Red Flags of a Friendship Gone Bad

Sitcoms, romance movies, and just about every other form of media tell you of heartbreak, but only of one kind. They all inform you, and adequately prepare you for the ending of romantic relationships. They tell you all the ways a romantic partner can betray you, let you down and leave you. Unfortunately they pass the idea that this is the only kind of break up you will go through, the only heartbreak you will feel. They completely leave out the perfectly common and potentially equally destructive - friendship break up. Having been through one myself, I at least can fill you in on all the details.

There are similarities between the two. The red flags are still generally red and flag-shaped. We ignore them for a lot of the same reasons, but with a couple of additional ones such as the belief that a friendship couldn’t be abusive. But they absolutely can be, and here are some of the signs.

When I first met my now ex-best friend, I was the shy, quiet type. As a freshman in college who had been remarkably unpopular in high school, you could fairly say I was a little desperate for friends. Then I would have said I was open-minded and down for anything. Now I would say I was lonely and willing to put up with anything.

If I was even a little self-aware at that time, I would have noticed that as the first sign. Sometimes the problem really does start with you. In this case, it was my desperation for a friend that allowed for the failure of my judgment. I constructed my own vulnerability. It’s at least a little bit my fault that it came back and bite me.

That is when she swept in, with a stellar sense of humor and free-spirit that was sure to bring adventure. After our initial meeting in an art class, it was her idea to get lunch together, and then it was her idea to see a movie, to go to school events, to go shopping and so on. I have always been indecisive, so it never bothered me a bit to have someone else take hold of the reigns. Only now, after the fact, does it seem like something was off. Every choice made between the two of us was made for her. The problem is, when the decision that is being made is along the lines of “where should we eat” it doesn’t seem like anything too bad. It may even seem like a convenience if you don’t want to expend the energy in making the decision yourself. But this is exactly what a red flag is, something that on its own isn’t too terrible, but can show a certain side of someone that could cause much worse problems later on. In this case, what I saw but did not yet recognize, was her controlling nature. She always had to have the first, last and only say of everything.

The reason people need so much control is that they need all possible situations to benefit them.

If something works out for someone else in the meantime, sure, great. They will let that slide, and as long as it doesn’t harm them in any way, even act happy for you. But the moment something does not benefit them, or just somewhat inconveniences them, it becomes incredibly clear what their one priority is, and that is their own self.

This was obvious in many of her actions, and is yet another sign I should have paid attention to. Following on the heels of this is what I like to call the “sidekick syndrome”.  Most of us have seen this sort of friendship. It is most easily recognized when you have a friend, who whenever they are invited anywhere, brings that one friend everyone expected them to bring. They are a package deal and everyone knows it. One of them is obviously the lead, the one who actually receives the inventions. The other is just always by their side. They are their support group, their cheerleader, their side kick if you will. They seem perfectly content with the arrangement, and speaking from experience, they usually are. As someone who was always shy, it did provide a safe way of going out and meeting new people, while attached to someone familiar. The negative side of this that I did not realize until later was the inherent suggestion that I was not my own person. I was always part of a pair, and the less important part at that. Being the sidekick was easy, but it meant that I was only worth knowing if the more interesting of the two was present. This also did not leave me much room to socialize on my own or have any friends my then best friend did not know. My whole social life ended up in her control, and it was all about her.

It is often said they you find out what a person is really like when they are going through something difficult, and I found this friendship to be no exception.  The unhealthy friendship continued for years, extending past college. It wasn’t until my friend’s life took a turn for the worse that I realized what all the red flags should have been warning me of. Suddenly her controlling nature came out in full force. She wasn’t just deciding what movie we would see anymore. She was trying to make decisions about my personal life. These were decisions that would have obviously benefited her more than myself. This is when I realized how much she truly expected everything to be about and for her. It wasn’t until she had so little left that I was able to see how she would take anything she could get out of our friendship and me. She of course expected me to give in to any and all of her requests, as any good sidekick would. Fortunately, this is about when I realized something was off, and this is when I decided to leave.

Leaving a relationship of any sort is never easy. Leaving one that lasted almost a decade certainly was not. But the fact that it is difficult does not negate the fact that sometimes, it is necessary. There were plenty of signs, all of which I pretty much gleefully ignored. But when everything the signs were warning me of came to fruition, I am glad I had the sense to finally take note and get myself away from the situation.  I did what I knew was best for me, and at least now I can say I know better.


Written by Dina Ryske

Having held on to her dream of becoming a writer since middle school, Dina is finally ready to set that dream free and see where it takes her. Now writing from a small studio apartment in New York, Dina Ryske hopes to accomplish the two things she always wanted to do, create things and help others. Visit her at Ryske Writes.