BFFs are so passé; what you really need to look out for are TFFs – Toxic Friends Forever. Andi Osho wonders who’s to blame when friendships turn sour.
As well as being a Britney hit, toxic also describes those draining or unhealthy relationships I thought I’d been lucky enough to have avoided. That was until I read an article listing all the things that make a friend toxic: it described to a tee what had transpired a few months earlier between me and an erstwhile ‘friend’.
“Do you feel drained by them?” “I do!” I nodded at the online article.
“Do you feel undermined by them?” “Does the pope shit in the woods?” I nodded even harder.
“Does the conversation usually gravitate around them?” “Like Ganymede around Jupiter,” I scoffed – or would have done if I knew more about the solar system.
Until that point, I’d weathered these wonky friendships, putting the weirdness down to the other person being “a character”: a big personality that’s great fun but comes with a side-helping of drama.
This notion of toxic friends intrigued me so I read more about it. Common themes cropped up and I found that the person claiming to have been toxed up by their buddy, often presented themselves as virtuous, while making the other person sound like the reigning champion in the arsehole of the year competition. I started to get suspicious.
If these people were out-and-out arseholes it would be easy to identify them as the problem and remove them from our lives, but most often they’re not. The people I’ve considered “toxic” in my life have also been fun, lively, entertaining and charming: the toxicity’s subjective, boiling down to my expectations of them in our friendship and how they make me feel. It’s easy to blame them but in reality, toxicity comes from you both poisoning the well.
Take Kaya, whose company exhausted me and whose abrasive manner and put downs left me feeling shitty. Yet she said we were friends, so I plodded on – until I couldn’t anymore. But now my thoughts go to Kaya and what may have been going on with her. It would be easy to dismiss her as an arsehole, but clearly she isn’t (not completely anyway) because she has friends and family who love her and whom she loves. I was the added ingredient that possibly tipped Kaya into this aggressive mode and meant a friendship between us was impossible.
I can only speculate as to what specifically it could be: my love of Level 42; my need to randomly speak with a northern accent in the middle of conversations; my constant use of the word “like” whilst bemoaning people who do the same thing? I don’t know but one thing’s for sure, it wasn’t all down to her.
Perhaps situations involving a TFF (new phrase – spread it), shouldn’t be about calling someone else out as a bad person but rather a chance to see that the relationship, for some reason, just doesn’t work. This leads to the question: is it so broken it can’t be fixed or at least tolerated?
If you can tolerate it, the key to harmony may be to limit exposure to that person or situations that causes things to flare up. If, say, your friend mutates into a TFF when alcohol is involved, swerve them at weddings and birthday bashes. And leaving dos and Christmas parties. And weekends. And weekdays.
Like an intimate relationship, not every friendship is meant to last. As we all know, some friendships are for a lifetime, some for a season and some just fleeting experiences born out of a particular set of circumstances.
To an extent, friendships tend to be self-regulating, in that they find their own rhythm. We have friends that are practically soulmates but we only see them once a year. Equally we can have fleeting acquaintances we see everyday, such as work colleagues. Listening to our instincts on how we feel about someone and how we feel when we’re with them is the only tool we need to navigate our relationships. When we hold on to toxic chums, we override this.
Releasing these people from our lives is a form of energetic social spring cleaning. It clears out what is draining our resources so that we can focus on the people that benefit our lives: the ones that make us feel good; the ones that raise us up, make us laugh, support us, love us and allow us to be ourselves – and that we want to do the same for.
This article is dedicated to the people who are no longer in my life. I hope life is treating you well, pricks… I’m joking! I wish them all well.
Philippa Perry guides you through the best ways to dump an erstwhile pal.
Chucking a friend, rather than a lover, is something many of us are not so practised at. So how do you do it? What people seem to shrink from is being labelled the ‘bad guy’ and so plump for Option 1. But there are other options too.
Option 1. Slinking away. This means not bounding up to them at social events if they happen to be there; taking a long time to return calls, emails or texts; muting them on Facebook, or just not responding to them at all. By this non-direct method you hope that the relationship will wither. This way you never actually have to say anything that could get you labelled as ‘bad’. But sometimes such hints are not got, or people demand answers. They may want to know what is going on between you. At this point you have further options:
Option 2. The lazy and cowardly: “What? You’re imagining it, I’ve just been busy”. You’ll make them even crazier by doing this and perhaps it’s not really fair to make them doubt their take on reality. So instead you say:
Option 3. “It’s not you, it’s me. I’m just not feeling it. I’m on a break, I need some time when I don’t see you. I love my space, I’m a loner. I’m sorry if this hurts.” Or other such tosh. But at least by doing this you’ll have admitted your withdrawal.
Option 4. But you’ll know you were still lying because it wasn’t all you, was it? No, in your mind it was also them. So perhaps you’ll pluck up courage to get nearer the truth: “I don’t like who I am when I am with you. I don’t know why but I become over-competitive/malicious/bitchy/mean/sad/uncomfortable/ unsafe/scared/misogynistic/nervous/misanthropic/lazy/calculating etc. And for that reason I would like to see much less of you, sorry.”
Option 5. Or you could be brave enough to risk being the bad guy and actually say it like you feel it, however that might be. For example: “You bitch about everyone so much. I found this quite amusing at first but then I realised you were also bitching about me, so I’d rather not see you any more. You might deny it, but I still don’t feel safe. So I’m out, thank you for the good times”.
I tend to use Option 1 and sometimes I do so without really thinking about it. It really might be because my life has moved in a different direction rather than an active dislike of a person. I also use Option 4. It’s always good to use “I statements” (I don’t like who I am when I’m with you) rather than “you statements” (You are a horrible person), because if I were to start defining other people and telling them what they are like, I’ve lost it. In reality, we can’t know what another person is really like; we only know how we experience them.
Andi is an actress, writer and comedian currently living in Los Angeles.