The Art of Letting Go: A Minimalist Approach to Friendship

20 March 2018

*Trigger warning: This post contains brief mentions of my experience with depression, self-harm, self-esteem, and sexual assault, where relevant. If that will be too triggering for you, please skip (or skim) the paragraphs that begin with an asterisk (*). Thank you! x

When I was in school, I was encompassed by this invasively toxic ideology of friendship. Since a very young age, watching television programmes and reading books, I formed this flawed sense of what happiness truly was, based solely on social interactions, and my false concept of "popularity". This began as early as kindergarten, when I was intentionally saying rude things about my friend's Halloween costume to win over the "cool girls" (but, who's really "cool" in kindergarten?). The power I felt from getting a large group to laugh at something I said was not only oddly indicative of the career path I would eventually take, but also a clear sign that I would develop an intensely fatal perception of how to make and keep friends, fabricated by my unhealthy obsession with the media's notion that all kids want is to be popular. Even if this wasn't something I inherently wanted myself, I was made to believe that it's what I should have wanted.

Things began to spiral downwards from there. I moved to a new state, an island, in fact, where I could symbolically claim my territory, as our vicious white forefathers did to the same land centuries ago. I decided I would arrive to the second grade and only surround myself with those considered to be the most pretty, interesting, smart, and, above all else, popular. It wasn't until I was pulled aside by a teacher one day for saying something very rude to a classmate in front of my new potential friend group and scolded that I realised maybe this wasn't exactly who I was.

Throughout my remaining years pre-collegiate, I definitely gave up on caring what people thought as much or having a million friends. Once high school came around, I had, and still have to this day, two best friends who I could always count on (hi, Kitty and Shannon!). The only problem was that, despite not caring if I had a lot of friends, I took it upon myself to just hate everyone. That's when I noticed what I wanted in grade school was happening against my will in high school. People I didn't even know called me by name in the hallways, and people just genuinely liked my company. Of course, as an eyeliner and black nail polish wearing, "screamo" music blasting in my headphones, cut my own choppy hair kinda girl, this didn't please me as it once would have. But it was very telling, indeed, as it taught me that once you stop caring what people think, you'll notice that they begin to have a better view of you. Despite hating a handful of people, I remained kind. "Kill them with kindness", as my mother always said.

Unfortunately, reflecting back on my university years, it is clear that very little changed, as I had once thought, once I was on my own in a new city once again. I held tightly onto the thought that a new place was an opportunity to "redefine myself". These were new people who knew nothing about me, so I could take this opportunity and run with it. Although I didn't lose myself in the process in that I could still unapologetically be myself, I was still very wary of who I hung out with, as I felt it would make my college life, as well as my career path, flourish. This was not the case.

* It wasn't long until I discovered that even though I had a "group" that even professors referred to as "the A-team", I was still miserably depressed. Why? This is what all the television shows I loved base their plot around, a fun, albeit dysfunctional group of friends with their own ostentatious personalities who would just make fun of each other all the time. I hit rock bottom when I realised, even though on paper I had a large group of friends (people to go to parties with, grab food together, and complain about the stockpile of school work), I couldn't say that I, Sarah, had one best friend (in university, of course, I still had my high school mates, but they lived thousands of miles away). This was the first time in my life where I was in school and didn't have my one person. My friends, who all had their own respective best friends, assured me that it didn't matter, but for some reason, to me, it did.

* Then came my last semester of university, also more conventionally known as, the worst four months of my life. Sure, my friends were by my side and supportive during the good times, but then I was struck with the unwarranted awareness that even though I had a large group of friends, I couldn't count on any of them when it came to something serious I was going through, if it involved one of the other friends in the group. I was assaulted, being emotionally and mentally abused, and continually showing up to class with self-harm marks and bandages. I was repeatedly told by friends I tried to confide in that they wished to remain "impartial" because it would make things "awkward". I never felt more alone than at this point in my life.

Once I was out of the harmful situation, I began to use romantic partners as a stand-in for a "best friend", talking to them about my trauma, having them talk me through panic attacks, and pretty much doing everything with them. Although your partner should be, at the foundation, your best friend, they shouldn't be the only person you have to talk to, and I learned that much later on.

* Miraculously, I graduated university with my second degree with straight A's, despite the overwhelming depression, anxiety, and abusive relationship. I was rid of a bad roommate situation by July, and I was feeling more at peace and ready to start a new chapter. It didn't take long for me to find the confidence to cut out the friends I made in college, and begin making new, genuine friendships.

Soon enough, (and I mean very soon--within a matter of months), the world brought Haylie to me. The moments that I met my true lifelong best friends (Shannon, Kitty, Haylie, and Meghan, in that order) will always hold as much importance and value, as I imagine meeting the one true love of your life must have. Haylie casually slid into my Twitter DM's (lol) and asked me to coffee and it changed my entire life. It was like a light bulb was struck on in my brain "Oh, THIS is what it's supposed to feel like?". It had been so many years since I met a genuine friend who only cared about my happiness and supported every single decision I made. Then not even a month later, I met Meghan, someone who had been through everything I had been through and then some, who despite just meeting me, believed me when I was comfortable enough to share my story. We were able to relate on even the darkest, most horrific levels, and that felt so empowering.

Not only did I see an improvement in the quality of people in my life, but I also saw an improvement in my own self-worth. Cutting people out was the biggest step forward I took in my mental health journey, and I am beyond proud of how far I've come since college. I see who I am as a person now, and reflect on poor, naïve, young Sarah, who let other people change who she was and how she saw the world. In college, I was a very unhappy, judgemental, and oftentimes mean person, who thought consistently saying negative things about other people would elevate my own confidence. Spoiler alert, that is, and never will be, the case.

I can't say that I'm a perfect person who doesn't make mistakes anymore, or hurt people's feelings. In fact, I still do the latter quite a bit without intending to (something I'm working on), but now that I surround myself only with people who lift me up, despite being a much lower number than before, I'm happier, and that happiness is expressed through more kindness and compassion than I'd ever had before, despite constantly reassuring myself I'm a good person.

I hope you found my story helpful and find the courage yourself to remove toxicity from your own life, because I am living proof that it can be remarkably beneficial. Next up, letting go of material possessions for a clearer mind...

x, Sarah

*If you're in a similar situation and feel you have no one to talk to, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. You can contact me using my social media platforms (listed on the sidebar), or email me at You're never alone x

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