When I was in college, I had a few friends who were considered “difficult people.”
Not by me, mind you.
Coming from a crazy home as I did, I didn’t even notice that these people were hard to get along with. They were all people who wanted to be friends with me, and I accepted them. Later on, as it got hard to deal with them, I assumed the problem was two sided and tried my best to fix my half of it.
So, you would think that when other friends (the ones I had chosen, mostly) commented that I seemed to like some pretty difficult people, I would be happy to get this perspective and would maybe get some distance from these folks.
Eventually, yes, I did get the distance. But, before that, I found perverse pleasure in being someone who could handle the difficult types. I thought it made me special in a good way, and generous.
I realize now that that feeling of specialness was a sad consolation prize for growing up with people who normalized insanity. The real prize came later, when, after making myself miserable for years trying to “make it work” with narcissistic, hostile, or otherwise disordered people, I gave myself permission to befriend only people whom I genuinely like, who treat me well and expect to be treated well.
Here’s what I used to put up with:
People who couldn’t let anyone else have the attention in the room. You know, the kind of “friend” who will find something to cry about or complain about the minute the focus slips away from them. Or who engages in overtly sexual display like bending over and waving her butt in the air as a way of seizing the attention in the room (yes, this really happened).
People who can’t let anyone be better than them at anything. The person who subtly and not-so-subtly undercuts others’ accomplishments or good traits. I had a “friend” back in the day who liked to pick out less-than-desirable guys for me, and say “he would be perfect, you know, for you. I wouldn’t date him, but he has a certain rural charm that you might like.”
People whose entire identity appeared to be based on victimhood, to the point that fully 80% of conversation would be about a rinse and repeat cycle of the same person taking advantage of them, over and over and over. Then, if asked “well, have you thought about cutting that person out of your life?” No, I can’t do that because I’m a nice person! Or, everything is hopeless and I have no choice but to stay in this horrible situation that I can’t stop talking about for even a minute.”
People who “like” you as long as you stay in the lane they have assigned for you, which in my situations turned out to be: beta sidekick; dimbulb rural transplant; tolerant listener; less-pretty wingwoman. Generally any role they can give you that makes you a flattering backdrop to their egocentric glory. I had a friend who once said “well, sure, you could be a model. Models don’t even have to be pretty.”
I used to be friends with people like this because I thought it made me a better person that I could “deal” with them. I realize now that this sort of thinking put me dangerously close to the victim identity type – I was invested in being “nice” and I was invested in being stronger and more tolerant than the people who steered clear of the difficult ones.
There was also the element of time. When you’re young and the future stretches out before as long as an Olympic Peninsula banana slug, the time is so much less precious and you can afford to spend a lot of time listening to friends’ drama. These days, I need that time for other stuff.
And, I realize too, that really good people, healthy people, don’t have drama swirling around them all the time. This is a good thing. Drama is just a cover for emptiness. Drama doesn’t make you interesting, it just makes you dramatic. Truly interesting people are interesting because they have interests and passions and they are DOING something with their lives. Truly interesting people are interested in the world around them, which includes being interested in the people around them.
These days, if I get a whiff of self-absorption, or the need to be a victim, or the need to put others down to push themselves up, the need to always have some kind of interpersonal drama swirling around, I politely detach and move on with my life.
Meanwhile, the people who have stayed in my life (and let me stay in theirs) are the solid ones; the ones that will be there for you in a real crisis and know you’ll be there for them, but who, in their day to day lives, are drama-free. Who lift you up and want you to be the best you can be, and are their best selves when they’re around you and their other significant people. Who are generous without being doormats and self-aware without being narcissistic. Who have adventures and meaningful moments instead of manufactured drama. Who love deeply and completely and selectively.