Saturday, July 30, 2016

Better in Comparison

When I look back at all the toxic friendships I've had throughout my life, all the friends who didn't validate my feelings, didn't respect my boundaries, didn't accept me without trying to change me, and pushed me to do things that I did not want to do, they all have one thing in common - they were better in comparison. Better in comparison to my other choices, better in comparison to people who had treated me worse in the past. They weren't good friends to me. They didn't have the qualities that I need in a friend, but they were better in comparison:

At my K-8 school, some (not all) of my "friends" were pushy and did not accept me or respect my boundaries AT ALL. Some of my "friends" were constantly making fun of me or pressuring me every single day to things that I said I did not want to do, such as cutting my hair. My "friends" even pulled an intervention on me, which is not acceptable AT ALL. (The fact that I had an intervention pulled on me once is part of why I'm still scared that it might happen again). But with it being such a small school, I had to sit with someone at lunch. We only had two cliques in our class - the in crowd and the out crowd. I was part of the out crowd, and my only alternative would be to try to hang out with the in crowd that was even meaner. My "friends" were better in comparison to my choice of hanging out with a meaner group.

In high school, there were definitely people who didn't respect my boundaries and were always trying to change me, although they were much more friendly and subtle about it than my K-8 school friends. But most of my high school friends weren't like that, and I was just so thrilled to be out of my K-8 school that I didn't fully recognize this lack of respecting boundaries as the red flag that it was.

In college, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE validated my feelings or respected my boundaries, and EVERYONE pressured me to be something I wasn't and to do things I didn't want to do. (My friend Eli is the one exception to this, but we didn't meet until my senior year). But I was stuck. I was living in a dorm and basically had to be on good terms with people whom I truly did not want to be around. That was freshman year. Sophomore year I got with a group that clearly didn't want me and made me feel horrible, but it was better compared to having to live in a dorm with a bunch of social people. Junior year I broke away from that group and found friends who did want me around, but they still never validated my feelings and were constantly pressuring me to do things I didn't want to do. Constantly as in every time we saw each other. But they liked me. They actually called me to go to dinner together which was such an improvement over hanging out with people who clearly didn't want me. Again, better in comparison. And senior year, when one of my former close friends flat-out ignored me all year because she only cared about her girlfriend and would never let me talk to her without her girlfriend there and didn't even check in with me when she knew I was feeling suicidal? I didn't call her on it, because the one or two times we actually saw each other, she was a good friend, and I couldn't lose that because I literally had absolutely no one else. Again, better in comparison.

After college, when I met my boyfriend, he was also never truly validating and was always subtly pressuring me to be someone I wasn't (and subtle pressure sucks because it's not obvious. I'm getting better at spotting it, but I'd rather someone be upfront about being pushy so I know to stay far away from them). But I thought he was super validating. I thought he was non-pressuring. I thought those things because he just so much better in comparison to everyone I met at college. Same with his family and his friends. Just so much better than college.

There's this proverb where a farmer goes to a sage and complains that his house is too small. The sage tells him to go home and put all of his farm animals in the house. Then he goes back to the sage and says that now he *really* has no room in his house. The sage tells him to remove the animals from the house, so the farmer does it and says, "Wow! My house is bigger now! It's a miracle!" This story is meant to teach you about perspective and being happy with what you have and all that, but the takeaway message really should be that horrible situations can cause you to lower your standards, to accept things that are hurting you. Everyone acts like if something bad happens, it will give you perspective and make you appreciate what you have, and maybe that works with things you have that are already good, but it can also make you keep people in your life who are truly making you unhappy, because they're just better in comparison. I know that I never would have put up with my ex-boyfriend's behavior if we had met when I was right out of high school. Never. Because I had higher standards then than I did right after college.

Real friends should RAISE your standards, not lower them. When I first started hanging out with Eli senior year of college, my first thought was, "Why did I EVER take the crap that I was taking from people when I could have been hanging around with YOU?" I had sunk into this hole where I thought I would never meet anyone who treated me with the respect that I wanted to be treated with. I thought I had to settle. Until I met Eli.

When I got really close with one of my other best friends at that coffee shop back in 2013, that was when I started to question whether my boyfriend was really giving me the validation that I was looking for. That was when I started realizing that it wasn't working. I thought I had to settle for someone just not being horrible to me. I thought I could never find the validation that I was truly seeking, until my friend gave it to me.

If you're in toxic friendships, you don't need to settle for them. It's okay to walk away. It's okay to have higher standards. The longer you stay in a horrible situation, the better you're going to feel about less toxic - but still toxic - situations. All of my close friends have raised my standards and helped me to walk out of toxic situations. I hope that I can be the kind of friend who helps other people walk out of toxic situations as well, so that none of us have to settle for toxic but better in comparison.

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