What adults can learn from middle school—the Top 5 signs your friend is not a friend worth keeping.
Why does your neck stiffen when you hang up the phone with a best friend? Start paying attention to the warning signs of a true bad friend.
For years, there was a familiar voice replaying in my head every time I got off the phone with one of my best friends. It was not my own that I heard because I had not found my words yet to describe this feeling I was having. The voice was not my mother’s who would have frowned upon the situation as if I should know better by now, nor was it my then-boyfriend’s whose interpretation of the obvious I ignored. It was Oprah’s.
Having been an avid follower of everything Oprah, and a lifelong subscriber to O, The Oprah Magazine, since its inception, a long-ago read column has stuck with me ever since; it was an ah-ha moment on how to determine when a best friend is truly a bad friend.
As I recall, it boiled down to this for Oprah: When you hang up the phone, ask yourself, “Do I feel better, or do I feel worse?” If you feel worse, then it is time to make some decisions about how to get the love you need, or how to extricate yourself from the kind of pain you don’t need to be finding among your friends. The world has plenty of that to offer you elsewhere.
What makes a frenemy? A Feature writer at O, The Oprah Magazine, named Paige Williams could not have defined it more brilliantly, and humorously, in her article called The Friendship Detox: How to Say Goodbye and Good Riddance. This article has stayed with me long after I read it because I, too, have had to ask myself what makes a frenemy? And, more importantly, why when something good happens to me does it sound like my friend is chewing shards of broken glass as she spits out her atta-girl?
For years, I put the phone-test to the test, and for years I always got the same answer: stiff neck, tight shoulders, feeling worse, much, much worse. If there was a battered friend syndrome, I am sure I would fit the profile. I offered the first line of defense for her brashness, her selfishness, her utter misunderstanding of anything I thought could calm her, sooth her, present solutions to her problems. Had I done something to deserve her cutting me to the quick? I didn’t get it, but I forgave it time and again, and again, and again because I thought she was my true best friend.
She finally became so contentious over random topics of conversation that I felt like I was becoming an unwitting sparring partner for her verbal jabs. This was not part of my training in Friendship 101. I only attended courses on how to love a friend through a difficult time, and how not to be too burdensome a friend by unloading every single problem you have every single time you’re together. I lost sleep. Lots and lots of sleep, which is precious to me. But, I knew it meant I had to say goodbye. As soon as it was over, my peaceful slumber returned immediately.
As a middle school teacher, I have seen my share of tear-stained children (both boys and girls) crying in my room at lunch over a best friend who has suddenly turned out to be a bad friend.
For students grappling with the mysteries of why best friends sometimes aren’t the best friends for us to have, just know this is a question that will plague you into adulthood—we don’t have all the answers.
I happen to love the best friend character of Rebecca Benson I created in my first novel Heroes Don’t Always Wear Capes because every kid should know what it’s supposed to look like when a true friend stands up for you.
But, here are a few tips on how you can tell it is time to un-friend your friend.
1)After talking to your friend, do you feel better or worse? If you experience a tightening in your neck, shoulders, or a heaviness in your heart, believe me, you feel worse.
2)Has your friend spilled the beans on one or more of your secrets? If you cannot trust a friend, you do not have a friendship, you have an arrangement. What are you getting out of it? What is she? Hopefully, you are not giving more than you are getting. The best friendships have balance.
3)When something really great happens for you, is your friend truly, enthusiastically giddy about your good news? Or is there a jab, a stab, a comment to be made through what sounds like a mouthful of broken glass?
4)Does your friend talk about the personal problems of her other friends to you? Guess what? She is also talking to them about yours. Loose lips sink ships, not just world war battle ships, but friendships included.
5)Are you losing sleep over the worry of ending a bad friendship? End it and find out how a good night’s sleep is supposed to feel. If you are wrong, you can always take it back; a true friend will forgive the error of your ways.
Blog question: Do you have any other warning signs that your friend is not a friend?