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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


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

glammanana Fri 13-Mar-15 22:27:40

I can say that we have lots & lots of acquaintances but can count about 7/8 true friends,some I don't see from one year to the next but when we speak its as though we only chatted yesterday and are carrying on the conversation thats how easy we are with our friendships,on the other hand my neighbour who lives downstairs who I see most days I would certainly not count her as a friend due to her only wanting to chat or acknowledge us to gain something for her own ends,she will then suddenly find us invisible and ignore us when out so not even a far weather friend imo,but hey sometime she may cry wolf and there will be no one around to listen.

cazthebookworm Sat 14-Mar-15 12:37:25

I looked at this thread to see if there was any helpful advice I could give to a very good friend of mine, who is suffering a meltdown over an old friend of hers! Subsequently, I found myself concurring with all that is being said. I find it amazing that so called "friends," only seem to want an audience and are really uninterested in what you have to say, immediately responding to any news you may have with, "Oh yes, I know ..........." It is so rude and selfish and I certain know a few people who are guilty of this behaviour. I always try to do the most important thing, and that is, to listen, and respond to whatever they are imparting. I have two exceptionally close friends that I can talk to about absolutely anything and likewise, it's all about give and take. The rest are aquaintances. To quote, "Everyone has a friend in each stage of life, but the lucky ones have the same friend in all stages of life." smile

Falconbird Sat 14-Mar-15 20:26:57

My oldest friend is a friend from schooldays. We are both 68 now and met when we were 14. We meet about four times a year. We aren't great pals but we have an easy friendship.

Before that my oldest friend was someone I knew when I was 8 - but she let me down so badly when my son was diagnosed with cancer (he's on the mend) that I stopped communicating with her altogether.

My cousin has known me longer than anyone else now and she let me down very badly when my DH passed away. I saw her as a friend as well as a cousin)

I really needed her to come to his funeral. She made endless excuses and didn't come. Then one day her husband (they don't get on at all) rang when she was out and said he had offered to take her in the car door to door. She couldn't stand to be in the car with him for the two hour drive.

I stopped ringing her when the truth began to dawn and now only communicate occasionally via FB.

Life can be so disappointing but I keep the good friends in my mind and that helps.

Susangilley Thu 19-Mar-15 15:41:09

Know exactly what you mean. My mum, always full of wise words, used to say "Life is a two way street" . I think that says it all!!

henbane Mon 30-Mar-15 23:20:18

The friend I was closest to was always a taker rather than a giver but I was very fond of her and she made me laugh so I put up with her rudeness and self obsession for years. One day I cracked, threw a complete temper tantrum and ordered her out of my house (I'm normally very meek and mild). I haven't seen her again and it's been five or six years now. I still think about her and wonder what she's up to - but I really don't want to become involved again - life's too short!

granjura Tue 31-Mar-15 13:41:18

Perhaps we should also think about the massive and drastic effect dropping a socalled 'toxic friendship' can have on that person too. The effects of doing that after a massive row, or sending a really nasty letter to that effect- can have seriously damaging effect on them too- from which is can be hard to ever recover. Most 'toxic' friendships definitely have 2 sides indeed. A nasty letter or row will stay with that friend for always- so if you feel you have to leave a 'toxic friendship' doing it softly and with care is definitely kinder- unless you want to hurt that long-term friend in such a way, of course.

patacake Fri 24-Apr-15 22:00:17

Although I generally agree that it's wise to reassess friendships that become too one-sided or undermining, I have recently been going through a difficult time and have needed emotional support from friends. Often it came not from established friends but from acquaintances who suddenly came to the fore. One of my oldest friends, who is always good at offering practical help, was really not there for me when what I really needed was a bit of fun or just her company. At first, I was angry because it seemed that she was rushing to help all and sundry except me in my hour of need.

But now that the crisis has passed I realise that you have to accept what people can offer. She is a restless, "doing" person but not so good at empathy. If I had needed the shopping or housework done, she would have been there. Others were far more intuitive but might not be so helpful at a practical level. The important thing is to keep the door open to making new friends and accepting help from the people who are able to see what you need even if you have only known them a short time.

Sugarpufffairy Mon 04-May-15 21:07:36

I have made a decision not to have anything to do with the neighbours here. They watched me care for my father (and my mother) for 20 years and they would also have seen that I was the only "child" who came here. After the death of both my parents within hours I had a nighbour at the door asking what I was doing with the house! This was followed by a great number of people enquiring as to what I was doing with the house. My answer was that I did not know and I still have not made a final decision 3 year plus later. I live in the house now as I had a flat. These are the neighbours who could do nothing about teenage drug addicts rampaging in the street, but they could object to my dad's disabled parking space. The next thing I had was a neighbour who had previously asked what I was doing with the house and now wanted to know what my dad died of. I said old age but this did not satisfy her and she said it would not have said that on the death certificate. It was multiple organ failure, every part of my dad had worn out so old age covered it. They are so nosey! These are questions that I would not ask anyone. My friend's daughter died about a year ago and I do not know what the cause of death was and I will never ask her. If she wanted to tell me she would have by now.
Some people have absolutely no manners. I have been questioned about visitors to my house and the cars that my daughters and other relatives drive have been questioned. I have even been asked which bedroom I am sleeping in.
The worst of it is that I am now living in the house that I moved to as a child. The family wanted to keep the house but I live alone here. I do have sifficient funds to buy a better house in a better area without even selling this house or my flat. I had just wanted to stay here for the sentimental reasons that the house has been in the family for decades.
I now go in and out of the house without saying a word to a soul. I have lived in many other areas but I have never encountered such a carry on and I am still in touch with neighbour from my second house (1973-78). I dont think it is me but I dont understand why they think they have the right to question me.
It is appalling conduct. I am a disabled pensioner now.

rubylady Tue 05-May-15 01:13:16

I feel so sorry for you Sugarpuffairy. It is of noone else's business but yours what you are going to do with the house or what your dad died of. Keep ignoring them, they will get fed up eventually. How do you feel about the house once you are in it? Could you not rent it out and you move to somewhere else seeing you said that you could afford to?

I kept it to myself at my old house that we were moving. We had lived there for 13 years and had made what I thought over that time, friends. My next door neighbour celebrated her 50th birthday with everyone but me. We had the guy who was threatening and abusive. A neightbour/friend turned her nose up at my offered baby clothes. A "Christian" lady/friend often saw my curtains closed but never called to see if I was ok. So we just packed up and left and I haven't missed anyone at all.

I haven't got close to anyone round here though yet. I am just enjoying being on my own, no one knowing me properly and finding my own feet in my own time. I suffer depression and am due for some counselling so maybe after that I will feel like joining in more, but for now I am retreating into my woman cave.

I do think in life there are givers and takers of people. The givers make you feel good in being around them and enrich your life but the takers drain you and use you for their own ends. I am trying to keep the takers at bay. (My mum, daughter) and be around the givers more like my dad who always makes me feel better by having seen him.

rubylady Tue 05-May-15 01:17:15

Saying that, I have a friend who has been my friend since we were both 15. smile

annemac101 Wed 06-May-15 16:39:34

Oh sugarpufffairy I would rent your house out or move on. Life is too short to live with these people and if your parents were here I'm sure they would tell you that. What sad stories. I had a friend for over thirty years. One of those people who would phone ask say how are you and before you had a chance to answer would tell you all about her problems. She never asked about your holiday but I had to listen to what she had for dinner every night on hers. It was always me phoning her because a few years ago her and her hubby found a new group of friends who enjoyed drinking alcohol to a much greater extent than we do and she declared them great fun. We put my house up for sale last year without telling her and moved without telling her. She has moaned about it to lots of people but never texted or phoned me which proves I did the right thing.
In Nov my daughter was married another friend phoned two days before wedding to say she couldn't come as her place of work was closing in 3 months time. My daughter still had to pay over £200 for her and her daughters meals. Needless to say 6 months later work is not closing down. Friends! Eh! Who needs them!

Sugarpufffairy Wed 06-May-15 20:31:33

Thanks Annemac101. My parents were never very impressed with the neighbours here. They were a financially cautious couple and I dont think they realised that they could have left here but perhaps they felt to old to move. I know that I have to move, because I remember how difficult the stairs were for my parents. I will move. I am not happy with the area either. It is a very busy city and I prefer country places. I really fancy doing what you and ruby lady did and just move! That would have the tongues in overdrive! I try to tell myself that I deserve better than this but I am so used to putting others before me that I dont really believe myself.
I think you are right. Who needs the grief that friends bring to you. It is sad when relationships go wrong but it is probably best to get out of the way when the Sh-t starts flying.

wert Sun 10-May-15 16:17:30

What a revelation to me to read this piece. I was a very shy person and was so desperate for friends that I accepted anything I got. Trying to be all things to all people! Now I am older I am over getting ridden with guilt when I dare to assert my wishes and say, how 'I' feel and what 'I' need. I got the courage to end the toxic drains. And yes my circle of friends is now small, but loyal. I still love to give but I have learned to take with a happy heart. I would have a poor life without my friends.