Self

I Was Grateful When My BFF Called Me A Thief And Ended Our Friendship

Photo: fizkes / Shutterstock
woman smiling relaxing on couch

There are times when losing a friend is the best thing that can happen to you. It may not feel like it at the time, but before long, your logic will take over, and you’ll understand it’s not grief you’re feeling but relief.

We don’t begin friendships with an end date in mind, so when we find ourselves stuck in a toxic and unhealthy relationship, we often don’t know what to do.

I’m someone who will befriend the friendless, cheer for the underdog, and take on a friend or partner’s happiness as my responsibility. I need to remember to treat people with kindness but that it’s not on me to save or fix them, especially if doing so harms me in the process.

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I hadn’t been going to the YMCA for long when I became interested in the water fitness program.

I didn’t know anyone, so no one warned me about Mavis and her terrible water exercise classes.

I was surprised when I showed up for her class, which wasn’t full. Not even close.

Zero students wasn’t a good sign. I was still hopeful Mavis’ class would be challenging and get my heart rate up, but I was wrong.

The lack of attendance wasn’t personal; it was that Mavis spent more than half of the 45 minutes of class time trapping people into talking to her.

Then when you least expected it, she’d switch gears and scream at the top of her lungs, “20 Rocking Horses,” and launch herself into a burst of frantic back and forth movement her students were supposed to copy.

Once the water aerobics moment had passed, and she felt satisfied she’d done her job, Mavis returned to her non-stop chatting.

The gym tried to think of ways to get rid of Mavis. There’d been complaints about her excessive chatter and inappropriate outbursts as she tended to speak without thinking first.

Then there was the visual display of how unpopular she was as a teacher.

On my first day, I’d barely gotten into the water when Mavis accosted me with personal questions:

When was my birthday?

How old was I?

Was I in a relationship?

September 29, yes, and none of your business, lady.

Other people were in the pool, but the pressure was on me since I was her only student. I continued to answer her questions as if it was part of a first-day ritual.

I learned not to expect to feel the burn when Mavis was teaching.

Scheduled right after Mavis’ class was one where I could get a good water workout with an excellent instructor, so I’d try to go to both classes.

I pictured Mavis treading water in the pool, desperately searching for someone to save her from drowning in loneliness, and I knew I needed to be there for her.

I got to know Mavis well. She’d grown up in Israel and had been a very good swimmer, but her parents continually told her she was stupid and worthless instead of praising her.

When Mavis married, her husband took over as her main critic and rarely had a kind word to say to her.

Mavis’ said her children and grandchildren weren’t much nicer to her — her granddaughter would only go to lunch with her if she’d get something out of it like money or a gift, and her eldest son was far too busy to waste time on her.

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Now in her mid-seventies, the pool was one of the few places she felt useful.

The more stories of Mavis’ life I heard, the sorrier I felt for her. I took on the task of helping her feel valued.

My mother had set the bar of mothering so low that I happily accepted warmth and attention from almost any source. My Jewish surrogate mother died after I joined the gym, and maybe Mavis could help fill that space in my life.

Mavis soon morphed from a bad teacher to what I thought was a good friend.

Feeling like secret spies, sometimes Mavis and I would go to other the YMCAs and check out their aqua aerobic classes. If I had an event and didn’t invite her, Mavis would get needier and try to get me to go out with her even more.

Mavis told me her son was schizophrenic and institutionalized; I empathized with her as my brother had also been schizophrenic.

I wasn’t close with my brother, but Mavis’ almost total disconnect from her son bothered me.

Mavis called him when he requested it, and she and her husband only visited her son out of a sense of obligation. She appeared annoyed that she couldn’t just forget her son’s existence.

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I was waiting for my boyfriend to pick me up after class one day, and one of the regular pool ladies, Helen, and I got to talking. I don’t remember how Mavis’s name was brought up, but Helen went off on how unbalanced Mavis was and how she shouldn’t be allowed to teach any longer.

I defended Mavis — it was obvious Helen was the one with the problem, not Mavis.

I couldn’t see that I was getting the warning I needed.

Once, Mavis lost one of her earrings and continued to wear the remaining one. I don’t know how often someone would tell her she was missing an earring, and Mavis would launch into the same boring story.

I thought of Mavis as a pool friend, but when I didn’t invite her to a show I was doing or told her about going out to a movie or lunch with a friend, Mavis would get jealous and pout.

Mavis refused to wear her glasses and had been in car accidents when driving at night. I didn’t want to encourage that risky behavior, so I stopped inviting her anywhere at any time.

Mavis’ need for attention was intense, and when she felt me pulling away, she’d draw me back with a tragic story from her past.

I began to feel as if I was suffocating in the relationship, but I’ve never been good at break-ups, even of the friend kind. I was scared of how Mavis might react if I told her I didn’t want to be friends anymore.

Mavis needed me, and I couldn’t let her down.

When Mavis heard we were having trouble paying our mortgage that month, she insisted on loaning me $1,000. I said no, but Mavis was persistent and finally wore me down.

She said she wanted to do something kind for me, and even though I knew it was a bad idea, I agreed to the loan.

I created a payment plan and a contract, so it was official. However, Mavis didn’t want anything too formal and made me sign the back of an old envelope damp from being in the bag with her wet swimsuit.

I was still uneasy when Mavis gave me the check but planned on not only paying her back early but with interest.

RELATED: Breaking Up With My Toxic Best Friend Was Harder Than My Divorce

Less than a week later, I got a long and barely coherent text from Mavis.

“You’re a thief and a liar. You’ve stolen from me. You’re a cheat, and you’ll never pay me back. You’re a con artist who only pretended to be my friend,” she wrote.

And those were the only readable sentences — the rest was a jumble of accusations, paranoid ramblings, and alarming bursts of madness.

I had no idea where all this was coming from. I couldn’t take the whole thing in with only one reading. The last time I’d seen Mavis had been in class two days before, and everything was normal.

To this day, I have no idea what set Mavis off.

I was the one person who was loyal to her and defended her when other gym members criticized her. I took her awful class and listened to her problems, and she couldn’t take a moment to think about things before slamming me with accusations and recriminations.

I texted her back, trying not to escalate things any further and hoping that she’d calm down or say someone had forced her to write those things, but no, she felt fine and wrote me another disjointed text full of lies.

After I paid back the loan, she approached me in the pool and said, “You don’t have to avoid me. You can stay here in the corner of the pool and do your own thing. You won’t interrupt me.”

I wondered what I’d be interrupting — she had no students since she’d alienated me.

“Yes, I know,” I said and turned away from her.

Was this her awkward way of seeing if I was open to reconciliation? I wasn’t. I might have been more agreeable if she’d thanked me or apologized, but I couldn’t act as if nothing had happened.

Her behavior and words were of someone having a mental breakdown, and while I’m sorry about that, I’m already at full capacity with older women with severe mental issues.

Mavis did me a favor; she did what I’d been too afraid to do — she ended our friendship.

Ending a relationship with a mentally unstable friend or partner can feel overwhelming. You want to be there for them, but if it comes down to a choice between your mental health and theirs — you have to choose yourself.

I’m sad that Mavis doesn’t get the love and support she needs in her life. I wish she were open to seeing a therapist, but I know she’d never even consider it. I also know I can’t be her therapist/friend/student any longer for my health and well-being.

I will always empathize with Mavis, but it’s best if I do it from afar.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She's had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, and Woman's Day. Visit her website or her Instagram.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.