Recently I ended a long time friendship that was turning toxic. I say I “ended” it, but actually, I was trying to hold on to it.
I’m of the opinion that if you care about a relationship, you air any issues rather than let them fester. You do it in the spirit of fixing whatever is wrong & you talk about the issue, not the person, although sometimes that 2nd item can be subtle.
I felt hurt about a couple of recent events, so I told her in an email, which I consider the least confrontational of approaches. I was careful about using wording like “I feel like you do this” rather than “you did this,” etc. I had just had a heart-to-heart much like this with another girlfriend, & it had been quickly resolved, with good feelings on both sides.
Her 1st response should have warned me that we weren’t going to fix this. It was basically “I don’t understand why you feel that way & I don’t think I did that. What can I do to fix this?” Well, you could care that I feel hurt, for starters, I wanted to say. But I didn’t. I still thought we could reach some kind of common ground.
The more I tried to explain, the angrier she got. I know her reading comprehension is more than sufficient, but some of her responses seemed to me as if she was hearing totally different things coming from me than what I’d said. I ignored the details; I was shooting for the single issue of whether or not we were still friends at all. But I was completely missing the point. I should have given the details more thought; their very existence was a message & I wasn’t getting it.
In my 3rd email I said that maybe I was expecting too much & being selfish about our friendship. I said I would stop worrying about us & stop complaining to her. At this point I knew that we weren’t close any more, but I thought we could at least just forget about it & be civil.
My white flag evoked an even more hostile reaction from her, & that’s the last I heard. I can now look forward to lots of hostile awkwardness in our shared haunts; I’ve seen her have fallings out with previous friends, & it wasn’t pretty.
From the start, I should have known this wasn’t going to go well. The normal response, when someone you care about expresses hurt in a responsible way, is something like “Doh, I’m sorry you feel hurt; I didn’t know I was doing that. If I did, I didn’t mean it; if I do it again, let me know.” This is because when you care about someone you don’t want them to get hurt, even by you. It’s called “caring.” I sort of knew, but didn’t properly recognize that “caring” was completely missing from her response. She was treating our friendship like a business negotiation. I should have just dropped it right then & there, because the state of our friendship was already revealed, & my question was already answered.
As our exchange continued, various things I said were transformed, sometimes nonsensically, into ammunition against me. This is another thing you don’t do to someone you care about. You don’t need ammunition. All the little misunderstandings & misinterpretations that her responses were littered with were a cumulative message: “she is hellbent on being offended.” I was ignoring it in my fervent need to communicate. She was getting my message loud & clear, but I was refusing to hear her answer (“red zone, red zone!”).
So, in practice, I ended our friendship. If I had shut up at the very start, we wouldn’t necessarily be true friends, but we would still be on speaking terms, & eventually, when she was ready to be friends again, we’d still be intact.
I don’t think I was wrong to express my hurt. I think I was unwise in my pursuit, which was badly timed & pointless. Until now I’ve been pretty black & white about being honest in a friendship. I still believe in honesty, but I think it has to be moderated with better listening. If they don’t want to hear it, if they have a dysfunction of their own that prevents them from responsible communication, if they don’t want to fix things, or in this case, if they have found another relationship that leaves them no room for yours any more & your protest is really just an excuse to kick you to the curb — just leave it.
There are those who’d say it’s better to reveal faulty friendships & get rid of them, but our friendship had lasted a long time waning & waxing; that was the nature of it. The waxing periods were good ones; I’d been ok with the waning ones until now. It was toxic, but it had its good moments.
7. Pay better attention to gauge whether or not it’s the time for honesty. (for realizations 1-6, see the previous On Friendship posts in the Soul Searching Crap category).