I made a clean break from a long-term relationship. Not a romance. Not a binding contract. Not a coffee buddy. This was a business relationship that blossomed into a friendship. The lines blurred, making it difficult to get away.
We met in the late ’90s, when I was newly divorced, newly relocated, and in need of a pick-me-up. He was starting his career and looking for clients.
We clicked immediately, sharing the same humor, taste in music, and life philosophies. I trusted him fully with all my needs in his area of expertise. An appointment stretched for hours past the booked time as we drank coffee or beer and talked. It was the perfect relationship. He invited me to his parties and events. We knew each others’ darkest secrets. I really thought the only thing that would split us up would be my move out west.
Then, things changed, as they always do.
He jumped from one storefront location to another, citing personality conflicts. I followed. He was losing friends as well as partners, slipping slowly into a morass of his own making. I stood by him, supported him, encouraged him to stay positive. Then, he became estranged from his family for reasons that seemed trivial to me. I listened but started to feel put upon. I couldn’t get a word in most times.
It was then I realized that it had been a long time since I’d seen the breezy, funny guy I met in the late ’90s. He was moody and distant. He was slow in returning calls, late for appointments, stopped listening to my requests. His workplace was dark and empty. He excused himself repeatedly during business appointments. He was intensely angry. His hands shook when he worked. His eyes were glazed and unfocused. I slowly admitted what I’d suspected for a while: He was on something when I was paying him to perform a service. I considered that I would have to find someone new. The last time I saw him, I told him how much I cared about him, how worried I was, that he needed help to get his life back, that he deserved better.
What I didn’t say is that I would not be back, that I deserved better, too. I didn’t have the heart. As with most things, if the person isn’t well and isn’t ready to get well, then he isn’t going to listen.
The last few times I paid him for his work, I felt ripped off and angry. I questioned my loyalty and my failure to disengage from relationships turned toxic. It was time to break things off.
But how? Our suburb is like a small town. We live within blocks of each other. It could be awkward.
Not knowing any other way, I let time pass and did nothing. As I thought about my next move, the winds of fate delivered into my open hands a coupon to a similar business with glowing recommendations.
Nervous as a cheating lover, I picked up the phone and punched in the numbers. I made an appointment.
On the appointed day, I stepped into a bright place with happy people at the ready. People who remained at their work station, who did not make excuses or have suspect behavior, who engaged in polite small talk. I walked out a satisfied and peaceful customer. My worst fears were not realized.
I think I understand better now the need for professional boundaries.
My feelings are a mix of relief, of sadness over the loss of a friend and professional relationship, and the realization that nothing lasts forever.