Mr. Brightside 5 - Love is Friendship Set on Fire

"Would you tolerate your partner’s negative behaviours in your best friend?

Amazingly, when we ask ourselves this question honestly, in most unhealthy and codependent relationships, the answer is “no.”

Why do we tolerate behaviour in our romantic relationships that we would never ever, ever tolerate in our friendships?"

- Mark Manson: Love is Not Enough


What did you lose? What did you lose?

You lost the potential idea of a relationship. You're mourning the loss of the idea of it, but you're not mourning the loss of him.

Almost from the beginning you had doubts - you were never really wowed. The best thing I heard you say about him was that he was 'nice.'

Would you be friends with him? Now, if you met him on the street, is he someone you would want to be friends with?

Because there's no relationship if you can't be friends.

You were trying to make a relationship out of something that wasn't because without friendship, there is no relationship.

I met Nadine 15 years ago, when we both started working in the same office; she's a creative free-spirit like me, which is why we hit it off right away.

I remember one of my first introductions to her husband, Scott, was one day fall day (aka PUMPKIN SPICE SEASON!!!) when he stopped by the office to bring her a latte.

"Wait. So he stopped by to bring you your favourite coffee...just because? Like, it's not your birthday, there's no special reason. Just because?"

I didn't know what to make of this to be honest.

Between my totally fucked up childhood and all my toxic relationships, random acts of love and kindness were not part of my life experience. I remember feeling in that moment as though I'd just spotted a unicorn.

As I got to know Nadine and witnessed her relationship with Scott, I realized this was a couple that was #relationshipgoals for sure. They've been together for 31 years, which is why when I started writing this series I knew she was someone I had to talk to in order to gain some insight into what it takes to be in a happy relationship.

Nadine and Scott met in high school but didn't start dating until they were at band camp together. (Yes, really.)

They got married very young and their parents were initially against their engagement because of their ages, but Nadine says they always knew they were meant to be together.

"We were always very, very committed to our relationship and to doing whatever it took to keep it strong. Even now, we always make time for our relationship, and we still do date nights together."

When they went through difficult times, they always sought help in order to get through things they couldn't figure out on their own. Nadine outlined one particularly difficult period close to the beginning of their relationship.

"Scott used to put a lot of pressure on himself because he felt that as a man, he had a role to play. He would hold stuff back, not because he enjoyed lying or not telling me everything, but because he wanted to protect me."

Early in their marriage, they went through a financially difficult period. Nadine knew Scott wasn't communicating with her, but she didn't know what to do about it. In her desperation, she called his father Bob. She told him they were having a hard time and that they needed help.

Bob made the two-hour drive from where he lived, and the next night was sitting at the kitchen table when Scott got home from work.

"Come on son, we're going for a ride."

Bob was on his third marriage and so was very aware of the need to communicate; he knew how detrimental it could be to 'protect' our partners by not telling them everything they needed to know in a relationship.

In a nutshell, he told Scott "You can't fuck this up, you've got kids. You have to talk to your wife."

Nadine says that was a turning point in their relationship because Scott eventually learned to communicate more and that's what's gotten them through the tough times.

"We always communicate - if it's hard to say out loud, I'll send it in a text or an e-mail. But it always gets said. When you hold things back, it festers. We've always been very comfortable with each other and there's nothing that we can't talk about. I can say anything to him, even on my worst days and he's not going to take it personally."

I asked what the secret sauce was that kept them together.

"We balance each other out very nicely. I react and I'm very emotional, whereas he's very balanced and very calm. He grounds me. And he's my best friend. We've been locked up together since last March because of COVID and he doesn't get on my nerves."

She said that one of her favourite parts of their current reality is that Scott makes her coffee and breakfast every morning and brings it to her desk and asks her if she needs anything before he goes to his next meeting.

(See? Unicorn.)

I asked Nadine what advice she would have for anyone out there dating right now on how to know if someone is the right person for you and what that should feel like.

"When you're in a room full of people and you're seeking out that person and your eyes connect and your heart flutters, you know. (Scott says I still make his heart flutter.)

Or when you see them interact with the vulnerable: kids, or older folks or animals. That gives a lot of insight into who that person is."

I asked her what is the one thing that is a "must have" in any relationship if you want it to succeed?

She laughed and asked "Just one?"

"All right, give me the whole list!" I told her.

She paused and thought about it carefully before answering.

"Sense of humour and laughter.

Sensitivity. Someone who can be aware of your various moods and go along with them.

Someone who loves you for who you are and appreciates who you are in your skin.

Also, it's important not to lose yourself in the relationship, and make sure you invest in yourself and keep doing the things that bring you joy, so that you can be at your best when interacting with your partner.

It's the same with parenting too; if you don't look after yourself it's so easy to get lost because you don't have an identity any longer because you're a mom or a dad. It's really important to have those things that make you YOU."

Nadine and Scott are one of two couples I know that I think of when I think about what I want for myself in a relationship; someone who is my best friend, someone I can laugh with, be entirely myself with, grow with.

As I was writing this, I thought about the qualities which I admire most in their relationship: 
  • They genuinely enjoy each other's company
  • They think about one another and are considerate of one another's needs
  • They are interested in and curious about who the other person is and what their wants and needs are
  • They have both joint and separate interests and hobbies, but similar life goals
  • They are willing and able to have the difficult conversations necessary in order to move forward and grow stronger as a couple
  • They are equally invested in ensuring that their relationship flourishes
  • They truly are best friends
Unicorns are real.

And I think that makes them even more magical.

Mr. Brightside was never my friend, let alone my best friend.

Close to the beginning of our relationship, when I asked him who his best friends were, he couldn't name anybody. "I guess that's bad." he said.

He was friendly with his buddies at work, and occasionally spent time with them outside of working hours, but he didn't seem to be particularly close to anyone.

That should have been a red flag. For an adult human to be without a close confidant is...well...odd. I mean there has to be someone - anyone - you talk to and share your thoughts and feelings with.

Humans are meant to connect with one another, so someone who doesn't...or can't...or won't...? What is up with that?

I remember after asking him about his friends, I took inventory of mine. And I only counted real friends: friends that if I was crying my eyes out and it felt like my world was ending, I could call them at 2 AM and they would pick-up the phone and talk to me until they were sure I was going to be ok.

Six. I came up with six legit friends who I would be comfortable sharing my deepest anguish with.

That's a lot.

Joe Angel (who is one of those six) always reminds me though that "You have good friends because you are a good friend."

Right. I forget to give myself credit sometimes. (Thanks mom & dad!)

To have good friends, you need to be a good friend.

And if you don't have good friends...then how or why are you not able to be a good friend?

A series of events that happened over the span of 48-hours during the fourth month of our relationship solidified for me the fact that this wasn't going to work because Mr. Brightside was never going to be my friend.

On the Monday ten days before Christmas, I had a session with my therapist. As a result of it, I had a profound insight that I had to share with Mr. Brightside.

We spoke on the phone that evening. I was prepared for it to be a very quick conversation because it was about an issue that had started coming up that I had discovered an easy solution for.

Every time Mr. Brightside left my home, I found I had a really difficult time letting him go. I mean actually letting him walk out the front door. And I would always go in for one more kiss or hug. This frustrated him because he wanted to be able to leave, and it frustrated me because in that moment when I most wanted to feel re-assured, all I felt from him was his desire to not only to leave physically, but to distance himself emotionally.

What I realized was that, in all of my past relationships, I didn't know that the last time I saw the guy I was dating would be the last time I saw him. He would leave and then the break-up would happen over the phone or text, and then I would never see him again.

As I started to get more and more attached to Mr. Brightside, every time he left my house, that old fear was triggered.

(I realize in hindsight that had he been emotionally available and committed to me and the relationship, this insecurity wouldn't have been triggered. It was the lack of actual emotional connection that caused the anxiety, and not him physically leaving.)

Anyhow, I said all of this to Mr. Brightside, and asked him to help me with it, through what I thought was a very easy solution.

"I want to be able to easily let you go when you want to leave, and you want to feel as though you can leave, so if you just say to me right before you're about to walk out the door 'I have every intention of coming back' that would really help to reassure me and put those fears to rest."

There was silence on the other end of the line.

And then: "Isn't that something you should be managing?"

. . . . .

It felt as though a bucket of ice water had been poured over my head and that someone was squeezing my heart and sucking all of the air out of my lungs all at the same time.

I felt so alone and so abandoned.

I also felt a deep knowing in that moment; all of the things I had been hiding from myself, the things I was working so damn hard not to see.

This man was never going to be my partner in the truest sense of the word. He was never going to be concerned about my emotional well-being, he was never going to be an emotional support, I would never be able to lean on him, and he was never going to be my best friend. 

We had a long discussion after that. Something which I thought was so simple, and so easy - such an easy ask - was something that he was struggling to understand why he should give.

I told him that as my partner, I was asking for his help in making this situation between us easier to navigate. I understood my triggers, and needed him to help me manage that fear. That it wouldn't be forever, just for a little while until that fear calmed down inside of me.

(Again I realize in hindsight that had he been emotionally available and committed to me and the relationship, this insecurity wouldn't have been triggered.)

He said he was worried about giving too much and losing himself.

I had heard this phrase from him so many times throughout the course of our relationship that it literally made me want to shake the shit out of him.

I wanted to scream at him "You are literally giving NOTHING of yourself emotionally, and by the way, who the fuck is this self that you keep talking about trying not to lose because I don't fucking know who you are yet after four months of dating?!"

I didn't say that though.

I tried to explain to him that I needed to be able to count on him for those little things so that I knew I could count on him for the big things.

He said that he felt that the big things were not the same as the little things, and that he would definitely show up for the big things.


NEWS FLASH: life is made up of the little things. In the span of a year, there might be a handful of "big things" but literally thousands and thousands of little things. The little things are the GLUE of any solid relationship.

Relationships don't usually end because of the big things, they end from thousands of little things that weren't done or said, or were completely ignored. And often when a big thing occurs, it's because of all of those little things that failed - there was no glue.

What I thought was going to be an easy conversation turned out to be a really difficult one. He finally - reluctantly - agreed to reassure me.

I felt less sure than I ever had.

(He managed a few times, but not at all in the way that I had asked, and then he let the whole thing slide. It just didn't matter to him; I didn't matter to him.)

I felt abandoned and alone with my pain, just like I had when I was child.

"You're on your own kiddo!"

Yes I was.

That incident happened on a Monday night, and on Tuesday, the following day, I had lunch with a friend I hadn't seen in a while, and the enlightening conversation where I finally accepted that this relationship was not going to work took place.


This guy's not the one for you because the emotional side isn't there. These are things you shouldn't even have to ask for.

You have expectations and they're so easy to meet, but he's not meeting them. And the more time that goes on, the more of your needs won't be met.

He is privileged enough to have the opportunity to be with you, but he just doesn't have it in him to meet even the most basic needs of what it takes to be in a relationship.

If you want to stay, stay, but stop putting in so much effort and expect not to have your emotional needs met.

That night I had a date with Mr. Brightside.

Hot on the heels of that conversation with my friend, I felt nervous about seeing him.

But as had been the case throughout our entire relationship, when he was physically present, a lot of my anxiety and doubts melted away somehow.

He had such an innocent and friendly aura about him that it always disarmed me. I think it might have been the combination of his blond curls, big blue eyes, and his tendency to almost bounce when he walked, like a little kid.

(Also there was his whole lack of accountability thing where he seemed to always feel pretty good about himself because I think he truly feel like everything was always fine, and if something was wrong it probably wasn't his fault. This allowed him to have a very carefree attitude.)

We ended up having another big conversation that night where one of the things he said to me was "The more you ask of me, the less I want to give you."

He was irritated. He wasn't easily rattled so this had clearly been building up.

His words and the way he said them felt like a slap in the face because they hit on my core wound with my family "You have no right to ask for anything, so the fact that you're asking for something is just too much."

It hurt so much because I wasn't asking for big things - I was asking for things that should have been a given in the kind of relationship he said he was trying to build with me: phone calls, text message, words of affirmation, general thoughtfulness and consideration.

When he said that, I felt sick to my stomach. I felt so rejected, so broken, so wrong for being human and needing things.

My parents made me feel that way my entire life - they could not give me the basics and they made me feel wrong for having normal human needs.

"The Rejecting Parent - Rejecting parents seem to have a wall around them. They don't want to spend time with their children and seem happiest if others leave them alone to do what they want... A well-known example of this type is the aloof and scary father - a man with no emotional warmth for his children. Everything revolves around him, and the family instinctively tries to not upset him. With a rejecting father, it's easy to feel apologetic for existing. But mothers can be rejecting too.

Children of rejecting parents come to see themselves as bothers and irritants, causing them to give up easily, whereas more secure children tend to keep making requests or complaining to get what they want. This can have serious ramifications later in life when, as adults, these rejected children find it hard to ask for what they need."

Mr. Brightside had made me feel the exact same way throughout our entire relationship - he made me feel needy for asking for the basics - but that night it was as though he took a highlighter and went back and forth over the page until the ink bled through: DO NOT ASK ME FOR ANYTHING.

My parents made me feel as though my very existence was a burden on them, and that I was not allowed to expect, let alone ask, for anything.

In my relationship with Mr. Brightside, it was the first time in my life that I had been able to actually ask for the things I needed. And I was proud of myself for that: for actually being able to ask.

However I realize in hindsight that I should not have needed to ask for those basic things; not from my parents, and not from any man who genuinely wanted to be in my life.

That night when Mr. Brightside said "The more you ask of me, the less I want to give you" - I realized that he would never be able to give anything of himself to me, let alone to give as generously as was required in a real loving relationship.

My stomach clenched with the undeniable knowing that he was not my "the one" because he lacked the empathetic generosity that love required.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

I knew that night that we would never have that love between us; I knew he would never be my friend.

All of this happened 10 days before Christmas - feeling that truth.

However, I was not in any kind of position to be going through a break-up right before COVID Christmas.

On an emotional level, I had set boundaries with my family and it had already been decided that I would not be spending the holidays with them, so I had nowhere to spend Christmas or New Year's.

If it was any other time, I would have had a handful of friends who would gladly have taken me in, but we were in the middle of a pandemic and everyone was trying to be socially distant. Him and his daughters were in my bubble so in one way, this was easy.

On a purely practical level, I knew we'd each already purchased gifts. When I tried to mentally sort through dealing with that aspect of it, I couldn't.

So if we break up now, do we still give each other the gifts, especially since we've each bought things that can't be returned? How absolutely fucking awkward would that be? 

And if we decide not to, can I emotionally handle going from store to store saying "Yeah, my boyfriend and I broke up so I need to return all of his gifts, and also the gifts I bought fo this daughters, and for their grandmother..." and risk seeing empathetic eyes looking at me above a mask with perhaps a comment like "Oh I'm so sorry, right before the holidays...and during COVID too! That must be so hard!"

Nope, nope, nope. Couldn't handle it.

So, in spite of fact that I already felt the looming demise of the relationship, I was determined to make it through the holidays.
The Man Frozen in Time

During the holidays, I felt as though we got closer somehow. Perhaps my internal emotional letting go of him was something he sensed and it allowed him to come towards me a bit more: I had stopped asking him for things.

Our Christmas season together was actually lovely; it was a gift in itself, especially during this pandemic. I felt so welcomed by his daughters and their grandmother who was also there (all three were big fans of me, and I of them).

It felt good to feel like I belonged - at least in that moment. And it felt good to have the kind of Christmas that I had always hoped to have - if you discount the fact that I knew this wasn't going to last.

But in spite of that feeling, the warmth that was there between us during the holidays had me go back again and think "Maybe this could work somehow...?"

(Yes, I know this is crazy, this insane and unfounded hopefulness.)

On December 26th I sent him an e-mail. I told him I felt that the ice around his heart was finally starting to melt, and he said he was glad I felt that he had room in his heart for me because he definitely felt like he did too.

I was holding onto the hope - the vision - the Norman Rockwell happy family. Despite everything I felt, despite everything I knew. I wanted to feel like I really belonged to a family so badly.

The emotional closeness lasted for two days after Christmas and then the retreat started again. Feeling that coming towards me and then pulling away again, coupled with my inner knowing, is likely what pushed our last big conversation.

I kept asking him for things he couldn't or wouldn't give me, and I think he retreated completely.

I asked my mother once if her and my father had ever been friends.

She said no.

If I had to put their marriage into a category, it would be the "people who didn't get divorced but probably should have" box.

If ever there was love between them, all that screaming, all that fighting, killed off any warm feelings.

Their marriage now is the result of being with someone who isn't your friend, 45 years after the fact.

Total lack of respect.

Total lack of desire to understand the other person's perspective.

Total lack of friendship.

Love is friendship set on fire.

With Mr. Brightside, I found myself constantly trying to explain my context and where I was coming from, or how something might make me feel and more often than not, he just didn't get it or want to get it.

He seemed to really struggle with empathy, and he couldn't for the life of him understand my perspective in many situations.

"Some Mr. Unavailables have very little empathy so you can explain till the cow’s come home but if their disposition is to think of themselves and not really give a rat’s about others, it’s like you’re speaking gobbledygook while trying to force them to have a skill that they don’t possess."

He seemed so incredibly frightened of "giving too much and losing himself" that it made him emotionally stingy and withholding; like a child desperately holding onto a toy that someone was trying to take from him, not understanding that I was trying to share with him and give to him, not trying to take from him.

Our entire relationship, I struggled to explain myself, and to explain things that I felt that any human with any degree of loving empathy would understand, and he just didn't get it, didn't get me.

I know in my heart that I dodged a bullet with Mr. Brightside because he was never going to be my friend. If we had stayed together for any length of time, him and I would have become what my parents now are.

Disgruntled roommates. But most certainly not friends.


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