Let’s be real, I want you to recall a time where you sat with a friend and felt safe, understood and valued. While conversing with this friend, you didn’t feel you needed to hide certain pieces of yourself. While sharing with this friend, you didn’t feel you needed to always explain yourself because they can articulate your patterns better than you. While engaging with this friend, you always feel that your relationship with them is treated with respect because you are someone of worth to them.
It is these relationships that have the power to shape our identities and steer our lives into amazing paths because of the loving guidance and care. The power of strong, real friendships have been studied and produced results of showing that they can trigger empathy within a person, give a person a sense of purpose to live longer, lower levels of overall stress and even spark the creativity that is waiting to be discovered within us. However, not all friendships are a bed of plucked fresh flowers. We are in a time in our society where we are taught that the longer and wider our network, then the happier we will be within ourselves. This distorted reality can create illusions about what it means to be valued by a person. Unfortunately, only about half of all friendships are reciprocal; you know, the act of each person giving and getting at the same rate no matter the medium that is used to do so.
Grab some food because this will be a long one…
What Is an Ambivalent Friend?
Make no mistakes, there is a big difference between having a friend that is difficult versus having an ambivalent friend. An ambivalent friend is someone who awakes feelings of uncertainty. Ambivalent friends are distinguished as having positive and negative feelings for a person; these types of friendships are riddled with conflict and interdependence. You never know where you stand with this friend; you always have to watch how and what you say because at any given moment each word may be taken negatively without them actually seeking to clarify their own inner assumptions. You are unsure how to act around ambivalent friends because you are always being watched; they have a condescending comment about everything you do. Thus, the conflict brews underneath the surface and never truly gets addressed because this is your friend, right? Ambivalent friends often make passive aggressive comments or give backhanded compliments and then refuse to address the comment when you inquire about its origins. Ambivalent friends will become dry and even uninterested in your excitement when you have accomplished that big project.
How Do Ambivalent Friendships Ruin You?
In a 2003 study, the impact of ambivalent friendships, in relation to a person’s blood pressure, was measured and it was found that ambivalent relationships contributed to higher rates of blood pressure. What do you expect when you feel that you have to be on high guard with a person at all times? It is the unpredictability of these relationships that is the root cause of the stress and we all know that prolonged stress can deteriorate your health. Ambivalent friends try to make you feel a sense of competitiveness with their other friends; they also may even be in competition with you because of material things and/or qualities that they wish they exemplified. These types of friends force you to continuously walk on eggshells because you might be “punished” with them withdrawing from the relationship emotionally without them ever truly addressing the problem. Ambivalence will leave you not trusting yourself and your judgement; it’s a slippery slope that will radiate throughout your entire life.
Let’s be clear, women are socialized to care more about their relationships and they are made aware of their emotions throughout their entire lives. How many times have you heard a man mention that women are emotional or that women are better acclimated to care for a friend when their sad or upset? Unfortunately, men are socialized to ignore honing their emotional intelligence, so it is very possible for a man to keep the same social circle; whereas a woman’s circle may morph overtime as she evolves on a spiritual level. It’s important to note that time does not and will never be a good barometer to the health of a relationship that you have with someone. Yes, you have had the time to build your knowledge about this person, but if this person is evolving and expanding continuously throughout life — as they should — then it’s quite possible that you may not know them as well as you think. Thus, the only thing you have that’s holding the relationship together is…time. The longer you remain friends with someone, the more likely you are to ignore the elephant in the room because you become invested in maintaining it because of…time.
What about those friends that you pulled into a project and/or met through a project for work? These relationships are especially susceptible to ambivalence, as Robert Green has noted in his The 48 Laws of Power (1998):
Strangely enough, it is your act of kindness that unbalances everything. People want to feel they deserve their good fortune. The receipt of a favour can become oppressive: it means you have been chosen because you are a friend, not necessarily because you are deserving. There is almost a touch of condescension in the act of hiring friends that secretly afflicts them. The injury will come out slowly: a little more honesty, flashes of resentment and envy here and there, and before you know it your friendship fades.
Essentially, that small act of kindness can be used as the gateway to unleash what’s been hiding underneath the surface. Odd, right? Again, non-reciprocal relationships are about half of the relationships that we have with people, so one can conclude that this is the same for social media relationships (if not more). What about those friends that you have many friends in common with, personally and on social media? This makes it even trickier because you may not want to end all interaction with them; you just don’t want to interact with them on a personal level. Yet, they have common friends with you, so the challenge of navigating it becomes an even bigger mental burden to bear for you and the other friends involved. In a survey, completed by Jan Yager, 68% of people admitted to feeling betrayed by a friend. Unfortunately, it is less likely for a person to voice this betrayal because they are invested in maintaining the relationship because of…time. We have this unrealistic expectation that every person we befriend is a root on our tree of relationships. There may even be friends that automatically make themselves roots on your tree, but treat you as though you are a branch on their tree.
How Do You End Ambivalent Friendships?
First and foremost, determine whether the relationship is ambivalent or if you’re just dealing with a difficult person. There’s a stark difference between a person that is stubborn versus a person that is always being competitive with you and constantly gives you backhanded compliments. Make no mistakes, competition and criticism can mold you into a better person, but nonstop putdowns can impact your mental health (whether you realize it or not). After determining that it is ambivalent, try changing your perspective by being empathic to the person and where they are in life. You have to understand that not everyone will have awareness of their…shit.
How does a person know how to treat you if you don’t defend yourself? One mistake that a lot of people make is they complain to another person about how they are being treated by someone, but never actually tell the person directly how they feel about said treatment. Which, in turn, can appear to others that they are defending themselves, but in all actuality they never said anything to that person. Let’s be clear, once you have voiced your concern about the passive aggressive comments, backhanded compliments, unfair treatment and etc., a person may not ever change their behavior. The point of defending yourself is to establish your boundaries.
We can’t measure maturity by time, but if you are continuously having to remind a person about their behavior, then at some point you have to understand that you can only control YOU. You cannot control the other person, so loving them from a distance is sometimes the only resolve. Do not feel guilty for not wanting to repeat boundaries that you have already established in a prior conversation. Do not ever feel guilty for putting your mental health first…ever.
Personally, I had a relationship like this that was extremely frustrating and confusing to say the least. This friend would continuously state how they missed me on social media, but never returned my phone call when I called as a response to the comments. I didn’t receive a response months later when a birthday invite was sent either. This relationship was riddled with condescending comments, but I ignored them to maintain the connection. I noticed how it was always my job to be available when they wanted to text-verse, but if I wasn’t available at the very moment they were available, then they were never available to pick up the conversation again. The relationship usually evolved around the night life, which I accepted. We all have friends for certain things, so I accepted the boundary of them only wanting to connect with me when it pertained to hanging out. I went through two life milestones in less than 6 months and the same friend reached out seeking to gather information about my life changes and this was where the rifts began. I didn’t understand why this person felt they were privy to such information, especially after I had accepted their detachment. So, why wasn’t the fact that I had detached from the relationship respected as well? Of course, there were passive aggressive comments made, through social media, but I decided to maintain the distance and choose my peace over reaching out directly to clarify the chaos.
I accepted my responsibility in it all. I understood that I had crossed certain boundaries to maintain being liked and accepted being treated as less than deserving because of the other likable traits this person had as friend. Instead of voicing my concern, I chose to distance myself, which created confusion and anger in them. Let’s be clear, there have been instances where I have defended myself and made my boundaries clear to others, but I had grown weary with always being the one addressing the elephant in the room. I had grown weary with always taking on the responsibility of maintaining the health of the relationship. I had grown weary with the superficiality through text bubbles and social illusions. I had grown weary with being the empathetic, understanding one, but being labeled as angry when it was my turn to receive the same benefit of the doubt when I expressed myself.
Ambivalent relationships are draining mentally and spiritually; which are two areas of my life that I am strengthening for the arrival of my bundle of joy. I made certain changes to address the social illusions and this shook up a large portion of my life and the relationships in it. It is important that you are spiritually grounded because, again, we are all on a journey in life. If you are not in tune with self, your actions and the why behind your actions, then you are susceptible to accepting anything that is thrown your way. It is imperative that you continuously evaluate the relationships that you have in life to ensure that they are in tune with you and your boundaries. There is nothing wrong with having friends with different likes and interests because duality in life is key to understanding the world around you. Remember, your social circle has the power to shape your identity. If you feel that a relationship is ambivalent and they do not respect your boundaries, then your mental health should always come first…no matter what.