Why Do We Keep People In Our Lives Who Suck?

We all have those people in our lives. People who suck the life out of us. People who bring us down. People who, in spite of their denial, truly can't wait to see us fall on our faces.  Seriously, you can see their eyes light up every time you fail (or, if you're an optimist like me, "learn a lesson.") Time and time again, we wonder: "Why do I keep this person in my life? Why am I spending my energy on someone that always brings me down into that negative place?"

For some of us, it's simply ingrained to hold on to those people who have had years of common experiences. That junior high friend might be catty and judgmental, but she is the only one who can commiserate with your first crush, or that horrible science teacher that made your life hell, or the unfortunate feathered hair trend. That's something. Even if he or she doesn't make you feel great, at least you have the bond of the past, and that can't be replicated with just anyone.

I think of myself as a positive, patient person, and I have a very high tolerance for all kinds of BS. I can let a lot go. However, even this Pollyanna has to admit that some people...well, they just suck. Maybe that suckiness isn't the whole of who they are, but they suck at being friends (or partners). Yet, we hold on to them, even though we know it only leads to states ranging from frustration to outright rage. Truly, if a day spent with someone is bookended by dread and regret, your energy is better spent on either better people or solitude.

Again, though, why is it so hard to let go of these people? Sometimes I wonder if having someone in your life to complain about is a necessary outlet. I was reading an article a few years ago about the bonding properties of gossip. Nothing brings people together like having a third party to bitch about, apparently. Think about how much better it feels to vent about someone with your best friend, rather than saying something positive. It feels deeper somehow, doesn't it? Talking about how lovely the new girl is with your water cooler buddies isn't nearly as satisfying as telling stories about how horrid your boss is. Perhaps having some negative people in your life is a way to stock up on opportunities to vent and let out some steam from your daily life?

Or maybe having negative people around is a way for us to put ourselves on pedestals, if only temporarily. There's a certain level of judgment involved in martyring ourselves and being around people who make us feel bad. Even if we feel down or angry after spending time with these people, there's a type of superiority in knowing that at least you aren't as malicious/negative/cranky as he/she is.

I also speculate that there is a large subset of people who gravitate toward people who suck because deep down inside, they feel this is all they deserve. If someone treats them well, they look upon it with suspicion. If you believe that you deserve to get treated poorly, that is what you will attract. For these types of people, getting treated with disrespect isn't pleasant, but it is familiar. It's comfortable. It's the same reason why people date the same types of abusive partners, over and over, or stay at that job they hate until they retire. These people probably view their miserable "friends" as a necessary evil, and see no need to try to upgrade.

That sounds terrible, doesn't it? The idea of "upgrading" your friends? It's so very junior high. But in reality, some people lift us up, and support us, and make us better people. Others just can't wait to drag us down into the depths with them. Why should we feel guilty allowing ourselves to break free from that?

I remember being in one program or another, long ago. There was a woman in the program whom I will call "Sue," and she sucked. She complained non-stop. She needed endless amounts of attention from everyone around her, and if she didn't get it she would pout like a child. She was highly competitive and obsessed with everyone else's grades. And worst of all, she was the world's biggest one-upper. Any story you told, it was nothing compared to what she had been through. So. Freaking. Annoying.

In that particular program, I had become friendly with a woman who was my polar opposite in personality-she had a very strong, assertive nature and had no problem calling anyone out on anything. She was very sweet (sometimes) but SO confrontational. One day we were in class together and she brought up the topic of Sue, telling me that she was had grown extremely frustrated with her neediness and competitive nature. I agreed, thinking nothing of it-everyone in our program had issues with her. She went on to tell me that, after losing her patience with Sue, she had written her a long, long letter detailing everything she didn't like about her. This letter addressed all of Sue's flaws and shortcomings, and came with a warning that she could either opt to change, or stay away, because her various negative attributes were no longer going to be tolerated. Listening to this, I was overwhelmed with so many emotions: cringing horror at the thought of receiving a letter like that, pity, and finally admiration; I could never do something like that! I imagined the anger and humiliation I would feel if I was the recipient, and asked how Sue had responded. I couldn't believe what I heard next: "Oh, she was very responsive. She thanked me and said she would take this as an opportunity to work on herself."

My mind was blown.

And you know what? She actually did change after that letter. She didn't blossom into a new person overnight, but she really toned it down. So I suppose that this letter truly was a gift to her, but somehow I don't believe that most would respond this way. I know I wouldn't.

I'd love to hear some input on this. Do you have someone in your life who sucks? Why do you think you keep them around? And if you have gotten rid of one of these people, how did you do it?? Please post in the comments below.