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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

I spent two years trying to end a toxic friendship… but she wouldn’t let me leave

‘Look out of the window!’ said the text. ‘Literally just passing, thought I’d say hi.’

It was 10pm and I was at home having dinner with friends from out of town. I peered outside to see Lucy* under a streetlight. My heart sank. Paranoid though it sounds, I knew Lucy wasn’t just passing. She wanted to charm my friends, taking their numbers and stitching herself further into the fabric of my life.

Ours is an imbalanced friendship characterised by my cowardice and her manipulation. I’ve known her for six years, but I’ve been trying to dump her for the last two.

We met when she dated my husband’s friend. Lucy is beautiful, funny and intelligent, and we started sharing confidences over wine. When they split up, there was no question that we would stay friends.

Her life seemed charmed: her parents’ wealth had trickled down in the form of property and a trust fund, plus her job in advertising provided trips away. She thrived on being thoughtfully lavish but there was a cost to her ‘generosity’.

At first, it was just a niggle. She was constantly ‘checking in’, making plans, never taking no for an answer. I resented her expectation that whatever I was doing, she’d be welcome. She began to speak knowingly about my friends, in a way that suggested a deep connection, and if I mentioned somewhere I’d like to go on holiday, she’d take it as an invitation to get her calendar out and talk dates. I’m not naturally assertive, so I found it hard to set her straight.

Things got strange when she had a short fringe cut, like mine, and began to adopt figures of speech I used: friends commented on how alike we sounded. I’d smile politely but at home I’d seethe. At first, my husband found it funny. Wasn’t it flattering? But after months it became too much.

I craved space that she didn’t occupy, but increasingly I’d meet friends and find Lucy there. I didn’t like to ask them not to invite her, thinking it would seem childish. As I write it down now, it sounds little more than bitchy playground politics, but at the time, it felt like Lucy was hijacking my life.

It came to a head in August 2020 when I planned a group camping trip and didn’t invite her. I was highly stressed, having spent lockdown homeschooling my children and helping my shielding mum. I didn’t have the headspace for someone else who wanted a big part of me. 

On the way, my phone pinged: ‘Hope you guys have fun.’ I ignored it but during the trip she called a mutual friend and told her that she was shocked I’d excluded her, given how much she did for me. I rang her and explained that I wasn’t interested in a conditional friendship, admitting that I felt suffocated. She became defensive, saying our friend had misunderstood.

Things cooled between us and for a while there was no contact. Weeks later, however, she texted me as if nothing had happened, suggesting brunch. On the way, I told myself, ‘I’m going to finish it.’ I was nervous; it felt like ending a relationship. But that day she was at her absolute best, like the Lucy I’d first met. Maybe I had overreacted, I told myself.

However, this cycle continued: Lucy demanding more and more time, me retreating, then her bulldozing me with charm. My husband was exasperated. ‘Just end it!’ he told me more than once.

Why couldn’t I? I still can’t fully answer that. Typically British, I’m not great with confrontation. Setting boundaries has always been a huge challenge too. But finally, that night when she turned up out of the blue, I properly ended it. I told her I didn’t like her turning up unannounced. ‘I need space,’ I said. ‘I think you want much more from this friendship than I do.’

She looked shocked and said I had control issues. I didn’t argue: it hit me that nothing I said would sink in.

Afterwards I told friends we’d fallen out, asking them to bear it in mind when arranging things. They were understanding. Deep down, they probably knew what was going on. Lucy apparently told them that I’m having a ‘rough time mentally’. I’ve heard she’s hitched her wagon to another woman in our group and I predict a similar scenario will play out.

Two months have passed without Lucy and life is easier. I don’t flinch when my phone buzzes. But I have a suspicion that it’s not over. Any day I’m going to get a text, as if nothing’s happened: ‘Fancy brunch?’ Only this time I won’t reply.

*Name has been changed, picture posed by model


Can you relate to our writer’s experience? Let us know in the comments section

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