I’ve been watching Real Housewives of Atlanta for 11 seasons now. Over the years, as cast members have rotated in and out, gotten divorced, changed wigs, had babies, gotten married and had a number of cosmetic procedures, the one constant on the show has been Nene Leakes abusive form of “friendship.” From her allegedly choking fellow cast member Kim Zolciak (a well-earned fate considering Kim’s racist, disrespectful bullshit) to her decade-long manipulation and abuse of her alleged good girlfriend Cynthia Bailey to her violent argument with her “little sister” Porsha Williams, Leakes has spent the past 11 years demonstrating that emotional abuse is not a phenomenon reserved only for romantic or parental relationships.
This season, Leakes turned up her gaslighting, verbally abusive antics to the max as she consistently used the fact that her husband is battling colon cancer to demand that her friends accept her violent, obnoxious, self-centering toxic behavior. Earlier in the season we saw her curse out new cast member Tanya Sam because Tanya, who Nene introduced as her friend, dared to call a pair of glasses she’d purchased from Nene’s boutique “low fashion.” After telling Tanya she couldn’t stand “ignorant shit” and spending several segments of her confessional insulting Tanya, Nene pretended she had no problems with her alleged friend when Tanya confronted her. At least two more times in the season Nene berated and humiliated Tanya who seemed eager to please her and maintain a friendship.
After last season’s epic argument with Porsha where Nene opportunistically defended Kandi — for the first time suspiciously in the same season Nene was set to serve as the MC on Kandi’s tour with Xscape — Nene and Porsha seemed to be back on track. That is until Porsha and Kandi entered Nene’s bedroom closet against her repeated objection and the situation reportedly ended with Nene making threats to both women. After both Kandi and Porsha accepted responsibility for their part in the matter and apologized, it seemed as if all was forgotten. Then Nene opted out of attending Porsha’s gender reveal party using the excuse that Porsha never supports her, despite the fact that Porsha was at Nene’s house for a dinner party, surprised her in Miami by coming to her comedy show and attended the Destin trip Nene hosted. When confronted by Porsha about why she didn’t show up to her baby shower, Nene first said it was because she was in Vancouver filming a TV show, then that Porsha didn’t support her only to continue deflecting when Porsha named all the times she’d shown support to Nene.
Even Nene’s supposed closest friends, Marlo and Cynthia, did not escape her abuse. After Marlo left a hair appointment and drove frantically to Nene’s house an hour away at the request of Nene’s husband Greg who was in the hospital and asked Marlo to check on his wife because she was crying and extremely upset, Nene refused to even open the door for Marlo. When Marlo showed up to a party at Nene’s house the next day, Nene first insulted her outfit before telling Marlo not to fight with her about why she didn’t open the door and just be there for her. She burst into tears after being insulting and disrespectful to a friend who cared enough to drop everything and drive an hour to be with her.
Cynthia, who has been the most loyal and consistent to Nene out of all the castmates over the past 10 seasons, was accused of setting Nene up because Cynthia decided to have Kenya Moore, whom Nene no longer likes and tried desperately to bait into an argument, to an event. Nene all but demanded Cynthia explain why she didn’t clear it with Nene that a woman she was no longer friends with was invited to Cynthia’s event. Nene also threw shade at Cynthia’s relationship and continued to state that she was allowed to have an opinion about Cynthia’s relationship when asked why she said Cynthia’s social media display with her man seemed “insecure.”
Nene Leakes is exhausting. She takes no accountability for anything and hides behind “I can do what I want” whenever she’s confronted about her behavior. To make matters worse, Leakes is rarely if ever given the kind of blunt, brutal reads she deserves. Yes, she’s probably strapped with the financial, emotional and physical burdens of taking care of an ill spouse. That is certainly nothing to minimize or trivialize. But the fact that she is in a space where she needs love and support from friends does not give her license to say and do whatever she wants while requiring her friends to endure her repugnant behavior, saying nothing, under the guise of being there for her. And it certainly should require her to demonstrate the kind of kindness and gentleness she expects to receive.
Being there for a friend in such a situation is reaching out daily to see what they need. Being there for a friend is bringing over meals because you know they’re too tired to cook. Being there for a friend is sitting with her in the hospital waiting room while her husband is in surgery. Being there for a friend is coming over to help her clean, take care of her sick partner or just sit and shoot the shit. Being there for a friend is defending your friend against slander. Being there for a friend is showing up to your friend’s events when the invitation is extended.
But being there for a friend, even one going through such a traumatic life experience as having a partner battling an often fatal disease, does not require you to sit and take that friend mocking you. It does not require you to repeatedly ignore or forgive that friend’s mistreatment because she’s going through so much. It does not require you to constantly apologize every time that friend falls back on her husband’s condition to play the victim despite her aggressions. It does not require you to always be the bigger person as that friend immaturely posts barely veiled insults about you on social media. It does not require you to bite your tongue, shrink and kiss ass.
Nene has been allowed to run amok on that show, always pretending she is above reproach, feigning innocence or outright lying when confronted about her bullshit and using her reputation to force her opponents into submission. I’ve watched her take full advantage of Cynthia’s emotions and Porsha’s fondness for her. She’s been free to center herself in important moments in the lives of others like Eva’s wedding and Cynthia’s launch party. I’ve seen her endear herself to women on that show by being kind to them, providing a shoulder to cry on when they need it most and giving them advice, only to turn around and betray their trust, talk greasy about them and align herself with their enemies. And I’ve watched too many of the ladies on that show take her bullshit because they’ve fallen for her lies about demanding loyalty or allowed her guilt trips about all she’s done for them make them feel like she has enough redeeming qualities to be worth all the crushing negative energy she brings. (I suspect this is why she and Kandi have never been too close because Kandi has always refused to be her whipping post.)
But the truth is she is obsessed with being exalted and lionized. The adoration, absolute obedience and constant defense of her from her castmates is an intoxicant. She needs it. She craves it. She employs whatever methods to extract it. Nene Leakes waves her “friendship” around like its gold, threatening to take it away or downgrade it at the slightest inkling that a friend is not always prepared to lie down and allow her to step on them.
Friendship is not supposed to be that much work. You choose your friends. You should most often leave interactions with them feeling good. You should not always be putting their feelings before your own. You should not be willing to be humiliated for the sake of saving a friendship. You should not be willing to be a constant target of a friend’s anger and venom. Friendship should not exhaust you.
And friends don’t keep their tragedy, trials and tribulations in their pocket always ready to pull them out to escape accountability for their immoral, disloyal or inappropriate actions. So if being there for any friend means that you can’t ever express how their behavior is hurting you because you always have to prioritize how that friend’s situation may be driving her to be a mean, disrespectful, envious, hateful bitch, perhaps you should evaluate the purpose of friendship. It should be enjoyable and fulfilling but most of all mutual.
Abuse is not normal nor is it acceptable to overlook in the interest of the abuser. Take stock of your friendships. Weigh the costs and benefits. Then ask yourself if any friendship is worth your dignity and peace.