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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 12-Mar-15 12:42:27

Should you call time on a toxic friendship?

We've all encountered them at some time or another - that friend who's always there if they need something from you...but never seems to come through in your hour of need. Patricia Scanlan talks fair weather friends and the process of letting them go now that she's older.

Patricia Scanlan

Is it time to ditch a toxic friendship?

Posted on: Thu 12-Mar-15 12:42:27

(37 comments )

Lead photo

Do you have a toxic friendship?

"When are the boundaries of friendship pushed too far, and when is it time to stop flying over oceans for someone who wouldn't jump over a puddle for you?"

I'd seen this quote soon after an old friend said snippily, having read my latest novel - which had been very well reviewed and got to No 1 - "Well it won't win the Booker Prize!"

That made my jaw drop! Not that she felt I wouldn't win the Booker, (neither did I, it was never an aspiration of mine) but that she would be so churlish. I passed the remark off and continued chatting as we ate lunch. (I got stuck with the bill as well, but that was nothing new!) In hindsight, thinking about our 'friendship' it dawned on me that jealousy was at the root of the comment.

I'd have been much more upset had this happened in my younger years. But now that I'm in my late fifties I've stopped pandering to people and trying to be everything to everyone. I don't have the energy for it anymore, nor the inclination.

Another friend of mine mentioned that she's noticed that the older she's got, the smaller her circle of 'real friends' has become. This gave me food for thought and I examined a couple of my own 'friendships' and saw that they weren't really friendships in the true sense of the word. They were just a habit. Mostly 'friends' who needed a shoulder to cry on and who wouldn't get in touch until their next calamity.

As I approach my sixties I much prefer to have a small circle of real friends who are 'radiators'. No more 'drains' or 'fair weather friends' for me.


Helena, a counsellor I know, often speaks of people who are 'drains' and 'radiators', as she terms them. 'Friends' who whine and moan and seem to have dramas morning, noon and night. She is going through an incredibly hard time because her daughter is being horrendously bullied in her first year in secondary school. On a particularly stressful day when her daughter had come home in tears, a 'friend' rang Helena for a chat. She explained what had happened and said she would talk with her later as she wanted to be with her daughter.

"How awful," said the 'friend' and immediately launched into a diatribe about her husband who was driving her mad! She was considering divorcing him and wanted advice. Helena was stunned. She'd always supported the 'friend', but in her own hour of need, when she could have done with a shoulder to cry on she was brushed off with a "how awful!"

I wrote a novella a few years ago for the Open Door Literacy Series, called Fairweather Friend, about two women in an unequal friendship. One was a giver and the other, a taker and a user. I got a huge response from readers about it. One middle-aged woman came up to me with the book for me to sign, at a prize giving-event. She'd taken literacy classes and could now read perfectly and was going to become a tutor herself. "You’re getting big notions about yourself now," her oldest 'friend' told her upon hearing this. "A Fairweather Friend, I think," the woman remarked wryly. "She was only a friend when she felt she was superior to me."

As I approach my sixties I much prefer to have a small circle of real friends who are 'radiators'. No more 'drains' or 'fair weather friends' for me.

A Time For Friends by Particia Scanlan is published 12 March by Simon & Schuster and is available from Amazon. We've also got three copies of the book to win - just post on the thread to enter.

By Patricia Scanlan

Twitter: @simonschusteruk

Anya Thu 12-Mar-15 12:54:09

Oh how we all recognise those 'friends' and some family like that too. those who always brush off any worries you might have just so they can launch into an account of their own lives with you as a captive audience.

I've got much harder now I'm approaching 70. Haven't got the time for people like that. I just cut them out of my life.

Greenfinch Thu 12-Mar-15 13:11:52

I counted up my friends yesterday and found I had about a dozen close friends and when I looked at the list I thought to myself "why do I like B better than E ?" Reading this blog, I have realised that B is a good listener and is concerned for me and my family though she doesn't live nearby. E is full of her own complaints and rarely asks about the family .She does not listen properly as she can never remember what I have said although she is always seeking my advice for her problems. I now don't go out of my way to catch up with her.

Jane10 Thu 12-Mar-15 13:42:37

I'm so glad to read this. In the past I have "dumped" friends when I have realised that they weren't friends at all. Sometimes I was a bit slow on the uptake about it though and just took on board all sorts of nasty indirectly aggressive comments about myself and my family. All that was some time ago. Once, when I was in my 20s, an older friend phoned me to tell me that she didn't want to continue our friendship. Needless to say I was devastated, she had been such a good friend. She told me that I had changed since I had had my baby and she didn't find my company interesting any more. In retrospect it was honest of her to tell me that I had become "nappy brained" but it was a shock at the time. At least she told me directly and explained why. It would have been worse if she had just become gradually elusive.
I also realise that I don't care much for some of my relatives! Yikes but at least you can choose your friends!

etheltbags1 Thu 12-Mar-15 13:44:54

I have a friend like that, she always talks about her problems, I do care for her and have known her for 40 years but we have changed over the years and it would be nice for her to ask how I am for a change.
I just reply to her nowadays and be polite. She never notices that I am quiet when she visits. I cant visit her as her partner is obnoxious, racist, chauvinist and just plain rude.

annsixty Thu 12-Mar-15 14:25:47

It isn't always easy to rid oneselves of toxic friends.The one I would would have loved to drop was the wife of one of DH's best friends and all his friends thought of her as we did.When he eventually left her we felt we had to keep the friendship going for the sake of her two daughters who are lovely girls.Later on both her SiLs felt the same way towards her as we did.When I had BC she was dismissive as she was about everything else because ,of course, she had known lots of people with it and they were all ok. Then she was dignosed with it,she was on the phone to me constantly asking for help and advice. Sadly it was terminal and when she was told she turned against everyone but her daughters,she wouldn't answer the phone and I didn't speak to her for the last months of her life.

Falconbird Thu 12-Mar-15 15:00:09

When my DH passed away I sure found out who my true friends were.

One of them who I had already felt uneasy with for many years was really insensitive so I've let her drift away.

I have 6 friends who I trust so I am very lucky.

The true friends rang, had coffee with me when I was in a very dark place and weren't afraid to contact me although I was often crying on the phone.

That takes courage flowers

etheltbags1 Thu 12-Mar-15 15:15:17

Me too falcon, my friend dropped everything and took a day off work when my husband died but another who seemed very supportive on the day, insisted she help with getting rid of my husbands clothes. I let her help and found she just wanted all his stuff for her layabout boyfriend. I was told later that she went to everyones funeral in her area and offered to help just so she could scrounge stuff. I dropped her soon after.

magwis Thu 12-Mar-15 18:01:09

Other people's negativity is draining and destructive. Often friendships thrive on shared activities and interests. We all have difficult times in our lives and sometimes listening and being there and encouraging your friend is the best way forward. Jealousy is often toxic and if a friend can't be happy for you when things go well, that person is not a real friend. We don't get many true friends in a lifetime, I feel.

Spidergran Thu 12-Mar-15 18:50:01

I find it very difficult to end 'drain' relationships without being rude and sometimes it takes me a very long time to realise that they are actually friendships that are very stressful and draining of my energy. I find as I get older that if you regularly take a few minutes out to stockcheck your friendships. Deciding which people make you feel elated and happy when you have spent time with them and which people make you feel exhausted and down in the dumps when you have been with them. It took me a long time to realise that friends who dismiss any problems you have and either move onto theirs or dismiss yours with "Oh I have had that and mine was ten times as bad" and proceed to tell you all about theirs when you really want a listening ear and a few words of comfort and hope the same as you offer them in their hour of need. I have also weeded out the 'friends' who are wonderful to you as long as your down and no competition for them but as soon as you have any luck or achievements then they belittle you and want to push you back down into your 'place' as they cannot cope with you as an equal. As the saying goes you can pick and choose your friends but not your relatives..so I am learning to pick wiselysmile

Jaxie Thu 12-Mar-15 18:57:51

It's the nasty comments that hurt: " This house is far too small to have your grandchildren to stay." There's not enough in this town to keep you happy." " On a new carpet I'd had laid: " They have one like that in the local hotel, and the stripes went all wiggly when it was walked on. " Your sitting room looks like a waiting room." The last two from someone whose house looks like a rented property, and who has what I consider to be very common taste in soft furnishing. I have NEVER made a comments like these to friends and can only think it's jealousy that prompts them. Oh, and how about this one: "I don't know how you and David can afford two houses." I wish I'd replied, " Because I worked like a bleeping slave for 20 odd years as a teacher, plus, I'm married to Scrooge, and neither of us inherited a penny from our parents, unlike you." Is it time to bite back, Gransnetters?angry

BeeBee1950 Thu 12-Mar-15 19:09:13

It is hard to ' lose' friends who are ' drains'- but oh the relief when you finally do it. I shed my toxic friend of thirty odd years when she sent me a text for my birthday!! That really was the final straw- who doesn't have five minutes to buy and post a card? The good thing it is was this final act of insensitivity that allowed me to leave the friendship without a shred of guilt!

Madge51 Thu 12-Mar-15 20:14:20

A 40 year friendship was recently ended by me when my friend, on hearing that I had Scleroderma, said, "Trust you to have something unusual". The fact that it will kill me never entered her head. Time for a sharp exit from that particular 'drain'.

J52 Thu 12-Mar-15 20:19:38

I have been used by a couple friends when they were having a bad time, only to be dumped when their lives got back on track.

It is interesting that as time passed they then seemed to think things would be ok once again. This was obviously to salve their consciences. I don't get caught twice!

It is sad when friends change, I immediately think it is me who has done something wrong, but I'm learning to be tougher!
x

annsixty Thu 12-Mar-15 20:35:14

I have found one of the sad things is when friends with whom you have socialised, eating out and sharing meals at each others houses fade from the scene when something happens where you can't do it anymore. They then make new friends and tell you about all the places they go to and what fun they are having with them. It is remarkably thick-skinned as they don't seem to realise just how insensitive they are being. I am speaking from experience.

TyneAngel Thu 12-Mar-15 21:08:11

There's almost a sense of relief in reading these comments. A year or so ago I'd have said I had 9 good, close friends; then my husband died suddenly and I found I had 2. As, previously,I was the 'go to' person when anyone needed a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on, I am still in a state of shock at the falling away after decades. It has toughened me up a bit, though, and I now regularly ask myself 'Is this how a friend would act?' 'Is this what a friend would say?' However, the downside of letting go, or being let go of, was highlighted in a recent thread on the difficulty in making friends - getting past the acquaintance stage - in later life. A hug for anyone who needs one.

Mishap Thu 12-Mar-15 21:30:31

It is sad to hear of these experiences; and I can only say that this has not been my experience. I have recently been unwell and had nothing to offer anyone else, but every friend and neighbour of mine has been unfailingly kind - I have been bowled over by all the kindness and understanding that has come my way. I am a very lucky lady.

Roxannediane Fri 13-Mar-15 00:21:11

Not that many years ago we lost our business and our beautiful period farmhouse and had to move into rented accommodation for a few years. My large circle of 'friends ' dwindled fairly quickly when some realised I could no longer entertain them in the manner to which they had become accustomed!!
I am left with an amazingly supportive group of friends who are always there for me and I for them. They understand my financial predicament and do not push me beyond my means. They are true friends in every sense of the word and saved me during my darkest days. When I thank them they remind me of what I have done for them in the past.

grannyactivist Fri 13-Mar-15 00:21:55

I think this blog has touched a chord as I see quite few new names here, so welcome if you're a gransnet newbie. smile It's very sad to see so many posts from people who have been let down or undermined by people they thought were friends. My own experience has been very different and Mishap's post could have been written by me. Tomorrow I have to have hospital tests and as soon as word about this got out I had several offers from friends offering to take and stay with me. I now feel doubly blessed by having such good friends in my life.

Falconbird Fri 13-Mar-15 07:42:51

Having said a few messages back that I had 6 friends I could trust is true but they have their own worries and problems so aren't always 100 per cent lovely and kind but they are only human.

When they're not all that supportive I just shrug and wait for the next time when their mood will have changed.

Sewsilver Fri 13-Mar-15 07:50:43

Someone once said to me that friends are like vacuum cleaners some suck and some blow. After DH died I realise that it was all the ones who sucked the energy out of me who disappeared .The friends who remain are the ones to give and take equally. I am blessed. I'm also amazed to find that in these darkest of days I have made new friends.

KatyK Fri 13-Mar-15 10:46:27

I have never done the whole friends thing really, perhaps because I have two sisters who I am very close to and trust implicitly. I have one friend who I have known for over 40 years. She doesn't live nearby but we see each other once a year and speak on the phone occasionally. We are supportive of each other and the conversations are never one-sided. I have several 'acquaintances' whose live I know all about - full details of their lives - their children's and grandchildren's lives, their holidays and what the budgie had for his tea grin . They know very little about me and my life because they never ask and I am not pushy. Sometimes I have said something about what someone in my family has done and they say 'oh my Freddie did that' and then I get full details and my parade has been well and truly rained on. I used to get annoyed but now I think there are more important things to think about. Let them think their lives are more important than anyone else's.

annsixty Fri 13-Mar-15 10:53:18

I have already posted on here so apologies,but I have had time to reflect on the friend I posted about yesterday at 14:25 , she was a deeply unhappy woman and at the same time she was her own worst enemy.Her first H left her for another woman when she was in her 20's and her second was unhappy with her for years before he left when she was in her 50's. She was so bitter and it reflected in all her actions and relationships.It is perhaps easy to understand why she was as she was but didn't make her any easier to like or be friends with ,although several of us tried.

loopylou Fri 13-Mar-15 11:03:37

My experience was very similar to Roxannediane, thank heavens I have a wonderful SIL who, with her husband, were our only rock. Even family, who could easily have helped, didn't support us one tiny bit- that was a real wake-up call! Some close family wouldn't even talk to us, it was as if we had the plague, very sad.

Nonnie Fri 13-Mar-15 11:21:45

Dump them straight away! Oh how I wished I had learned this long before I did. Life is so much easier now we are retired and only spend time with people we really want to.

We moved around a lot and it was always a surprise to find out who kept in touch and who didn't. We soon discovered who our real friends were. Now we make new friends easily enough but will be happy to drop them if necessary.

A few years ago I was in hospital for some weeks and found friends I had known for years who lived a long way away made the journey to come and see me, even some of DH's rellies came. It was so refreshing to realise I had so much support at an extremely difficult time. Now one of them has cancer and I can support her. My friends are very important to me.

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