Are Your Friends Toxic? Watch Out for These 4 Friendship Styles

Kelly E.

Will your friends be there when you need them most?
Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Every now and then it’s good to do a friendship-audit. You have limited time and energy reserves, the friends you spend them on need to be worthy of it. Will your friends be there when you need them? Are your friendships equal and healthy?

These four types of friends might not be.

Fair Weather Friends

A woman I know recently received very difficult news about her daughter’s health. She was away at the time with a group of ladies but instead of being supportive they told her to stop being a kill-joy.

These women didn’t want to empathize or offer comfort-– it was a girls’ weekend and they wanted their dopamine fix.

She saw their true nature — they were fair weather friends. Fair weather friends are only there when you’re fun and happy. They’re not really interested in you as a person – you’re just company to attend the party with. When you’re not “fun” any more, you lose your function.

These friends might seem like true friends because they always ask you out, but actually they’re more like acquaintances.

Spotting fair weather friends:

  • You do a lot of fun activities together, usually in a crowd or group.
  • There’s often alcohol involved.
  • You don’t have deep or serious conversations.

Negative and Fixer-Upper Friends

Negative friends are often also Fixer-Upper friends. I realized a few years ago I had one of these people in my life and had to let the friendship go.

I have a lot of empathy for people who are struggling but this can lead me into the dangerous area of rescuing. That’s what happened with this friend. She was unwell, having a hard time with her children, and both her and her husband had lost their jobs.

After a while, I noticed that most of our conversations centered around negative topics: her struggles, complaints about terrible things happening in the world, and gossip. I found myself doing things to try to cheer her up or make her life better.

It wasn’t an easy relationship. Visiting her was often exhausting, but I thought it was an equal friendship at the time — I was helping her out, being supportive, and I imagined she’d do the same for me.

Then, when my marriage ended and I needed help, she quickly disappeared and found someone else to support her.

Negative friends drag you down to their level. They’re in an unhappy place and they want company there. You might think you can pull them up out of their terrible situation, maybe you’ve even seen progress, but trying to “fix” someone rarely works long term.

Spotting Fixer-Upper friends:

  • The conversation is usually negative. They’re often good listeners but want to hear about your hard times more than anything else.
  • You find yourself doing a lot for them. They’re too sore to clean up so you do it. They’re struggling to get work so you help them job hunt.
  • Problems and chaos seems to find them. Everyone has hard times but these people are in a constant cycle of difficulty.
  • They often have very few friends. You might be their only friend.

Cookie-Cutter Friends

A relative of mine was a very successful business woman for most of her career. She worked hard and, as a single woman, was able to live fairly extravagantly – five star restaurants, overseas trips, beautiful outfits, the theater…and she had a number of successful friends who were always happy to tag along.

When she became bankrupt, though, they all disappeared. She no longer “fit” their group.

Cookie-cutter friends can only handle people who are exactly like them. When your situation changes, they can’t cope.

I’ve seen this with divorce too – married couples who find it difficult to deal with their friend’s new single status.

Spotting Cookie Cutter Friends:

  • All the people they spend time with have a lot in common. They don’t have a wide range of friends from varying backgrounds, ages, or marital status.
  • Your friendship and conversations center around a particular activity or situation: you only see them at church, you always go out to a show or shopping, you always hang out as a couple.

Grabby Friends

These friends are hard to spot. They’re often fun, charismatic, and great to be around. They make you feel important and like a close friend – they might even consider you one. They ask for your help and that’s great; you’re always happy to help a friend. The problem is – these friendships are one sided.

There was a lovely, bubbly women a number of years ago who called me her best friend. She was fun to spend time with — one of those positive, interesting people. We both had young daughters and would spend a lot of time together playing with our babies.

After a while, she starting asking me to babysit for her. It became quite a frequent request, but I was happy to help my friend. Then she needed help with other things: baby clothes, helping her with jobs around the house, driving places (she had no car)… The requests started to feel a bit much. Then I found out she had quite a few “best friends” helping her with various things. She also had a number of men, who she led on, running around after her too.

Grabby friends draw people in who they consider useful – people who help them get jobs done, who lend a hand, or have resources that they need. (I don’t think they always do it intentionally – it may be a type of survival mechanism they’ve learnt, but it doesn’t make it okay).

Grabby friends seem great, they often have engaging personalities, but it’s always you helping them. They’ll drop you as soon as you stop being useful.

Spotting Grabby Friends:

  • They have a lot of acquaintances. They know everyone.
  • They are often very extroverted and engaging.
  • They ask to borrow things or for favors a lot but don’t reciprocate.
  • They seem to get a lot of things for free.
  • They are not overly interested in your life.

It’s fine to have these four as friends – as long as you recognize who they are. A mate to go out with is great, just don’t expect them to be there for you in the hard times. It’s okay to help people but make sure your boundaries are strong and your friendship doesn’t slip into an unhealthy dynamic.

When it comes to good friends, ones that are there for you no matter what happens, you only need a couple.

Time is precious. I’m making sure I spend it on healthy friendships.

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