I Was A Victim Of Cyberbullying And Lost A Close Friend Over It

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When people speak of bullying or cyberbullying, we assume they're talking about kids on the playground or mean-spirited teenagers in high school. But the reality is that bullying can and does exist well into adulthood, and can often be found in the places we’d least expect it.

Because of my job as a freelance writer, I spend a lot of time sharing my life on the Internet — where I’m traveling, who I’m going out to dinner or drinks with, and what personal triumphs and disappointments may currently be happening in my world. When you share that level of yourself, it’s fair to assume people will take liberties and get too close or say too much. Strangers, even.

I get a great deal of pretty aggressively offensive responses to the stories I write. But the most aggressively offensive individual I ever experienced wasn’t a reader or someone who followed me on social media. It was someone who had wormed their way into my personal inner circle.

I met Roxie* (names have been changed) over 15 years ago and we became fast friends, virtually overnight. Before I knew it, we became the sort of friends who emailed all day while at work and would meet up for dinner a few times a week. 

(Interestingly, years later she confessed to me that she had initially deliberately friended me at the time as an “in” to get in good with a guy she was newly dating that was a good friend of mine. I laughed it off as funny history to our now-tight friendship. I should have seen it as a red flag to how, from the start, I was being used as a means to an end, and nothing more.)

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Years went by, and we remained very close. As we lived in bordering neighborhoods, it was common for us to spontaneously meet for manicures, happy hour, or dinner pretty often. I valued her friendship so much because I loved her as a friend, but also, as someone who lives in the suburbs of the city, it’s rare to have friends who hang out in your neighborhood.

Roxie really enjoyed the benefits my friendship brought to her life as well. Part of my job is going to many parties and events, launches, and dinners. She was often my guest at these sorts of events.

But at some point, she segued past being thankful for the gifts and freebies I provided and started coming to expect them. 

In fact, she'd make comments like "Before I buy this, has anyone sent you...?" for everything from cosmetics to tech gear. And considering how much she benefited from my work, I can't be sure she'd actually read any of my online work in years. I started to feel weird about it.

Things went south a few years ago. In something that sounds like it’s right out of trashy reality television, she befriended Aleksai*, a drag queen with a horrendous personality and history of addiction. Suddenly, “taking care of him” (from playing stage mom to talking him down while he was high) instantly became her whole life.

I saw her a lot less, and when I did, all we would talk about was him. She showed decreasing interest in my life, my work, my friends, or my feelings to a degree I couldn't even begin to comprehend.

(For instance, I had a birthday party at a local bar, and she sat in a corner with the friends she had come with and barely even acknowledged any of my friends that walked in, or me, all night. At one point I heard her mumble to another, “Oh look, another blonde.”)

Despite mounting difficulties connecting with her, I desperately wanted to maintain our friendship, and I made every effort to befriend Aleksai as well, even going so far as to send him leads on work, apartments, and sending him samples of false lashes and stage makeup I had been sent.

I even gave him fancy Russian tea for Christmas one year, all in an attempt to make it work with this person who was suddenly so incredibly important to my once-close friend. He didn’t appreciate it. In fact, he started to act increasingly strange and cruel.

He's an aggressively rude, judgmental, and condescending individual, and the nicer I tried to be to him and the more I tried to reach out, the more he tried to isolate Roxie from me and remove me from her life. To me, it was a giant red flag.

I worried she was in an emotionally abusive relationship and didn't know it. My belief is, he realized I was on to him and that's why he tried to get rid of me. The bullying started as snarky comments here and there on social media.

 He’d comment on my physical appearance, my weight, how I was posing in photos. I told him it wasn't funny and to stop. He would tell me I had no sense of humor and double down on the abuse.

He even did somewhat creepy things like wear a wig that looked freakishly like my hair during some of his performances. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? Not in this case. Allegedly, it was "just a coincidence." I don't think so, though. I have very distinctive Goldilocks-like long wavy platinum blonde hair. His wig was precisely the same style and color. Clearly, he had a bizarre fixation.

I would talk to Roxie and she’d tell me it was just “part of his personality” and he only “teased” those he liked, and to stop making a big deal about it. To me, it wasn't teasing. It was emotional bullying.

But then it got so much worse. He started to tag me on social media, by name, in GIFs and memes that were at best rude and offensive and at worst degrading and insulting.

I told Roxie his behavior wasn't acceptable as I'm a public figure on the internet, and my readers and editors may see this, and she told me “he didn’t mean anything by it.” But she’d ask him to remove the tag if it was such a big deal. I asked her to ask him to apologize. She refused.

RELATED: The Surprising Way To Shut Down Mean Girls (And Mean Women) In Your Life

This happened a few times; each instance escalating in intensity. Roxie and I had a few talks about it.

Again and again, she would shrug her shoulders and tell me I was making a big deal over something that just wasn’t, and inferred I was imagining the importance and degree of what was happening. She wanted me to stop making an issue of it and just try to get along. After all, this was making things difficult... for her.

At one point, the irony came to me: These were people who marched in women’s rights rallies and wore pink p**** hats, saying women should be heard and believed. But when a woman (me) came to them and told them she was being victimized and was feeling attacked, they said it was all in her head, nothing was happening, and to just 'get over it.'

Why bother saying you support these causes when you actually have proven you don’t in your real life? Is it just to maintain the status quo and get attention? Because clearly, you don’t support women supporting women at all.

Roxie and my friendship gradually but completely fell apart.

We went from talking daily and hanging out all the time, to every month or two.

Weirdly, she’d only be available when it was some sort of comped dinner I was going to for work, where she'd get a free meal out of it. At these dinners, she never said thank you for including her, seldom “remembered” cash to contribute to the tip at the end of the night, and made no effort to respect my business interactions.

One time, she came with me to a work dinner, brought her Venus Fly Trap (a carnivorous plant) with her, and put it right in the middle of the tasting the chef was providing. I was mortified. Another time, she left me waiting in a restaurant alone for over an hour because she and Aleksai had decided to squeeze in a trip to the gym before she met me.

There were so many more examples of her having less and less respect for my feelings, my work, or my time.

In between, weeks would go by and she wouldn't respond to my emails. And when we were together, she'd spend the whole time talking about Aleksai, texting Aleksai from the table while she was with me, or beginning our plans by informing me she didn't want to stay very long because she had to get back to Aleksai. 

The final straw happened, like so much else, on social media last spring. Aleksai, again, attacked me on social media, telling me how Roxie only ever hung out with me because I “guilted her” into it. When I confronted Roxie with this, she didn't deny it.

This person who had used me for various gifts and freebies and dinners and events and trips for years only hung out with me because she felt guilted into it.

I felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart. I still do, to be honest.

In the past year, a lot has gone down. For example, my best friend was severely ill for months and nearly died, and Roxie didn’t so much as send a text to check-in. I went on to hear from mutual friends that Roxie had advised Aleksai to block me on social media. Not asked him to stop harassing and bullying me, but to block me so I no longer was able to see it.

He blocked me on Instagram but I still see his Facebook comments from time to time, no longer directed toward me by name, but with often not-so-veiled references. I also see him operate in general misogyny that is abusive to women.

Meanwhile, Roxie and Aleksai are now living together and spend even more time together than ever. I really do worry about her. Despite her hurting me so badly, I do care about her. After how many years, how could I not?

I see her in some sort of co-dependent Stockholm syndrome of a relationship, and I worry about when he gets bored of her and moves on. What will she have left of her former life? She has so many wonderful qualities and she's abandoned them to be everything for this guy.

In that sense, he's emotionally abusing her far worse than he's abused me. She just can't see it yet.

I’m sharing this story for all of you out there who are being bullied or cyberbullied, and people around you are telling you to just ignore it, let it go, and that it’s not as bad as you think. But it is bad.

Your feelings are legitimate and it’s a terrible thing to do to someone. And it’s also terrible to shrug your shoulders and ignore your friend when it’s done to them. In fact, now that we're nearing almost a year later, I realize that as much as the cyberbullying was awful, it was the betrayal of those I thought were my friends that hurt far, far, deeper.

If someone in your life is going through something like this, please believe them. Please be there for them. I have some friends that knew everything that was happening, and they were there for me, and it made all the difference.

If I can possibly help one person somewhere out there going through something awful and being told their feelings don’t matter, then maybe, possibly, some good can come out of this whole sorry mess.

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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter.