This year has been emotionally taxing for me. Not only have I been in the process of applying to colleges, but also I had a close friend going through some tough times. He was severally anxious and depressed and I gave up many hours to be in his company. I can't count the number of times I went on walks with him just so that he wouldn't be alone.
What complicates this is that I used to have a huge crush on him. He knew about it and didn't do anything about it, never talked to me about it. I had mostly forgotten about it until the summer before this year. He messaged me saying that he was sorry. I remember getting that message at 11 p.m. My response was immediate and intense, telling him all the ways he had hurt me, yet stayed in my affections.
I spent that evening walking around my block, barefoot and in my pajamas. Because I saw a hope for him liking me back, I persuaded myself that I needed to break up with my current boyfriend (though there were more problems with that relationship than just the prospect of someone else).
When we saw each other again, he didn't talk about the long conversations we had been having over the summer. I waited with baited breath for him to do something, to make any move.
Three weeks into the year we went on a date and I was happy. The next day he asked me to go on a walk with him and he told me that we couldn't be together for reasons he wasn't ready to tell me yet. It physically hurt my chest, but I was mostly angry because what could it possibly be that made him "not able to date me"? I found out later that that was the first night he tried to commit suicide.
I know his mental illness is to blame for a lot of his actions, but I can't seem to conjure up any sympathy.
When he finally told me his story, his questioning of bisexuality, his hatred towards himself especially because of his sexuality, I became even more dedicated. He consumed all my time and I think part of that was because I still hoped he would be in a place to like me back.
Then he really did have to leave our school because he was a danger to himself. I slept only two hours the night before he left. I made him gifts with tiny notes that would give him a gift every other day until his birthday. There were 22 gifts. While he was gone I kept up with him, but slowly I've stopped messaging him.
I resent him. The truth is, he had a closer male friend and what I most resent is that in the stories they tell in the future, I will not be a part of their story. People only see the other friend as seriously hurt by this. They were closer, but it's not like I was nothing. I think he's getting better, but I still want no part in his life.
How can I learn to forgive him? I know his mental illness is to blame for a lot of his actions, but I can't seem to conjure up any sympathy. He was overly dramatic and emotionally taxing. He's just a teenager, a suicidal, anxiety-ridden teenager, but a teenager nonetheless. He's not the first of my friends to be depressed, but he's the only one who has made me angry.
I want to forgive but I don't know how.
You fell hard for someone who didn’t love you back. You invested a tremendous amount in the relationship. Not just time and emotional support, but your own romantic hopes. In the end, he crushed those hopes, as nearly all crushes do. So of course you’re angry at him. But the person you need to forgive is yourself.
I say this because I suspect there’s a part of you that knew, all along, that this guy was not going to be able to give you the kind of love you yearned for and deserved. Why? Because he was too busy dealing with his depression and his anxiety and his sexuality. The relationship you describe was almost entirely predicated on your being available to tend to his needs.
I’m not discounting those needs, or your compassion. But what you sought was someone who could offer you the same unwavering devotion. You wanted a boyfriend and you settled for a patient.
You’re not alone. Every single person I know (myself included) has done the same thing. We’ve gotten caught up in the fantasy that if we just love someone hard enough, they will return that love. We’ll be the one who can nurture them into sanity and stability. When that doesn’t happen, we feel betrayed. But some part of us knows that we’ve betrayed ourselves, by fixing our sights on someone almost guaranteed to disappoint us.
the person you need to forgive is yourself.
Take a look at what you’ve written above. This guy tells you that he can’t be with you because he’s questioning his sexuality and you become “even more dedicated.” He consumes all your time. Can you see how that behavior might place romantic suffering above gratification?
My intention here is not to make you feel bad, but to emphasize your right to feel good.
So all right, let yourself feel the disappointment of this loss. But don’t wallow. Instead, focus your energy on pursuing relationships — whether romantic or friendly — that are reciprocal, in which you are giving what you desire, but also getting what you deserve. Have the courage to privilege your needs.
This may take some time, but the best way to let go of your anger is to allow yourself happiness.
Author's note: We’ve all got one of these relationships (or two, or more) in our closet. There’s something about that person who’s just out of reach that stokes the masochist in all of us. And too often we turn away from those who cherish us. Or is that crazy talk? I trust you’ll let me know in the comments section below. Please do send along a letter to Heavy Meddle, if you haven’t. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. — S.A.
Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.