Should You Stay or Should You Go? Deciding to Stay in or End a Friendship
Throughout the entirety of my adolescence, I didn’t fully understand the power of choice. And by “choice,” I mean being able to decide whom I talked to; knowing why I talked to them; and what about them made me feel that I had to have a relationship with them. Looking back, I’ve never been the one to burn a bridge. I’ve never wanted to voluntarily walk away from someone, because I knew that I could never understand what they were experiencing. I didn’t want to be the one to leave. I felt like, despite what they may have done to me or to others around us, they still needed someone there for them.
“I’m not a Quitter.”
While I’ve had my fair share of friendships dissolve over the years, my awakening to this notion of being able to choose for myself when I stay or when I go (*cues up “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash*) occurred when I walked away from the longest job I’ve had in my life. I loved being part of that world. I loved what I learned along the way. One of my coworkers and I used to joke that it was the longest relationship we’ve ever been in—which was actually true. But over the years, I came to identify for myself when and what makes a situation toxic. It was the biggest choice I’ve ever made, leaving. In many ways, I felt like home there, but I knew that the environment wouldn’t allow me to grow. I felt stuck in one place. I no longer felt the empowerment that so kindly cradled me the first few years on the job. That, like many of the others that started with me, was gone. I knew then that, if I wanted to grow, I’d have to do it elsewhere.
I’d like to stress again that this took years for me to understand. I didn’t just wake up one day to realize my self-worth. It took years of going through the motions for me to understand what made me happy, what made me upset, what stressed me the fuck out, and so on and so forth. Years and years of build-up had shaped in my head two situations: the kind of work environment I wanted to be in and the kind I sure as hell did not want to be in. What I wanted was to be supported. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. I wanted others to see the potential in me, as I saw the potential in them and in what we could do as a team. I wanted to be given opportunities that allowed me to grow past the things I could already do. I wanted to show them that, yes! I can do more! So much more!
While I was left questioning my role and the choices I had, an opportunity presented itself to me from outside of my current predicament. A chance to start again. A new friend. Suddenly, I felt wanted. I felt that I could take on anything. The support given to me by this new opportunity re-lit my fire that had been dwindling for so long and I felt a resurgence of energy and strength. Examining both situations from a distance, I could clearly see even the fine print. One relationship made me tired, stressed, and uncertain. The other, gave me a new outlook and a fresh start. Sometimes, you just need that extra something, an extra push, a new friend, to make you realize what’s what.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept myself at a distance from people. I’ve kept my heart locked tight. As someone that was an introvert most of my adolescence, I’ve held close the notion that I can only depend on me. It wasn’t until I was a few years well into my undergraduate experience, maybe even just last year, that it dawned on me: the people around me influence me just as much as I influence myself. Now, I’m not saying that I’m a “follower” or that I rely on others’ ways of thinking to motivate my own. Not at all. What I discovered is that I feed off of others’ energy. (As is the blessing and curse of being an empath—absorbing and devouring any emotion within breathing distance.) If the people around me are cynical, insecure, depressed and unmotivated, it wears me down and I doubt everything about myself. If they’re full of creativity, have passion and are optimistic, then suddenly I want to take on that extra project. I want to go out and do things for myself. I want to be creative. I want to make things. I want to work towards those daydreams I’ve so carefully crafted in my head and fallen in love with.
The rawest, most honest experiences with friendship I’ve had have come from these moments. The moments where every project and every detail that has been in service to something of passion, something worth doing, comes to light and is celebrated. The small moment in a bookshop where you’re silent, paging carefully through books filled with art, and hope, knowing that you’re both going to do something like that one day. The brief spark of passion witnessed in a coffee house, when she tells you about all the stories she wants to share through her photography, to give others a voice.
These moments of passion are so fragile and vulnerable to change and the unknown, but are, at least in my opinion, the most significant moments we can witness. For me, I’ve found myself shrouded by darkness and uncertainty for a long time. These moments offer some release. They clear away the dust on the shelves, draw back the curtains for the sunlight to stream in, and make me believe that there is something out there worth working towards, something that truly makes me happy. Experiencing moments such as these bring to light why I choose to keep these people in my life. These days, it seems that life is too short for most things, but if there’s one thing we can take control of it’s how we choose to spend our time and who we spend it with. I need the passion. I need the fire. I need to know that this time is mine—ours—for the taking.
Deciding whether to stay or end a friendship is kind of like deciding whether or not to stay at a job, but it really begins with you and how you value yourself. I think the goal for anyone should be to always surround yourself with people that lift you up, that make you see the best in yourself, that motivate you to reach your goals, and that keep you uplifted. If you’re able to see that you’re stuck in a situation that makes you feel that you carry all the weight or takes all of your energy away from you, rather than gives you energy, don’t ignore that. Don’t ignore the signs. Acting as a mini mindfulness game for myself, I’ve made it a point to stay surrounded by people that are motivated, that are creative, that see the world differently, that can see the good in me and lift me up. I more readily can recognize when I’m in a situation that makes me uncomfortable and unsure of myself, while I don’t try to immediately analyze every interaction. It’s simple: If I’m happy, I’m happy. If I’m uncomfortable or insecure, that’s that.
When I’m in situations such as these, I do make a mental note. Most of the time, I usually think I’m the one that needs a mental adjustment (I have a hard time accusing others of wrongdoing). But still, I try again. I spend time with them, just to see. If there’s still a doubt in my mind after trying, then I know. I know that maybe this person isn’t the person for me and that maybe I need to take a step back.
Feelings are so hard! Sometimes, you want it to work. Sometimes you want more than anything to spend time with someone and have it feel like magic, like there’s butterflies in your stomach and you can feel electricity zapping your skin. Sparks flying! But it doesn’t always happen. And that’s okay. (Disclaimer: I’m not speaking exclusively romantically, either.) The people that make you smile, the instant you see them turn the corner. The ones that check in on you after you’ve been MIA in the group chat for a few days. The ones that support you, always. The ones that you have to text after the longest. day. ever. because you know they’ll make you smile. Those are the people you need to pay attention to. Those are the people that, in the end, matter most. Be sure you let them know.
About the Author
Geordon Wollner (she/her/hers), a curious creative and avid daydreamer, is currently pursuing a degree in Retailing & Consumer Behavior, with a Certificate in Studio Art, at the University of Wisconsin. Both in- and outside of the classroom, Geordon has focused her attention on developing new relationships and experiences with her community in creative environments. She is constantly seeking opportunities to collaborate and thrives off of serendipitous moments.