Growing Up Platoniromantic: Heartbreak

This post was written for the October Carnival of Aros, which is being hosted by From Fandom to Family and is about “Friendship”.

It is part of my series on Growing Up Platoniromantic.


platoniromantic – unable to distinguish “romantic” from “platonic” feelings and/or experiencing “friendship” and “romance” as the same thing

On the last day of high school, I walked home over the field near my house with my freshly signed yearbook.  I stopped at a park bench and sat down.  And cried and cried and cried.

A lady stopped and asked me what was wrong.  So I explained, awkwardly, that it was the end of high school, that my friends and I were all graduating, and that I would probably never see them again.  She spoke kindly to me, telling me she knew things must seem hard right now, but that they would get better.  That I would make new friends, that I would have new experiences after high school, and that someday this would all be a distant memory.

How could I explain to her?  How could I make her understand that my heart was broken and I had no idea how to put it back together?  It wasn’t that I didn’t think she meant well.  It wasn’t that I didn’t think she was speaking from experience.  It wasn’t even that I didn’t believe what she said.  But, at that moment, I couldn’t think about how things might one day get better.  All I could think was that I was in unbearable and invisible pain.

When I was growing up, I didn’t really have friends.  For most of my elementary school life, I was the kid who got picked on and nobody wanted to play with.  Then, in high school, things started to change.  People weren’t so much jerks and were more willing to hang out with me.  I started spending time with a loose group that included a lot of people from my old school.  And, gradually, I formed an especially close attachment to a half-dozen boys and girls that turned into a solid group friendship.

Throughout Grade 10, we were inseparable.  We got the bus together, ate our lunches together, worked on class projects together, hung out on weekends and holidays.  At the end of the year, we sat down and planned out all the activities we would do together over the summer: when we were going to this person’s cottage, when we were celebrating that person’s birthday, when the cultured among us were sitting the uncultured down and introducing them to Monty Python.

I had different relationships with the different members.  One was my band partner; one I dated briefly.  Some I felt personally close to, some I knew mainly as members of the bigger group.  I won’t tell you about all our cute nicknames, all our inside jokes, all the secrets we shared or the philosophical discussions we had.  The point is, we were close.  They were my community, my companions, my family.  They were, to borrow a phrase from Frankie Addams, “the ‘we’ of me”.  And, on some level, I assumed they always would be.

And then slowly, inexorably, it all started to unravel.  Some of us found new interests.  Some of us found new social circles.  The couple who were at the centre of our community broke up.  Another couple started spending more time off on their own.  No longer inseparable, we were increasingly living our own lives and developing our own identities, apart from each other.

Not me, though.  To me, the group was my life and my identity.  Without them, I didn’t know who I was or what to do with myself.  I tried desperately to hold on, first to the group, then to a smaller group, then to the individual relationships.  But I didn’t have the gravitational pull needed to keep our system together.  One by one, my friends slipped away.

Eventually, I gave up.  I stopped trying to pressure people to hang out with me.  I stopped planning all my time around them.  They knew where I was, and they knew how much our friendship meant to me.  If they wanted me, they would come get me.

They didn’t.  By Grade 13, we had almost completely dispersed into our own separate spaces.  No one seemed interested in rekindling the group dynamic.  I thought maybe we would at least all get a table together for prom, but we didn’t.  I ended up sitting with the new group I had started hanging with, all the while thinking, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

Each signature they left in my yearbook was a knife in my heart.  Re-reading them twenty years later, they all seem like lovely sentiments, full of kindness and nostalgia and requests to keep in touch.  But what I wanted at the time wasn’t kindness; it was to feel wanted.  I didn’t want affirmations about the past, but commitments to the future.  And I didn’t want to once again be doing all the work of “keeping in touch” without any reciprocity.

I moved away for university.  My first year, not one of them made any effort to contact me.  And I made no effort to contact them.  Our relationship was over.

With one exception, I’m no longer in touch with any of those people.  Oh, I’ve seen them all, at one point or another, over the years, but our interactions, though amicable, have been brief and shallow.  We’re not a part of each other’s lives anymore, so conversations about how we’re currently doing can’t do more than scratch the surface.  And I’m not interested in reminiscing about a time I now associate more with pain than with happiness.

What happened?  Did I try too hard?  Did I not try hard enough?  Was I unlovable?  Or did I simply want too much out of the relationships?  I spent more than a decade asking myself those questions.  And then, twelve years after graduation, I finally figured it out.

The problem was that I don’t make the relationship distinctions that other people take for granted.  People are supposed to divide their relationships up into “romantic” and “platonic” ones, to devote a certain amount of emotional energy to one and a different amount of energy to the other.  But, as a platoniromantic person, I didn’t understand that.  In high school, I invested the same amount of energy in my friendships as other people do in their romantic relationships.  And, when the relationships ended, I experienced the same amount of pain.

Looked at that way, there was nothing very unusual about my experience.  Lots of people go through heartbreak in high school; mine just happened to be platonic.  But there was one thing that set my experience apart and made it especially difficult to deal with.  You see, when someone breaks up with you romantically, there’s generally an expectation that they will tell you they’re doing it.  Or, if they don’t, you can at least count on your friends to be appropriately outraged on your behalf.  But I didn’t get that courtesy.  No one ever came to me and said, “Hey, Ice, I think you’re a really great person, but our relationship just isn’t working for me.”  They just left me to figure things out on my own.  And, in the excruciating aftermath, I couldn’t tell anyone my story and expect sympathy, because stories like mine weren’t in the conventional narrative.  People understand the pain of losing a significant other.  You’re not supposed to feel that pain for people who are “just” your friends.

But in high school I didn’t have a significant other.  I had six.  And slowly, quietly, without malice or intent, they broke my heart.

7 thoughts on “Growing Up Platoniromantic: Heartbreak

  1. sildarmillion says:

    Oh man! I could feel my heart breaking as I read this. I understand the feeling you are describing here.

    I have 2 main thoughts after reading this. The first is that, I’m really sorry that most of your friends from high school (sounds like your chosen family while at high school) didn’t make much of an effort to keep in touch. That is indeed heartbreaking. I wonder if this is a characteristic of certain people and you just happened to have a group of friends who were the “out of sight; out of mind” sort. Friends can be luck of the draw sometimes. It’s indeed true that some people only invest in their relationships with romantic partners, but I do know a lot of people who do invest in their closest friends. I am fortunate enough to still have close relationships to my closest friends from high school and university. I see my cousin has the same experiences and if anything she seems to be even closer with her various groups of chosen families. Anyways, based on what I’ve read in your other posts, I believe you’ve founds friends who do value the relationship with you and I really hope that helps to make the pain a little bit bearable.

    The second thought is – I’m sure you must have heard some variation of the term, “Don’t be sad it’s over; be glad that it happened.” While I understand the sentiment, I can completely relate with you why it’s hard to take it all in stride and be glad it happened and only look back at those memories fondly. There is just too much pain associated with those memories now. I have experienced this, in my case it was a romantic situation I suppose. It’s with that friend of mine I fell in love with and after “falling in love” I inadvertently became way too emotionally invested in that relationship. When he just moved on (after he moved cities) like it was no big deal, I couldn’t handle the pain. And while he has tried to keep in touch, I find it too painful to keep in touch, because I feel that pain constantly.

    But even though it was romantic in my context, I don’t think it is limited to the romantic context for me. If a close friendship fell apart right now, to be fair, I don’t think I would be that devastated, but that’s simply because the physical distance of being in different cities, or countries, or continents does seem to decrease the potency of the emotional investment. But if a fallout had happened during the peak of the relationship when we were at our closest and most invested, the pain would have been unbearable. My devastation at the loss of my romantic interest wasn’t just because it was romantic rather than platonic, but because that was the relationship in which I was most invested. That being said, because of cultural conditioning, I guess the fact that it was romantic did have some bearing on the intensity of the investment. I hoped for a lifetime with this person and hoped to form a partnership where we could coordinate our lives so we could be together. That is not something I’ve expected from my friends, because ultimately, we do have separate lives. But with them, I’m happy that we can be a part of each other’s lives once in a while; but with my romantic interest, I can’t do that because spending any time with him is a painful reminder of something I wanted badly but lost.

    Anyways, culture often tells us how we’re supposed to feel; but we feel what we feel and all we can hope for is that others can empathize with our feelings. Sometimes it helps to know that others have felt similar things. So thanks for sharing your story!

    (And I know you’ve seen the links in my submission. The Guardian article, the Invisibila podcast, and the videos from the therapist YouTuber all cover content about friend breakup stories, which all struck an emotional cord with me; because I know that pain can be intense.)

    Like

    • Blue Ice-Tea says:

      Thanks for the supportive comment. 🙂

      “I’m really sorry that most of your friends from high school (sounds like your chosen family while at high school) didn’t make much of an effort to keep in touch. That is indeed heartbreaking. I wonder if this is a characteristic of certain people and you just happened to have a group of friends who were the ‘out of sight; out of mind’ sort.”

      I guess it’s hard for me to know, since I didn’t have a lot of other close high school friends to compare them to. But, in any case, I really don’t want to assign blame or imply that my friends were bad people. I think they had their sets of expectations about our relationship and I had a different set of expectations. I also think that we were young and bad at communicating, and also lived in a culture that didn’t really encourage us to talk about our friendship and what we wanted from it. All those things conspired to create the painful situation I’ve described. Could they have made better choices? Sure. But then so could I.

      And as far as “keeping in touch” goes, I didn’t really want to keep in touch. Or, rather, what I wanted wasn’t the kind of casual correspondence relationship that is often what people mean by “keeping in touch”; what I wanted was the close, emotionally intimate, mutually-dependent relationship we had had before. The problem wasn’t that my friends didn’t keep in touch after graduation; it was that they had already drifted away from me long before graduation.

      “Anyways, based on what I’ve read in your other posts, I believe you’ve founds friends who do value the relationship with you and I really hope that helps to make the pain a little bit bearable.”

      Oh, yes, very much so! 😀 I’m tempted to say, “Don’t worry, it was twenty years ago; I’m over it!”, but that would be a simplification. The truth is, I carried the pain of this heartbreak through four years of undergrad, and even ten years later it was still a source of a lot of sorrow and confusion for me. But then two things happened that really helped. One was realising that I was quoi/platoniromantic. Giving a name to my experience went a long way towards being able to come to terms with it. The other, as you’ve picked up on, was forming close friendships where I get my need for intimacy and commitment met. Having the kinds of relationships I’ve always wanted has allowed me to put the pain of previous relationship failures behind me.

      “I’m sure you must have heard some variation of the term, ‘Don’t be sad it’s over; be glad that it happened.’ While I understand the sentiment, I can completely relate with you why it’s hard to take it all in stride and be glad it happened and only look back at those memories fondly. There is just too much pain associated with those memories now.”

      Yeah, I find that sentiment kind of aggravating. I mean, sometimes it can be true. Like my last unrequited crush: even though the relationship didn’t work out the way I might have liked, I still feel good about it because we were friends and parted on good terms. But sometimes, as you say, there’s just too much pain.

      “My devastation at the loss of my romantic interest wasn’t just because it was romantic rather than platonic, but because that was the relationship in which I was most invested. That being said, because of cultural conditioning, I guess the fact that it was romantic did have some bearing on the intensity of the investment.”

      I guess it’s like you were saying in your recent post when talking about the Hidden Brain episode (https://sildarmillionjournal.wordpress.com/2021/10/08/friendship-on-podcasts/): it’s not about romantic versus platonic per se, it’s about the level of closeness. It’s just that in our society we’re expected to have closer relationships with our romantic partners than our friends.

      Liked by 1 person

      • sildarmillion says:

        “I think they had their sets of expectations about our relationship and I had a different set of expectations. I also think that we were young and bad at communicating, and also lived in a culture that didn’t really encourage us to talk about our friendship and what we wanted from it. All those things conspired to create the painful situation I’ve described. Could they have made better choices? Sure. But then so could I.”

        Yeah, fully agreed. Growing up, we didn’t really know how to communicate and communication is a skill that is not taught enough in most societies. People can struggle a lot from miscommunication. It’s very possible that your high school friends couldn’t comprehend what that had meant to you. I witnessed this happen between two of my high school friends when one friend realized she had “outgrown” the other and really wanted to move on, and the poor girl was devastated at the loss of someone who she viewed as a sister. It wasn’t just the loss though. It was also the realization that the relationship had been so asymmetrical this whole time.

        “Giving a name to my experience went a long way towards being able to come to terms with it.”

        Also agree with this so much. Learning new terms, being able to put words to abstract feelings, and simply blogging about my experience has been liberating!

        Liked by 1 person

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