It is exceedingly frustrating when you’re dealing with a bad friend. Especially when said friend seemed so good for a while there, but something changed and you’re still not quite sure what. In this case, the friend is someone I used to write about in this space, someone I used to thank for his friendship and kindness and support. And while our relationship faded briefly when I moved across the state, it made a comeback last year. But now? Nothing. And with no explanation.
When I look back on my life thus far, there are four people I feel I have let down. One I’d rather not share, but here are the other three: 1) my best friend, Mandy, when I spent far too long ignoring her while we were roommates and I was busy driving back and forth to the middle of nowhere to see a boyfriend with whom I had a dead-end relationship; 2) my sister and niece, whom I’ve been terrible at keeping in touch with and didn’t spend enough time with when I was younger; and 3) my dad, whom I’ve fallen out of touch with and struggle mightily to connect with when we do manage to talk or see one another.
In the grand scheme of 30 years, that really isn’t so bad. (It occurs to me after listing them that these are three of the MOST important people in my life (as is the unnamed fourth) which I guess proves the theory that we hurt those we love the most.)
Outside these four examples, I have consistently bent over backward to live up to people’s expectations as a friend, daughter, girlfriend, etc. I’ve lent an ear and a shoulder, picked up on all the little things, bought meaningful gifts, sent encouraging messages without prompting, offered to do pretty much anything that was required to ensure that the people in my life are cared for and feel loved. And if I HAVEN’T managed to do those things, it was by mistake. It was immediately regretted. It was apologized for and smoothed over and made up for. I know how much it hurts to be ignored and taken for granted, so I’m not about to do that to other people knowingly.
And it’s this very commitment to caring that makes it hard to let dying (maybe even dead) relationships go. Even short-lived relationships are sometimes so rife with emotion and meaning that they become like that favorite well-worn sweatshirt that’s full of holes but you just can’t bear to throw it out. What if it could yet be mended? Could I make something else out of it? Is it really so far gone? But, even worse, this sweatshirt is a human being with feelings. So I’m paralyzed by the fear of hurting them somehow, even though I’m currently being hurt BY them. And I’m afraid to give up on them and us and what could be if we could just talk it out.
I’ve gotten a lot of very wise advice about this situation from other friends over the past few weeks. All of them are people who care about me more than this person seems to. Their advice is all slightly different, but the common theme is that I have to let the friendship go if it’s hurting me. Like the dying flower stealing nutrients from the whole plant, it’s time to prune it off and let the rest thrive. So I’ll try to do that. It might take a little time to get there, but I’m determined. 30 is the year I stop forcing people to be friends with me. I deserve better, and I’m finally beginning to understand that.