“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
― Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
“You have some queer friends, Dorothy,” she said.” The queerness doesn’t matter, so long as they’re friends,” was the answer.”
― L. Frank Baum, The Road to Oz
Female friendship, to me, is one of the most beautiful things in the world. The women that I love lie snuggled warm and cosy in my heart, jostling shoulder to shoulder with my husband and family, like a jolly pile of kittens. In some ways, friendship is the purest form of love. It is not motivated by sex, or blood tie obligation. You never need to be friends with someone. They are the people that you choose, and that choose you back. You do not need to feel pretty or compliant for a friend, you don’t need to suck in your tummy or hide your pack of cigarettes from them. The true meeting of minds, the discovery that your souls are cut from the same cloth, is a glorious revelation.
For the last twelve years I have been living overseas in various countries and cities. The first thing I do, when kicking off my boots in a new home, is to immediately set out friendship hunting. An enormous metaphorical butterfly net in hand, I prowl for my pretties. Be it on Meetup, in art galleries, at a pub quiz, or just talking to a girl with great energy sitting next to me in a coffee shop, I covet that female closeness. I wear my husband’s love like the shell of a hermit crab; it comes with me everywhere. It’s something that is durable, safe, and everlasting. But my twitching pincers will always be clicking their claws for friendship too.
When I got married this year, I was one of those women that had eight bridesmaids. One by one, little pieces of my heart floated down the aisle behind me, in an assortment of fluttering dresses. As the sun set and the spirits soared, my ladies and I sat huddled on hay bales by the light of the fire, laughing till we wheezed, fingers entwined. We are the sort that have six hour phone calls, that can read each other’s minds, that gallop in fancy dress into the woods for a sing song and a frolic.
I take real pride in the love and energy that I put into my friendships, and thrive on the love that I get in return. I want to lift my friends up, help them believe in themselves, let them know that they are adored and admired. But of course, getting to this stage is a process, and for all of my maternal warmth, I do also possess a sharp set of pruning shears. Like any good relationship, there needs to be a balance of respect and kindness, a feeling of growth and not regression. Straw hat and gardening gloves on, a basket of strawberries by my side, I tend to my friendship plants with a ruthless vigour. Because when a weed gets into your garden, the damage it inflicts can be significant.
I’ve had a few friends in my life that I could class as toxic. So have you. Friends that make you feel like a sounding board for their problems, without ever asking you how you are. Friends that tell you to lay off the cake, while helping themselves to another slice. Friends that always find a way to slide a little slither of self-doubt into your heart. I believe that my garden is in excellent shape these days, with a beautiful variety of flora. From the strong old trees of my childhood friends, their roots deep and dependable, to the glossy leaves and shimmering petals of those that are a few years old; established, but still surprising. Here and there are scattered the seedlings of friendships new, little green tendrils stretching up to the sky as we cautiously embark on the journey of getting to know each other. I am happy to say, that there are no weeds in my garden.
However, toxicity in friendship is extremely common, and more than half of those in my garden have some weeds in their own. But how do you recognise when a friendship has ceased to be nurturing? How can you tell when the relationship is actively beginning to do you harm? To start, try asking yourself these questions:
How do they make you feel?
Now, we can all have bad days. Of course we can. Days where you feel a bit snappy and irritable, and maybe you can be a bit short with your friends. But if every time you see this friend you come away from it feeling drained, sad or a bit shit about yourself, it’s a pretty clear sign that the friendship may have gone toxic.
Do they ever ask how you are?
Most empaths *raises hand* are quite comfortable to give a bit more than they receive in friendships. We’re good listeners, and we genuinely enjoy helping others to feel heard, and feel good about themselves. But honey, you really need to be getting that back, too. If you find that you spend all of your time listening and never once being asked what’s going on in your life, it might be time to get those shears out.
Do they gossip about you behind your back?
Hearing that someone has been talking about you behind your back is never a pleasant feeling, particularly if it’s coming from someone that you considered a friend. While having a gentle gossip is pretty harmless, being cruel is not.
Do they criticise you?
I really don’t believe it’s the job of a friend to criticise – we have our mothers for that. We can certainly try to offer advice, if it’s welcome, but really the best thing that a friend can do is be supportive. If you find that you are constantly being told that you, your decisions or your actions are wrong, perhaps this person isn’t a real friend to you.
Do they try to manipulate you?
If you feel like your emotions or actions are being manipulated by a friend, it’s time to take a big step back. You have the right to make your own decisions, and to feel comfortable within your friendships.
Toxic friendships can take many forms, but the most important thing is to always pay attention to how you feel. Life is too short to waste on people that will try to drag you down, and when done right, a good friendship is one of the most precious things that you’ll ever have. You deserve to be surrounded by people who have your back and care about you, so listen to that little voice in your head if it’s telling you that you are unhappy, and move on.
Do you think you have a toxic friend in your life, and don’t know how to end it? You can have a read of this article to get some tips on how to handle the break up.