It’s really difficult when you realize that you need to walk away from someone. It’s even worse when that person is a friend.
And if you’re like me, someone who likes to avoid confrontation at all costs. Plus an optimist at heart, so you’re always hoping a situation will get better with time and that it’ll be short lived, or go back to the way things once were. It all makes letting unhealthy friendships go even harder.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past year is the importance of letting go of people who weren’t good for me.
Reoccurring exes, abusive relationships, situationships. People who basically made me feel crap. When it comes to romance I’ve learned to not settle for anything less than healthy. I just didn’t realize that it would also lead to losing a friend. But when you focus on healthy relationships, it does make the unhealthy really obvious.
Sometimes, people bring out your worst
They drain you or make you feel bad. Constantly argue or make everything about them and don’t listen or let you speak. Hold conversations that feel really one sided and you don’t feel appreciated, respected, supported or understood. In my situation, family would often say, “Why do you put up with the way they treat you?.” To be honest, I don’t know why I did, I just always had. Loyalty to me in a friendship is something I really value. But I’ve sometimes prioritized loyalty over whether a person genuinely makes me feel good anymore.
I rationalized that we’d had years of friendship, they didn’t mean to impact on me the way they were, they were oblivious. And it wasn’t ALL the time, just most of it. There were all the good memories of what the friendship had been. We had history, and all these reasons we had become friends in the first place. But if I’m honest, these things also meant I was making constant excuses for their behaviours. I didn’t want to consider that it was an unhealthy friendship, and that we’d lost the relationship we’d once had.
It wasn’t that we grew apart in the typical way you expect a friendship might
It wasn’t distance or lifestyles that caused the drift, we just changed as people. Or maybe they didn’t, and I did. Maybe vice versa. I don’t really know. When my family asked that question, I didn’t feel like I was defending it with defiance anymore. I was sort of shrugging with an, “It is what it is” type attitude. And something did start to feel really uncomfortable about the friendship, and I was getting to that place of not being able to sit with my own excuses.
I began to see patterns and behaviours that were pretty shitty. I felt that really unsettling feeling when you know something has changed that can’t even be un-changed, when you feel like a relationship is verging towards the end. Like too many hurdles have been jumped, and you can’t move past the frustration you’re feeling. But for some reason, you’re still going forward but like in this kind of half-hearted effort mode. Where you meet, chat, you message, but it’s not uplifting anymore, it’s pretty toxic. And you’re just going through the motions.
I actually found myself asking, “Do they care about me?”. And I didn’t think they did anymore
This gloom settled in on it and every time they contacted, I felt myself wishing they hadn’t. It didn’t uplift me anymore, it actually was really hard to have in my life. Because I felt like I wasn’t really seen by them. If I spoke, they weren’t really listening, or they’d respond but absently. And that’s a pretty crap place to be as a friend.
I started to get really anxious as my phone would ping on repeat with message after message from them. My heart would race and my chest would get tight and I started to avoid spending time with them. I felt like a sounding board for their woes, with a moment here and there given to my own outpours before the mic got switched off and it was back to them. When I was around them, I felt like I was this downgraded version of myself, because I was so frustrated keeping everything in and calm in case I erupted with all these feelings.
But of course, eventually it does all come out, because it’s either that or it continues to eat away at you
There had been this ever growing sense of self-betrayal after everything I’d done to remove bad romantic relationships from my life, to still allow a friendship that had become equally inconsistent and often hurtful at times. And I realized the friendship had become something quite toxic. I had to address it because it was affecting me and actually making me feel quite bad.
I know I didn’t do it in the right way because months of frustrations poured out all at once. They had no warning that I felt like this, or that they were making me feel this way. There was this one pivotal moment that caused the situation to escalate and it had been building for months, maybe even longer if I’m honest. It was about these simple words, the “How are you?”. Realizing that I’d been listening to them for nearly two hours on a phone call only to have that question asked as I made my excuses to cut the call and then when I started to answer, only to be interrupted about something else to do with them, that moment was the trigger. Because I realized that how I was, was not of actual interest to them.
I still feel guilty that I hit them when they were unprepared. But I also felt like a weight had been lifted
And I felt guilty about that too, I still do. To let a friend go, to go through saying goodbye with only the message that you no longer want them as part of your life, that they don’t feel good for you, that’s really shitty, and you feel responsible for all that shittyness. And I was responsible for it. But I also kept reminding myself that they were a cause of the outcome too. I didn’t just decide to end a long friendship on a whim, it’d taken a long time to get there.
In the past I’ve been more tolerant, flexible and often downplayed how I felt in favour of an ‘easy life’ because I hate confrontation. So I don’t think how they acted changed over time as such, but what I was willing to put up with had. My energy had altered. I’m less tolerant and more inflexible when it comes to my needs and my boundaries, and that easy life wasn’t ever going to be achieved without building a firm awareness of what’s good for my mental health.
Maybe if I’d been more truthful in the beginning about how they made me feel at times, I wouldn’t have let all of this build up. Honest conversation might have helped. They’d have had a chance to understand and take it on board, rather than me explode with years of pent up anger. But I can’t take back how I did things. I could only prioritize what felt right for me and do something about it in that moment. My emotional and mental health had to come first. And it sounds pretty selfish and heartless to write that. But then surely it isn’t selfish to say goodbye to something that causes you pain, anxiety, sorrow or any kind of bad feelings, whatever the relationship?.
When I did tell them, they apologized for how I felt, not how they’d made me feel
In that moment, our differences were plain. I’m not perfect, in fact far from it, but the one thing I have learned this past year is to be more self-aware and accountable. I don’t get it right all the time, that’s for sure. But I’ve been there so many times in my marriage and other relationships – where I took the blame, accepted non-apologies – and I wasn’t going to that place again for a friend. The way I felt wasn’t going to be blamed as if those feelings were invalid. Because how I felt – how they had made me feel – was fact.
I’d felt unseen and unappreciated in the friendship for a long time and to top it off, unheard. I couldn’t get past that. That was friendship over for me. I couldn’t make someone understand something they didn’t want to accept or be accountable for. And I wasn’t going to apologize for my feelings, or then making a decision based on how I felt, even if it meant saying goodbye to that friendship. Of course I still think about that lost friendship and it makes me sad, because I didn’t think we ever wouldn’t be friends. It felt more traumatic than any end of a romance has ever felt in a lot of ways, because we were so close it was jarring to suddenly see them go.
And it is hard to get your head around that – that a friend you’ve known for so long isn’t there anymore, that you became different people and that didn’t gel
There was a lot of anger and bitterness I held onto for a long time afterwards because someone I’d cared about and trusted did make me feel shitty and I felt betrayed by them for that. But I know they must feel this way about me too, because losing a friend impacts both people just as much, and you must both feel all of these emotions.
But any relationship should feel healthy and positive, and occasionally a friendship just changes in a way that means going your separate ways is the right choice. It’s difficult to come to terms with that, even if the reasons are valid. I try and look back now and concentrate on all the good times we had, even if they weren’t there at the end. Because that friendship was a pivotal part of my life. But I’ll also always have this feeling of guilt and sadness, that it can’t be a part of it anymore.
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