Friendships are hard

Here’s a strange one.

For the past couple of years I’ve been chatting online to a guy maybe three times a week. To start with he seemed difficult to talk to and it amused me he would keep on messaging me only to not have much to say, but he was non-threatening so I humoured him. At some point he opened up a bit more and wasn’t quite such hard work, and I don’t know when it happened, but I started enjoying talking to him. That’s not the most flattering introduction, but I suppose it makes a bit more sense now.

A few days ago he dropped a bombshell on me and revealed that he has a life long degenerative physical disease that makes him disabled to the point that he has a live-in carer. It has completely thrown me. I had absolutely no idea he didn’t lead a normal if slightly boring life. It is obvious to me in retrospect that he intentionally led me to believe this because he uses his online presence as an escape from his real life, and I don’t begrudge him that one bit.

If you’d asked me last week what I felt about him I’d have just said I enjoyed talking to him and not thought any more about it. But it turns out I genuinely care about him and his well-being. I am a bit surprised. Sure, I only know him online, but the emotions are real.

He is a bit younger than me, but he is about the same age as the average life expectancy for someone with his condition. I haven’t quizzed him on this directly, because, well, how can you? But there’s a lot of variance in that average and it’s by no means impossible that he could live for another 15 years. He’s often seemed subdued in the past so I didn’t think much of it at the time, but over the last few weeks he has consistently seemed particularly low. After some deliberation, I decided to flat out ask him if he’d chosen to reveal this now because it’s getting worse and he’s worried about it. He denied it while saying he was worried about possibly increasing costs of care (due to politics), and this is very plausible, but I still can’t shake the idea.

In any case… I’m having a hard time dealing with it. There are a mixture of emotions. I feel:

Dissonance – I keep expecting to realise I imagined him telling me and actually he’s fine. A very bizarre feeling that I’m sure everyone is familiar with, but not normally in exactly this setting.
Worry – is he going to disappear at some point soon?
Frustration – because his situation is really fucking unfair and it is completely beyond anyone’s abilities to change it.
Absolute confusion – because, what do I do now? The answer to this is I keep treating him as I did, which is what I want to do and what (I assume) he wants me to do. But what I did before was I chatted to him a few times a week, or less if not convenient, feeling absolutely no obligation to do so. I think it’s important for both of us that I keep this casual approach going, but now I have to make an effort to keep it casual because I feel a mental obligation to entertain him and try to make his life better… which I can’t and shouldn’t try to do.

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