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What We Learned From the 13 Most Toxic Friendships on TV

Carrie Bradshaw, we’re looking at you!

It’s no secret that the media taught us a lot of things that are straight up lies. Like that loft apartments in Manhattan are attainable for all, everyone sits down to a big breakfast every morning, and falling in love simply requires an awkward girl and a hot jock. One of the most detrimental media portrayals are those of toxic friendship on TV.

TV shows and movies are full of dynamic duos, trios and friend groups that we all want to believe are realistic and attainable in our own lives. These iconic friend groups often drive the entire plot of a show. Think Friends, Seinfeld, Sex and the City and The Bold Type (most friend groups live in NYC, according to television).

Toxic Friendship on TV - Sex and the City

Photo Credit: HBO

Some of these friendships melt our hearts. Others make us laugh. And there were those that even made us cry (like when Serena came to the rescue after Blair’s eating disorder relapse on Thanksgiving).

But more than anything, these shows left us with a sense of longing. You’re not alone if you’ve craved a friend group that lives in the same building, spends every morning at the coffee shop, and brunches together every weekend. Who funded your lifestyle, Carrie Bradshaw?

We may have learned some solid life lessons about how to be a good friend (basically, be Monica Gellar). However, television also left us feeling less satisfied with our own friendships thanks to these unrealistic portrayals of real-life friends.

Toxic Friendship on TV

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

5 Toxic Friendship Lessons TV Taught Us

1. Having one best friend who is your everything is the ultimate badge of friendship.

Examples: Rory Gilmore and Lane Kim (Gilmore Girls), Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl), Cristina Yang and Meredith Grey (Grey’s Anatomy)

Sure, it makes for a great plot to have an iconic best friend duo. But watching these friendships in action can make you question your own best friends and wonder where you can find the Monica to your Rachel.

If you’re like us, watching these friendships unfold on TV leaves you with burning questions. Do they have any other friends? Do they ever get bored or sick of each other? Why don’t I have a friend who wants to spend every waking moment with me?!

Hi, reality check, this isn’t normal.

Toxic Friendship on TV - Gilmore Girls

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Realistically, no friends should spend 24/7 with each other. Nor do most of us want to. It’s completely normal to have close friendships *and* have lives outside of each other. If you have a codependent friend who wants you to only hang out with them, that’s a red flag.

Also, did you know isolation is a sign of a toxic friendship?

Toxic Friendship on TV - One Tree Hill

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

2. True friends drop everything for each other.

Example: Sutton, Kat, and Jane (The Bold Type)

It’s true that being a good pal does mean putting your loved ones first from time to time. It might even mean making sacrifices to help a friend out. But often in movies and TV shows, dropping everything at your own expense to help a friend is idealized and portrayed as “being a true friend.”

In The Bold Type, Sutton, Kat, and Jane do everything together. And whenever one of them is struggling, the others are at their side without hesitation. Even if it means ditching other people, skipping work or disregarding their own hardships (as in, “sorry, my breakup is more important than your career struggles”).

Toxic Friendship on TV - The Bold Type

Photo Credit: Freeform

This isn’t to say the trio are bad friends to one another – they’re actually quite the opposite. But this messaging gives viewers the sense that if our friends aren’t at our beck and call, we don’t have good friends.

The reality is, we are all humans with our own set of priorities and busy schedules. While it’s important to fit your friends in, it’s impossible to be there for them every second of every day.

Toxic Friendship on TV - Sex and the City

Photo Credit: HBO

3. The ideal friend group has 4-6 people and exclude everyone else.

Example: Friends, Sex and the City, How I Met Your Mother, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Pretty Little Liars

Tight knit friend groups are the focal point of countless fictional narratives. The urban tribe is #goals.

These iconic groups spend every waking moment in each other’s presence, and appear to have nothing else to do. Ever. They all live in New York City, and somehow are able to traipse across town daily to spend time together.

Beyond spending excessive amounts of time with one another, these characters exclude anyone who is outside the group. In Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, for example, Tibby straight up says to Bailey, “I have my own friends. Three best friends. And even though they left me here to rot this summer, I don’t need any new ones.”

Toxic Friendship on TV - Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Despite putting little effort into any other friendships, somehow these characters would be able to throw absolute bangers with dozens of attendees. Did anyone else ever wonder where the Friends got all those buddies they’d invite to their house parties?

It’s a green flag to have a variety of different friends (who aren’t all friends with each other) that you see on a rotating basis. It’s also normal if you don’t have a friend group at all!

Toxic Friendship on TV - Pretty Little Liars

Photo Credit: Freeform

4. Every friend group has it’s alpha, and it’s OK to let that person take the spotlight.

Examples: Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl), Massie Block (The Clique), Alison DiLaurentis (Pretty Little Liars), Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City)

Many TV shows and movies portray a friend group with an alpha who calls all the shots. Blair Walforf has her minions. Alison DiLaurentis has her posse. Everything revolves around Carrie Bradshaw.

It’s the job of all the other friends to stay out of the spotlight and make themselves as small as possible. Or go and and break into a store, as per Queen B’s orders.

Maybe our adult selves wouldn’t be as influenced by these dynamics, but high school us? Dangerous. We’re pretty sure Massie Block made us all a little meaner and a little pickier about where we shopped (single-handedly crushing Kedssales).

If you have a friend that bosses you around, makes you kiss up to them, and diminishes your success, they are toxic. You don’t want to be an Alisha, Dylan or Kristen. You want to be a Cuh-laire!

Toxic Friendship on TV - The Clique

Photo Credit: Bankable Productions

5. Frequent drama between besties is normal and even serves as a symbol of passion.

Examples: One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, Girls, Glee

If there’s one thing TV normalized, it’s getting into blowouts with your besties. I mean, have you watched Girls? We’re pretty sure that Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna had more days where they were in a fight than they had being actual friends.

Shows like Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill made on-and-off friendships seem cool. In fact, the dramatic make-ups felt like they brought the characters closer together. Yes, we’re talking about those theatrical Serena and Blair reunions. Hey, Blair, don’t forget Serena still slept with your boyfriend!

Blair and Serena Toxic Friendship

Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Fights are inevitable in close friendships. They can often be productive if they involve honest conversations and compassion from both parties. But sabotaging your friends by spilling their secrets or ensuring they don’t get into Yale should not be a tactic used when feuding with your bestie.

By Jess Lohr

Jess is a Cambridge-based, Syracuse-born twenty-something who loves coffee, dogs and stalking Zillow for her future home. Her favorite ways to kill time include strolling through Boston’s cobblestone streets, socializing over a glass of wine, and reading finance books (if only 22-year-old Jess were like this).

She has spent the past 4+ years working in Consumer Insights, and when she’s not working on her 9-5, you can find her pursuing her most recent side hustle as a dog sitter. Jess is co-founder of Adultescence, a podcast and lifestyle website with the mission of helping post-grads navigate adulthood.

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