How to Judge Whether a Friendship is Toxic

While Kylie Jenner only mentioned 2016 as the year of realizing things, I never seem to run out of hard truths to reflect upon each year. In 2018, I have decided to make a commitment to myself that involves letting go of people who aren’t good for me. I have learned through my own experiences, and those of my closest friends, that spending time and effort on the wrong people can be extremely damaging. While you won’t want to “give up” on the people that you are close to, it's not a crime to make yourself a priority. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. It is ultimately your responsibility to be in control and look out for your own well-being.

Let me tell you a bit about the primary inspiration behind this article. When I decided to come to Ottawa for university, I was mostly worried about losing my friendships from high school. Some friends were staying at home and commuting, while others chose Ottawa like me. My best friend, however, actually decided to go to school in the States. Talk about a long-distance friendship! Anyways, first year wasn’t so bad because I still felt a really strong connection to the people that I knew from high school. While it was a challenge to keep in touch because of everyone’s crazy and opposite schedules, I still felt like my high school friends were the same people that I grew up with. However, it soon became very apparent that things had changed and that the people that I thought I would be friends with for the rest of my life would no longer be a part of it. At first, this was really hard to adjust to because I would never want to give up on someone who had been such a huge part of my life. However, it's emotionally exhausting to give time and effort to a friendship that isn’t contributing to your life in a positive way. With the stresses of school and of the beginning of your adult life, you can most definitely invest that time more meaningfully. So here is my advice for you when it’s time to finally let that friendship go.

They’re not your type.

Newsflash: types aren’t just for dating anymore! Seriously, I’m not kidding. This is the most important thing that I’ve learned and it’s honestly been really helpful in taking away the initial feeling of bitterness. First of all, you need to know what type of person you are. For example, I am the kind of person that enjoys intense friendships where I can really depend on the person and have “deep” conversations with them about intimate subjects. I’d rather have three amazing friends that I can really vibe with, than twenty friends who will say hi and make small talk when they happen to see me. It doesn’t matter if they’re a party person or a bookworm and, as long as they are there for me, I will be there for them. However, you might be the complete opposite. A person can enjoy having many casual friendships where everyone enjoys having fun as a group, without getting into touchy subjects. You might be more selective or less selective about what kind of person can be your friend. There’s nothing wrong with being one way or the other, but it can mean that if you and your friend are opposites, the friendship might not be compatible and may lead to conflict later on. This theory explained so much about why I've stayed in touch with some people rather than others. It also helped me realize that the breakdown of a friendship is not necessarily the result of a friend wronging you. It can be the result of your personality simply not clicking with who they are. When you start to value different things in life and really come into your own as an adult, you may need to move on and that’s perfectly okay.

They take advantage of you.

This seems like kind of a no brainer but, in my experience, I’ve seen a lot of people put up with a friend or significant other for a long time, despite how badly they are being treated. While being friends with someone means that you're willing to help them out, it’s important to realize that what you do for them is actually an act of kindness and support. This means that you offer and are willing to do certain things because this person is important to you, adds value to your life and because you care about them. However, you are under no circumstances obligated to go the extra mile for friends that don’t appreciate you and begin to get demanding. It’s good to be kind but you should be able to stand up for yourself when you start to feel unappreciated or like you’re being forced to do something that you shouldn’t have to do.

They’re not there for you when you need them.

In a way, there’s a connection between this issue and the previous one. Typically when a person starts to feel like they’re being taken advantage of, it’s usually noticeable because the dynamic of the friendship changes from a somewhat equal give-and-take to a “wow they’re really taking a lot and I’m not receiving anything from them in return”. It’s not that a friendship should be about keeping score but if you are consistently there for them and they’re nowhere to be found when you’re in trouble, it’s time to re-evaluate the friendship. In my opinion, it’s not fair to expect someone to share in your happiness and burdens when you don’t care about how they are in return. A good friendship should have reciprocal effort and understanding. In university specifically, when everyone is busy and out doing their own thing, it’s not an excuse to just “not have time” for your friends. If you value a friendship, you will put in the effort and make the time to see them.

You can’t explain why you’re friends with them.

If you were to ask yourself “Why am I friends with [person’s name]?” right now, would you be able to answer? You probably could but a valid answer is NOT “We’ve known each other for so long.” or “We go to school together.” There should be something about this person that you really admire and value. It could be an ability they have such as they’re a good listener or they really know how to take your mind of things when you’re sad. It could also be a trait like how brave or how kind they are. If you cannot answer this question with a meaningful answer, the friendship is probably one of opportunity and will not last when you no longer see each other.

They’re condescending or just generally rude to you.

This is the issue that annoys me the most on this list, specifically as it relates to university. I completely understand that getting into your dream university, being in a challenging program and getting a 99% in all your classes are achievements to be proud of and I couldn’t be happier for you. However, none of that is an excuse to make snippy comments about how a friend is doing in school or what program they may have chosen. I think that I speak for all my arts and social science majors when we are constantly looked down at for not being in a math or science program. A good friend, on the other hand, will be supportive of whatever career path you choose and will not constantly be making references to how much harder they work than you or how easy your classes must be. They also shouldn’t make you feel like you need to justify or prove yourself to them. If your friend in question is making you feel like you’re not good enough for any reason, you need to cut them loose.

While these criteria may seem like common sense to you, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have been wise enough or brave enough to let go of a toxic friend, had I not experienced the heartbreak firsthand. I would hate for anyone else to have to learn the hard way, just because no one has told them that they deserve better. I hope that you will learn from what I’ve been through and apply these principles to your own life. If you take the teeniest bit of time to reflect on your friendships, you may realize something that was right in front of you all along. 


Sources: Cover