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Susan Shapiro Barash

Why Women Can’t Weed Out Their ‘Toxic Friends’

"Why Women Can't Weed Out Their Toxic Friends"

Indeed, we've all had a toxic friend or two along the way. Or been toxic ourselves at some point in our lives, even though this might be hard to admit. For women, the idea of having a difficult friend is a serious matter. Women place such an emphasis on their female bonds and expect so much in return that when it goes awry, it can be devastating.

Interestingly, this applies to women of all ages, and while we might expect that a seasoned woman of 45 would be wiser and have better radar when it comes to her female friends, this isn't always the case.
In fact, the travesties of friendship, as well as the rewards, plague women for most of their lives. Thus, the issues, experiences and disappointments remain, and women tend to repeat their patterns.

Women meet their friends in myriad ways; at work, through mutual friends, through children, in support groups, through reading clubs and group activities. Among the women we befriend, some are long standing relationships with a history, while others are new and unknown to us on some level. Either way, we encounter the following scenarios: a friend who doesn't wish you well, a friend who only talks about herself, a friend who encourages you to wear a really unbecoming outfit, the friend who cancels at the last minute. And what about the friend who steals your boyfriend or your job, or ends up excluding you after you invite her into your inner sanctum?

The irony is that we're supposed to be devoted, steadfast friends. This is what women are searching for. In our fast paced society with our intense schedules, including careers, love lives, children, women look to their women friends for solace and support. No wonder they're so distraught when the experience isn't all that it's meant to be. The salient question becomes, what do we do about the friendships that are suboptimal, or those where tensions have begun? What do women do about the unhealthy friendships that they're more inclined to hang onto than to end? Women resist ‘the breakup' and avoid the finality of ending a friendship because the idea of confronting a friend is unpleasant. Instead the excuses are endless. They run the gambit from the fact that this is a childhood friend to recalling how she helped when one's dog was hit by a car to how she car pools your twins. But, in fact, the underlying reason is that women dread the aftermath of losing a friend and frequently remain in unhappy friendships with other women as a result. Losing a friend feels like failure and churns up guilt and pity. Besides, women, of all ages, don't like to be alone and feel disenfranchised, but prefer to be part of a group. -

To this end, it might work best to revisit these friendships and assess what works and what doesn't. If you care enough about the friend to renegotiate the relationship, then you can sit down and discuss the situation. It also pays to be introspective and ask yourself if you are doing all that you can to foster the relationship - sometimes we're too quick to find fault without considering our own actions. If there is more negative than positive however, and if the friend is harming your life or has done something reprehensible, then it is time to take the leap, and to ditch the friend. Of course, after this bold move, it is wise to choose carefully with the next new friend - who could be your Thelma or Louise.


About the Author

Susan Shapiro Barash is the author of eleven books of nonfiction women's issues and teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College.