There are movies, songs, books - you name it -- devoted to the heartbreak of failed romance. What we don't hear about as much, though, is the pain of breaking up with a friend. Kevin and I broke up today - we agreed, amicably, although both hurt, that our personal dynamics just don't work, and we keep inflicting injury on one another. The Cliff Notes version of what set if off was this (over email):
Me: My neighbor's having a New Year's Get-together. If you dont' have plans, feel free to come over.
Kevin: Thanks, but I have plans.
Me: Cool. Anything fun?
Me: Don't be a tease! Tell!
Kevin: I'll tell you afterward, because it could be potentially bad, too.
Me: If it has anything to do with [last women he tried to date, who was flaky and stood him up], be careful. There's something wrong with that woman.
Early new year's Eve, Monday.
Me: I don't understand this evasiveness over a simple question of what you're doing, and it's hurtful. I'm not going to invite myself along.
Kevin: I'm not evading you. I'll tell you later.
Me: Fine. Whatever; I don't care.
Kevin: If you must know, I'm going to a party, and (another woman who really hurt his feelings) might be there, but I didn't want to tell you because I didn't need a lecture, but I got one anyway, so I guess it doesn't matter.
Me: So I can coach you and support you when you try to date, take your side when women treat you lousy, but you expected me to be so difficult about you going to a party where one of them might be that you tried to prevent me from knowing ahead of time? And saying "be careful" is now some kind of lecture? WTF?!?!?
And it went downhill from there. basically, I was all kinds of angry and hurt by the notion that after I try to integrate him into my group activities and party invitations in an attempt to help him meet people, not only does he not return the favor, he avoids telling me his plans because he'd decided that I'd react badly to the notion of this woman being there (it probably would not have crossed my mind). To me, it was extreme and absurd and a projection of his own insecurities on me, and I felt like I'd been cast as some bad guy that had to be kept away lest I ruin the fun. Buttons pushed, aaaand go. Every hurt, every feeling of non-reciprocation came out in stereo.
I eventually realized that I'd made the same mistake with Kevin that I'd made with other people: I'd assumed his attitude towards our friendship was the same as mine. In SP's parlance, I'd considered him a 90% friend and he really only wanted to be a, say, 30% friend. I apologized for it, but we both acknowledged that our dynamics don't work, that we go through these massive misunderstandings regularly where we tear at each other, and as he said, "I can't be the kind of friend you want, just as you can't not want the kind of friend that you do."
He also suggested I expect my friends to spend every waking moment with me and invite me to everything that they do, but I think he was just feeing hurt, because that is not even close to the truth. I'd go nuts if I spent that much time with anyone. He knows this, but again, when we feel attacked, we go for the soft spots. I mentioned my therapist's warning that a friendship with an Aspie could be very emotionally difficult for someone like me. Oh yes, I went there. Like I said.
It's sad, but it's for the best. I can see that from his point of view he doesn't get why his behavior sets me off, so my flare ups probably seem insane, and I get tired of discovering, after thinking that our friendship is solid at last, that his expectations of me are fairly negative, which guts me, since from my perspective I've gone to efforts to be supportive even when it wasn't comfortable for me.
He starts acting weird or inconsistent, I pick upon it, and he insists he's not, which makes me paranoid, and things snowball from there.
"Kevin is your slot machine," my therapist said when I told her what had happened.
She's referring to a classic experiment that you might remember if you took Psych 101 in college. Basically, a monkey was presented with a lever. Each time it pushed the lever, a pellet of food was dispensed. When the pellets stopped coming at the lever push, the monkey soon gave up. Another monkey was presented with the same task, only this time the pellet did not come every time the lever was pushed; it came randomly after various numbers of tries. When the pellets stopped coming, the monkey persisted in pushing the lever. The conclusion is that when reward is random, it takes longer for us (if at all) to give up on the idea that it's coming.
The slot machine, based on this understanding of behavior, is one of the most addictive gambling devices. Kevin was my slot machine: the social rewards from him were random, so I held on for the times that I felt rewarded in our friendship (when he behaved in a way that reinforced the kind of closeness I wanted from him), and kept pushing that lever when I didn't. I've done this before, in romantic relationships. The results were not good.
My mother is a gambling addict. I've never been attracted to gambling, but I wonder whether her addiction is translated in me as an addiction to people with slot-machine behavior.
Kevin and I, for all the genuine affection that's there, don't make each other feel great at the end of the day. I'm pretty sure we tear at each other's most vulnerable places, those places where we keep feeling rejected, don't feel normal, and can't understand why.
I don't know why friendships are so hard, but they are. They haven't been working here, so the notion of knowing lots of people but not expecting real closeness has come to seem a more realistic and less painful goal.