Me & My Stalker: How I Gently Extracted Myself From A Friendship Gone BAD

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Self

Our friendship went from preschool pals to weird zone uncomfortably fast.

The first time we met up, I found Anna sweet.

Pretty and stylish, she'd seemed unsure of herself when she approached me at preschool and asked if our kids could meet for a playdate. I was pregnant with my second child and eager to get out while my husband worked long hours. I happily agreed.

Our 90 minutes at the playground flew by. We bonded over a shared love of reading and exercise, and as we walked to our cars post-playdate, we promised to get together again soon. I thought it was adorable how, 20 seconds after she'd left the parking lot, she turned her car around, drove back to me, and asked if I wanted to go for coffee in a few days. Sure, I said.

"She likes me," I thought. "This was nice."

It was less nice 30 minutes later when she texted to set up our coffee date, 35 minutes later when she texted again to say she hoped she wasn't overbearing, and 37 minutes later when she called, just to be sure.

She was, to quote Vince Vaughn, a stage-five clinger. Still, willfully I ignored the early warning signs.

Like so many young mothers, I felt isolated in my new role. I worked from home, which meant no social outlets at my job, and we had recently moved. I didn't know anyone in the new neighborhood.

I was desperate to connect, hoping to find someone who understood me as well as the once-dear college and high school friends I now rarely saw. And so, I kept hanging out with Anna.

At first, things went okay. We got together regularly for several months, at which point I began meeting other new moms at my son's preschool. I joined a playgroup. Anna was not in it, which seemed to annoy her, but hey, we weren't exclusive... or so I thought.

That's when Anna turned possessive and morphed into a full-blown friend stalker. She'd text me repeatedly until I replied. She'd call to ask why I wasn't replying right away ("I have a job, remember?").

I'll be honest: I was never completely myself with Anna. I held back because I wasn't comfortable around her. She was very religious and I worried my dark humor might offend her.

I'm quiet, so at first, I let her handle the talking. That became problematic, because, well, that makes for a one-sided relationship. When I eventually tried to share that I suffered a miscarriage and that I was a mess, Anna talked over my feeble attempts at unloading.

Instead, she'd call me to ramble about problems small ("I didn't get my workout in today") and big ("I don't love my husband"). Granted, that latter one was heavy stuff, and Anna needed someone to confide in, which I later realized explained her clinginess.

But I'd known her less than six months. I wasn't ready to be her confessor and I certainly wasn't ready to hold her hand when she began an ill-fated affair, which sparked even more texts, calls, and sobs. I was utterly overwhelmed by this person who gave zero damns about my time or my miscarriage.

Like many women, I have trouble setting boundaries. I worry about coming off as mean when I say "no." I realized that, to extricate myself from Anna, I would have to get over that and confront her friend stalking head-on.

I stopped returning her texts. I stopped answering the phone when she called. I kept our interactions at school perfunctory. I'm not proud of it, but I even snuck out the back door at a birthday party for a mutual friend's kid when she arrived to avoid explaining why I hadn't returned any of her 18 texts that day (it was 10 AM).

Eventually, Anna noticed my retreat. She asked me about it at preschool drop-off not long after the party. Finally, I was honest.

I told her she was smothering me. I told her I needed space. I did not claim "It's not you, it's me," but it felt a lot like a breakup anyway.

And she answered, "OK. But I really need to talk to you about what [man she was having the affair with] did last night. Can we go for coffee?"

It took months to get my point across. Eventually, Anna began sending me nasty notes on Facebook about betrayal.

So I blocked her.

That was kind of mean, I admit, but I was at my wit's end.

It's been a few years since we spoke. Anna finally let go after the Facebook block and I rarely see her anymore. I found a tight circle of friends who I allow to see the real me. I understand my friendship with Anna failed as much because of me, and my inability to open up, as because of her.

In truth, I would relive my odd friend stalker experience all over again to realize what true friendship is — and, even more importantly, what it is not.

 

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