Once upon a time, I had a friend. I had read her blog for years, and she read mine. She lived in the city I was moving to for school, and we were excited to meet and finally be IRL pals. But the more I hung out with this person, the more wary I became. I started to notice some troubling patterns: Sometimes I would try to tell her something I thought she’d think was funny, and she’d cut me off midsentence to tell me how stupid it was. She rarely asked me to hang out, and when I asked her, she often flaked on me or wouldn’t answer my texts. On top of all that, she would legit insult me on a regular basis. She’d make digs at me for being uncool (because I had so few friends and rarely went out) or for writing for Rookie, which she liked making fun of. She even started subtweeting disparaging things that were obviously about me.
If we’d been closer, I would have confronted her about these things and tried to save the friendship, but things being as tentative as they were, I decided instead to cut my losses. I stopped trying to contact her, and, unsurprisingly, she never picked up the slack. Luckily, this was right around the time she left New York City for a while, so I didn’t have to run into her at any of the hangout spots we both frequented.
he was always questioning my personal choices (like where I go to school) and actions (like my writing). One day I couldn’t take it anymore. He was on and on about something—I think he was saying mean things about my then-boyfriend—and I was like “fuck this” and told him to never contact me again. He has respected that request. It seemed like the only way to avoid being talked to that way.
Yeah, so maybe I’m a li’l dramatic, but I live by the great Amy Poehler philosophy of “anybody who doesn’t make you feel good, kick them to the curb.” It seems so simple, right? Don’t be friends with jerks. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fangirled over some cool person who I was dying to be friends with, then when I met and actually hung out with them, I realized they were not the nicest person—and yet it took me forever to cut them out of my life. Like the young writer whose work I really admired but who, upon meeting me (several times!), wouldn’t even acknowledge my presence when I tried to make conversation.
I wish I were the kind of person who doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of her, but I cannot deny that if someone I think is awesome tells me I’m totally uncool for liking Grimes or caring about school or not knowing a certain artist or anything, it makes me wonder if they’re right and I’m actually really stupid and horrible. Even worse, I start changing my opinions to match theirs, which is a pretty terrible way to be. When you’re surrounded by people who dismiss you for being you, you’re going to start to dismiss yourself.
I’m not talking about constructive criticism. Friends call out friends. Friends can also get into arguments. But when someone is being malicious, that’s not friendship. A friend saying, “Hey, please don’t be so hard on yourself about your weight” is completely different from someone saying, “Stop talking about how fat you are—nobody wants to hear about it.” When a so-called friend makes you feel bad, it’s hard to stop holding out hope that one day, this person will be nicer to me. Nobody likes feeling insecure. Nobody wants to be made fun of. Sometimes, we don’t want to admit that someone’s laughing at us and not with us, so we laugh too and try shrug it off.
I spent most of my teen years accepting this kind of garbage behavior from “friends.” People would insult my intelligence, my introverted nature, my clothes, whatever—and I would just keep hanging out with them! In my tiny high school, I had a limited choice as to whom I could even hang out with, and I figured if I wanted to be “normal” I needed to have friends, even if they weren’t actually right for me. I was also worried about being “mean” to people who were hurting my feelings. I mean, what? They sure weren’t worried about that vis-à-vis my feelings, and anyway, there’s nothing mean about protecting yourself.
Once I’d reached a point in my life when I’d found what I call “true friends”—people who, like my fellow Rookie writers and some of of my college classmates, value my opinions and respect me—I learned that I’d rather not waste my time hanging out with underminers, snootypantses, and saboteurs. Those are the people who may seem like friends on the surface, but who get angry at you for being successful, happy, or confident. That’s called jealousy, which may have been what some of my ex-friends felt about me. Or maybe they just hated me for random reasons. The point is, I’m no longer interested in sticking around to figure out why. It finally dawned on me that this is my life, and I get to choose who gets to be part of it. It seems obvious, but it’s so easy to forget.
I’m lucky that I learned to avoid toxic people at a relatively young age, but I wish I had learned it at, like, age two. So let me bonk you on the head now: THIS IS YOUR LIFE, AND YOU GET TO CHOOSE WHO GETS TO BE PART OF IT. You will never stop running into people who are jealous and insecure and who thrive on pulling other people down to their level. But you don’t have to listen to them. You don’t have to pay any attention to them whatsoever.
If you’re looking to end a toxic friendship in your own life, Amy Rose’s article about platonic breakups has helpful pointers on doing just that. I will only add that you are 100 percent entitled to kick anyone out of your life that you want to, for any reason! It’s not elitist, stuck-up, or “too picky” to weed out the people who BRING YOU DOWN. You don’t owe anyone your time and friendship, especially if they’re not making you happy. Seriously, some people are just mean, and “I don’t like her/him” is a good enough reason to cut ties with a person.
Not to sound like a L’Oreal commercial, but you deserve great friends because you’re worth it. If someone insults you on the internet, feel free to block them. Is someone starting shit in the comments under one of your status updates? Unfriend them. It’s not ridiculous or an overreaction, it’s being true to what’s comfortable for you, which is all that counts, because you are you! And can I say? It’s totally satisfying! Seriously, it is the best thing. It feels like self-care, because it is. Life is too short to waste your time on people who bring bad vibes into your life. Let’s all pull a Poehler and kick ’em to the curb for good. ♦