The Succor of Friends

The Succor of Friends

“Why can’t I stop feeling miserable?” my friend Christopher asked me recently. He’d just gotten out of a relationship (a non-relationship relationship as he described it) and was going through the emotional rollercoaster of the post-breakup relationship.

“You don’t want to feel good,” I replied, trying to be helpful. “You want to feel miserable. In fact you need to feel miserable because it’s the only thing that makes sense right now.”

Amazing what a funny old dog life can be. You’re up one moment only to have the rug pulled out from underneath you and you have to start all over again. Whether it’s with work or relationships, life keeps chugging on, while you’re barely breathing and need to keep up the pace. I think that for a lot of people, when they are overwhelmed with change, feeling miserable is an effort to stop life from marching on, to arrest the arrow of time and maybe even try to reverse it.

Christopher and I had many conversations about the end of his relationship, and at one point, I asked, “Are you finding yourself reliving all those little moments?” and he looked at me liked I had asked the most obvious question in the universe. But he was too tired, too beaten to be angry, and his dolorous look told me the answer.

I’d been there before as well, so I knew what he was going through. These are the times when the four walls of your living room loom larger than ever before, magnifying your every thought with some kind of acoustical madness. And the silence — oh man, the silence that is like a constant wave pulling you back that makes you feel like drowning. I’ve only known a couple people who could break off a relationship and not look back. Or, from my perspective, it didn’t appear they were looking back too hard because they went on to another relationship. So in my years of observing the human species, I’ve found myself identifying more with people like Christopher, who go back and parse just about everything that ever happened in a relationship, trying to Find Meaning in countless conversations.

When people like me do this, it’s like we’re on a mystery hunt to find the clues and solve the riddle of why things turned out the way they did. Just like when you think of a great comeback about five hours too late, you blame yourself at the end of a relationship and then start searching for that phantom moment when It All Changed. You playback conversations, scrutinize the meanings of words and generally drive yourself insane with these ceaseless intrusive thoughts. Christopher was going through this, and there was nothing that I can do to help him except just listen. As my mother once told me, sometimes when someone is talking to you, they don’t want you to solve a problem, they just need you to listen.

But with friends like Christopher, it’s immeasurably difficult to appear stoic or neutral. Your first reaction is to take sides and knock the other person down a peg or two (‘She’s a bitch!” “He’s an asshole!”). Yet in Christopher’s case, I just couldn’t because it wasn’t what he needed to hear. I just had to sit there and listen and watch the process unfold, as it has for countless people. What I’ve learned isn’t life shattering or deeply profound at all: you are miserable because you need to be. You relive those parts of your relationship because you need to find some order to the chaos that raging inside you. It’s something like a defense mechanism although it sure doesn’t feel like it: the mind versus the heart.

And how you want the heart to win! You know this because the pain is literally in the center of your chest, whether it’s a dull ache or for me, a constant fluttering that never really seems to go away completely. For a while, at least.

So I was determined just to listen to Christopher. He’s my friend, he’s in pain, and if I could take it from him, I would do so in a New York minute. I knew what he was going through — that’s called being in love. We could go out drinking or play pool, maybe even spend a couple hundred dollars on clothes or what not, but your mind invariably is called back to the front lines to the war within you. And even though you feel completely abandoned, as though you want to ask “Why do I have to go through all this? How come it feels like she’s getting away with something while I have to clean up the mess?” you can count on your friends to make those times not feel so lonely. It’s the succor of friendship that gets you through it, even at those times when you feel the most alone because you’ve convinced yourself that you are somehow to blame for the end of the relationship. And they can be there during those instances when you find your mind fixed on images of the Happy Couple and it throws you into a panic. Your true friends will step up to the plate, and you’ll be surprised who shows up. It sometimes is not the people you think.

It’s hard to “move on” or “get over it” because doing so (at least to me) sounds like you didn’t take the relationship seriously. In some ways, it’s your last stand at fidelity and loyalty. But even that can’t quite save you when you need it. So all I can do for Christopher is to listen, to reassure him, clasp him on the shoulder and tell him, “I love you.”

And I mean it.