Or in what I’m unofficially calling my “On not being an asshole” series, the entry with the title which should make you smile or grimace faintly if you were a young adult in the early 2000s.
Up front: I am not an inherently pleasant or nice person. I have never made any pretense of being one. I’m innately suspicious of people who put great stock in calling themselves “nice” or “good.” In fact, in many of my friendships, I’m the one you can be a little bit mean with when you need to be. Conversations with me are, generally speaking, a safe place for bitching.
So yeah, I complain about the people in my life. Honestly, it’s one of the ways I process things they do that make me unhappy or uncomfortable without causing endless scenes. I recognize it’s not always the best or healthiest way to deal with those feelings, but it is often expedient and very cathartic. And it avoids the sort of irreparable harm that would occur were I to have an actual fight with individuals I otherwise like.
(I have a very slow but brutal temper when it comes to people. Like a volcano, it may go off only once every hundred years, but when it does, it wreaks some serious devastation on the surrounding countryside.)
That all said, I don’t like to ditch friends. I have consciously cut off three people in my whole life–one of whom is a friend again after some years of distance. All three of these friends were in incredibly self-destructive places in their lives and I could feel the vortex of their nihilism dragging me into it.
I don’t necessarily regret these breaks for that reason. But I do feel guilty–still–for ditching.
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the many, many articles about the graceful art of removing “toxic friends” in the last few years set my teeth on edge. Toxicity, in these cases, is a nebulous concept. Generally speaking, it seems to mean people who make you feel badly about yourself. People who take advantage of your kindness. People who make unreasonable demands.
That this seems to be a problem discussed mainly for middle/upperclass white women should escape no one. (I would know as a middle-class white woman.)
The reality is, of course, that none of us are as kind to each other as we should be. We say hurtful things. We fail to be supportive. We are ungenerous. We push our advantage. We behave selfishly. We are hypocritical. Everyone is the toxic friend sometimes. No one is a purely good or purely nice person, however they might need to see themselves that way. We all have shitty days and we all hurt each other, even when we don’t mean to.
If your friend doesn’t steal from you, stash drugs at your house, put you or your family in danger, or abuse you, I’m pretty sure you can work it out. And honestly, maybe that person is having a hard time. Maybe they feel badly about themselves. It may not justify unpleasant behavior, but don’t forget–that’s the case for you too when you act like an asshole because you’re unhappy.
Now, if you don’t enjoy being around someone enough to put up with their shit the way they put up with your shit, you don’t have to be friends with them. But don’t congratulate yourself on escaping a toxic relationship. Don’t pat yourself on the back for being brave. Don’t turn them into the villain of your story. Be honest. And don’t diminish the lot of people who actually have to extricate themselves from untenable situations.
We’re all a little bit toxic. But we can be less so, if we deal with the things that make us unhappy or uncomfortable in constructive ways. Even if it’s only letting off some steam sometimes.
By the way, friends of mine, I’m sorry that I complain about you. You’re no more toxic than I am and I promise not to ditch you even when we annoy each other. Instead, we’ll just keep doing our best.