Letting Friendships Die

I have heard more stories about dying friendships than I thought. Someone I know would tell me that they dreaded the idea of seeing someone, because they didn’t enjoy the stories that the person tells or, for that matter, how the person behaves. I have to ask them why they bother hanging out with that person if they don’t enjoy spending time with them and the answer almost always comes back the same — they have known them for a great number of years (15, 20, sometimes more) and they don’t want to ruin a long friendship after everything that they have been through.

Let us look at a specific example. I know a woman who we shall call Belinda for the sake of this story. Belinda has a friend named Martha with whom she has not been particularly close for about five or six years. Every time I ask Belinda about Martha, there is always some complaint. She doesn’t like hearing about Martha’s sexual adventures and can’t believe how badly she abuses herself. She doesn’t feel like she has anything in common with Martha.

You would think that it would be an easy call for Belinda to no longer spend time with or speak with Martha, right? Not quite so easy. Belinda tells me that she and Martha went to high school together and have many happy memories from it, and she doesn’t want to throw away the friendship that they built over the years.

I tell her that I just don’t understand why she does it to herself when her friend pretty much doesn’t care at all about her and only comes to her when she is in need of help. One of many reasons, I thought, to end a friendship.

Friends should support, encourage, and love you. Yes, friends can challenge you to be a better person or make changes in your life, but this can be done in a loving and supportive way. The abuser tends to put you down, hurt you, and keep you down. The abusive friend will somehow convince you that you need them, despite how much they hurt you. It will be incredibly difficult to cut this friend from your life, as they will make it an effort to make your life miserable in the process. In the end, you’ll realize how much better you are without the abuser in your life.

I am reminded of a great cup of coffee that I had with my wife and a mutual friend of ours. Our friend told us that she had been thinking about it with the coming of the Jewish New Year and had come to the realization that by clinging to old friendships that are hurtful to our moral character, we are doing more harm to ourselves than not.

By being hurtful to our moral character, I mean that the person behaves in ways in which we would not fundamentally approve. My mother used to tell me when I was growing up that you could tell all about a person by looking at their friends. Our friend told us that it was never worth it to keep poisonous old friendships — after all, it is important to stick with the winners.

When it comes to friendships, know well when the time has come to say goodbye. It may be less hurtful to you in the long run.

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