How Do We Define Toxic?

They say you need to rid your life of toxic people. If you know they aren’t good for you and perhaps you’re even aware that they are having a bad influence, why would you let them stick around? But here’s the problem – what happens when you’re faced with the question of whether this is truly a toxic person, or simply a friend going through a rough patch who is making toxic decisions?

            I was recently faced with that question. This was someone I had grown very close to in the last year – we worked together but not in the same location all the time, so I mostly saw her outside of the work setting.

She was the one I’d meet for happy hour, the one I told when I got my raise and wanted to celebrate, the one with whom I watched sunsets after a long day because we both wanted to unwind with a glass of wine and feel grateful to live in such a beautiful place.

            Then she broke up with her boyfriend. I’ll be honest – I never liked the guy, and I know for a fact none of our mutual friends liked him either. But we were all civil to him, and I told her frankly that I thought she deserved better but as long as he was treating her well then I would be supportive. So when they split, I felt for her but also was fairly sure that it was for the best.

Most, if not all of us have been through a breakup – the binge eating, crying to sappy movies, letting loose on the town – whatever the coping mechanism, we all know that regardless, it sucks. Knowing this, I made it a priority to be there for her. I knew she’d been going through a rough patch even before the breakup and wanted her to feel like she wasn’t alone. I sat with her countless times and she cried on my shoulder, both literally and figuratively. She told me she wasn’t okay, and I knew she was in a place of insecurity and desperation.

            But then she started making reckless decisions. There was one point where we were sitting together and she mentioned that she’d been talking on social media to the parent of a client we worked with. And it wasn’t just talking – he had found her, reached out, and was actively flirting. I was alarmed, since it was against our contracts to have any contact with parents outside of a professional setting, let alone the kind of contact they seemed to be having.

I told her if that continued she could lose her job, and she should shut it down immediately. She agreed.

            That weekend she was feeling especially lost and wanted to go out with the girls, to drink and dance and generally let loose. It didn’t take long that night for her to admit that she was still talking to the parent, and wanted to invite him to meet her at the club. All three of us said emphatically, NO, and told her honestly that none of us were comfortable with that. If she did that, she would be putting all of our jobs in jeopardy.

Needless to say, things went from tense to explosive when she did it anyway.

            Long story short, that night I repeated over and over to her that I was nervous leaving her alone with him because she was so intoxicated, but also could not in good conscience stay there while she was actively flirting and dancing with this – married – parent of our client. Nothing I said got through to her, and she said the cruelest and most selfish things to me than she ever had before.

I finally reached my breaking point and had to leave.

            Evidently it continued after I left, and the next day I got a message from one of the other friends that she was going to report what had happened. I wasn’t surprised, considering that simply the act of us being witnesses and talking to him, however briefly, meant we were technically obligated to report it. Nonetheless I felt a huge amount of anxiety, regret, and guilt for my friend.

When it happened and she was called in to talk to the big boss, I was glad she managed to keep her job. But she never even tried to talk to me and apologize for her conduct. She actually never spoke to me at all, but made it a point to block me on social media.

It hurt more than I cared to admit. Through others I learned that she was still playing the victim and simply believed she had been stabbed in the back. There was no taking responsibility for her decisions, no admittance that she was ever in the wrong, and no apologies for mistreating her closest friends.

            It’s been several weeks and we have had no contact. So am I to accept that we will never be friends again? Of course I regret the ways things panned out; I obviously never wanted her to get in trouble, but I honestly believe she brought it all on herself. She should never have put us in that position, especially knowing what was at stake, and especially not after we explicitly asked her not to.

Is this a toxic person who never truly thought of me as a good friend? Or do I trust that our friendship was real and she just made a series of incredibly poor decisions? Either way I know we’ll never be as close. I’m just not sure whether I should give up entirely. Part of me believes she wants and needs help in this time in her life, but at what cost? If she’s taken advantage of my friendship once already, in a big way, then how am I to trust that she won’t do it again?

            I miss my friend. I wanted to be there for her and I still want her to be okay. If she eventually reaches out, am I enabling her if I accept an apology? I don’t know.

How do you define toxic?

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