REMOVING TOXIC FRIENDS FROM MY LIFE AND WHY I HATE DOING IT.

I have only ever intentionally cut one person out of my life.

As a general rule of thumb I don’t like to do it. The idea of purposefully breaking a bond, shoving someone out of my life, is not something I ever want to do, no matter how bad they’ve been. I’ll look for the good until I absolutely can’t see it anymore.

There’s a lot of talk of ‘removing toxic things’ from our lives at the moment; I see it a lot online. People vowing to dump the friends that aren’t there for them in 2018, to drop people who bring stress into their lives, to rid themselves of other people’s shit.

Looking at in the black and white way that I was prone to, I thought this sounded rough and perhaps unfair. As E.L. James famously taught us though, it’s rarely as simple as that: there’s often a few shades of grey to be found.

This is an issue that requires more than even the new 280 character limit on Twitter, so grab a cuppa because I’m about to talk this out Screengrab-Of-Notes style.

Although I know it can be a necessity, I hate the idea that when the going gets tough, we jump ship. That was not the way that I was raised and I’m having to do a lot of readjusting at the moment.

When I was younger my brother would roll his eyes to high heaven when I came home from school with yet another tale of a friend that I was ‘done with’. He’d tell me often how pleased he was that he was not a girl, since our friendships were so complicated.

I never told him at the time, but I agreed with him.

It was all so complicated.

And so I decided, at the age of about 16, that I didn’t want it to be complicated anymore and I did everything in my power to keep things as simple as possible. No more dramatic endings, no more tears, it was time for me to grow up and have grown up friends. Ones that I went to pilates with and bitched affectionately about my boyfriend to. Ones that I’d call on my lunch break and have a roast with every Sunday. Ones that I could recreate Sex And The City teenage fantasies with (only with fewer rhinestones). No more childish bickering, no more bitching, no secrets.

And for the most part it worked, I’ve got these people. Just with a little less pilates and a little more prosecco. But I wasn’t able to completely shut the door on my pre-teen drama, life had other ideas. Because it wasn’t just up to me. Friendship takes two people, and sometimes, try as you might, the other person just isn’t playing ball and thanks to some dubious catching skills from friends over the years, I’ve been left bereft more than once.

Losing anyone from your life is sad. Deliberate or accidental, a lost friend is something to be mourned. It isn’t always bad, but it is always sad.

We’d be idiots to think we could stay friends with the same people forever.

Because as much as we’d like to believe that people don’t change, they absolutely do. People change all the time, every day.

The person you loved and shared everything with as a teenager will not stay 16 forever and unless your lives are shaped in a very similar way, the chances of you remaining close are slim.

As you grow and evolve, so too do your friendships.

Geographically it’s difficult, people move away, lots of my friends did. My best friend did. For twenty years we shared everything and then she moved to Japan and that was that. I haven’t seen her since we were 19.

And then emotionally. Emotionally you change too and when one of you goes through hardship, or more likely, when both of you do, it’s easy to resent and close off from that person. That happened to another relationship with one of my closest friends. We’ve known each other since we were four and now we’re hard pushed giving each other a hug.

I mourn these friendships all the time.

I’ve lost many friends over the years. People who I once described as ‘best friends’, who I shared everything with, who I could never imagine not being in my life are now gone and that’s very sad. I miss them, but I know it’s for the best. Those are the ones that never made the effort, the ones that, once I stopped trying to ring every day, were just happy to float away.

If you love something, set it free. If it loves you too, it will come back.

If something’s worth fighting for, you’ll fight. And you sort of know when the fight’s up.

You also know, by the way, that if you stop fighting, even without noticing, that there is probably a good reason for that, even if you haven’t quite worked out what it is yet.

Sometimes you just find you don’t have anything in common with people anymore and keeping up the jig is more hassle than it’s worth. Those are the friendships that just fizzle out. In reality, that’s where most the friendships go, no dramatic bang, no door slamming, just a flickering light before darkness.

Dear God Em, do you want to be any more depressing about all of this?!

So the one person that I cut out of my life. He really was a tosser, but the reason I dislike him more than anything else is because he made me break my pattern and deliberately remove someone from my life. I really hate to give up on things, even ‘toxic’ things.

But he had to go. He very nearly ruined my book publication in his desperation to put me down. He made me dread things, resent others that couldn’t see how cruel he could be, I’ve lost other friends in the fallout and that’s sad.

It was worth it though. He was like a cloud that hung over me, all the time. He didn’t respect me. He was the definition of toxic and since he has gone my life has, without meaning to sound dramatic, become ten times better. There’s not an ounce of love lost there and for entirely selfish reasons I’m incredibly pleased he’s gone.

I spend a lot of time defending my decision to myself now. I tell myself what a great decision I made and how bad he was for my mental health. But I still wish more than anything that it hadn’t had to happen. That I hadn’t had to be that selfish.

Because that’s what you are when you remove someone from your life. Even if you had to do it, even if it was the only option and the best thing for your mental wellbeing. You’re being selfish. You’re potentially hurting someone else to make your own future brighter.

For the last ten years or so I have witnessed someone I care about be treated like absolute shit by someone they deem a very close friend and for years I would tell my friend to drop them. WHY, I’d ask, DO YOU PUT UP WITH THIS? She knew this girl would let her down, she knew she’d use her, she knew what she was capable of.

And my friend would always say to me: ‘it’s about my expectations. I know what this woman is. I’ve learnt not to expect anything, and now I know that, she cannot let me down.’

I used to think this was bullshit and it made me so sad that the person I cared about so much was willing to make herself so small and available for heartache.

But I realise now how right my friend was and how honourable in her intentions: that is what that friendship was all about.

My friend wanted this woman in her life, she knew she was playing with fire and that from time-to-time her fingers were going to get burnt, but she’d weighed up the risks and deemed it worth it.

What might be toxic for you, or too much for me was just right for my friend. She’s never going to cut this woman from her life, what she’s going to do instead is manage and manipulate her hopes and expectations accordingly. It’s hugely inspiring to me.

Not all relationships are how we see them in the movies. Some of them are trouble and difficult and complicated. And no, friendship shouldn’t have to be like this, love isn’t supposed to hurt. But sometimes it does. And sometimes that is a very necessary pain.

Sometimes we have to really search for the good in people. Really be prepared to lay our hearts on the line for them. Really know that underneath all the angst and pain and shitty-friend-behaviour, the person we are angry with absolutely needs us – and we need to remember that that is the important bit here.

I very regularly want to give up on my best mate. She literally never answers the phone. Surely, I think, this is not what friendship is supposed to be?! I spend days trying to contact her. I’ll go weeks without hearing from her. I’m hurt by her. I regularly have to haul my ass over to her house to confront her face to face.

Some might see our relationship as one sided, some might call me mad for not giving up on her. Some might say she was toxic, or selfish at the very least. But I know that none of that is really true. We care about each other, and to use earlier’s analogy, she’s worth a burnt finger or too. I know when she disappears, it’s because she’s hurting, and she can’t face telling me.

So whereas the old me would look at that friendship and deem her selfish and me selfless, the new me, the post-book-and-the-epiphany-that-came-with-it me, realises that it might just be the other way around.

When a cat feels like it’s going to die, it will hide take itself off to do it privately.

Now I’m not comparing my best mate to a cat, or for a moment suggesting she’s planning on croaking every time she doesn’t answer the phone, but there are similarities.

Namely, when she’s vulnerable, she wants to be alone.

And that’s okay.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how selfish she was to continually disappear on me. I realise now how selfish I was to have those thoughts.

Sure, it sucks to go through shit without your mate because she seemingly can’t be bothered to answer the phone. I could easily hate her for making me do that. But then I need to think, there’s every chance she’s sitting in her bedroom a mile away lonely and frustrated and just as capable of hating me for not calling one more time.

We’re consumers. We are consuming things at a remarkable rate in the Western World. Everything is disposable and expectations have never been higher. We want good quality products and we want them now.

I worry that that attitude might be sneaking out of our Asos baskets and into our relationships.

Just because your mate isn’t answering the phone right now, or seems to be burdening you with a lot of their shit, it doesn’t mean they’re a bad friend and it certainly doesn’t mean they should be given the chop.

On the contrary, they should probably be given a cuddle.

Some things are unforgivable, and I am not allowed to have a holier than thou attitude about all of this, I have cut someone from my life and I’ve watched and done nothing as other important people in my life float away from me.

Occasionally the only thing to do is administer a DNR notice on a failing friendship. Often that’s the kindest thing to do.

But most the time, there is something worth fighting for. A friendship is a two way street, and just because it isn’t going our way right now, it doesn’t mean that the tide won’t turn one day soon. As tired as we are, as bored and fed up, sometimes other people’s need for us is just the most important thing and if they can hold out, our emotions need to be put on the back burner.

Or mine do at least, because the people I am lucky enough to have had let me in, are not the sort of people that you let get away.

And if you can’t fight anymore, if you’re too tired and your fingers are too burnt, then it’s okay to let go. You can’t win ’em all and everything happens for a reason.

Removing the nasty six foot two thorn from my side that was my ultimate ‘toxic friend’ was the best thing I ever did, but letting two of my closest friendships ebb into nothingness? I regret that. And I hate regret.

4 Comments

  1. Natasza
    January 10, 2018 / 8:44 am

    So many thoughts I have on this… (how unusual, I know). First, we need to make a definite distinction between toxic friendship and a “grown-up” friendship, for the lack of better term. It’s okay if it takes your friend forever to reply because you know they’re that busy. It’s not okay if you can’t count on them and they let you down and hurt you. Sometimes the line can be very subtle, especially if you’re just a spectator – like the case with your friend. You may think “it’s worth it” but in fact she may actually be in a toxic friendship that she’ s too afraid to get out of because she believes she doesn’t deserve any better. Been there, done that. To rapidly stop talking to my toxic ex (even though we literally stayed in touch every day for a year after a break up) was one of the most insanely difficult things I had to do in my twenties. Because I knew I was depressed, I knew I couldn’t count on him the way he could count on me, he deliberately hurt me, called me names, lied to me, made me feel small, insignificant and useless, I was well aware of all that and I STILL could not let him go, still looked for the good in him and found ways to explain his shitty behaviour. But after so much time I finally stopped talking to him and it was awful. Yes, I slowly freed myself, stopped measuring my self worth against his current mood and it got better but at the same time I felt terrible for just dropping him like that when I knew how much he needed me and how much it hurt him too. But every time I felt down about it, at least 10 different situations came to my mind when HE made me cry, HE turned me down, HE wasn’t there and behaved like a selfish prick when I needed him the most. And it truly helped me to view things from perspective. Anyways, that relationship aside, I believe friendships require as much understanding and attention as relationships do. Case in point, my best friend of 15 years. Yes, we were in the same class and spent all days together, yes when she went to different college we spent our holidays together and went to parties. Yes, our bond is not nearly as strong as it used to be back in the day, as we literally see each other twice a year now. But we’ve grown up, we’ve changed and, most importantly, we adjusted to accommodate this friendship in our new life situation. It’s not worth giving up on someone who was a truly great influence on your life once and is overall an excellent human being just because now you have relationships, jobs and pets to take care of. I think it is better to accept the new dynamics and make the most of your friendship under new circumstances, rather than giving up on it altogether.

  2. martynstanley
    January 10, 2018 / 1:07 pm

    There’s a lot to think about there. Ultimately, most friendships run a course. They can be as short as a conversation or as long as a lifetime. Recognizing that a friendship HAS run it’s course and being prepared to let go ‘at the right time’ is an important life skill. You get one life, there’s no point wasting it trying to rekindle friendships which are never going to blossom again. I think it’s always important to be prepared to drop friends, but it’s equally important to be prepared to welcome friends back. We become different people as we grow and sometimes the person you dropped as a teen is the same age as you and going through the same issues as you, ten years later when you’re stuck at home with young kids.

  3. Emma
    January 11, 2018 / 1:47 pm

    What a powerful post Em! As opposed to ‘cutting people out’ this year, I must admit that I have decided to stop putting the effort in as much where I don’t feel I get it back and to see what happens. If the friendships survive, fabulous, but if not I won’t mourn them because already I feel ten times more at ease.

    Emma | HarmonyBlaze.co.uk

    • Emily Clarkson
      January 11, 2018 / 7:48 pm

      Thanks darling – I feel the same way, I don’t like the idea of just cutting people out, I’d like to let fate have a little say in it too xxx

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