If there is ever a happy occasion for me, it is printing out a plane ticket. Anyone who knows me is aware that travel is the rocket fuel of my soul, a joy and privilege I cherish. And so, when I jumped around my lounge room recently with confirmed flights to Italy, I thought a friend watching my joyous daggy dance would be happy for me. Or at least feign it, even if rightfully jealous.
She wasn’t. “Why travel now? You’ll be killed by terrorists. What about your work? You can’t afford it, you know. What about your dog? Is it really fair to leave him with others for two weeks? You have been to Italy several times before. Isn’t it excessive to go again?”
Now, this may sound like a woman concerned for my welfare but, to me, her words had the clear ring of our friendship’s death knell. You see, it wasn’t the first time this person has pricked my happiness balloon with her needless negativity, putting me down for being up.
I no longer want to hear from her that “all men are bastards” and “it will end in tears” when I’m in a new relationship. I don’t want her telling me I have put on weight but am “lucky I can carry it”. I don’t need to be told that I spoil my dog, need to be more financially responsible, should cut down on fun … that I should be like her. Because frankly, I just don’t want to be. My friend, you see, is most definitely a half empty. And I am defiantly a half full.
I’m talking about attitude here, about looking forward and not back, of being an optimist and not a pessimist, a survivor and not a victim.
Now, I’m aware we all have foibles, me included. And I know my friend must be deeply unhappy in herself (I certainly know she is in her family life). And while I’d like to be all Buddhist and accept this, I just don’t want to. Or have to. I have a choice to say no.
In friendships, pain and anger must be acknowledged, respected and released. It’s the bad times, not the good, that make a deeper connection. But when weighed up over time, the joie de vivre graph of a relationship should be even, or tolerably close to it.
It can’t all be a downer. All the time. I have decided that I can either keep complaining or I can let go of those who can’t get beyond the grrrr of life.
So, I’ve made a decision to pull back on that particular friendship. Not give up entirely, but to put a space boundary around it to conserve my energy.
My distress at distancing myself from this friend has been ameliorated by another girlfriend who is a true sister to me – and delightfully half full. She, too, has felt compelled to shed a friend who vacuumed the joy from her life. At the same time, she’s developed a method of spotting such toxic friendships.
“After every time I saw this friend,” she tells me, “I’d ask myself to describe how I was feeling. Words like drained, depressed, frustrated, insecure, flat and irritable were common. Then I applied the same test to other friends and came up with grateful, inspired, amused, nurtured and loved. I have a busy life and two kids. I need to prioritise who I spend time with. And I need to feel like a friendship is not a one-way street. This method has helped me to sort out when it is all them and no me.”
Like happiness, I believe being positive is a choice. And this is from someone who has suffered depression and loss. But here’s the thing: I did something about it. I had therapy and I addressed my issues. I took a long stroll through the hall of mirrors. I didn’t want to – it was horrible. But I wanted to be the best person I could be. And in doing so, I learnt who I really am, warts and all. By taking my blinkers off, I got a reality check about others, and what drove their treatment of me. And I didn’t always like what I saw.
Yes, I know my friend is sad. But I also know she is stubborn. And worse, proud. Acting like she has no issues when she clearly does and choosing to not do anything about them rather than being her best self – that is her decision. And I have to respect that. But it doesn’t mean I have to cop the consequences.
I have worked hard on blowing up my happiness balloon and don’t need any unnecessary pricks deflating it. There are enough that aren’t avoidable in life. It’s only logical to dodge the ones that are.