In middle school, I had an online friend- a high-schooler. Like me, he lives in the Northeast, but we never met in real life. We had become friends through a game we both played, and as we got to know each other more, we moved to a private chatroom. I noticed quickly that he was a bit clingy, but I didn’t mind much. There was much more to it than that. I missed every red flag, no matter how near to my face it waved.
Overtime, he illustrated for me a picture of his life, pressing hard with a charcoal pencil to do so. His life was a dark one. He had no friends, he wasn’t doing well in his high school, he didn’t have any self-esteem, his father had anger issues, he struggled daily with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Being 13, this was the first time I had ever been exposed to real depression. Though I knew it by name, I had no idea how it felt. The severity of my friend’s situation escaped me. I thought I had the capacity to help him- that it was only a matter of lending him enough of my time and affection. I read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies, daydreamt. I believed that love could heal anything. He just needed someone to love him.
People who don’t love themselves are almost always incapable of accepting the love of someone else. This statement may be broad, but in his case it was true. He couldn’t fathom the idea that someone liked him for who he was, as he was. Please never feel that it is your responsibility to cure someone. No matter how much you love them, or feel confident that you can help, the fact of the matter is that you will never do it as well as a professional. By being not only untrained, but too close to the person, you can and most likely will get hurt. I suggested this option to him numerous times, but he always rejected it violently. I should have pressed harder. Maybe things would have turned out differently for us.
After I had made up my mind to help him, I talked to him a lot more often. I would be his comfort, a friend that he could trust. He responded with appreciation for a while, but slowly, he began to debunk the advice I gave him. When I would say something supportive, he would question whether I really meant it. He started asking me to prove that I care. I use present tense there because, well, I still do. Relationships are complicated and messy, even when it seems like things are clear cut. This is a senior in high school who, over the course of a year, asked the following things of a middle-schooler:
- My cell phone number
- To be his girlfriend
- To stay up late talking to him even on nights I had tests the next day, getting angry if I asked to sleep
- Regular pictures of me
- To talk to him instead of hanging out with my friends
- A timetable of where I would be each day of each week, and when
I only drew the line when he asked for my address, but he wouldn’t accept my refusal. He stated, proudly, that this meant I really didn’t care about him after all. When I would upset him, he would disappear. Anywhere from thirty minutes to five hours later, I’d get a message: “Your fault.” With it, a picture of slit wrists. This is a man that I should hate. Yet, I still find myself thinking of him sometimes- whether he’s alive, whether he’s finally independent, whether he’s enjoying life. I hope he hasn’t messed with any other naive middle-schoolers. I learned from him an important cliche: that you can’t live with hatred. He showed me what happens when you try to.
Slowly, I began to lose my patience with this way of living, and with him. I conducted small acts of rebellion. Colder, shorter responses, less sincere apologies. My tone was more distant when I spoke with him, and he knew it. He was much kinder during this small window of time. Our friendship became a minefield. He kept trying to defuse it, but one day he snipped the wrong wire. I don’t think I have re-visited that level of anger.
Toyed with. Played for a fool. Manipulated. My eyes finally opened to see just how poorly I had been treated.
I couldn’t cut contact with him on my own, so I told a close family member, my Aunt, everything. Furious at him, she sat by me, making sure I blocked him on everything I could. He kept making new accounts, kept calling me all day long. I cried with the same intensity of what my anger had been so shortly before then. I thought I had just killed him. He always told me that he’d end his life if I were to leave.
He lied about that, too, but the guilt didn’t go away for a long time. My confidence, my self-esteem, my ability to accept other people’s affection: all of these were marked up like an old desk, his presence carved into them. Being unable to berate me in real life anymore, he decided to exist in my head as a hyper-critical voice. When I met my first boyfriend, who I am still with almost six years later, I was convinced that he could not and would not ever love someone like me. When I achieved anything, I still felt that I wasn’t good enough for my dreams. When I entered college, I mentally critiqued my statements and actions, terrified by the negative effects they might have on the people I hoped would become my friends.
As this is getting a bit long, let me just say what I mean: I don’t regret having removed him from my life, but I never really feel like he’s gone. If the image of severing a relationship resembles cutting a rope, then I am a person attempting to slice the steel cables of a metropolitan bridge with a butter knife. The work of separating myself from him is slow going, and I realize that it is essentially an impossible task. He is part of me. But today, I find myself surrounded by and filled with a lot of love, for myself and for others.
I like myself. I hope that he finally likes himself. I hope that you like yourself.