe for me to get close to or trust people, even if those people were my parents. When my mom would get drunk, she’d pelt me with stories about how I was supposed to be an abortion and call me a burden whenever I needed the basic things that a child needs. As a result, I learned to not only devalue myself but to also fear the people around me. From a very early age, relationships became a great source of pain for me and it has always been much easier to push people away then to risk getting hurt—again.

Today I realize that just as I could never control the way my parents drank, I also can’t keep blaming them for my relationship issues. On a very regular basis I have to remind myself that the people in my life right now are nothing like my alcoholic parents and they don’t deserve to be treated, by me, as if they are. I also have to accept the fact that I will never be immune to the common pains of life. Relationships can end just as quickly as they begin. People grow up and grow apart and baked within that truth is the chance that I might get hurt—again. But now I know that if I survived the screwed up relationships of my childhood, then I can probably handle whoever or whatever is in front of me today.

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About Author

Dawn Clancy is the creator of Growing Up Chaotic, a blog and radio program for those determined to survive and thrive despite growing up in toxicity. Her goal is to create a community hell bent on breaking, cracking and demolishing the cycle of dysfunction.