As many as 8 out of 10 people have got one … I’ve got one right now! They can give you a feeling of dread when their name pops up on your phone. They can leave you feeling emotionally drained as you deal with their life dramas, but they don’t give a shit about yours. They have replaced a relationship of fun and laughter, with one of distrust, let-downs and put-downs.
If you have a friend that is bringing you down when they used to build you up, then you might have identified a toxic friendship. Is it time to spring clean your friends list?
Let me be clear, not all bad relationships are toxic. Your friend could genuinely be having a bad time right now and just hasn’t told you about it. It doesn’t excuse their behaviour, but might explain why they have been cancelling plans lately.
So, how do you know if you are in a toxic relationship? There are some signs to look out for.
In the second Bridget Jones movie, we are introduced to a ‘friend’ described as a jellyfish. She acts pleased to see Bridget at an event, but drops lots of barbed and stinging comments, all deliberately to hurt Bridget’s feelings. A familiar feeling for those of us with a toxic friend, as we begin to dread seeing them or talking to them. A healthy relationship will not set alarm bells ringing.
My alarm bells first started ringing when a friend arrived late for a BBQ at my house. I don’t mean 20 minutes late, or getting caught in traffic late. What she did to me was rude.
I’d spent the morning preparing food for a group of friends. Everything was ready and the first group arrived more or less on time. We enjoyed drinks and nibbles while we waited for the others to arrive. And wait we did. She eventually turned up over 2 hours later. She rolled in with the other couple who were also late, laughing and smiling. She apologised, telling me that they had all been watching TV together and didn’t want to leave until it had finished.
I was fighting back tears. The hot food had by now, spoilt. The friends that had arrived on time were hungry, their children tired and bored, parents looking at their watches as they knew they had to leave soon. It was an embarrassing disaster. The late arrivals didn’t give a damn, had no respect for me or my time, drank my drink, ate my food, ignoring me as they continued their great day together, then all fucked off to do something more fabulous. When they had gone I cried.
A lack of trustworthiness is another bad sign. Do you feel unable to tell your friend something? Maybe they spend a lot of time telling you about mutual friends. As they pass you nuggets of information, sharing someone else’s secrets with you, it can make you question how safe your own worries are if you share them.
My toxic friend was very loyal for a while. Right up to the point where she realised a couple in our friendship group could offer her a more ‘fabulous’ time than I could. Her now ex-boyfriend did warn me she was a serial social climber. I’m not into designer handbags, helicopter rides and famous friends, but Miss Toxic is. She quickly latched onto Mr and Mrs Fabulous, pushing me aside.
What hurt me most was that I was the one that picked her up through all the hard times in her life. But she wanted the Instagram-perfect life, not the less glamorous but real one she had with me. They created their online groups sharing their special secrets that I wasn’t part of. They would then ask me about things they’d done together that had excluded me. Often doing it on purpose to let me know I was missing out.
When cancer and IVF touched Miss Toxic’s life, she came back to good old me for support. But I wasn’t allowed to be the friend supporting her publicly – Mr and Mrs Fabulous were the public face of her support network.
Your life can become a roller coaster with a toxic friend. When you realise you give an awful lot more than you get, it’s time to get off the ride. I first made the decision to do this at her wedding where I was once again sidelined.
Even though I was the person that introduced her to her husband, (boyfriend long gone as not fabulous enough), I was assigned to the table of distant cousins at the back of the room at the reception and erased from all the speeches. Mr and Mrs Fabulous made it to the top table. Of course they did. Especially as it would also increase the chance of a fabulous wedding gift.
Lately she has got worse. When I send her messages after months of radio silence, she has to reply with a humble brag. You know the type … “sorry I’m such a bad friend, but I’ve been so busy giving pencils to orphans”. She’ll then proceed to tell me how busy and fabulous she is, then sign off and ignore me again for a few weeks.
There comes a time when you no longer enjoy spending time with someone, or maybe you don’t like the person you become when you are with them. Maybe you start to feel used and question why you are even friends with them. They can make you feel anxious and invisible.
That’s where I am now. I know I need to end the friendship. But how do I do it? It’s not like ending a relationship with a partner … this feels more complicated than that. I don’t want to fall out and argue – it needs to be more graceful. It’s going to take some careful managing. And time.
I do have some good memories of our friendship, and I’m going to hang on to those. We will bump into each other at some point – we share many friends and interests after all. But she’s not good for my health.
I could talk to her about if I was brave and grown up. The thing is, she makes me feel how I did at school when I was bullied, and I’m not going to let her make me feel like that again. Instead I’m going to take the self-care approach and look after me. I can make me happy by doing the things I love with people whose company I enjoy.
Luckily I dont work with this person, as the approach I’m taking could make things awkward. But if I slowly stop communicating with her I will become less interesting and even less ‘fabulous’. She will have no news to share, no secrets to spill. She will eventually get bored and our interaction will become non existent.
When you think about it, we do this all the time. After all, how many old school friends or work colleagues are you still in touch with? You allowed them to drift away as you shared less in common and less of the same values.
This toxic relationship is going to die a natural death. It’s not going to be without it’s hurdles along the way. I’m going to have to neglect birthdays, not return calls and not respond to messages. She’s not the kind to get hysterical about it, posting ‘livid’ messages all over social media. Thankfully we are both too old for that.
Maybe it’s even time to make new friends or reignite friendships that have been neglected unintentionally. I’m at a stage in my life where my interests and lifestyle means I’m talking to and mixing with different people.
They say that some of the most poisonous people can come disguised as friends and family. The time has come for me to have a relationship detox. I’m ready to move on and celebrate my own fabulousness.
Have you reached the end of this article nodding your head in agreement as it made you think about someone you know? If you are feeling mistreated by someone who once meant a lot to you, maybe it’s time to reevaluate that relationship and choose a new, healthier path for yourself moving forward. You might have already taken those first steps and need some help moving on after the friendship breakup, so try reading this article containing lots of post-breakup survival tips. We only live once after all and you don’t deserve anything less than happiness in your life.