The Thing About Toxic Friendships That We All Experience But Never Admit

God & Man

I don’t tend to write about friendship. I’ve written about love and ambition since before I could sit in the front seat of a car, but friendship is something I tend to steer clear from. The truth is, relationships between friends can be even more painful than romantic relationships. And this is coming from someone who has had some really shitty boyfriends. There is almost something more intimate about friends — specifically, girlfriends. We tend to be vulnerable with our friends and expect more from them than we expect from our partners.

“She’s my rock,” I’ve heard women say.

I’ve also heard women say bad things about their friends. I’ve said bad things about my friends. We compare ourselves to each other. We put pressure on our friends to choose us over their boyfriends even if we don’t do the same for them. We criticize them behind their backs for “not having their shit together” and we delude it under the pretense of worry. Especially when our own shit has hit the fan and we don’t want to talk about it.

Many times we choose the wrong friends — relying so heavily on them even after they disappoint us again and again.

There is something about a mean girl, an aloof one, that makes some of us desperate to be close to them. Maybe she’s wild and you want to be a little wild, too. Maybe she’s confident and you’re too blinded by your own insecurity to see that she is in fact more self-conscious than you. There is something about these girls that I, personally, have been drawn to one too many times.

When HBO’s Girls first aired in 2012, I streamed the pilot illegally on my grimy laptop as I laid on the hardwood floor of my Inner Sunset apartment. I was struck with the strangest feeling — the dynamics presented in the first episode were so true to life, it was almost chilling.

When Jessa returns to New York, Hannah is quick to fall under her spell of cool European apathy and dismiss Marnie’s reminders of how Jessa can make Hannah feel. There is a moment when all three of the girls are sitting on the edge of Hannah’s bed discussing what she will do now that her parents cut her off. Marnie is pragmatic and serious — she should ask her parents to support her a few more months while she finds a real job. Jessa is whimsical and erratic. What Hannah does won’t really affect her, anyway.

“Just tell them you’re an artist!” she beams.

Hannah marches downtown, tells her parents she’s the voice of her generation and demands $1100 a month for the next two years. (LOL)

Meanwhile, back at the apartment, Marnie goes in on Jessa. Her lateness, the way she makes Marnie uptight when she doesn’t even want to be, and the way she talks about her “best friendship” with Hannah. Jessa isn’t having it.

Best friend,” she mocks, “this one’s my best friend. You know, we don’t own anybody.”

“Maybe you don’t respect what a best friendship means because you’ve never stayed in one place long enough to have one,” Marnie shoots back.

I’ve had a lot of Jessas in my life who I thought were my best friends.

Maybe they weren’t European jet-setters who would abandon me without warning but they all had a way of sucking me into their lives just so they could squash me. The thing about Jessas is that they need you more than you need them. But the thing about Jessas, is they will never, ever let you know it. They feed off your friendship like vampires in Chloé perfume and then disappear into the night. You’ll think things are great at first. When you go out, you’ll laugh at the same jokes and drink the same drinks and pick songs to call your own. But one backhanded compliment and bizarre meltdown after another will slowly add up like matches in an ashtray and soon you will be filled to the brim.

When I was little, I had a friend who lived down the street from me. My mom said she was trouble but I didn’t listen.

One day I started to notice something. A nameless something. A way she made me feel sometimes. Maybe one day she would make fun of my clothes. Maybe another she would steal my art project. I started making tally marks on my bedroom window sill every time she made me feel bad. “If it gets up to five,” I’d think, “I won’t be her friend anymore.”

It got to five. And then ten. And then I stopped counting because that was just the way she was and I didn’t want to lose her as a friend.

The same thing happens in our teens and twenties. Friends are hard to come by and just like partners, we sometimes overlook their flaws so we won’t be alone. But like I said, friendship can be more painful than romance. It can be more painful than being alone.

I’d like to think I’ve learned this lesson and that I’m more careful about who I let in. That I’ve grown beyond the intoxicating cool girl that wants to collect me for her superiority complex.

I’d like to think I’ve built a barrier like those girls on The Bachelor who coyly admit, “I have my guard up.”

The problem with barriers though, is that sometimes they keep everyone out. When you’re scorned by toxic friendships, it can be hard to trust anyone. You seclude yourself and say no to coffee and pretend that you’re busy. You think it’s easier than getting caught up in another one.

But then one day, say you do say yes. And coffee leads to light gossip and tagging each other in memes. You confide in her about work stress, she confides in you about her family. Things don’t feel so one sided. Things don’t feel so dramatic. She’s not a Jessa and you’re not a Hannah. You’re just…friends. TC mark

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