Real Talk with Savannah Johnson: Toxic Friends and Unrequited Love

Welcome to Real Talk, Subject’s newest advice column with junior psychology and sociology major Savannah Johnson. Each month, Savannah dives into your burning questions about anything and all, judgment-free and with love. Email your questions to editor@subjectmedia.org or DM us on Reddit @subjectmediadotorg to be featured in our next column.

My best friend of over ten years is toxic. Over the past few years, I’ve been holding onto the hope that her awful actions aren’t really her true self and she’s just misguided but well-intentioned. Recently though, I’ve finally accepted that she really is just a bad person. I want to end this friendship, but it’s so difficult since we’re basically family. Advice on how to initiate a friendship break-up?

First off, it takes a lot of courage to analyze and reflect on a friendship like this, especially when you’re choosing to face the situation rather than avoid it by ghosting them. I dealt with something similar during my high school years. It takes a long time to realize someone’s true colors as they change throughout the stages in both of your lives. That being said, there isn’t an easy way to break up a friendship, just like a break up with a romantic partner.

This may be a little controversial, but you don’t necessarily need to limit yourself to doing it in person. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. If you’re someone who likes to write things down to process them, text might be a better option for you to get your point across than in person, for example. A lot of my friends and I do this to avoid getting flustered, as that can lead to poor communication. If you do choose to have this conversation in person, I recommend having it at a public place, where neither of you feel tied to being there for a certain amount of time. Plus, if you’re sentimental with places like me, having the conversation at one of your living areas could make the atmosphere difficult to be in for a while after. 

Initiating the conversation (and having the conversation in general) will go the most smoothly when you’re both honest and empathetic with your friend, and she is the same towards you. Let her know how you’re feeling, and be direct. A few years is a long time to surround yourself with someone who seems to be a negative presence in your life! Avoid being accusatory, and simply portray your feelings, thoughts, and what you’d like to happen next. If you set the tone in that way, it’s likely she will reciprocate that tone, and the conversation can go as smoothly as possible. 

And stand up for yourself! Your feelings and thoughts are completely valid, even if your friend may not think so. Follow your gut instincts, and choose what’s healthy for you. It’s okay to put yourself first so you can improve your own well-being. 

The conversation will be difficult for sure, no matter how smoothly it may go. So lastly, practice some self-care afterwards! Watch a movie, vibe to music, go out, cry… whatever works for you (I’d most likely cry and eat chicken wings, to be honest). Whatever you choose to do, make sure you’re giving yourself time to acknowledge, process, and move forward with the situation. 

I know from personal experience that this is a super hard situation to be in, but I believe it’ll feel like a weight off your shoulders afterwards, and it’s an opportunity to continue growing and supporting yourself as an individual.

How does one deal with rejection without letting it affect their self-esteem? I’ve had feelings for a friend for a while now, and I felt like we really connected and understood each other on a deeper level. I finally found the courage to tell him, only to be rather harshly told he didn’t feel the same way. As girls, we’re made to believe it’s easy to get a guy, which makes rejection even harder. I can’t help but wonder what it is about me that caused him to feel this way. 

As a girl right along with you, I absolutely agree. We commonly see women as desired in media, not rejected. I think that your recognition of that is a step in the right direction to moving through this. 

This is something that is easier to hear than to believe in my experience, but there doesn’t have to be something wrong with you for someone not to feel romantically for you. Deep connections to others are really hard to navigate, because you can have intimate and meaningful conversations that make the line between romance and friendship very blurry. This has happened to me more times than I can count!

However, these types of connections are a positive reflection of you as a person – it shows you’re grounded, emotionally mature, and able to think outside and beyond the box. There are many that struggle with these things, so your ability to find that “deeper level” with someone, as a friend or more, is a gift. Connection to others is a great ability to have.

In that, I think rejection always takes a hit to our self-esteem, but it’s not unusual. How bad that hit is is up to you. Dwelling deeply on how you could be at fault for someone else’s feelings can be really dangerous. Take time to feel your feelings, and find little ways to support yourself. Maybe it’s by pursuing one of your hobbies, exercising, or spending time with friends or family. All in all, your feelings are completely normal and understandable. Rejection, and relationships in general, are a lot to work through. We can’t read others’ minds unfortunately (though I’m sure that would clear a lot of things up in a lot of different situations if we could), but we can process our feelings and move forward from them. Remember – it’s okay to grieve what happened, and it’s not your fault. You were incredibly brave to share your feelings in the first place, and I’m sure that strength will carry into processing the result as well.