"Toxic friend" was Googled in Singapore more times during the pandemic compared to 15 years ago. | Photo: 123RF
Now that the vaccines are being rapidly rolled out and a glimmer of an end (albeit a still-masked one) is in sight, we really need to decide which parts from our ‘old normal’ we want to take with us into the post-pandemic world.
There’s WFH, of course (over half of Singaporeans in a recent survey said they would like to work from home at least some days a week), and HBL (that may ease test anxiety in local students, which are some of the world’s highest levels).
And then there are toxic friendships – relationships that research shows can leave us feeling exhausted, stifled, unsatisfied and often unequal. Obviously, this is something nobody would want to continue with given the chance, but toxic friends can be harder to pick off than taugeh in your mee pok.
You’re toxic, I’m slipping under
Here’s a sad fact: Singapore search trends for ‘toxic friend’ have spiked more often and higher during the pandemic than in the last 15 years.
You know the sorts of people who line this graph: that attention seeker who leaves you drained from her personal dramas; that bitter frenemy who, consciously or not, keeps putting you down to make himself feel better; those selfish souls who can’t stop bragging about themselves long enough to ask you how you are.
In a year that has pushed humans to reassess almost every aspect of our lives, clearly more than a few of us have been thinking about pruning these personalities from our contact list.
The good news is, there’s never been a better time to do it – because while cutting someone out of your life is never simple, the pandemic-powered present is as manageable as it will ever get.
Why? One major impact of the pandemic is that it’s shone a light on mental health and, especially here in Singapore where the topic hasn’t traditionally been widely discussed, helped more folks acknowledge and understand its importance.
Harnessing this awareness can help make it easier to accept that sometimes, you have to let someone go for your own good instead of ploughing on out of loyalty/pity/FOMO/an aversion of conflict.
At the same time, Covid-19 has given us a clearer focus on what’s indispensable and what’s not. As our lives got pared to the bone – no shopping trips to Bangkok, bubble tea runs with colleagues in the office or nights out at Zouk – we’ve all learned to better understand what we really need to feel content and how to make every moment count.
This has been a great time to discover the truth within the Pareto Principle – that is, 20% of the people in your life account for 80% of your happiness – and which relationships take you to that 80%.
On top of that, even as we care more about things that are meaningful right now, it’s also a period we’re caring a lot less about other stuff. The New York Times just named ‘languishing’ the dominant emotion of the year – the perfect word to describe that feeling of indifference that plagues much of daily life these days.
Though languishing has been shown to dull motivation, disrupt focus and make it three times more likely you’ll cut back on work, it’s also the perfect tool for thwarting contact with toxic folk, because you’re less bothered about what they think and how they’ll respond.
It's now or never
Of course, mustering the energy to deal with toxic relationships at a time when we’re all feeling especially listless is tough.
But eliminating these connections will be even more difficult once we start returning to the way things were – there’ll be fewer excuses to #stayhome, and it’s harder to say no to someone in person (which is how a lot of us get stuck in toxic friendships in the first place, yes?).
One well-known classic Spanish proverb goes: “Tell me your company, and I will tell you what you are.” As we move back to regular programming, it’s time to make a choice about what we will be: someone who dreads the thought of that "friend" messaging again, or part of a happier, healthier support network.