A girl and a guy looking in opposite directions as the stand next to each other

There are few moments more pure than when a friendship forms. 

There’s that initial connection when you notice hobbies and interests in common. You find the same irresistible humor in an obscure moment. You share a conversation that flows seamlessly. Your words overlap and your laughter intertwines. 

So, naturally, your heart warms. 

Ponder this. At the beginning of a romantic relationship, while the presence of attraction is exciting, we often remember to keep our guards up. We test the waters for several weeks or months before considering their permanence in our lives.

With friendships, on the other hand, there’s a tendency to proceed with less caution. We don’t always approach with the same critical eye. Instead, we’re transported back to the playground, feeling almost childlike, lucky and hopeful. 

With friendships, there’s a tendency to proceed with less caution.

This natural gravitation and innocence make a “failed” friendship all the more painful. Whether we realized it at the time or not, we planted a seed of hope for the relationship that didn’t include betrayal, disappointment or dishonesty.

Where does that leave us? When someone hasn’t been a great friend, how can we let go of expectations while freeing ourselves from resentment? How can we keep our hope and hearts intact?

First, know there is no benefit in rewriting history. It’s easy to fall down an emotional rabbit hole with anger and sadness leading the way as our troubled tour guides.

I wish we never met. How could I not have seen this coming? They never cared about me. 

Instead, follow these tips on dealing with unmet expectations of a not so great friend:

Try your best to keep a balanced perspective. 

They can make you laugh harder than anyone else on the planet and still have hurt your feelings with that tasteless comment. Both can be true. They can be a wonderful friend for five years and still completely neglect you throughout the past three months. Both can be true. They can consistently give you the warmest, most thoughtful advice and still have developed a hurtful habit of choosing their partner over you. Both can be true.

By taking an honest look at the behaviors that are upsetting you and naming them as specifically as you can, you’ll avoid black-and-white thinking, a common cognitive distortion that makes us perceive situations as all good or all bad. These thought patterns might lead us to end a friendship prematurely when there is still compassion to be shared or completely disregard what happened without honoring any pain it may have caused you.

Your feelings are valid. Identifying the root cause of them will allow you to respond in a way that is healthy and proportionate to the inciting incident. Rather than black or white, think gray. 

Rather than black or white, think gray. 

Next, say thank you

It doesn’t have to be out loud or anything, but say it in your head because no matter what the situation is—whether they were completely malicious or made a mistake—their actions give you a wealth of information. So, thank them.

Now, you can make an informed decision about whether or not this friend is in a place to give you the respect you deserve and whether or not they will bring positivity into your life. If the answer is yes, then great! If the answer is no, then still great! You will be just fine either way, knowing that you’re moving forward with your best interest in mind, whether they are or not.

Remember that it may not be about you. 

As you notice the shift affecting the friendship, know that everyone is fighting their own battles and some of them are steep and uphill. Your hurt feelings might be one unfortunate piece of a larger puzzle.

Your hurt feelings might be one unfortunate piece of a larger puzzle.

Think of a time when you were going through a personal challenge—depression, low self-esteem, grief or anxiety. In the midst of it all, did you notice a change in yourself? How did you show up for your friends? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently? These are important questions to reflect on simply because they remind you that we are all human. 

Now, that absolutely does not mean that your feelings don’t matter. Please remember that you always reserve the right to end any friendship or relationship that does not serve you. No matter which direction you choose to walk, toward them or away from them, do so with empathy. In doing so, you free your heart from resentment or rumination, neither of which you want to hold onto when working on the friendship or walking away with your head held high. 

Have you ever had a close friendship end? How do you know when it’s time to walk away?

Image via Ali Mitton, Darling Issue No. 21

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  1. Thank you for this – this article could not be more pertinent to me right now as I have laid in bed every morning this week pondering the state of a few of my friendships. After moving to a new city (leaving the one I grew up and made all my friends in) coupled with quarantine isolation, I have definitely felt a lot of questioning about which friendships will carry over, and again, coupled with the emotional maelstrom that is currently Instagram, leads me to wonder if some people are just logging off, or have I been abandoned? I have two once-close friendships in particular that have been rocky for the last year or so and I was having trouble deciding if they (the friendships) are worth ME making the effort to resolve when, I felt both in cases, it is the other person that has been dropping the ball (or maybe never really was such a great friend). Because I like to compartmentalize, and it’s exactly the not knowing where these relationships stand that bothers me, I struggle to just bench them without total immolation. I wonder, do I suck it up and reach out and try to resolve, or must I recognize them as toxic relationships and move on? (P.S. I struggle with identifying at what point a relationship becomes toxic but at least I’m aware of that now). Because I “need” to know which shelf to put these relationships on, top or bottom, I decided to reach out to one the other night and my efforts fell flat with a thud leaving me to now wonder whether it’s time to say buh bye or to maybe just detach and give them space without taking drastic actions because I have historically been the little girl/burning house meme when it comes to ending toxic friendships (aka I’m usually totally fine with ending something that I feel no longer suits me). Buuut as we get older, good friends are harder to come by so, maybe it’s less wise to default to total destruction. The reaction of the one friend (cemented by this article) has made me feel more comfortable just shelving both and walking away for now. Maybe they will come around. Maybe not. That now seems less important than me being able to relax the issue and worry about my own damn self cuuuuz… Namaste, y’all.

    1. Shauna, I am so honored that this piece resonated with you and am sending nothing but peaceful and supportive vibes as you navigate the next steps in your friendships. It sounds like you are prioritizing your happiness and wellbeing which is just BEAUTIFUL and I hope you are so beyond proud of yourself for that. It’s a big deal.

      That strength and commitment to taking care of yourself REGARDLESS of anyone else’s actions is the POWERFUL energy that will support these friendships in whichever direction they are heading. You’ve set the bar high with regard to self respect and I hope that others follow your lead or move out of your way. Cheering you on! <3

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