The Delicate Balance of Who to Ditch and Who to Keep

The Delicate Balance of Who to Ditch and Who to Keep

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By Susan Shapiro Barash

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Although in theory, if not in practice, when we're ready to give up our unhealthy friendships, deciphering the friend worth ditching and the friend worth keeping remains an issue. For instance, some women have confided in me that practically all of their friends are toxic on some level. Surely, they can't all be dropped because, where would that leave the women? And while these appear to be extreme cases, there are plenty of us who stick with a less than optimal friend because we don't have the guts to do anything about it and dread any repercussions. It's worth exploring at the start of a new year and a new decade, when we feel wise, informed, and fortified, the reasons why we are willing to keep certain friends and do a clean sweep of a few others.

The initial hesitation occurs when we consider the time spent on such relationships and the intimacy required. Cultivating any kind of friendship at all has risks and once you've put yourself on the line, despite the pitfalls, it's difficult to start from scratch. For this reason, serious doubts about letting go get churned up. The 'devil you know' mentality lingers over many unhappy friendships; including those that are male/male, female/ female and female/male. After all, who else will put up with our idiosyncrasies, our bad habits, and what about all those shared secrets? Remember how the Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil was destroyed socially in Les Liaisons Dangereuses by the letters she had exchanged with the Vicomte Sebastien de Valmont once he had had enough, and turned against her? And in modern times, the most vicious leader—think Mean Girls—often yields the most power. Few of us have the courage to distance ourselves from a popular mean girl and suffer the consequences, even if we feel that we've been mistreated. The idea of being disenfranchised makes us vulnerable and able to rationalize almost any friendship scenario. In these situations, one will stay, perhaps fully aware of the implications, absolutely aware of the consequences of leaving.

On the other hand, the new year does elicit a new resolve and in the early days, a fresh outlook as well. If this is applied to a friendship that has been devastating—the friend stole your boyfriend, your husband, your job—there is no time like the present to move on. For the friend who has crossed the line, the attraction and allure are over. Once trust is no longer part of the equation, that's enough to tip the scales in favor of a break-up. Whatever notion that the friendship could be saved has been dispelled and out of self respect and self discovery, we exit. Consider the dark relationship between Cate Blanchett's character in Notes on a Scandal, seduced and betrayed by Judi Dench's character. In this cautionary tale, Blanchett's character realizes too late how toxic her friend is, and is ruined.

And so, as usual, there is the gray area to contend with, when the friend is not reprehensible but the relationship is flawed nonetheless. This friend might be happiest when you’re at your lowest, she might be opportunistic, a taker, an energy thief. Still, you share a history, and you’ve actually grown accustomed to this friend’s style and all her tricks. Again that reluctance to take a final step, to end a friendship, gnaws at us and we don’t feel ready. At this juncture, one has to be introspective, and ask the salient question—what do you get out of the relationship? Remaining friends with someone whom you doubt on some level is about who you are as much as who she is.

Take Susan's Toxic Friends Quizes:

Wondering what type of friend you might be, or how your various friends should be classified?
Take Ms. Barash's quizes and let's just see!

What Kind of Friend Are You?

1. Are you a worthy friend or just heading up the group?

~Are you fair to your friends?
~Can you be insincere if it helps your role among friends?

2. Do you question what you offer your friends?

~Do you listen ad nauseum to their stories?
~Do your friends sometimes ignore you?

3. Do you give and give without any return?

~Do you get too involved with your friends' dramas?

~Are you a boring friend?

4. Can you be jealous of a friend's good fortune?

~Are you looking for friends with bad news?
~Do you like having friends with bleak love lives?

5. Do you blatantly social climb?
~Do you tire of friends who can't advance your agenda?

~Are you short tempered with sincere friends?

6. Do you  pretend  your friends are special?
~Are you capable of undermining a friend? 

~Is it true you can't be trusted?

7. Do you get your friends invited places? 

~Are you the person everyone wants to be with?
~Do people try to win you over?

8. Do you and this friend feel exclusive -- no one else counts as much?

~Have you shared experiences with one another?

~Do you view life the same way?

9. Do you sometimes feel you spill too much information?
~Have you ever felt as if you've failed this close friend?

~Do you feel your friends are grateful to you?

10. Do you have your friend's best interests in mind?
~Do you have a high tolerance for your friends' problems?

~Are you faithful to a fault?

Answers are:
1- you are a leader, 2- you are a doormat, 3- you are a sacrificer, 4- you are a misery lover, 5- you are a user, 6- you are a frenemy, 7- you are a trophy friend, 8- you are a mirroring friend, 9- you are a sharer, 10- you are an authentic friend.

Who is Your Toxic Friend?

1. Can this friend make or break your social life? 

~Are you afraid to cross her because she has so much power? 

~Do you go to great lengths to be part of her group?

2. Is your friend more beaten down by life than you are? 

~Is she a drag to be around most of the time?
~Is she annoyingly malleable?

3. Is your friend willing to go out on a limb for you? 

~Would you feel guilty if you dumped her?
~Does she secretly use people at times?

4. Is this friend happiest when you're sad and blue? 

~Does she have a worse story than anyone else? 

~Has she ditched friends when they get happy?

5. Is this friend oblivious to your needs? 

~Is she charming but untrustworthy? 

~Is she a social climber?

6. Has this friend ratted you out? 

~Do you think you have to have her as a friend? 

~Does she pretend she's happy for you when you know she can ruin you?

7. Is this friend seductive? 

~Do you feel like you're missing out without her? 

~Is she a 'mean girl' but wired socially?

8. Do you think that you and this friend are 'twins'?
~Do you share the same thoughts and ideas? 

~Is it harder to be close if one of you is changing (a break-up, a move, a new job)?

9. Is this friend someone who forgives? 

~Even though this friend is fabulous, can you get burned out? 

~Do you tell one another secrets?

10. Do you know this friend will be there in a pinch?
~Are your values similar? 

~Would life be less without this friend?

Answers are:
1- your friend is a leader, 2- your friend is a doormat, 3- your friend is a sacrificer, 4- your friend is a misery lover, 5- your friend is a user, 6- your friend is your frenemy, 7- your friend is a trophy friend, 8- your friend is a mirroring friend, 9- your friend is a sharer, 10- your friend is an authentic friend.

This article previously appeared in the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

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Friendships: The Challenges and Joys
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About the Author

Susan Shapiro Barash is an established writer of nonfiction women’s issue books and has authored twelve books, including Toxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Friendships and You're Grounded Forever ... But First Let's Go Shopping. She teaches gender studies Marymount Manhattan College and is a  well recognized gender expert.  Barash is frequently sought out by newspapers, television shows, and radio programs to comment on women’s issues and blogs for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

For more information or to purchase her books, please visit her website

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