By Andrea Martinez
When I was in the third grade, I met a girl named Lorrie.
She was smart, pretty, and talented in things like art and dance, but was not very well-liked among our peers. For us third graders, she was sort of the Regina George everyone loved to hate. That was the first year she and I shared a classroom and subsequently, a friend group. It was when our territories merged that things started to get ugly. Our nine-year-old world was filled with gossip and silly rumors, which involved Lorrie telling some of our friends not to hang out with me. In return, I said some petty, mean things about her was well. I found myself as Lorrie’s competition due primarily to the fact that we had a lot in common – so much we could even have been great friendsThe problem was, we were too similar, and our tying for first place academically that year did not do much for our unspoken rivalry.
It was only that year that we were frenemies. The rest of our elementary years, I did not care enough about competing with anyone to worry about Lorrie, but I knew I could not trust her with whatever secrets I had as a ten-year-old. Because we were involved in a lot of the same activities, we spent a lot of time together and shared several good laughs. Once we parted ways for middle school, I never heard of Lorrie again.
Though the Lorrie-situation in third grade was silly and laughable, this type of relationship is not uncommon for girls to experience. Friendships where the people involved are competing with each other are just as petty when you are 21 as when you are nine, but they are more serious and potentially more damaging as we age.
A toxic friendship is one where people either are indifferent or intentionally seek to hurt their “friend.” It is one where you feel there are certain things you cannot say because you are afraid the person you are supposed to trust will use them against you, or when you need to talk to your friend about something important but don’t find the time to reciprocate when he or she needs you, or when you can hang out with someone because it is fun, but feel like you are constantly competing with the person to at least some extent – who got a better grade? Who has a better job? Who looks nicer in her jeans?
Though these things all sound petty, the fact is that girls are taught to be in constant competition. We are taught to live through a string of paradoxes – being skinny but not too skinny, having curves but not being fat, being smart but also being fun and cute, and so much more that even with our friends we may sometimes feel that we need to be as good as them or better, even if it’s just subconsciously.
Most people have at least experienced one toxic friendship, and may even be in one today. The problem is knowing that you are in it and being unable to get out. It may seem like it is not a big deal. You may feel like every friendship has problems, that you still share good moments with someone and that is all that matters. Truthfully, people do make mistakes and have personal situations to address, which may detract from giving any one person their undivided attention. There is really no such thing as a perfect friend. But toxic friendships are different, and really are damaging. The inability to feel comfortable and safe around someone who is a constant presence in your life messes with your sense of trust and self-worth.
On the other hand, a good friendship is one that overcomes the societally-influenced drive to compete with other girls for looks, intelligence, partners, and so forth. It is one that shifts from being a Blair-Serena Gossip Girl friendship to a Leslie-Ann Parks and Recreation one. A good friendship is one in which people may hurt each other, but never intentionally. Friends, especially girlfriends, should be each other’s biggest supporters. If a friendship is worth saving, having a good, honest conversation, even a little arguing, should help strengthen a bond. But if a relationship seems too competitive and damaging, and you feel less supported than you do vulnerable, then don’t stay. The best way to end a toxic friendship is by cutting people off. Just do it. It will hurt like any other breakup, but when you are surrounded only by people who build you up, it will be worth it. Friendship is powerful – it provides you with a partner-in-crime, a confidante, and a love based on accepting you as you are, no strings attached, from someone who chooses to do so when she could have chosen anyone else. That person is one who, regardless of the distance or hectic schedules, will answer your call at 2 A.M. There are some things you just can’t do halfway, and one of those is being a friend – either you’re in or you’re not. It may seem like a good friend is hard to find, but the thing is, there are over 7 billion people on this planet; what makes this fact so great is that you don’t have to settle for poor company, or for someone who makes you feel less than what you are.