Someone recently told me that no healthy friendship ends dramatically.
Looking back, I can pinpoint a few of my friendships that did end dramatically, and with the clear eyes of someone removed from those situations, I can see how right she was when she said those words.
Friendships change. They fade. People change. And some of our relationships are entirely dependent on the person that we were when they took place. I had plenty of friends in high school and undergrad who are little more than Facebook friendships to me now. I think of them fondly, I am glad I knew them, but we are not truly friends anymore.
That is okay. We had our places in each other’s lives, and now, we have moved on to new things.
Have you ever thought about how much you know about people you now know nothing about? Do you think about all of the birthdays you can remember? The favorite colors? The future plans?
Sometimes, I wish I could shred some of that information. I wish I could throw it away. I wish I never thought of it. And, inevitably, those things I wish I could forget are the pieces of information that I gained from the friendships that ended dramatically.
One such friendship was the one I shared with my best friend in the world from the end of seventh through ninth grade. We were inseparable. We shared a bed during sleepovers and spent the summers together every day. One day early during sophomore year, she was mad at me and, without realizing how close I stood to her, she told someone I did not even know how horrible of a person I was turning out to be. When I called her on it, she proceeded to work on turning people against me. Very high school.
When it was all over a year later, I was better off without her. And the people who stayed around were the ones who led me to Saint Daddy’s arms. But I remember her birthday, her favorite color, and that she wanted to name a son Bastian. Years later, she made the news for committing a heinous crime, and that last fact haunted me for months.
It was not a healthy friendship. That is why it ended so dramatically.
I was friends with someone else, someone whose friendship defined my life while it lasted. She asked more of me than I was willing to give, but I gave it anyway to see her happy. It strained my other relationships. It strained me. I had many sleepless nights as our friendship progressed. She manipulated my feelings and gaslighted me. If she was upset, I could be doing more to fix it. If I was upset, there was nothing she could do, she said. Sometimes, she ignored me entirely for a day or two and then apologized with a gift. Looking back, I can see it for the abusive relationship that it was, but at the time, I was committed to maintaining it. I was not happy.
Friendship should not be a chore.
That is the other thing that person mentioned in our conversation. Friendship should not be a chore.
I do not know why some of us choose to stay in toxic friendships. I can only speak for myself.
I have mentioned before that my anxiety makes me cling to this notion that everything is perfect, even when it is not. Walking away from a friendship is providing evidence that I could not make a relationship work. Having a friendship end is providing evidence that I was not loved enough.
My anxiety rages against both of those ideas.
I cannot be a failure. I cannot be a failure. I cannot be a failure.
Losing a friendship appears to me as failure.
As with many thoughts that my anxiety brings to the forefront, this idea is a little ridiculous. Continuing to love toxic people does not save me. And sometimes, I have to be the one saved. Saint Daddy has saved me.
In both of these relationships, he was the light at the end of the tunnel. The first one because that lost friendship led to the ones that took me into Saint Daddy’s arms. In the second, he was there the entire time, watching me foolishly put her ahead of everything else until he told me it was time to stop. And I did. For him. I am grateful for him asking me to stop it. He saved me. He usually does.
How do you know a friendship is toxic?
Does one of you get inordinately jealous if the other one has other friends? I do not mean something simple like, “Man, I wish I was going out with you tonight instead of staying home.” More like, “I can’t believe you told someone else that completely mundane part of your day and didn’t even mention it to me. I thought I was your best friend!” That is obsessive, and it is unhealthy.
Does one of you demand that attention be on them instead of any other person? This is for long periods of time and also for small periods. If you are at your niece’s birthday party, for instance, and you keep getting texts about how you should not be ignoring your friend, that is unhealthy. Walk away.
Does one of you expect emotional support and validation while consistently diminishing the feelings of the other? If every time one of you says you are having a tough time the other one mentions how her life is harder, that is unhealthy. We all have terrible things going on in our lives, and friends can acknowledge the suffering of each other while still knowing that they are hurting themselves.
Pain is not a competition.
Does one of you seem to disappear when the other needs support? If your kids are sick or work is hard or money is tight, does your friend tell you that sucks and then ignore you until they need something themselves? That is unhealthy. It is similar to the previous paragraph, but it deserves emphasis. Caring goes both ways.
I am an anxious person. I am incredibly introspective. I notice little things. I internalize.
If one of you turns to the other and says that they felt belittled or hurt by the behavior of the other, does the other person brush it off as irrational? Do they provide excuses instead of acknowledging the hurt. If they do, the relationship is unhealthy.
I am not perfect. I may very well have been the toxic person in a relationship or two over the years. I try not to be.
Jane Austen wrote: “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it’s not in my nature.”
I like to believe that I live up to that ideal. I love completely when I can. I am loyal to a fault sometimes (it is how I end up holding on to toxic relationships). My anxiety makes me desire perfection and positive reception at all times (again, sometimes to a fault).
But there is no shame in leaving a toxic friendship. If it is the right thing for your mental health… If your friendship does feel like a chore… Walk away.
It is okay to take care of yourself. It is okay to take care of myself.
Think of it this way: If you had a friend who was in a relationship where they were constantly being hurt, what advice would you give them?
Be your own friend. Take your own advice.
Let go of the toxicity in your life.
This is like an open letter from someone who has been there.
I cannot allow my anxiety to put me into situations that contribute to the further deterioration of my mental health. I cannot lose my spirit in pursuit of someone else.
What do I have?
Saint Daddy is my heart and soul. He is my first and my last. He is my solid ground. He is so much more than my best friend. He understands every little piece of me.
My best friend hears my silence. She validates my feelings. She supports me endlessly. She is family that I have chosen for myself.
My BFFL is a constant. She is like a sister to me. She gives me stellar professional advice and a reliable sounding board.
I have my babies, my sisters, my mom. I have some of the best colleagues in the world.
I am letting go of the toxic and surrounding myself with people who are good and loving.
If you are putting up with toxicity, I challenge you to do the same.