As we get older, it becomes more and more difficult to have the hundreds of friends we seemingly had through school and university. This has its pros and cons. A smaller group of friends generally means the opportunity to build deeper, more meaningful connections. But in your twenties it can be daunting feeling like you’ve gone from a popular socialite to having only a handful of true friends. One of the most difficult parts of this transition is knowing when it’s time to cut someone loose. With the fast pace of modern life and the stresses that come with it, we can’t afford to spend time and effort on friendships that leave us feeling anxious and drained. But have you taken the time to be really honest with yourself about which relationships fall into that category? Here are 3 signs I’ve noticed that mean it might be time to reconsider how much time you spend with someone.
1. They make you feel like crap. Maybe you’ve been friends for a long time. Maybe you’ve had some great adventures together. But this particular friend makes you feel like crap. It might be that they never take as much of an interest in your life as you do theirs. Or they’re constantly putting you down and passing it off as ‘banter’. Or they somehow always make you feel like you’ve done something to piss them off despite their assurances you haven’t. To steal a phrase from the dating world, maybe they’re just not that into you. Whatever it is, it can be extremely hard to admit to yourself that perhaps this so called friend isn’t worth your time. Our natural reaction is to try harder and harder, especially if it’s someone we’ve had a good relationship with in the past but, ultimately you’ll just wear yourself out…and for what? After all, this kind of social rejection – or social pain – is processed by the brain in the same way as physical pain. It actually hurts us physically to be treated like this by a friend. Why not focus your time on friendships that don’t make you feel like you’re not enough as you are.
2. You’re ‘too busy’ to see them (or vice versa). Don’t get me wrong, being busy is a genuine reason for not seeing friends as much as you’d like. Between work, exercise, chores, hobbies, relationships and family it’s a wonder anyone sees anybody other than their housemate and/or cat 🐱 It’s also possible to not see a friend for a year and, when you finally do catch up, it’s like you saw them just yesterday. What I’m referring to here though is the friend you’re always too busy to see. You book a mate date in, then something comes up and you rearrange. And then it happens again. And again, and again. Could it be the case that rather than being too busy to see this friend, you simply don’t see them as enough of a priority? If that is the case, it’s probably less stressful for you both to just call it quits. And if that’s definitely not the case, then you need to step your game up, as I’ll bet your friend is starting to feel like you’re the person described in number 1 above…
3. You’ve grown apart. This is a big one because people often feel like if you’ve been friends with someone for a long time, you have to stay friends no matter how much you change as individuals, or how much your lifestyles diverge. There’s a sense of loyalty and nostalgia with these friendships. But if it comes to the point where all you have in common is a shared childhood and stories about each other’s misspent youth, perhaps just being Facebook friends who see each other at weddings and reunions is enough. And there’s really nothing wrong with that.
I know this might sound harsh. And I’m not advocating enacting a brutal and open cull of your friends. But just think about the last year or so. How much time have you spent with friends because you felt you had to rather than wanted to? How much effort have you spent on trying to strengthen relationships with people who are giving you nothing back? Now, if you took that time and effort and applied it to the people you really care about and who care about you, how much joy and fulfillment would that have added to your year?
As human beings, we crave connection. In fact, we need it to survive – it’s as integral to human life as food and water. Meaningful relationships stave off depression and anxiety, and have even been shown to help us live longer. Negative or stagnant relationships have the opposite effect. As we get closer to the end of the year, it might be time to take an audit of who you spend your time with, and decide how that could improve for the better next year. A Deepak Chopra meditation I listened to yesterday focused on the mantra ‘the best time of your life is now’. Yes, right now. Who are you sharing it with?