People of all ages, midlife women included, seem to be posting memes about toxic friends on social media with some kind of frequency. We’ve all experienced our share of fallouts with others. In the past year alone I have been surprised at how many stories I have heard from some of you about being let down by new and long-time friends alike. Below I share some of my own experiences over the years with you. Apparently, it’s a fact of life that people fall out. Sometimes you make up, sometimes you break up. Friends can come and go out of our lives. What comes next is for each of us to decide.
When do we give second chances and when do we cut bait for good?
For me, the criteria would be those with whom I have a long history that includes more positive experiences than negative. Just because I have known someone for years (or decades) doesn’t give them a free pass into my life. Who has that kind of time? I’m interesting in the ones who have my back. True friends are those with whom there can be mutual affection, trust, loyalty and acceptance. Yeah sometimes you have a few squabbles over the years but these are the friendships worth fighting to keep.
There have been times when what I experienced was less of a squabble and more of an all out fight. Someone does something hurtful or something that goes against the other’s core values. I won’t list out issues here as we all have our buttons that can be pushed. What is not a big a deal to one person could be completely unforgivable to someone else (and vice versa). No matter the cause of the fight, it’s probably safe to say you won’t be talking to that person for awhile if ever.
Tammy and I were joined at the hip in college and I loved her dearly. Beautiful, smart, artistic and fun but also kind of shy and unsure of herself which made her all the more endearing to those who knew her. I could be just as shy and unsure but having a friend like Tammy gave me an inner strength like Dumbo and his magic feather. I could go anywhere, talk to anyone, be anything. Tammy and I had been assigned as roommates freshman year and our adventures began from day one. Together we shared our first experiences with college drinking, college boys and living without parental guidance. We made some great memories to smile back on now.
A couple of years in, Tammy became a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority. The sorority was known for its snobby, exclusive girls. They were called “bow heads” because they always wore large bows in their hair. Tammy and I had always made fun of bow head girls and now she was becoming one of them. I was heartbroken as I watched her spend more and more time at the sorority house and less and less time with me. I was even more hurt when these girls would come to visit Tammy at the student apartment we shared. They were so unbelievably annoying and rude I had to either hide in my room or leave. Usually I would just meet my friends out at the clubs. Although I was also in a sorority, the club scene was something I felt I needed to explore more. Eventually, I moved out of the apartment and didn’t speak to Tammy for a long time.
Stacie and I became fast friends back in 1999. She was a New Yorker so we immediately bonded over being East Coasters living in LA LA Land. We were inseparable. She has been there for me and had my back more times than I could ever count. Stacie was the wind beneath my wings. From hanging out at the beach to hitting the bars of Hollywood, Stacie and I were like a goth version of Edina & Patsy. We made our way through every scene Hollywood had to offer but found ourselves landing in the rock scene on the Sunset Strip. Both of us were passionate about music (and musicians…) Oh the crazy fun we had. With friends with names like Bullet, Frieze and Evil Dick how could we go wrong?
While I could write hundreds of blogs on just how wrong Stacie and I could go and in just how many ways, for the purposes of this post, I will just say what led to our falling out. Part of it was that we spent so much time together that every little nuance and habit the other had was getting on our nerves. Worse than that, the rock scene is full of drama, bad habits and bad people. We had surrounded ourselves will all of the above. On some level we each knew we needed to get out but found ourselves repeating the same patterns. It was as if we were enablers to each other’s Hollywood scene addiction. As long as we had each other, we didn’t need normal relationships. As much fun as we did have, deep down I don’t think either of us felt we could have sustained that lifestyle much longer. Eventually something had to give. Neither of us ever did anything terrible to the other, we just were bickering so much that we decided to be on a break.
With the perspective of a fabulous 40-something, I can now see what the two situations had in common. Personal growth. Tammy and I were so young and we didn’t know how to handle the newness of life on our own. So we handled it wrong. Instead of giving each other breathing room to experience new things for ourselves while remaining connected, we completely blew each other off. Stacie and I did pretty much the same thing. On a subconscious level we realized that we had to let each other go for awhile in order to find the next part of our lives. We achieved that by stubborn anger over a stupid fight.
Was it the healthiest way to do things? Probably not. I didn’t get to see Tammy as she grew into the amazing woman she is today. On the other hand, if I hadn’t fallen out with Stacie, we would still be drinking a bottle of Bacardi a night at the Rainbow Bar & Grill wondering why we spent all of our Valentines Days with each other instead of a decent man. I may have never moved to London to meet Hashtag Husband. In any case, not only have we patched things up but I still count her as one of my closest friends today. In the end both friendships proved every bit worth saving.
Hashtag Husband says it is possible to have casual friendships. I have never been good at this type of friendship as I am kind of an all or nothing person but I do see his point. With these people you keep the conversation light and don’t have any expectations. That way you are never let down and you always have a nice time when you see them. You have nothing invested so if something goes awry you simply go on with your life.
There are two kinds of ugly I am thinking of here. First there’s the friends who were never truly friends. Maybe you thought they were but when the shit went down you learned the truth. They could be gas-lighters, jealous, flaky, too competitive, manipulators, controlling, selfish, liars, cheaters or flat out toxic. In any case, they don’t bring value to your life.
Once upon a time in Los Angeles I got sick on a week day. The doctor prescribed me something over the phone but I couldn’t drive to the nearby pharmacy to pick it up. I called a friend of mine who I knew wasn’t at work. She also lived nearby (exactly 2.7 miles as I later on clocked in my car) and could easily have brought it to me. Her exact words were “oh I can’t. I just got in my car to drive to the mall to visit my boyfriend. He’s giving away men’s cologne samples.” By the time an actual friend of mine was able to help me, I had to be taken to the hospital. As the original girl in question was also all of the things I listed in the previous paragraph, I felt no loss in not being friends with her anymore. I have met thousands of people in my lifetime and have enough real friends. A person with a record like that is expendable to me. No need to waste energy on working things out, this person did me a favor by exiting my life.
Probably the worst case scenario is when you fall out with a person who was not selfish or jealous. They may have even been true friends. Then life happens. Circumstances happen. Whatever the case may be you end up in a fight. Emotions run high. Words are said and actions are taken. Neither can be taken back. I had a friend who I genuinely liked. She made a few bad decisions that caused a lot of pain for a handful of people myself included. Now I really can’t even look at her without thinking about all of that. I hadn’t known her for very long so when all was said and done I decided to let go and focus on my other friends. I’m sure this is something we’ve all experienced at one point or another.
So, back to my original question
A lot of people will say forgive and forget. My philosophy has always been you don’t have to forgive or forget, you just have to not let it bother you anymore. Remember and learn from the experience but let go of bad feelings and move forward. Inevitably, in time you will have to decide what to do about a broken friendship. You will have to decide how much you value the relationship and whether it is worth putting in the time and energy to repair. In the case of an unhealthy one, you may choose to sever all ties and never speak to that person again. In more positive situations, it could mean finding a way to work things out and/or starting again from where you are now. Find a new common ground and begin to rebuild. Then the forgiving and forgetting will happen on its own.