I knew I was in a toxic friendship for years. I wanted out but wasn’t sure how to do it. The person was in a very bad place, and the timing seemed terrible, but she was sucking the life out of me and after every time we spoke, I would feel so empty inside. Every conversation was only about her and her troubles. She never asked me about my life. I was a bit snarky in a text, and she kind of went off on me. I pounced on the opportunity and broke off the relationship. She retorted with a vicious e-mail telling me that I was never a good friend and she should have been rid of me years ago. I know she’s just angry, so why do I feel guilty? I know it’s best for me, but I had hoped to end things more amicably or at least civilly. I feel really horrible about this. Can you give me some advice?
I’m the first one in the pool when it comes to doing whatever you can to salvage friendships.
Friends are hard to find! And I would say of all my friends, I’ve either had to forgive them – or they’ve had to forgive me – numerous transgressions.
One good friend of mine made out with my girlfriend in the bathroom at a party while I stood outside waiting to use it. At one point I turned to a little clutch of people standing nearby and said: “Boy, whoever’s in there sure is taking their time.”
I still remember their pitying looks, like, “Oh, you poor boob, don’t you realize what’s going on on the other side of that door?” Humiliating! I didn’t speak to him for the better part of a decade.
Eventually I forgave him, though, and now our relationship is among the most treasured of my life. We were two different guys back then.
I’ve been known to quote Polonius (people will tell you he’s among the most foolish of Shakespeare’s characters, but still had some good advice for his son Laertes): “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to your soul with hoops of steel.”
I also attempt to steer people toward The Village Effect, by Montreal shrink Susan Pinker, and numerous other works that suggest a strong social network makes us smarter, happier, healthier and live longer.
But if a friendship becomes toxic, it can work the other way, becoming bad for your health, career, self-esteem, reputation and relationships with other non-toxic people (toxic friends, I’ve noticed, like to cut you up as soon as you leave the room).
The good news is you’ve already figured out you’re in a toxic relationship. There are innumerable websites and blogs and books on “How to spot the 7 or 22 or 15 (or whatever) signs of a toxic friendship.” Your friend sounds like she ticks a lot of these boxes: narcissist; “energy vampire,” i.e. someone who leaves you feeling drained and dispirited after your encounters; quick to flare up when there’s any friction; perpetually “in a bad place”; and so on. But you’ve already done that math, so that’s half the battle won.
The other good news: You’ve already “broken up” with her. There also exist numerous books, blogs, etc. outlining “The 7 or 12 or 17 (or whatever) steps you need to take to extricate yourself from a toxic relationship.”
But you’re already there, so congratulate yourself! Don’t feel guilty. Staying friends with this person doesn’t sound like it’d do either of you any favours.
I remember once I dropped a toxic friend and suddenly started having a little success, to the point where one of my other friends muttered to me, “He was your kryptonite.”
This woman sounds as if she might well be your kryptonite – and you may be hers.
I could hold out hope this situation just requires some time in the relationship penalty-box, that one day she may see the error of her ways and a rapprochement be effected. There’s always a chance – though I doubt it.
But in the meantime, your job is to surround yourself with as many positive people as you can, grapple them to your soul with hoops of steel, and let them help you, and you them, toward achieving your hopes and dreams.
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