when to let go: friendships edition.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve never been too good at the whole “letting go” thing. I was absolutely horrible at it in high school (um, just ask any of my ex-boyfriends — I was a pain to break up with!) I didn’t get any better at it as I got older, either. Instead, over the years, I decided that the only way to rid myself of the pain of letting go was to never let anyone in in the first place. If you’re never close to anyone you have nothing to lose, right? Wrong. You’re already missing out on everything fun & awesome & good about life — and you’re not allowing yourself to learn how to have balanced, healthy friendships.
It sounds so scientific to talk about friendships like we’re talking about our dinner plates, I know. How can friendships really be labeled with words like “healthy” and “balanced”? Plus, when these words are thrown around to describe, well, everything — how do you know what it really means to have a healthy and balanced friendship?
I’m no expert, but I have definitely experienced a wide array of different friendships — and picked up a few cues as to what makes them work & what doesn’t.
So, how do you know when a friendship isn’t working?
1. when one, or both, of you has developed a chronic, unhealthy habit. Drugs, binge drinking, excessive shopping or consumption, reckless sex with strangers — none of this is good for a friendship. While everybody is allowed to let loose every once in awhile — key phrase being “once in awhile” — engaging in potentially dangerous acts on a consistent basis is just not cool. For your friend, or yourself! Watching a friend destroy themselves is probably the worst feeling in the world. And I’ve watched enough episodes of Intervention to know that if you continue to excuse your buddy’s bad behavior, you’re doing nothing but enabling them to continue it. Sometimes you have to completely cut off contact with pals who just don’t get that what they’re doing sucks. The good news? Sometimes the threat of losing your friendship is enough to shake them up a little. And if it’s not? There’s really nothing you can do. You are only ever responsible for yourself — and they, themselves.
2. when your interests have shifted dramatically. I have a friend right now who is like my polar opposite (besides the fact that we’re two of the smallest people on the planet), but we’ve been friends for over 11 years. However, as is completely normal and expected, I am not the same person today as I was in the 5th grade when I met this friend (um, I wore bell bottoms & played with Tamagotchis then, ya dig?). But regardless, we’ve always been able to find enough similar interests to keep our friendship going. For awhile. But, I was away in college for 5 years, and both of our lives took dramatic turns during this time — she became much more conservative, responsible and committed to her (government) job. I, on the other hand, spent five years drugging & boozing & drifting between crowds of hippies and hipsters and artists and slam poets. Our worlds were so different for so long that it’s impossible to deny the toll this has taken on our once-happy companionship. Our “friendship” has become little more than an excuse to drink together on the weekends (our once favorite shared pastime), but even all that social lubricant doesn’t give us enough whatever-it-is to sustain good conversations while we’re out (and who talks in bars, anyway?). Sometimes, as interests & people change, so do the way they relate to each other. It hurts to admit that our friendship is probably never going to be the way it was, but just like with most things, letting go of something that no longer fits allows room in our lives for new things (like friends who are hippies, hipsters & slam poets?)
3. try this: if you think of this person and feel anxious or drained — that’s a red flag. If the mere thought of talking to your “pal” gives you symptoms similar to a panic attack (or a narcoleptic one) — well, hello! It’s time (and probably overdue) to cut the ties. Make space for friends who energize and excite you. I promise you they’re out there.
4. if you truly feel you give more than you receive. Some people — and friendships — are all about taking all they possibly can from others & sucking them dry. When you’re involved in a friendship, sometimes it’s hard to see the line between “Oh, I’m such a good friend to this person” and “This person is totally abusing our friendship by asking me for ridiculous favors and insisting that everything go their way.” If you’re the type to give your frantic friend a last-minute ride to work when her car breaks down, but just “know” that she wouldn’t do the same for you (or you feel too afraid to ask), well — I’d say it’s time to tell that girl to find herself a new chauffeur — and BFF.
5. if the person doesn’t support you and your goals (which doesn’t mean they can’t think they’re kinda strange). Once a week, I decide I want to do, be or think something else. My interests change like Lady GaGa’s hairstyles. But the awesome thing about my closest friends is that they know and (I think?) like that about me. One friend told me the Katy Perry song “Hot & Cold” should be my theme song. My best friend laughed in my face when I told her I wanted to start hula hooping dancing (but still calls to ask me how it’s working out for me). Friends might not always agree with your opinions or fall in love with the same things, or people, that you do— but they should accept your little quirks & differences. If your “friends” belittle your crazy ideas (I mean, really. Hula hoop dancing?!), mock you or just plain make you feel bad about anything you do/say/think/feel, well, tell them to take the next train to “Ex-Friends-Who-Suck-ville.”
6. another way to test for red flags: call this friend. are there long, awkward silences where there used to be funny anecdotes, laughter & sharing? are your excitements met with “mm-hmms” or nothing at all — and do you do the same in return? Obviously, not every phone conversation with even our nearest & dearest can be awesome & happy & exciting. People get distracted, misinterpret cues to respond & sometimes, think when they should be listening (or talking). It happens. But if it happens all the time (I say, test this theory over the course of a month), it probably means something in your connection is missing. Perhaps it’s just a temporary phase — like if your friend or yourself just started a new relationship, job or moved somewhere new. But if it’s a pretty normal thing, and your lives are pretty much the same as they’ve always been, it could just be a sign that you’ve drifted from each other.
Are there exceptions?
I think that every situation in life allows for a little rule-bending. Like the drugged up friend you have? You don’t have to cut them off forever — but you do have to stay away until they decide to clean up their act. If they do? Feel free to reconnect (but at your own risk!)
Sometimes, friendships don’t need to hit the trash heap just because they meet a few of the criteria I mentioned above. Sometimes, friends just need a little breather from one another. I know that my best friend & I will spend hours, days, weeks together — and at the end of it all, need a little space to just chill out & be ourselves. We also go through phases when we are tighter, followed by phases when we’re a little more distant. Our friendship is usually long distance, so I think that’s pretty normal. But even if your BFF lives next door (or in the next room), there is an ebb and flow in every relationship. And if the BFF & I ever start to fight? We’ve learned to give it a few days, or a week, or whatever & then allow ourselves to fall back into a level of communication that feels right.
As you know, I think good friends are extremely hard to find. If you’ve found a gem — do what you can to hold onto them because you will most likely regret not trying harder in the future. But never stay in a friendship or relationship because you feel obligated or pressured to, either by yourself or someone else. Good friendships are just like a good pair of jeans: Wear ’em till the bottoms fray & the buttons fall off, but if they don’t just fit anymore…trash ’em and never look back. Oh and hey, I hear Forever 21 is having a good sale on some new ones…