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Illustration by Maya Chastain

Dear Tissue Issues,

I became super close, super fast with an online friend, “Jamie.” We’re both 25-year-old women, live near each other, and were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in late 2019. We met in person in 2020 and I felt like I’d known her forever. I had just moved here when COVID-19 hit, so Jamie is the only local person I know. And frankly, I’m sick of her. 

For over a year, I’ve focused on lifestyle changes to manage my Crohn’s, like diet, sleep hygiene, and quitting alcohol. It’s helped me manage my symptoms, have more energy, and feel better overall.

But Jamie makes fun of me for going to bed early and refusing to do tequila shots with her. I know we’re young and she wants to live the carefree, booze-fueled life of a 20-something (yes, that is really how she puts it), but we both have an illness with potentially serious complications. I’m not interested in partying — I’m interested in being healthy.

I now dread our hangouts. She pressures me to eat pizza and peanut butter cups, despite knowing they mess up my stomach. She still eats junk and binge drinks, and it’s like she’s trying to drag me down with her. I feel like I can’t bring up anything about my life without her laughing at me or mocking me.

I’m over it. I lose sleep dreading our next hangout, and there’s no excuse I can give her because we’re all stuck at home due to the pandemic! 

Can I just ghost her? Whenever I’ve tried sharing my feelings, she dismisses me. I’m afraid she won’t “let me” stop being her friend. On the other hand, I kinda want to salvage this friendship because I don’t know anyone else, and I can’t really make friends in a pandemic. What do I do? — Desperately Seeking a Friend Breakup

Dear Desperately Seeking a Friend Breakup,

Oof. That is a lot, and I’m sorry you’re in such a frustrating situation. Let me start with the hard news because I want you to digest this: You need to end this friendship.

Jamie is not a positive influence in your life, and frankly, I don’t think she’s much of a friend at all.

Crohn’s is a challenging disease, but as you’ve discovered, it can be effectively managed. Toxic friendships, however, cannot be managed. They need to end.

I know it’s an especially rough and lonely time to lose a friend, but I can’t see anything beneficial in your relationship with Jamie. The dictionary definition of toxic is “very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way.” From what you’ve told me, this “friendship” more than qualifies.

It sounds like you know this needs to end. I’m happy to give you the encouragement you need to end it. Now that you know what you need to do, let’s focus on how you do it.

I suspect Jamie will not take kindly to being “dumped.” You even said you’re afraid she won’t let you end it. But it’s not up to Jamie. Ending a relationship is not something you need consent for. A friendship, like any relationship, requires two willing participants. But ending a relationship only needs one person to make the decision.

Please keep in mind that however you decide to end this, you don’t owe her an explanation. You could disappear or “ghost” her, but given her determination to ignore your boundaries, that might not work. I worry she would bang on your door or even call the police for an in-bad-faith wellness check.

Here’s what I suggest you do instead: 

  1. Text her something short and to the point. Do not call her or meet in person. You don’t want to give her an opportunity to plead her case. Say something like, “This friendship isn’t working for me anymore and I need to move on. Do not contact me again.” That may seem harsh, but you’re not obligated to sugarcoat this. Put the text in your own words, but try to keep emotion and apologies out of it. I recommend keeping it short and firm.
  2. If she has any of your stuff at her house, assume you won’t be getting it back. Let it go, otherwise she will use your things to try to get you to meet. If you have any of her stuff, either tell her you’re leaving it outside at a certain time or ship it to her. Yes, I’m telling you to be the bigger person and possibly lose some material possessions. Remember that you are the bigger person, and stuff can be replaced. 
  3. Block her on your phone, email, computer, and social media. Make sure she has no way of communicating with you. If you hear from her via alternate phone numbers or social media accounts, block them as they appear. Hold firm, do not give in to urges to say more, and do not let yourself be manipulated. Eventually, she will give up.

You mention you don’t have other friends in your area. I’m so sorry that the timing of your move has impacted your social life. Many people who live alone are struggling, and a year is a long time to be enduring a pandemic.

Are you in touch with friends from your hometown, college, or wherever you lived previously? If not, can you reconnect? If you are close to your family, I would lean on them, too. Zoom may feel tedious at this point, but it is a way to interact with your friends and see their faces.

Though it feels never-ending, this pandemic will prove to be temporary. With vaccines steadily rolling out, life will get better soon. Hopefully, you and your community will be vaccinated by this summer.

Once it’s safe, you can focus on meeting new friends. Try joining local Facebook groups, subreddits, or Meetups now. You can get to know locals online and meet them in person when it’s safe. 

None of this is easy, fun, or fair. I wish I could wave my magic wand and instantly make Jamie leave you alone, end the pandemic, and point you to a supportive group of awesome friends. Sadly, all I have are my words through a screen.

But you have a lot in your corner: your self-awareness, your commitment to your own health, and your experience with Jamie.

That’s right, I’m turning your friendship with her into a positive. It’s a positive because it’s taught you what you value in a friendship and what your limits are. Keep trusting your instincts as you go forward. If you see similar red flags in future friendships, heed them before the relationship turns toxic.

And hey, congrats on making so many positive changes for your health. Managing an inflammatory bowel disease is not easy, but you’re thriving.

I don’t even know you, but I am proud of you. I hope you take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come. You’re doing the work and it’s paying off. You got this, girl. Keep going.