There are few moments more pure than when a friendship forms.
There’s that initial connection when you notice hobbies and interests in common. You find the same irresistible humor in an obscure moment. You share a conversation that flows seamlessly. Your words overlap and your laughter intertwines.
So, naturally, your heart warms.
Ponder this. At the beginning of a romantic relationship, while the presence of attraction is exciting, we often remember to keep our guards up. We test the waters for several weeks or months before considering their permanence in our lives.
With friendships, on the other hand, there’s a tendency to proceed with less caution. We don’t always approach with the same critical eye. Instead, we’re transported back to the playground, feeling almost childlike, lucky and hopeful.
With friendships, there’s a tendency to proceed with less caution.
This natural gravitation and innocence make a “failed” friendship all the more painful. Whether we realized it at the time or not, we planted a seed of hope for the relationship that didn’t include betrayal, disappointment or dishonesty.
Where does that leave us? When someone hasn’t been a great friend, how can we let go of expectations while freeing ourselves from resentment? How can we keep our hope and hearts intact?
First, know there is no benefit in rewriting history. It’s easy to fall down an emotional rabbit hole with anger and sadness leading the way as our troubled tour guides.
I wish we never met. How could I not have seen this coming? They never cared about me.
Instead, follow these tips on dealing with unmet expectations of a not so great friend:
Try your best to keep a balanced perspective.
They can make you laugh harder than anyone else on the planet and still have hurt your feelings with that tasteless comment. Both can be true. They can be a wonderful friend for five years and still completely neglect you throughout the past three months. Both can be true. They can consistently give you the warmest, most thoughtful advice and still have developed a hurtful habit of choosing their partner over you. Both can be true.
By taking an honest look at the behaviors that are upsetting you and naming them as specifically as you can, you’ll avoid black-and-white thinking, a common cognitive distortion that makes us perceive situations as all good or all bad. These thought patterns might lead us to end a friendship prematurely when there is still compassion to be shared or completely disregard what happened without honoring any pain it may have caused you.
Your feelings are valid. Identifying the root cause of them will allow you to respond in a way that is healthy and proportionate to the inciting incident. Rather than black or white, think gray.
Rather than black or white, think gray.
Next, say thank you.
It doesn’t have to be out loud or anything, but say it in your head because no matter what the situation is—whether they were completely malicious or made a mistake—their actions give you a wealth of information. So, thank them.
Now, you can make an informed decision about whether or not this friend is in a place to give you the respect you deserve and whether or not they will bring positivity into your life. If the answer is yes, then great! If the answer is no, then still great! You will be just fine either way, knowing that you’re moving forward with your best interest in mind, whether they are or not.
Remember that it may not be about you.
As you notice the shift affecting the friendship, know that everyone is fighting their own battles and some of them are steep and uphill. Your hurt feelings might be one unfortunate piece of a larger puzzle.
Your hurt feelings might be one unfortunate piece of a larger puzzle.
Think of a time when you were going through a personal challenge—depression, low self-esteem, grief or anxiety. In the midst of it all, did you notice a change in yourself? How did you show up for your friends? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently? These are important questions to reflect on simply because they remind you that we are all human.
Now, that absolutely does not mean that your feelings don’t matter. Please remember that you always reserve the right to end any friendship or relationship that does not serve you. No matter which direction you choose to walk, toward them or away from them, do so with empathy. In doing so, you free your heart from resentment or rumination, neither of which you want to hold onto when working on the friendship or walking away with your head held high.