Thursday, July 10, 2014

When friendships end

This is not necessarily the most on topic for a feminist blog, but I think that it falls under the "life" category of what I write about, so you can forgive me.

Plus I do what I want.

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about the topic of when friendships end and the other day I finally got a sign that I wanted to write about it. Ronald and I are just starting to watch Seinfeld all the way through chronologically and one of the very first episodes deals with this subject. Jerry is out to dinner with a childhood friend, Joel, who he doesn't really like anymore (for example, Joel is extremely rude to a waitress.) Jerry tries to "break up" with Joel like one might in a romantic relationship and Joel is reduced to a sobbing mess. It's a pretty extreme example, but it became my motivation to officially put my thoughts about this down on paper (on screen?)

I think we've all been there before. Friendships end. It's natural. Sometimes people come into our lives and meet a specific need or fill a certain role, but things don't always stay the same.

There are different ways friend breakups can happen. Perhaps it was a huge, messy falling out with hurt feelings, drama, and/or a distinct "cutting someone out" of your life. Things change in these cases, because someone is hurt or something is revealed about one of you that the other can't tolerate. Other times it's a less intentional split; people drift away by life changes, circumstance, and the natural evolution of things. In these cases, you might fine with the change, but you do still wonder about them.

But then there are the less clean breaks...when we've either had someone seemingly inexplicably back away from us and stop calling/texting/inviting us places OR we've made the choice to back away from someone else without them really knowing why or feeling the ok with it. These "messier" endings are the ones I think about the most because they are generally the most complicated because of their ambiguity...and yet we have the least social guidance for them.

I saw a post on Tumblr a few weeks ago that very much spoke to me on this issue. It had this image:

[Image text: "Please don't get tired of me. It happens every time. People lose interest in me. They get tired of me. Suddenly, they don't bother hitting me up anymore. The conversations become shorter. They forget about me and I just become a distant memory. I wonder if it's my fault sometimes. But then I realize that people never stay in my life. And there's nothing I can do about it."]

The comments following the image on the post dissected how these type of comments can be extremely manipulative/symptomatic of toxic friendships and advocated that people are allowed to end relationships, which should be respected. *

I'm a big proponent of this perspective. I have had to (or been forced to) end some very important (non-romantic) relationships in my life. Several times through this process, the other person has tried either explicitly or passive aggressively to manipulate me...through guilt trips, talking about me to mutual friends with the intention of their words getting back to me, or posting about me on social media. That's not OK.

As I've mentioned about 50 billion times, I'm a huge advocate of personal boundaries. If someone puts out every signal that they want to be left alone by a friend, the other person should just accept and respect that. But because there's not a lot of social scripts or protocol for the end of a friendship without some kind of dramatic inciting event, the weirdness and ambiguity ends in a lot of hurt feelings and confusion.

OK, I know. Hurt feelings are an inherent side effect of any relationship ending, but if there was a more concrete way to "break up" with a friend, it could at least be less difficult to understand and much more obvious what is happening. To this, one could argue that assertive communication is always best. And 99% of me agrees. However, oftentimes the people that I wanted to quietly move away from don't take direct feedback very well. Because they have been passive aggressive and/or manipulative in the past, I don't trust them to handle something like, "I feel like you are always trying to guilt me into hanging out with you and I'm really not comfortable with this anymore." It can very easily then turn into an official BIG THING, like in the Seinfeld example, and you're painted as an asshole or "crazy" or whatever. And you end up right in the exact moment you were trying to avoid.

I think this is why quiet methods like I'm-just-going-to-stop-texting-her-until-she-gets-it can seem like the best alternative. But then no one wants to be on the receiving end of that. And some people just don't pick up on the subtle cues of "Oh hey, I'm always busy so that means I'd rather not actually hang out with you anymore."

I guess all I can offer into this discussion (because I feel like there aren't any clear cut and obvious one-size-fits-all solutions) is to just keep a few things in mind:

1) You don't owe anyone your time or friendship. Even if you've know them since kindergarten. Even if they helped you through a tough time. Even if you really love them (but something about their behavior/values has changed.) You are allowed to back away from someone at any time, for any reason. Take care of yourself and if a relationship isn't contributing healthily to your life, do what you need to do to make it healthy or let it go. And if you comfortable DO assertively share what's up.

2) No one owes you their time or friendship. Even if you were there with them through a tough time. Even if you really love them. Even if letting them go hurts more than anything...if distance is what they want, that's what they want. Try to pay attention to the subtleties of their reactions to you. If they seem to be backing away, allow that, at least for a bit, before you try again.** And you can always ask them if something IS wrong. If you help create a safe, assertive space, perhaps there's a discussion to be had.

3) Seek friendships that are enriching for both parties. You both deserve as much. If your current social circle isn't doing it for you, join a MeetUp group or take up a new hobby. Don't make people feel like you owe them time and friendship. It's just not the productive way to build a functional friendship. Even if it initially yields results for you, no one feels good about making choices based on guilt or obligation, so it will ultimately make things worse. Resist posting a passive aggressive Facebook status about how you don't have any friends...don't publicly berate someone for not texting you enough. Also, and I mean this totally sincerely without judgement or stigma, if you are having a rough go of building positive friendships, it might be helpful to seek professional therapy.

LORD, it feels really gloomy to write about this. I almost put something in here about "wouldn't it be great if friendships never had to end and everyone could just stay happy!" but I've decided against it because sometimes a friendship ending IS the happiest, healthiest outcome.

While I am eternally grateful for my functional friendships that enrich my life and I hope against all hope that my close friends stick around for the foreseeable future, I'm not going to pretend that has been the case for every friendship in my past. In at least one distinct example in my life, when I was "friend dumped" it ended up being the best thing that person ever did for me and it freed me from their criticism and judgement. It wasn't easy, it felt like crap, and I hated it while it was happening, but I did come to learn that it was best for both of us.

So yeah, I think that's all I've got on this subject. How's that for a super eloquent conclusion for ya?

*It's worth noting that there was also a discussion about how people with certain personality disorders might say these kinds of things and to casually write them off as manipulative is ableist. I think we can both acknowledge/honor this point while still discussing the issue of toxic friendships in general.

**I think it's a different story if you know or suspect someone is depressed or dealing with suicidal thoughts and you are trying to not let them be isolated, so you keep up with them, even if they don't reciprocate. 

Please see the commenting policy before replying to this post.

No comments:

Post a Comment

This blog has strict comment moderation intended to preserve a safe space. Moderation is managed solely by the blog author. As such, even comments made in good faith will be on a short delay, so please do not attempt to resubmit your comment if it does not immediately appear. Discussion and thoughtful participation are encouraged, but abusive comments of any type will never be published. The blog author reserves the right to publish/delete any comments for any reason, at her sole discretion.

TL;DR Troll comments are never published, so don't waste your time.