Strangers with Memories
An open letter to those experiencing a toxic friendship.
By Ryan R Gerrard - June 15, 2022
The unfortunate truth about friendships in our 20's:
As much as we like to believe that our friends are our soul mates; our kindred spirits and that nothing on earth could diminish the bond we share with each other, we neglect one key fact and it is this: Friendship is, at its core, motivated by a shared deprivation: to feel loved, a sense of belonging & validation. To feel appreciated & understood is a desire we all crave. We form friendships in our twenties because we are lacking all of those things in high measure and we have no other means of acquiring them.
Many of us are probably experiencing our friendship circles pairing off into new relationships, getting married or having children... yet a small group of us are left behind. Suddenly we feel alone. Teenage-type jealousy resurfaces & we feel lost. It can also come in the form of new jobs or friends who have larger pools of people and bigger families that they spend most of their time with - leaving you rather far down the pecking order.
We must remember: Giving those you love the necessary room to achieve their potential while maintaining a connection are skills we need to become adept to as we mature. The greatest threat to our happiness is often our misplaced determination to control our destiny. We need to learn to be shape shifters, embracing ups and downs, fulfilment and frustration and people who move in and out of our lives. We must also learn to let go and accept that change.
Some friendships will naturally fizzle out due to the traffic life brings; it's inevitable - those people are stepping stones onto the next part of our human experience. However, some closer friends whom you adore deeply, sometimes must be forcibly removed to end the toxicity engulfing your happiness.
Currently I’m mourning the loss of a close friend & confidante as we enter the break up stage of our relationship. The courage it can take to confront an issue like this head on is difficult - in my case it took the best part of 6 months to begin the initial disclosure of my feelings. That’s a long time to feel overwhelmingly drained from trying to keep a sinking ship afloat. It’s takes a toll mentally and physically.
To sit with the pain caused has ultimately become the greatest strength in my recovery - a feeling I’ve never before tapped into with such depth and finally I can truly empathise & compare with friends who have gone through a romantic break-up. Feel free to disagree but I believe the loss of friends feels worse. It’s still raw as I write this but part of my healing process is to be creative and by documenting this, it enables me to recover. To validate & grieve the loss of any relationship is vital and I find to dig deep and list the nuances; whether that be to write down or speak to someone in your close circle, specifically about each loss that the breakdown of friendship has cost you - aids that healing process and makes deciding to leave a toxic friendship a much clearer decision in your mind. Grant yourself permission to feel the loss deeply - but do approach that with caution: grief isn’t an instantaneous process, it takes time - so be gentle - it’s the least you deserve.
Anger will most certainly follow a decision like this and come in the form of feeling betrayed from our expectations of that person and the hopes we had of the treatment within the relationship. Sadly anger, initially, will produce itself in the form of blame - we place focus on the other and divulge into a never ending list of bad traits they had, quickly conjured up in a flurry of rage. Whilst it’s important to acknowledge the parting of ways and the violation of boundaries that may have induced the deterioration of that friendship - the most powerful thing we can do is take stock, reflect and question: “How do I forgive this person?” In my particular case, I experienced a huge amount of disrespect & blatant toxic behaviours which were rife throughout our comradeship and after months of trying to fill us with fuel I was emotionally spent and felt compelled to end the friendship for my own sanity - it’s very easy to rummage backwards in the chapters of our friendship to pick out all of the things that seemed off - dismissing the good - and become venomously fuelled by it all - it was surprising to me how much anger resurfaced, that maybe I hadn’t realised I had been suppressing throughout our timeline together - but when you reflect and investigate the reasons for the actions that had those consequences on us, you can, in time, forgive their behaviour. I’m still learning to do that. That’s not to say that the actions of someone who disrespects your self worth and makes no effort with you in return is okay - it’s important to acknowledge it’s far from it but to have the ability to rise above it with a sense of maturity and not as our teenage selves once would - with cryptic messages, bitchy posts and exploitation. It’s not easy but the healing which comes from forgiveness is incredibly powerful. Furthermore, forgiving yourself is also crucial: If I had a pound for every time I questioned “why didn’t I notice?” or “why did I let it happen for so long?”… simply forgiving yourself allows you to remain bitter-less and process the ideology that nobody can be perfect and live up to your ideal expectations. I was angry and blamed the person involved for having a clear lack of effort with me: the continuous cancellation of our plans with ludicrous excuses & lack of understanding for the hurt caused - but perspective is a real gift; yes the behaviour might not have suited my needs, but I couldn’t control any of that. It really was their naturally developed etiquette. A close friend told me recently that if a person shows you who they really are, believe them. Easier said than done, right? I dwelled on that sentiment for a while before it hit me. I saw what I wanted to see - I had hope that they would change, not themselves but their conduct, once they had knowledge of my clear misery and when the didn’t happen and I was left with a ‘take me as I am or not at all’ ultimatum, I felt worse. A wall was hit and I was far too exhausted to break through it. We shouldn’t get bogged down in behaviours we cannot change in someone - after all, it’s not we who are responsible for someone else’s decisions or actions.
If our absence in someone else’s story doesn’t affect their life - then our presence in it has no substance. Instead of trying to predict a fantasy of how that friendship might turn out if we stayed and gave them more chances, knowing full well we’ll probably still be unhappy but willing to take the risk just incase they do, one day, turn out to be what you expected - we must realise how important it is to let go & find closure.
Gratitude works wonders. I’ve sat with the “do I block them?” scenario running through my mind. I assumed that seeing a profile photo change, a story or any life update would invoke an unbearable pain or sadness within me. However taking control of that negativity, owning it and then showing honest gratitude that the person is well and actually having a fantastic life experience - even without you in it - aids you dramatically. As an actor, I feel it important to sit in the rawness of my own pain in order to do my job well - even with this unwanted experience, it’s given me a chance to become a more layered and more mature individual - who holds his other friendships that bit tighter. We mustn’t forget to feel grateful for the memories we created & experienced with that person. I confidently admit that I still love them and I’ll always have respect for someone who has given me years worth of unique memories. There’s no point regretting the time spent with them and writing it off as a waste: in my case, I still laughed, I cried and we grew - albeit apart from one another - but in the end they changed me and that needs to be celebrated. A personal goal of mine with any relational breakdown is to finish in a way which enables me to be in the room with that person - at any point in future - and be civil. Never let the sun set on a quarrel. It’s also important for us not to use this experience of unmet needs, blame & anger and compare it to any present or future relationships with others - everyone is different and friendships ebb and flow to a unique rhythm. The universe will decide if you both beat in time.
For me, having a strong support network of my inner circle to confide in during this has been incredibly helpful and has allowed me to make informed decisions - however, I’m aware that some people may have nobody else. My advice would be: the sooner you understand your own self worth & prioritise that over trying to become someone else’s priority - the happier you will feel. Yes it can be messy - you may have events booked, holidays paid for and gifts from them mounted on your walls as a constant painful reminder - but does any of it really matter? It’s important to note that you probably won’t reach a stage where you don’t miss that person within your daily life and that’s normal, but try to have the perspective that you’re lucky enough to be strangers with memories rather than never having met them at all.
Friendship is, at its core, motivated by a shared deprivation: to feel loved, a sense of belonging & validation. If that deprivation is no longer shared, it’s okay to move on from that person. There are so many other people out there that we haven’t even met - that, one day, we will love just as much; plus who knows - one day your two disconnected souls may just reconnect and find their way back to each other after a long needed hiatus. Two best friends destined to be together but who require a bit longer to develop separately.
Finally, to you - if perchance you ever stumble across this: I hope in our case, that the experience I just described above will be the outcome. I’m not angry and I can’t say I fully understand the choices made or the reasons given but my love runs deep enough to override it. Maybe it’ll be forever, maybe it won’t. I hope to be ready, when the time is right to try again should you feel compelled to reignite the flame of friendship with positive change, love and respect.
As Dave Coaches told Vanessa Shanessa Jenkins as they shook hands and mutually agreed to go their separate ways (Gavin and Stacey Series 3, episode 6): “It’s been a blast Sugartits”