Toxic Friendship on TV: 5 Lessons You Shouldn’t Have Learned

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. Loft apartments in Manhattan are attainable for all, everyone eats a big breakfast with their family in the 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. In fact, 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 make our hearts melt. 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 same coffee shop, and brunches together every weekend. Who funded your lifestyle, Carrie Bradshaw?

To an extent, we may have learned some solid life lessons about how to be a good friend (basically, be Monica Gellar). However, we’re willing to bet that television left us all feeling less satisfied with our own friendships and wondering how we can find besties like Jane, Kat and Sutton from The Bold Type.

Toxic Friendship on TV

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

5 Toxic Friendship Lessons You Learned on TV

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

There are endless examples of this in television. Rory Gilmore and Lane Kim, Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf, Cristina Yang and Meredith Grey. 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 in which both of you have lives outside of each other! If you have a 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.

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.

Take The Bold Type, for example. Sutton, Kat and Jane do essentially 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 (sorry, my breakup is more pressing 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 it can give viewers the sense that if our friends aren’t at our beck and call, we don’t have good friends in our lives. 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. If you have a friend that expects this of you, chances are you’re in a toxic friendship.

Toxic Friendship on TV - Sex and the City

Photo Credit: HBO

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

Tight knit friend groups are the focal point of countless fictional narratives. Friends, Sex and the City, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, How I Met Your Mother, Pretty Little Liars… the urban tribe is #goals.

These iconic groups spend essentially every waking moment in each other’s presence, and appear to have nothing better to do. Ever. Of course, they all live in New York City, and somehow are able to traipse across the city daily to spend time together. Anyone who lives in a major metropolis knows that with public transit, there’s just no way.

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.

Really, Tibby? You need Adultescence in your life.

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

While aspirational, these friend groups are highly unrealistic. In fact, they can make the rest of us feel like we’re doing something wrong because we don’t have tight knit friend groups that hang out in a local coffee shop everyday. But it’s healthy 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.

Blair Walforf has her minions. Massie Block has her clique. Alison DiLaurentis has her posse. Everything revolves around Carrie Bradshaw.

Many TV shows and movies portray a friend group with an alpha who calls all the shots. And 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 (she single-handedly crushed Kedssales amongst middle schoolers).

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.

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 (Peyton and Brooke, we didn’t forget about you) 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 when involving 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.

And if you are constantly in massive blow-ups with a pal, you’re probably in a toxic friendship. Time to get out.

What other toxic friendship lessons did you learn from TV? Tell us in the comments below!

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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