Taking Out The Toxins

Words by: Amy Jenkin
Art by: Beth Philpotts

At the beginning of this year, I started talking to a boy who broke my heart. We never dated, never hooked up, never even liked each other. We were just friends.

Saying it like that — just friends — makes it sound like it was nothing important, no emotions involved.

We were just friends, and then we weren’t. There was no big dramatic break up, no vicious fight; one day we were sitting next to each other and the next we were on opposite sides. He stopped talking to me, so I stopped talking to him.

We’ve never spoken about it. I never got to ask why that happened or what I did wrong. It’s weird to ask someone you didn’t date for closure on a relationship, weird to talk to your other friends about why they won’t talk to you, weird to cry about it. You just have to accept it ending without a neat reason or explanation and move on.

I’ve found that the best way to do so is by filling your life with new people. Without that friend tethering you to certain groups and routines and corners of parties, it can be much easier to try new things and connect with other people. With time, talking to new people can allow you to gain some perspective on the friendship. Learning how a conversation should have two sides in which both people contribute, how a compliment should sound without barbs of criticism, how to argue face to face instead of behind each others’ backs. All the toxic elements of your friendship are slowly sucked out like the poison from a snake bite.

But as with any breakup, it’s likely that when a friendship ends, both parties are somewhat at fault. Dwelling on their faults alone not only destroys your chances of rebuilding the relationship, but also sets you up for failure when making new friends.

Until this year, I’d never asked myself why my friend stopped talking to me several years ago. I’m still unsure of the exact reason it happened, but I accept that there was one — nothing comes out of the blue. In speaking to him this year I’ve been tentative, respectful and kind. There are still some topics we dance around, still some moments he makes me angry, but I can acknowledge that he’s changed, he’s tried and we’re getting there.

We just drifted…

Everyone always says friends are forever while relationships can end at any time. In reality, friendships can end at any time too. Sometimes it’s as quick as one day you’re speaking and the next you’re not, other times it’s more subtle and they’ll slowly extract themselves from your life. At first you’re seeing them once a week, then once a month, then just once a year at another friend’s party, and you’ve got nothing to say to each other anymore because your lives just don’t intersect.

You continue to tell yourself: we’ll hang out after this semester, after she breaks up with her boyfriend, when the weather’s warmer, when we’re not so broke. These milestones pass and neither of you reach out. Then you’re too scared to reach out, because there’s so much pressure on that one coffee, or drink, or dinner being enough to bring you back together. If it’s not, there’s no point trying again because you don’t see each other much anyway. The more time you spend apart, the more that comes between you.

Lockdown has made this worse. That week you didn’t see someone has involuntarily become six weeks, which has become six months, and those friends you were already distant from could disappear altogether. This wide circle of friends I thought I had has shrunk and shrunk and now it feels like my social circle has a radius as restrictive as my 5km bubble.

Friendships aren’t based on labels, they aren’t contractual, they’re just based on trust. The faith that you’ll continue to find time to talk and care and look after one another despite having no obligation to do so.

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