Daniel Dowling had a friend whose influence became toxic. Here’s what he wrote when he had to say goodbye.
Editor’s Note: The name of the letter’s recipient has been changed to protect the individual’s privacy. Zach is a pseudonym.
Our friendship has suffered from neglect. After so many attempts at connection, and just as many let downs, I had to let it go.
I love you man and I think about you most every day, but my friends have to be people who I can grow with; who can challenge me to be a better man; and who I can do the same for. I don’t think I can help you become a better man right now because our goals and lifestyles are so much different. And you haven’t been helping me.
I don’t like to say these things, but it’s the truth.
I think you are a good guy with a lot of potential, but to be my best I have to surround myself with people who are intent on being their best; in their jobs; in their relationships; in their hobbies; and in their spiritual life. Our friendship has not lately supplied this growth that I need.
Personal growth should never under any circumstances be sacrificed to maintain a friendship. And when I realized that friendships are designed to help us achieve our potential, I knew that I had to make some tough choices. I love you, we have so much history together, and it’s a huge comfort just to know you are alive. But when it comes to friendship … our relationship no longer qualifies. And when I clung to it, I hurt myself.
It seemed like I was always waiting around for you to show up. And when I was waiting, I wasn’t actively being a good friend to other people. But when I made the decision to move forward, all of my desire to be a great friend was put to good use. I’m part of an awesome community now where my time and talents are needed, I’ve made some tight bonds, and I’m happy. It doesn’t mean that I’ve been best friends with these people for ten years, but it does mean that I can grow with them. And that’s what I need. I need to be able to grow with people because that’s what we’re here to do; that’s what friends are for.
I feel like you’ve used the effort we’ve put in over the last ten years as a savings account. And the past couple years, it’s been all withdrawals. That doesn’t work for me, because I want to be rich in friendship. I don’t want to rely on anything except for my ability to give and to grow in the present and into the future.
We’re at a zero balance right now, and this friendship isn’t an account that I can keep under present terms. My life is focused on growing as a husband, as a role model, as a difference maker, as a peace maker, and as a friend to those I can sharpen and be sharpened by. This focus is not a passing phase, and it is one of the reasons why we’ve drifted apart in the past several years. But I can’t regret my growth as a man, even if it has cost me one of my greatest securities in life: your relationship.
I love you, I will miss you often, and it will continue to be a pain not to have you in my life. But it is a growing pain that I must endure in order to be my best—for my friends, for my family, for my future wife, and for my community.
I hope you understand.
Your friends are the greatest influences on your perspective and behavior, so keep good company. The lesson from letting go of toxic friendships is this: Choose wisely. Investigate the character of your acquaintances before you call them friends. Acquaintances are people you know, and friends are people who grow.
Above all, be the kindest, gentlest, most courageous, boldest, most generous, most honest, and most unconditionally loving friend you can be. Then you’ll attract the kind of friends to whom you won’t have to write a letter like this one.