Toxic vs. Non-Toxic. (Which Type are You?)

May 21, 2009

Forget horoscopes. Or those placemats at Chinese restaurants. Forget cootie-catchers, and forget MASH.  There are really only two kinds of people in this world.

Take this quick quiz to find out the only characteristic that matters:

1. You break up with your boyfriend/girlfriend of nine months. The next Saturday night you are most likely __________.
a) missing your ex, but out and having a good time with friends who have been, like, so supportive
b) home, constantly checking your phone and refreshing your e-mail, assembling a mix and composing an earnest letter intended to achieve “closure”
c) in the bed of the guy/girl you had your eye on for the past month anyway, achieving closure.

2. You are looking for a new job. You are more likely to __________.
a) commit several evenings to filling out dozens of applications, tweaking your cover letter, and shopping for nice interview clothes.
b) commit one evening on finding the perfect job. obsess over an overlong cover letter, then miss the application deadline. complain for six months. repeat.
c) spend your entire interview telling yo mama jokes, get hired, immediately sleep with the boss’ daughter

3. You are out on a first date. You ______________.
a) go to a bar/club too loud to hear each other, dance a little, end the night by making out
b) go to a foreign film, then for coffee, spend hours talking about your past relationship, end the night with a hug, call the next night, just in time for the ‘let’s be friends’ speech
c) ditch your date when (s)he goes to the bathroom, take home the entire waitstaff

4. You have a heated disagreement with a friend. Afterward, you more likely ____________.
a) blame your friend, call all your other friends for corroboration
b) blame yourself, disappear into your room for a couple days, contemplate your place in a cruel, uncaring universe
c) hear the ice cream man, get distracted, forget what you were mad about

5. ___________ is the greatest leading man of all time. Or at least, of these three:
a) Tom Hanks
b) John Cusack
c) Chris Klein

6. If you had to pick a favorite Eric Carmen song – and you do – it would be ____________.
a) “Hungry Eyes”
b) “All By Myself” or “Never Fall in Love Again”
c) “Make Me Lose Control”

Quiz over. Give yourself five points for every b). Give yourself two points for every a). And give yourself negative one point for every c).

Now use this rubric:

30 pts: Mmmm. Most Poisonous.
14 – 29 pts: Toxic
13 pts: Normal*
-5 – 12 pts: Non-Toxic
-6 pts: Flavor Flav

*it is impossible to get exactly 13 points

You may be confused at this point as to what I mean by toxic.  It is not, in my world, a catch-all term to describe anyone you don’t like, as you may assume after Googling “toxic personality.”  Toxic/Non-Toxic is a phrase a friend and I slowly developed in conversation as we navigated our way through our 20s, finding that people – and, often, ourselves – are divided into two types.



The “Toxic” Personality Explained

“My friend said to me, ‘I think the weather’s trippy.’ I said, ‘No, man, it’s not the weather that’s trippy, perhaps it is the way that we perceive it that is indeed trippy.’ Then I thought, ‘Man, I should’ve just said, ‘Yeah.’” – Mitch Hedberg

If you are toxic, you have a problem just smiling and saying yeah.  Rather, you are much more precise with thoughts and language, which forces others around you to be that way too, which no one wants to do cuz it’s fucking hard work to do that all the time, which makes them not want to be around you, which you can’t figure out because deep down you’re a really good person, so you insist that no one understands you and retreat into fits of introspection, nostalgia, self-mythologizing, and self-martyrhood.  The toxic personality feeds itself, and feeds itself poison.  Its challenges are internal creations.



The “Non – Toxic” Personality Explained

“Go ahead and talk to her, and speak up!  Loud guys don’t scare girls; quiet guys scare girls.” – Wayne “Juggler” Elise

If you are non-toxic, you think your parents are great!  You unabashedly sing along to oldies on FM radio but don’t know the names of the songs, and you definitely aren’t interested in tracking down the original vinyl of the bassist’s solo album!  You have moments of doubt and sadness, sure, but they are likely reasonable responses to external challenges!

In Love

The toxic personality believes in soul mates, (noun; the last person who dumped you).

The non-toxic personality believes in leagues, (noun; someone of corresponding social status who, once the merger is negotiated, you retroactively refer to as your soul mate).

In Communication

The toxic personality is quiet for long stretches of time, then unloads an academic-tinged self-analysis.

The non-toxic personality texts constantly, and e-mails in all caps.

In Ethics

The non-toxic personality is utilitarian.  To say something is “right” or “moral” is just toxic talk to describe the act of making people feel good.  The word “liar” is almost meaningless to the non-toxic, and calling them one would make you a complete buzzkill.

The toxic personality, on the other hand, is much more deontological.  Like Immanuel Kant.  Who lived a perfect moral life, mostly reading books, in his quest for truth.  Then died a virgin, I believe.

As Archetypes

Keep in mind that whether you are toxic or non-toxic refers more to the social role you tend to play and less to any inherent quality.  Most of us are not 100% one or the other and can be either, depending on the situation, or who we’re paired with.

A year ago or so I started thumbing through this book called Nerds (by David Anderegg).  His point seemed to be that every hero needs a villain – and every jock needs a nerd – and in America, we heroize jocks (“men of action”) and villainize nerds (“men of thought”).  He mentions heroes like Superman, who are physically strong, proud, and unburdened by self-doubt.  Our villains are more often “evil geniuses” with weakly bodies who tend to lurk in the shadows, plotting something perverse.

Presidential elections, just like any good TV show, necessitate the casting of heroes and villains as well.  Anderegg called the 2000 presidential election a “Jungian’s dream,” referencing Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes: George W. Bush (the “man of action” archetype) vs. Al Gore (the “man of thought” archetype).  Of course the jock beat the nerd.  And of course, I noticed how Anderegg’s archetype was aligning with my homemade one: the non-toxic candidate beat the toxic candidate.

A look back at all the elections in my lifetime reveals the pattern to hold true:

1980: Ronald Reagan (non-toxic, cool-grandfatherly) defeats Jimmy Carter (toxic, creepy, “sinned in my heart”, yechh)
1984: Reagan (California, non-toxic, oblivious) defeats Walter Mondale (Minnesota, toxic, LO-SER!)
1988: George H.W. Bush (king of non-toxic platitudes) defeats Michael Dukakis (looks silly, and insecure, in military gear)
1992: Bill Clinton (saxophone playing, pot smoking, fucks anything that moves) defeats George H.W. Bush (who suddenly looks old, uncool, wishy-washy, and backpedalling)
1996: Repeat of 1992
2000: George W. Bush (never had a ambivalent thought in his head) defeats Al Gore (Jim Lehrer’s Pet)
2004: Repeat of 2000. John Kerry gave us a tepid, unsure, doctoral thesis in the debates; Bush just said yeah.
2008: Barack Obama (“yes we can”) defeats John McCain (who lived a long, honorable life but when it came time to win mass approval couldn’t get his toxic face muscles to contort into a normal, non-toxic smile).

This list reveals something especially interesting.

In 1988, George H.W. Bush was in the incumbent party, coasting on the genius-level non-toxicity of Ronald Reagan.  Michael Dukakis, in comparison, seemed sort of toxic.  He was not comfortable with a tough-guy image, and his answers in the debates were all verse, no chorus.

However, in ’92 it was Bush who was the toxic one, dissing Ice T and all.  The person perhaps had not changed, but the archetype did.


I’ll leave you with a preview of my never-ending list of toxic/non-toxic archetypes (genre: music).  Go ahead and place yourself on the continuum.  I’ll give you a hint though; if you read this entire post, and still care, you are probably a little bit toxic.

Non-Toxic Mix

Toxic Mix

Song Title
Artist Song Title
Loving Cup Rolling Stones Poison Cup M. Ward
Move on Up Curtis Mayfield Down Through Red House Painters
You’re No Good Linda Ronstadt I Deserve It* Samantha Jones
Hey Ya Outkast Hey You Pink Floyd
Friends of Mine The Zombies Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone The Walkmen
Everybody is a Star Sly Stone Splendid Isolation Warren Zevon
Speed of Sound Coldplay Speed of Sound Chris Bell
Lullaby Shawn Mullins Lullaby James
China Girl David Bowie China Girl Iggy Pop
Slip Inside this House Primal Scream The House Doves
Ready for the Floor Hotchip Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor Eels
53rd & 3rd The Ramones Fountain & Fairfax The Afghan Whigs
Sun Hits the Sky Supergrass Nightime Big Star
I Wanna Be Rich Calloway Once I Was Tim Buckley
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction Devo Unsatisfied The Replacements
Moon River Henry Mancini & His Orchestra Moon River Morrissey
Love Song Tesla Hate Song** Daniel Johnston

*”I Deserve It” by Samantha Jones is not available as a digital download but it is available on the album Dream Babes, Vol. 1: Am I Dreaming? [IMPORT]

**”Hate Song” by Daniel Johnston is available as an MP3 on Amazon.

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16 Responses to “ Toxic vs. Non-Toxic. (Which Type are You?) ”

  1. fortuna koln on May 21, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    i went through the quiz and picked between the songs and i still don't know if i am neither or both. does that mean i'm toxic?

  2. mr.killstudent on May 21, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    what was your score on the quiz?

  3. Krogeress on May 21, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Aha! What a brilliant description, putting into words what I've tried to explain to others for so long. Yes, I read your list of archetypes. Yes, I edited my post for spelling and style three (no, make that four…) times. Yes, I sometimes wonder if my comments are worthy of posting on a site such as this one. And, yes, I care about these things. Because I am toxic.

  4. nonpretentious on May 22, 2009 at 5:43 am

    How can you doubt your worthiness, Krogeress?!

  5. [...] apologize for the delay…your charts are [...]

  6. revisingproust on May 26, 2009 at 8:26 am

    Can I tell you how much I love that Tesla song? Does that make me non-toxic?

  7. revisingproust on May 26, 2009 at 8:28 am

    oh wait. i spoke too soon.

    i don't like it anymore.

  8. mr.killstudent on May 26, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    give yourself a minute. you'll like it again.

    and by the way, if you have to ask, you are probably a little toxic. non-toxics just sing along.

  9. Krogeress on May 27, 2009 at 1:52 am

    Oh it's easy to doubt, especially for no good reason. It's one of the many joys of being toxic :)

  10. gimmeshelter on June 1, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    i think i might be both. Toxic within, but projecting non-toxicity in most social situations. I like to think of it as being a lot like Alex Mack. Most of the time I feel like the weird, slippery sludge she was able to melt into, but every time someone walked around the corner, I reform into a cheerful, inquisitive youth. (i use "youth" loosely.)

    i'm going to have to reread this blog to decide where i stand. although like you pointed out, that probably means i'm toxic.

    p.s. why is "Toxic" by Britney not on the non-toxic mix?? too obvious?

  11. mr.killstudent on June 16, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    you know, i thought about the britney song. but for the wrong mix. you had it dead on.

    toxicity is measured by actual behavior, not how you feel. there's no difference between people who 'act' normal and people who are normal.

  12. revisingproust on June 21, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    OK, so, I still see the charts. Anyone else missing them?

  13. devinelizabeth on June 29, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    since i am toxic, does that mean i need a non-toxic to balance me out, as a boyfriend? not sure i want someone who sings along to the oldies and fits in the same archetypal category as ronald reagan. it's hard enough as it is trying to find a soulmate who believes me to be at or above his league.

  14. [...] toxic Eric Carmen is great, this song kept showing up in my life at the right times, and the unwieldy [...]

  15. J.C. LaValley on September 28, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I got a 15, which makes me toxic—but only slightly so. That, however, is a distinction which would matter ONLY to a toxic person in the first place. So it goes… Anyway, as if there weren’t enough other toxicity red flags, one need look no farther than my use of an unspaced em-dash in the first sentence, supra. (And then, of course, there’s my use of “supra” in the just-prior sentence, and/or my creation of a hypnenated modifying adjective just now … DAMMIT; I should just quit now! %-)

    I also think you could skip the whole quiz and simply use a “hidden in plain sight” portion of the band/song chart as a litmus test. Anybody who picks any two of Pink Floyd, The Walkmen, Iggy Pop, Eels, or Daniel Johnston—DEFINITELY toxic, regardless of their quiz answers! (And anyway, if they ARE toxic, then … “do you really think you can dissect [them] with [that] blunt little tool?”* ;)

    * Quoting from Silence of the Lambs, under ANY circumstances, probably should count for — what? — about 50 “bonus” toxicity points, perhaps?

    P.S. I truly LOVE that the @Amazon “carousel app” set out Sideways as both “toxic” AND “non-toxic”!

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