Pen Pals and Taking People for Granted

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Throughout the more enjoyable parts of my second semester of college (which by no coincidence happened to be the parts that flew by the most), I dumped life updates on a girl from back home via Facebook messages.

Recently, I went as far back as Facebook allowed and dug up those messages (these are all 5-6 years old now).  I have no idea how this correspondence started.  The first message I was able to locate was referring to the turning point in an ongoing saga with a girl.  The way it was written indicates that this pen pal from back home, Jane, was up to speed before that fateful night.

The gist of it is this:  I really liked an unavailable girl.  She became available after ending a long relationship, but I didn’t want her to feel rushed into anything so I held back.  A forgettable jerk swooped in.  I ended up in the friend zone, desperate enough to confront her with my feelings and get turned down.  Just about all of our friends were mutual, so I couldn’t avoid her after having my heart kinda broken a little bit, etc.  Click some of those blue underlined words for the full story.

Jane was there, listening to the play by play, offering kind words and advice (most of which I didn’t take).  She was a few years younger than me, so she was a Junior in high school at the time.  We knew each other from a Drama 1 class that I took in Junior year that was heavily populated by freshman girls that thought I was so awesome just for the fact that I was a little bit older than they were.  I was kinda interested in Jane at the time, but didn’t want to put up with the inevitable teasing I would have had to endure for dating a freshman.  She was kinda interested too, but assumed that nothing would ever happen between us.  Honestly, we didn’t talk that much after that one drama class.  As I said before, I have no idea how this correspondence came to be, but it was an absolute life saver for me.

And yet I treated her like an interactive diary, something I wrote in purely for myself with no expectation or acknowledgement of a response.  All of our communication was extremely one-sided.  I dumped all of my drama on her and she responded almost exclusively to it without adding anything personal about herself.  On the rare occasion that she brought up her own baggage, it was always prefaced with an apology for talking about herself and then transparently framed as being relevant and similar to what I was going through.

The girl that turned me down, Mallory, was literally everywhere after she turned me down.  I didn’t want to lose her as a friend and I knew that it wouldn’t be fair to hold her disinterest in dating me against her, but I had a lot of trouble letting things go back to normal.

Jane was there for me through the whole process, and when it was all resolved with a heart to heart conversation between Mallory and me, I terminated our Facebook thread.  Literally.  I said, “I had a great talk with Mallory.  Everything is going to be fine now.  No more need for this message.  Don’t bother responding.”

Re-reading that part made me nauseas.  I don’t want to see myself as a self-centered guy, and I certainly didn’t see that in myself back then.  Those first years of college, I did everything I could to be there for people, especially when it cost me my own personal health and sanity.  I had some bizarre sense of showing love and compassion through self-sacrifice at the time:  If you truly love someone, show it by letting them make your life a living hell.

But none of that effort applied to Jane, who never caused me even the slightest inconvenience, let alone the full blown drama cyclone that my then-friends were brewing.

If my disregard for our friendship wasn’t self-centered enough, I consistently read between the lines that Jane was probably totally in love with me.  We had talked openly about how things never happened back in high school and I was always so insanely honest with her, so I brought it up.  She asked what I was referring to when I mentioned that some of the things she wrote made it sound like she was still interested in being more than friends.  I reread every word of every sentence and provided her with several instances.  She jokingly called me an egomaniac and I didn’t deny it in that moment.

Then she sent me an amazing care package to help me get over Mallory.  Seriously though, parents don’t love their own offspring enough to put together a care package this epic.  I lost count of how many baked goods there were.  Cookies, pastries, a whole damn pie, I think some kind of cake.  It was ludicrous.  And so, so delicious.

Beyond fattening me up with so much lovingly made food, she made me a very funny collage that moved from dorm to dorm with me for the next year.  At the time, I had a big crush on Hayden Panettiere of Heroes.  I joked that I was going to marry her when I moved to Hollywood and became a big shot after college.  Jane made a collage of Hayden photos next to photos of me with all kinds of goofy love messages (and Hayden’s name as a hyphenate:  Panettiere-Newton).  It was hilarious and creative and it made me smile every time I looked at it, which is why I put it right next to my desk to keep me company every time I did homework.

All of my friends from back home were convinced that Jane was madly in love with me (especially the ones in Orlando that I shared the sweets with).  I told them that she said she wasn’t and I took her word for it.  I have no idea how I would have pursued anything with this girl even if I had wanted to.  Starting off as a long-distance couple is crazy daunting.  Plus, she was underage and I was nineteen.  I don’t know the legal ramifications of that and it makes me feel icky even contemplating them.  Everything would have been extremely complicated, and it probably would have gotten in the way of where I was headed with the girl I was meant to be with.

About five failed girl pursuits later, I revived my correspondence with Jane.  We picked up right where we left off, as if I hadn’t told her to shut the hell up and stop being supportive when I whined to her several months ago.

I brought her up to speed on everything.  There was the drama queen girl that flirted while she tried to hide from me the fact that she was talking to another guy.  Then a girl that I was curious about but soon found out that neither of us were interested.  The love of my life was mixed in there too, but that wouldn’t develop into anything for several more months.  There was the blonde girl that I took out on the most magical first date ever in the history of broke college guys trying really hard to impress girls (she didn’t even let me kiss her good night and then she never returned my calls after that night).

Most catastrophically, though, was the last girl that I ever led on.  It started off as something with potential.  When I realized I didn’t want it to become anything, rather than being a man and telling this girl, I just said “Well you’re going home for Summer break, so no need to get involved right now!”  This completely blew up in my face.

Jane sat there and read my half-ass retelling of these events (seriously, I didn’t even bother with capitalization or proper punctuation).  I got a lot of enjoyment out of sharing them with her.  It made me feel super interesting.  She never really got a word in that wasn’t in direct reference to something that I wanted us to talk about.

We stopped talking for a while over the Summer.  She stopped returning my messages.  I think she was a counselor at a Summer camp, but I can’t know for sure because I never even tried to get to know her better.  To further emphasize how little I cared about her feelings, it never even occurred to me back then that she may be fed up with my crap and my selfishness.

By the time she responded again, my group of friends with nothing in common had bonded firmly and were now falling apart over everyone meddling in each others’ problems and relationships.  I, of course, insisted on trying to fix everything (remember – I had a twisted idea of love meaning self-sacrifice).  Jane told me that I couldn’t and that I was only stressing myself out trying.  I didn’t listen, I just wanted to be heard.  All of that blew up in my face, but I know that it could have been worse.  So many of my friends were complaining about each other to each other, spewing additional negativity and strife into the group.  I was puking all of mine onto Jane through our Facebook messages.  By using her as an outlet, I kept myself from pumping more bad stuff into an already toxic mix.

I can’t emphasize enough the extent to which this girl was there for me.  She never asked anything in return, and I never offered anything.

This part makes me the saddest:  I told her about Kaitlin, the love of my life, and how I had fallen for her over the Summer.  I detailed all of our first days of dating to Jane.  She was my cheerleader, that one little Jimminy Cricket voice telling me that I deserved something good when I was having difficulty valuing myself.

I told Jane details about my new relationship that normally would have been about a thousand miles outside my comfort zone.  I guess I thought about Jane so little that I never feared her judgement.  Maybe I just felt safe, safer than I have with any other friend before or since.

Our last messages to each other were in November of 2008.  I sent her a note on her birthday, which just happened to be ten days before mine.  It was nice for almost a whole paragraph, but then it became all about me and my drama again.  I wrapped up with a hollow mention about trying to see each other over Thanksgiving break.

She replied on my birthday with a message almost all about me, mostly responding to my self-centered rant in the middle of the birthday wishes I sent her way.  Just before all of this, she mentioned that she wasn’t doing anything for her birthday.  She was having trouble with her friends and would probably just be spending the day alone at home with her parents.  I didn’t ask for elaboration.  After everything that she was there for me through, I didn’t even ask her if she wanted to talk about it.

I vaguely remember something that she wrote on my Facebook wall some time later.  “Remember when we were friends?  Me neither.”  I don’t remember how much time had passed.  Somehow the harshness of it seemed an unprovoked mystery to me at the time.

If there’s one thing my dwindling population of friends in college taught me, it’s that decent folks are extremely rare.  If you find someone that genuinely cares about you and puts up with you at your worst, cherish them.  Realize how important they are to you.  For God’s sake, let them know!

I haven’t had many friends like Jane, and I’m not sure that I will find many more.  I truly regret letting her vanish from my life.

I know that this post refers to several instances that are just barely halfway described.  More details are coming, I promise!  Stay tuned for next week’s post:  ‘The Last Girl I Ever Led On’.

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4 thoughts on “Pen Pals and Taking People for Granted

  1. underwaterraven

    I won’t lie, I was kind of appalled at you when I read this, but I reminded myself that you’re a good person now and you’re reflecting on these times with genuine regret. I think most people, at some stage in their life, find someone who they’re so comfortable with that they feel okay talking about all their problems because the other person listens so well and responds thoughtfully. I guess in these situations it’s easy to forget about reciprocity and it’s easy just to keep unloading your problems.

    Jane does sound like an amazing person. Would an apologetic message go amiss? Or is it a question of both of you just having gotten over the whole incident? You know, a ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ kind of thing?

    Nice post 🙂

    • Yeah, I’m not particularly proud of how I handled this friendship. The irony of it is that I was that good listener/shoulder to cry on for so many other people around this time, and I was always saddened by how seldom they reciprocated. All the while, I was committing the same wrongs to someone else.

      I’m so glad that I re-read the entire thread of conversations before writing this post. It was pretty stomach-churning at times. I can’t believe Jane put up with all of my selfishness. I think that the age difference was still a bit of a factor at the time, and having an older guy talk to her felt a bit special so she put up with more than she deserved.

      I’m sure an apologetic message wouldn’t hurt anything. Sometimes I consider sending a link to this post to her. Sadly enough, I may never see her again in my entire life. She went to college up north (I’m in Florida, the southernmost state in our country). I rarely get to visit our mutual home city, and my parents have since moved out of Pensacola (where Jane and I went to high school). The stars would have to align for us to happen to be in the same city at the same time. Unless of course we conspired to make it happen.

      The problem with that, however, is that your ability to have close friendships with attractive blondes is significantly diminished once you find yourself in a long-term relationship. My girlfriend isn’t the jealous type, nor have I ever given her any reason to be. It just feels strange now, a bit inappropriate even, to spend any long amount of time alone with most other girls – especially ones that were “old flames” or “missed opportunities.” Maybe I’m just a prude. Maybe I overthink these things. Maybe I’m just too much of a wuss to ask forgiveness directly.

      Either way, if you were appalled by this post, you probably won’t like me very much after next week’s post. But as you said, I’m a better person now. These were mistakes that I regret and that I’ve learned from and have no intention of repeating.

  2. TheTravelingBitch

    Remind me to hug you when I see you next. You’re one of the best guys I know Brant, don’t forget that.

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