emotional parasites

14 August 1998

One of my constant failings is that I'm far too nice for my own good. If you've read my bitch page, you may think that's not true, but it really is. Ever since junior high, I've been the one my friends -- and complete strangers, for that matter -- go to for sympathy and a shoulder to cry on. I don't mind that, really; I'm glad they trust me that far. Unfortunately, I never quite learned where to draw the line, and my sodding good nature (or my codependent tendencies, perhaps) often gets me sucked into being someone's emotional support regardless of whether I want to be or not. I suppose it's my own fault, but somehow I attract people to whom nobody else will listen -- and then later on I find out exactly why that's the case, usually the hard way.

Have you ever had a friend that just sucks the life right out of you? One that, every time you talk to her, has some new and tragic crisis in her life? I use the feminine pronoun here, but this joyous little phenomenon is certainly not limited to women. I can name a couple of people right now in my life that are a constant drain on my time and energy. I love them, really I do, but there has to be some kind of LIMIT, for God's sake. One of these friends I have known for a long time now. She is dear to me, but she can't seem to handle anything on her own. Numerous times I have checked my e-mail or logged onto a chat line to talk to her, and immediately I have become embroiled in her latest life crisis. To be fair to her, she is dealing with a lot of issues from her childhood, which is never easy. But honestly, she needs more help than I could ever give, because I am not a professional counselor.

What pisses me off about the whole situation is I'll stay up with her and talk her down off her latest ledge for three hours, assuring her that she does have people around who care... and then when it's all over, we both log off exhausted, and I feel as though I've just worked another eight hour day. In the best friendships, there is always a bit of give and take, one friend augmenting the other. With my closest friends, they know they can count on me to be there for them when they're going through a rough time... but just as importantly, I know I can count on them to support me as well when I need it. In the relationship I've just described, there is none of that. My friend is always taking, taking, taking, without giving back. That is unhealthy for both of us, and it makes things extremely one-sided, in a very bad way.

Lest anyone think I'm whining about not getting enough attention, let me just say that I understand that there are times when one person is going through something where they need to lean on their loved ones more heavily than normal. That's part of life. Me and my best friend have both been there and done that, more than once. There have been times when I really needed her to be my support, much more so than usual, and vice versa. But there's still that interchange, that give and take of our friendship that balances us out in the long run and provides for a much deeper relationship.

When that balance is upset, when one person is the sole emotional lifeline for his friend, something is very wrong. Especially if the friend in the dependent role doesn't give back the support they're receiving. Nobody should have to be strong for another person all the time. Humans were never meant to be the lone fulfillment for another person's emotional needs. We have so many more aspects to us: spiritual, physical, mental... It is unnatural and wrong to rely on one person to make your life complete. There is art, literature, adventure, spirituality -- so much more to help us along our way in life.

The problem, of course, is how to extricate yourself from a badly one-sided friendship without hurting the other person's feelings. Good luck; it ain't easy any way you look at it. Being there for your friend is all well and good, but at some point you do have to take care of yourself, lest you end up burned out and emotionally exhausted. In the case of my friend, she is constantly complaining about having nobody to talk to where she lives. Says she's dying of loneliness and just can't handle not having those emotional connections. *insert grinding of teeth here* More than once, I have fairly shouted at her (virtually speaking), "Then get off the damned computer and GO FIND SOMEONE!" Bloody hell. I mean, honestly. Spending all your non-work hours online is a nice way to pass the time on a rainy day, but it makes for a piss-poor excuse for not having a social life.

I mean, if you're 25 years old and you have a career and you're on your own, it's time to take responsibility for yourself. If you haven't developed any social skills before now, THIS MIGHT BE A GOOD TIME TO START. Get out of the DAMN house for once and find something to do where you'll make friends. And if you're too lazy to do that, don't come whining to me about being lonely.

Feh. Grow the HELL up and take control of your life. I'm doing that, and so are most of my friends, and one way I'm getting control of my life is withdrawing from the emotional parasites. All part of the game, I guess.