The drama queen. The attention addict. The relentless pessimist. The exploiter. When poison pals infect your life, sometimes you just need to say goodbye—and good riddance.
My closest friends live all over the place—in North Carolina and New York, in Mississippi and California, in Las Vegas and London and Atlanta, in Oregon and Alabama and Andalucía, Spain. Sometimes we see each other a lot, and sometimes, for stretches, not at all, which is fine. I'd rather see the true friend once a year than suffer a faux friend every day of the week just for the sake of having someone around. The deepest friendships have nothing to do with proximity; they aren't based on how long we've known each other but on how well we love each other.

We never have to wonder where we stand, these friends and I. We never fear for our mutual emotional safety in each other's company. I can tell these friends anything and know they'd never belittle me, or think less of me, or write me off, or gossip, or use my past or current spasms of childishness/pettiness/insecurity/anger/fear against me. I'm talking about genuine affection and goodwill. I'm talking about two-way faith. I'm talking about protecting and sincerely celebrating each other. I'm talking about Do No Harm. I'm talking about intentions. With these people, I've never worried what slights or betrayals await me, and I've never felt used or exploited. At my most vulnerable, I've probably relied on them for clarity and comfort a little too much, but the balance has always been restored.

Other friends, though, just aren't good for us, no matter how hard we try to make things work.

A few years ago, I was bordering on being as broke as I've ever been. I was a full-time graduate student working several jobs while freelancing every minute of the day and trying to start, and finish, a novel, all amid the stress of rapidly compounding debt. A friend invited me out for coffee, during which time she talked at length about her hugely successful business. I was—and I mean this—happy for her, proud of her, until she kept talking about her hugely successful business and ended our coffee date by suggesting we indulge in pricey mani-pedis. (I like a good mani-pedi, but no thanks.) The next time I saw her, she insisted we eat at a restaurant I couldn't afford, then ordered a really nice bottle of wine and asked to split the check. The last time I saw her, she invited me to her apartment to show me her two new pairs of Manolo Blahniks (roughly $350 per shoe). "I treated myself," she said, "for not having any debt."

How to identify a truly poison pal


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