As promised the other day, my long-delayed clubbing of a long-time bully whose bullying I tolerated in the name of our better angels. Here is what I wrote to my former friend of fifty years:
I have no illusion about bringing you any insight, or any real desire to help you at this point (even if I could), but here’s a short bit of perspective, written mostly for myself.
You blame me for hurting you in the end in a way that ended our friendship, fair enough. You blame me for being unforgiving, though you told me you never understood why I seemed to demand your abject surrender for something you claimed you couldn’t grasp: what had been so hurtful about your eternal devil’s advocacy, sporadic snarls of impatience and unrepentant flashes of rage. So be it.
I recognize your limited emotional bandwidth, which is not hard to see. You avoid the expression of your personal feelings, preferring the back and forth of spirited argument by way of friendly conversation. Your parents were far from ideal, your father a hectoring bully with only a passing sense of humor, your mother a narcissist eternally loyal to your father’s autocracy. You probably never received the kind of emotional support we all need. You have an understandably grim worldview, people can never truly know each other, people cannot change in any meaningful way. You’ve endured an ugly divorce, the bitter death of another longterm romantic relationship and now the ugly end of your longest, closest friendship – proving your case, I suppose.
You claimed to love me like a brother, regard me as your dearest friend. You were unable to show this love except by eternally arguing that perhaps I was wrong to feel as I did — about everything, from politics, to the end of my long acquaintanceship with Noam, to my anger at having my health insurance illegally terminated, to the frustration of finding no provision of the violated law I could make available to help others similarly screwed. You truly couldn’t relate to any pain I expressed since, as you say, how could you ever know what another person truly feels? Except, of course, to become angry and challenging when you felt that other person was being unhealthily angry, because you cared about them so much.
In the end I kick myself for my many attempts to “explain” myself to someone so clearly determined to be right at all costs. I should have seen the whole picture much earlier on, when you angrily barked at me to tell you to go fuck yourself when you called to confront me about an email you called “snide and inaccurate” (which, in the end, you conceded had not actually been inaccurate).
I should not have taken you at your word that our friendship was important to you and that you’d do anything to fix it. That was my fault, I repressed the knowledge, based on long experience, that you were emotionally incapable of doing what needed to be done, namely, dropping the argumentative facade for long enough to empathize with a friend in an objectively aggravating situation.
In the end, after thanking me for my mildness in setting out some of the early ugliness between us and asking me again and again to show good will by re-explaining what I’d already set out clearly, things you left eternally unaddressed, you wrote that you felt I’d said very hurtful things to you. So be it. I was disappointed and very hurt myself, as I let you know quite clearly, time and again, before saying those things that hurt you.
The thing that sticks in my craw, and causes me to write today, is your final, incoherent closing argument, the diabolical doubling down — that you supposedly read everything I’d written and found “no clue” as to what your fault had been or why I was so unforgiving. The words of a gaslighting bully, unbecoming of anything but a desperate, born-pettifogger.
I pity you, in a way, but more importantly, I’m trying to instruct myself not to show repeated good faith to someone I understand to be incapable of returning it. It turns out that even after doing a lot of work on the issue, one can be bullied and, thinking he is on some kind of high road, wind up unintentionally consenting to it. I do not consent to it and I recommend the same approach to everyone I know when someone tries to unreasonably dominate them.
Have a blessed day, you poor bastard.