Those post-college years are often filled with friends who come and go — there’s the girl who’s always up for a boozy brunch, the workout class friend, the one who never says no a night out. Of course, you may have those friends that will be with you for the long haul, but there are plenty of others who drop off along the way.
Some of those friendships simply grow apart. You no longer need someone to hit every Thursday night happy hour with or you move to a new city and lose touch. Others, however, venture into toxic territory and you realize that an unhealthy friendship can be just as damaging and exhausting as an unhealthy romantic relationship.
But, how do we know a friendship has gone from rocky to beyond repair? At what point do we say, this isn’t worth just cutting back… I need to cut this off?
Their behavior is affecting others, and they aren’t open to changing it
In my late 20s, I had a good friend who was a blast to go out with. We had an awesome time trying new restaurants, bar hopping late into the night, and meeting for brunch again the next morning. But, as the years went on, what had been fun spiraled into unhealthy behavior. I won’t go into the details, but her actions weren’t solely affecting her — and I was dealing with the fallout on a daily, if not hourly, basis.
I’m always eager to dole out tough love, solicited or not, so it wasn’t for lack of effort when I finally cut her off saying, “This is upsetting, but I can’t be on call 24/7 to listen to you do this to yourself again and again and again.”
When someone falls into a pattern of unhealthy behavior, it can seem cruel to abandon them. However, when that toxic behavior has been addressed repeatedly and is taking an emotional toll, you have to remember that prioritizing your own well being comes first and foremost – and that may involve letting this person go.
Everything becomes a competition, and there’s only room for one winner
A little healthy competition doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Your friend’s recent job success motivates you to update your resume or their fitness kick inspires you to sign up for a half-marathon.
But, that competition can turn toxic when every conversation turns into an opportunity for them to one-up you. If you’re happy, they look for ways to poke holes in your joy. They can’t be excited about your promotion or your Bumble date that went well — they’re focused on the thinking that if good things happen to you, that means they won’t be available to happen for them.
In most cases, a rising tide lifts all boats, but when you’re dealing with a toxic friend hellbent on being the only winner at life, you’ll never come out ahead. And often, the best way to deal with this person is to bow out of their competition.
Their expectations are unrealistic
We all want to be there for our friends. We want to be the first to show up with take-out food and a bottle of wine when their latest crush goes awry and the last to leave the dance floor at their wedding.
We’re all doing the best we can to be good friends, while also taking care of ourselves and managing our work lives, our social lives, and everything in between. But, every once in a while, you’ll meet someone for whom it’s never good enough — and, it’s not just you. Nothing and no one is good enough for them. Life becomes a constant string of complaints — you didn’t pick the right restaurant for brunch, that workout instructor didn’t have enough energy, their new colleague talks too much, this salad is too warm, that date was so dull, their mom didn’t get them a nice enough birthday present.
The negativity is exhausting and their unrealistic expectations can never be satisfied. While this person may not be the worst offender in terms of toxic friendships, they’re also not someone you need in your life — particularly if you’re trying to focus on the positive in this wild world.
You’re their best, very best, best-of-all-time friend
When we think of jealousy in relationships, we typically think of unhealthy romantic partners, but that jealousy can be just as toxic in friendships — and it can also manifest itself in controlling ways.
This is the fast friend, your instant BFF, your ride or die… but there’s no room for anyone else in this friendship car. Your other friends? She finds reasons to pick each one apart and question why you’d be friends with people like them. She’ll monopolize your weekends, your weeknights, and everything in between. If you’re not hanging out with her, what are you doing? Why didn’t you tell her your plans?
She’ll keep you close by reminding you how you’re her very best friend, the only one that gets her, but remember: these toxic friends thrive on being attached to one person and it can be draining, particularly if you’re someone who values keeping a diverse social circle.
So, how do you cut off a toxic friend?
We all know communication is the key to any relationship — friendships included. The friendship may be in disrepair, but unless you feel your friend’s reaction could be dangerous, you may find it helpful to talk it out.
Let her know your concerns and why you’re choosing to leave this relationship behind. While it may not have saved your friendship, opening up that line of communication could help her find some introspection and a path to healthier interactions in the future.