They’re everywhere, the dog park, a friend’s birthday party, they might ask to set their drink down on your table for a few minutes at a concert and strike up a conversation. Behind their attractive faces, their inviting smiles and their engaging chit-chat, there lurks a quiet venom. A cancerous poison that can’t be seen with the naked eye until it’s too late; you’ve already added this person as a friend on Facebook, you’ve made plans to check out the new cocktail bar that got written up in New York Times Magazine.
By the time you discover the insidiously destructive aspect to his or her personality, it’s too late. You care, and they know it. They know they have you fast in the eye of their emotional hurricane. Then, and only then, will they start in on their caustic antics, satisfying their short-comings and eating away, nibble by nibble, at your sanity. These…are toxic friends.
This all may sound a bit dramatic, but as a toxic-friend magnet, I know this is serious business. It might be too late for me, but there may still be hope for you. Below, a few red flags to help you spot these culprits before it’s too late.
If you think your pal might fall into this category, pay attention to how he or she views the world on a regular basis and how you feel after being in their company. I actually had to block my friend Lola on Facebook so I didn’t feel like jumping off a bridge by the time I finished my morning coffee each day. Lola has it all: a loving husband, two gorgeous healthy kids, and a beautiful home in a great neighborhood. Not only does she have all her limbs, they’re in great condition. She lives an hour away and I don’t see her very often, so I was always checking her Facebook page to see what’s up. Mistake. ‘Will I ever stop being tired?, Can’t wait until my little guys grow up and I can just be a person again instead of Mommy, Raining, big surprise, why did I move here again?’ Those are just a few examples of the endless exhausting updates that would barrage my home page, and because I care about Lola, I couldn’t look away.
Worse yet was when we would meet in person. It would take weeks of planning to get together, due to the distance and busy schedules, so by the time we finally met I would be ecstatic to see her. After three hours of her kvetching about nothing but mortgages, the price of gas and those last ten pounds, I’d sulk out of there with my tail between my legs like Eeyore. Friendship is supposed to lift you up and inspire you, right? Of course there will be times when your friend is truly going through a hardship, and those moments when you can help are the moments in which a friendship is truly rewarding. If something happens to Lola that is really worth complaining about, I only hope she’ll have friends to support her. We all know about the boy who cried wolf.
Always just a little bit disappointed
This type of toxic friend expects you to be a mind reader. My friend John had a dinner party and asked me to bring a particular loaf of artisan bread from the grocery store. It took me three grocery stores to find just the right one, but I was determined to get my hands on that damn 9-grain Parmesan Crust Baguette. Proud of my offering I handed it over to John when he opened the front door; he took it with a disappointed smile and asked ‘Did you bring candles?’ I was weirdly crushed. Of course I didn’t have candles. He patted me on the back, assuring me it was no big deal. My husband spent the evening assuring me that John hadn’t asked for candles. “But,” I countered, completely stressed about the situation, “maybe I should’ve known?” to which my husband just shook his head.
It’s taken several situations like this for me to realize that John likes to put just a little nick in everyone’s armor, so that he can be the flawless one, so that he can place blame elsewhere. That’s the thing about these toxic friends - they’re not just heartless villains. These tactics are actually their coping mechanisms.
Finally, my friend Sara is widely known among her friends to make several plans on any given night in order to choose at the last minute which one suits her fancy, flaking on the others. Why does she still have friends, you might wonder? She is a really fun person to be around, if you’re on her good side. She can make you feel like the most interesting person in the room, she’s focused on and enthusiastic about everything you do and say. Being with her on a good day, you walk away completely energized. As if you’d hung the moon.
The next day you’re a ghost. It’s truly like having the rug pulled out from under your feet. And I’m just her friend! I’ve seen what she’s done to past boyfriends, men who entered her life strong and confident, ultimately leaving damaged and confused, unsure of where it went wrong. There’s never any closure and, as you walk through the shadow of an off day and see her having her animated engaged conversation with her latest subject, you can only think it was you who made a false move. The only advice I have for these men is to start a support group, because she’s left a trail of them in her heady wake.
Take responsibility for your part in the toxic partnership
It’s not difficult to fall into the trap of one or all of these types of toxic friends. The abuse can actually become an addiction in which you might find yourself always trying to satisfy their needs and overcome their toxicity. If you’re a combination mother hen/gold-star student/over-achiever superwoman wanna-be like me, toxic friends can be your Kryptonite. I have learned that I have this sick need to always make sure everyone around me is happy, so I take on and try to fix the gripes of the negative friend, I try (and, of course, fail) to read the mind of the easily disappointed friend, and I hunger endlessly to get back in the limelight of the opportunist friend. Word to the wise, unless you are, in addition to the list above, a masochist, this is no way to deal with these types of acquaintances.
But, I still care about Lola, John and Sara and I still consider them my friends. I’ve learned to be on the lookout for their negative behavior and, more importantly, to nip my own enabling response to it in the bud. I can only change my own behavior, I can’t change my friends. Although, I did change their names—otherwise I might be considered a toxic friend too.