If there's one thing I learned this summer, it's that it's not easy to get rid of toxic friends. It's not that most of my friends are toxic — the vast majority are tireless in their love and support, and many of them have imparted valuable advice to combat the toxicity in my life. There are really only a couple of people I tried to avoid over the past several months and, despite my best efforts, I haven't been very successful.
Coming off of a rocky freshman year, I vowed to myself that I would finally stop letting the negativity of others interfere with my goals and my psyche. I was sick of giving the best parts of myself to fair-weather friends who dropped me the instant I needed their support. I was sick of "getting over it" when my friends laughed at my failures. Most of all, I was sick of being excluded from activities and conversations due to the efforts of one or two people. I'd heard countless success stories from people who'd cut out the toxic people around them, and I was determined to do so myself.
Not even two weeks into summer vacation, my plans fell apart. Not only was it difficult to avoid contact through mutual friends, but it was practically impossible to circumvent social media itself. After all, it wasn't like I could cut off every mutual friend, nor did I want to. I also didn't want to cause problems by banning my toxic friends on social media, and deleting my own accounts wasn't realistic. Everywhere I looked, I was reminded of the suffocating negativity I'd experienced in my friend group. The more I saw, the more my disgust and hatred of what my toxic friends represented grew. I spiraled in this all-consuming rage until my toxic friends were not only all I could think about but, with some friends, all I could talk about.
It was nearing midnight and I was venting to one of my friends over video-chat about my latest grievance — a passive-aggressive post aimed at me by one of the people I'd sworn to cut out of my life.
"He needs to mind his own business and stop trying to create drama!" I yelled. My friend took a beat to reply, before saying, "He's not the only one, Sarah."
I remember sputtering half-coherent denials, before finally shouting, "I'm not the toxic one here!"
"Look, I just think that, at this point, you need to be the bigger person and let it go," she clarified. "You need to stop thinking about this whole situation or you're going to have an ulcer. Don't you think that's exactly what he wants?"
When we hung up that night, my friend's words kept ringing in my ears. "Be the bigger person" was the kind of advice I hated — it reeked of a lack of justice that rubbed me the wrong way. But I could also hear the words she hadn't said: that I needed to let things go because it was hurting not only me but also my friendship with her. I'd been so self-absorbed in this toxic friend drama that I'd let it consume all of our conversations, leaving no room for us to maintain our own relationship. There were only so many complaints that my friend could listen to before feeling ignored herself. At the end of the day, didn't that make me just as bad of a friend as the people I was trying to avoid?
As I stopped complaining about my toxic friends, my hatred of their negativity stopped taking up so much headspace. While that sounds easy enough — "Just stop thinking about them, and they'll go away!" — it was a grueling, slow process. I had to constantly remind myself that being so obsessed with the toxicity was turning me into a toxic person and that I would never get rid of my toxic friends by simply talking about them.
While I may not have purged the toxicity from my life, this summer has taught me how to better deal with these types of situations. Taking the high road isn't admitting defeat — it's just refusing to become as toxic as the people I'm trying to escape.