I have a friend (let’s call her Claire) whom I’ve known for practically my entire life, which in most cases would be fabulous. The problem? I haven’t wanted to be Claire’s friend for a while.
She’s insecure, and she is constantly boasting about how many guys are in love with her while “joking” about how comparatively undesirable I am. It's more annoying than anything else, but I’d still like to part ways with her. The problem? This girl sticks to me like glue. We go to a small prep school, so it’s pretty obvious when I befriend a new person. It seems that whenever I do this, Claire will aggressively pursue a relationship with my new friend—texting them, inviting them out, and trying to get them to partner up with her in classes. Claire never ends up being as close with these people as I am, but she usually does manage to become somewhat close to them, which makes it really hard for me to avoid her.
I’ve considered telling my friends the situation with Claire, but I don’t want to be cruel or come off as nuts, since most people view Claire as super sweet. Then again, I would so love to be honest and say no, I don’t want to include her in our weekend plans. This this whole thing is extremely frustrating and I’d really like to know the best way to approach it.
And kudos to you for that, Sparkler—because where you're doing your conscientious best to distance yourself from Claire without acting maliciously, there are plenty of not-very-nice people who would have already gone the easier route of scapegoating her, excluding her, and leveraging your closeness to your mutual friends to leave her out in the cold.
Which is why I'd first like to thank you, on behalf of the human race, for so skillfully resisting the temptation to act like a jerk.
But despite your concerns, there's actually nothing cruel or crazy-seeming about wanting some distance from a toxic friend. You're allowed to decide how and with whom you spend your time, and to reduce contact with people who don't enrich it. All that matters is that you do so with discretion, kindness, and respect.
What this means in practice is that you can and should spend time with other friends, and only with other friends, to whatever extent is necessary for your mental health and happiness (with the caveat that you avoid the big-meanie tactic of having a party and inviting everyone except for Claire, as least not until the distance between you is an established fact. If there are that many people involved, it's just as easy and much more classy to include her and then simply steer clear of her.). And if your other friend(s) suggests including her in your plans, then your line is: "I'd rather it just be the two (or three, or four) of us this time, okay?"—which conveys your preferences for Claire-less-ness clearly without so much as a word about her leech-like tendencies.
In return, recognize that everyone else is allowed to keep on being friends with Claire—and that if you don't want to be around her, then it'll be your responsibility to bow out of group activities to which she's invited. And if Claire confronts you, you can just be honest: "You say insulting things to me, then claim you're joking and refuse to admit fault when I call you on it. I'm not trying to be cruel, but under the circumstances, I'm not interested in spending time with you anymore." (Note: I'm assuming that all of the above is true, and that you've already told Claire at least once how her comments make you feel. But if not, please try addressing it with her before you start pulling away—if only to establish that you tried.)
And if your friends ask you what's going on, then you can still be honest about your feelings without dissing your ex-friend; all you need to say is that you needed a little distance, and you hope they'll understand. (Which some of them will more than others, I suspect; you can't be the only person perceptive enough to see Claire's sad behavior for what it is.) Asking your friends to respect your need for a little time away from Claire isn't the same as asking them to share your distaste for her. And as long as you remember that this is your problem, not theirs, you'll be golden.
Have you ever had to extricate yourself from a toxic friendship? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want more info about how this column works? Click for the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.