Heads Up: Not Every Relationship Is Worth Saving
Jessica has been my best friend since grade school. She used to steal makeup from her sister, and we would hide in the last stall of the girls’ bathroom giddily applying eyeliner and lipstick after homeroom. In junior high, she helped me turn a D into a B on my report card so I wouldn’t miss a field trip into the city to see my first live theater performance. I remember bringing the report card home and placing it on the counter so my mom would discover it on her own. I went to bed early that night trembling at the thought of being discovered and sent to forger’s prison or a home for wayward girls. My mom and I laugh about it to this day. My life of crime was short-lived, but I was thrilled that Jessica chose me as her accomplice.
As time went on, Jessica and I remained close, sharing secrets and supporting each other through all the normal teen drama: first dates, driver’s permits, missed curfews and broken relationships. We went to different colleges, but they were only about two hours away from each other. We would be home for the same holidays and track breaks, and we maintained our close friendship. But shortly after college, things began to change.
I began to resent the time I had to invest in my friend to try to keep her life on track.
Armed with my pre-law degree, I decided to finish up my studies and become a lawyer. Jessica majored in culinary arts, which excited me to no end, as I love to eat. So while I finished my law degree, Jessica embarked on her culinary career. And that’s where the trouble started. In two years, Jessica managed to blow through five jobs. Each time, she would call with exciting news about a new career launch and exclaim how it was the best job in the world. She would be over the moon and gushing about the prospects. Within a few weeks, things would take a turn for the worse. It was the worst job ever, and she was ready to throw herself on her kitchen knives or stick her head in the convection oven. I would spend countless hours on the phone helping her analyze what went wrong, determining that everyone around her was a complete mess, agreeing she was justified in quitting, and supporting her campaign that the next job was going to be “it.”
Except it wasn’t. As I approached graduation, the study load became increasingly difficult. I was juggling classes, a part-time job and Jessica’s ongoing disillusionment with her chosen career. I began to resent the time I had to invest in my friend to try to keep her life on track. I knew that once I got the “my life is amazing” call, it was only a matter of time before I would get the “my life sucks” call, and I would spend hours trying to help her make sense of it. I once clocked a five-plus-hour tirade when she quit her job as a sous chef because her boss expected her to work longer whenever they got hit with a difficult lunch rush, which seemed perfectly reasonable to me.
When I factored in the relationship woes on top of the job drama, I began to feel like Jessica’s personal assistant and therapist. I even tried talking to her about it. She would say she understood yet continue to keep me on the phone.
I became increasingly irritated over each new job, boyfriend, haircut or pair of shoes. Every decision was the best decision until it wasn’t. And it was exhausting. I remember talking to a mutual friend about it and feeling so petty as I described the situation. I told her about how much I hated getting the happy call from Jessica because it surely meant the “my life is over” call wouldn’t be far behind. My friend told me I was stuck in a “historical relationship.”
Jessica and I were stuck in a “historical relationship”
She went on to explain that a historical relationship is one that began many years ago but one that you absolutely would not start today. As I thought about this, I realized she was right! If I were to meet Jessica now, I would turn and run the other way. I can quickly recognize a toxic relationship, but in the context of nearly 25 years of friendship, I was blinded by our history. For the first time in two years, I realized that our relationship had turned toxic — and it may not be worth saving.
Every decision was the best decision until it wasn’t.
I felt vindicated and sad at the same time. I really did value Jessica’s friendship, but I was never going to be able to maintain the frenetic speed of her life choices. I had to get some distance for my own sanity. As I backed away from the relationship by answering the phone less, replying with one sentence to emails and basically reclaiming my life, Jessica began to rely less and less on me. We developed new friendships, and I believe that made us both realize how much we had been holding on to something that was no longer there.
We still see each other around the holidays and “like” each other’s Instagram posts. We talk about getting together far more often than we actually do, which in the end is better for both of us.