‘Girlfriends’ Showed Us What a Toxic Friendship Looks Like

Can we really talk about Joan and Toni?

Arielle Gray
ZORA
Published in
5 min readOct 7, 2020

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Screenshot of Jill Marie Jones as Toni in “Girlfriends.”
Toni from “Girlfriends.” Photo: CBS

Watching Girlfriends in the early 2000s with my momma are memories I’ll always cherish. Even though I was too young to know what most of the show was about (Joan’s “three-month rule” or Sean’s sex addiction), I knew I enjoyed seeing four Black women going through life together. Even at my young age, I could feel the importance of sisterhood. I could feel the magic that comes with finding your “girlfriends.” I, too, wanted to be successful, beautiful, and Black with a core group of Black friends.

When Netflix announced the release of all eight seasons of Girlfriends, there was a collective elation that spread through Black Twitter and other social media platforms. Black womxn everywhere immediately began streaming Girlfriends when it dropped. It’s our cult classic. I binged season after season, warm from the nostalgia I felt just from hearing the theme song. As a kid, I idolized the friendships between Joan, Lynn, Maya, and Toni because it gave me something to look forward to as an adult. But now as an adult, I can clearly see the threads of toxicity running through their friendships because it was so well-obscured by their cute dinner dates, burgeoning career paths, and fun nights out.

“Is it me or is this kind of manipulative?” my friend asked.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a scene from season two. Toni, desperate to prove to Joan that she’s changed her toxic ways, goes up during the assurance of pardon in church. A lot has happened between the two before this point — Toni cheated on her fiancée and Joan saw fit to interfere and tell Toni’s fiancée, who, of course, calls off the engagement. Toni half-heartedly attempted to seduce Joan’s boyfriend as revenge. They forgive each other but fall back into the same habits — Toni tells Joan’s boss intimate details about Joan’s life. Joan cuts her off. Things change when Toni, Maya, and Lynn bombard Joan while she’s enjoying Sunday church service, alone.

“Is it me or is this kind of manipulative?” my friend asked. I rewatched the episode and found myself agreeing. The gesture was beautiful but Toni’s (and Joan’s) toxic behavior doesn’t end in season two. Both Lynn…

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Arielle Gray
ZORA
Writer for

Arielle Gray is a journalist, writer and artist currently based in Boston.