Friend audit: Why pruning your friends can improve your social life
We're all aware of the benefits of having a good old clear out every now and then – whether it's a spot of Spring cleaning, weeding the garden, or a post-Christmas charity shop donation of all the gifts you've not looked at since the previous year. Not only does de-cluttering make everything look fresher and tidier, it's also hugely stress relieving.
Tidiness, calm and order at home can have a really soothing impact on your over-stimulated brain, boosting your overall sense of wellbeing and making everything feel a little bit easier. Notice how much more productive and focused you feel in a freshly cleaned and tidied office? We know this – and yet how often do we apply the same principle to our social lives?
It might sound harsh, but taking stock of your friendships and pruning your social circle from time to time can also be really beneficial. No matter how long you've known someone, friendships can ebb and flow as we get older and, as our life circumstances change, so too do the dynamics between us and those around us. It can be tempting to think that the more friends you have, the better, richer, and more fulfilled your life will be – but this isn't necessarily true. As with most things, it's important to think about your friendships in terms of quality over quantity.
For some reason, many of us find it relatively easy to walk away from jobs or romantic relationships that aren't up to scratch or meeting our needs, but then struggle to apply the same rules to our friends. But if a friendship is toxic, frustrating, or even just unfulfilling, it's perfectly ok to question whether it's still worth your time and effort to maintain. Life's too short to cling on to friendships that have gone stale, and your energy is far better directed towards nurturing positive, rewarding relationships with people who simply mean more to you at the stage of life you're in now.
Where to start
There's an old adage that "people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime", and it's worth keeping this in mind when carrying out your friend audit. Start by writing out a list of the people in your life – why did you become friends in the first place, and why are you still friends now? It might be that the same reasons still apply, or that your friendship has grown and you've developed new reasons to stick together.
If you're not sure why you're still friends, or the reason is simply that your friendship has become a habit, then it's time to look a little deeper at what you're both getting out of the relationship. Likewise, think about the time when you became friends – perhaps you had loads in common at school or university, but you're both now at totally different places in your lives and nostalgia is all that's keeping you connected.
Who do you want to be friends with?
Once you've started tackling the fundamental reasons behind your friendships, you can begin to take your audit a little deeper. What kind of people do you want to be friends with, and what kind of friend do you want to be to others? Think about the qualities, values and interests you would look for in a new friend if you had to start from scratch today.
Now consider how many of the characteristics on that list actually apply to the friends you already have? If you wouldn't choose someone as a friend now, it's worth taking stock of what that relationship is giving you – but only you can decide whether you're close enough, and have a strong enough history, to make it worth continuing to work at.
How bothered are you both?
Finally, get real about the emotional time and effort you're both putting into the friendship, and what you're each getting out of it. Ask yourself:
- How do you feel about the prospect of spending time with them? Is it excitement, dread, or indifference?
- Who makes the most effort? Is it split 50:50, or do you feel like you're constantly chasing them and they don't seem bothered?
- How many times have they cancelled plans for a better offer? If they're a serial canceller, are they flaky with everyone or is it just you?
- Do they build you up, or criticise and bring you down?
- Do you feel appreciated? What do you appreciate about them?
- Who leads the conversation? Do you feel that you can't get a word in edgeways for them talking about themselves, or do you share the conversation more evenly?
If a friendship feels one-sided, in either direction, it's not really serving either of you to its full potential. There are of course those special, lifetime friendships, where you'll just need to bang your heads together once in a while if you start to take each other for granted – but if you've simply lost the inclination to spend time together, it's better to gradually let go and walk away rather than clinging on.
Auditing your friends doesn't need to be acrimonious or melodramatic, so there's no need to start a fight or ignore them in the street. Instead, it's simply about freeing up your time and energy to invest in those really significant, meaningful friendships that actually do enrich your life.
Author: Sarah Graham