While running this morning, I got to thinking about the times that I have been dumped by friends. And about the times that I have come across as the dumper. I’m not talking about middle or high school, I’m talking about as an adult. Ever since my daughter was in 2nd grade and she started to experience the volatility of friendship, I have often mused about how complicated meaningful friendships can be, and it is a lifelong challenge. In other words, the drama doesn’t end with high school graduation.
Maybe it’s because I’m older and wiser, maybe it’s because I’ve been teaching loads of yoga and mindfulness, maybe it’s because I’ve had several decades of practicing the delicate art of Being a Good Friend While Protecting My Own Wellness. But at some point during today’s run, it dawned on me that when X Friend suddenly stopped returning my calls or communicating with me in any way, she was doing this because she had to protect herself and tend to her own life. She had made the decision that she could not be a supportive friend in that time of my life, for reasons that had more to do with her than with me. Our breakup was abrupt and I was shocked, but now, ten years later, I understand her wanting to distance herself and while I still wonder at the abruptness, I bear no grudges or animosity. She was simply doing what she had to do.
I often hear the saying, your true friends stick by you no matter what. Or, when you’re in trouble, you can tell who your real friends are because they’re the ones who stay at your side. And so on. The thing is, I don’t think this is entirely accurate, fair or helpful. Some people are on an endless loop of drama, poor choices, lack of self-awareness, and looking for attention. They may have, through no fault of their own, perhaps due to a crappy childhood or hang-ups inherited from their mom, developed a self-destructive self-view of being a perpetual victim. (Please note that I’m not talking about the normal ups-and-downs that come with life. Life is messy, for everyone). Whatever their story is, because we women are nurturers, compassionate, and we want to save the world and everyone in it, especially the people for whom nothing ever seems to go right – we may find ourselves in relationships that feel frustrating and draining. And then we go on Pinterest and see some quote about how to know a true friend (e.g. one who makes time for us, or who stands by you through thick and thin, etc) and then we have to make a choice: am I going to take a break from this friendship and protect my own and my family’s emotional and physical health, and schedule? And in so doing, feeling like the biggest, most selfish wench in the world? Should I take a selfie and post it on a Pinterest Friendship Fail board?
Unfortunately, and I’m really bummed about this, we cannot save the world. We cannot fix people. We often try to fix others because it sure beats trying to fix ourselves, but it never works. I have been in relationships where now, in retrospect, I realize that the give-and-take wasn’t equitable. Not that we should keep a balance sheet in friendships, but if what we value in our friendships, such as trust, validation, loyalty, fun, support, challenging us to be better – if we don’t feel that we are getting this, instead we are on some endless loop of providing this to the other person, but not getting much in return – then we have now shifted from Friend to Project Manager. And this doesn’t help anyone, unless we are a therapist or a coach and we formalize the relationship by transferring their calls to our receptionist, to make an appointment.
The other thing we need to ask ourselves, in some cases, is, What about this friend's situation or personality or whatever, is triggering me to not feel so good about myself afterwards? Sometimes, we need to take a break, for the sake of the friendship and our own brain health, when we are honest enough to acknowledge that our proximity to the situation isn't helping anyone.
When it comes to transitioning out of these friendships, or taking a sabbatical, I believe the best way to do it is the same way I recommend moving from a fast food diet and sedentary lifestyle to a more healthful one. Just as with cleaning up our food act, I don't recommend a drastic cleanse. It's too traumatic. I don’t recommend purging or staging our death and changing our phone numbers unless the person is a psycho, stalker, or abusive. When it comes to embracing a healthy lifestyle, I’m a big fan of adding in the good and positive, because then we naturally find less time or space for the harmful stuff. The same thing happens in relationships. If we start to spend more time with people who honor and inspire us, the negative starts to fall away.
That X Friend from 10 years ago? I honestly have zero ill feelings toward her. If she were to come back into my life, I would welcome her with open arms and if appropriate, thank her for caring enough about her own self, that she knew when she needed to move on. Not because I would be trying to get back into her good graces, but because I have enough compassion for myself that I recognize that in her way, she was teaching me some valuable lessons about friendship, boundaries and self-compassion.
My friends are a lifeline for me. There is something sacred, I think, about my friendships with other women, that is different from the relationships I have with my husband, kids, and other family members. A true friend is one of life’s greatest gifts, but in order to BE a true friend to someone, we need to start with treating ourselves with deep love and respect. Sometimes this means practicing deep, sometimes painful, self awareness, and if we find that interacting with someone depletes rather than energizes us, it may be time to turn that fixer away from others and do some work on ourselves. I know, good luck with that.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.