The Humanist Dilemma: Should Dropping a Bad Friend Feel So Good?

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Disappointing Friend: When I was in college, I was friends with a girl no one else seemed to like and who people warned me away from, but she said they were just jealous. Not only was I a reliable friend to her, I also did things like stay up all night typing her term papers for her. Some years after college, I moved, alone and without a job, to the city where she was already established. When I asked if I could stay with her while looking for an apartment she said it wasn’t convenient for her. Another friend invited me to crash and even helped me find a place to live.

For several years after that, I tried to maintain my friendship with this college chum, but it became increasingly unrewarding. Usually I initiated getting together but three times out of four something would come up at the last minute, she would completely forget we made plans, or she would have some other lame excuse. One time she called in tears to say it was her birthday and that she was all alone. I baked her a cake, bought her a present, and ran over and took her out to dinner. One month later it was my birthday (and I know she knew the date), and not a word from her. The next time I spoke with her, I told her how hurt I was, and she made me feel like I was being hypersensitive and silly. Then we made lunch plans, and at the last minute she begged off because it was raining and she was wearing expensive shoes.

I’ve always felt bad for her because so few people liked her and I didn’t get why, but now I’m seeing the light. I decided to wait for her to call me rather than ever call her again. After more than a year went by I bumped into her in the street, and she said, as if nothing had happened, “Why don’t you ever call me anymore?” I snapped back, “You have a phone, why don’t you call me?” and I turned and walked away.

She still hasn’t called, and I have no intention of calling her. Is there something wrong with me that I feel absolutely exhilarated by this?



Dear Detoxing,

Nothing wrong, everything right. For years you have bent over backwards to be there for this woman, and she hasn’t given any sign that she appreciates or deserves you. Although there’s room in life for lopsided relationships—where one of you always does the reaching out, or the favors, or whatever—that only works if both parties are ok with it, and if you’re not always a giver or a taker in all your relationships. There is no good reason to stay in a “friendship” that consistently makes you feel like a sucker. Maybe early on things were more mutual, or you were enjoying your time together despite the flaws, or you needed to be needed, but that is no longer the case. You now perceive her as a toxic friend. So goodbye and good riddance.

Keep doing what you’re doing: moving on. This woman may never notice that you’ve left her orbit. And if she does, and makes a move to reconnect, be wary. Unless she leads off with a huge, self-aware apology for her past transgressions and a promise that she has mended her ways, you’ve already given her more than enough second chances. Don’t continue to be Charlie Brown to her Lucy.