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Breaking Up With Friends

The Untold Story of Toxic Friendships

Photo by Luke Ellis-Craven on Unsplash

Break ups are never fun. 

But when you decide to split with a partner or significant other, you know the drill. You eat some ice cream, you watch some bad movies, and you jam out to your epic Screw That Jerk playlist on Spotify. It's not easy, but at least you know what you're supposed to do. 

You get a little angry, you get a little sad, and then you move on. If you're really lucky, you find someone else. (Or you embrace the single life, and learn to love yourself!) Television, movies, books, even music teaches us how to break up with lovers over and over again. They teach us heartbreak isn't the end of the world. But what about when a friendship falls apart?

I'm a pretty lucky person. I can make friends easily, and I've always been the one to bring together a big group of people and make them feel like a family. I did it in high school. And things were great! We hung out at each other's houses, we had sleepovers, we even had our first drinking experience together. (Spoiler alert – it was not pleasant.) It was the kind of friendship I'd read about in all my books, and I honestly thought we'd be friends forever.

Until... we weren't.

I guess things went wrong around prom season. Some friends remarked that I would 'probably not get a date,' which stung, and I set out to prove them wrong. If you've read my other article, you know that I did, and the man I took to prom eventually became my husband. But while my love life was flourishing, my friendships became strained. 

It wasn't that I was avoiding my friends. We were in the same classes, the same after school activities, we ate lunch together. We still hung out, but things were different. We started getting snippy with each other. Things that never used to bother us suddenly became the cornerstone of fights that left some of us in tears. Maybe we were all a little to blame, it's hard to remember. All I know is, eventually I had enough. I marched away from the lunch table, and I stopped speaking to a majority of the people who had once been my closest friends.

The effects weren't as noticeable then. Sure, I was a little lonely during classes, but I had my boyfriend and his friends to hang out with after school. I started eating lunch with them instead. We only had a year left of school anyway, and soon enough, we were off to college.

I decided to pursue theatre in my community college, and it was there that I met my second group of friends. We jokingly called ourselves "The Theater Rats" because we rarely left the safety of the stage. We skipped other classes to hang out on the ratty couches backstage. We hung out in graveyards because it seemed like a cool thing to do. We were with each other constantly. It wasn't uncommon to call up one person, and hear four on the other line. One friend even moved in with me.

Theater people are their own breed of humans. For better or worse. Show-mances, or show-romances, aren't uncommon, and eventually, members of our group started pairing off. Or trying to. And when advances were rejected or hearts broken, our group felt the effects. Again, we became mean to each other. We were judgmental. We started focusing on how we were different instead of the things we had in common. I managed to salvage it for a short time, tried to soothe over some of the hurt feelings, but by the time we all were ready to move onto four year schools, the Rats were kaput. 

Which left me in an awkward position. I had chosen my four year college based on where several of the other Rats were headed. In the end, it was only three of us who went, four if you count my husband. The other two commuted to school, but Joe and I got an apartment. The four of us were friendly enough to hang out at my place, but eventually, even that came to an end. Grudges were formed. Wounds were made, and we all retreated to our own corners of the school to lick them.

I've struggled with depression for most of my adult life, but this was one of the worst lows I've ever experienced. I was lonely in college, and struggling to balance work-school-bills, all the new stresses that came from adult life. I was lonely enough that I even thought about having a baby – just to have companionship. (Thankfully, my mother talked some sense into me.)

I will never forget the day I got the phone call. From the former-Rat, the same girl who had moved in with me so long ago. She was by and large, the best friend I'd ever had at that point. We could finish each other's sentences. When things were good, our creative skills complimented each other and we made art like you wouldn't believe. We were funny, we were brilliant, we were passionate and driven. We were in love with how we felt, especially about each other. 

But there was a dark side to this friendship, too. She could be controlling. I could be standoffish. Neither of us were perfect people, and certainly I was not always the best friend I could've been. But the manipulative streak in her ran deep, and it constantly felt like she was trying to put me down in order to boost her own ego. It got so bad, my family and Joe had to beg me to end my friendship with her. It was akin to an abusive relationship, and for a long time, I was in too deep to see that. 

And then, about six months after I had gotten out, she called me. She told me she'd gotten her own apartment across town – told me she was in therapy for her own mental health issues. I remembered how bad things had gotten between us, but I think it was the first time I'd ever heard her apologize for how she treated me. I thought there was a chance that she'd really changed, and I was absolutely miserable without her, so I took the leap.

I won't walk you through all the gory details of our on-again, off-again friendship. We were like a mood swing, one day deliriously happy just to drink coffee together, and the next picking at every minuscule flaw. We'd fight, I'd leave, and then months later, she'd reach out again. We'd miss each other. I can't tell you  how many times that happened, I can only tell you that each and every time, my husband and family watched on in dismay as I let her back into my life.

The most recent time, we decided to film a webseries together. I was very much into Sherlock Holmes, and she encouraged me to write a modern-day adaptation. It started off with so much promise – but as the project went on, it became clear that however much we'd grown up, certain things hadn't changed.

My initial vision of the project was scrapped and watered down, according to her standards. She appointed herself director and producer of the project, which according to her, gave her complete control. I was okay with this at first, when I thought we were on the same page. I've never been someone who has to be the leader. But the micromanaging started to bother not only me, but my co-star as well. The two of us became friends, and this was probably the final straw for her. 

When the project came to a close, my co-star and I got together and discussed ways it could've been better – and could be better in the future. In the end, what we wanted was to work on the next season of our webseries as friends, not as employees/employer, as we thought that would lead to a more creative, innovative, and well-produced project. We presented these to the girl I'd once thought of as my best friend, only to be told that she was the boss. And if we didn't like it, then we didn't have to continue on with 'her' theatre company – the company I started with her, the company for whom I'd paid the licensing fee. 

It was like a revelation. This girl, this girl who had slept in my bed, cried on my shoulder, who had been there with me at funerals and parties, would rather keep her control over me than work with me as a friend and equal. I had never seen it so clearly before.

So I ended it. For good this time. Before, I had always kept the channels of communication open – we always stayed friends on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram. But this time I blocked her on every website I could think of. I sent her a final email, cold and professional just as she liked it, and I walked away. 

We'd promised each other not to air our dirty laundry on social media. And for years, I have kept that promise. But not long after the initial split, I discovered she'd written an article about "Working With Your Friends." Essentially, she slammed me and my co-star over and over, highlighting our flaws, telling a one-sided story. It hurt, a lot. That she didn't even have the respect to keep this one final promise. And it says a lot about what our friendship ever meant to her. 

A part of me wanted to unblock her then, and confront her. But the wiser part of my mind told me that might be exactly what she wanted. Even if it wasn't, it was still cruel. Because our friendship didn't end because we tried to work with each other, as she claimed in the article. Like any relationship, there were so many factors that led to the eventual break. 

It's been some time now. I've healed from a lot of those wounds. I don't look her up on social media, and when Facebook so intrusively reminds me of my 'memories' that include her, I scroll past. But getting to this point wasn't easy.

Breaking up with friends is so much harder than breaking up with a lover. Because the media teaches us that friendships are supposed to last through everything. That you are supposed to be able to forgive your friends for every slight, every mean word, every slip of the tongue, every broken promise and every passive-aggressive article they write about you. 

But the reality is, friendships break down just like any other relationship. Sometimes it's slow and subtle, people just drifting off down different paths of life. And when you see them again, you wave, you have coffee, you smile and you remember what it was like to be close. 

Sometimes it's volatile. It's 3AM fights and yelling so loudly that your voice breaks – though not as much as your heart does. And what do you do when you see them again? You pretend you don't. You become blind, and your heart turns to stone, just to protect itself. 

But there is no guidebook for this. There are few movies or television plot lines about leaving your best friend behind, because it's better for both of you. Can you imagine Miley Cyrus walking away from Lily? Or Ron from Kim Possible? Tommy and Chuckie. Cory and Shawn. Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Sure, maybe they have a fight or two, but in the end, they are always by each other's side. And life just isn't like that. 

The closest I've ever come to someone really describing how it feels to break up with a friend, is a Panic! At The Disco song. It's called "Folkin' Around. ""You've never been so divine in accepting your defeat // And I've never been more scared to be alone." 

Because it is terrifying. Losing that person who was your other half in a way a lover just can't be. I still think about her sometimes, and sometimes I still miss her. Because she was exciting and exhilarating, and for all the bad memories, there's five good ones. But the bad ones are the ones that remind me why I can never go back. 

In the end, I am happy. I left my high school friends behind, and I married the boy they disliked so much. I left my college friends behind, and I pursued my own dreams. I left my best friend behind, and I've grown into someone who believes in herself. I'm not scared to be alone anymore. 

So my advice to anyone who has a friend, a best friend or maybe just someone in their inner circle – if they hurt you, leave. If they cause you emotional distress, then they are not worth the friendship. And deep down inside, you'll know the difference between a fight and a break-up. Don't be afraid of that break-up, because sometimes, it is the best thing you can do for yourself. Believe in yourself. Trust your instincts. And never, ever look back. 

Except for some introspection, of course. That's always healthy. 

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