I was in the fourth grade the first time I was friends with someone who consistently hurt my feelings. This may not seem unusual, I mean fourth graders can be pretty rude little creatures. The thought of my precious niece having to deal with “mean girls” in elementary and middle school makes me physically sick. I dealt with mean girls from a pretty young age. I used to think something was wrong with me. I used to think it was always my fault that something was going wrong with friends. Then I realized that kids change their opinions on literally everything so frequently, it’s hard to know if changing their mind about friendship is personal or not. However, when you’re a fourth grade girl who hangs out with her best friend one night after school, getting stomach cramps from laughing so hard, only to walk into class the next day and have her glare at you and ignore every attempt to talk to her, it’s hard to see that behavior as anything but personal.
Fourth grade and my twenties aren’t that different when it comes to friendships in all honesty. People say romantic relationships are riskier than friendships… I disagree. I personally invest far more of myself into a friendship than I do a relationship. Maybe this will change, but when I make friends, I want to be friends with the person for a long time. Also, I think it’s easier to feel less afraid of a friend hurting you than a potential suitor. How many of us go into friendships with the same guards up as we do when we’re dating someone new? We aren’t as guarded because we haven’t necessarily been scorned the same way by our friends. Sure, friends have falling outs as the years go by, but friends drifting apart is natural. It’s something that people typically don’t bat an eye at in life. Oh, you grew apart from so and so? Ms. Whatshername stopped calling after moving to a new place? That’s just part of life! I once wrote an open letter to the friends I’d fallen out of touch with, and I think falling out of touch is healthy sometimes and it really is normal. As frustrating as it can be, sometimes life just takes people different places and you’re no longer speaking the same language.
However, sometimes we don’t drift apart from people, even when we should. Some friendships seem great on the surface but are actually terrible for us. Why is it that we can recognize a bad boy a mile away, and know immediately the boy is bad for us, but when a bad friend is staring us down, we pretend like the boy and the friend are not made of the same cloth? We’ve grown up hearing about the exception to the rule in men. The Mr. Darcy versus the Mr. Mayer. There is a nice guy out there, just waiting to be found. Yet we don’t have the same scrutiny when it comes to friends. We accept friends like free samples handed out in the mall. We meet new people, find a common interest and bam! We’re friends. There’s so much less fear, no endless moments of thinking, “am I doing this right?” I’ve had a lot of unhealthy friendships in my life. In fact, those mornings in fourth grade made me scared that I was going to walk up to my friends one day and have them not like me, partly because the pattern that started in fourth grade was repeated in eighth grade and sophomore year of high school, until one day I decided to just stop trying to be friends with people who couldn’t decide if I was worthy of their friendship. If they couldn’t decide, they didn’t deserve my friendship. However, when I got to college, I encountered a group of people who were constantly rude to me for no apparent reason. My fourth-grade insecurities came to a head, and I ended up ugly crying in my towel to a friend. That’s when I made the decision final: if someone was going to treat me with the same amount of concern they would treat gum stuck to the bottom of their shoe, they didn’t need to be my friend.
Toxic friendships are hard to spot. They come in all different forms, some friends are passive aggressive, some are aggressive, some are so hot and cold the constant fluctuations give you whiplash. The first time I saw a toxic friendship play out in a big way was in the movie Something Borrowed (book and movie). Ironically, my oldest friend and I joke that we are similar to Darcy and Rachel, but not because of the toxicity of their friendship. We’re just opposites who happen to be best friends [the similarities stop there, though. Trust me.]. Anyway, Darcy and Rachel seem to be best friends on the surface, but the deeper you dig, the more you realize the friendship is incredibly draining and Darcy is consistently acting in such a way as to belittle Rachel. Though they seem like such great friends, the friendship is killing Rachel. No friend should belittle you. I had a law school friend who I talked to a ton first semester but took a step back from the second semester. The perception of myself as a law student, without their influence, was a stark contrast. I no longer felt like I was doing something wrong for not getting something immediately. I don’t want to go too far into it, but let’s just say I realized, with some distance between us, that their small comments were actually contributing heavily to my self-doubt and feelings of incompetence.
I’d like to conclude with this: you may not recognize a bad friend with the immediacy you would recognize a bad boy, but you should develop enough confidence in yourself to know that if someone is making you feel less than or inadequate or like they’re doing you a favor by being your friend, you’re most likely better without them.
Have you ever had a toxic friend? How did you know? What did you do to change the situation?