My best friend and I are no longer friends.
My stress has been through the roof lately. Boyfriend and I have been moving house – widely accepted to be one of the most stressful activities known to man, a fact I can indeed confirm – and there’s been no relief from… well, anything. Packing up my life for the umpteenth time sucked marginally less with someone to help (and I’ll be honest – Boyfriend did most of the heavy lifting, packing-wise) but it still sucks ass. Hot, steamy ass.
I digress. The point is, I’ve been stressed. Crying, sleeping a lot, the whole shebang. I haven’t really been talking to anyone except Boyfriend, because all of my energy has been consumed by moving, and what little that’s left goes into uni and work. I simply have no batteries left to socialise on.
My best friend took that badly. They took it quite personally, in fact. A week ago they sent a long message saying that my continued shit responses hurt them, that it was a big factor in their self-esteem issues, and that their therapist told them the friendship is toxic and advised them to end it, among other things.
My reaction was not pleasant.
I broke. I shattered. I fell to pieces on the bathroom floor and Boyfriend found me in the shower, sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe, blood swirling around my feet before disappearing down the drain. I had relapsed for the first time in years, much to my shame. He wrapped me in a towel and guided me to bed, fussed over me, held me close as I cried.
(Have I mentioned that I don’t deserve him? Because I don’t.)
It was not just the message that cut me so deeply (if you will excuse the pun). I think I would have reacted with tears no matter when it came, but the fact that it came when my stress was at its peak – it was just too much, all too much.
And now I am grieving.
To truly piece together how J’s friendship and I went so wrong, we kind of have to go back to the beginning.
J and I met in a group chat of kpop fans from Australia, all people who vaguely (or concretely) knew each other and shared interests. J and I didn’t exactly hit it off at first. They thought I hated them. It wasn’t until we started talking outside of the group chat that things started to get better, and in early 2017, they came and visited me and stayed with me. That set off a friendship that was deep and intense, the kind that people wax poetic about. We talked every day, and when I say every day I mean all day every day. Pretty much 24/7 we were texting each other. We were as close as two people can be without being romantically involved. Every single thought that went through my brain, every little inconsequential detail of life, I shared with them. They were my first port of call for any issues I was having.
2017 was a hard year. I was living by myself for the first time, in an apartment that was slightly and realistically too big for me, and I struggled to cope. I was desperately lonely, but didn’t want to date as I was moving to Korea the next year, and so I tried to fill the void with meaningless hookups from tinder. That stupidity led to my second rape, something I’ve never quite forgiven myself for. J was the first one I called when he left my house – I was crying, sobbing into the phone, and when I could finally speak I said ‘don’t worry, he didn’t rape me’.
At the end of that year, I traveled with J and some others from that group chat to Korea. It was meant to be a fun holiday to celebrate the new year. 2018 was meant to be the best year ever, and what better way to make that come true than to spend it with my best friend?
From the beginning, things began to go awry. Our plans were I would arrive first, a week early, and then J would join me later and we’d stay for about a week in the airbnb together before they moved over to their big group accommodation with other people from the group chat. I, in a move that turned out to be proactively wise, said that I would keep my airbnb so I had somewhere to escape to if I began to get overwhelmed. This was before my autism diagnosis, but I knew I didn’t fare well when shoved into close quarters with people I didn’t know all that well.
(Yet another lesson I had learnt the hard way. I’d gone to Seoul in the middle of 2017, to study Korean, and had happened to meet up with others from the group chat and their friends. We’d all decided to go to a kpop concert together, for a band I didn’t know that much about. It was the middle of summer in Korea, and Seoul doesn’t benefit from the southern changes and sea breezes that break up the simmering heat of Sydney in summer, so we were sweaty and miserable. I was completely and entirely left out as the rest of them chatted happily about the band they’d just seen. No one even looked at me. It was as if I didn’t even exist. My wonderful friend G, who had tagged along that day, found me upstairs in the airbnb, crying silently so no one would hear as the rest of them ate happily. They’d all ordered food I didn’t eat and hadn’t asked me if I wanted anything, so I slunk upstairs to cry until G ordered me a pizza.)
I arrived without fanfare and spent the first week in the airbnb happily by myself. It was tiny, as Korean apartments often are; there was a loft bed, which I slept on, and then a sofa bed downstairs. As such there was no real privacy between the two people staying there. When J arrived we quickly realised that neither of us was really happy being up in each other’s business all the time. It was exacerbated by J getting sick, something I unfairly resented them for as it put a dent in our plans.
But J powered through and we fulfilled our goal in getting absolutely blind drunk and clubbing every night. One particular club we liked because the bartender, upon seeing my tattoos, proceeded to stuff us full of free drinks while sharing ink stories. We went back the next night and repeated the process. I got drunker that night than I’ve ever been, I think. We were still in the club at seven in the morning; at that point we were some of the only people left. The other girl still there, a Korean-American from California, bought us all tequila shots and we downed them happily.
The next few moments, I think, are where our friendship began to unravel.
When it was time to go – because they were literally closing up shop – I went to the bathroom and J went to the coatroom to get our bags and jackets . It wasn’t until we were halfway back to the airbnb that I realised J hadn’t gotten my bag, which had my wallet and passport in it. It was at this point that I began to have (something I can now clearly identify only in retrospect) an autistic meltdown. I was beyond drunk; I’m surprised I was still upright. I was cold – it was under 0 degrees Celsius. I was overwhelmed at being in a foreign country where I couldn’t speak the language that well. None of this excuses the tirade that I launched upon poor J – but it hopefully gives it some context. I sped-walked back to the club only to find they’d closed and gone home, because it was close to eight in the morning at this point. I lost it. I don’t remember what I said, but apparently it was horrible, awful stuff, personal attacks launched at J. We were screaming at each other in the middle of the street. They got fed up and started going back to their airbnb and I, drunk and angry, began to follow them out of some misguided sense of duty. It was their first time in Korea, I reasoned, and I didn’t want them to get lost or abducted and have it be my fault. So I trailed them doggedly all the way back to their airbnb where they disappeared inside without a glance behind them, and then I went back to my airbnb, on the other side of the district. I got home and collapsed into bed, slept fitfully for a few hours, and woke still drunk. I think it took me a good twelve hours to sober up completely.
The next day was New Years Eve itself. I didn’t talk to J at all, mainly because I couldn’t quite remember what I’d said but I knew it was bad. I talked to a few others who said I could come over to get ready for NYE in the evening, as we were planning on going clubbing. I didn’t really want to but felt obligated, so in the early evening I got dressed and headed over.
(To this day I still don’t know what I said that night. They refused to ever tell me.)
It was horrible. Everyone – there were about six of us – was doing their makeup and eating and chatting, and I sat squished in the corner, feeling utterly miserable. I knew I’d fucked up big time. I didn’t have the words yet to apologise; I was still processing, and being around J was uncomfortable. They came downstairs and breezed past me without even looking at me, which I deserved. I shrunk further inwards and wished I could go home.
The evening crept onward. I did my makeup half-heartedly and then disappeared upstairs to cry in a bed (notice a trend of me in Korea?), feeling sorry for myself, feeling like shit for feeling sorry for myself, feeling like I was the worst friend ever, feeling sorry for J, wanting to fix things but not knowing how, and all in all wanting to die. I planned to go back to my airbnb and hang myself that night. Two others found me and cuddled me close. It was close to midnight, and they sent everyone else out while they stayed with me and made me eat something. I sobbed about what I’d done, how I couldn’t remember what I’d said, how I knew I was the worst friend ever and I’d hurt someone close to me and I didn’t know how to fix it. They passed around a bottle of soju and wiped my tears, and when the clock struck over onto midnight, we all shared chaste midnight kisses. I felt awful yet again because I’d ruined everything – the rest of the friend group were all hanging around in a park nearby, unwilling to leave the two girls I was with behind, and instead of having the New Years Eve in a club surrounded by friends that I knew J wanted, they were sat in a park, passing around cheap soju while it snowed.
At this point, I threw in the towel. I knew I would just be a miserable burden if I went out that night. So I walked with them as far as the station, and then peeled off and went back to my airbnb. I spent the next two hours texting the two girls who’d consoled me – one of them went back to the club for me and got my bag for me – before ordering fried chicken and passing out at 2 am. As New Years Eves go, it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either.
It was pleasant to wake up the next morning sober. I had leftover chicken for breakfast and waited for the others to emerge from their hungover haze. There had been drama – the girls I’d been with had kept J waiting outside the club for them as they stumbled all over the district, drunk and lost, and by the time they arrived J was beyond furious (which I knew was my fault too, because I knew it was anger leftover from the night before). But I hadn’t been there to make it worse.
In the afternoon, I texted J and asked if they wanted to meet up and talk. Being sober, and free of a hangover, had allowed me the time I needed to process through the events of the previous two nights. I desperately need that time to process in a conflict. If I’m forced to face things immediately, I break down – the emotions are too weighty, too real, and I haven’t been able to distance myself from them yet. They replied agreeing and we met at an ice cream place halfway between our two airbnbs.
I apologised profusely. I knew I had fucked up, and I made it clear that if they didn’t want to be friends with me after this, I wouldn’t blame them. I was so beyond sorry for hurting them in a moment of pettiness; it is, and was, inexcusable (I still haven’t quite forgiven myself for whatever I said that night, and I think part of it is because I’ll never know what, exactly, I said). I shouldn’t have lashed out but I did and I was so very sorry.
To my surprise, they said that what had hurt them the most was not the moment itself, but the next day, when I’d come over to the airbnb and ignored them. I was taken aback – in my eyes, I hadn’t been ignoring them at all, but rather shrinking away and trying to give them space from me, and from the argument. I myself need that space to process, but as it turns out, J doesn’t. They want to solve things immediately, and saw my silence as adding further insult to injury. It was a communication mishap and I apologised for this as well. They accepted my apology, and the rest of the holiday was a non-event.
But when I returned to Sydney, things had changed. We didn’t talk 24/7 like we used to. I could sense that they needed some distance from me to process everything, so I gave it to them, and we chatted briefly every couple of days or so. It wasn’t until March that things picked back up like how they were, but that fight had changed the foundation that our friendship rested on, and it was never quite the same.
In the middle of 2018 I moved to Korea for exchange, and if you’ve read this blog before, you know how that turned out (if you haven’t, spoilers: I tried to kill myself, spent the entire time depressed, managed to work through some trauma, and returned home a Very Changed Person). I was doing more uni than I’d ever done before, as a requirement of exchange, and learning Korean for hours every single day fried my brain beyond belief. When I came back to Sydney, I met Boyfriend within weeks of being home, and this, I think, was the final nail in the coffin of J and I’s friendship.
It’s not that I loved J any less. It’s just that living with someone takes up a certain portion of my energy, simply from being around them and talking to them. I’m autistic, and an introvert; my energy is drained by other people and regained by alone time. Boyfriend was there, all the time, and as awful as it sounds, I now had someone in person I could tell every little inconsequential detail of life to. As a result, earlier this year, J sent me a message explaining that my perceived lack of effort towards the friendship was hurting them. I apologised and promised to put in more effort to talk to them, and for a while, I did! Things were just like they used to be. But I got a job, and the world went to shit, and while I had Boyfriend to lean on, J had no one but me. They brought it up again a few months ago and I apologised again and renewed my enthusiasm for the friendship. I was really, really trying; even if I didn’t have the energy every day to send them an essay about how my day was, I tried to send little things, tiktoks and memes and anecdotes, that showed I was thinking about them.
To them, this read as callous. They sent me that long message and I had a breakdown in the shower and… well, you know the story.
I spent a couple of days marinating on their messages and sat down to write a reply. It ended up being 2000 words, and I sent it to a couple of people, Boyfriend included, to make sure it didn’t come across as accusatory or attacking.
I have no better way to explain it than I wake up every morning with a glass full of water, and every single thing I do results in water slopping over the sides. At the end of the day, depending on what I’ve done, I might be left with a couple of drops, or maybe a quarter full. Every single social interaction is me pouring water out of my cup. It doesn’t matter if it’s online or in person. Some days, if I wake up having slept well, my cup is bottomless; other times, when I’m having nightmares, or not sleeping well, it’s half-empty by the time I wake up and I have to make do with what I have.
I really don’t know how else to put it except that communicating with others is tiring because of my disability. In the first two years of our friendship, when I was living alone and working few hours a week, I could pour all of my water into our friendship, because I had nowhere else to put it; now I’m working more, live with a partner, trying to study, trying to move house, and trying to exist in this shitshow of the world that is COVID-19, and my water is spread thin. Everyone gets a couple of dribbles. That’s all I can do. I simply don’t have the energy to talk to you every hour of the day. It’s not that I don’t want to, because I love talking to you, it’s that I can’t.
If it is not the quantity of my messages that is the problem, but rather the quality, then I point to the same reason above but also apologise because I didn’t mean for our conversations to become shallow. I didn’t want to burden you with my problems and issues when you’re already going through so much. It seems so callous written out like that, but it’s the truth. I think this is yet another communication mishap we have—I’m pulling away from heavy topics because I don’t want to burden you when you’re already shouldering a lot, and perhaps you see that as me pulling away from the friendship/losing interest in you?
All I can do in that case is apologise. I don’t really know what I can do to fix my communication issues anymore. It seems like sometimes you run windows and I run mac. I can think of many times off the top of my head where I’ve said/done one thing and it’s been misinterpreted because of a failure on my part to communicate; the messages aren’t the right format, and they’re getting corrupted, no matter how well-meaning I was when I hit send. I’m unsure of how much of that communication breakdown is my failing vs my disability.
I thought I was being clear, concise, and communicating appropriately. I wasn’t exactly happy when I pressed send, but I felt firm in my beliefs. I knew that I’d done the best I could to explain myself and that if it wasn’t enough, than that was a J problem, and not a me problem. I thought we’d be able to move past this, as we’ve moved past so much shit previously.
Instead they replied accusing me of treating them as a “stand-in for the emotional connection a boyfriend gives you” and saying they are “not a placemarker between relationships”. They then went on to say “this friendship isn’t healthy and it never was, we’d both be better just moving forward without each other.”
And just like that, my closest friendship, a friendship of four years, crumbled to dust before my eyes.
I won’t lie and say it doesn’t hurt, because it does. It stings like you wouldn’t believe, especially since, for a little bit there, it sent me down a spiral of self-doubt. After all, if you meet one asshole in a day, it’s likely that you met an asshole. If everyone you meet is an asshole, it’s likely that you’re the asshole. If you smell shit everywhere you go, you should look at the bottom of your own shoes. Et cetera et cetera, metaphor after metaphor, you get the point. What has been the common link between J and all those other friendships that have died out over the years? It’s me. I’m the dependent variable. I’m the one who keeps fucking things up, time after time. I’m the one who keeps being a bad friend, alienating people, saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, even when I don’t mean to.
And I suspect that fear will plague me for a while yet, even though I still have friends, great ones. It’s a hard one to shake.
But deep down, deep in my heart, it doesn’t hurt like I thought it would. I thought I would be wailing and prostrating myself on the floor, grabbing razors and pills and reaching for unhealthy coping mechanisms. I thought I’d be suicidal. And I’m not (any more than I usually am, I mean). I think part of me realised the friendship was dying before I consciously did, and now the rest of me is just catching up. The constant communication mishaps, the fact that I was terrified to bring things up that bothered me because I knew it would end badly, the way they made me feel so small sometimes… There’s a reason I never showed them this blog, even though usually they would be the first person I’d send this kind of shit to. They were right – the friendship was never healthy, on either side.
So I’m doing okay. Not great, but I’m okay. It’ll take time for me to stop reaching for my phone to text them; it will take time for me to stop seeing tiktoks and thinking ‘damn, I should send that to J’. But I’ll get there. I’ll heal and continue on, and I hope they will, too. And we’ll go our separate ways, treasuring the good times we had together, but accepting that everything has to end, one way or another.
I’ll get through this.
I know I will.