Although in theory, if not in practice, we're ready to give up our unhealthy friendships, deciphering the friend worth ditching and the friend worth keeping remains an issue. For instance, some women have confided in me that practically all of their friends are toxic on some level. Surely, they can't all be dropped because, where would that leave the women? And while these appear to be extreme cases, there are plenty of us who stick with a less than optimal friend because we don't have the guts to do anything about it and dread any repercussions. It's worth exploring at the start of a new year and a new decade, when we feel wise, informed and fortified, the reasons why we are willing to keep certain friends and do a clean sweep of a few others.
The initial hesitation occurs when we consider the time spent on such relationships and the intimacy required. Cultivating any kind of friendship at all has risks and once you've put yourself on the line, despite the pitfalls, it's difficult to start from scratch. For this reason, serious doubts about letting go get churned up. The 'devil you know' mentality lingers over many unhappy friendships; including those that are male/male, female/ female and female/male. After all, who else will put up with our idiosyncrasies, our bad habits, and what about all those shared secrets? Remember how the Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil was destroyed socially in Les Liaisons Dangereuses by the letters she had exchanged with the Vicomte Sebastien de Valmont once he had had enough, and turned against her? And in modern times, the most vicious leader -- think Mean Girls -- often yields the most power. Few of us have the courage to distance ourselves from a popular mean girl and suffer the consequences, even if we feel that we've been mistreated. The idea of being disenfranchised makes us vulnerable and able to rationalize almost any friendship scenario. In these situations, one will stay, perhaps fully aware of the implications, absolutely aware of the consequences of leaving.
On the other hand, the New Year does elicit a new resolve and in the early days, a fresh outlook as well. If this is applied to a friendship that has been devastating -- the friend stole your boyfriend, your husband, your job -- there is no time like the present to move on. For the friend who has crossed the line, the attraction and allure are over. Once trust is no longer part of the equation, that's enough to tip the scales in favor of a break up. Whatever notion that the friendship could be saved has been dispelled and out of self respect and self discovery, we exit. Consider the dark relationship between Cate Blanchett's character in Notes on a Scandal, seduced and betrayed by Judi Dench's character. In this cautionary tale, Blanchett's character realizes too late how toxic her friend is, and is ruined.
And so, as usual, there is the gray area to contend with, when the friend is not reprehensible but the relationship is flawed nonetheless. This friend might be happiest when you're at your lowest, she might be opportunistic, a taker, an energy thief. Still, you share a history, and you've actually grown accustomed to this friends' style and all her tricks. Again that reluctance to take a final step, to end a friendship, gnaws at us and we don't feel ready. At this juncture, one has to be introspective, and ask the salient question -- what do you get out of the friendship? Remaining friends with someone whom you doubt on some level is about who you are as much as who she is.