I had to do something hard this week. I had to let go of a friend—temporarily at least and possibly longer. The friendship had become strained and unhealthy over time. I’ve had to do this before, but it’s usually been with someone who is obviously destructive to my life. But, this time, it wasn’t a bad person and it took me by surprise…even though it was my choice; however, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a completely appropriate and needed decision. I put a lot of thought and care into the situation so that when I came to the conclusion of saying “goodbye for now”, I knew it was the right thing even though I still love that person. I was feeling too negative about the situation and certain things that had transpired.
If a friend is bringing out negative feelings in you, it may be a good sign that the friendship is what many call toxic. It’s a strong word, but it’s fitting in that anything that breeds negative feelings is emotionally poisonous. A friendship can involve two good people and still be toxic. It can be toxic for one and not the other. But, if there are negative thoughts, words, and actions being tossed around, something isn’t right. But still, there seems to be this expectation that friendships should always weather these issues. That’s just not realistic.
Dr. Irene Levine is the author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. In an online Pscyhology Today blog, Dr. Levine talks about how the media romanticizes female relationships in novels, movies, etc. She claims that people “tend to shy away from talking about girlfriend breakups…because women are often judged by their ability to make and keep friends.” I could not agree more and it’s often unfortunate and unfair. She says that “men attribute (female) breakups to stereotypical female cattiness.” But what about the women who walk away from friendships to get away from this? I walk away because I don’t want to engage in so-called typical female cattiness. I want to break that stereotype.
Dr. Levine goes on to talk about the expectation that close friendships are meant to last forever but that most of them fall apart at some point. I’d like to think that as we get older this happens less. For me, at this point in my life, I’m looking to really establish a healthy circle of friends that I can hang onto for life. I want the kind of relationships that provide nurturing and bonding complimented by space—the kind that can bend with changes so they can last. Creating this healthy circle of friends may mean letting go of some who don’t contribute to that goal. Levine does say that female relationships—apart from couple friendships—are really important. I certainly agree with that. But, they should be based on honesty and trust rather than habit.
People do outgrow friendships and that is okay. People change, have different experiences, and develop new needs. Stuff happens: marriage, children, moving. These things change us. But, we too often treat friendships as if they should stay the same and last forever and it’s abnormal if they don’t. It’s an ideal and it does happen, but it’s perfectly natural to step back, assess a relationship, and determine that it may be unhealthy. We expect people to choose healthy romantic partners and to leave them when they aren’t. Why don’t we have that same expectation for friendships?
Because there’s this unrealistic idea that we must be loyal and to be otherwise means betrayal, but loyalty isn’t sticking around in a friendship that’s painful. True friendship isn’t about acting or looking the part. True friendship is flexible, spacious, and free.
An area where I need space is phone communication. Most of my friends know I’m a terrible phone person. Most everyone in my family is this way. We’ll talk on the phone, but we aren’t the type to pick up and call people to chat for long lengths of time. We aren’t the type to wait by the phone. At least, I haven’t been that way since my single life of marginally messy love liaisons. This doesn’t mean I won’t talk on the phone and don’t even enjoy it sometimes. I’m just a little allergic to it, and, in a world obsessed with phones, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. But, I have tried to be more available when friends do call and I’ve made a concentrated effort to call my friends more.
Trying to be a better phone-caller is where I give. And, in return I expect my friends to give back by understanding that I’m just not a phone person. Yes, my friends will probably always call me more than I call them, but I try to make up for that in other ways. I email. I am a writer, so that is where I’m most comfortable. Oddly enough, I enjoy Skype. I like it more than the phone by far. I think it’s because I can see the person. I find it easier to be engaged.
This is where real friendship is. It’s give and take. It’s allowing minor flaws—the non-toxic ones at least—to be what they are. It’s understanding that we lead busy lives and have lots of people in them, especially after living in two countries, three states, and seven cities. It’s understanding that though I may not get back to you right away, I WILL get back to you. For the most part, all of my friends respect this unspoken rule and seem to live by it as well. That’s why our friendships work. But, sometimes they don’t work. Sometimes the give and take just doesn’t happen. But, I’m always trying. Here’s to me sucking it up and picking up the damn phone every once in a while…as I’ve been told I should.
Resource:Breaking Up with Friends: Can You Empathize?