Throughout our lives, we develop, strengthen, and ultimately lose many relationships. From birth, we are deeply connected to our family. In school, we connect with other peers and form relationships that sometimes last our entire lives or slowly fade and end once we graduate. And although we know and feel how relationships have a positive effect on us, learning how to pick the right ones and develop them is only taught on a very basic level in society and culture. Even less talked about are the harmful aspects that can develop in a relationship if you let them slide and not confront them. Most likely, they are not being taught to us by our parents or peers, because most don’t know any better and end up with shallow relationships themselves.
All of us want deep and fulfilling relationships. Peers that unconditionally support you, are honest, and help you along your path in life. In return, we have to be open in doing the same for them. Not out of ulterior motives or expectations the other has to fulfill, but because we genuinely care for them and want them to grow and succeed.
One part of this equation is inevitably about us; how we can detach from expectations, overcome our own demons, and become a better person. The other part is having friends that help along the way. But not every person is out for that job. Not everyone wants to become a better person; confront their traumas or egocentric and harmful behavior. And that is completely fine. Just because those people have a different mindset does not mean that you should force yours onto them. But you should not let yourself get dragged down by them either. And here comes the tricky part; Evaluating your relationships and letting go.
A personal story;
When I was a teenager, I made friends with a boy my age. He became my best friend; his parents my second family. I did not have many relationships and did not want to lose this one by confronting them. I was the shy, tidy boy, taking care, and helping everywhere I could, complacent with everything they did.
Every once in a while, my friend was fighting with his parents for incredibly mundane reasons. He behaved extremely emotional as if he was still a little kid. At some point, he would get so angry that his parents bend themselves over so he could have it his way. He never had to take responsibility for anything he did and never had to contribute his energy, time, or money to anything he did not want or which did not directly affect him. His parents were spoiling him and by giving in every time he got angry, they only supported his behavior and he could never grow beyond it.
I was the exact opposite. Whatever needed to be done; I was the first to help. I enjoyed it, but was creating a very different relationship dynamic with them; I was too nice. I became the son they probably always wanted and they took me in as if I was a part of the family. Back then, I did not know; They did not do it because they cared about me, but because they cared about what I did for them.
The few times I confronted my friend’s behavior or questioned his parent’s decisions, they always reacted the same; They became emotional and aggressive. They did not want me to confront them with their contradictory behavior, no matter how careful I approached the topic. They shut themselves off and lashed out towards me as if I was hurting or insulting them. They got angry, blocked me on social media, or guilt-tripped me into apologizing. As I was deeply caring about them and did not want to lose them, I tried to resolve the situation. I flattered and cared for them as if I did something wrong. In the end, I only made their behavior worse because I let them get away with it. Their strategy worked and they never had to face their own bullshit. I had unconsciously created a dynamic in which they only had to complain and blame me to resolve the situation, but they never had to understand or accept my perspective.
Then something happened; I grew and developed myself while they didn’t. I began to understand that my relationship with them would never develop into something deeper or fulfilling and would always be how it already was; shallow.
As I still enjoyed their company, I spend a few days with them and brought my girlfriend along. My girlfriend did not have a deep relationship with them, which gave her the insight I so desperately needed. She immediately saw the harmful behavior that had been my blind spot all those years and her being with me gave me the courage to stand up for us both.
They noticed that my girlfriend kept a distance and when we were without her, they confronted me about it. When I respectfully and calmly explained them the problems in their behavior, they first showed a sense of understanding until they slowly turned it against her. It was not them behaving problematic, but my girlfriend. Despite the fact that she was their guest, they expected her to do and behave like they wanted to; to not complain but suck it up. They felt more important than my girlfriend and gave me the choice; Either them or her.
Their real self came forth, unwilling to compromise or understand. Only pretending to care until they were not getting it their way.
I listened to them babble on and something in me broke; my respect and care towards them. They did not care how I felt when they told me that my girlfriend is an evil bitch, trying to create drama to destroy their relationship. They did not care how horrible it was to force me to decide between them or my girlfriend.
I left the room and cried next to my girlfriend. For the first time in over 10 years of relationship, I saw what I had avoided and turned a blind eye on. After we packed our bags and left in the middle of the night, I was still naïve, expecting them to show some kind of compassion towards us. I expected them to tell us that they were sorry about the whole situation but understood why we were leaving. I expected them to give us a proper goodbye and wish us the best, asking us to let them know when we arrived home safely.
They did none. As we packed the last few things, they sat in the kitchen and ignored us. As I wished them goodbye and all the best, they made aggressive comments towards me. Now with my last hope shattered, I knew that leaving them was the right decision.
As we got home, I made sure to delete them from my contacts and from my life. I did not block them. I still gave them the option to contact me, yet they haven’t since. After 10+ years of relationship, of being part of their family, their tribe, they did not even care to show me the respect or decency that every one of us deserves.
I cared for them whenever they had any issues, helping wherever I could around their house. Visited them in the hospital, took them out for dinner, got my friend a job that made him a small fortune (which he still has not paid any taxes on and could get him into jail ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) and still cared and respected them with all their shortcomings.
I was naïve and could have spent all this time and energy on someone as caring as I was, but at least I learned from all this. I hope they will too someday, but I am not the one trying to make them.
From their perspective, they must feel as if I had betrayed them. I insulted them by being honest about their behavior and then left their tribe for someone they did not see worthy. I can’t fault them for their perspective. I am in part responsible for keeping it up over all those years, but I am not going to defend their behavior.
End of storytime.
If you want any kind of deep, long-lasting relationship, don’t let unwanted and harmful behavior manifest itself. Stand up for what you believe in, even if it might hurt. If you don’t, you accept it and it won’t go away by itself. It will turn into your blind spot, especially if you prefer to see the best in people. The same goes for any relationship dynamic. Don’t take it for granted or develop an expectation that the other will always be there to mow your lawn. You mow your own lawn before anybody else does.
Make friends who are a positive influence in your life. Who you can learn and grow with. Friends who want your feedback, however harsh it may be. Don’t spend energy and time on the ones who do not want to grow or change, who think you are hurting and insulting them with your honest thoughts. Change has to come from within and not everyone is ready for it.
Finding these relationships is hard but rewarding. The same goes for filtering out the bad relationship you still carry with you. Some old friends from school who never grew up, or family members with a very different mindset. Conservative parents and grandparents or narcissistic siblings. It is up to you with how much shit you want to keep up with. Especially because these people influence you the more you are around them. Do you want to become like them? Develop their behaviors? Their mindset?
You don’t have to drop them like a hot potato. But the first thing you have to do is to confront them about their bullshit. Do they listen or do they block off, get aggressive, shift blame? If they want to grow, show them the way. If they don’t, decide if it’s worth for you to keep contact.