How can I be a good friend?
What should I do? Should I reach out to her? Try to talk about her mental health issues, even though she has never ever given me an entrance?
A BIG SWEETIE
One of this friends, has always been very very secretive since always. I don’t know much about her life, her family (although I know them), she just never talked about anything serious or real, she always jokes around and talks about tv series, books and movies. We lived together for 6 months when we lived abroad and we were very close, we spend almost all of our time together and I truly love her, but then we came back and a few months later everything started to change.
I started dating someone and I felt she resented me for that because she started excluding, ignoring and bullying me with another friend (very toxic, she’s out of my life now). At the time, I felt we were very close so I sent her a heartfelt message asking for forgiveness if I did anything wrong, asking her what happened and telling her I love her and wanted to fix things. She never responded, she stopped texting me at all (we talked every day) The only response I ever got was a drunken “what I was never mad, I don’t know why you thought that" months later).
Our relationship was never the same after that, but I saw her regularly because we are part of the same group of friends. and I started to notice very self-destructive behavior. The only thing she cared about was getting drunk and going out but when she was drunk she began behaving terribly: aggressions, tantrums, saying shit to me like "I´m going to make out with your boyfriend", flirting with the boyfriends of my friends, sitting in their lap, yelling, monopolizing the music, getting very defensive and aggressive if you tried to change said music, acting as if everybody were against her, flaking, etc...
At the same time this was happening, we finished college. She always got good grades, and did amazingly at school, so when she spent a year and a half doing nothing (no school, no job, she even stopped working out, her only interest became partying) I was shocked but I figured there must be something going on in her life and gave her space. I thought that maybe she had depression or anxiety or was figuring out her sexuality. So, I cut her some slack. I tried to be understanding of her attitude. I never reach out to her to talk about her mental health though, and my reasoning behind was that she has never gave me an entrance to that side of her and I had been open with my own personal issues, so I thought that IF she wanted to talk, she knew I was there since we talked often and hanged out at least weekly.
Her family was/is also very worried about her and from what I heard (from them, because again she does NOT talk at all about her life) their relationship has also gotten worse, even though she lives with them. I know for a fact that they have offered to pay for therapy and they even went to therapy to see how can they help her.
This all started in 2014, so this has been going on for a long time. In this time, she has been terrible friend, she constantly hurts and disappoints me, she’s flaky and mean and cruel and selfish, but I KNOW she IS dealing with something, I don’t know what or how, but I know something triggered this change in personality and after all these years have passed I still don’t know if this is a crisis or if this is the way she IS.
That was the main reason why I let everything slide, and gave her chance after chance, because I believed it was JUST a phase, she will get over this, she will be the friend she used to be. I don’t know if that’s naive, or hopeful, or loyal. or just means I haven´t gave up on her or is it just idiotic.
What should I do? Should I reach out to her? Try to talk about her mental health issues, even though she has never ever given me an entrance? She runs from conflict and confrontation and hates being told she is wrong. For example, the last time I tried to talk to her about something "serious" (she was bullying me with another toxic friend) she was very open at the beginning and she thanked me for my honesty and for telling her the truth, she had no idea she was hurting me, that was never her intention so I thought “Wow, that went well” I felt proud. Then 6 months later (!!!) I found out she has been mad at me since, because how dare I to ruin her vacation and talk about something that happened long ago (I was not, I just used that event as an example), so apparently my honest talk was a total failure.
Should I cut her out of my life for good? should I still be open if she fixes this issues? should I talk to her? should I just ghost her? I will be honest, I’m scared she will try to kill herself, but I am tired. tired of being hurt, of forgiving, of being understanding, of walking on eggshells, of ignoring mean comments, of trying to do the right thing (like when I talked about the bullying with her) and getting nowhere with her.
But what if it IS a crisis, what if she can get better and I abandoned in her time of need, a friend who I love? What if she just needs time? What if she need someone who yells at her to get better?
I’m very confused, I don’t want to make a wrong choice and hurt her, but at what time does it stop being a toxic phase and becomes a toxic personality?
Also, I know she probably has a different version of all these things, but I will never know. I’m sure I’ve also been flaky and a bad friend at times, this is not a “I have done everything perfectly, I just need validation” letter. Or maybe it is, because all I have written is the bad things she has done and maybe what I lack is self-awareness. So yeah, I’m confused. Please help!
Ahhhhh!!! This person is NOT YOUR FRIEND!! You yourself mention multiple times that she has bullied you and that she is toxic. If someone treated you like that one time, that would be enough to cut them out of your life but NO! She’s done this multiple times over MULTIPLE YEARS.
Let me be perfectly clear: you do not owe anyone friendship or loyalty when they harm you. You do not owe her anything. Even if she is struggling!!! Loyalty is NOT about hanging around when people treat you like shit. Loyalty is about showing up and supporting people through the good and bad times in their lives, even when it is difficult. NOT when they are abusive or cruel.
One of the weirdest things here is that even before she was mean she wasn’t really your friend. She was just… around during a fun time. That is not friendship. People can be private all the want with the world—and of course no one owes you any information in particular—but FRIENDS SHARE THINGS WITH EACH OTHER. That is the sine qua non of friendship; you have to share part of yourself to get something back from other people. The fact that she never shared information about her life is a red flag. It doesn’t mean she’s a bad person—a lot of people who are kind and lovely are hesitant to open up— but it does mean that friendship with her was always going to be hard. And then ON TOP OF THAT she’s a cruel person? NO. NO NO NO.
I totally, totally get that you’re trying to be supportive in case she’s going through something. That is so commendable of you. It does absolutely see, like she has some issues with alcohol at the very least, and possibly some mental health issues. It is not your job to fix that, and in fact being her friend alone can not fix that. She isn’t even willing to talk to you about what the issues might be!!!
“But what if it IS a crisis, what if she can get better and I abandoned in her time of need, a friend who I love? What if she just needs time? What if she need someone who yells at her to get better?” That is not how this works, unfortunately. She has had time—SIX YEARS of time, in fact—to open up to you. She has had offers to help her get into therapy. She clearly has people who have expressed that they would help her and sadly, she isn’t ready. Maybe some day she will be, but being treated like shit until then is not the answer. What if there is nothing going on? What if she’s just a cruel, callous person? What if she never changes and decades go by of her treating you and her family badly? You cannot make people get better, even with love. It’s one of the shittiest truths in the world. People have to want to change, and they have to work to change. She’s doing neither.
I strongly recommend you cut all contact with her as soon as possible. If you want to just kind of stop responding to her texts/messages/whatever, that’s fine. If you’d rather talk to her one last time and explain what’s going on, that’s fine, too. Neither is better or worse; do what will make you feel the best. If you are going to tell her why you’re ending this friendship, I’d say something like this (in your own words, with your own feelings), “Tina, I know we’ve been friends for a while, and I really have tried to honor that friendship out of loyalty to you, and out of concern. But I can’t continue to try to put energy into this friendship when you clearly don’t care about me and you often don’t seem to care about yourself. I would love to have been able to have helped you, but it does not seem like you want that. You may also disagree with me, and I might be wrong. Maybe you aren’t struggling— that’s how it appears from my point of view. Regardless, the reason I can’t stick around is that I feel like I try to give a lot and you don’t give much in return. You flake on plans, you’ve talked behind my back, and you’re often rude to me. I tried to put up with it out of loyalty to you, but I keep getting hurt. I wish it had not ended like this, and if you ever need anything, I’ll do what I can to help, but I don’t think being your friend is healthy for me right now.”
It is not cruel to not be someone’s friend. It’s especially not cruel to be someone’s friend who is mean to you. You do not owe anyone friendship or care. Even if you’ve known them a long time. If she is ever ready to get help or if she ever decides to reach back out and ask you for friendship and tell you how she has changed, great. You can think about if you want to be her friend then. She is not there. She doesn’t care if you are her friend or not right now. Don’t keep watering a plastic plant.
PLEASE KNOW: you are being so beyond kind. So so kind. You’re doing all the things that a good friend does, but you’re doing it to a bad person. Please give this kindness, love and friendship to someone who is good. Honestly, if you cut her out of your life you may find you have the energy to help and show up for two or three other people. That’s how draining someone like her can be. You are empathetic and loving to a degree that most people never will be. Please please do not spend it on someone who does not want your help or your friendship. You are way too good of a friend to use up your patience and love on someone who doesn’t care.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tweets about everything else at @1followernodad, is a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.