Why I dump friends when they reach their sell-by date: Women make 400 friends in a lifetime but how to shed ones you've outgrown Be ruthless
23:09 GMT, 14 November 2012
23:40 GMT, 14 November 2012
Lately I had one of those Facebook moments I’m sure everyone has experienced.
I was trawling through the messages when I realised I hadn’t seen anything from a certain friend for a while. On investigation, it seemed she had ‘defriended’ me.
Did I find this shocking or hurtful No! In fact, I couldn’t have felt more relieved. I’ve been wondering for a while how to end this friendship. Should I do it the tactful way or go for a direct approach
Culling: Do we get less tolerant as we get older
Well, it looks as if she’s saved me a job. Thank goodness. Because dumping friends is a complicated and time-consuming business. Far better that she got the hint and dumped me first. Why am I so hell-bent on losing friends rather than gaining them Well, in the same way I occasionally clear out my wardrobe, I have come to the conclusion that there are far too many people in my life who are dead wood.
I made their acquaintance in the past and, in the same way I regret buying that purple coat five years ago, I am no longer convinced we should continue a friendship that has never really been ‘me’.
So I have been jettisoning friends faster than I’ve been making them. I’m not alone, either. A survey by Microsoft’s MSN Messenger website has revealed we make nearly 400 friendships in our lives — but maintain only a handful.
Hitting the age of 40 marked the moment I took a long look at old friends and decided to start culling.
Take the old school friend I have recently stopped seeing. Back in 1986, we shared a passion for Duran Duran, ra-ra skirts and tennis.
Twenty-six years on, I am married with children; she has always been single. I have a career; she has a job she puts up with to support her (so far failing) attempts to become a professional artist. When we’ve met up, we’ve had nothing to talk about.
Friends reunited: A survey by MSN revealed that we only maintain a handful of friendships
Am I to continue to pay for a babysitter to continue seeing someone I don’t even like any more, just because we once sat next to each other in class
Or do I cross her off my Christmas card list
With this friendship, I didn’t just let the relationship slowly slip away — I told her what a myopic bore she’d become. That pretty much did it.
It’s understandable that childhood relationships don’t always stand the test of time, but when you put energy and effort into building adult friendships it’s so much harder to do a U-turn.
Take the woman I met when we both had toddlers and tiny babies. We were brought together through fatigue and circumstance.
So what went wrong Quite simply, that all-important thing we had in common — the overwhelming monotony of being stuck at home with small people — ended when I went back to work and she didn’t.
What started out as drifting apart morphed into a huge gulf. After a bit of soul-searching, I did the cowardly thing and stopped calling until she eventually got the message.
With other friends, it has been a case of conflict between our lifestyles creeping up on us. I met a mother in the car park when our daughters started senior school — she seemed great fun and just as laid-back as me.
'I made their acquaintance in the past and, in the same way I regret buying that purple coat five years ago, I am no longer convinced we should continue a friendship that has never really been me'
Yet after a few months of meeting for coffee and wine-fuelled suppers, it became clear our friendship was doomed because our opinions were so different.
Should our teenage girls be allowed to have a second ear piercing She was all for it; I was very much against.
Should our girls be allowed to travel by train after dark I wasn’t happy about it; she thought it was fine. She was, indeed, laid-back. I just hadn’t realised horizontal didn’t even begin to describe it.
While she seemed happy to let things drift, I wanted out.
Am I getting less tolerant as I get older In the past, when I was still insecure enough to believe everyone must be my friend, I would bite my lip, change the subject and continue to meet people in the hope that, eventually, we would reach common ground.
Now, I expect a whole-hearted friendship filled with common purpose or I can’t be bothered. Because how many friends can a busy mother maintain I believe you can probably count them on one hand.
I agree with the experts who say it takes courage and honesty to end a friendship.
‘No one likes to hear they are surplus to requirements, so tread carefully,’ says Jodyne L. Speyer, author of Dump ’Em: How To Break Up With Anyone From Your Best Friend To Your Hairdresser.
She wrote the book because she struggled to end unwanted friendships and says it gets easier with practice.
‘When you’re clear about your feelings, other people respond to that. You may think you’re doing someone a favour by not telling them, but in the long run it’s a lot worse,’ she writes.
Speyer suggests a ‘pre-dump’ meeting. ‘Give a warning. Maybe they can fix it and if they can’t then at least they knew it was coming.
‘And be kind. They don’t need 100 reasons, but let them know what the problem is so they can have that information and move on.’
I’m not this brave — I prefer the slow fade-out approach.
But occasionally there will be a friend who just refuses to get the message.
I’m midway through a dumping process. I’m at the ‘downgrading’ stage (being too busy for coffee, not returning texts), but if she doesn’t get the hint soon, I’m going to have to take a blunter approach.
In the meantime, to the diminishing list of friends I have left, please give me a call: my diary is suddenly looking very empty.