(Written and published on Jan 29, 2010)
Have you ever had a friendship which you had to let go in order to move forward in your growth?
I have. It was with one of the closest friends I have ever had – someone whom I’d refer to as K. K and I knew each other for 10 years and were best friends, before we parted ways last year (2009).
How We Knew Each Other
I first knew K when I was 15. That was 10 years ago. I remember at that time, I was learning web design as a hobby and was setting up my first website. As my webhost (I was using Crosswinds at that time) was frequently down, I would often visit their IRC support channel to check out what was wrong. (Those were the good old days when IRC and ICQ ruled the world of online chat.)
There, I came to know K, one of the support volunteers. K was 27 and from America. Even though we were from different backgrounds and were 12 years apart, we hit it off very well. There was another girl – M, same age as me, whom we acquainted with in the chat room too.
Before we knew it, all 3 of us became very close friends. Our interest in web design was one of the things which brought us together. Me, K and M would often hang out online and just chat for hours and hours to no end. Because each of us were from different timezones (I was from Singapore, K was from America – 15 hrs apart – and M was from Netherlands which was 7 hrs apart), we would each take turns to stay up / wake up early just so we could hang out more. One of the things I looked forward every day after school was just hanging out with them. We were closer with each other than to many of our other friends. The anonymity of the internet allowed us to connect more authentically as individuals, free of subconscious impositions that would come attached with our social labels in the society.
Becoming Best Friends
Over the next few years, K and I stayed connected, while M and I drifted apart. Since K was from America, we had never met in person. Yet, over the course of the next 10 years, our friendship became stronger and stronger.
Do you have a very close friend in your life? K was my closest, platonic friend ever. He was the one person whom I knew I could trust my life with and he would protect it with his life. He would always be there to provide a listening ear whenever I needed one, no matter how busy he was or what he was occupied with. Whether I was down, angry, happy or restless, he would be there to listen. We would talk on the phone almost every day. He would stay up through the night and sacrifice his sleep so we could talk. Our conversations covered just about everything, from daily events, life, personal introspection, hobbies, our families, friends, relationships, my school, his work, etc.
Deep down, I felt extremely blessed and thankful to have a friend like him.
Pushing Him To Take Action On His Life
As K’s best friend, I was personally invested in his life. I always felt K was seriously living below his potential. He seemed like he was stuck in a rut in his life. For example, he kept working in jobs which underutilized his capabilities. In the 10 years we knew each other, he would switch back and fro from lower tier jobs to unemployment to odd jobs. He was perpetually always trying to repay debts to his friends and family which he built up from earlier years.
He was also procrastinating on his Quadrant 2 areas. For example, he wanted to be in a relationship, but he never took much action to find his life partner. His health and fitness was neglected – he was taking the standard junk food diet and didn’t make effort to keep his fitness level in check. From an overall life standpoint, he was floating from day to day, without really living life to the fullest.
For the people whom we care about, we would naturally want what was best for them. It was the same from me to K. I constantly pushed him to work on his life. It started as small steps, by urging him to get a better job and encouraging him to work on his diet. These were areas he said he wanted to work on, but didn’t seem to be doing anything about them. I encouraged him to set goals and take action. If I happened to be embarking on a goal which he might be interested in, I would extend an invitation to him to join me in the goal pursuit too. Whatever skills or adages I had picked up and found useful, I would share with him so he could benefit from it.
While K grew in his own ways over the years, I felt he was still largely living his life in inertia and wasting his life away. Not only that, whatever growth he experienced was largely triggered by me. I had to push him really hard to get him to act just a little on his goals. When I wasn’t doing so, he would simply stop doing anything. All in all, the actual results only represented about 0.01% of the total energy I was investing into his growth. All these left me mentally and emotionally drained in the friendship.
Weariness in the Friendship
It got to the point where I was very frustrated. While I was moving forward in leaps in my personal life, it felt as if K was pretty much stuck in the same stage, right from when I first knew him when I was 15. Like his life was in a standstill.
I felt sad. Since K was my best friend, I wished for him to be living his life to the fullest. Wouldn’t it be great if both of us could be actively pursuing our goals and achieving success in our pursuits? Wouldn’t it be great if we could enjoy the joy of conscious living and blaze through life together? As I progressed further in my goals, our differences widened. It became harder and harder to relate to him about myself, my life, my goals. He could only be listening as a proxy rather than really connecting with what I was sharing. I felt his lack of growth was holding me back from achieving even more with my life.
In retrospect, I realized the dynamics of the friendship didn’t allow him to truly grow. He had been my support all along, enabling me come into my own as an individual. Unfortunately, this resulted in him living under my shadow. He was living vicariously through my achievements, my pursuits. He changed himself because I wanted him to do so. He bended over backwards just to make me happy. The problem was he had not found his inner self and it certainly did not help that I was unknowingly imposing myself on him.
We spent a lot of effort trying to arrive at a common point, but each time it was always a forced solution that did not address any of the fundamental issues. The same problems just kept cropping up over and over again, and we were going around in circles with our discussions. Our conversations turned into consciousness-lowering affairs rather than forwarding discussions.
Our friendship may have started off on a strong note 10 years ago, but it had evolved over the years to become one which held us back. It was obvious that this friendship was no longer helping us to move forward in our lives.
Deciding To End the Friendship
In March 2009 which was last year, I received a sudden flash of realization. I realized it was time to let go of the friendship.
While I felt poignant about this decision, I knew, deep down in my heart, this was necessary. It was for the better. Looking back, it was clear we had entered each other’s lives 10 years ago for a reason and this reason had been fulfilled. For me, I had grown and evolved to be a much better and stronger individual with his support. For him, he finally embarked on living a life of purpose and growth after coasting through over 30 years of his life. It was evident that it was time for us to move on and start embracing the next phase of our life.
When I shared this with him, he was extremely upset. He didn’t agree with me and violently objected to the whole notion altogether. It was over the course of the next few months that he finally came to accept what I meant. After a few chats, we finally parted ways in Oct 2009, removing each other from all our communications. If you had read my 2009 reflections post, the person I referred to in event #13 is K.
As we parted ways, we didn’t rule out the possibility of crossing paths in the future. If fate has it that we are to meet again, then we will do so in the future. But until that happens, we will walk our separate paths, fervently pursue our personal growth and live our lives to the fullest.
Recognizing We Are Connected, With or Without A Friendship
Some may feel the notion of ending a friendship is incredulous, but that really stems from their worldview of relationships. The reason why I am able to readily let the friendship go is because I see the world as one. One whole. In our physical world, we have labels such as “friends”, “BFF”, “girlfriend / boyfriend”, “wife / husband”, etc to physically define connections with one another. Yet, we are already connected with one another without these labels. Such social labels serve to give some form of definition of how we stand in accordance to who we are, but ultimately they undermine the timeless and eternal connection each of us have with one another. This connection is something that’s inherent by virtue of our existence. It expands beyond time and space and transcends social labels, social filters and people’s affirmations.
Thus, the first question you should ask yourself about troubled friendships isn’t what you should do to maintain a friendship. Rather, you should ask yourself whether this friendship is one which will truly help both you and your friend progress in both your life’s journey. If it is, then you can then think about the necessary steps to maintain the relationship. If it isn’t, then there’s no point in continuing the friendship at all. Only by letting go disempowering friendships, can you make room for new, empowering friendships to enter into your life.
How to Know When To Let A Friendship Go
Obviously, no one goes into a friendship with the intention of ending it. However, I have learned from this incident that there are times when ending a friendship is very well the best way forward, assuming that everything has already been done to work out the issues.
While the below are written in the context of friendships, they apply to all relationships as well.
1) When the friendship is causing you more anguish than joy
Do you have any friendships which seem to be causing more unhappiness than happiness? We form friendships with others to support each other to become better persons. When the friendship you are in is causing you more anguish than joy, it defeats the purpose why you are even in the friendship to begin with. Unfortunately, most people stay on in negative relationships, causing themselves lots of unhappiness in the process. If you have friendships which are causing you more pain than joy, it might be time to evaluate whether it’s worth it to hold on to them.
2) When he/she is putting in little to no effort in the relationship.
This wasn’t applicable for my situation, but there are times when dynamics of the friendship is lopsided. Say, when one person is putting in more effort than the other person. Such a situation tells you a lot about how much (or little) the friendship means to him/her. As the saying goes – It takes two hands to clap. Without the other person giving the friendship the same attention and priority to this as you are, things can never work out. Sooner than later, you’ll find yourself bending over backwards to keep this friendship afloat. In this case, the best form of respect you can give to yourself is to let the friendship go. If the other person doesn’t value this in the same way, it is pointless to continue on.
3) When the same situation/issue keeps recurring even though you tried addressing it
Where there are obstacles in the friendship, you should first try to sort out these issues with your friend. However, there may come a time when issues remain unresolved despite that. Maybe the friend doesn’t care enough about the friendship (factor #2 above). Maybe both of you are not willing to compromise. Maybe the differences are too huge to be worked out.
Whatever the reasons are, there comes a point where you have to acknowledge that these issues might very well be irreconcilable. You can continue to try to resolve them, but if they could be resolved, they would have been addressed right at the on-start. While you can pour your heart and soul into making things work out, in the long run you become a slave to the relationship.
4) When your fundamental values and beliefs are different
For any friendship or relationship to work out, there has to be certain similarity in fundamental values. Similarity in these values are the big rocks which will hold the friendship in place. Even if other things are dissimilar, the big rocks will enable the friendship to weather through even the toughest storms ahead.
On the other hand, if the core values are fundamentally different, it doesn’t matter even if everything else is same. The journey to keep the relationship together will only become an uphill battle. It’s just like trying to hold the soil of the ground together in a heavy rain. Without the roots of the tree to hold this soil together, everything will just slip away against your best efforts.
For me and K, our friendship started off where we were similar in our consciousness. As I grew through the years, our fundamental philosophies no longer fit. From there, it was either we compromise on our personal growth, or we part ways to embrace our real life paths. We went for the latter.
I believe the most important thing in life is to first be true to ourselves. While conformance has its merits, it should never be done at the expense of our own growth or our values. Compromising on your personal values just to keep a friendship afloat will ultimately only make you miserable. What’s worse, because your true self is repressed, you start to wrap your identity around the friendship. This was what happened to K, which was why we had to let go of the relationship partly so he could grow into his own. You need to first be true to who you are before any meaningful relationship can be formed.
5) When the friendship is preventing either of you from growing as individuals
A friendship is ultimately a third entity formed due to two individuals. Every friendship evolves based on how both parties are growing. Sometimes both parties grow at the same pace. There are times where the friendship is one of stagnancy, where both parties don’t grow. Then there are times when one outgrows the other, by a large margin.
When this happens, you have two options (i) change the dynamics of the friendship to fit this new development, or change yourself to maintain the same dynamics. As I shared in Factor #4, it’s most important to first be true to ourselves. Determine who you are and who you want to be, then decide if this friendship is one that is compatible with you. A friendship that hinders you from growing into your own isn’t the best one for you. On top of that, if you are not able to grow into your own, chances are your friend is facing a similar blockage as well. A real friendship should be one that enables you in your personal life journey, so you can then enable your friend and others in their life journeys as well.
As all of us evolve in our own personal journeys, we will cross paths with many different people. Some will be just a brief encounter. Some will stay for a while, then leave when the intent of the encounter is served. Some will stay for an extended period of time.
Remember that physical friendships may be temporary, but the connection we have toward one another is eternal. Because of that, always ensure the friendships you are in are the ones which are enabling you in your life path. If the friendship is not enabling either party, the best way forward is to let it go.
Perhaps one day, when you guys are at a different, better place in life, you might just cross paths again. This time, both of you will be able to connect with each other on a whole different capacity altogether, leading to a different level of connection altogether.
Check out the other articles in People & Relationship series:
- You are the Average of the 5 People You Spend the Most Time With
- It’s Perfectly Okay To Be Single
- How I Moved On From a Heartbreak (5-part series)
- 10 Tips To Make New Friends
Articles in Dealing with People series: