I remember the exact moment when TJ and I became friends. We were coworkers sitting in a conference room celebrating another employee’s birthday. As the party wound down, people went around the room and announced their birthdays.
He said, “August 13.”
To which I replied, “Oh my god! Another Leo! Mine is August 15 — no wonder we get along so well.”
The truth is TJ never wanted to like me. When our former boss hired me to be the second writer in a small department at USC, TJ viewed me as a threat even though his workload became lighter. Sure, he asked me to edit his articles and I asked him to review the tone of my letters (ostensibly from the dean), but our tasks were different. Several months later, TJ told me he had planned to hate me. (Red Flag #1)
I laughed at his silliness, but I then remembered his cool tone toward me when we first met during the hiring process. He wasn’t kidding.
As time went on, TJ and I discovered we shared many things in common beyond our jobs and writing. We loved Disneyland and went there together for our birthdays. We even liked the same rides. He attended my special 35th birthday party titled “Four Guys And A Dame.” We often found the same men attractive. We both loved Gone with the Wind; we had similar coffee cups only I had Rhett Butler and he had Scarlett O’Hara. When I cried during the movie Enchanted, I sent TJ a text because he had urged me to see the film. His text reply was, “We are the same person.”
Indeed, he often seemed like the masculine version of me except he went to bed early; he didn’t like animals; he had less confidence; and despite having many friends, he didn’t seem capable of forming a long-term relationship with anyone. (Red Flag #2)
His inability to connect with people on a deep level should have been a warning sign. But I know it’s hard to find the right person and perhaps more difficult when you are gay. I wanted TJ to find an amazing man. As much as he let me into his world, I still only understood it from an outsider’s perspective. Most of all, I wanted him to be happy.
Five months after we met, I quit my writing job for another position at USC. It didn’t change our friendship; we still met for lunch, for coffee, or for a walk around campus.
When TJ decided he needed to leave his job at USC before graduation (May 2008), I made it my mission to do everything I could to help him. (After all, I know how to get jobs!) I redid his resume for him at no charge. I discussed his prospects with him. When a job offer was on the table and the company lowballed him on salary, I made him hang up the phone. I taught him how to negotiate for a higher salary, which he received. He ended up working less than ten minutes from my house so we continued to hang out, only the locations were different.*
I met his friends and his cousin; he met my (now ex) husband, my stepmother, and my friends. TJ and I spent holidays together, and I attended many parties at his house. I could never call him late at night, but I would text him about any subject and we would go back and forth exchanging messages. I miss our texting.
The beginning of the end
Sometimes ending a romantic relationship is easier than ending a friendship, but maybe that is because I am usually the dumper and not the dumpee. I have lost many friends in the past 15 years, but in most cases, I understand what happened even if I don’t like the outcome. With TJ and me, I felt like I was watching a bad Lifetime movie.
I guess it started after his last Oscar party when his roommate became incredibly drunk and said horrible things about me, which I didn’t hear, but my ex-husband did. I told TJ in an email my ex-husband and I would not be attending any more parties if his roommate was present. I didn’t tell TJ to ignite a fight; I only wanted him to know that if we turned down a party invitation, it wasn’t personal.
I never wanted or needed TJ to defend me from his roommate, but I thought TJ should know the truth. Then he left for Paris, a trip he had planned for two years. He didn’t call me before leaving. (Red Flag #3)
I was disappointed but I thought he would phone when he returned. He didn’t. I called him while I was driving, which was my mistake because the conversation became emotional for me. When I found out TJ had been home for almost two weeks (I thought it had been four days) and hadn’t bothered to say hello — not even a text or an email, I was hurt and I told him so. I ended our phone call before I started crying, but I didn’t hang up on him. He thought I did.
Three weeks passed, and I didn’t hear from him. On the advice of another friend, I left TJ a message emphasizing I was not mad and I cared about him. I asked if he still wanted to be friends. He returned my call the next day and left a message. It was long. It was painful. It contained lies. Tears fell down my face before his message ended. I wailed. Like an animal. He wanted to “take a break from our friendship.” A break? Even in a message, he couldn’t be completely honest. Our friendship was over.
I wish I had picked up the phone, but I never answer it when I’m working out. I don’t think TJ would have said some of those things to me directly. He didn’t sound like the same person. I didn’t know this new TJ with the cold voice, distant manner, and edgy tone. I didn’t like him. I don’t know what I expected, but after three years of friendship, I never thought I would be dumped. I miss the old TJ: the friend who cooked the best gluten-free pizza, championed my writing, asked my advice, adored my ex-husband, and flinched when I hugged him. (Red Flag #4?)
My ex-husband said on many occasions TJ always wanted everything to be nice. Indeed, TJ became upset if my ex-husband and I argued in front of him. Yet, he disliked any displays of affection, too. His attitude reminded me of female Mormons who leave the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. They said their parents told them to “keep sweet.” Get real. Life isn’t nice and sweet all the time.
I knew TJ didn’t want to discuss his roommate. However, I don’t regret being honest with him in an email. After all, if you can’t be honest with your good friends, especially over someone else’s behavior, then why remain friends? Or maybe … no matter what the situation is … people — especially friends — cannot handle the truth.
Seven years later
I may never understand why TJ dumped me. Looking back, that spring was the beginning of me spiraling downward into a long-term depression. (Read The Bipolar Express.) I find it impossible to believe TJ dumped me over his roommate’s drunken behavior. I’m not the only person in TJ’s inner circle who thought the guy was obnoxious. I think it’s possible TJ couldn’t handle what was happening to me … I lost many friends after my sister Adrienne died for the same reason: no one likes unhappy Andrea.
After all, I am the life of the party; a funny person who tells fabulous stories; an ambitious ballbuster who gets shit done, and a petite woman who may possess the loudest laugh in the world. When I am not that person, most people don’t know what to do.
In his own way, TJ is a fragile soul. Deep down, he knows how much I did for him. How much I cared about him. How much I loved him. I hope he also knows how proud I am of him.
Now I live by Dr. Seuss’s motto … “Be who you are and say what you feel. Because those who mind, don’t matter. And those who matter, don’t mind.”
Note: The original version of this post appeared on my previous blog Pondering happiness, hope, and wisdom on May 24, 2010, the month after TJ dumped me.
Also published on Medium.