“Get in the car loser, we’re going shopping.”
Ah, the infamously iconic words of Regina George that capture how conflicting it is to feel both accepted and rejected by someone with whom you want to be friends. Feeling both good and bad about a friend, however, is the first sign of a toxic friendship.
You may think toxic friendships are limited to a high school Mean Girls scenario, but anyone who’s arrived in adulthood knows finding quality friendships is not easy. It’s especially hard when you’ve left the accessibility of college friendships and begun seeking a community in the real world. A good, healthy friendship is one where two people are mutually growing and on a path toward becoming better people, but every so often, we find ourselves making an effort with a person we probably shouldn’t.
The friend you may be thinking of as you read this article probably isn’t the secret fifth member of The Plastics, but they could still be affecting your life more negatively than positively. To help you figure it out, here are five signs you’re in a toxic friendship.
- They only talk about negative things
- They don’t really listen to you
- They repeatedly bail on you
- They talk about other people behind their backs
- They use you to get what they want
Friends expressing frustration or concerns about real life problems is a healthy part of every friendship. Talking to a friend about our stresses and struggles can be incredibly helpful for healing wounds and figuring out a real solution. Not to mention, each of us goes through tough phases in life where the support of friends is needed more than usual. There is, however, a difference between confiding and excessive complaining.
If the majority of the things that come out of your friend’s mouth is a complaint or has some sort of a negative angle, you’re probably not having the most fun with them. Endlessly venting about work, other friends, family, relationships, or life in general could indicate that your friendship is not balanced and they don’t value your time together. It also can be a sign that they’re self-absorbed.
Some people tend to focus on the negative more than the positive. It’s a learned habit, so try challenging your friend by pointedly asking them about something positive that’s going on in their life. If they constantly revert back to the negative, it might be time to make a specific request about the tone your conversations take or simply move on from that friendship.
“Attention is one of the rarest forms of love.” This quote might strike home if you’ve ever been tuned out by a friend who’s constantly checking their phone. We all know what it’s like to talk with someone who’s not really present in the conversation. As they respond with “mhmm,” “yeah,” “wow,” their minimal interest shows that they’re not terribly invested in you and don’t really care about what you have to say. Ironically enough, it’s usually the friend who never listens to you who expects you to listen intently to them.
A good friend should never make you feel like the things you’re saying are unimportant and uninteresting. Great, fruitful conversation comes from two people engaging in one another’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. A healthy, balanced, mutual friendship involves peers who ask questions and bounce ideas back and forth. If you find your friend tuning you out, simply stop talking and let them feel the awkward silence. This will force them to either engage in conversation with you or leave the conversation entirely.
One of the biggest struggles of young adult life is flakey-ness — which is understandable since we’re all trying to find a balance between our professional lives and social lives. It is, however, frustrating when a friend makes plans without any real intention of keeping them, especially if their canceling puts you in a bind — backing out of plans to help you with an important project, for example, or suddenly being unavailable for a trip you already booked. Sometimes the seemingly minor plan cancellations can lead to major disappointments in your friendship, like if they bail on going with you to a social event where you won’t know anyone else.
If you make plans with a particular friend and find yourself thinking, “Who knows if they’re actually gonna come,” it means you don’t actually trust them. If you don’t trust them to physically show up when they said they would, it logically follows that you don’t trust them to be there for the bigger things in your life.
If you’re dealing with a friend who’s constantly bailing on you, stop making plans with them and wait for them to make plans with you. If you end up going months without them reaching out to make plans (that they stick to), it’s probably a friendship you don’t want to prioritize anyway.
Beware of the friend who says they hate drama. Unfortunately, this is usually the kind of friend who actually loves drama and frequently finds him- or herself in the center of it. If your friend thrives off of “he said, she said” spats and spends an unnecessary amount of time diving into long, complicated stories that involve people you might not even know, it’s time to question what your friend truly values in life and what they’re willing to sacrifice to have excitement.
Often, those who excessively focus on drama are the ones who also talk about people behind their backs — causing you to wonder if they’re talking about you behind your back. Rest assured, you will eventually be dragged into a dramatic situation with this friend and they will definitely talk about you behind your back. If you can’t trust someone to speak kindly of you when you’re not around, it’s usually best to leave this friendship behind entirely.
Nothing feels worse than being used in any relationship. Usually, our red flags start going off when we start to notice our friend is taking more than giving, but sometimes we don’t want to admit it to ourselves. You may notice that they can only hang out when it’s convenient for them, or that they are suddenly demanding that you spend time with them at a moment’s notice, or always make you go to them to hang out. Unfortunately, this is a friend who only wants to use your company when it suits them.
A friend who uses you may treat you like a therapist but never ask about how you’re doing. Or it could be the friend who just wants access to your social circle, scouting your friends as potential romantic interests or even finding a way into your professional connections. If this is the case, it’s time to admit that they were never really interested in being your friend in the first place and that your efforts would be better received by someone who genuinely cares about you.
Friendships should make you feel positive and like you’re investing in something long-term. Think back to a time where you felt uplifted, hopeful, and happy after hanging out with a friend. The best kind of friendships are the ones where you leave with a smile on your face, knowing you’re both growing to be better people and that you’re helping each other get there.