Make friends. But first, make sure they're worth it.

One of my rules of happy motherhood is ‘have a social life’. I don’t necessarily mean lunch dates and cocktail parties, unless that’s the sort of thing that makes you happy, of course. I mean having a support system in place that fills your unique, specific mix of needs.

Over the past decade I’ve found myself going–often–to the Internet to meet many of those needs. I’m not the only one, of course. It’s hard making friends as a mom, so it makes sense that so many of us (myself included) have turned to social media to give us a hand. It’s simply more convenient (and less scary!) to get to know somebody through their blog posts or Twitter stream than it is to try to set up an in-person coffee date with the woman you just met at the playground.

But sometimes I wonder, in this brave new world where you can seem to have hundreds of close friends at once, if we’re picky enough about the people we let into our lives. Even if it is “just” our Internet lives.

Anyone can fall accidentally into a bubbling pot of drama soup once in a while, but some fall in it again and again. And some are just very skilled at making it look as though they simply fell into the drama soup, when the truth is that they cooked the whole thing up themselves and keep stirring the pot, sucking up energy from the hurt feelings and escalating words and other fallout around them.

Very few people “accidentally” wind up tangled up in drama over and over. Drama tends to originate from the same small number of broken and/or clueless and/or just plain mean people and then spread outward in rings, its reach dependent on a lot of factors like how titillating the storyline is and whether there’s anything better on TV. But there are a few people who keep getting caught up in it not because they’re starting it, but because of the company they keep.

Sometimes, when the latest blog drama unfolds and I see who the key players are (hey, I’m not above using a little drama as entertainment once in a blue moon) I’m surprised. Sometimes smart, kind women, women who have much better things to do with their limited time, have some real jerks for friends. And though they may not realize it, those smart, kind women are dragged down by those jerks.

I think there can be a very seductive thing about friendships with mean people. When somebody who’s universally feared or loathed is kind to you, it causes a little ego boost: what is so special about me, you wonder, that would make this leopard change her spots? Being allowed into this person’s inner circle brings with it a feeling of power, of being different from everyone else, better than, somehow. It took me a couple of those friendships when I was younger to realize–duh–if someone trash talks or toys with EVERYBODY ELSE, eventually it’ll be me, too. I am not that special.

Here’s the thing. If somebody is mean to 97% of the people in the world but nice to you, they’re still a mean person. If they gossip about everybody else they know, even their supposed friends, to you guess what? They’re gossiping about you to everyone else. If you find yourself apologizing for your friends and insisting to everyone you know that they’re really nicer than they seem, there’s a problem. If you find yourself constantly embroiled in controversy you didn’t start and aren’t even sure you have a stake in, there’s a problem.

Yes, friends are important. But more friends aren’t necessarily better than fewer. One of the great things about the Internet is the amount of choice we have in who we engage with, and on what level. There are people who are funny and interesting acquaintances, but best held at arm’s length. There are others so toxic it’s not worth risking contact with them at all.

Next time you find yourself forging or strengthening a friendship with somebody, ask yourself if it’s worth it to you. Do you genuinely like them? Do you think they’re an interesting, kind person? Do they seem to have integrity? Or are you attracted to their notoriety or “specialness” their friendship seems to bring?

If it’s the latter–if you doubt their kindness, their goodness, their integrity…move on. You don’t need them. You’ve got lots of options. The last thing a mom needs is to be thrown back into some seventh-grade nonsense. Because did that really make you happy the first time around?

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