We all know relationships are hard. What nobody tells you, though, is how much heartache friendships can cause — especially if you rely on them while growing up. Especially if you make them your safe place, your steady boat in a storm, your unbreakable bond.
And especially when that bond breaks.
It’s been over half a year now since I last spoke to my best friend of 10 years, and while I don’t think either of us is ready to talk to each other again (we still have a long way to go before or if that ever happens), the distance makes me have a fresh outlook on the friendship.
I sometimes end up blaming my friend for everything that went wrong in our relationship — the toxicity, the breaking of boundaries, the jealousy and the pressure.
But that’s not how things work. In this scenario, there are two people to take the blame. I had my own part to play. These are some of the things I wish I did in my friendship and am planning to do in all my friendships that are to come. They’re what should be present in any healthy relationship if you want it to last.
I wish I didn’t let her overstep my boundaries
This is a hard one. We were friends since I was 11 years old, and it’s pretty difficult to establish mature boundaries at that age. The dynamics of our friendship naturally evolved as we grew older, and it made both of us feel at a disadvantage — and while she learned how to say no and reasonably explain what works for her and what doesn’t over time, I never quite mastered that skill.
I was 21 years old and still struggling with expressing myself clearly, firmly and assertively. I pouted instead of confronting her, and when I did confront her, all I thought about was how I didn’t want to upset her. At the same time, I let her cross my boundaries multiple times without mentioning a word because I wanted to keep the peace, which only supported the unhealthy dynamics in our friendship.
It was a mess. She was always very careful about the boundaries of everyone else but me. While she was hesitant to call our friend about a time-pressing issue because “she might be having breakfast and I don’t want to disturb her”, her boundaries with me were almost nonexistent.
The main problem here isn’t that she had double standards for us — it’s that I let her. I didn’t confront her, I didn’t get mad at her. I just laughed, nodded and waved my hand. Whatever, it’s no big deal.
The thing is, these transgressions are a big deal in the long run. As you keep okaying everything, they keep crossing more and more boundaries, which can lead to a loss of respect from both sides.
It’s way too easy to say she didn’t respect me enough to understand I had some limits. The truth is that I didn’t establish those limits as we grew older. In turn, standing my ground became harder and harder.
I wish I didn’t promise what I couldn’t keep
We’d grow old together, we’d have houses next to each other, our children would be best friends and we’d do Harry Potter marathons with them… the list goes on and on.
We promised each other thousands of things while growing up, and we always held onto these promises, believing they will truly come true — until I got a boyfriend. Every time I got involved in a relationship, the reality hit me, and I realised that things might not turn out the way we planned because there’s another person in the picture now.
What if I marry my boyfriend and then we have to move because of his job? What if I have children before she does, and we won’t have anything to talk about because my life will revolve around babies and poo? What if I choose to move somewhere she doesn’t want to live?
Suddenly, I felt under a huge amount of pressure.
I never wanted to be the person that ditches their friends for a boyfriend, but I definitely was that person as a teenager, and my friend felt abandoned and betrayed each time I placed my focus elsewhere. After the breakup, I ran back to her and things were better than ever.
No wonder she got scared the last time I started a relationship. To be clear, I don’t think it’s wrong to realise you’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you might end up going different places than you originally planned — but it’s harsh to include other people in that plan, promise them heavens and then leave.
I promised things I couldn’t keep. This makes sense when you’re a teenager, however, I kept promising as we grew older — we’d live in London after university, we’d do this and that… and there was also the silent promise of “I’ll follow you wherever you go because that’s what I’ve been doing until now.”
It’s not fair. You should always try to be completely honest with your friends and not lead them on. My friend never felt such anxiety from her other friends doing their own thing because that’s exactly what they told her they were going to do. She knew what to expect.
Me? Not so much. I was a ticking bomb. And she never knew if I’d break my promise again and go down my own path.
I wish I didn’t depend on her so much
Our friendship was not really interdependent; it was co-dependent at best. We directly linked our lives and personalities to having each other as a friend and we often talked about how living without each other was simply impossible.
Well, now we’ve lived on our own for months and months, and somehow, things are good. Turns out, we can lead perfectly good lives when our soulmate is out of the picture.
Having her as my best friend frequently made me feel like I didn’t need anyone else. She fulfilled me on almost all levels — socially, emotionally, intellectually. Need a friend to go to a café with? There she is! Need someone to go clubbing with? Yep, the same person! Want someone to share old stories with or discuss our current lives related to who we were 5 years ago? She was the only one who was there through almost everything!
We chatted every evening when we met at home, we celebrated things together, we went and got drunk on Halloween. And as we were dancing on the empty dance floor and turning round and round, I really did feel like she was the only friend I could ever need.
The problem with this co-dependency is how much pressure it puts on the relationship. I felt like I couldn’t 100% go and find myself because I’d always have to think of not hurting her feelings, of following her wherever she went in some way, of becoming someone who fit into her picture. And in a way, I expected the same of her.
As a result, I didn’t make many new friends (my social anxiety is partly to blame for that), I always asked her questions I could have simply googled and I didn’t force myself to become more independent because she was always there to help me out. Being 2 years older and having gone through the same experiences, she always knew more than me and was always ready to give me her advice and guidance, which I’ll always be grateful for.
But I relied on her help too much. I made the friendship something of a foundation for who I was and where I was going, but I disregarded the fact that our friendship was made of two imperfect girls struggling with life. I ignored that I can’t simply glaze over the toxicity and carry on just because we had something special.
And when the friendship fell apart, I realised I had very few friends. I was sad, lonely, happy and drunken on my newfound freedom all at the same time.
And slowly, I built myself back together.
. . .
Sometimes, we tend to paint things in black-and-white and make ourselves the victim of a complex situation where we actually had a part to play. I definitely do that with this friendship from time to time.
The way to make your future friendships healthier is to realise where you went wrong and to think about how you can be a better person the next time round.
Establishing healthy boundaries early on, confronting your friend in a calm and reasonable way when they overstep them, refusing to make empty promises and keeping your independence as you dive into a new friendship are some of the key essentials if you want to make sure this one really lasts.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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