When A Friendship Suffocates You; Illustration by Carolyn Figel
Illustration by Carolyn Figel / Instagram: @carolynfigel

Gen was a girl from Australia who quickly became a friend during a summer creative writing course in New York, 2011. The course ended in July and we said goodbye, promising to see each other when the opportunity presented itself. It was resonant with the type of let’s-get-coffee-soon-for-real-this-time ending to conversations between friends who only have one context in which the relationship survives. Actually getting a coffee in the real world, away from a specific environment, can be tough, and visiting a friend made within six weeks seemed even more unlikely.

Gen made me feel like distance wasn’t an obstacle for real friendship, and I know I made her feel the same.

I don’t know how we managed to stay in touch for two solid years, but we did. Gen considered New York one of her favorite places to vacation and seemed to have no issue paying for plane tickets, so she visited twice after the course ended. The first time we only grabbed lunch, but that was enough to encourage a long-distant friendship, one involving Skype chats and frequent texts. I liked hearing about her life in Australia and how it was different from New York. And I fully admit there was a cosmopolitan element to chatting with someone on the other side of the world.

But I really did like Gen and came to value her as a true friend. She had a bizarre and at times gross sense of humor, which I also have, and she had a way of really making me feel cared for. Even though she wasn’t in my day-to-day life, I could Skype with her about relationship problems, frustration at the job market, anxiety over deciding where we wanted our lives to go. Gen made me feel like distance wasn’t an obstacle for real friendship, and I know I made her feel the same.

I decided to save my money to go to Australia. It was New Year’s Eve 2013 and Gen had friends over so I could experience a “true” Australian party. I ended up hitting it off with Nathan, and knew I wanted to see him at least once more before leaving for New York in a few weeks. Initially, Gen seemed to love the idea of the two us having a fling, encouraging it more than once. But after seeing him again one afternoon, it quickly became apparent that she wasn’t okay with me spending any time away from her. I asked numerous times if she was bothered by it, and she said, “Of course not,” but that soon turned into snide remarks about my and Nathan’s five-year age difference and how she thought it would be difficult to form something real from that.

One afternoon, we were driving, talking about plans for the next day, and she told me she changed my plane ticket so I could stay in Australia—to see her—for a bit longer. A nice gesture, sure, but I couldn’t help but feel annoyed that she hadn’t asked me if I wanted to or could, in fact, delay obligations awaiting me in New York. And after the tension that persisted throughout the trip, it seemed even more controlling on her part, as if she was so in charge of my time that she could quite literally prevent me from going home. It was then that I finally let out my anger and annoyance at how suffocating she’d been.

It’s been four years since that visit and we still haven’t spoken. I sometimes think about how different she was then than in New York, and I still squirm at the idea of ever feeling as controlled and possessed as that again.

Carolyn Figel is a freelance artist living in Brooklyn. In her free time, she enjoys attaching googly eyes to subway signs and writing short descriptions about herself. Her work has been featured in MTV, Lenny Letter, Vice, and various other publications.

This feature originally appeared in the Memory issue. Find more inspiring stories from that issue here or read Confessing to Being a Bad Friend.