One Of The Best Things I Did This Year Is Let Friendships Go

by Jenn Jones
A dark-haired woman in a white top with frilled sleeves with closed eyes in front of a navy-blue wal...
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There wasn’t a single, dramatic incident that prompted me to breakup with her. There wasn’t a shouting match, tears, or an I’m-not-apologizing-first standoff. Instead, I broke up with her quietly, taking several slow, intentional steps back until we were no longer friends. The time had come, and I was the one who had the courage to call it quits on not just one, but a handful of friendships.

I don’t even know what exactly prompted me to bid these friendships farewell. The only commonality between them was that I was tired of the relationship. They were no longer adding to my life, but rather depleting me of time, energy, and joy. I don’t think these friends were intentionally trying to hurt me. Instead, I believe that I outgrew them. I’m not saying this in a hoity-toity way, either. I’m certainly not perfect, and I’m sure if you asked my ex-friends, they’d have a thing or two to tell you about me.

I’ve had a few years of extreme hurdles that have resulted in personal growth. We added another child to our family, but then shortly afterward, I was diagnosed with cancer which resulted in years of work on my mental health from the medical trauma I endured. Just when I thought my family was finally in a season of rising, the pandemic hit. I had little time or energy for anything other than making it day to day—half-ass friendships included.

One of my friends went silent once I was diagnosed with cancer. I was absolutely hurt. I thought we were going to be friends forever. I was in her wedding party, she babysat my kids, and I attended her baby showers. I don’t know why my cancer was too-much for her or why she thought I didn’t need her anymore, but she went silent. Where was a simple text? A dropped off meal on my doorstep? A card? Nowhere to be found. Was it my job, in the midst of a devastating and difficult health crisis, to reach out to see how she was doing? I had a glimmer of hope when, before the pandemic, I spotted her and her children at the park, one playground over from where I was watching my children. I grabbed my cell and called her, hoping she’d pick up and we could get the kids together and chat. I watched her pull her vibrating phone from her back pocket, look at the screen, and decline the call. My heart sank when I realized that she had zero interest in reconnecting.

Another friend sucked the life out of every conversation, and it was getting progressively worse. Every time we chatted, she rattled off a list of reasons why her husband was the actual worst, and it didn’t stop with him. She didn’t like her child’s teacher, her sibling, her therapist, her in-laws, her own parents, her neighbor’s dog—or anyone else. I valued this friend. She was smart, passionate, and sarcastic, but she was draining me. We’d known each other for ten years, but I couldn’t let our history determine our future.

I had another friend who was the clingy, all-or-nothing friend. She had a best friend, one, and that was it. She wanted to do everything together, to be included every time and in every way. If I gave an inch, she took a mile. Having a larger family, I couldn’t commit to giving her what she wanted, nor am I a one-friendship kind of girl. The other issue? She was the definition of a drama queen. Every single little thing sent her spiraling, and she was sure to try to grab my hand when she went down. I had a hard time letting her go, because our friendship was initially solidified when I sat with her during the most heartbreaking moment of her life.

Yes, I could have dove in and tried to redeem these friendships, but was it worth it? I had so much on my own plate, trying to unpack medical trauma while working and raising a family. I didn’t have much left to offer, and what I did have deserved to go to give-and-take, authentic, well-matched friendships. All relationships are work, but should they really take up a significant part of your head and heart space? I’m going with no.

What I’ve learned this year is that it’s okay if friendships are no longer compatible. We all grow at different times and in different ways, and rarely does our growth match that of someone else. Sustaining friendships out of guilt doesn’t work, either. Just because you’ve known a friend since middle school, just because you were college roommates, or just because your kids are on all the same teams, doesn’t mean you need to be arm-in-arm, whispering in each other’s ears, and clinking your coffee cups together. Guilt isn’t a healthy reason to stay in relationship with someone.

We all have our underlying issues that prevent us from making good connections with others, depending on their own underlying issues. Or maybe, our needs and standards have changed. I’m not talking about an I’m-too-good-for-you attitude. Rather, sometimes you and another are no longer on the same wavelength—or even the same planet. There’s no shame in that. In fact, it takes courage to let someone go for the betterment of you both.

I’ve been tempted, especially during these long pandemic months, to send a quick text to my ex-friends just to see how they are. You see, I still care about their well-being, and at times, I think about them. I’m not angry, but perhaps at times, I am a little sad. What went wrong? Could I have tried harder or done something different or better? Do they miss me, too? However, what I know is that what once was offered us some fun, beautiful moments, but those are best left as fond memories. I’m choosing to protect my peace and enjoy the friendships I have right now.

We need to give ourselves permission to bid farewell to friends who aren’t really our friends. Otherwise, we’re allowing that person to take up space that belongs to someone or something else. Maybe that space is for another friend, or maybe that space should be held sacred for ourselves. What I do know is that a true friend knows when it’s time to smile and gently wave goodbye.