I sit and listen to his incessant cribbing, yet again.
I could feel my usual sense of calm & positivity draining away, bit by bit, only to be replaced by a really controlled rage. Can’t he, for once, not complain about all that’s wrong with his life, the people around and the world in general? Why do I have to keep listening to these every fucking time? Just because I’m a friend?
I sound like an asshole, don’t I? There’s my friend, venting about what’s bothering him and I hate that I have to listen. The reality, however, is a bit different.
This person I’m talking about is a chronic complainer. Someone who is perpetually pissed about something or the other. Not that it makes him a bad person. Some people are naturally geared towards finding something new to complain, taunt or be cynical about. But I’m not one of those people and I find it very hard to be around people who are that way – mostly because of the way I end up feeling.
I can’t put my finger on it, but something just doesn’t feel right. It is not something these people do intentionally. I am an empathetic person by nature. I have been told that people find my presence calming, and hence, many choose to stick around. What I have realized for myself, however, is that often it turns into a highly skewed friendship – one that’s particularly draining for me. It’s almost like some metaphorical vampire is feeding on my positivity and leaving me empty.
In other words, what begins as a harmless friendship soon transforms into a really unhealthy dependency.
It begins with the little things. Telling me about the minute details of their daily lives a bit too soon – the ones I really do not need to know [or care to know]. Sharing their personal insecurities a bit too often, knowing that my instinct would be to lift them up with motivating words. Sending me too many texts all day – in an attempt to be in touch 24X7. And soon it progresses to considering me as one of the few people they can count on in a world that disappoints them each day. Trying to isolate me from my other friends in an attempt to have my complete undivided attention. Constantly seeking my approval in the smallest of decisions they make. Taking me as a ‘willing’ part of their “you and me against the world” philosophy.
And how does that make me feel? Like the walls are closing in on me and I am trapped. I feel suffocated, irritated and uncharacteristically resentful when I’m around them. And tired. Extremely tired.
Not exactly how a friendship should make you feel, right?
So how do I cope with it? I try to tolerate. I try to make them understand. And if it still doesn’t work, one fine day, I simply move away. It is usually sudden. And final.
Do I feel guilty for taking this extreme measure? At the time, I do. Especially if the person has been a friend for years. But the sense of relief that I feel after stepping away from the friendship overrides it all. That’s how I know I have taken a difficult yet right decision.
Because sometimes, some friendships simply become toxic – and it’s no one’s fault.
In your case, it doesn’t even have to be the unhealthy dependence kind. It can be as simple as you finding that your thoughts, beliefs, and values don’t match anymore – and neither of you is willing to “agree to disagree”. Or what you thought was an unconditional friendship, turns out to be standing on a LOT of conditions – many of which you’re not willing to tolerate anymore. Or that, you have started to notice the person you become when you’re with them – and you don’t like her/him at all.
In fact, I have had friendships where I’d become this highly judgmental, gossipy and mean person. Then there have been friendships where I’d be warm, inspired and kind. With some people, I felt stifled. With others, I felt free. Some, I had to mother emotionally, day in and out. Others just let me be my strong self without expecting me to ‘save’ them at every turn. Goes on to show how the people you choose to stay around affect you, your personality and your life in general.
That’s what friendships are – choices. And the good thing about choices is that, just like making it is in your power, so is changing it.
So what if she is a “childhood” friend? That doesn’t guarantee her adult self will be a good friend to your adult self. So what if he is a great guy? That doesn’t automatically make him a great friend – to YOU.
See, the thing is, when it comes to friends, we tend to be pretty blind. Much more than romantic relationships, trust me. Because friends represent your growing up years, all the firsts of adulthood that you’ve experienced together, the ones who understand you in a world that doesn’t, the ones who have your back, no matter what. In a way, they are the ones who make up the most significant parts of your world. Hence, it’s hard to look at one of these people and tell yourself that he/she is not good for you anymore.
You know how they say if it hurts, it isn’t love? Well, it isn’t a friendship either. Real friendships don’t make you feel belittled, misunderstood, trapped or negative. They set you free, let you be your own person, and fill your heart with positive feelings. Of course, friendships have their fair share of giving/receiving tough love and listening to each other vent once in a while – but never will it reach the stage of being a daily chore that drains you. At least, not in healthy friendships.
You have to understand that different people grow in different ways. That friend you made years back may not have grown in a way that can complement the person you are today. There’s nothing wrong with accepting that. Maybe it’s time to find people who’re more up your alley.
And just throw away decades of a relationship? You may ask, indignantly.
If you choose to hang on to a now-toxic-to-you person, just for the sake of the time you’ve invested in them, then you’re just deceiving yourself. The number of years devoted to a relationship says nothing about it. What matters is how the relationship is affecting the quality of life of the two people involved in it. If you know it’s making you miserable then what’s the point?
But how can I abandon my friend like this? How would he/she feel?
Realize that you’re not responsible for someone else’s feelings. It may sound like a jerk statement, but it’s true. People will feel what they want to feel – you have zero control over it. You do NOT know how they’ll feel. You’re just hypothesizing it, based on how you think you would have felt had you been in their place. But they are not you! You’re only responsible for your feelings, your actions, your decisions and your life. If you’re choosing to let go of a friendship then that’s completely your decision and you do not owe anyone an explanation. Just like you did not explain to anyone why you got into that friendship in the first place. You know what’s best for you. Period.
For a person with a social circle as small as mine, it’s not always easy to pare it down further by moving away from people who have been around for quite a while. And yet, I do it. Because I truly believe in calling a spade a spade. If something is not good for me anymore, it simply isn’t and I’m not going to stick around just to be nice. And contrary to what people may say, you CAN make new, healthy friends – and you don’t have to know them since you were in diapers for it to be authentic.
And just like you, the friend you just let go of can do so too. You’re not abandoning anyone. They are adults and you don’t need to parent them anymore.
So, go out there and make your choices. And if you feel the need to let go of one, do so with equal elan. It’s your way of making space for someone better to come along. For life is too short. Don’t waste it on feeling like shit when you don’t have to.