Throughout this year, several bloggers will engage in a conversation here and on their blogs — asking questions of each other and responding. Others are absolutely welcome to join the conversation, as well. Learn more about the ladies of Blogversation 2012.
Since it’s a commonly accepted goal in our culture to find a mate for a monogamous marriage, most people understand that when you’re dating you’re auditioning potential partners and if he or she isn’t “the one,” you’ll eventually break up.
With the goal of choosing a single partner, you need to make a decision.
But with friends, it seems there’s no similar social expectation of evaluating and moving on. Facebook has shown us it’s possible to have thousands of friends, bounded only by our interest in their Farmville requests and pictures of their children.
Because there’s no expectation of friendship monogamy, it seems in some ways like a deeper rejection to end a friendship. I’m capable of having lots of friends, but I choose not to have you among them.
So what if you realize you have friends you would not choose as friends today?
In a recent article headlined It’s Not Me, It’s You, Alex Williams wrote for the New York Times:
Thanks to Facebook, the concept of “defriending” has become part of the online culture. With a click of a mouse, you can remove someone from your friends roster and never again see an annoying status update or another vacation photo from a person you want out of your life.
Not so in the real world. Even though research shows that it is natural, and perhaps inevitable, for people to prune the weeds from their social groups as they move through adulthood, those who actually attempt to defriend in real life find that it often plays out like a divorce in miniature — a tangle of awkward exchanges, made-up excuses, hurt feelings and lingering ill will.
I count a couple of friendships among my life’s most painful break ups, and I think it’s because we didn’t have a socially agreed upon way to be grown up and say “this isn’t working for me any more.”
We also didn’t have a good way to explain to mutual friends what had happened, so they were left trying to figure out how to navigate invitations to social events and what it meant to them.
In recent years, I have worked to draw smart, creative, inspirational people closer to me. I’ve also tried to reduce the time I spend with negative people, to make more time for the positive ones.
I want to come away from social events energized and uplifted, having learned something or having laughed hard. This is not to say I’m against supporting friends going through life’s challenges, but there’s a difference between a basically positive person having a rough patch at work and someone who always finds something to grouse about.
Since we’re pretty busy people, it’s reasonably easy to pick and choose our social outings. We’re honestly too busy to do everything, and we really value having downtime at home.
But sometimes when I demure on an invitation, I feel this awkward lack of social conventions about ending friendships — does the person on the other end wonder whether I’m really too busy or if I just don’t want to hang out with them? If we were more open with one another when we’ve outgrown a friendship, I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I’m sending mixed signals.
Similarly, when I reach out repeatedly to someone I like, I anxiously wonder if it’s me, not their calendar, that’s driving them to decline plans. Should I just stop trying? Without clear communication, it’s hard to know.
Related, when I’ve had a couple of friendships that hit bumpy patches, communication has been essential in maintaining the friendship — sometimes making it better than ever, because it speaks to valuing the other person enough to fix what’s broken.
Maybe that makes friendship more like dating than I thought. You’re thinking about a break up but first you have a talk about your concerns, and then evaluate whether the problem feels better or worse before you figure out what’s next.
What’s your experience with ending friendships? Have you ended a friendship, and did it go well? Have you had someone end a friendship with you?