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Sociability • Friendship

How to Lose Friends

All the emphasis, and the advice, lies on the making of friends: how to charm, what to say, how to keep in touch and how to ensure loyalty and trust.

It’s moving and highly useful too, but it neglects another and arguably more significant art: that of being able to lose friends when we need to.

Photo of a group of friends at a party.
Photo by kevin turcios on Unsplash

It matters a lot whom we spend our time with. In twenty minutes in someone’s company, we are inundated with implicit suggestions of who we might be, of what matters and of where purpose and meaning might lie. With the wrong candidate, all these invitations may run contrary to, and crush, our deeper, perhaps still tentative inclinations. We may forget what we were really concerned about, we are frightened back into timidity, we come away with an impression of what that nebulous block ‘other people’ want and think and lose faith in our more individual and private hopes. 

We hear so much about the loneliness we feel without others; but far too little about the loneliness we have to suffer with the wrong sorts of people: those who cannot give our complexity room in their minds, those who keep encouraging us to be someone else; those who unconsciously condemn our choices and disapprove of our lives. A decade only has about 58,000 waking hours in it. 

We can be absurdly loyal to chance events that brought us together with certain people: we were on the same course at university, our parents knew one another…. We don’t need to let these occasions define the rest of our lives. It isn’t a prerequisite of a novel that we should re-read it every few weeks, or of a film that we need to rewatch it many times a year. Why not be allowed gratitude for a connection that made sense at one point – and then opt never to repeat it?

We are touchingly loyal to the presumed feelings of others and recklessly unconcerned with our own brief lives. We should scan our diaries and expunge from them anyone whom we would genuinely be sad if – by chance – happened to call a few hours before an appointment with news of a cold and cancelled. Few names would survive – and we should arrange our priorities accordingly. 

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