There was a point in time where I almost didn’t feel I had a choice in who I was friends with. If someone was willing to be my friend, I was going to take it, no matter what it entailed. The wider your community and the greater your sense of self-worth become, this mindset begins to change. I think we as women often feel it is our responsibility to fix and fix and fix our relationships until they “work.” When we allow a relationship to fall apart, whether it’s natural and cohesive or sloppy, it becomes internalized as a personal failure. But what if we shifted this view and gave ourselves permission to release the friendships that simply no longer served us?
There’s a lot of different ways in which a friendship may no longer fuel our social needs. It’s not always through active, abusive bullying behaviors. For some women, somewhere along the line we naturally begin to recognize these acts of aggression and outward meanness and identify that they no longer need to hold a place in our social worlds. This is an incredible step, and one that is not always easy to come to.
But sometimes it’s not that obvious, and we need to remember that it’s okay to let go of a friendship, even if it is not necessarily abusive. This has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn. I carry an immense amount of guilt with me in almost every area of my life – essentially over nothing. But I think this is common for more women than we realize. We go through life apologizing for taking up space, not being or looking a certain way, not saying the exact right thing. We’re conditioned to feel that the choices we make for ourselves are inherently wrong. So when we actually use our autonomy to decide who we surround ourselves with, we are often left feeling like the bad guy no matter what.
There are a few common examples I’ve observed of how a friendship may no longer serve you. The first as I’ve mentioned is finding yourself in a passive or actively abusive friendship where you are minimized, ostracized, or targeted. Any healthy adult will tell you this is a friendship worth leaving (when you have access to the support and resources to do so). But I have also experienced my share of one-sided friendships, where the other friend doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong, but simply stops putting effort into maintaining and cultivating the connection. I am a planner by nature, and almost always find myself being the one to arrange plans and reach out to see how friends are doing. This is a role I choose to take, and one that I am often fine doing. But it is also something I have seen be taken advantage of. When a friend has stopped making any sort of effort to keep contact, show support, return messages, or continue developing the friendship, it’s okay to let go. Putting forth energy and effort into a relationship that is no longer a two-way street is emotionally exhausting. Remember to relieve yourself of this responsibility to keep everything together; strong, healthy relationships depend on support and effort from both ends, and a true friend who wants to keep you in their lives will recognize this.
These two examples depend on a change or fault on the other’s end. But how do we move forward when we find ourselves outgrowing or no longer invested in a friendship? I harbor a lot of guilt for friendships I’ve let fade over time. And it is crucial that when we do this, we recognize, identify, and work to correct the negative actions we may be taking in the process (are we intentionally ignoring correspondence or lying to spare hurt feelings?). But it’s equally important to recognize that moving in and out of relationships is a natural part of life. Cherish the role and impact they played in your life and your growth, while remembering it’s also okay to move on. Just as we change, what we need and seek in relationships changes as well. When we open pathways to communication, lead with kindness, and are honest with ourselves about what we need and how we feel, we can ultimately find the support systems that cultivate and allow us to be our best selves.