I was originally planning to write this as an article about how to meet new friends, but after a humorous moment of self-reflection and honesty, I’ve decided to keep my article writing to areas that I know about and am at least vaguely competent.
And so instead, I am going to focus on thinning your personal social herd – or at least, assessing it.
For full disclosure, I don’t have a huge list of friends. My dark sense of humour and brutal honesty do a pretty good job of keeping my rolodex at a manageable level.
But even as an introvert, I find myself cutting the dead weight as bullshit levels grow or friendships begin to fade out.
In the age of collecting people in the virtual prisons of your Instagram and Facebook friend lists, this seems like modern sacrilege. A lot of people want friends at any cost – no matter how much of themselves they have to give up to appease the friend. It’s just too important to have that one extra person who might drop a like on their selfie with the basil-pesto bagel that they had for brunch.
If you fall into this category, you probably aren’t the type of person who reads too much, so I’ll assume that since you have read this far, you’re not part of this group.
For the rest of us, we have boundaries and expectations for our friendships. This seems like a vintage concept in the current era, but it’s worth repeating.
It’s OK to have standards. Here’s why.
You are the average of the 5 people that you most associate with
I’m not sure who this quote is officially attributed to, but I first read it when I was following Tim Ferris. Yes, I am the kind of guy who likes the idea of a 4 hour work week.
This is at least anecdotally true. If you look at yourself compared to the 5 people that you are around the most – you will most likely find that you possess a mixture of their best and worst virtues.
Write them down if you want, and consider the similarities between you – from the way that you respond to stress to the types of clothes that you wear.
You could argue that you choose to surround yourself with people who are most like you, for better or worse, but this isn’t just the 5 people that you voluntarily choose to associate with most. This includes people that you haven’t directly chosen, such as colleagues, teachers or bosses.
People naturally adapt to being like those around them, and it goes back to our caveman DNA. We have an innate yearning to seek out tribal belonging, because in early human history, it was those who were part of a tribe who survived.
If you had some fucked up habits like making fart noises with your armpits, people wouldn’t want to be around you, and that could literally be the difference between life and death. And so to survive, we have adapted a sense of shame, of varying degrees of intensity, which produces a sub-conscious adaptation mechanism where we begin to mirror the behaviour of those around us.
Of course, our environment is now completely different. We are fortunate enough to live in the age of NetFlix and pizza delivery, so if the tribe rejects you for being an eccentric weirdo, it will probably lead to you playing Fortnite on your lonely Saturday nights, rather than being cast into the wilderness to get mauled by wolves.
But our DNA doesn’t know the difference between eternal virginity and death, and from the perspective of the survival of your genes, they are both one and the same. It’s a powerful psychological force, and regardless of how much we resist it, for better or worse, we will always be squished into the mould of those who we most associate to some extent.
This is the main reason that you need to be vigilant about the people who you make friends with – they will probably make the list of people you most associate with, so assess carefully if they are someone that you would like to emulate.
Don’t put up with shit from your friends
Given that you now know that you are destined to start morphing towards whoever you are letting into your inner circle, it’s important to cast a critical eye over the people who are shaping you.
Everyone has their own values that are important to them specifically, but the more universal ones would include honesty, humour, and loyalty.
It should go without saying that anyone who is constantly belittling your achievements, insulting you, calling you names (excluding banter, of course), or otherwise acting like a raging shithead should be on a friendship performance management plan. These people will have a distinctly negative impact on your life, and barring any extreme circumstances that could be causing them to act out temporarily, do yourself a favour and unfriend them.
History, be damned. I’ve known people who will tolerate the most insane levels of bullshit from supposed friends, “because we’ve been friends since we were 14” or “she used to be nice to me”.
Well, a true friend is someone who will tell you the brutally honest truth. If you are as close as you think, tell them to pull their shit together and treat you with some respect. Tact is optional.
If it’s ongoing and they are unwilling to change their behaviour, be aware that they will begin to change you.
Pull the plug and save yourself.
The idea of a friendship being mutually beneficial to both parties seems fairly obvious, but we’ve all had that one friend.
You know the type.
Let’s call him Dylan, since that’s probably his name anyway.
Dylan always needs you to pay his round at the bar, pick him up from the city at 2am because he’s blackout drunk, drive him to his aunt’s house, and pet-sit his Amazonian ball python while he’s out of town (probably at Comic-Con). Except for when he needs you to do something for him, you never hear from the deadbeat Dylan.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t help your friends out when they need you – that’s a huge part of friendship. But don’t go out of your way for someone who is always happy to take from you, but balks when you ask them to do something for you.
Even if you don’t immediately think that you have a parasitic friendship, it’s worth taking some time to assess that you are getting back what you put in to your friendships. It’s not about keeping a scorecard of who has done the most for who, but rather, the general sense of knowing that they’ve got your back in the same way that you have theirs.
Sometimes you‘re better off alone
As someone who has dealt with several Dylans in my lifetime, often through lowering my own standards in order to find people to hang out with, I can definitively say that having no company is better than having bad company.
Of course, disagreement and disputes in friendships are bound to come up, and I’m not suggesting that you ditch people at the first sign of trouble. Work out any issues that crop up, as they are probably related to a specific situation or misunderstanding, rather than underlying character.
But you will never make a freeloader into a friend or a bitch into a buddy, and you will do a lot for your mental health to cut them loose before you start turning into them.
Sure, you will have one less person to call upon when you need an extra pair of hands to move house, but at least you aren’t carrying a parasite anymore.
And Dylan will probably be busy at Comic-Con on moving weekend anyway.