How Do You Know When to End an Anxiety-Inducing Friendship?
My fiancé, Andy, was very sick last year. It was scary, and stressful, and I needed moral support I didn’t know how to ask for. The best I could do was be honest with my family and friends about how things were going, but only when they asked because I just wasn’t good at reaching out.
Most everyone was amazing, checking in with us regularly to not only see how we were, but to make sure we knew they were there for anything we needed.
Sure, there were some I didn’t really hear from about it, but I chose to believe one of two things:
1) I had not made it clear to them just how serious things were, or
2) Busy with their own stresses, they had simply forgotten to ask
Either way, I didn’t let it bother me. No doubt, I had been on the other side of things like this a time or twenty, failing to reach out to someone who I didn’t realize could have used my support.
What was upsetting was the realization of a third possibility reserved for one of my closest friends.
For a long time I gave her the benefit of the doubt
After initially telling this friend what was going on with Andy, she never really checked in with me about it, even when we saw one another.
For a long time I gave her the benefits of the doubt listed above.
Then this happened.
One day while we were hanging out, I really wanted to talk about it, so I opened up without prompting, spilling my guts about how hard things were, living in pretty much chronic crisis mode.
Afterwards, I breathed a sigh of relief. She really seemed to get it and I felt like she’d finally heard me.
But then, the next time I saw her, nothing. It was like the last conversation didn’t exist. From that point on, the only time I remember her showing any interest in what was going on with us was in the presence of other friends who asked me how Andy and I were doing (and even then her interest was lukewarm, at best).
The conclusion I finally came to is this
I tried telling myself she’s just one of those people who doesn’t handle things like this very well. Someone who doesn’t know what to say so she doesn’t say anything at all. Like I’m not good at asking for support, maybe she’s not good at offering it.
I also considered that maybe it seemed to her like complaining and she just didn’t want to hear it. Though, the thing of it is, when something so serious monopolizes your life for so long, and someone asks how things are, the only way you can tell the truth is to talk about it, at least that’s how it was for me.
The conclusion I finally came to is this: I wasn’t as important to her as she was to me.
Now, that’s not a conclusion I would have drawn from this experience alone. In fact, there were countless times over the course of our friendship that I had felt unimportant to her. I just kept talking myself out of it.
There just seemed to be this imbalance between the closeness of our relationship and her ability to text me the fuck back. If that sounds trivial, neglected phone calls and emails also apply. I get that we all overlook these things now and then, but with her it was pretty much 75 percent of the time. It was especially hurtful when we had plans, I’d touch base about them, and get no response.
“I think we have different ideas about what our friendship is.”
Thinking back on it, I can’t help but wonder why I was friends with her at all.
All I can say is we had fun together, we’d been through a lot together, and I felt important to her when we were hanging out. Eventually she’d get in touch, or I’d try again, and my hurt feelings would be forgotten (i.e., buried). Plus, I’d invested a lot of myself in this friendship and, at the time, ending it felt like throwing all of that away. I reminded myself, if I wanted perfect friends, I wouldn’t have friends.
That said, there did come a time prior to last year’s health crisis when I couldn’t take her flakiness anymore. I told her, point blank, “I think we have different ideas about what our friendship is,” and went into some detail about all that was bothering me.
To her credit, she apologized, told me I was one of her closest friends (which I needed to hear to prove to myself I wasn’t crazy for wanting more from her), and we patched things up.
Things got a little better after that, but only slightly. Never enough for me stop feeling anxious every time I reached out to her, knowing the odds were small I’d hear anything back. Then came her response (or non-response) to mine and Andy’s situation last year, and that was the last straw.
It’s now been several months since we’ve spoken. I just kind of stopped reaching out. I did receive a random, generic text out of the blue from her a few months ago, but I ignored it.
Owning my shit
To be fair, I realize how much my own insecurities colored that friendship.
All relationships make me anxious, and it’s not unusual for me to feel unimportant to people I care about. These are people who I know I’m important to. People who prove to me over and over again how important I am to them. But all it takes is an oversight here or a thoughtless comment there for me to go into full panic mode, (temporarily) convinced I’m not important to them at all.
I guess the difference with the friend I just told you about is that I didn’t know I was important to her. I couldn’t trust that it was just an oversight here or a thoughtless comment there. Whatever foundation, or balance, or understanding I’ve found with other friends about the strength of our relationship, I never found it with her.
Though I do miss her, what I don’t miss is the anxiety our friendship caused me. That’s how I knew ending that friendship was the right thing to do – when I realized it didn’t make me happy and caused more anxiety than not.
How do you know when it’s time to end an anxiety-inducing friendship? I’d love to hear any thoughts or experiences you’d like to share.