This past February, lifestyle talked friendships for the month of love, because friendships are love relationships, too, of course! And while there’s some good media out there about the nature and cycles of friendship, it’s a hell of a lot harder to find them than media about romantic relationships. Because of this dearth of media featuring friendship, there’s not a lot of social scripts out there for when friendships may end or even acknowledgements of how friendships ending can be as painful as romantic relationships ending. So, when the WWAC team sees a problem like this, we decide talk that shit out with a roundtable.
This all began when I asked the question: What do you do or say when faced with a friendship that appears to be ending? Unsurprisingly, we have a range of experiences and advice, but most of us have been on both ends of the stick. We have been the friendship “dumper,” as well as the “dumped.” The reasons for these endings have been varied, and we have all undoubtedly learned from them. Here’s a round-up of some of these experiences.
When Friendships Are Toxic
One of the biggest issues that came up surrounding friendships ending was the issue of toxic friendships. For example, Ray Sonne has ended friendships due to toxicity: “…the situation between my toxic friends in high school became so untenable that I needed to exit.” Stephanie Tran seconds Ray on this: “…if the person causes you pain and doesn’t want to change, you need to end the relationship. Having been on both ends, Melissa Brinks explains: “As much as I talked about being upset by being dumped by friends above, I’ve definitely been the dumper more than once. Usually it’s a self-care thing–I don’t need negative people who go out of their way to make me feel bad in my life, and I will cut them out if necessary.”
If you are struggling with identifying whether a friendship (or any relationship) is toxic or not, Ray has some advice:
“Is your friend a bad influence? Do they pressure you, implicitly or explicitly, into making bad choices? Do they dangle themselves and their well-being in front of you like a fish on a lure for purposes of emotional blackmail? Do they not care about anything you’re proud of in your life while you show interest in their accomplishments? Do you fight frequently? Are their lives 100% all about them at all times? Do they blow up little mistakes you’ve made and make them out to be huge wrongs you’ve committed upon them? Do they never call you by your name?
Toxic friends are handled best all the same way. Removed from your life.”
Sometimes, however, these signs can be hard to see, because we are still in the honeymoon phase of our friendship where everything is thrilling and shiny. Or in other cases, we tend to put too much blame or pressure on ourselves for not being a “better” friend, like Melissa: “Unfortunately, I’ve only found out that I’m in a toxic friendship because other people have told me that I’m in one…It takes me a long time to realize that a friendship is toxic, because I tend to assume that I’ve done something wrong if somebody is treating me badly. I try to be nice, I try to apologize, I try to fix it, but ultimately I don’t get anywhere…” Alenka Figa follows up:
“I’m similar to Melissa; I can be a bit slow to see when things are toxic, because I am the kind of person who instinctually will want to help or be supportive, even if the other person is actually asking too much of me. I once had a friend who always told me what I should have been doing, what kind of person I should have been, and it was only when our friendship was over that I realized how controlling he was. If a friend is always telling you what to do or, even worse, telling you what you feel or what your feelings mean, that’s a toxic relationship.”
In some cases though, fault for toxicity may not be all on the other person. Al Rosenberg admits:
“I was friend dumped in high school, but I honestly kind of deserved it. It made me a better person, and a better friend. I’d tell people to really look at the situation. Maybe you were dumped because the other person couldn’t be there the way they needed to be, or maybe you messed up. Learn, grow, cradle your hurt, and move on.”
Probably, for most of us, we have been a shitty friend at some time or another; I know I have. In some cases, the dynamic may just not be right anymore:
“…in these kinds of friendships, it’s not that there’s any one singular thing wrong but rather an amalgamation of personality clashes and unhappiness and possibly even deliberate nastiness.” –Melissa
How Patriarchy Impacts Our Friendships
Oftentimes, these things happen because our lives change. Things happen that are beyond our control. Alenka shares her own experience:
“I was dumped once by a friend who was dealing with some issues related to sexual assault. I can’t go into specifics on this particular situation, but what essentially happened is that this friend and I were part of the same community, and because I was connected to that community, I was a trigger for her. It was hard, and I did my best to remember that she was doing what she needed to heal.
If you know someone who is working through a traumatizing experience and they reach a point in their healing that requires cutting ties with you, try to respect that. It will probably hurt, but it’s not necessarily about your relationship or anything you did. It’s about your friend’s healing, and while you have the right to feel what you are feeling, ultimately we have to take a bigger look at how we can support each other while living in a rape culture.”
In a similar incidence, Alenka shares:
“When I was maybe 20, a friend from high school fell into an emotionally abusive relationship and ended up cutting ties temporarily with my high school friend group. I was already drifting away from them, and it caused me to also cut ties with nearly all of that group. The whole incident was exhausting, and I didn’t have the energy to try and repair the shreds of those relationships while I was coping with what felt like a betrayal, but was really me struggling to wrap my mind around what had happened. I wasn’t really able to see the reality–that this was an abusive, manipulative relationship that was turning my friend into someone I didn’t recognize–until it was all over. When she returned and our other friends accepted her back, I just couldn’t. I was so full of negative emotions and so drained of all the good things that had been between us that I knew there was nothing left to salvage. I had nothing positive to give her, nothing that could help her heal, so I never reached back out. All these years later, I don’t regret that decision. I know from the various social work and education related jobs I’ve held that if you don’t have your own support system and aren’t in a healthy place, you aren’t necessarily equipped to help others. I was too numb and too lost to know what I needed, let alone attempt to put aside my own feelings and support someone healing from abuse.”
Patriarchy is pervasive and can make a lot of our friendships difficult, whether it’s the tragedy of rape and abuse or the unnecessary competition that is encouraged among women. Stephanie shares her own experience with this:
“…I had to ‘dump’ my friend over a boy, but not in the way you might expect. I had always known that she was ferociously jealous over her crushes (her crushes, not her actual boyfriends; neither of us had been in a relationship at that point), and while I didn’t agree with the ire she directed at any girl who posed a threat or could be labeled as even remote competition, I didn’t care enough about this scary side of her to bring it up or even fight about it until she developed a crush on the same boy that I had a crush on. I didn’t care enough about the boy to care, and I don’t think she did either, but that same ferocious jealousy reared its head…and was directed at me.
It came to a head when she came over my house and locked herself in my sister’s room with my sister and my sister’s best friend to talk about her crush. Her mother was visiting mine at the time, and they both enacted an intervention and an effort to patch up the friendship. But I knew the friendship was done. The fact that my so-called ‘best friend’ had physically and literally slammed a door in my face and locked it told me that she was too immature and too toxic for me to be around any more.”
When There’s No Real Reason At All
In some cases, you get dumped and there really is no explanation as to why. Romona Williams shared her experience with this type of friendship ending:
“I was friend-dumped so quietly that I didn’t even notice for a few years. I had a friend that moved to Qatar, and we didn’t see each other often even when he lived in the U.S. But, we would talk regularly on the phone, hang out at least once or twice when he was back in the U.S. and were fairly close. He would only come back to the area for a few weeks a year, and after three consecutive years of him ignoring my phone calls, texts, and emails while he was stateside, I realized he had cut me off. I have no idea what happened, but by repeatedly contacting him when his social media indicated he was staying with family, he’s had plenty of opportunities to open communication with me.”
Whether you are the dumped or the dumpee, friendships ending can be painful to both parties. In Part 2, we will talk about dealing with the painful end.