Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s Power editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.
I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life and I don’t know how to fix it.
I’ve been friends with this girl, let’s call her Beth, since high school. We went to college in different states but stayed in touch over the years, and when we both wound up in the same city for work we became very close. I struggle with making female friends (frankly, my depression and anxiety sometimes make it hard to have friends at all) so it’s been very important to me that Beth and I have been friends for so long, and why I’m so mad at myself for fucking it all up and hurting her.
About six months ago, I was struggling both personally and professionally and not coping well — I can’t afford therapy right now and I was self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. One night, I was out with Beth and her boyfriend and drank way too much. Beth left early because she had a work thing and I ended up taking her boyfriend home. It only happened once, I barely remember doing it, and I immediately felt awful about it. So awful that I stopped drinking, and made him swear he would never tell Beth. Well, a few months ago he decided to confess, and she promptly dumped him and me.
I’ve tried apologizing. I know this is my fault and that being drunk or my mental illness are not an excuse for what I did. To be honest, I don’t even know why I did it. I understand if she never speaks to me again but I miss her and I feel so guilty. Is there any way to get her to forgive me?
I fantasize about dying a lot. These aren’t suicidal thoughts, per se, so much as daydreams about being diagnosed with a terminal illness and having two months to live. The medical details are always unclear but suffice it to say this diagnosis will not be overly painful or cause significant physical changes. Is there a disease that makes you hotter as it kills you? If so, that’s the one I will have.
Anyways, the truly deranged part is that in this fantasy I write an essay about dying. It is, of course, the best thing I have ever written — vulnerable but witty, clear-eyed, and wise. People gush about this essay. They say it was beautiful, and that it truly meant something, despite being too short. They will also say this about my life. People who have hurt me will read it and feel ashamed; more importantly, those I have wounded or betrayed will read it and forgive me.
You hardly come to write a column called “Ask a Fuck-Up” without burning a few bridges along the way, and while I’ve never slept with a friend’s partner, there are a number of people out there who have justifiably concluded their lives were improved by my absence. I’ve tried apologizing to them, to no avail, and this confounds me. So the way I imagine earning forgiveness is by dying, which notably requires very little work from me.
Even that may not be enough for Beth, though, and I’m sorry to tell you this is simply something you have to live with. I sometimes think that what people hate more than being disliked is being misunderstood — this truth becomes apparent every time someone melts down online — so I know how desperately you would like to make your friend understand that you are not a bad person. Maybe you aren’t, I don’t know enough about you to make that call. But I would guess your deeper fear is that Beth understands you more clearly now than ever before, because you are the sort of person who profoundly betrays a close friend.
There is going to be at least one person out there who knows this about you, forever, and this fact will likely enter your brain at odd times for decades. Rather than hide from it, which is what you are in some ways trying to do by asking for forgiveness, you can use this to make sure you never, ever behave in such a way again. Shame gets a bad rap, but it’s not always a bad thing. You did something shameful and this is the consequence.
I think it’s pretty obvious that you were trying to blow up your own life, and that’s a feeling I know very well. The problem is that you just keep on living in the rubble. Beth is likely busy rebuilding, but in contrast to you she wasn’t an agent in the destruction. Leave her alone while you do the hard work of figuring out why you were.
Have a question for A Fuck-up? Email DearFuckup@theoutline.com