It just happens sometimes. You’re in a relationship—whether it be romantic, familial, or just friendly—and things are going well. Until they’re really not. Suddenly the other person loathes you for no reason you can figure out and they’re blaming you for all their problems. At some point you may hear their gripes second-hand from a mutual friend, or in an enraged drunken 3am text, when you find out all the unforgivable things you’ve done to this person.
The only possible reaction you’re capable of is, “I… but… you… That is not how that happened at all!”
It’s a frustrating situation to be in. But could anything good ever come out of being cast as the villain?
It happened to me about five years ago while I was traveling. I’d known a couple over the Internet for years, and they opened their home to me as a sort of home base. At the same time they decided to remodel their kitchen and bathroom, and took out their first credit card to do so. Over the course of the next six months they went a little crazy with it, buying things they didn’t need and renting out hotel rooms for weekend staycations nearly every week.
By the time it was time for me to leave, they had maxed out their new credit card and were constantly getting into vicious fights about money. I spent many nights talking them through fights, acting as a mediator and marriage councilor. There was serious talk of separation. A divorce lawyer was found.
Then one day about a week before I was set to leave, they both realized something huge.
It was all my fault!
The only thing that had changed for them was my being there, so obviously their money troubles had to have been caused by me. Their marriage was healed overnight. I even started taking the blame for some of those life-long annoying habits that married people develop for each other: I was the one who drank straight out of the milk carton and then left it on the counter overnight. I was the one who didn’t have change to pay the milkman. I was the reason her personal laptop crashed and he had to spend hours fixing it.
They gave me the most expert silent treatment I’ve ever witnessed for the rest of my time there, not even deigning to say goodbye when I left to catch my plane. Boarding that plane, I was equally furious and distraught that after all the hours I’d spent trying to help them, after years of friendship, they ended up hating me so viciously for things that I had had no part in.
It took weeks of feeling hurt and resentful before I realized that by being the bad guy, I had saved their marriage. They’d bonded again over their mutual hatred of me. They re-learned how to forgive each other for the small things because the small things weren’t their fault! Four years later, according to her blog, they’re still married. I often think of them and wonder if I’m still being blamed for the milk.
Recently I’ve become someone else’s bad guy. A person I care about loathes me for reasons even she can’t explain. My first reaction to the situation was the same hurt and resentment I’d felt with my other friends. I wanted to defend myself, fight back, tell her that it didn’t go down that way, that actually she was the one in the wrong, and anyway, seriously, what the fuck!
But the truth is, if I care about someone, helping them is more important to me than having them like me. What she needs most is someone to blame for the many wrongs that have been done to her by others, and if she’s blaming me for all of it then she doesn’t have to dwell over the true villains in her life. The only way I can truly support her right now is to allow her to hate me.
Sometimes all we really need is a nemesis. It’s a rotten role to be cast in, but accepting it can be the most gracious thing you ever do.