I’ve written about making friends before and how I was happily complacent with not having a lot of friends. I didn’t say how I got to that point in my life. When I was in junior high and high school, I had tons of friends. I wouldn’t say that I was “popular,” per se, but I floated between different social groups, and although I had a handful of close friends, I was pretty open to spending time with lots of different people. As graduation approached, it seemed like my list of “serious” friends dwindled down to just two names: my boyfriend (now husband) and my best friend.
Losing friends (at any age) can be upsetting, but now that I’m a mom, I realize that there are some people that I just don’t want around my son. Breaking up with toxic friends is hard, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do.
I fully understand that, as adults, we don’t always get to choose who we interact with on a daily basis, but we can choose who interacts with our children. My husband and I are hard-working people, and our free time is precious, so we want to spend it with people who enrich our lives. Since we graduated from high school, many friends have come and gone. Some friendships have ended after a specific conversation or event, but I’ve started to notice a trend. There are certain types of toxic friends I just can’t have in my (and my son’s) life:
This is the toxic friend who acts differently around different groups of people. Now, of course, we all do this to some degree; it’s part of adapting to different social situations, but “The Changer” takes this to the max. Consider one of my close friends from high school: we grew up together, had very similar interests and ideals, and I felt I knew everything about her. We went to different colleges, and when she came back home for a visit, she brought along some college friends, and she was completely unrecognizable. Not only had she gotten new friends, but she seemed to have forgotten all about her core values. As soon as those friends left, she went back to her old self, but every time they came back, it was like a switch flipped. I couldn’t tell which personality was “real” anymore, and I just couldn’t deal with the emotional roller coaster.
Have you seen the old Debbie Downer skits from SNL? This toxic friend is just like her, except without the hilarious expressions and funny sound effects. Imagine being invited over for lunch/dinner/drinks, making conversation about your daily lives, and then your hostess suddenly broaches a terribly depressing and/or disturbing topic. Unlike Debbie Downer, though, my former friend would either start yelling or burst into tears. For some time, I thought I could avoid certain topics and therefore avoid an outburst, but one summer, things spiraled out of control. I realized that the off-limits topic list was getting too long to manage; I couldn’t talk about other friends without her getting jealous, and I couldn’t talk about my marriage without hearing how stupid I was to believe in love in the first place. Every time I saw this person, she ended up taking her anger (or frustration or sadness) out on me. I thought: she has a reason to be sad. She had lost someone, and I felt guilty about even thinking about ending our friendship. I continued to spend time with her until one day, I snapped and walked out of a horrible conversation. I suddenly realized that there are other people (and dogs) in my life that I could have been spending time with in that moment. She tried to talk to me briefly after this, but I told her that her negativity was just too much to deal with.
“The Questionable Decision-Maker”
I probably don’t have to explain this one in too much detail, but this is the type of toxic friend who makes unwise and sometimes totally unsafe decisions. This is the person who drives recklessly with other people in the car, or the person that leaves an establishment with a complete stranger. Worse even, this is the person who gets mad at you for expressing your concern for their well-being or personal safety. This is someone you wouldn’t leave your child with for 30 seconds.
“The Non-Adult Adult”
The fourth type is different because instead of you “breaking up” with them, they will probably “break up” with you. Or more likely, they’ll just “ghost” you. This is the type of friend that can be awesome to be around, as long as you are not discussing any real-world adult topics, such as paying bills or putting your kids to bed or dealing with any sort of insurance. This is the friend that is excited to talk to you all the way through your pregnancy, but right after the baby’s born, it’s like they’ve dropped off the face of the earth. It’s like you suddenly have nothing in common, and can’t possibly have a real conversation anymore!
Of course, it’s sometimes hard to tell if someone is really in one of these toxic friend categories or if they are just going through a phase.
Since college, I’ve done a few “trial separations” with some friends. After spending some time apart, I ask myself three questions: Do I miss them? Can I look past what they did or said? Do I want them as a role model for my son? Sometimes, I have to spend some time with the person to really know the answer to the second and third questions.