Lifestyle

Five ways to streamline your friendship group

I’ve always had loads of friends but recently decided that many of them had to go. It has simplified and enriched my life.

I’ve always had loads of friends but recently decided that many of them had to go. It has simplified and enriched my life.

Final cut: ‘I stopped making the effort with people I had to bite my tongue with, who looked at their phone constantly, who cancelled meet-ups.’ Illustration: Eva Bee/The Observer

One night about six months ago, as I was tidying up for the babysitter at the same time as battling to put the kids to bed, all while trying to answer a multitude of suddenly-urgent questions they’d had all day to ask, and put lipstick on, I caught sight of my frantic-looking face in the mirror. What, I wondered, was I doing all this for? Was it worth it simply to spend the evening with a couple we didn’t really like, drink insipid wine and make shallow small-talk about other people we don’t really know or want to spend time with?

I’ve always been a more-the-merrier type person and someone who prided herself on being a good friend. I have friends from all areas of my life – school, university, work – but as I got older and the demands of raising three young children and work have grown, I’ve realised that something had to give. And that something has ended up being my friendships. Not all of them, but I’ve certainly had something of a reassessment.Advertisement

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It wasn’t a contrived thing at first. It was more of an inevitable decline as the children have got older (they are 11, almost 8 and 6) which has left me, their designated driver/slave (football one night, Scouts the next, never-ending homework etc) feeling frazzled. But it’s also because, since turning 40 two years ago, I have, I suppose, become less of a social butterfly and make less of an effort generally. I’ve reached a stage where I choose a bath and a book over a night out.

So I decided to prioritise a small number of people, rather than try to keep up and maintain lots of different, superfluous friendships. It started with something of an online “cull”. The “friend” who always tried to make her life look like something out of a Boden catalogue with never-ending perfect images of her children along with the nauseating hashtag #blessed. The mum from school who hardly said a word to me at the school gates but looked at every story the second I posted it on Instagram and probably gossiped about it afterwards. The people who popped up on Facebook who I hadn’t seen for years and these days wouldn’t cross the road to say hello to.

Unfriending and in some cases blocking, made me feel calmer

Unfollowing, unfriending and, in some cases, even blocking, made me feel calmer and more in control. It helped prevent FOPO – Fear of People’s Opinion – and quelled the anxiety I sometimes get after sharing something spontaneously on social media. So I began to do the same sort of thing IRL too.


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I stopped making the effort with the people who leave it to me to initiate every meet-up and nurture friendships that, in the words of Marie Kondo, no longer spark joy. Those who I had to bite my tongue with, who looked at their phone constantly while I was talking to them. Those who cancelled meet-ups one too many times or who I saw out of a sense of obligation and duty rather than want. The friend who said “Have you really?” in an incredulous way after I told her I’d lost weight.

I stopped texting people back if I didn’t really want to see them, and arranging coffees and lunches unless someone really made the effort. I stopped hanging around the school gates to chat unless someone really made a beeline for me.

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How to streamline your friendship group

1. Think about the people you see regularly and text without thinking. Those are probably your core friends.

2. Ask yourself what you get from this friendship and whether you put in equal effort. If the answer is not much and/or no then it might be one to let go of.

3. If you’re not brave enough to delete someone on social media just engage with them less, mute or unfollow them first and see how you feel. If it makes you feel better then that’s a good indicator.

4. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Decreasing contact is kinder than ghosting.

5. We probably all have a number of people who Bridget Jones called “jellyfishes”. Those who seemingly accidentally say something hurtful or leave you feeling low. Ask yourself whether you want those sorts of people in your life.

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