On Walking Away From Your Oldest Friendships
Because you can’t “fix” or “save” anyone and should stop trying.
In recent years, I’ve taken notice of the soft spot I have for people I’ve known since I was a child. If I liked them then, I like them now — almost by default. However, a few years ago someone I considered a close friend showed me that’s a terrible basis for a friendship. People you’ve known twenty years or more are just as capable of screwing you over as those you’ve known twenty minutes. The difference is — it hurts a lot worse when it comes from those we’ve known longer and considered ourselves close to.
I’m thankful to my former friend though because he showed me the amount of time you’ve known someone does not speak to your level of friendship with them. The two are hardly related, we just like to believe they are. It feels like they should be. However, it’s merely a mirage of our own making.
With all that being said, the soft spot I have for these people I’ve known for most my life comes from a very obvious place — I’ve lost so many childhood friends before their time and each one has killed a small part of the child I once was inside of me. Few kinds of pain compare to staring at someone in a casket, who you remember not only spending wild teenage nights but also recall being kind to you when you were five years old.
I ran into one of these friends a few days ago, one who had basically been MIA for the better part of a year, who nobody had heard from. I feared for the worst, considering the last time I had seen her she was homeless and pregnant. There was nothing I could do to help her situation at the time and it absolutely killed me inside.
I should start where the story of her and I truly does, first grade. I remember her as the first girl I ever truly liked. For the sake of her privacy, I’ll call her Betty. In first grade, I was pretty certain I loved and was going to marry Betty. We were dating by fourth grade and she was the first girl I ever kissed. We “dated” off and on throughout fourth and fifth grade and to be honest we broke up so much, we may have been toxic together even then.
However, we ended up at both the same middle and high school and remained distant friends. We didn’t hang out but were always friendly and happy to see each other when we did.
One time when I was passing her in the hall in seventh grade, she randomly pulled me into the staircase and started making out with me. Things got a little touchy but immediately came to a halt when we heard someone coming down the steps.
I think she was either drunk or manic and to this day, I can’t tell which.
After High School, I didn’t see or hear about Betty for years. I’d think about her from time to time, as I pretty much have since first grade. It’s safe to say I have the softest of soft spots for her.
About five years ago, she popped back up in my life at random as she always seems to and we went out a few times. However, she had a different view of what I thought were really nice and enjoyable times and put an end to it. Whatever, no harm no foul — I moved on and accepted she was just a friend.
As our story has always gone, she was in and out of my life, as she seemed to be in most people’s — including her own family’s. I’d later learn of the traumatic and abusive childhood she endured, which nobody we went to school with had the first clue about when we were kids, myself included.
She told me all of this a few summers ago when we started to get close again. She was basically staying wherever she could — but seemed to run into a problem at each and every home she was let into. It never seemed to be her fault or doing either, according to her of course.
It was around this time I noticed for the first time, something wasn’t right with Betty and it kind of hit me that maybe it never was and I was always just blind to it. Her face and smile had a way of not letting me see much else.
She’d show up at my house more or less unannounced, crying for no specific reason. I’d do what I could for her, feed her, give her cigarettes and just try and be there for her. I never gave her any reason to dislike or not trust me.
Regardless, she’d frequently end these get-togethers of ours by picking a fight over literally nothing or her saying something terrible to me as she left, as to assure herself she had nobody. I was usually able to look past these outbursts.
However, there were continuous red flags most people wouldn’t have ignored. Friends would tell me she was crazy, one claims she was never even pregnant — though I witnessed her beyond protruding belly with my own eyes so I don’t know how she could’ve possibly faked it.
Months after I had seen her that day when she was homeless and pregnant, after not hearing about her for some time I began to fear for the absolute worst. Nobody I asked had heard from her and I started to wonder if we would have even heard about it had she passed. She had a habit of disappearing off into the woods, there’s really no telling what could’ve happened and I was genuinely concerned.
I messaged her on FaceBook with little hope of hearing back but eventually did. She said she was doing okay and was staying in a different part of the city. I told her I was glad she was okay, left my number and wished her well.
Fast forward to last week, when I ran into her at one of the city’s more happening intersections, as she was waiting for a bus and I was walking by. I’ve had these kinds of by chance run-ins with her time and time again in my life and I don’t believe in coincidences. There’s a plan and it’s all connected.
I gave her a big hello and a hug and got what equated to an attitude and a dirty look back. I asked her what was wrong and she stated she no longer trusted or liked anyone from the neighborhood she grew up in and I was included. It was at that moment, I decided, I was done trying.
My exact response, without thinking about it was “ And I don’t give a fuck” before walking away — for the last time.
Though I half regret what will probably equate to my last statement ever to a woman I’ve known roughly 25 years — I half don’t.
Maybe she’s sick, maybe she’s just mean, maybe she needs help, maybe she’s hurting, maybe she’s a liar. Who knows. I just know I’m done guessing and trying to help at the expense of my own self-worth.
Relationships of this sort have a way of making you feel less than. You can do it all for a person but there will come a moment where they make you feel like it was never enough in a single sentence. I’m done with anyone who doesn’t value me as a person and can’t show me the same respect I show them.
I want to see everyone I love doing well but it’s not a reality. I’m finally learning, it’s not only okay to put myself and my own well being and happiness over trying to do for certain people, but that I’m literally supposed to. Running around trying to play hero only leaves you exhausted but also feeling like a perpetual failure — because you are destined to fail when you try to fix or save others.
You can help them, but usually only if they ask you to or at least openly accepting of the help. It’ll probably help if they are also, even the least bit genuinely grateful for said help. Otherwise, it’s probably best for both parties you move on. Learn to help yourself before you jump to help others. It’s that whole thing about securing your own life preserver first.
I’ve learned to walk away from friendships of twenty-five years as quickly as those of twenty-five minutes, through simply treating others how they treat me and valuing my own happiness over that of people who clearly don’t care about mine. It’s a lesson I hope this piece helps anyone struggling to do so learn as well. Learn to value yourself enough to walk away, when necessary.