I’m in a bit of a sticky situation. I have two very close friends, let’s call them Anna and Raina. Anna and Raina are in most of the same classes together, and I’m not. I don’t have many other friends except for them, so I kind of have no other choice but to be with them as our grade only has about 40 kids.
I’ve started to notice that whenever I’m with the two of them, Raina always seems to ignore me and kind of pretend like I’m an outsider. When I’m alone with Raina, she’s always so open towards me. I’ve tried bringing this up with her, but she pretends like she isn’t doing anything wrong and that this isn’t an issue. I’ve tried going to Anna and asking if she knows anything, but she says she doesn’t. I can’t quite bring myself to trust her as she has betrayed me before. It was quite a scandal when she pretended I sent a bunch of offensive texts about her to Raina and she even generated “proof.” I have a few other friends, but they have their own friends who are close to them. I didn’t do anything to Raina. I’ve been as nice as I can and I try to talk to her as much as I can too. It just isn’t working. You know how you are usually really excited to talk to your friends when you go to school? I don’t feel that anymore.
I don’t want to end it with her, but I don’t know what to do either. Can you please help me? I’m sure a lot of other people go have this I’m-the-third-wheel-in-the-trio syndrome too.
That may be true, Sparkler! But, uh, I don’t think that’s what you have. Nope! This doesn’t sound like a case of Third Wheel Syndrome; this sounds like a case of your friends being a pair of terrible jerks who’ve made a sport out of scapegoating you, and of you putting up with it for… well, I’m sure you have your reasons. Force of habit? Fear of the unknown? The undying hope that things might still get better between you? Whatever it is, I know it’s not easy to give up on a friendship, even when it’s a toxic one.
But sometimes, giving up is the only thing to do—or if not giving up, then at least stepping back, to create some space in your life for better and more rewarding relationships. And in a perfect world, this is a step you would have taken right around the time that one friend fabricated a terrible lie about you and the other apparently took her word for it… but since that moment has already passed, your next best bet is to do it now. All that energy you’re pouring into being super nice to Raina, only to have her opportunistically ignore you and treat you like you don’t belong? That’s energy better spent elsewhere—and by elsewhere, I mean virtually anywhere else. It doesn’t have to be a friendship (although you should definitely take stock of the other people in your life, and start hanging out more with the ones who treat you well); anything that interests you, anything that fulfills you, is going to be a better and more rewarding place to invest yourself. A hobby, a sport, a class, a club; pick anything (or better yet, several things!) and see how much fuller your life can be when you’re not wasting yourself on someone who doesn’t appreciate you.
And if you don’t want to end those friendships, here’s the thing: you don’t have to (although you may find that they fizzle out on their own once you’re not clinging to them for dear life). Getting a little distance is enough; you don’t have to scorch the earth, too. But when your existing social circle is causing you so much unhappiness and frustration, the best thing you can do is take a step back, look around for the things and people that do bring you joy, and let them fill in the space you’ve opened up.
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