When to End a Friendship
Friends. They're "like diamonds, precious and rare," "good as gold." And, increasingly difficult to come by. And, they're forever, right? So we should do everything possible to keep all the friendships we have, right?
If we were all to remain stagnant, exactly as we always have been without change, growth and steps forward and back, yes, we could probably maintain many lifelong friendships. But we all change in different ways, at different rates. As Heraclitus said, "The only constant is change." With all that movement, some friendships can endure, but many will not. Sadly, there are friendships we may want or need to let go of, as there are friends who may want or need to let go of us. As difficult as it may be to accept sometimes, it is the normal evolution of things.
Severing a relationship in which you've invested time, energy and, most importantly, heart, is not easy. But, do you keep a friendship that doesn't fit anymore, or that's even unhealthy? By keeping friends who no longer suit you, or who hold you back, you're risking your own happiness and well-being. And you can't possibly create space for new nurturing, vigorous relationships.
But, you say, "Letting go isn't so easy."
Know the Signs
If your friend steals your spouse or talks trash about you to your boss, things are clear. Deception or calculated attempts to hurt are easy to recognize. But, most of the time, signals aren't that obvious -- thankfully. Additionally, we're taught to be forgiving, s/he's a friend, afterall. When things go wrong or we're hurt, we say to ourselves, "s/he didn't do it on purpose," ''Oh, s/he's just that way," or "she's just been really stressed out lately." (even if '"lately" is over the past two years) But closing our eyes and being so forgiving over prolonged periods of time isn't just unwise and naïve, it can be unhealthy.
Is it time to end a friendship? Here are a few questions to ask yourself that might help.
Do I feel better after meeting up?
Does your friend put a bounce in your step? Does s/he leave you feeling inspired and motivated, or calmed and grounded?
Do you say to yourself, "Oh my God, that was just painful!"? Do you feel as though you've been sucked of energy? Or, do you feel angry with your friend, with others, or yourself? Exasperated? Disappointed?
Everyone goes through bummer periods, and part of being a friend means sticking with friends through tough times. But if you always feel bad or "sucked dry" when seeing this friend, s/he's a vampire and is draining you of energy and "spirit" that is rightly yours. It's the stuff of life that could be put to more constructive use for your own well-being. You may do better to take what's yours and go home!
One writer friend and I try to meet up once a week. I go away from our time together energized and filled with so many ideas, I feel there aren't enough hours in the day or days in the week. She tells me she feels the same. Do I feel better after meeting up? Absolutely! Is this what we should expect? Absolutely!
Does this friend bring out the best in me?
Do you go away from time with this friend feeling good about yourself? Or having learned something about you to be proud of? Do you feel you brought value?
Do you think, "I'm a bad person" or "I feel so stupid"? Maybe you experience a vague unease, or a feeling that something's not quite right.
"I realized that we'd spent the entire lunch griping about and laughing at our common friends ... people who I actually like," Sarah said. "Caroline just pulled me right into the mood. We were having fun at other people's expense."
Okay, none of us is perfect. Who doesn't like a good ol' gossip session once in a while? But, some people are expert at "stirring up the pot" and gathering those around them to belittle others. "I really didn't like who I had become during that lunch," Sarah said.
People who seek to criticize others and situations, who take comfort in putting down those around are, themselves, cheerless. Their cheerlessness is contagious and you'll surely catch it. These people are not capable of finding the best in themselves and they're certainly not interested in finding the best in you.
I have the luck to belong to a speakers' group where members look to improve themselves. It's a "safe" place where we all give and receive positive, constructive feedback. The goal is to bring out the best in us all.
Is this friend a positive influence on my life?
Does your friend encourage growth in other areas of life? Does s/he support you in doing what you love, even if it differs from his/her own interests? And, is it done in an affirming, non-condescending way?
Do you find there's a domino effect starting up in your life? Do your friend's problems emerge as yours? Are her bad moods becoming a part of you? Do things you love no longer have the same sparkle they used to?
Pam went through an arduous period with her friend, Amelia. Amelia was going through a long-term on-again, off-again relationship which enveloped all her energy and emotions. Pam was her sounding board, ear and confidante. But Amelia's relationship problems began "encroaching." Pam started having more arguments at home with her own husband. Realizing that she was bringing home her friend's problems and sabotaging her own marriage, Pam had to quit the friendship cold-turkey. The guilt she experienced was terrible, but she did what she had to do for her own life.
When your own life starts being dragged down by your friend, consider it's time to cut the rope.
When I haven't been in touch, how do I feel?
That project has had you working late nights, you've been cramming for exams, or your child's brought home a slew of viruses from school. You haven't had time to see your friend. Do you feel sad not to be in touch? Looking forward to catching up? Or do you feel guilty? Dreading the first phone call? Have you felt relief not seeing him/her?
Some years ago, I went through a difficult phase. I had moved from a city that I loved, to live with my then boyfriend. I had given up my job, left friends behind and began having health problems. I fell into a depression, and tiring of complaining to friends, hid myself away. One day I received a scathing email from a long-term friend. She berated me for being a horrible friend and accused me of forgetting friends because I had a new boyfriend. She knew I was unhappy, but my silence was all about her. That email was invaluable. For the first time I saw what our friendship was. For several years, she had taken the lead and I followed willingly. We did what she wanted to do, in the way she wanted it done. I was busy forging my career and had little time for social planning. It worked for me; it worked for her. But the friendship turned. I had to always make sure to call her when I was supposed to, I agonized over the right birthday and Christmas presents, I answered emails in a timely manner, and even made sure I dressed well in her company. None of it was done out of love or caring, it was out of fear of being bullied and guilt for being "a bad friend."
If I had taken the time to ask myself how I felt without her, I would've realized that there was more relief than a sense of loss.
If you feel mostly guilty, fearful, or relieved when you don't see your friend, free yourself!
Do we both make an effort?
Often, there's one person who makes more of an effort in keeping a friendship going. This is only natural. But do you find you're always the one who calls or initiates? If so, it's possible the other person is trying to send a signal to move the friendship back a notch.
Do you find that you somehow never manage to take the initiative? Are you unconsciously sending a signal to your friend or to yourself?
Of course it's also possible that you've both just fallen into a bad routine that you've only now become conscious of. If you think this is the case, a sit down together, and a gentle conversation about sharing more of the effort may be all it takes to get the friendship back into good health.
I've been on both ends of this dilemma: In one case, I've been the friend who has consistently put in little effort; in another case, I've been the one almost always to initiate. In the first case, my friend has had to make many compromises in her expectations of me; in return, I've tried to make greater effort -- though I will likely never give her all that she wants from me. In the other case, I've had to lower my expectations and resign myself to making all the compromises. In both cases, I know that what I get from the friendships far exceed the "inconveniences."
As you can see, this question is anything but simple. The bottom line is to weigh the pleasure against the pain. If there's more pain, get out.
Do I get my turn, too?
No relationship is always 50/50. One day it might be 30/70, the next week 60/40, and once in awhile, it could even be 10/90. But do you find that there's always an imbalance that's not in your favor? Does your friend consistently monopolize the conversation about what's s/he's doing and doesn't ask about you? Is s/he always the one who's in need. If so, s/he has an imbalanced view of your friendship and you might want to reconsider what you're doing there.
If you're typically a good listener and "un-needy", you may be oblivious until the day comes when you need a bit of attention. If you're not really sure (after all who really keeps a tally?), watch for tell-tale signs when you're in a group. When you talk with others about your life, does s/he pipe up and say, "Hey, you never told me about that!"? Assuming you're not keeping secrets, it's likely that s/he never gives you the opportunity to talk about you.
"I called her to ask her a specific set of questions," Patricia said of a friend she's trying to break off with. "Before I could get a word in, the conversation was all about her. She talked and talked and when she was finished, she said, 'oh I gotta go. It was great talking to you.' I never got to ask her my questions. That's so typical."
A friend who never gives you your turn, can little by little make you feel invisible and insignificant. It can sneak up on you, and suddenly hit you in the face. If your goal is to gain super hero status as the invisible man or woman, unrecognized for being who you really are and what you have to offer, hold this friend close and dear.
Am I allowed to feel the joy?
Do you freely and easily talk about the joyful events in your life? Do you feel supported by your friend for the good that happens?
"It's like she's got killjoy radar!" Susan said. "Whenever something great happens in my life ... when I've got something I'm proud of, she finds something to criticize or finds a way to twist the situation around so you see the negative side."
Some people really do seem to have radar. They home in on joyfulness and then send in the bomb. I, unfortunately, know one woman who is expert at this. On the surface, she appears very happy for me. She compliments me and finds nice things to say, but ... She always has a "but" and manages to dull the brightness of the situation.
Stick with this friend if Mudville's your intended destination. No joy!
Take a Deep Breath
We cling to our friendships, they're precious and rare. But when a diamond turns to coal, if through some alchemy that gold turns to lead, it's the time to let it go and move on!
Know that it's not really important whether someone makes you feel invisible, joyless, bullied, guilty, sucked of energy, or stupid. What is important is that this person makes you feel bad. That reason, and that reason alone, is enough to think about ending it.
Congratulations, you've taken the first step toward creating positive space in your life by identifying if a friend is dear to you, or just a habit, obligation and unhealthy.
Next Step: How to break off a friendship.
You're welcome to share your experience here, or I just discovered that you can also express yourself and Tweet it on #ourfriendshipendedwhen