Friendship, Unrequited Crushes, and Emotional Abuse

This month’s Carnival of Aces is about expectations in friendships and other relationships, so I suppose now is a good time to talk about this.

A long time ago, beranyth wrote that abusive behaviors in friendships are rarely recognized as such, and then encouraged us to raise awareness of abusive behaviors in friendships and to promote them being taken seriously.  You may remember that post as the one I linked in my explanation of why we should write about our friendships.  In that series, the blogger discussed its friendship with the copilot, a relationship that’s still going well after four years.  You might consider this a Part 4 of sorts to that series, turning the camera now on shorter and newer problem relationships.

Also, uh, yeah… tw for abuse, probably.

Over the summer of this year, I started and ended a short, tumultuous friendship with a guy who gave me a large part of the reasons for writing this post and this post, and I feel like a dunce about it.  I had never in my life felt broken for my sexuality or my way of thinking in relation to sexuality up until that friendship with him.  Looking back on that mess, I want to ask, how did I let this happen to myself?  I’m normally so discerning, so quick to cut people out of my life or keep my distance in the first place, so good at spotting things ahead of time and mentally disqualifying people from any closer interaction.  I’ve since marked out a few red flags that I should have taken more seriously, but I can also comfort myself with this: when things got bad, I got out.  I ended it.  I didn’t let his apology sucker me back into texting him again.  Ace discourse gave me the tools and encouragement to reassure myself that there’s nothing wrong with what I did* and everything wrong with how he reacted, and I have to thank y’all for that.  Online at least, I have a supportive community at my back, and I believe that’s made a difference.  So instead of looking at it like “how did you not foresee what would happen if you kept talking to this guy?”, I can instead tell myself, “when you realized that continuing this friendship would be harmful to you, you called it off, and that’s something to celebrate.”

[ *things like criticizing a couple of sex jokes, not reading sexual tension into the argument between a couple of characters, etc. ]

With that being said, I still want to prevent anything like this from happening again to the extent that I can, and I’ve identified some expectations to tweak the next time around:

  • Notice when complaints about your behavior are specific and compliments are vague.  This one is tricky, because everyone can have trouble with compliments sometimes (since it can be hard to pin down what makes a great friend so awesome, and that’s understandable).  At the same time, I want to take it as a warning sign next time when all the compliments I get from someone are along the lines of “how are you so cool?” and effusive but unspecific positives like that, but then that same person turns around and expresses irritation at all the particulars of what I do.  In some ways, the trouble with my ex-friend was that he was just so uncommonly nice sometimes, and that kept a friendship with him looking like an appealing option.  In addition to being more understanding about things than I ever expect from people, he would regularly tell me how much me liked me and my company.  But we also got into conflicts often, conflicts I thought I could solve if I just explained my case well enough.  “He got mad at me because I take things literally and I don’t like sex,” I told the copilot later.  “That’s like 78% of my personality.”  That’s a highly condensed summary of the matter, and so there’s necessarily some hyperbolic distortion in there, but the point is that saying “I like you” doesn’t really mean much if that person doesn’t like a big chunk of what makes you you.
  • Expect information about prior relationships to be able to provide you with warning signs.  This one is something I resisted more than I should have because… it seems kind of mean.  Not having the full story is a legitimate concern, but when he was complaining to me about the ex-girlfriend who’d just dumped him and told me that she’d said she was tired of “feeling responsible for his emotions” (“What does that mean?” I asked; he answered in an exasperated tone that he had no idea), I should have taken it as more of a warning sign.  It sounds very much like she was accusing him of being abusive, which means that between the two of them, at least one of them had to be.  But I didn’t want to make many more assumptions than that because I felt like I had so little information besides what he told me.  Then, at a different time, he vented to me about having just received a bunch of email alerts that she had deleted some shared files from her drive.  He said it was like she was rubbing it in his face.  “Do you think she knew it was going to send those alerts?  Do you think she did it on purpose?” I asked.  “I don’t know.  Probably not,” he answered, but he still thought it was rude of her to delete the things he’d sent her and make him see those messages.  Being upset at the reminder was understandable, but I didn’t understand blaming her like he did for something she might not even know would happen.  I wish I had read more meaning into that.
  • Expect a difference in communication styles to remain a difference in communication styles.  Like some naive optimist, I assumed that if we just learned enough about each other’s speaking habits and the like, we wouldn’t keep having so many spats and misunderstandings.  Part of the problem was probably that it wasn’t just different communication styles but also a matter of different values, but regardless: don’t expect that to go away.  Don’t expect a square peg to neatly meet the edges of a circular space and all that.  If someone’s communication styles aren’t meshing with yours, don’t expect yourself to be able to overcome that through patience and power of will.  Just ditch it.
  • Don’t assume that coming from an abusive background will make people less likely to be abusive themselves.  I was talking to the copilot a month or so ago, swapping experiences with the relationships we’d just gotten out of, and she brought up how she hadn’t expected certain things of her ex-girlfriend because she had been severely abused herself.  Likewise, my ex-friend had said things a lot of things about his family that made me think he probably has emotionally abusive parents.  Implicitly or explicitly, the copilot and I had both thought that being on the receiving end of that sort of thing would have taught them better than to dish it out.  That was pretty naive of us.
  • In a real friendship, you should not be expected to endlessly fill the role of patient educator.  This is where being experienced in correcting misconceptions about asexuality might’ve harmed me more than it should have.  Sometimes I read about the way people’s friends have treated their asexuality, and I think to myself, why are you still friends with people like that?  Yet here I find myself having grown so accustomed to people knowing nothing about asexuality — and having such wrongheaded ideas about how to handle it — that I’ve been more tolerant than I should have been.  The first time my ex-friend blamed something he didn’t like about me on my asexuality should have been the moment when I stormed out on him.  Instead, I considered it strike one and corrected him, thinking he just needed a chance to learn and that things would get better from there.  Then came strike two and strike three.

These are the conclusions I’ve come to for taking into any new relationships, and I think they’re about as rational as I can expect of myself after being unexpectedly hurt.

Unfortunately, I’ve developed another new expectation that might not be as beneficial.

The ex-friend I’ve been talking about here was someone who had — long before things got bad — told me that he had a crush on me.  In retrospect, I can’t be sure that he wasn’t lying, but for now I’m still taking his word for it.  We established that we were never going to date each other anyway (he wasn’t single, thank God, so I was able to hold that issue at a distance) but that lingered in the back of my mind as an explanation for why he sought me out and claimed to enjoy hanging out with me as much as he did.  I’m not used to people enthusiastically seeking out my friendship; this is about the only time that someone has actively initiated that much interaction with me in the past few years, and it happened to correlate with romantic attraction.

Now there’s a girl I’ve recently made friends with who I’m beginning to think has a crush on me.  She’s excessively nice, she seeks out chances to talk to me, and she’s dropped some heavy hints that she finds me attractive.

And I understand that there’s little chance of her being anything like him, but I’m kind of terrified.

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10 responses to “Friendship, Unrequited Crushes, and Emotional Abuse

  • Sara K.

    First of all, I think this is a very thoughtful post.

    Re: difference in communication styles … my communication style and my mom’s communication style clash a lot (actually, my mom’s communication style clashes with a lot of people, and supposedly shortly after my mom and my dad started spending a lot of time together some of my dad’s friends stopped spending time with him because they did not want to be around my mom … heck, my uncle, who is generally a very easy-going guy, prefers not to be around my mom). This, however, is not a relationship I can simply ditch, and I especially could not ditch it when I was under eighteen years old. It does help that my values and my mom’s values are not so different (we interpret some things differently, but I think we mostly agree about basic principles). I cannot change my mom, but I can change how I react to my mom, and I have learned a lot from my dad, who seems to have less trouble communicating with my mom than anyone else. This, however, is a special case; I would not be willing to put this much effort into overcoming differences in communication styles in most relationships.

    I wonder if all of his non-specific compliments are related to his crush on you (i.e. they were based on his feelings of infatuation, rather than him getting to know you).

    As far as people who have been abused dishing out abuse themselves … yeah, my family history has plenty of examples. My grandfather endured a heck of a lot of abuse during his youth (including, but not limited to, getting beaten by adults as a 5-year-old whenever he did anything other than study, eat, study, bathe, study, sleep, study … for example, if he tried to play, he would get beaten). On the one hand, to quote my mother ‘he could have turned into a monster [after everything he went through], but he did not’, and he was never nearly as abusive as many of the people who abused him. On the other hand … he was an abusive husband and parent, and that was partially because, lacking good examples, he did not know how to be a non-abusive husband/parent.

    See, you got me thinking. That’s evidence that this is a thoughtful post.

    • luvtheheaven

      I personally am a bit confused when both you (Sara K.) and Spade speak of “different communication styles”. I mean, I find it hard to understand what an example of two people with such clashing communication styles would sound like if I was to observe such a conversation. I also would have no clue how to describe my own – or anyone else’s – “communication style” and I don’t generally think of myself or other people as having a specific “style of communication”. I think examples of how one person would speak and how the other would reply might help me to understand what you both are referring to. Is it about use of exaggeration/literal, or use of explicit/swear words, or how often someone is or isn’t joking in their speech? Or…?

      And Spade, thanks for writing this post as a whole. I don’t have a lot of comments in reply but I appreciate you sharing your experiences for the rest of us. ;)

      • Spade

        No problem.

        Example: I kept interpreting his words as sincere when he was being sarcastic, and he kept interpreting my words as sarcastic when I was being sincere. This caused us a lot of misunderstandings and frustration, not to mention an attempt of mine to set a boundary got flagrantly ignored because he thought I was joking (and some of that can be explained away as him being a jerk, granted, but in that case he was a jerk with an alibi at his disposal). I don’t feel inclined to get super detailed about it, you understand, but that’s the gist of what would happen. Plus, he sometimes hated it when I took things literally, even when I did that as a joke in and of itself, and he would treat it as some kind of personal attack or failure of understanding on my part and get frustrated with me… It was a big mess.

        I, naively, thought we would get better at noticing when the other was or wasn’t being sarcastic over time as we got to know each other, but I shouldn’t have bothered with the trouble he was giving me.

        • luvtheheaven

          That makes sense. Thanks. ;) Yeah the only thing that would probably turn me off from a person as a friend faster than someone deadpan joking/being sarcastic way too often (and likely laughing at me for being too gullible, because that’s the role I usually end up playing in that case – I do tend to believe people when they speak and not assume they’re joking most of the time) was if they were also thinking I was being sarcastic/joking when I was not, especially if I was trying to set a serious boundary/especially if it happened more than just once. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

        • Sara K.

          Yeah, it’s especially bad that he interpreted your attempt to establish a boundary as a joke. That’s the kind of thing where, even if you think it is a joke, you really should double-check. Even if it was a joke after all, I don’t think reasonable people would be offended that you care about not crossing their boundaries. Assuming he did not have bad intentions (and based on everything you say about him, I would not assume that), the fact that he did not check is not merely a difference in communication styles, that is personal communication fail.

        • Silvermoon

          This description (sarcasm/sincere etc- but going both ways on both sides of the relationship) sounds exactly like like my relationship with my mum. (And has in the past, amongst other reactions, resulted in her calling me “a cold, humourless bitch”) (and I can basically never defend myself now no matter how much she has misunderstood- because she won’t let me).

      • Sara K.

        Well, an example from my mother…

        As my father puts it ‘you have to let her finish what’s she’s saying’. When my mother decides that she wants to say something, she is going to say it, even if it long-winded and obvious. And if you say ‘I already understand that’ she will at best ignore you, and possibly get offended and then get into a derail about how you’re not letting her say what she wants to say (even if you already know what she wants to say and you want the conversation To Move On, or if you are bored and ready to get out of this conversation altogether). If you want to respond to something she said, you might have to wait entire minutes for her to Finish What She Is Saying. It’s not uncommon for my dad and I to raise our hands to indicate that we want to say something too while we are Waiting For Her To Finish, like students in a classroom raising their hands so the teacher will let them speak.

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