Our friendships feed how we see ourselves. Usually they reinforce our self-image and our world view; occasionally, they challenge us in those areas.
Sometimes, it's necessary and healthy to split with a friend. If a friendship is setting you up for unhealthy patterns in other relationships, it may be time to lesson contact or part ways all together. Ask yourself these questions to determine if a friendship has run its course:
1. Can you be genuine in the friendship? Or does it feel like you have to hide parts of yourself or aspects of your life?
It can be scary to think "I might not be accepted or liked for who I truly am if I show all sides of myself to this person." This happens in friendships, romantic relationships, and even family relationships. Some people are friends with you because of who you really are -- warts and all. And other people are friends with more of an image or veneer.
If you don’t feel you can express your personal thoughts and feelings, give (or ask for) comfort when it’s needed, and you aren’t sure you can rely on your friend to be there in times of need, your friendship isn’t serving and supporting you.
How deep do you want to go? How vulnerable can you be? The quality of your friendships and romantic relationships will depend largely on your answers to these questions.
2. Do you like them more? Do they like you more? Or is it equitable and mutual?
Some friendships deliver an ego boost — maybe you're friends with someone because they look up to you or give you lots of attention on social media. Hey, nothing wrong with a little boost to the self-esteem, but make sure you're not leading anyone on (or being led on) to think something is more meaningful than it really is. And make sure you're filling your own esteem bucket from within -- not with external validation from fair-weather friends.
3. Are they holding you back from being the best version of yourself? Do you like yourself when you’re with them?
Studies show that our attitudes and behaviors are influenced by our close friend group. If you hang out with people who eat well, manage their drinking, work out, take time for self-care, maintain a positive attitude, etc. you will tend to mirror these habits. (Chances are, you had these habits to begin with and connected more meaningfully with a given friend group because they shared similar values!)
Whether you look at it from the "chicken" or the "egg" point of view, the point is that bad habits can start to seem “normal” if they’re part of the culture of your inner circle -- just as good habits are deemed the norm if they're part of your friend culture.
4. If you had to sum up the friendship in 1-2 words, what would it be?
If your answer was something like "compassionate," "fun," "interesting," or "supportive," you're probably in a good friendship. If your answer was a word like "complicated," "confusing," or "dramatic" you may need to release this friendship.
5. Are you friends just because one commonality brought you together?
Maybe you’re friends only because you have a job or hobby in common, and you wouldn’t have formed a friendship if you'd met under other circumstances. Sometimes having similar life events (divorce, a professional training, serving on a committee or team for a special project, loss of a loved one) brings people together and forges a friendship -- but it really only makes sense for as long as it takes to grieve the loss or complete the project. That’s OK. It may be one of those friendships that makes your life better for a little while, but eventually you'll grow apart. Going to the same book club, going through cancer treatment together, or surviving the same catastrophe doesn’t mean you have to be friends for life.
6. Do you do all the work to make the friendship move forward?
There's emotional and practical labor to any relationship: Someone comes up with the ideas for things to do and when to get together; someone makes the reservations and checks the weather. Someone starts the text chain and uploads the pictures to a shared file. That's the practical labor.
The emotional labor is when you talk your friend off a ledge when they're distraught and remind them of how amaaaazing they are, or when you remind them "My door is always open and the guest bed is always ready" as they're going through their 17th breakup.
If one person is doing all or most of the emotional and practical labor, the friendship is lopsided. One of you is over-functioning and one of you is under-functioning.
Why do these behaviors matter when it comes to dating and relationships?
Because these patterns predict the patterns you'll find acceptable and normal in your romantic relationships. People carry the habits they learned with friends and family into their dating and relationship lives as well.
As you go in your friendships, so too will you go in your romantic relationships.
Set boundaries early and often. Set them with compassionate assertiveness. Be discerning about who you share your energy with in your friendships and you’ll feel more empowered to be discerning in your dating life!
Trust, honesty, respect, and being there for one other are the true building blocks of friendship. Ideally, a friend will inspire you to be a better person. So will a romantic partner. You'll do the same for them. It’s not easy, but sometimes you’ll outgrow the people who were supposed to be with who you used to be -- and sometimes people will float away from you. If you’re in a so-called friendship that isn’t built on the qualities above, it’s wise to reexamine it. Go with your intuition and your heart on this.