Friends are the family people can choose for themselves. They are the ones that are there for you when everything falls apart and when everything is going perfectly. They help pick you up when you are down, lift you higher when you are on top of the world, help you be the best you can be and give you a much needed dose of reality when your heart or dreams threaten to make off with your good sense. At least, that is what friends are supposed to do.
Unfortunately, not everyone you count as a friend may actually be your friend. Some of those you count as friends may not be your friend at all. They might be the human equivalent of a cuckoo in a wren’s nest. They will sap your energy and potentially drive away your real friends. Identifying those false friends is not always easy. By definition, a false friend appears to be your friend rather than an outright enemy. They are snakes in the grass, but you can figure them out before they drag you any further into a toxic relationship.
Here are six signs of a false friend.
#1 They’re always looking for something more interesting.
Sometimes things come up at the last minute, and people have to break plans. The vast majority of human beings are understanding when this happens. It is no one’s fault that the computer system crashed, ate your project and now you have to bail on dinner with friends so that you can recreate the report that is due tomorrow. It has happened to everyone. Most people also understand, even if they do not like it, if you accidentally double book yourself. You completely forgot that your sister’s baby shower is the same night that you promised to go to the movies with your friend. No one likes it when that happens, but if it occurs once in a blue moon, the vast majority of people will let it slide. If your friend, however, is constantly breaking plans, they may not be your friend at all. Friends make time for each other. They do not bail at the last minute unless it is unavoidable. It is always possible that your friend simply has rotten luck if they are breaking plans, but if they are canceling plans with you so they can hang out with someone else? That means that they are not actually double booked or making mistakes. They are simply on the lookout for someone they find more interesting than you.
#2 They act differently when they are around you or with others.
As much as people today claim to value authenticity, very few people interact with total strangers without a mask or at least a little emotional distance. The reason, of course, is very simple. Most people do not feel comfortable handing their greatest vulnerabilities or darkest secrets over to someone that they are unsure they can trust. As such, the vast majority of people act at least a little differently when they are with friends and when they are with strangers. Your friend, however, should not receive a spontaneous personality transplant when they are in a group. If they have told you in confidence that they are struggling with their faith and then spend all their time in a group flashing their Christian credentials, there might be a problem. Your friend could simply be insecure or immature, but it might also be something deeper. If your friend is like a different person when other people are with the two of you, pay attention to how they treat you. If your so-called friend becomes dismissive of you or ignores you in favor of the other people, your friend is likely not a friend at all.
#3 They betray your confidence.
One of the chief duties of a friend is to keep their mouth shut when they are told something in confidence. If your friend is blabbing your secrets, you need a new friend. Everyone needs a person in whom they can confide those things that they would prefer to never see the light of day or that they are not ready to announce to the world yet. This could be anything from an embarrassing fear of squirrels that they will need to master now before they move into their new home to serious concerns that their spouse is having an affair. A friend is meant to be someone who will keep those secrets with the exception of those that might cause immediate and physical danger if not shared with the authorities. The fact that you hate your in-laws and are trying to find a way to disinvite them from Thanksgiving dinner does not qualify.
#4 They put you down.
Friends are meant to be a support network for you. This means that they should be more invested in building you up rather than tearing you down. A friend is not obligated to join you in a week long pity-party because you did not get a promotion you were hoping for, but a friend should not leave you to wallow in ice cream and old sweat pants if you break up with your significant other. A friend is a shoulder to cry on, but they are also the one who drags you to your feet and helps you move on with your life. They may hand you the tissues on day one, but by day five, they may tell you it is time to pull it together. True friends will not indulge overwhelming self-pity or a woe-is-me attitude, but there is a world of difference between dragging someone out of the doldrums and undermining their confidence. A friend will tell you to keep your chin up and work hard when you missed your chance at promotion so that next time you will get it. A false friend will ask you why you thought you had a chance at earning that promotion in the first place.
#5 They only want to do one thing with you.
Friends are there for you regardless of what life throws at you. They are there for the successes and the struggles, the trials and triumphs. As such, they are involved in a variety of aspects in your life. You may have met them at a cooking class, but your friendship goes beyond debating what sort of flour works best in a pie crust recipe. Sometimes, however, you may find that you have a friend that only ever wants to do one thing with you. They may mysteriously only be available when you are planning to go out to dinner or only ever ask you if you want to go hiking and never invite you out to get drinks. They may also simply want to do the same thing with you regardless of where you two meet or what you do. If every one of your conversations with a friend revolves around bemoaning relationship troubles, complaining about your jobs, waxing poetic about your favorite movies or any other singular topic, you do not actually have a friend. At best, you have an acquaintance who shares a similar interest who might one day become a friend. At worst, you are a convenient outlet for your so-called friend to vent to and then forget about later.
#6 They try to change you.
Friendships are, at their core, relationships. It is a balance of give and take where both people put time, effort and energy into making the necessary compromises and adjustments that enable them to fit the other person in their life. Just like in a romantic relationship, that means there are expectations that are so basic they go unspoken. Chief among those is respect, trust and the idea that you actually like the person you are trying to be friends with, not an ideal image of who they could be if you were able to mold them as you wished. If your friend is trying to change who you are, then it is time to leave that toxic relationship behind. A true friend will push you to be the best you can be, but they will like you for who you are now. They might nark on you a bit for your terrible driving, but they are not going to try to change the core of who you are as a person. Whenever you encounter someone who does try to do that, run.
False friends are awful, and they tend to make everything worse. They leave you high and dry when you need a shoulder to cry on, abandon you when you want to celebrate an achievement and try to change who you are at your core. They can even leave you questioning who else among your friends might be fickle or fair-weather. Do not waste your time trying to make real friends with a false friend. Instead, focus your energy on those who really do care for you. They will actually be there when you need them one day.