Monday, October 17, 2011

Knowing When to Hang on and When to Let Go (of Guilt and Friendships)

When I started this blog, it was supposed to be all about life with the delightful man who married me. I'm finding, though, that because of my natural instinct to write my way through conundrums, I can't help but want to use it as my own personal sounding board—just like I did with my old blog.

If you have a problem with that, you'll just have to blame Oprah.

See, last week she started this Lifeclass series on her network and website. And being an O devotee, I've been watching. Riveted.

Today at lunch, I watched a webcast all about the lies and secrets we keep. It was co-hosted by Life Coach Martha Beck, who I adore, and darn it if she didn't have me wanting to barf out my secrets as a way of moving through them.

So, here I am. Proclaiming my guilt to the Internet over a friend who I partly want to let go of, partly want to rescue, partly want to punch.

This old dear friend has made a lot of self-destructive choices and although we don't have a lot more than a surface relationship these days, I've been trying to reach out and be helpful to her for a couple of years. I've tried being sympathetic. I've tried tough love. I've tried to build her self esteem in case she was feeling so bad about herself, she didn't know she could pick up her life out of the gutter. I've tried to learn who she is now, in case the key is seeing things from a different vantage point.

But I've hit a point where I feel done. And I'm feeling guilty about it.

There's my secret. I don't want to pretend to have a real relationship anymore when really, it's just fake Facebook messages and pretend email exchanges. It is not a friendship of substance, and despite various attempts, has not been for a long time.

So I've chosen to just put it away in a drawer in my head. Because I feel guilty about abandoning this person. Even though I don't feel like she has really been there for me. Even though I don't feel like I would even know who I was supporting because she's spun so tightly in a web of lies. I feel like it's my duty to hang in the shadows just in case I can somehow help. Just in case she morphs back into the person I used to know and calls out for me.

Oprah and her spiritual pals have me trying to unravel what this means. Am I lying to myself about being done with the friendship? Am I lying to myself when I think there's even the faintest glimmer of it ever being the friendship it once was? Is it wrong to either tell myself this is NOT my responsibility—or that it IS my problem to help my friend?

I'm trying to find some truth here and I guess I felt like I should summon the great Interwebs to weigh in and help me find the clarity through the muck.

Anyone else been in a situation like this and have some wisdom to share?


  1. Do you have to make a choice? One of my childhood friends is grandfathered in as my pal because I've known him so long and I truly love him, in a 'you were a big part of my life ages ago' kind of way. If I met him today, I don't think we'd be friends at all. So I don't go out of my way to contact him nor do I respond to his group email messages and texts. Nor do I call him when I'm visiting his city. He just isn't genuine anymore. If it's not about him and his agenda, he doesn't listen or seem to care.

    But I confess I keep an eye on him via my friends that are in the know. I don't need him anymore. Not a single bit. And he irritates me with his strong opinions and close mindedness. But he is my old buddy and I just hope he is happy. So I haven't dropped him but I'm also not participating. And he isn't either.

    If I see him, I'll be happy and we will catch up and laugh about old times, and hopefully move on along. Old times are what still bonds us. But as for today, we both seem to be content without each other as active parts of our lives. And it's okay. People grow and evolve.

    Sorry for the blog in your blog, but this friend of mine - his father just died. So I reached out to him and felt guilty for everything I just wrote above. But you know what, after the initial tears, sorrow and sympathy, he was pretty much just like he always is and that frankly isn't the guy from my childhood that I want to be around. So he knows I care but we can both move on again. Weird, huh?

    My advice is somewhere in the middle. Stop feeling obligated but feel free to mostly let go.

  2. That's damn good advice.

    I have had to let go of friends. I think when it reaches the point where they only take from you and give nothing back, and do nothing to maintain the relationship but expect you to make all the effort, it's just a one-sided relationship and it turns into an emotional suckhole.

    Then again, people have stuff going on in their lives. I don't have to take it personally if they don't have time for me. I guess that's why I like Wow's advice. You don't have to divorce them in some dramatic fashion, but you can feel free to let go. And certainly drop kick the guilt.

  3. I've been in this situation many times. I think more than I would admit since for years I felt like I wasn't a good friend if I wasn't rescuing. Which, let's be honest, does not make for the most fulfilling of friendships. But then I gave up trying to be there for everyone. Friendships shift and people change and sometimes the only thing to do is admit it's not right for you to pursue it anymore and let go. You don't have to tell them, just chnage how you interact with them and the level of attention you give that person.

    I had a friend who was so emotionally draining and despite repeated advice and support from me to him, I finally had to say "I have nothing new to say and you clearly aren't in a place to make choices that aren't toxic. I can't watch anymore." He's tried to reach out to me but I don't feel like I have the energy or interest to rekindle what often felt like a one-sided friendship. I feel mean sometimes but I am also self-protecting. I know I am a giver and I attract takers. I don't have the bandwith for it! I'm guessing the healthier I've gotten with my own self-worth, the harder it has been for me to tolerate lopsided friendships with toxic people or those I no longer have a lot in common with.

    I don't think it's bad to hold onto hope as long as you're not setting that up as an expectation. We are human and we want the people we care about to be happy. By admitting to yourself this friendship is past its due date, you are freeing up the emotional space to welcome a friendship that IS fulfilling.

  4. Been there, done that. It's not an easy situation but people change over the years. People come into our lives, and we into theirs, and sometimes the relationship doesn't last for ever. It served its purpose for both parties and it's time to let go. When it becomes too much work for it to be an enjoyable friendship, it's time to embrace what you had and move on. As I get older (and believe me, I'm OLD) and I watch my friends struggle with health issues and some even death, I realize that truly life is too short to spend it with people that cause nothing buy heartache and grief.

    Take inventory of the good times you had, the positive things that came of your relationship and then quietly close the door behind you and move on.

  5. The whole concept of "friends forever" is really overblown to me. I don't understand that because you know someone from the time you're young and experience a lot together at a particular phase in your lives, you need to stay connected in perpetuity. The fact is, we're all constantly changing and evolving. Hopefully it's into the people we want to become. But, sometimes its into people we think we're supposed to become. Either way, it means it's more likely that not that you'll have different close friends through different phases of your life. And, that's ok.

    To me, the answer to your question lies in the foundation of the question itself. You say you're feeling guilt. Why? You didn't make her choices...she did. And, in the end, with some relationships we just have to recognize that they don't offer us anything, yet take more than we can afford to give.

    I'm not sure what your definition of "dropping" is, but I'll assume it means letting the contact fade away. I can't imagine you intend to have a formal "I'm no longer friends with you because I think you make crappy decisions" conversation. It sounds to me like that friendship takes a lot of effort to keep alive, and it also sounds like you're doing most of the caretaking. So...let it go. Let it die the natural death that many friendships do over time. You don't need to do it in judgment; just recognize it is what it is.

    It's all about what you want in your space. And, I don't imagine guilt is something that's very high on your list.

  6. Uh oh. Call me if you need to talk! :)

  7. Sheesh, people you guys are awesome. Thanks so much for all the perspectives. This really helps me.

  8. I think situations like this are at least partly responsible for the phrase "we drifted apart" because sometimes, that's all it is. It may seem, from your perspective, that she is making the choice and so it's not so drifty, but really what she's doing is making a hundred other choices that are preventing her from choosing your friendship (and many others, I"m guessing).

    The way I try to look at these things is from the perspective of energy. How much energy do I have right now to put into this person? Which is also related to how much energy I'm getting back from them. Sometimes, I have tons of spare energy for certain people and I don't need a thing in return. Other times, I am drained and so I disconnect.

    So, if you can keep putting energy into it, even if it's just low, back-burner sort of energy, then do it. But, if it's draining you and taking up all kinds of emotional and physical resources and space, then enough is enough because, sadly, if you've already told her you're there for her and she hasn't responded, her current choice has been made already.

    (And if you're like me, part of you will always hope for her and your relationship anyway. But somehow, that isn't draining for me. )

  9. There's a lot of great advice from everyone on here. I've had to let go of some "friends". Some weren't true friends and I had to let go of them for my own good.

    Another was an old friend that I finally realized I didn't want to be friends with anymore because it was always one sided. I tried holding on because he was a childhood friend. I wouldn't avoid them if I happen to run into them but I don't go out of my way to stay in his life either. No drama, no goodbyes, just a faded friendship.

    There are too many good people in my life to try to make time for the bad ones. It's just not worth it.

  10. I have nothing new to contribute! I think it's harder to drift apart from friends because of social networking. It was so much easier to let people gp: now they come back and "friend" you. Argh!

    let 'em go, wish 'em luck, and pursue happiness :) Have a great day!

  11. YUP!! been there, done that. as you have read in my blog (maybe?), i started a new "way of living" that I call my "afterlife". In my afterlife, I examine ALL folks that surround me and determine if they are a positive influence or a negative influence. I ponder for awhile sometimes with "certain" friends and try to imagine my life without them. Will I feel somewhat relieved to have them disappear? or would I miss them if they were gone?
    sometimes letting go of a "friend" isn't a bad thing. It can be very refreshing. And believe this or not, I didn't know how much weight could be lifted by saying "goodbye" to certain peeps.
    It's all about you, and how people make you feel. You can help your friends, be there for them, encourage them, lift them...but if you feel drained and/or have that "ugggh" feeling when you see their name appear on your call display and/or your positivity turns negativity after hanging out with them, then it's time to ....ponder.
    My personal opinion: I only want people in my life that make me feel GOOD and HAPPY and POSITIVE.
    Now, I'm not saying that just because a friend needs my help, I'm going to throw them to the curb, I'm just saying that a relationship is a 2-way street. It's give and take. (I love helping my pals...knowing those pals are a moment away from helping me too).
    There is no rule in life that says you MUST remain friends with certain folks, just because you're, well, friends with them. The rule in life to is be as happy as possible while hurdling over the troublesome times. If a person is stopping you from being as happy as you can be, then saying goodbye should be something to ponder.


Well, whatdya think?