Wednesday, December 4, 2013

When to Let Friendships Go



The phrase ‘best friends forever’ has been around for a very long time, and many people try to hold up their end of the bargain and stick around forever. However, this is not always feasible or healthy. Most of us are familiar with the recognizing when it is time to break up a romance, but not so much with a friendship. Here are my worthless two cents on why breakups are natural, how to come through this in one piece, and recognizing the signs that a friendship needs to end.

Growing Up
As a child, I remember the whole ‘best friend forever’ thing. Not only that, but I also remember having a best friend for life. In fact, I have had five that immediately come to mind. It is natural enough for naïve children to think that someone will be in their life forever, a friend to confide in, laugh with, hang out with, and to experience an interchange of support with through the hard times.

Then problems come as we get older, our interests, goals, and lifestyles change, and we form closer relationships to others that are more in sync with ourselves at the moment. Contact information gets lost, priorities shift, and the next thing you know, you haven’t seen your ‘best friend for life’ in years. The idea of this normal process is inconceivable to a child, but to most adults, that’s just how it is. Don’t get me wrong, there are friends who have stayed close throughout their lives, but these have allowed each other the space needed to grow.

Keeping in Touch
It can be difficult moving away from a close friend, going separate ways after high school or college, or going to a different job, but it gets easier when one eases into it. Instead of cutting off close friends cold, we have a number of ways to keep in touch today, ways that just didn’t exist a few decades ago. There is Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, e-mail, texting, calling, and for those that are stuck in the dinosaur age, a good old-fashioned handwritten letter (actually, I love writing letters).

I used to try to keep in touch before realizing that I am terrible at it. Of everyone from my past, I only reach out to my best friend from high school. One of us will call or e-mail the other once a year. We used to talk on the phone every day, I spent the night over her house, and she knew all of my secrets about the boys I liked. I even selected my college based solely on the fact that she was going there.

Am I heartbroken about our separation? Heck no! I have a lot of friends in my current life, so I am not suffering from a lack of friendship. I am only using this as an example to show how we can get through something that at one time seemed inconceivable.

It is must healthier for friendships to go their separate ways than to face the unsavory situation of holding on to the other person with a death grip, refusing to let them go. That is much more harmful because the person could resent their friend for trying to keep them from growing in some way. Instead of fighting to keep friends close, it is much better to let them go. That way if they do cross paths again, they have so much to catch up on.

Toxic Friendships
Much more stressful than losing a close friend is dealing with a toxic relationship. Many of us are in toxic relationships that probably need to end and do not realize it. First, let me say that I am not trying to break up friendships with this part of the article, but perhaps recognizing the signs will help some to see how they can steer their friendship back on the right track if possible.

Why do people keep toxic friends around? It could be due to a sense of loyalty. This could come from nothing other than the fact that the individual is loyal, especially if it is a part of one’s cultural heritage. Or perhaps the toxic friend helped the person in some large way and the person feels indebted to him/her. Another reason why some keep a toxic friend around is because there are no better choices. Maybe the individual is very introverted or does not have time to meet other people, so to get some socializing in they keep turning to their toxic friend.

Reading the following will instantly make readers think of teenage girls, but the truth of the matter is that toxic friendships come in all ages; I just let go of my fourth toxic friendship in my adulthood, and I am almost thirty! Here are some things to watch out for. I am not talking about the occasional indiscretion, but a pattern of behavior.

You feel worst about yourself. The biggest indicator of a toxic friendship is recognizing how you feel after leaving that person’s company. One reason why many of us hang out with friends is to walk away feeling better about ourselves, like we enjoyed ourselves in someone else’s presence. We all like to joke around with one another, but do you oftentimes feel like your friend is taking things a little too far? If they are a good friend, then they should know which subjects are off limits as comedic material. Or perhaps they constantly harp on your failings instead of your successes. Remember, friends should build us up, not seek to keep us down so they can look good by comparison.

No confidentiality. Close friends know each other’s secrets, but more importantly they keep them. Do you have a friend who constantly tells your business? With this one I have to back up just a little and invite those who have a friend like this to investigate their own behavior because ones who gossip about you probably are also gossiping to you. If you do not want things said about you, then do not say or listen to gossip about others. On the other hand, if the gossip really is one-sided, it is worth considering why you keep telling this person your business. Gossipers like being the one in the know about everything and being the first person to break news to others. In other words, they seldom have a life of their own which is why they are busybodies in others’ affairs.

Outright bully tactics. Simply put, you know if your friend is using a bully tactic if you are slightly or largely afraid of him/her. If they try to intimidate you with physical force, use your personal information as leverage, or have an addiction to alcohol or drugs that makes them turn into Mr. Hyde, all of these things are bully tactics. They could even regularly call you names that make you feel badly.

Makes you feel guilty. This is the kind of friend who has had a bad life and has made bad decisions that they are still dealing with. Instead of taking responsibility for it, they try to make you feel guilty for having a better life to trick you into doing things for them. This is not a friend, but a child for you to babysit.

Overly needy. Closely related is the overly needy friend. You have an overly needy friend if you do everything for him/her. I think most people want to be helpful to their friends, but this friend takes it too far, demanding either too much of your resources or your time. And when it is your turn to ask your friend for help they cannot be found, regardless of how simple your request may be.

I once had an overly needy friend who was also a co-worker that I dismissed after only seven months. When I say that she wanted me to do everything with her, I mean literally everything: She wanted me to walk with her to and from the cafeteria at work, walk with her to departmental meetings, create invitations for her parties, tell her my plans for each day, report to her when I was late for work to explain why, drive her all around town to run errands every day so that she would not get caught driving a car with expired registration despite the fact that she lived on the other side of town, go with her to doctor’s appointments, go with her for overnight labs, loan her money every two weeks, and give her advice on different topics every day that she would ask about just to explain to me why her ideas are right and mine are wrong. She sucked the life out of me! But when I needed something, she came up with some lame excuse why she cannot do it. One time, I asked her to get me fresh vegetables from the produce section of the store while she was on the way to my house and I would reimburse her, but she said she could not do it because she did not know what I meant by the term ‘produce’ (oh, I should have mentioned that this chick was just plain weird, too), as if she could not ask someone who worked there to help her.

Think they know best for you. This is a friend whose life is probably falling apart, yet they have lots of advice to give to you about how you should handle your affairs. The toxic friend I just mentioned had this trait as well. I will not go into details about how many issues she has perhaps even mentally (some things she said just were not logical at all), but she had a thought about what I should do for every little thing. Even if your friend is a major success, your life is yours, not theirs. They need to respect your decisions and keep their yap shut. There is a difference between offering a little advice and constantly telling you what to do.


Now it’s your turn to get involved. How have you dealt with separating with a close friend? Have you ever dealt with a toxic friend or do you have one now, and how have you dealt with that?


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