Unfulfilling Friendships

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships recently – what a friendship means; how it enhances or in some cases detriments your life; what a good friend is; what a bad friend is; whether I am a good friend etc. etc. etc.

A few years ago, I regarded myself as someone who was good at making friends but terrible at keeping them; now I’m also terrible at making them! Although I didn’t think it was possible, that’s probably down to the gradual exacerbation of my anxiety, and it’s also probably down to my confidence being knocked.

There was one particular incident when I was 18 which likely did most of the damage confidence-wise. I’d just started Sixth Form College and was fervent about creating life-long friendships and starting afresh from my generally bad experience at high school (oh, the naiveté). I quickly made friends with these 2 girls, who in retrospect were, well, bitches. They invited a fourth girl into our group and we became a little ‘clique’. We hung out together at lunch; they went to my house a few times and I to theirs. It was only early November when I noticed that they were distancing themselves. They wouldn’t text me to tell me where they were at lunch, they wouldn’t invite me out, and when I did see them they’d try their upmost to include me in the conversation as little as possible. Keep me on the outskirts, stuff like that. Never having been one to overstay my welcome, I cut ties (by which time it was too late to form new friends as everyone had established their ‘cliques’) and spent the next 2 years of college as a very apparent loner. Eek.

In hindsight, I think the 1.5-2 year age gaps between me and them played a big part. When you’re a teenager, even 6 months can make a substantial difference to your persona. I’d already endured my 16-year-old emo ‘MCR-is-the-best-band-ever’ phase and they were clearly still going through theirs. Anyway, I think that experience was the final nail-in-the-coffin – I resigned myself to gloomy but protective lonerdom.

I think it’s very normal (almost a rite of passage) to lose friends throughout your life; people change, they come and go and it’s a bit sad but natural nonetheless. But I’ve lost so many friends that for these past few years I’ve become extremely guarded – I fear making friends because I see it is an inevitability that I’ll lose them. Or worse yet, by recurrence, they’ll ‘kick me out’. This probably seems contradictory considering that I’ve just stated that losing people is a natural part of life, but ironically, I’m not someone who deals with any form of abandonment or break-up very well. It seems as though I fear getting too close to anyone because I fear the possibility of separation from them.

This is yet another contradiction, as one of my main ambitions in life ever since I was a little kid was to a have an incredible, tight-knit friendship group. (Yes, this dream was undoubtedly influenced by the TV show Friends which I would watch religiously every day after school. FYI Ross is my favourite.) Right now, I would only consider myself to have 4 friends, none of which I feel very close to, except my sister of course.

Family members inclusive, I think that having friends is an essential part of living a contended life. (There may be individuals whose friendship only extends to people who they’re also related to, which is fine.) Friendship transcends gender, sexuality, age and relation so in that context it doesn’t really matter who you are friends with, it matters why you are friends with them and what the friendship means to each of you. It’s important to have a person or persons you can spend time with, confide in, rely on, trust and with whom you can be your authentic self. Otherwise life can get pretty isolating.

Without meaning to sound pessimistic, more often than not I think we stumble upon figures in our lives who fall short, sometimes ever so slightly, of being a ‘true’ friend. And by that I don’t mean that the person in hand is dishonest or toxic or holds any detrimental qualities even, I just mean that with most people we meet, the connection we forge is always lacking on some level. Bittersweet. For example, a friend may intimidate us; we might find them a bit too ______ or not _______ enough; we might enjoy their company, in bursts. And vice versa! It works both ways.

None of these friendships are necessarily poor or problematic whatsoever, in fact, they’ll comprise the bulk of our friendship history. These friendships are likely good – they still serve a purpose. The person who somewhat intimidates us could be a great motivator, someone who inspires us to work harder or challenge ourselves or try something new. Maybe the friend whose company we might only enjoy for a certain amount of time is someone who we know we can let loose with; someone we have the wildest nights with; someone who it’s near impossible to be bored around. Sure, you mightn’t wish to spend a week on a desert island with them, and likely won’t be inviting them to supper with the folks anytime soon, but ultimately, you’re glad to have them as a friend.

What I want to talk about (write about, technically) is those which are problematic – unfulfilling friendships; those which seem to serve negligible purpose.

1.       The One-Sided Friendship

You may feel as though you’re constantly the one organizing meet-ups; sending the first text; instigating everything to do with this friendship. Or perhaps you’re the one not putting in the effort. On the bright side, this is the most fixable of unfulfilling friendships, and also the most frustrating because it doesn’t have to be this way. But you can’t force someone to put the effort in, and after a while, there’s only so much someone can give before they grow tired of not getting anything in return. Often, people have been on both sides of this type of friendship (I know I have!) so always hold yourself accountable. If you notice you’re not putting in anywhere near as much effort as the other person, ask yourself why. If it’s because you don’t want to be friends with them, let them know. If, more often than not, it’s because you’re taking them and their friendship for granted, apologise and try to mend the situation before you end up losing someone you care about. At the end of the day, friendship should be a two-way street.

2.      The Dull Friendship

What once may have seemed like a kindred bond has lost all of its effervescence. Perhaps one of you has changed, or you both have, and have now found that there is little to no connection between you anymore. You don’t really enjoy each other’s company; in fact, you find your time together bland and boring. Every month/year you meet up less and less because you no longer relate to one another. Or perhaps that spark was never there in the first place; the friendship was always dull. Either way, you’ve got to ask yourself, “What’s the point, anyway?” You already seem to have gone your separate ways mentally – it would probably be best to replicate that in your personal lives.

3.      The Toxic Friend

99% of the time, there is no point even attempting to fix this friendship. If someone makes you feel inferior, if they incessantly put you down, know that you don’t have to put up with that. A toxic friend is someone who isn’t deserving of your friendship whatsoever. They might be extremely possessive at times then  suddenly become extremely aloof, but blame you the one time you can’t be there for them – aka. hypocrisy and guilt-tripping. They might try to humiliate you in front of people to make them feel better about themselves, or call you insensitive nicknames then laugh it off as a ‘joke’ when confronted. Often this person is riddled with insecurities which they’re trying to offset onto you, and will use the veil of ‘friendship’ to try to justify or counteract their cruelty, so it’s important to be cognizant of the way you’re feeling. Or maybe it’s more of a mutual thing – friendships in which both parties feed one another’s insecurities or bad habits are just as abundant. Either way, the inconsistency, instability and malice within this friendship ain’t worth anyone’s Goddamn time.

4.      The User/Usee Friendship 

Whether they’re just using you as a ladder to social climb or constantly relying on you for money that they then don’t pay back, this type of friend is already foreseeing the culmination of the friendship. Once they have what they want either directly from you or as a result of having been friends with you, they’ll toss you aside like last season Jimmy Choos. And if it’s the other way around and you’re the person using someone, please… stop that shit.

Taking all of this into consideration, I guess you could conclude that in life there are 3 types of friendships:

1.       Unfulfilling Friendships (those we should either fix asap or discontinue)
Examples: Walter White & Jesse Pinkman, pretty much all ‘cliques’ in High School Chick-Flicks, Sweeney Todd & Mrs. Lovett

2.      Partially Fulfilling Friendships (most friendships)
Examples: Sherlock & Watson (sorry Johnlock fans), the Freaks in ‘Freaks & Geeks’

3.      Totally Fulfilling Friendships (our friend soulmates, those who we will be and want to be friends with for life)
Examples: Harry & Ron, Dan & Phil, Ant & Dec, Me & Spaghetti

I’m not sure if I’ve found any friend soulmates yet, and if I’m not sure then I most likely haven’t. I think that those types of bonds are extremely rare; maybe we get only 2, 3 or 4 of them in our entire lifetime, 5 if we’re very lucky. But if there’s one thing I am certain about, it’s that I don’t want to entertain unfulfilling friendships anymore.

Humans tend to grip onto unfulfilling friendships, sometimes for decades, out of sentimentality or purely out of familiarity. People can even be quite incredulous, especially if it had once been a very cherished relationship; we may not want to admit to ourselves that it’s gone sour. When we aren’t in quite so much denial we may believe that these iffy friendships are the best we’re going to get, the best we deserve, or simply, we’re scared by the prospect of having no friends at all. But the truth is that this act of holding on is unhealthy and mentally debilitating. Just the same way you would find it deplorable to stay in a relationship with somebody based solely on the fact that you don’t want to be alone, the same logic must therefore be applied to friendship. It’s unfair to put someone in the position of being your ‘safety net’ and it’s unfair to be someone’s safety net.

It’s also unfair on yourself to not accept your own worthiness of something more than just ‘satisfactory’. It’s funny because I think people are often so picky about who they date but they don’t extend that to friendship, in fact they settle for friends that they barely get along with. But bad friendships can be superseded by much healthier, stronger, purposeful ones. And the time and exertion either trying to fix or just wading through the damage in our irreparable friendships could be better spent forming these new bonds, or just recharging; relearning how to be friends with ourselves.

Sometimes, it simply isn’t worth it. If a friendship is much more exhausting than it is exhilarating, more negative than it is positive, it is one of those times to break them.

(And if you find one of those special gems, those rarities of humankind; whether they’re also your partner or your parent; whether they’re someone 12 years your junior or 20 years your senior; whether you foretold your spectacular bond or initially thought you’d despise them, that’s when you should hold on for dear life and never let go.)

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