Ending a friendship is a tricky and uncomfortable task. Even if they aren’t working, friendships tend to hang around due to inertia, a shared history, or just proximity. But friendships, just like romantic relationships, can be toxic, harmful, or just annoying. And sometimes they need to end.
What we’re talking about here is the “frenemy,” a portmanteau of “friend” and “enemy.” But how do you know if you have one? Here are nine warning signs to look out for, and some advice from experts.
1. They talk about you behind your back. Most of us aren’t saints when it comes to gossiping, but there is a certain level of trust that must exist in any relationship in order to maintain the bond. If your friend is spreading rumors about things you’ve told them — or, worse, untrue things they’ve made up — that is a clear indication that they don’t really care about you or your friendship.
2. They’re always asking for favors. Lending support is a facet of a healthy friendship, but when the support is one-sided and constant (can you pay for lunch? can you walk their dog? can you put in a good word? can you help put together some furniture?) there could be a problem. “Don’t be a good friend anymore,” Heather Havrilesky, the writer behind the Cut’s advice column Ask Polly, once advised a reader who suspected their friends might be using them. “Just show up, and ask that others show up for you.”
3. Their emotional needs consistently outweigh yours. Friendship is about mutual support, but trouble comes when another person’s emotional needs — to support them to the detriment of your other relationships, to drop everything and comfort them — seem to always outweigh yours. “A bad friend reminds you that when you have needs of your own, you are not only hopelessly self-indulgent and insensitive but you’re being mean and insensitive to her far more pressing needs,” Havrilesky once wrote to a reader struggling with a friendship.
4. They only want to talk about themselves. It’s not a good sign if you’re desperate for your friend to take a break from talking about how their marathon prep is going and ask, “And anyway, how’s it going with you?”
5. They aren’t happy about your achievements. “Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships,” sociologist Rebecca G. Adams told the New York Times. A friend should be able to feel and express genuine happiness for you when things are going well in your life. If you feel like you don’t even want to talk to them about the good things in your life because they’re always cutting you down (your achievement isn’t that impressive; your new job isn’t that good; oh, they actually reached that relationship milestone months ago) they just aren’t a good friend.
6. They’re passive aggressive. “It’s so cute how you brought deviled eggs to the party,” they might say in front of a group of friends. “They smell so bad, and they’re actually, like, one of the cheaper and lazier things you could make and bring to a party, but they can actually taste decent if you know how to make them properly.” Ugghh. This type of behavior can be enormously hurtful and embarrassing, but try to remember that it isn’t about you. “Every time someone uses passive aggression to try to upset you,” Andrea Brandt, a family therapist, wrote in Psychology Today, “remind yourself that under their anger lies deep unhappiness. The happier you are with your life, the easier it will be to see them for what they are: sad.”
7. They pass off cruel criticism as helpful feedback. There’s a difference between telling someone a tricky but ultimately helpful (and loving) bit of truth, and criticizing something “honestly” just to provoke pain. It’s just like Taylor Swift sang, “You call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest.”
8. Their “jokes” are actually hurtful. OMG, they can’t believe you were offended when they said your hair looked “like a drunk Carol Brady cut her own hair in the dark.” They were obviously just kidding! It’s seriously suuuch a good haircut. “Teasing is often healthy and fun,” wrote Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out and The Curse of the Good Girl. “But when it’s abused, ‘just kidding’ contains a disturbing logic: If I didn’t mean it, it didn’t happen.” And this logic means your “friend” not only doesn’t respect your feelings, but refuses to take responsibility when they’ve hurt them.
9. The friendship just makes you feel bad. Trust your feelings. If you dread hanging out with this friend, if they always leave you feeling upset, if your gut is telling you it’s just not right, it might be time to cut them off. “You’ll actually go through a bit of a grief process with it, and that’s okay,” Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical therapist specializing in friendships, told TIME. “If you feel like you can’t change the toxic friendship situation, it’s okay to mourn it, move on and find relationships that are much more satisfying.”