Once upon a time John sat in his Elder’s Quorum, as he did every Sunday. He chatted with his fellow elders about general films and games they had seen, nothing deep, just killing time before the lesson started. As the EQP gathered the class’s attention, John noticed a stranger slip in from the doorway and take the seat next to his.
“I’m Bill,” the stranger said while offering a friendly hand and a smile.
“John, are you new?”
“Yeah, I just moved in. I’m kind of nervous.” Said Bill
“Well don’t be, this is a great ward!” replied John who began pointing out key people in the quorum.
Throughout the rest of the Sunday Bill stayed with John through classes and into sacrament. The pair learned that they had much in common with regards to interests and hobbies, even serving in missions that bordered each other. Throughout the service John noticed an excitement in his chest as he got to know his new friend, and was almost disappointed when church ended and they went their separate ways.
Bill and John saw a lot more of each other over the proceeding weeks, from ward activities to hanging out at each other’s homes. John found himself becoming increasingly excited to see Bill, and couldn’t wait for Bill’s next text or phone call inviting him to do something. Sundays were paradise for John as he got to see his friend for three straight hours and sat next to each other the entire time.
About a month after Bill moved in he met Laura. She was young, beautiful, smart, and always seemed to say just the wrong thing to make her cute without being annoying, something Bill loved. The next Sunday, Bill asked Laura to sit with him and John during Sunday school, an invite which tugged a little at John. The pulling only got increasingly worse as Bill spent the entire meeting talking to Laura, an act John found incredibly rude considering they were in church to hear the gospel and not to chat (despite the fact that if asked he wouldn’t be able to say what was taught last week since he had spent Sunday school talking to Bill). The tugging became a full-blown knife to the chest as Bill asked if they could sit with Laura’s pack of giggling relief society members in sacrament. John felt extremely uncomfortable as Bill and Laura exchanged notes throughout the entire meeting.
The next week was a nightmare for John. When Bill would answer his texts they were always late, and John’s phone calls to him were always interrupted by Laura asking a question somewhere on the other side. Bill suddenly didn’t have time for John anymore since he now wanted to hang out with Laura, and this cut John straight to the bone. Yes John had other friends, but he thought Bill was more than that, like a best friend or a brother. Surely you didn’t discard a brother.
The next week in elder’s quorum John sat in the back, glaring at the door for Bill to arrive. When he did, with Laura on his arm, John took another dagger when he watched them exchange a quick kiss goodbye only for Bill to come and sit next to him.
“Hay bud, what’s up?” Bill greeted in his usual cheerful mood.
“I haven’t seen you in a while.” Said John, not looking at Bill.
“Yeah, I’ve been busy, sorry man. Laura and I have been hanging out a lot.”
“Yeah, it seems you and Laura have really hit it off, so much that you don’t even want to hang out with your friends”.
“That’s not true, I asked if you wanted to join us and you said no.”
“Yeah, because I wanted to spend time with you, not Laura and her friends.”
“Um… Why are you acting so weird?”
“Whatever, I just don’t care anymore.” Then John found himself a few moments later crying in his car and wondering how he had lost a friend.
Does this sound familiar? Has this story ever happened to you in some way at some point in your life? Maybe if not in the elder’s quorum but in high school? College? On the mission? If it has then you’ve probably been the victim of emotional dependency, an affliction which is almost as common among SSA men as pornography.
What is emotional dependency? Emotional dependency (ED for short, not to be confused with Erectile Dysfunction which is this WHOLE other problem) happens when one person puts their entire emotional well-being in another, to the exclusion of everyone else.
Symptoms may include but are not limited to:
- Extreme feelings of euphoria when subject is present
- Extreme feelings of worry, loneliness or sadness when person is not present
- Obsessive thoughts about other
- Loss of interest in activities or relationships that do not include the other person
- Emotional need to be with the other one on one, and depression or anger if the scenario cannot happen
- Extreme jealousy at other person’s friends or family
Many of these symptoms may sound like what’s to be expected when someone falls in love, but the key word here is extreme. Falling in love does not mean seeing one person to the loss of everything else, but ED does. ED makes what usually feels like an exciting adventure in making a friend into an extreme emotional roller coaster between the highs of “He likes me!” to the lows of “Does he like me?”. Should the target’s attention be perceived as waning even for an instant, the victim can suddenly feel a heavy degree of rejection, sorrow, and agony, as if their tender hearts were carelessly thrown into a trash compactor.
Is there hope? I can gladly say that yes, there is hope for both those who are currently in an emotional relationship and for those who want to avoid the pain one can cause, or even avoid them again.
To break an ED relationship:
1: Start seeing the flaws: Your friend is an imperfect human being, incapable of being the perfect friend to you all the time. He may run late to things, have an annoying eating habit, not wash his hands after he goes to the bathroom, whatever. Start seeing the flaws in the perfect façade you may’ve given him.
2: Start seeing other friends: Remember that there are 7 billion people in the world, this person doesn’t have to be your only source of fun and validation. Explore other relationships, especially any you discarded for an unhealthy one.
3: Do NOT go cold turkey: Don’t instantly cut off an ED relationship unless you absolutely have to. That will only cause more pain to both you and him, and it won’t help you if you ever get into another unhealthy relationship. Gently pull away, giving each other space, and see if the relationship can be salvaged in any way. It may not burn as bright, but it may burn longer.
4: Talk to your friend: Be honest with how your feeling with the friend. Explain how you feel you need to focus on other things in your life but that you still care about them and their needs, but that your emotional health is important too. You’d be surprised how many men can be supportive of someone trying to make friends.
To avoid an ED relationship:
1: Don’t make one person your only friend: A healthy social circle includes many people of various backgrounds and personalities, so try not to have one person be your entire social life. Always be open to meeting new people and making friends in places you wouldn’t normally think of.
2: Don’t rebuild your life based around one person: It might be tempting to change what you already have to only accommodate one person, but it’s more healthy to try to incorporate them just as much into your current life. Invite them to join you and your friends in activities you do already, as well as join them in theirs. Try to incorporate your current friends into your new friendships, that way you can better put them in the context of being part of a group than an individual.
3: Do NOT isolate to avoid ED relationships: If you’ve ever been in an ED relationship, you know how hard it is to get out of them and how much it hurts being in one, so your instinct may be to withdraw entirely so you never go through the pain. This is the absolutely wrong concept. Not all relationships become unhealthy, and not all exciting new friendships are ED, so be open to meeting new people and making friends. Just realize that with every new person you may meet your next best friend or you may not, both are okay.
My last tip is this: Being in an ED relationship or having been in one is nothing to be ashamed of, it simply means that you wanted to love somebody and be loved in return that you took it to an extreme, like a little kid eating too much ice cream. Let people know what’s happened and what’s going on with new friendships, so that those that love you might know what to look for to better help you stay healthy and happy.