First of all, let me put a little disclaimer as to what I mean by ‘toxic’.
A toxic relationship for me is any time where one person does something to the other person’s detriment over a long period of time. This isn’t necessarily any kind of abuse; it could also be neglect or even lying.
I have had a few toxic relationships in my life, friends and partners, and I am now a firm advocate for removing that toxicity from your life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an honest and forgiving person and so if I’m affected by something you’ve done then I’ll make it pretty clear and give you a chance to redeem yourself (within reason). However sometimes – and this is the killer – the relationship aint worth saving.
Last year a friendship that we had cultivated for several years came to an end. I will hold my hands up and say I had bottled up some of my frustrations with this person but they had become toxic to the point where the relationship was beyond repair. Having been lied to repeatedly, neglected and generally made to feel like I didn’t matter, I knew that all of my efforts were in vain as I tried to have it out with them about my feelings. It might sound like I wasn’t being forgiving but after several months of putting so much effort in for someone and them not meeting you remotely halfway, there comes a point where you have to pick yourself up and say ‘enough is enough’.
As Louis C.K. says in Season 5 of Louie:
“I’m telling you that it hurt and you don’t get to deny that. When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.
It feels oddly therapeutic to write this because I have always been the person who let things go, who let people get away with upsetting me. I now realise that I didn’t do that this time and that’s a good thing. I tried to make this person see what their actions had done to me but I think they either didn’t care enough or weren’t ready to admit their guilt about it.
I still miss this person but I miss the friend that I had. By the end of the relationship, they weren’t the same anymore and we had grown apart completely. It’s weird because you sort of grieve for them as you come to terms with the fact that they’re out of your life for good. Despite this sense of sadness and loss, I am still proud of myself for standing up and saying I deserve better. I was sick and tired of constantly being concerned about someone who didn’t seem to care that their actions were detrimental to me. I made them a priority and felt like I was only an option.
If you’ve had to end a toxic relationship or you’re thinking about doing so, my advice would be this: be strong, prioritise yourself for a change and think about if there’s a way in which you guys could patch things up. If there’s not, then cutting that person out may well be the best option for your wellbeing, even if it hurts at the time.
I asked one of my dear online friends and fantastic blogger types Lucie Wang if she would contribute to this post, having had a similar experience.
I used to be the kind of girl who had mostly male friends. Cal was my best mate for years; we bonded pretty much instantly over a love of banana martinis and questionable music. He was goofy and hilarious, and by some crazy coincidence we started seeing a pair of siblings at around the same time. So it made sense for the four of us to sneak off during a party back to mine to hang out. Even when the cracks started to show, I always stuck by him.
There were alarm bells of course. The fact he introduced me to girls he wanted to sleep with as his “only female friend”, the one token woman who could vouch for him. The way he spoke about my girlfriends made me feel uncomfortable. He always joked that I wasn’t like “other girls”, and naive as I was back then, I believed this was a compliment.
One night he told me he wanted his “best friend” to meet his girlfriend, but when she got up to go to the toilet he asked me to pay for dinner because he didn’t want her to know he couldn’t afford it. The next day I sent him a long text to let him know that though I’d decided not to embarrass him in front of his new girlfriend, what he’d done wasn’t ok. I’d helped him out when he’d been in trouble before, but this was the end of the line for me. And just like that, I walked away. I changed gyms so I wouldn’t run into him, I untagged myself from promo videos he’d put up on Facebook to promote his personal training business (because even after we stopped talking, he still tried to use my personal page to advertise his services). That was the last time I spoke to him.
For weeks afterwards, I felt awful. Not for how things ended, but because I felt the fact they ended at all put a horrible cast over the friendship we’d had. I stayed close to his older brother for awhile, but the fact that we could never speak about Cal (and believe me, we talked about everything else) made things uncomfortable between us in the end.
Know what I learned? Walking away from a toxic friendship isn’t the end of the world. We hold on to some people for longer than their expiration date because we want to remember the good times. We have these great memories of what the honeymoon phase was like but the thing about memories is, sometimes we choose to remember only the fun stuff. Not the times we had to make excuses for their behaviour both to ourselves & to other people. Not the emotional blackmail. Not the nasty little comments disguised as “friendly banter”. We remember the few times they were there for us, but also forget the far more frequent times they weren’t. Our brains are somehow wired to retain the positive, maybe as a survival instinct to maintain social constructs of friendship. We don’t remember all the times we had to act a certain way to avoid being mocked by them, but I will certainly remember the feeling of relief when I walked the hell away from that toxic situation. So many nights I couldn’t sleep because I wasn’t sure how to bring up the fact this friendship was affecting my mental health. I drafted a million conversations and replayed them in my head. It took so much energy to maintain, and you know what the kicker was? I didn’t even like the guy in the end.
I learned a lot. I learned that people change, and sometimes not for the better. Sometimes you keep friends from an old life, and that’s fine. Those people you met through an ex. Old friends from school you have nothing in common with. That dude from uni who posts borderline racist memes on Facebook. Why would you put yourself through that? Life goes on. No one really cared that we were no longer close, and thought it was mentioned a few times when people asked if I’d seen him lately, now almost a year later it’s almost as if we were never friends at all. And let me tell you, I am a much happier person for it.
Lucie is a Canadian woman with fabulously bright hair living in Edinburgh. She works in design by day and blogs about feminism, food and lifestyle by night over at tetrisandcheesecakes.com.
Have you ever had to end a toxic relationship?
Do you currently think you’re suffering in one?
Either leave a comment or you can privately email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you liked this post, you should check out:
Being ‘bossy’ vs being ‘The Boss’ – Is being bossy bad or does it actually make you The Boss?
Mental Health and University – I talk about the importance of looking after your mental health at uni…
“You Can’t Be A Feminist If…” – genuine things I’ve been told make me ‘not a feminist’
Self Care (and why no one should make you feel bad about it) – A piece for Zusterschap about self care