I Didn't Realize I Was A Toxic Friend... Until My Best Friend Ghosted Me

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The start of the new year usually brings the resolve to cut out the toxic people in our lives. You know the ones: the people who have wronged, neglected or otherwise hurt us.  

Cutting people off cold turkey meant that I didn’t have to deal with my problems head-on or the possible blowback. 

I thought everyone should cut down the dead weight in their lives, especially toxic friends.

Unlike family, they’re the people we choose to love and have in our lives. If they want to continue to occupy that space, they need to be caring, selfless, and supportive.

That’s the kind of friend I’d always believed I was, and that’s the only kind of friend I would accept in return. Cutting off toxic relationships and friendships just made sense. 

Then, it happened to me.

Three years ago, my best friend from middle school, Leanne, cut me off without any warning. From my end, everything was — and had always been — fine.

Throughout our lives, Leanne and I had been attached at the hip. She was confident and outgoing; I was soft-spoken with a shy demeanor, but somehow we worked. I could talk to her about anything. Over time, she filled a void of loneliness in my life, when I had few friends and very little familial support.

After high school, we drifted off to different colleges, but we kept in close contact, talking on the phone several times a week. And when she got engaged to her high school sweetheart, she called me screaming and crying at one in the morning.

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I knew that marriage would change our relationship, but I was genuinely happy that she’d found the love we’d spent hundreds of hours talking about as children. During the call, I joked that we'd made a pact to have a double wedding, but since I hadn’t found my prince charming, I'd allow her to kick things off for us both. 

Two years later, the wedding finally arrived. We were living in different cities, so I hadn’t had much input in the planning, but I was a part of her wedding party and was invited to help her get ready with her other close friends and family members. We cried, and we drank, we laughed, and then cried some more.

The ceremony was beautiful. When the reception came, a video message from all of Leanne’s close friends and family played for the attendees. Each person had 20 seconds to say how Leanne or her groom had impacted their lives.

One by one, Leanne’s circle shared their messages. Some people went the sentimental route, and some decided to play it up for laughs.

The entire video lasted 10 minutes, but I could have taken up twice that amount of time to tell Leanne everything she meant to me.

Ultimately, I ended up not participating. Not out of malice, but because no matter how much I practiced, the sound of my voice, a source of insecurity since childhood, on camera horrified me. I couldn’t fathom having it played in front of Leanne’s 200 wedding guests.

Against the urging of Leanne’s sister, who put the wedding video together, I decided not to contribute anything. I figured that Leanne would understand because she knew how self-conscious I had always been about my voice, as well as everything else too.

She was a social butterfly, the captain of the dance team, a member of the theatre troop, and loved the spotlight. I was two steps above a teenage recluse who often avoided social gatherings unless I absolutely had to, including most of her competitions and performances.  

While disappointed, Leanne always told me she understood. She’d understand this too, I assumed. Besides, her wedding and reception were so mind-blowingly perfect, I doubted she even cared about my presence in the video.

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After hours of feasting, dancing, and making rounds, I and the entire wedding party watched in admiration as Leanne and her groom snuck away from the ballroom to get an early start on their honeymoon.

With a full heart, I silently wished her well, not knowing this would be the last time I would see or hear from her for three years.

I expected her to return from her month-long honeymoon, settle into her new home with her new husband a few hours away, and then eventually invite me over for coffee or shopping. But it never happened.

Six weeks after the wedding, when she had been home for two weeks, I texted her inquiring about the details of the trip. No response. I called. Same thing. Panicked, I hopped on Facebook, hoping that nothing had happened to her or her husband, only to find myself blocked from her account.  

Then, things became clear. No one dodges your calls and texts and accidentally blocks you on Facebook. Leanne’s actions were deliberate, and even though they hurt me, I didn’t push the issue. It was the no-confrontation thing.  

Plus, I was in a denial. At the time, I couldn’t think of a single reason that Leanne would ghost me. In the three years, we didn’t speak, I also failed to locate the issue during deeper introspection.

Eventually, I pushed the memories of our friendship deep down into my stomach. It was less painful this way.

This past Christmas, I ran into her in Hobby Lobby in a chance meeting. She was in town visiting her family and shopping for Christmas decorations. After a few awkward moments for both of us to register each other’s presence, we exchanged half-hearted hellos and compliments.  

Eventually, I couldn’t contain myself and addressed the elephant in the room. No answer, in my mind, would ever make sense, but I had to know.

Unsurprisingly, she didn’t want to talk about things there, so I dropped it and made a beeline out of the store, without even grabbing what I'd gone there for.

A few days later, after Christmas, she unblocked me on Facebook and messaged me 10 long paragraphs. To my surprise, she revealed to me that she had always thought of me as an unsupportive friend. She brought up all of her dance competitions and other club events that I’d ditched over the years because I was too nervous to go.  

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As if she knew that I was thinking, “Well, I would have gone if I could... but I was afraid,” she made sure to mention that sometimes friends have to put their own issues aside and be supportive. And that, over the years, she just wanted me to be there cheering her on.  

But I was always self-absorbed, according to her. And though the words were hard to digest, everything came into focus at this moment.

Even though I always had good intentions with Leanne, my anxiety controlled much of my early life.  

I was always inside my own head, and I never supported her the way she deserved. That’s why the wedding was such a big turning point.

Hopeful about our future friends, she was excited to introduce me to her friends from college and her new family and felt silly when the girl everyone knew as her best friend didn’t want to be involved in her wedding video. She knew at that moment she couldn't be friends anymore. Because she “couldn’t give me the chance to let her down where her kids were concerned, in the future.”

With tears in my eyes, I wrote back probably 50 paragraphs accepting blame, apologizing, and letting her know that I never meant to hurt her. She replied that she always knew that, but that the outcome had been the same. She also felt she owed me an explanation, but, at this point in her life, she didn’t want to rekindle our friendship.

Those were tough words to swallow, but I understand now completely. Now that I know how Leanne felt, I know that our friendship was never as great as it could have been, mostly because of my insecurities.

Of the two of us, I reaped more of the rewards from our bond. And all this time I thought I was the epitome of a great friend, Leanne was stewing silently in resentment, hoping I caught on. I didn’t, and now I’m dealing with the fallout.  

While I hoped that this conversation would lead to closure, it hasn’t. I mourn louder than ever for the friendship we lost, but I did learn a great lesson.

While some of the people I’ve cut off definitely deserved it, it’s possible that some of them weren’t even aware they’d wronged me so deeply. Perhaps having an open, honest conversation could have brought my issues to the surface, and we could have reached a resolution.

After all, the toxicity I’d seen in others had been festering in me for years. And if I got a second chance to make things right — even if it didn’t work out in the end — maybe they deserve one as well. 

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Serenity James writes about life, love, and family. She is the editor of The Lucky Freelancer.