• Handling Breakups

A Reader Asks: Is This Lifelong Friendship Toxic?

Published: July 19, 2021 | Last Updated: July 24, 2021 By | 3 Replies Continue Reading
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A discordant lifelong friendship between two “third-age” friends falls apart and one woman wants out.


Hi Irene,

I’ve had an almost lifelong friendship for over 40 years. We’re both third-agers now; she is ten years older than me. Over the years, we’ve had our ups and downs.

She hasn’t had stable housing. For the last three years, she’s had Section 8 (subsidized) housing but told me that for two of them, couldn’t live at that address because she felt she was being electronically surveilled. She also claimed that before the pandemic began, she woke up one morning with strange welts on her body and other weird physical symptoms.

As a result, she’s been sleeping at her 56-year-old son’s huge home; he lives with another bachelor. She’s not paying rent there. She says she’s constantly picking up their messes, cooking, and doing yard work. But as one can imagine she’s worn out her welcome there. Don’t ask me how she’s managed to keep the Sec. 8 address all the while. I find this to be so wrong.

I constantly hear endless drama from her and don’t believe some of her stories. She’s very paranoid, especially with anything related to the pandemic. For sure, this person has some mental illness at play here. She’s a perpetual pot smoker and has alcohol every day, too.

Our phone conversations are usually dominated by her. During her last call, she was rambling endlessly. She talks over me and doesn’t listen. After I was assertive about getting a word in edgewise, she accused me of arguing. I became livid. 

When she continued on overpowering the conversation, I hit disconnect. She called right after, and I did not pick up. Of course, I went through a certain amount of discomfort about my having hung up on her, but the thing that really got to me is her lack of respect for me. Truth be told, there’s always been this dynamic of her acting superior because she’s older than me.

I’ve decided I need some distance. She’s toxic. Also, I’m not in agreement with her lifestyle anymore.

Signed, Georgia


Hi Georgia,

It’s hard to give up on a lifelong friendship. It means giving up years of shared memories of the positive times you’ve spent together, and the comfort and familiarity of having known someone for a long time. That’s one reason why people stay in bad marriages.

However, it seems like your patience with this friend has really worn thin at this point. It’s difficult to maintain a friendship when you have different values and don’t respect the other person. Also, In this case, you say your friend has serious emotional and substance abuse problems that aren‘t being treated. Ordinarily, I would suggest that you urge her to see a counselor but since she lives with her son, she has family to watch over her.

I hate to characterize people as “toxic.” The term more aptly describes a relationship. This lifelong friendship does seem toxic right now because it’s not a healthy or satisfying one for you. As you suggest, you may need a break from it after which you can decide whether it’s worth keeping. 

Tell your friend that you need a break because you seem to have lost patience with her. Try to avoid blaming her and take responsibility for your decision. You should also think about why you have continued to invest so much time and energy in this friendship.

Hope this is helpful.

Best, Irene

*What is a third-ager? It is generally defined as someone who is in their later years, often between the ages of 65 and 80+. 


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Comments (3)

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  1. Sandra Anne says:

    Totally agree with Irene. It sounds to me like you don’t have as much in common now, other than your history as friends. While history is important, I don’t think it’s enough by itself to keep a relationship going. You need mutual respect, common interests, and mutual caring. This friendship sounds very one-sided to me.

    The other person sounds like she has a real substance abuse problem — and that isn’t helping the imbalance here. I like the idea of taking a break from her. Right now you need to spend time with people who make you feel good and that you enjoy.

  2. Georgia says:

    Thank you so much for your reply to my post. Yes this friend has family members. However, she over the years has been alienated from them;truth be told, she is a major contributor to ongoing dysfunction. She is very disrespected by her adult children, now in their fifties.

    We do have things in common. But we all have life happen, and I think it makes some people mature, but others stay stuck, and unfortunately as in my friend’s case she’s making bad choices which are affecting her overall stability. I’m not trying to blame her either, but this is just what it has become.

    To that end I’ve been a good, loyal friend for a very long time now, but I place mutual respect in a friendship on a high scale. Obviously, this is not happening. You are so right, and I have been asking myself that very question, “why I’ve invested so much time and
    energy to the friendship.”

    Thank You for your input,

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