I’ll be the first to say there are no “rules” when it comes to friends and friendships. Everyone has their own dynamic and boundaries with their friends, so who’s to say what’s toxic and what isn’t?
But if you’re getting some ‘vibes’ that make you feel uncomfortable with your friend - make sure you have a frank chat with them. And if that doesn’t work out, distance yourself from them. Honestly, it might be time to think about whether you deserve better from a friendship.
As we all know, the first step to admitting you have a problem is recognizing you have one a listicle! So here goes - some signs your friend might be toxic:
You don’t feel like sharing good news with them. If you feel the air in the room (or the WhatsApp chat) change when you tell them about your achievements - or they start putting you down, or comparing theirs - it’s likely that they’re probably not rooting for you.
They belittle you. Look, every friendship has a silently agreed upon contract about the amount of teasing that is acceptable, and the topics that this contract applies to (For example: none of my friends talk about the haircut I had in 7th std., and god bless them for that). If the teasing or belittling goes a bit too far, you’ll know it in your gut, and you’ll probably wonder if their intention was to hurt you.
You don’t feel like you can be yourself with them. If your friend is trying to change you or constantly find fault with you - they’re seeing you as a project, and not a friend.
You feel like it’s all about them. The pandemic has brought on the worst of times for just about everyone, so it’s natural for a lot of friendships to feel the strain of it. But if you feel like the relationship is one-sided and they’re not giving you (or even trying to give you) the attention or time that you give them, consider whether you would be better replaced in their life by a cardboard cutout with eyes.
Okay — if you’ve spotted this, how do you deal with it?
The ‘adult’ route: have a conversation first. Speak with them about how their behaviour is making you feel, and ask them why this is happening. Friendships are resilient - if they're going through something or are feeling insecure, maybe you can unpack that together.
Set boundaries with them - tell them you don’t like to be made fun of or put down - sometimes they may not even know they’re being mean.
On the other hand, if none of that works - friendships also don’t have to be resilient. Sometimes people grow apart - and that’s okay. Feel free to distance yourself from them.
The past few years have brought so many changes to the way we work and study and make friends. It’s okay to not have anything in common with some people anymore, or figure out you don’t really like each other - sometimes the routine of being in the same building makes you think you do.
The important thing is not to guilt yourself for ‘failing’ at friendship. These conversations and decisions help you become a little more of yourself, when you realise what you need (and what you absolutely don’t).
But here’s a small reality check: the tragedy of the word toxic is that it implies the absolute worst behaviour - so there’s a tendency to think that we, ourselves, must be totally incapable of it. So read the list again, and figure out if you’re the toxic friend. Someone pointing out your toxicity isn’t the worst thing in the world - it means you’re being called in to be a better friend, and look deeper into what’s bothering you.
So, let me know if you’ve ever spotted toxicity? You can hit ‘reply’ to this mail, even if just to congratulate me on not using a Britney reference even once throughout this piece.