From "Ten Things I Have Learned," a 2001 talk by graphic designer Milton Glaser:
the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.This passage is from no. 3, "SOME PEOPLE ARE TOXIC AVOID THEM" (via kottke.org).
If you're visiting from Boing Boing or elsewhere:
I posted Milton Glaser's advice partly because I'm interested (always) in what older people have to say, partly because I like the then 72-year-old Glaser's bluntness. (Older people often specialize in bluntness.) I also like the urgent, ominous, all-caps run-on — "SOME PEOPLE ARE TOXIC AVOID THEM." — which looks to my eyes like the work of an outsider artist. That's the way the sentence appears on Glaser's website, sans internal punctuation, so it has someone's okay.
I didn't call Glaser's advice good (David Pescovitz called it "terrific"). But I do think it's good advice, which is to say, useful. And I've been surprised by the many angry responses this post has elicited. I don't think Glaser is suggesting that friends are for one's use, nor do I think he's suggesting that we walk away from situations that are difficult or exhausting (a friend in distress, a relative in the hospital). A more generous reading would take this advice as relevant to everyday encounters: with the colleague who makes every run-in in the hallway an occasion of hostility, with the supervisor who makes the workplace a theater of cruelty, with the acquaintance whose conversation is a stream of belittlement and mockery.
An anonymous commenter at Boing Boing offered the example of leaving a social situation and asking "Why the hell do I do this to myself?" That question seems to me to capture the scenarios in which Glaser's idea of toxicity applies. No one (except perhaps George Costanza) would ask that question after visiting a friend or relative in need. But in everyday social settings, it's exactly the question that suggests the need to walk away.