Heartbreak

After I Became Emotionally Healthy, I Let Go Of My Best Friend Of 25 Years

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unhappy friends

A year ago, I ended my friendship with my bestie of 25 years. If you’d told me in March 2020 the relationship would be over by the end of the pandemic, I’d never have believed you.

I don’t consider the friendship a failure because it ended. We had a harmonious bond for many years. In hindsight I know it’s because we were broken.

As I became more self-aware and healed some damaged places, the dynamic gradually changed. The more self-actualized version of me started to understand how one-sided the relationship was. Over the course of five years, the mild chafing of unmet needs became a more and more gaping problem.

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Maxine and I seemed to effortlessly connect in the beginning. I remember at our first lunch, she showed me a professional portrait of her cats. I respected her for that — people often look down on women who love cats that much, for whatever reason.

Maxine wasn’t afraid to be herself, and I admired that.

It took a few years for us to go from casual friends to really close. She left our workplace soon after I arrived. After that, we’d connect as part of a larger group every few months.

It wasn’t until I got a job at her new place of work (she referred me) that she became my closest friend.

At that time, we were well-suited. While I had a rich inner life, my natural introversion combined with patterns from an emotionally abusive childhood meant that I struggled with sharing who I really was. Maxine was the opposite — extroverted, engaging, unapologetic, and happy to be the star.

While we did have good discussions and a lot of laughter, it’s fair to say that I was around to hold the spotlight on her face.

Little cracks showed up over the years. Maxine didn’t just like things her way — she insisted. We went on a week-long vacation together. We chose a cruise so she could sunbathe while I had adventures. She’d promised to get off the boat with me at least once, but didn’t.

These days, that wouldn’t bother me, but I wasn’t used to traveling solo at the time, so I was deeply uncomfortable getting off the ship on my own. Maxine was unfazed by my obvious irritation — she didn’t care that I was upset or that she broke a promise.

She started showing up to our dinners later and later. She had young kids, so I never said anything and told myself to be patient. But when her marriage ended, I realized she would be just as late on the weekends her ex had custody.

The day she was 45 minutes late and didn’t even acknowledge it, let alone apologize, I finally said something.

To her credit, she apologized and changed her ways. But that was a classic example of our friendship dynamic — unless she was held to account at all times, she just kept pushing boundaries further and further.

She didn’t consider my needs unless she was forced to.

This was on full display when she tried to bring several of my family members into her MLM. She private messaged someone she barely knew without telling me, knowing full well I’d be upset. By this point, I’d gained enough confidence to confront her. Her only admission of guilt was an angry “OKAY!” There was no apology.

Around that time, I finally started to realize that not only did she take whenever possible, she also wasn’t the empathetic person she claimed to be. When she went away on vacation, I spent 45 minutes getting to her house each day so I could feed her cats. When I went away a few months later she told me she “didn’t feel like looking after my cats” even though she worked a few streets away from where I lived.

At a certain point, she confessed that she struggled to listen to others because she had a compulsive need to interrupt and start speaking. This became obvious when, as I grew more confident and came into my own, she couldn’t support me in my joy. If I told her about a new job or a new relationship, she looked miserable and immediately changed the subject back to herself.

In the years I was a primary caregiver for my ailing father, she’d look openly bored as I talked about the challenges of looking after him.

I look at this situation now and think: Why did it take me so long to realize how unhealthy this relationship was?

I simply didn’t have the perspective to see it. But a few months later, this brilliant article by Tara Blair Ball helped me understand the issue by introducing me to the idea that “water seeks its own level.”

When I was less developed and more afraid, our water levels synchronized and we were the perfect pals. She talked, I listened. She took, I gave.

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When I became emotionally healthier, I wanted a more even dynamic. This was too much for her, and she fought back. As my cup filled, hers depleted. She worked desperately to retain the spotlight. Our water levels grew increasingly out of sync.

Even before I had this analogy, I understood things were out of balance. But for years, I couldn’t let go. It felt like something I had to fix and I kept trying harder and harder.

I remember hearing film director Paul Haggis talk about his experience with Scientology. How great it was for him at first — it helped him and his girlfriend overcome their struggles. Over time there were diminishing returns but he kept investing, financially and time-wise. For a while, he was still getting something out of it, even if it was much less than before. But then that petered out, too.

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Eventually, he realized he hadn’t quit because he’d invested so much over the years he couldn’t acknowledge that most of it was for nothing. So he kept trying.

I’ve maintained relationships well past their expiration date for this exact reason. Things started off great, so I invested. The dynamic got increasingly worse, but instead of wondering if it’s still right, I’d go to work trying to fix it.

Eventually, I’d realize I’d been putting in a lot of unreturned sweat equity.

Emotions aren’t linear or logical. We don’t stop caring for people easily. But when I finally looked at my friendship with Maxine through the lens of logic, a stark reality emerged:

  • Did she rejoice in my successes? No
  • Was she there for me during setbacks? No
  • Was she a good sounding board? No
  • Did she want what was best for me? No
  • Did we share values? No
  • Did we even have a good time together? Not anymore

This had been the case for a long time. Suddenly I realized I’d been holding on strictly for the promise of what used to be.

  • Things weren’t going to get better
  • It wasn’t going to be fixed
  • The relationship no longer brought joy

It was time, more than time, to say goodbye.

I don’t regret the friendship. There was a time when we had an important connection.

I regret that I hung on so long after that connection was badly compromised.

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A friendship that ends is not necessarily a failure. It had meaning for a time, and that time has now passed.

What I take away from this is to better honor myself and my needs in future friendships. To self-advocate more, and to recognize when something is no longer worth fighting for.

Ellen Eastwood is a freelancer, pop-culture enthusiast, and contributor to Yourtango.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.