I am a pretty happy person by nature. I like to laugh, I like to make other people laugh. I love to have fun. I like to be surrounded by fun, silly, lovely people. So I had hoped that by the time I got to 40 I’d have eliminated toxic relationships from my life. People who don’t make me feel good about myself. But somehow I’ve managed to get here and still be plagued by relationships that I don’t feel comfortable in. That’s about to change.
It seems however much I crave the company of fun and silly… I also seem to attract self-centred, egotistical, and…dare I say it… SELFISH people too. Now don’t get me wrong here…. I know like attracts like! I am the first to admit that I can dominate a conversation with ME ME ME! I know I can seem conceited with my selfies, live videos and my relentless self-promotion all over my social media! But I would hope that friends would know enough about me to know that a lot of it is tongue-in-cheek. And I think most people have the capacity for some selfishness… I am definitely not without fault.
But my observations have led me to see that often (but not always: see footnote) the most fun and exciting people to be around are the ones who err on the side of too much self-loving. And it’s so easy and exciting to get swept up in the magic of their charm, their charisma, and insatiable thirst for fun, before seeing that the reality of that friendship is an emotional one-way-street.
I have spent years in and out of therapy trying to figure things out emotionally. I’ve held onto things for years, without understanding why…and feeling ashamed at not being able to let go until I’ve been able to see things from a different perspective. As a mother, someone who is more mature, and more confident. All of these things change how you perceive certain events.
I’ve also learnt that being accused by friends of being a drama queen/ over thinking things / being over-sensitive are not necessarily helpful criticisms. I do think about things a lot more than I should and I am a sensitive person but dismissing my feelings as such means that the person who’s words have hurt me, is not acknowledging it. It’s passing the buck. I am not over sensitive. I am just sensitive. (By the way it’s actually pretty hard to write about this…who wants to admit they are a big baby?!).
Here’s a little example: Tommy, Keith and Pip are friends. Pip calls Keith a potato-head. Keith is upset. Pip calls Tommy a potato-head, Tommy laughs. Pip and Tommy tell Keith he’s over-sensitive and should lighten up. Keith’s feelings are still hurt. He can’t help feeling hurt…he just does. And he shouldn’t have to explain why he does. His friends should just say sorry, know for next time and move on without making Keith feel stupid and pathetic.
OK so that’s clearly an over simplification… there are lots of different levels where it can become complex. What if Keith had a history of being bullied for his potato-head and Tommy and Pip didn’t know this? What if Pip is being bullied at home and he needs to take it out on someone? What if Keith actually has a head made from a potato? Ok perhaps I’m taking it too far but that’s a very basic example of a situation where someone feels that their feelings are dismissed or invalidated.
Sometimes relationships just get stuck. Especially ones which developed when you were young and at an emotionally formative time. Lots of people attest to the fact that they regress back to teenagers as soon as they step over the threshold of their family home. One of my brothers and I have been having the same battle of wills for 30 odd years!
I’m referring to friends you possibly made in school or Uni. Friends who knew you when you were young, silly and impressionable. What worked then doesn’t necessarily work now. What you would put up with then, you possibly won’t tolerate now. And of course as adults our priorities change. And different people have different priorities.
And our behaviour can change too. As a teenager I was shy but I hid behind a mask of aggression and sulkiness. I would be aggressive to boys and sulky with girlfriends rather than communicate my feelings in an articulate way. By the time I got to Uni, I got downright bolshie. I’d be argumentative and pushy with my opinions because I’d spent so many of my teens hiding them. I felt I needed to prove that I wasn’t a wimp! So every time I felt slighted I would call it. This carried on well into my 20s. I had lots of volatile friendships because I just could not let things go. I am not proud of that by the way. But eventually I grew up. I realised that I didn’t need that drama in my life and I started letting go of all my perceived “slights”. I don’t enjoy conflict… I certainly don’t thrive on it. Every time I’d fight with someone I would obsess for days, feeling sick with anxiety about…long after they’d probably forgotten about it. All because I needed to prove to myself that I wasn’t a pushover. So stupid.
At 40 I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t have friendships where I don’t feel 100% happy. I don’t have the time or the emotional capacity. I need all my love for people who treat me well. People who understand me putting my family first. Who aren’t flaky and non-committal. People who only contact you when they have problems and rarely ask how things are going in your own life. People who you don’t hear from for months because they don’t “need” you.
I need to stop holding onto relationships for the nostalgia, stop holding on for the 5 minutes of giggles in an hour of fights. I need to just bite the bullet and rid myself of toxic relationships for good. I think it’s about time.
Footnote: I am lucky enough that I DO have a handful super-fun, brilliant friends who aren’t selfish pigs OR emotional vampires. This post should in no way deflect from their brilliance.