Since I was a little kid, I’ve had the mentality of “the more, the merrier” in life. So it’s always taken a lot for me to end a friendship. This has resulted in me swallowing a lot of things like back-handed compliments, unsolicited criticism, self-involved behavior, and lies. It can be exhausting to take all of this, but this is what I did for most of my life. In the past, I chalked it up to me being forgiving or patient with others, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve stopped making that excuse for myself. Over these last two years especially, I’ve learned to separate what is forgiveness and patience, from what is me sacrificing my own well-being. It’s allowed me to see who my real friends are, and who actually deserves my energy. My friendship circle has gotten smaller as a result, but it’s become stronger in the process.
At the end of July, I cut a friend out of my life who consistently exhibited all of the above-mentioned behaviors constantly. We had been friends for three years, so I made excuses for the amount of energy that I put into the friendship despite her toxic patterns. I didn’t want to cut her out, and I figured that since she had had some struggles in her early life and very clearly struggled with self-esteem, I needed to cut her a break. So I did that for years, as I’m sure many people have done for their toxic “friends.” Sometimes it’s easier to just go along with the unsolicited advice and underhandedness, than it is to stand up for ourselves. But since I have stopped putting energy into her, I have more emotional energy for myself and for people who actually treat me well.
As most people have experience with, toxic friends don’t become your friend by being toxic. This friend and I had met because she peppered me with compliments on my Instagram in 2017. It was a rough year for me, since I had just left a cult, so any positive affirmation was welcomed. I had a growing photography account at the time, and she followed me, and always kindly commented on my photos. At one point she sent me a DM, and told me she attended my high school with me. I ended up following her back, and exchanging numbers.
We had enough in common, and she seemed really chill. She liked nature and her dog, and painted as a hobby. She was going to school in the Midwest at the time, but was from my islands. When she came home for break, we met up at a Starbucks after a few months of occasional phone calls and texts. She was really different in real life, but not necessarily in a bad way. On the phone she had sounded like she had authority and always told me how loud and fun her and her family were. In person, she was extremely socially awkward and only spoke about her boyfriend, but I figured she was nervous or something, so I didn’t let it bother me. After that, I didn’t see her in person again for another year, but we texted and became better friends via long distance.
As soon as I moved to the Washington D.C. area, she started talking about wanting to visit. She always prided herself on being a “traveler,” but she had really only been to a couple of Western and Midwestern states, so I figured this would be good for her to branch out. I ended up moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains for school, but it was only a few hours from D.C., so around that time she decided she had enough funds to come visit. I let her know when my fall break was, so she could come for a day or two and I’d have the rest of my fall break to finish moving into my new apartment with my partner. She decided to come the day after our move-in date, and stay for the entirety of my fall break.
I considered telling her no, and telling her that I needed time to move in and not be exhausted. I considered saying that I would like some of my fall break to relax and not play tour guide for a visitor, and that my partner and I couldn’t afford to be feeding and transporting someone all over the state when we just got a new place. I ended up not saying anything though, because I knew she was flying all that way, and I felt guilty. I wanted to be a good friend, and I knew since she had never seen the East Coast, a few days would not be enough for her. So we moved in as fast as we could in a day, and didn’t have time to buy a couch, chairs, table, or any other of those essential home items. We turned storage Tupperware upside down and put blankets over them to use as tables, and we put pillows on the floor against the wall to use as a couch. It was the best we could do in a day, and I hoped she would be okay with living like that for the week. We put lots of gifts on her guest bed, and then drove up to pick her up from the airport in D.C. Despite the haste and the timing, I was so excited to see her again an to show her around.
Long story short, it was a rough visit. She couldn’t hold a conversation, because she wouldn’t ask us any questions. Instead, she had long one-sided conversations with us where she would just talk about her boyfriend or occasionally herself. After a day though, she started throwing backhanded compliments into the mix, and a lot of unsolicited advice. So when I ended up feeling exhausted, I told my partner how I was feeling and asked him about it. It was like blinders were removed. He pointed out how self-involved my friend was, and how while she may be awkward or missing home, she was still responsible for how she was speaking to me. I was making excuses for her mentally, so having someone on the outside help me connect the dots was validating. My family mentioned the exact same things (we stayed with them for a few days), so I felt a little better. She left after the week was up, and while I was relieved, I was also wary. I should’ve understood at that point that she probably wasn’t the best person to keep around, but instead, I just tried to be a better friend and hope for the best—as most empaths and overly apologetic people do.
I kept texting her, sending her money when she needed it or had an emergency, sending her gifts, and being as supportive as possible. That didn’t seem to help though, because the unsolicited advice became more plentiful, and so did the self-involvement, and the lack of reciprocity as far as kindness went. She would poke fun of our now furnished apartment on social media when I would post photos of it, reminding me of how it looked when she was there. She would call my partner by her boyfriend’s name (let’s call him Ethan), saying things often like “I’m so glad you found your Ethan,” and would comment on my partner’s tender Instagram posts about how much he loves me with unrelated stories about her boyfriend. She started lecturing me, as well as lecturing me on social media about everything from why I shouldn’t dislike generic neutral furniture so much, to what color my couch actually is…the list goes on.
The backhanded compliments got more plentiful as well (which included telling me it’s so great I’m “not trying so much” anymore, asking “did you give yourself bangs?”, as well as responding to our holiday card and letter with “I already knew all of it but it was still so cute,” among other zingers), and the self-involvement got more intense. She started only commenting on social media or responding to texts with how it related to her, and also began to respond to my Instagram stories and accuse me of making them about her. This past summer, she had posted a photo of her and her boyfriend on her story, and she was holding a subway sandwich in it from a distance. When I made my weekly veganism post on my story (something I did multiple times a week to advocate for non-human animal rights), she responded to it by saying that if I wanted to know if she was eating dairy, “you can always just ask…I’m not hiding anything,” assuming I had somehow known what the contents of her distant sandwich were, among other weird assumptions.
The lies became more obvious, and eventually I found out that she didn’t even graduate from my high school in the first place. She had homeschooled, taken an art class at my middle school for less than a year, and then gone to a Christian high school an hour or more away from my high school. She had attended for 11th grade, but then went and graduated from her Christian high school. It turned out that she also hadn’t grown up on the islands, but was from the mainland and grew up there. She advertised herself as a vegan activist and would tell me she was one, and then would post photos of her eating eggs, bacon, and seafood on Instagram stories from which she would block me. She told me she wasn’t a Christian, but then would later say she believed in God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, prayer, etc. and listened to worship music online. It was all so misleading, bizarre, and childish, and it was clear that she was trying to be someone that she wasn’t. I would never base who I hang out with on where they went to school, where they grew up, what they ate, or what religion they practiced, so it all seemed like such strange things to lie to me about.
On top of that, she became less and less supportive. She never asked about my trips (despite travel being a big part of my life), she unfollowed the photography page that we had met on, and she only focused on my hardships. If something was exciting, or something positive was in the works, she wouldn’t ask about it. She’d change the subject. She made fun of my food photos on my social media pages to her boyfriend, kept giving me random lectures, and bragged incessantly about herself (including about being humble, and being an “amazing writer”—complete with a mind boggling amount of grammatical mistakes). She even started to try and diagnose and analyze me when we’d have conversations (because unfortunately she is going to school to be a counselor—something I hope she benefits from before giving others advice). She started to make more negative posts online about people, and even body-shamed women for smiling with their lips curved in certain ways. I would only call her out when she was accusing me of something ridiculous, in which case she’d get defensive, blame it on her “toxic friends” for making her paranoid, and then spend a few days being extremely nice to me—complete with actual compliments.
I just kept thinking, “Who knows what she’s going through. Who am I to judge her? I’m not a perfect friend or person, so I should give her another break. Is it really that big of a deal?” So I remained her friend.
From the outside, this probably sounds pathetic—like of course I should have cut ties. But being someone who sees the best in people, I stalled. I kept thinking she’d become more supportive or more honest, or at least more self-aware. But it became more clear how disingenuous and toxic she was. I put less energy into her, but I tried to still be a friend. I also kept thinking of my own flaws, and thought that because I was a flawed person, I didn’t have a right to drop her.
The last straw came at the end of July. I do a lot of activism on my social media accounts, and that month I did a lot of mental health activism. One day I posted about the issues with making mental health an Instagram aesthetic, and about the damage done when people online suggest cure-alls for all of their followers generically. It was followed up with resources, and shout-outs to people who spread awareness about mental health, and suggestions for how to talk about mental health in ways that aren’t diagnostic or minimizing. This pissed her off. She responded to my story with some really heavy insults, while at the same time saying that what I was saying was true.
She was tone policing me, amidst the heavy-handed unsolicited criticism.
I was so tired of her behavior, and her gall to think that she could parent me and decide how I could speak on my platform. So I stood up for myself, and called her out. I told her she couldn’t parent me or keep giving me advice when it wasn’t asked for, and I let her know that as the posts said—this is a studied and important issue that needs to be spoken about. I addressed her accusations (including her saying this post would cause people to kill themselves- literally), and pointed out that she really shouldn’t be speaking to me like a child. She responded with a lot of loaded statements: she was constantly “holding back” from giving me advice because I can’t take it, and said that since she asked me for advice, I should ask her more often for advice. She also said that since she thought I had an “aesthetic” of sustainability online, it’s the same thing. She said she couldn’t give me “praise for everything” I do. I ended up writing a long response to address everything she said to me, and I’m pretty proud of it. I told her that she wasn’t my therapist, parent, teacher, or counselor. I told her she didn’t have a right to tell me what to do or say, or police my tone on my social media platforms. I said it wasn’t her place to lecture me or criticize me when her opinion isn’t being asked for. I made a deal with myself that how she responded to this would determine how much energy I put into her from now on.
She left it unread. She kept liking my posts and commenting on them as if we weren’t fighting, so I knew she was either in denial about the situation, or was being fake again. I waited for almost a week before deciding that since she was draining I would let her go. So I unfollowed her. I didn’t block her or anything, because I didn’t want to put more time into her. It felt like a breath of fresh air to not have the weekly condescension and unsolicited nuggets from her.
About two weeks later, it seemed that she noticed I unfollowed her, because all hell broke loose. She not only unfollowed me, but went back to the beginning of my Instagram (which I’ve posted at least weekly on for three years), and unliked every photo. She also went through my entire account and selectively deleted comments (that happened to be the most self-involved ones). She did the same thing to my partner, deleting comments. She unfriended us on Facebook, deleted photos with us in them, and promptly blocked us a few days later. It was weird and little creepy, but what came next was even worse.
It got back to me that she went on an Instagram story rant about me. She commented my name on the post she shared, and proceeded to publicly diagnose me with serious personality disorders. She claimed I lied about all of my successes, wasn’t real, and had roles in my head that everyone needed to play in my life, and said she cut me out of her life because of it. How she thought it wouldn’t get back to me, when most of her followers were people that I actually went to school with, is beyond me. This was unethical, and went against everything she was supposedly learning in her studies to be a counselor. You don’t publicly diagnose someone (especially with something you have no grounds for—she wasn’t my therapist).
At first, I was embarrassed, but then I just felt bad for her. She apparently had the time to write epistles on Instagram about how much other people apparently sucked, and she was delusional about it all. I had been nothing but supportive to her—imperfect, but kind, supportive and loving. But since she couldn’t handle not giving advice, that changed everything for her. Suddenly that was an excuse to lie about me, and share something so needlessly hateful online. I had some great friends who talked me through it and reminded me that I’m a good person and what some sad, angry girl says doesn’t define me. They also helped me realize that it’s okay to be a confident, assertive woman. Just because I’m not okay with friends tone policing me or dishing out criticism doesn’t mean I’m not humble or valid. It just means I’m empowered.
I’ve become a lot more selective about who I spend my resources on. I’m still open and social, but I only put effort into those who are honest and there for me. On top of it all, I’m more self-aware than ever before. I know I sometimes fail at things. I know I’m not successful at everything, and I know that maybe I don’t say the right things perfectly online. I know that. But I also know that I’m a human, and that I’m trying my best.
I know I’m a good person, and I know I’m a good friend, and it’s okay to end friendships with people who don’t treat me well.
I’ve had a lot of toxic friends in my life, but none of them were as toxic and unaware of themselves as this friend was. Cutting her out therefore was the biggest relief, and her creepy response to being stood up to was extremely telling. It sucked to be treated that way even after our friendship was over, but it let me know I made the right decision. I need to put my well-being first, and if that means ending friendships with those who don’t have my back, it’s the right thing to do.
While my story isn’t everyone’s, I know this is a common tale—remaining friends with someone who doesn’t have your back; putting up with unsolicited advice from unqualified and unasked people; feeling guilty for ending a friendship. The fact is you are not a bad person for standing up for yourself. That doesn’t make you mean. It doesn’t make you a fraud if you don’t succeed at everything you try. It doesn’t make you too sensitive or prideful if you don’t like being criticized by friends. Friends are not there to do that. Friends are not there to give you advice. Friends are there to love and support you, but when asked—yes, give counsel. Period.
With the new year looming, it’s a good time to live by that, and to look at your relationships. Who is there for you? Who drains you? I lost over three years of energy that I could have spent on actually kind people because I didn’t ask myself those questions. Don’t make that mistake. This is a fresh year, so embody that. Give yourself a fresh start, and if you have a toxic, chronic advice-giver in your life who’s just really unaware, stand up for yourself and move on. Your choice to do so is completely valid.
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Photo: Hiva Sharifi via Unsplash