It took me a long time to realise that ‘friends’ aren’t always the people who are constantly around you.
They’re the people who will, no matter what, always be there to support you, and offer love and understanding when you need it most.
I recently cut ties with somebody I thought was a friend, but turned out to be nothing more but a detriment to my mental health.
I met Steph* two years ago through a mutual friend. I didn’t have many other friends, and immediately I was drawn to her. She was loud, bubbly and outgoing, the sort of girl you could text at 2am and she’d be up for an adventure. I liked that about her. It was always what I’d have liked to have been like myself.
And by being friends with her – I was like that. I became fun and outgoing without a care in the world.
We grew close almost immediately and would always go places together, usually deciding where to head off spontaneously and always coming home with a funny story at the end of the day.
But as time went on, I came to realise that the friendship was very one-sided. And not just that, but it was based around my wallet.
Every trip we embarked upon I’d end up paying for. I can’t remember a time where anything was offered in return. I never asked, because that’s what friends do, right? I would always tell myself that she’ll ‘pay me back eventually’. And it wasn’t just paying for the odd coffee while we were out – she once borrowed a large amount of money from me, and I gave it to her, no questions asked.
Of course you could say it’s my own fault for being naive, and admittedly it was, but it came to the point where I was so close with Steph that I was scared to be without her. Who else was I going to meet for coffee at 1am simply because?
I came to accept that I would continue to have to lose out financially so as not to lose her.
But over time, I grew tired of the routine. I was constantly anxious about our friendship, and it was really starting to affect my mental health. As much as I enjoyed Steph’s company, I felt I was completely being taken for granted and most prominently, used.
She would never be the one to ask me whether I’d like to meet up first – and so I would constantly worry that if I didn’t ask first, she wouldn’t be interested at all. Maybe we’d lose touch or she’d find something better.
I’d always feel a sense of relief whenever we’d meet up, knowing that it added another day to our friendship and that she did care about me, forgetting that I’d be footing the bill for the day once again.
It had gone on for so long that I couldn’t even fathom the courage to approach the subject with Steph, to speak about how the friendship was affecting me financially or mentally – but it was one weekend in particular that finally snapped me out of my naivety.
Steph had been going through a bad time, and had family who she’d desperately wanted to see. Hating seeing her so upset, I offered to take her for the weekend. I offered to pay for a hotel, and she seemed really grateful.
However, I had only mentioned paying for a hotel. I didn’t have the funds to pay for anything else and I told Steph I didn’t want to spend too much money on the weekend.
But the day came and by the time we arrived at the hotel I knew something wasn’t right. Over the weekend, her purse didn’t come out once. I paid for absolutely everything – at points her actually taking my wallet from me to pay for things without actually asking. I was mortified.
We drove back home in silence. I was so upset about the situation. I didn’t want to talk to her or even acknowledge the way I’d been treated. After a long, awkward drive, we parted ways, and for two weeks, I didn’t hear anything from her. Not even a message to thank me for the generosity.
And that just about did it for me. How could a person who had taken and taken and taken from you not even get in touch? If not to even be grateful – but to show manners? It hurt. A lot.
I contacted Steph and made it clear that though I didn’t want anything back from her, I was incredibly angry with how I’d been treated and had let myself be treated and that I no longer wanted a friendship with her.
It took me two years to realise we didn’t even have a friendship. We had a relationship of power, one in which she always had the upper hand.
And now, I realise that the reason I went along with it for so long was because I was insecure. I could count my friends on one hand, and as I watched others in their large friendship groups, I felt like I had to cling on to every friend I could so I wouldn’t feel lonely.
But having a friendship with someone who never puts you first is much lonelier.
I know now that it doesn’t matter how many friends you have – it’s the friends who care for you and who you have mutual respect with who are really important – not the ones who are there for a bit of fun whenever it suits them.
While I’m still upset about the situation and wish I hadn’t nearly emptied my bank account over someone who didn’t care about me, I’m almost glad it happened, because it’s taught me an important lesson.
Having experienced this, I now know my worth, and how not to allow myself to be treated. It’s forced me to stand up for myself and to realise when something isn’t good for me – or someone, for that matter.
Of course, I hope nobody else falls into the same relationship with that person, and that perhaps they’ve learned something too by losing out on our friendship. But I doubt it.
I’m now going to focus on myself and my own happiness – and hopefully I’ll have some real friends to help me along the way.
And that’s something I hope for other people who have been in the same situation as me, too. It’s so easy to convince yourself that you need people in your life who don’t treat you with respect simply to make yourself feel as though you’re not alone.
Though it can be hard, and may take you time to realise that you need to put yourself first, it’s so important that if you feel uneasy in a friendship from the beginning, that you stand back an evaluate things before you’re left in a situation where you feel truly taken advantage of.
This won’t just give you self-confidence and force you to realise how important self-care is, but it’ll also do wonders for your mental health. It’ll make you acknowledge what you need to be content, what you need to avoid feelings of anxiousness or despair within a friendship and ultimately, what you need to ensure you’re thinking solely for yourself and what you need in your life.
It’s not selfish to do so – it’s what’ll make you a stronger person, powerful enough to decide who deserves to be in your life, and who doesn’t.