A letter arrived today from an ex-boyfriend. He writes me maybe once or twice a year. The first time he wrote me, he wrote his return address on the envelope without his name. Another time, he wrote his initials. This time, he managed to spell out his first name. I will count that as progress.

Opening the letter would have been something like poking myself with a needle. I’ve survived a lot of needle damage for vaccinations, blood donations and for crafting and sewing. It’s not bad when it serves a purpose.

My friend Gretchen was there when I found the letter. In pain and dread, I held it up and said, “I need help.” Maybe she could read it for me and let me know if it held some legitimate message?

“Oh!” she said and snatched it out of my hand. “This is going in the burn box!” she announced, grinning as she walked away. First, Gretchen owns something she calls a “burn box”. Second, if you ask Gretchen for help, you will get Gretchen help: Fast, effective, irreversible. I sat there for a minute or two in confusion, sorting out my feelings.

I know what the letter said. It said in some way, You Were Really Nice to Me and I’m Sorry I Wasn’t Nice to You. This has been the substance of nearly every conversation and letter that have occurred since shortly after I left him. The unspoken, unrepresented post script is, If you’re not busy, I could use some more care.

After I left him, I paid close attention when he contacted me, prepared to ameliorate the pain of break up and perhaps even establish a friendship. It quickly became clear that he chose to wallow in the mistake rather than learn from it, to use it as a whip for his own back and probably as caltrips for his feet. Anything that could prevent him from learning, growing, or moving forward.

Some people prefer familiar pain to the adventure of learning. In his words, “People would rather be comfortable than happy.” He condemned himself to this fate with almost-daily affirmations.

I’m being unkind and judgmental to state that he isn’t growing or learning or moving forward. I admit that now in the hopes that the Lord of Karma will forgive me for being unkind and judgmental. Please don’t visit me with justice, Lord of Karma. Peeeeease.

I told friends about Gretchen’s snatch-and-burn method for handling the situation. I told them how she grinned at me as she carried the letter away, that she has something called a “burn box” and repeated how she snatched the letter from my fingers. Painful discovery -> request for help -> friend -> problem eliminated. That’s what friends are for.

Friend Rachel pointed out what I have also concluded: he regrets losing me and probably will regret it for a long time. He couldn’t handle being happy with me and therefore lost me, at least that’s what I understand. She and I both think he will regret it the rest of his life.

So there it is: two friends saturated my burning pain with their cool flow. Other friends joined me and now my day was about how a friend handles bad news instead of how I had to handle bad news.

Friendlove: be a friend, have a friend, love your friends.


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