Lifespan of a Friendship: How To Tell When It’s Time to Let Go

July 11, 2015

Sisters of the Traveling Chocolate Reunion

Some friends are for life. Others, not so much.

My dad got transferred a lot when I was young, so as a kid, I knew that friendship was temporary – sooner or later, we’d move, and I’d never see those people again.* I think this is one of the reasons I loved to read so much, and probably one of the reasons I grew up to be a writer. Book friends always come with you.

The transfers stopped when I started high school, and I genuinely believed that every friend I made at that point would be with me to the end of time. Ah, innocent younger me. What a shock to discover that, even without moving vans, friendships don’t last forever.

Some do, of course. My Sisters of the Traveling Chocolate are proof of that. But most friendships have a lifespan, a timeframe beyond which the connection no longer holds. Some of these friendships are situational – you meet someone at school or work and have a great time together, but when one of you leaves that environment, you no longer have anything in common. You drift apart, and when you think of each other (if you ever do), it’s with nostalgia, but no real regret.

But sometimes, the friendship turns toxic, conflict and resentment building to the point where you can’t even remember why you were friends with the person in the first place. It’s happened to me a couple of times now, and I’m starting to recognize the signs:

  • You always have a great time together, but you’re the only one who ever calls, emails, or invites the person to go out. If you didn’t make that effort, months or years would go buy without contact.
  • The person does call you, but only when they need a willing ear, help with a task, or to borrow money
  • When you need help or support, the person is always too busy
  • The person tears you down instead of building you up, or relentlessly focuses on the negative in his or her own life
  • Instead of feeling safe and relaxed in her presence, you feel tense or on guard
  • You have to watch what you say, because you have no idea how far it will spread
  • You have to watch what you say, because the person takes innocent remarks as personal attacks and will force you to jump through highly dramatic hoops in order to win his forgiveness
  • You find yourself looking for reasons not to see the person
  • When you do get together, you spend two hours afterwards complaining to other friends or your significant other about all the ways that person makes you crazy
  • They’re the first person you think about when you wake up every day. And not in a good way.

Kristen Lamb calls these people psychic vampires, because they suck the life and the hope right out of you. And the more help you try to give, the more they try to take. The only way to protect yourself is to end the relationship and run. Far, far away.

The first time I broke up with a friend, I felt guilty about it for months. But we only have so much time and mental energy to give, and there’s nothing selfish or wrong about wanting to spend that time with the people who support us, challenge us, and bring genuine joy into our lives. How else will we find the strength to offer that kind of friendship to others?

Just don’t ask me the best way to do the actual breaking up. I’m still working on that one.

What about you? Are there psychic vampires in your life? Have you encountered them in the past? What’s your advice for breaking free of a toxic friendship? Share in the comments.

* There was one hilarious exception to this truth, which I may share some day. You know, when I feel like airing my humiliations in public. 🙂

5 Comments on ‘Lifespan of a Friendship: How To Tell When It’s Time to Let Go’

  1. Lindsey, I have just had to convince one of my sisters to let go of our other sister, who ticks all the warning signs you have listed, and has done so for decades. Now that my father, mother, and brother are gone, it is increasingly clear they were the hub of the wheel, and without them, there is nothing to tie the spokes together.

    It is very hard to end a friendship, and even harder to end a familial relationship, but to live in hope that someday that person will treat you appropriately is draining and ultimately, no more than wishful thinking. As for how to do it? Don’t initiate contact, which takes care of most of it, and be as honest and kind as possible to calls for physical, emotional, or monetary help. No, I cannot help you. End of conversation.

    My Southern upbringing quails at this abruptness, but it seems to be all that some people can understand.

    Reply | 
    1. Elizabeth, I can’t imagine how much harder it must be to go through this with a family member. And it’s so difficult, because we are trained to be nice to people, even when they’re not being nice to us. I think we forget that being kind to ourselves is just as important, and that it’s OK to protect ourselves from spiritual and emotional danger as well as physical.

      Hugs. I hope you and your sister get through this tough time together.

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  2. I was doing a search for Charlie the Tree Guy when all the letters messed up and this article just popped up! Good article just when I needed reassurance that I was doing the right thing about one toxic relationship (with a relative) and another unreciprocated so-called friendship.

    Reply | 
    1. How weird that you found it that way! But I’m glad it came to you at the right time. Hugs.

      Reply | 

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