Losing My Imaginary Friend

November 30, 2015

A lament, the blogger complains about a personal relationship gone sour

[The following is a lot of whining and moaning, isn’t that what blogs are for? I don’t expect anybody to read it much. Some or maybe most readers may have made similar mistakes as I describe but perhaps no one wants to be reminded of those mistakes. Here it is anyway. And yeah, I’m backdating this one to November so as to maintain the illusion that I update my blog at least once a month. I promise to replace this juvenile whine with some relevant and more readable observations about Albany politics in the next week or two.]

I used to have a friend. Actually, the truth is that for about twelve years I thought I had a friend, a true friend, someone special in my life who I could talk to about anything, could always depend on, who thought well of me no matter what. This friend I was always ready to help, to listen to and learn from, who I believed watched my back. My friend could always depend on me, I always tried to be there for my friend.

It was wonderful, but my friend was all in my imagination. It turned out that for some twelve years the actual flesh and blood human being that I called My Friend had considered me nothing more than a useful tool, and the way my friend kept me useful was to feed me lines about friendship and special connections that extended beyond life. I ate it up, all of it, like a naive boy.

Finally, in the end, I became not very useful to my friend, that is, not in the way that my friend wanted. And so my friend flipped a switch and turned off the “special connection” talk. Gradually my friend became increasingly nasty and lying and contemptuous and finally dismissed me in the worst possible manner. I feel like someone close to me has died.

Sign On The Gate At Graceland Cemetery On Delaware Avenue Sign On The Gate At Graceland Cemetery On Delaware Avenue

My true friend who turned out to be no friend is a woman. I have a number of women friends, I find I can talk to many women and relate to them in ways that most men don’t or perhaps can’t. I mean, I get along with guys just fine, but please understand that they’re guys, that includes the gay guys. You know what I mean. Most women can think about and talk easily about things that most men don’t like to dwell on, this is something I greatly appreciate and value.

Some might think that odd, but I disagree. I’ve heard that in the animal kingdom among social animals, such as apes and wolves, the males do not make friends with each other, they make alliances or else they compete. However, it’s been observed that the females regularly develop friendships with each other, and often become friends with some males. I’ve come to think that humans are not that much different, just more complex about it.

And of course between human males and human females there is usually this underlying sexual tension, this relationship with my lost friend was no exception. I was indeed entranced by my friend’s femaleness, and I admit to at one point having entertained some ridiculous fantasies. But in any case I’m too nice of a guy to fit her idea of a Real Man.

For convenience sake I’m calling my imaginary friend Nessie, not the name she goes by. In the beginning Nessie was an acquaintance, we had a small business arrangement that brought us together every two weeks during which we had extended conversations. I found these mostly one sided conversations interesting, it sounded like she had a very chaotic daily life and had at one time travelled to some interesting places and done some interesting things.

One day after a year or so of these biweekly conversations, Nessie sat down at a table across from me and, with tears in her eyes, told me a bunch of horrendous stories about her abusive childhood. One thing followed another in a rush accompanied by sobs, more than I could absorb in one sitting. I distinctly recall thinking as she rapidly listed off all the horrors that had happened to her, “I sure hope I don’t get quizzed on this later because I’m not catching a lot of it.”

I was also thinking, What the hell? I hardly know this person, why is she dumping all this crap on me? But of course I knew why. She was using me as an emotional garbage dump. I was someone on the periphery of her life, sort of like a stranger in the next seat on a cross-country bus. She could empty her trash into me and it wouldn’t matter. She could easily forget that the trash can existed and nothing else in her life would be affected by that trash can.

The other thought I had as she talked at me was, How much of this is true? People often exaggerate childhood abuse stories, it’s kind of like a competition to see who can claim to have suffered the most. I’m sure there was some truth to the stories she was telling me, but later she gave me good reason to doubt anything that ever came out of her mouth.

Lincoln Park, Late Autumn, Fog, Night Lincoln Park, Late Autumn, Fog, Night

Our business arrangement continued and so did her less spectacular confessions and descriptions of her screwed up daily travails. I can be a good listener, and in retrospect that’s exactly what she required of me every two weeks. At the time I perfectly understood my designated role as her garbage can, but it was okay because her screwy life was entertaining to listen to.

Most of those screwy problems in her daily life that she told me about were problems of her own creation, not anticipating consequences, ruining relationships, not paying bills on time, choosing the worst possible way to deal with a situation, like that. It was clear that she did not see how often that she was her own worst enemy. And she certainly didn’t want any helpful suggestions from me.

Right at the beginning I noticed that she was self-absorbed and running on a self-defeating treadmill, so how did I get convinced that Nessie was even capable of having a strong equal friendship with anyone, let alone me? What happened is that she started to encourage me to talk about myself. I started to tell her what I was thinking about, what I was doing and had done, the things I wanted to do, personal stuff. And she seemed very interested.

Like with most people, nobody really gives a damn what I think. And no one wants to hear my complaints or mental perturbations. So when someone comes along who seems to care, and wants to exchange stories, concerns and problems, well, if someone wanted to be there for me then I was delighted. Perhaps we had some things in common. Perhaps we really could be friends.

Eventually Nessie started referring to our friendship and our special connection with each other as a settled fact. I had no objection. I was more than willing to be instructed on this matter and follow her lead. Right? What could go wrong?

Cargo Ship, Port Of Albany Cargo Ship, Port Of Albany

This went on for some years, she dumped her trash on me usually every two weeks and pretended to care about me. Finally I ran out of entertaining things to tell her about myself. When I started repeating stories, I could see a shift in her attitude toward me. I was no longer interesting to listen to. I could see that Nessie was bored with my patter.

I was alarmed. But I brushed it aside, we were friends. Friends get to know each other thoroughly and then they develop their relationship together from there. Right?

Nessie has a lot of positive points, she has some excellent skills and talents. She’s mostly self sufficient and she’s tough. For a long time I relished her point of view, which admittedly is rather narrow and limited in range. However, when it came to those things that she considered important, she would examine those things thoroughly and she would learn everything she could about those things down to the smallest details, an admirable trait.

I learned some interesting things from her. I also learned more about hair and makeup and the current state of popular culture than I’ve ever wanted to know. She considered such knowledge to be survival skills for herself as a woman, so I respected what she told me about these things. After all, we were friends.

Over the years Nessie sent me a lot of pictures of herself, mostly selfies. A folder on my computer has at least 50 of them, maybe more but I’m not going to count. I used to look through them and think how beautiful she is, my beautiful friend. Even in the pictures where she looked tired and under the weather I considered her beautiful, she was my friend, my special friend, and she was always beautiful no matter what.

Cutting Down A Tree In My Neighborhood Cutting Down A Tree In My Neighborhood

For a long time I was convinced that Nessie was an extraordinary person, I thought she was deeply spiritual, I thought her ability to overcome adversity was exceptional, I thought she had an unusually solid grasp of reality. I fully believed her when she told me that she and I were deeply connected and that our friendship was bigger than our lives. (Actually, it might be, but I suspect that’s quite common and nothing special.)

But overestimating a person is dangerous. Most people that I encounter have doubts about themselves, a deficit of self confidence, a feeling that they are not as good or as smart or as strong as they ought to be. Many feel like inferior frauds. Down deep most people are terrified that if everyone finds out who they really are, then everyone will gang up and destroy them.

I’ve found that when I overestimate a person, which I do from time to time, that person thinks, usually unconsciously, “I know I am a fool, but this guy thinks I’m smart and great and good, therefore this guy who thinks I’m smart and great and good is an even bigger fool than me.” This thought inevitably generates open displays of contempt for the overestimater. Nessie turned out to be exactly like most people in this regard.

During the time I knew her, Nessie shuffled through a bunch of boyfriends. She had very little downtime between them, once she was through with one she’d pretty quickly find a new guy. I carefully avoided passing judgements on her current relationships, that is until after she dumped them and no longer had anything good to say about them.

The thing that I observed listening to her boyfriend stories was that the guys who treated her the worst were the ones she liked the best. Indeed, she admitted as much. She consistently got bored with the nicer guys and I watched her chase them off in a practiced manner that I got to experience for myself.

A Half-Baked Turkey A Half-Baked Turkey

I was not her boyfriend, but I had become a significant male in her life. So it had to happen sooner or later, I had to get dumped just like one of her boyfriends. Perhaps more importantly, on an unconscious level, she had to convince me that she was not the wonderful person that I believed her to be. Her deeply buried self contempt could not allow her to tolerate a devoted friend, particularly a male.

In other words, like all the other adult males in her life, I was a temporary supporting actor in her ongoing movie. What made me think that I would not get the same treatment, forced to follow a demeaning script and then abruptly fired from the production. Well, I was convinced of the undying cosmic friendship, I guess that was supposed to make me exceptional. Damn, I can be dumb.

Nessie began to demand a level of attention from me that any normal person could only give to a spouse or to a partner. As I pointed out to her, for better or worse I’m married to someone and that someone gets my prime attention on a daily basis. The only way Nessie was going to get that level of attention from me was if my marriage ended and I became her partner. And that, for several reasons, was not going to happen.

By the beginning of this year that special attention thing became her main complaint against me, that I was not adequately remembering and retaining and cataloguing all the details of her life that she had been feeding me. This was particularly problematic because she not only held back from me a lot of relevant details, some of the details that she did tell me would radically change in her memory as time passed. And as I eventually figured out, she routinely fed me a lot of deliberate misdirections and downright lies about her life.

But under the sunny skies of eternal friendship I let all this pass by. One always forgives one’s true friend, that I believed. I even overlooked her uglier traits, including one in particular that I never tolerate in anybody else. For the sake of friendship I compromised my solid values.

Empty Shelves At A Local Supermarket Empty Shelves At A Local Supermarket

Starting in February of this year (by her reckoning, which I think is about correct) Nessie started to verbally harass and browbeat me in a systematic fashion. At first it was occasional. Somehow no matter how hard I tried not to, I kept saying wrong or insulting things, and no amount of attempted clarification could help. Of course I felt terrible about it, I thought I was hurting my friend and not quite sure how or why.

As the months passed our email exchanges would routinely turn into bizarre arguments over petty matters, over a word I wrote or said that she didn’t like, or over some connotation that I obviously never meant. When we talked face to face she would lecture me on my faults and tell me what a failure I was at correcting my mistakes. I’d ask her advice on how to improve but of course she had nothing constructive to offer and would browbeat me some more for asking.

This pointed to a longstanding problem with Nessie, she treats the slightest criticism or tiniest disagreement as a personal assault on her character and integrity. This makes real discussion with her about any topic impossible, and forget about civil arguments. I was the latest person to discover that one either agrees with Nessie one hundred percent or else faces an emotional outburst with violent overtones followed by lingering resentment.

Water Over The Dam Near Waterford Water Over The Dam Near Waterford

During the summer I made my fatal mistake, the one she was angling for. After several email exchanges in which she listed my faults, some real, the rest exaggerated or imagined, I came back with a list of what I considered some of her faults. These faults that I listed were all minor things, you understand. Oh but oh my, that turned out to be unforgivable. How could I do such a thing to her.

This listing of some of her faults became the justification she needed for intensifying and escalating her sheer nastiness at me. Later I realized that she had done this many times before, she’d had a lot of practice systematically ruining relationships a little at a time, and what she was doing to me was quite deliberate. Clearly it was great fun for her to do that and it seemed to fulfill her in some way.

There were some other reasons for her nasty routines besides having fun at my expense. In the last months she got me (without asking directly) to buy her some useful stuff, and I did some much needed work on her house. But more importantly she did not want to feel personally responsible for having ended our “friendship” for no reason except boredom.

She wanted to piss me off with her nasty behavior and make me walk away voluntarily. That way it would all be my fault. It didn’t work with me as well as it has worked with most of her boyfriends, but I’m sure she could care less about that. I’ve noticed she’s never had much trouble shifting blame away from herself.

But at the time, all I saw was my true friend going through a period of profound mental distress, and I resolved that I would be there for her. Between her perpetual money woes and some developing health problems about which she probably did not report to me accurately, and after a horrible relationship with her last boyfriend, I figured she needed someone to stand by her more than ever. If she needed someone to snarl at, if that made her stronger then I could do that for a friend.

Damn I’m such a dumbass. Lying unnecessarily is a way of showing contempt for someone, and as summer turned to autumn she increasingly showered me with lies. More and more she would announce “We can’t talk about this subject anymore” or “I don’t want to tell you anything about that subject either.” By late October all she would do is holler contradictory nonsense at me about anything or nothing in a contemptuous tone of voice and I would try to quietly take it.

Crowd In Troy Crowd In Troy

It was in early November that Nessie planned and carried out my final dismissal from her life. Without going into details, she trapped me into a compromised situation in front of a carefully selected audience and proceeded to browbeat me at the top of her lungs. I mean, I was feeling physically threatened as she stood over me holding a sharp object and yelled, “F–k you Dan, f–k you Dan, just f–k you” and other similar niceties.

And the reason for her violent tantrum show? That list of her faults I had made last summer, which I had written in response to her lists of my faults. Really, that’s all she could come up with to justify her behavior. It’s not like I hit her in the face or tried to get her arrested or willfully destroyed her possessions, just something I wrote in an email months earlier. Hell, if I’d burned down her house and laughed about it to her face she probably would have adored me.

Later that day we had a short email exchange which confirmed that she was not going to let up on her crazy act. And yes, it was an act, one she is very practiced at. Just like that, I realized that Nessie was not my friend, had never been my friend, and that all along I was a tool and a fool for thinking so. She finally got me to turn off the light. That was a hell of a day for me.

Consider that she spent some ten months acting nasty at me on an almost daily basis just to see how far she could go before I walked away from her. That’s something one would expect from a teenager. If she were an adult, I eventually realized, she would have tried to have a straight and equal discussion about issues affecting the two of us. Or as an adult she would have simply cut back the relationship without almost a year’s worth of nasty head games.

It finally dawned on me, that this woman with grownup children is merely another emotionally immature person trying to pass as an adult. This was the person I had admired so much, who I thought had the capacity to fully empathize with another human being. Hell, I would have stopped a bullet for her. Seriously.

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A month has gone by since Nessie finished dismissing me from her life and I still grieve for losing my friend that never was a friend. And in my daily life there is a void to fill, dealing with her took up a lot of my time which I now count as wasted time. Would that I ever find a real friend like the imaginary one that I have lost.

So now I look through that folder of her selfies, the pictures that I used to gaze at and admire. I look now and I see a dull person posing. Some of the pictures look downright ugly. When I believed that she was my friend they all looked beautiful, even the ones where she is tired or not feeling well. But that person is not my friend, not anymore, nor was she ever.