Some relationships are too unhealthy to keep. I’ve learnt that the hard way. As someone who likes to try to see the best in everyone, I used to be a big fan of the idea that honest conversations and heart-to-hearts can solve anything.
The problem, though, is that not everyone likes to have honest conversations. Some people prefer to keep things as they are, even if they know it isn’t working for you. Some people like you to keep quiet about how you are feeling.
Maria was one of the first friends I made at university. I met her at a time when I was too anxious to go out or go to any of the clubs that I had been so excited about trying. She was just as anxious as I was.
We spent most of our time in her room or mine moaning about the world or our essays or other people. Whenever I did manage to go out and have fun, she was jealous. Whenever she managed to go out and have fun, so was I. We created our own world where it was okay to be miserable and never take any risks. It was a fragile world, constantly on the verge of collapse, as we tried to convince ourselves that we were happy with living such small lives.
When I went to live abroad for a year, I started to receive regular, concerned reports from other friends. They said that Maria was spending almost all of her time in her room. When asked if I would talk to her about it, I said no.
They thought that I was the only person who could maybe get through to her, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. What no one realised was that me and Maria had made a silent pact on the day we had become friends. We agreed, without ever talking about it, that we would never point out our destructive behaviours to each other. That we would allow ourselves to become more and more anxious and isolated, without ever looking each other in the face and saying “There has to be another way”.
Eventually, she started to retreat from me as well. I started hearing from her less and less. In the end, she stopped replying to me at all.
I tried to not say anything about how upset her new silence made me. I tried to respect the pact that we’d made. But I couldn’t do it. I am too honest. Months later, I saw her at a party and was too hurt to talk to her. The next day, I sent her a message, saying how upset I was that she hadn’t replied to me for so long.
I haven’t heard from her since.
There have been times, many times, when I have regretted the words I used in that message. Maybe how I phrased my feelings was too strong. Maybe I was insensitive. I have spent a lot of time and energy wishing that I could go back and do something differently, anything differently, that would mean that we could still be friends, now.
But, instead, I have come to think of it like this: we are all fragile, imperfect beings who make mistakes and live beautiful, imperfect lives. Sometimes we get upset over tiny things and overreact. Sometimes huge things happen, and we underreact. Sometimes we don’t speak up and voice our needs, and sometimes we are too demanding of others.
I’m someone whose been through a lot in my life. Trust comes difficult for me, and so does giving people space and speaking up when I’m upset. I do get things wrong. I always will. That’s why I only keep people in my life now who I know that I can talk to openly about how I feel, including if they’ve done something that’s upset me. And if I’ve done something that’s upset them, then I want to hear about it too. It works both ways.
Keeping secrets has never, ever done me any good. I can’t afford to keep them anymore, not even one. So, I have made a new pact, only this time, with myself: to be open and honest about how I feel. And I only want people in my life who are okay with that.
* Photo Credit: http://www.patriciasadler.co.uk/seascapes.php