Friendships are vitally important for our happiness; everybody knows that. The exploration of close friendships has been integral to the success of pop culture hits that run the gamut from the obviously-titled Friends to Marvel’s sprawling Avengers franchise. A University of Michigan study found that friends, not family, help you to live a longer, happier life. And this is especially true for women. One study found that over half of the women interviewed valued their relationship with their best friend more than their relationship with their husband.
In school, popularity is defined by how many friends you have. If everybody loves you, then you’re one of the elite few who can claim they’re one of The Cool Kids. As adults, research shows the number of close friendships we actually need might be a lot smaller than our high school days led us to believe.
The aforementioned study found that those who reported maximum happiness had between 4-5 close friendships, with those who had 2-3 coming right behind them on the satisfaction scale. Don’t worry if you only have one close friend. You’re still 50 percent happier than those who report having only acquaintances.
So if we don’t need that many close friends, we can afford to be a little picky about who we let into our inner circle.
First, let’s differentiate the various types of friendships. According to Aristotle, there are really only three types of friendships:
1.) Friendships of utility: These are the people you chat with at work but don’t really know, that one mom you share carpool duties with but aren’t close to, the mechanic who fixes your car without charging you an arm and a leg. These friendships serve a function. They keep the workplace civilized, help to lessen the daily work load, and fuel business transactions.
2.) Friendships of pleasure: This is that guy or girl you like to hook up with when you’re between relationships, your workout partner, or a group of buddies you only really hang out with during football season. You come together for mutual enjoyment, and you share at least one common interest, but you wouldn’t call them at 2 in the morning ugly-crying because you just got mugged. Or possibly need bail money.
3.) Friendships of virtue: The tried and true friends. These are the ones you can call at 2 am for any reason, because they know if you’re calling them at the crack of why-are-you-awake, something is horribly wrong. They’re the ones who know the real story behind why you have a tattoo of Pikachu dancing the Harlem Shake. (I don’t have that tattoo, but wouldn’t it be amazingly bad?)
Now that we have a better understanding of the three main types of friendships, we can delve into the nitty gritty the six types of friends you don’t need to count as one of your close friends. And, more importantly, why.
1.) The Soap Opera Star: You know the type. Everything is always about her. She always has to one-up everyone around her. When you get a new car, she gets a better, more expensive car. When one of your friends gets pregnant, she announces she’s going to have IVF so she stands a higher chance of having twins. When you have a cold, she suddenly has the worst case of the flu, and would you please bring her some chicken soup? And on and on it goes.
Not only is it catty and immature, but it’s given you heartburn and a new gray streak in your hair because the non-stop competition is driving you crazy. If she’s really fun to go clubbing with, knock her down from the inner circle to a friend you see once in a blue moon. Who knows? Maybe she’ll realize her friends are distancing themselves and ask herself why. It’s unlikely because these people tend to be shallow and self-absorbed, but anything is possible. But until that day, keep her at a distance.
2.) The Gossip Girl: You’re having a bad day. Something truly horrendous is going on, and you have to tell someone. You swear her to secrecy on pain of death, and she promises to never tell a soul. And yet… the next morning, you have 17 texts, 8 voice mails, and 5 messages on Instagram, all asking what the hell happened, and are you okay? Wait, what?! You will never make the mistake of trusting her again. Hopefully.
The good news is that gossips are easy enough to spot in advance. You know the type. “Don’t ever tell her I told you, but Sarah is leaving Steve!” If she’s telling you Sarah’s business, don’t you think she’s going to tell someone yours? Exactly. Cut this one out of your life. Even if she’s fun. Even if she’s “so sweet.” Because she is going to talk about you, and if you don’t give her anything to talk about, she might just make something up.
3.) The Reverse Cheerleader: You have a new job, and you’re super excited. You can’t believe something this amazing has happened to you. All your other friends congratulate you, ask you how you like the job, and are genuinely supportive. What you get from her? A grudging, “Hey, that’s great. I’m happy for you,” and then mutinous silence any time the topic of work comes up. You can feel the resentment pouring off of her in waves. Mention anything wrong in your life, and she’s glad to lend an ear. Mention anything good, and she becomes distant and cold.
This is a huge red flag. Friendship is reciprocal. When times are tough, we meet in a place of genuine empathy and do our best to help each other get through it. When things are going well, we celebrate each other’s successes as if they were our own. Someone who is spiteful and envious is not your friend. It’s okay to think, “Wow, Annie’s career has really taken off. I wish mine was going so well.” But if the thought is more along the lines of, “Why does Annie always get the best breaks? It’s not fair! It should be me!” Then we’ve crossed the line into resentment territory, and this type of person will gladly stab you in the back if it means they get ahead. Especially if it’s instead of you.
4.) The Debbie Downer: Nothing is ever good. Nothing. The emphasis is always on the worst aspect of every situation. They had a date and saw a movie, but the popcorn was stale, the soda was flat, and they ran out of gas on the way home. They have a great new job with a corner office, but the windows make it so drafty. Their kid made straight A’s, but can you believe that loser didn’t make the football team? If you bake them a pie, the crust was a little soggy, but, no, don’t worry, it still tasted okay. When you buy them a birthday present, the color isn’t really them, but thanks for the thought! Every single thing is tinged with negativity.
I am 100% against toxic positivity. You know those girls posting “no negative vibes ever” on Instagram who unfollow you because you complained when you broke your leg? The ones who refuse to watch the news because they can’t handle seeing anything distressing? Yeah, refusing to acknowledge a problem only causes it to fester. It isn’t possible to always be a little ray of sunshine. But constant negativity will kill you. This one is tricky, because some people have depression, or they could be going through a divorce or another traumatic event. I don’t subscribe to toxic positivity’s “cancel culture,” which says it’s totally okay to ditch someone for “lowering your frequency.” But you have to remember that, according to science, negativity is contagious. Vaccinate yourself. Take steps to back away from “co-brooding,” where you both sit there bitching about everything, and start to “co-reflect” instead. Understand the problem. See how you can improve it. Then move on to another topic.
5.) The Frosted Flake: They’re going to meet you in a half hour, but they suddenly text saying something came up. It’s okay. It happens. You’ll meet up next week instead, but then something else comes up. They miss your birthday party because they have a work deadline, but you see pictures of them out clubbing all over Facebook. You always go shopping together on Black Friday, but… sorry, she’s going with her mom this year. (Spoiler alert: She’s probably just ditching you again.)
This is the type of friend you can cut out of you inner circle with relative ease simply because… you rarely ever see them anyway. Maybe have a chat with them and let them know you miss spending time with them. Maybe they didn’t realize how much they were ditching you. Or maybe they’ll ghost altogether. You never know. Whether they have a new bestie, a new partner, or you’ve just grown apart, you’ll be much happier when you stop setting yourself up for a sad evening spent on the couch watching Netflix because your plans fell through… again. Take a pottery class and make friends with someone who is dedicated enough to show up every week and get her hands dirty instead of moping over someone who won’t make time for you.
6.) The Asshole: This one should be self-evident, but you would not believe the number of people who are friends with assholes and wonder why they always feel like shit after spending time with their “best friend.” You’re a devout Catholic, and your Atheist friend always jokes about you talking to “Sky Man.” Or maybe you’re an Atheist, and your very Christian friend always tells you she “hopes you’ll accept Jesus into your heart.” Maybe your only goal in life is to be a mother of two, and your friend won’t shut up about how much they loathe children and won’t spend any time around yours. Maybe you don’t want kids, and your friend keeps telling you you’re not really a woman until you have a baby; it’s what you were born to do, and you’ll never know real love until you hold your baby; you’ll change your mind, you know.
I get it! Their beliefs — or lack thereof — are what they find comforting. Their values are what helped them to create a sense of self. They want their friends to experience the same level of joy they feel when they pray or meditate or read Dawkins. They love their children beyond reason and want you to feel the warm, fuzzy feelings they do when they look in on little Timmy sleeping at night. But when they know you have different beliefs and keep trying to help you “see the light,” they’re not actually helping. They’re just being an asshole. Sometimes you can get through to these people, but when they’re fanatical about it and determined to make you see how wrong you are, then they’re being disrespectful of your core beliefs and values. And that is not okay. That’s when it’s time to walk away.
Breaking up with a friend is never easy. You’ll even miss the flakes and the assholes, but it can be done, and sometimes it’s in your best interest to inventory the people you’ve invited into your heart and evaluate whether or not they’ve earned the right to be there.
Or maybe you were reading this list and said to yourself, “Oh, my God… I’m a Frosted Flake! I have to call Kelsey and apologize!” If you recognize yourself as one of the “toxic” friends and want to improve your friendships, take steps to correct your behaviors.
Confession time: I was the Asshole type. I went through a Militant Atheist Phase™ in college and would aggressively mock anyone who believed in a higher power. Bonus points if I could upset them by pointing out inaccuracies in the Bible. I am so fortunate that I didn’t lose any close friends because of it, but it did cause upset in my family. (I’ve got Irish priests and nuns in the family! Yikes!)
But I grew up. I calmed down. I became more open-minded and less adamant that anyone who disagreed with me was stupid. I’m no longer an Atheist, nor am I a Christian, but I consider myself spiritual. That doesn’t mean I think all Atheists should “see the light.” I don’t want them to. I don’t want anyone to believe in something that doesn’t resonate with them. What I want is for us all to be a little kinder. I want us all to be healthier and happier.
I don’t want someone in my face calling me a dumbass for not being an Atheist any more than I want them attempting to run my life based on their religious beliefs. I didn’t want to deal with assholes, so I stopped being one. And it helped. I am by no means claiming to be a perfect friend, but I care. I make an effort to be supportive and positive. My friends know that if they tell me something in confidence, they won’t be bombarded with texts asking what’s up. They know if I say I’ll be there at 8, barring a major emergency, I’ll be there. I don’t take them for granted, but I’ll never be perfect. No one is. We can only be better than we were.
So take a look at your friends, and then take a look in the mirror. We can improve our lives by removing toxic influences, whether they’re “friends” or internal traits.
Think of it as kind of like The Breakfast Club:
Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basketcase, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.
We can all be a bit of a soap opera star, a gossip girl, a reverse cheerleader, a Debbie downer, a frosted flake, and an asshole. For the most part, don’t hang out with these people. And don’t be one.
Be honest… Have you ever been one of these types of friends? Are you now? Drop me a line in the comments or send a DM on Instagram.