When friendships turn toxic
Rían writes about what it’s like to lose a friend
Written by Rían Browne O'Neill
Voices - Experiences
Young people share their personal experiences.
You’re standing on a street corner waiting on them to arrive. You know the chances they’ll show up are pretty unlikely. What excuse will it be a text this time? A blatant no show? “Oh I forgot”, “I slept in”.. Or the usual case of being met with a blank wall of nothingness, as you stand in the cold, waiting on nobody to come, feeling frustrated, fooled and anxiety ridden.You consider texting to confront them but you don’t want to cut your foot off of the eggshells you’re constantly walking on.
It’s often the case that the only kind of toxic relationship discussed tend to be romantic ones, but platonic ones can be just as damaging. Our friends are our chosen family, they are our supports that hold us up.. But when those friendships become unhealthy, toxic, they become hard to discuss or even recognise.
When you’re in a toxic friendship it’s hard to realise you’re actually in one. Yeah, you’re friend could actually listen to you when you need them, not when it suits them and being able to trust the fact they won’t spill all your personal stories you trusted them with if/when you fall out would be nice but, they’re your friend you should accept them flaws and all, right?
This was a perfect snapshot of my relationship with one of my closest friends up until about a year ago, when I decided to cut things off. A lot of the time these instances could be classed as her just being a rubbish friend but what changes that is how she reacted whenever I tried to discuss it with her.
Myself and Laura* (*not her real name) had been friends since our first days at school and over that time and leading into teenage years we began to grow closer. Despite the odd disagreement over our diverging opinions on twilight, on the outside we seemed to have a pretty normal relationship. But, when issues did arise Laura would turn into a different person, at the time I playfully dubbed it the ‘green eyed monster’. “Issues” being anything from an argument between her and her mother being taken out on me, to a calm discussion turning into a heated argument turning into name calling, guilt tripping and grudges she had kept against me being thrown in my face. This green eyed monster was put down to maturity – or lack thereof. Not long after beginning secondary school it eventually resulted in us going our separate ways.
Flash forward a few years later and we’re back in touch. Laura was the closest friend I had and I hoped over time the green eyed monster had disappeared.
We picked up in what seemed like a better place. The past was not discussed apart from quick apologies and forward we moved. We hung out in town most weekends and on the outside everything seemed fine.
Our friendship felt like a tower of Jenga blocks which she controlled, one false move and everything could tumble down. I felt like I was constantly walking on eggshells.
I quickly learned that mentioning new friends/acquaintances was frowned upon – so I stopped. At the time I had pretty bad social anxiety, which I had explained to Laura a couple of times, but it seemed to go in one ear and out the other. I’d often find myself alone waiting on a street corner with no sign of her showing up. I remember one instance of being left to walk home alone mid panic attack surrounded by crowds just as the St.Patrick’s day parade was about to begin – she made it clear that this was a big inconvenience and that I was being a nuisance.
In a healthy relationship of any kind you should be able to have an open conversation about situations like these without fear. In this one I couldn’t. The memory of what had happened on the past occasions when I had tried to do this were still there and I didn’t want to risk it. I felt like I had no control.
This all came to a head after we both suffered personal losses in the year leading up to our ‘break up’. It was a difficult period for both of us but I tried my best to be there for her and support her in any way I could. So, when a family member close to me passed away, and I was beginning to struggle, naturally, I reached out to her, hoping she would do the same for me. She didn’t. This time I decided to confront her face to face about it.
There are two sides to every story and this is just my side .I know I always tried to be what I believed was a good friend – to be trustworthy, reliable and supportive. I’ve often looked back to see what I could’ve done differently and if Laura realised what she was doing.
It’s hard to explain a complex and nuanced relationship in so few words. The effects of being in a relationship where the other person is constantly in control and you are ‘punished’ for challenging it, has definitely impacted on my relationships since then and it’s something I’m still learning to overcome. I became so used to this dynamic it distorted my idea of what a healthy relationship should look like.
We arranged to meet up and I started reciting a conversation I’d rehearsed in my head many times over but, had been too scared to say outloud. She met me with her usual, sometimes cliche, responses – “I’ll change, I promise this won’t happen again..” I convinced myself this time it’ll be different. But, it wasn’t. So this time I sent her a long thought out message (because she refused to meet me in person).
Up until now I thought Laura had been handling things well, there had been few signs of the“green eyed monster”.
The next morning I scroll through social media to find posts aimed at me.”I don’t know where we stand….I don’t want to throw what we have away,….. You’re my best friend..” accompanied by a happy photos from years ago.. In the past this sort of thing often worked, I’d apologise, she’d forgive me and we’d carry on. But this time I didn’t engage.
Over the next couple of days more posts appear. They were strategically posted so she knew that I would see them. Eventually I gave in to the bait as the posts got darker. “Now I know what it’s like to be stabbed in the back..” “I know who I can trust and it isn’t you..” I reiterated how I felt and told her I thought it’d be for the best for us to part ways. And that was when I began to be bombarded from left, right and centre. “You’re a backstabbing bitch… I hate you… I don’t need you I know who my real friends are, you’re not one of them…” accompanied by a lot of personal digs, grudges and a sprinkling of blackmail.
It’s hard to lose a person you were once so close to in your life, but it was the best thing I could’ve done for myself. For a long time I felt guilty, I grieved for the loss of our friendship and I worried about her. I fought with myself not to believe all of the things she had said about me. Did I even do the right thing? But, the proof was in how positively my life changed when she had left it.
I became more outgoing, putting myself forward for things she would’ve scoffed at if I had suggested them to her, I made new friends that treated me better, and pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I was happier because I didn’t have to look for somebody else's permission or approval to do the things that I wanted to do.
Through my own experience I’ve come to realise what a healthy relationship should look like, what we had was not it. A healthy relationship should lift both parties up, not hold them back.