What's Your Damage:
Ending a friendship...
Our society is increasingly becoming preoccupied with relationships – specifically how to find one, how to get one, and how to keep one. Countless self-help and dating books have been written about the subject, and our conscious has been saturated by movies, commercials, and television shows about the topic.
That’s why it’s so strange that very little is ever discussed about friendships. Friends are the cornerstones of our lives; they’re there in our darkest hours, our lightest hours, and everything in between. They keep us grounded, they keep us in check, and we can count on them to listen to the most of our trivial thoughts, even if that means spending an hour on the phone dissecting the latest office flirtation. At the end of the day, a friend will always be here for us.
Because of these intimate bonds, it’s not surprising that when a friendship sours, it can feel like a bad break-up. The turmoil, the anguish, the guilt of not knowing where it all went wrong – all these things can plague us when the camaraderie is gone. But like most things in life, recognizing when to let go of a bad relationship is key to our mental and emotional well-being.
Friendships come in all shapes and forms, from the acquaintance that you see at the gym to your next-door neighbour to your best friend. Social psychologists have narrowed the difference between these relationships to four major characteristics that need to be present. These are: a general desire to do what is best for the other; sympathy and empathy; honesty; and mutual understanding. These decisive factors will cause the friendship stock to rise in our eyes. A good friend will be one that will always look out for us, sympathize through hard times, and tell us when we’re being annoying.
But what about those friends who end up crossing the line? Certainly, bad behaviour in a friend cannot be tolerated any more than bad behaviour from a mate. When the trust is gone, it may be time to say good-bye.
Do any of these malicious scenarios sound familiar? If so, a friendship re-evaluation may be in order.
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: She loves telling stories, but if you listen closely, they never add up. When you ask her about it, she just makes up more excuses to cover her tracks. She seems overly secretive to everyone but you, except for the part where she’s telling everyone a (different) story. Even if she’s never outright lied to you, she tells you that she sometimes “withholds the truth” to her family, other friends, and even the woman at the deli counter. She gives new meaning to the term “pathological liar.” What’s the damage? In time, you’ll feel that you can’t trust her, and the lies will eventually catch up to your friendship.
The Deadbeat: He’s so much fun to be around that you almost forget that he’s invited you out and conveniently forgotten his wallet at home. It’s a buck today, five tomorrow, twenty the week after. You’re too nice to bring it up, and maybe he’s too scatter-brained to remember to pay you back. Whatever it is, you’ll suddenly feel a drain on your finances whenever he’s in the room. What’s the damage? Unless you’re Bill Gates and have a trust fund that you don’t mind spending on your friends, having a deadbeat around is a financial strain that you shouldn’t have to endure. Plus, you’ll eventually start questioning whether your generous nature (and free-flowing wallet) is the reason why they stick around.
The Back Talker: She may seem sweet on the outside, but she’s secretly talking smack about you. But you’re not the only target – she’s also keen on gossiping about everyone else you know; whether the rumours are true or not is a detail she’ll gladly overlook. If you ask her if she can keep a secret, she covertly tries to avoid the question or starts making popcorn. Loyalty is a concept that she doesn’t understand. What’s the damage? Nothing, unless you don’t mind everyone finding out about your most embarrassing moments or thinking that you’ve just had a lovechild with your boss.
The Stealer: She loves hearing about your latest crush, which is nice as you can freely obsess about his long lashes and the perfect way his jeans hang. But the next time you’re out, she’s hanging all over him. If they happen to hook up, she’ll play coy and blame it on her irresistible charms. If you happen to fall in love with a hunchback who has a lazy eye, she’ll suddenly be overcome with lust and sleep with him. She obviously takes empathy to a whole new level. This, coincidentally, is the third time she’s taken an interest in your crush. What’s the damage? All’s fair in love and war, but this pattern is less fair than it is psychotic and hurtful. Whether it’s the thrill of competition or a passive-aggressive way to hurt you, friends who constantly try to steal your crushes or boyfriends have deeper issues than you have time for.
The Cry Baby: Like a possessive boyfriend, she won’t let you have a moment to yourself. Every waking moment of your life must be spent on the phone, instant messaging, text messaging, or e-mailing her. When you’re on a date, she’ll make sure to call you every five minutes to ask how it’s going, which will unavoidably lead to her crying on the phone about how she’ll never find true love after her last disastrous break-up (which occurred five years ago). After your date becomes bored and inevitably leaves you, she’ll brighten up and ask you to come over to hang out. If you don’t compliment her new Tupperware or ask her about her day, she’ll mope around and accuse you of being a cold-hearted bitch. She’s the constant victim of her environment, nothing’s ever her fault, and she’ll remind you of this every day. Single White Female is her favourite movie. What’s the damage? A friend like this will only drag you down in the long run. You can play armchair psychiatrist all you want, but there’s only so much support you can offer someone while trying to lead your own life.
Me, Me, Me: You could spend hours on the phone with him, but when you analyze the caliber of your conversation, you’re chagrined to find that you’ve covered everything he’s done in the past twenty-four hours, while your work promotion is still a mystery to him. When you go out, he monopolizes the conversation and barely throws a question your way (unless, of course, it’s about him). If you try to talk about something else, he’ll just steer the conversation back to where you left off – talking about his latest drama, conquest, or toothpaste purchase. What’s the damage? Let’s face it: self-involved friends who never listen add very little value to your social network. For starters, they have no clue as to what you do or what you like. And can you blame them when the world has fabulous people like themselves walking around, just waiting to be talked about?
The Secret Friend: You’ve known her for years, but this is the first time you’ve ever heard of her having a younger sister. She never likes to mix friends and will even go as far as not mentioning your existence to anyone she knows. In fact, she’ll take it one step further and pretend to not know you if you bump into her – even though you’ve spent the previous night watching movies at her place. What’s the damage? There’s neurotic, and then there’s this. Unless your friend is in some fanatical cult that doesn’t allow fraternizing with outsiders, there’s no reason why she should keep your friendship a secret. In the end, you’ll start to question whether she’s embarrassed to know you.
The Attacker: He’s a perfectly fine friend, until you decide to disagree with his assessment of Timbaland’s latest album. Then it’s all about how you have sucky taste in music, can’t find your way out of an Apple store, and have too many split ends. The next time you have a different point of view, he’ll bring up the fact that he aced algebra while you got by with a C-average. For him, taking it personally is an understatement. What’s the damage? Constantly being berated for questioning someone’s judgment or idea gets you nowhere in a forum, and you’ll eventually feel like you can’t express your thoughts freely. Soon, you’ll just start agreeing with whatever your friend says so that he’ll leave you alone. In this relationship, there is no understanding.
Once you’ve decided that a friendship has come and gone, it’s time to decide how to approach this difficult situation. There are two readily available avenues that can have very different results: simply drifting away, or confronting the former friend.
Most of us usually choose the first road and let the friendship dwindle. This occurs very naturally, as we can come across a myriad of acquaintances and friends in our lifetime. Whether it’s because of circumstance (i.e. geography) or a loss of shared interests (i.e. moving away from a social group), drifting away is the most uncomplicated way to cool off a friendship. Tactics can include not returning calls, being less available, and spending less time with your friend. Even though you’ve distanced yourself from the person, this approach will allow you to still keep in touch and avoid awkward run-ins. But take heed: it could make the other person feel ignored or unwanted, leading to anguish and hurt feelings.
If a situation with a former friend is much more dire than a simple case of straying affections, then it might be time to confront them. Confrontations are never easy, but they do alleviate the burden and stress of having a friend around that you feel has betrayed you. If you decide to have “the talk,” here are some tips to keep in mind:
Hopefully, if the talk goes well, you will both come out of it remembering the good times, and understanding that it just wasn’t meant to be.
- Don’t have it out in public. The disagreement is between you and your friend; suddenly bombarding them in front of others is unfair and will only serve to make others around you uncomfortable. Practice tact when deciding when and where to have this conversation.
- Don’t ask others to do it for you. They might get the story wrong or, worse, start bonding with your ex-friend. Make sure that nothing is left to ambiguity or interpretation during your talk.
- Use “I feel” statements. “I feel like you’ve been a cheap bitch” or “I feel like you’ve been a really crappy friend” will suffice. But all kidding aside, when you use “I feel” statements, it will come off as less of an attack and more of a heart-to-heart, which will hopefully make your friend more agreeable to talking.
- Don’t start spreading rumours about the other person. Even if you feel you’ve been wronged, don’t start bad-mouthing your friend. Things like that have a nasty way of coming back to haunt us.
- Don’t feel guilty for not wanting to continue the friendship. If the love is gone, then so be it. Staying in a relationship out of guilt will only make it more strained than it already is, and it’s not fair to the other person.
It’s never easy to let go, but sometimes, and as devastating as it may feel, it just has to be done. It’s natural for friends, like love, to come and go in your life. Every relationship, even a failed one, will help us to grow. And as for the good ones, they’ll enrich our lives even more. ¤ C.Ho.