Having close friends is a necessity, but determining who stays and who goes requires some conscious consideration. Dish shares what has become the most important barometer for her, something she only picked up as a conscious practice recently, and as a result of staying on top of top dating advice.
You need friends. I wrote about how critical they are to our lives and happiness in Six Ways to Find the Friends Who Count and Why You Need Them in Letter No. 7. In that article, I cited Eric Barker and the shocking stats he published from an epidemiologic study of 300,000 people to determine fatality correlations. Based on the study, only two things will make a huge difference in your longevity: the frequency of your social support and how integrated you are within a community.
So, you need friends. But you don’t need to be everybody’s close friend. If the pandemic was good for anything at all, it was the opportunity it created to loosen up some bonds. If you weren‘t in the headspace then, now is the time. Typical transitions at this stage of life - a move, becoming an empty nester, retiring, trauma - can and should cause shifts in your friendship circle.
Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck wrote about what he calls the five levels of friendship. “Because few stop to think about the quality of their friendships and whether or not they’re surrounded by assholes.” His levels go from “Hey, It’s That Guy” to “We’re Practically Family”. His piece is here.
I tend to think in concentric circles myself, with the innermost circle representing those whose heart I carry with me in my heart (to steal from the great poet e.e. cummings). This is the model my Mother taught me in my teens after a round with Cindy, who was super fun but often proved self-absorbed. My characteristically matter-of-fact Mother suggested “I think you want to keep her in your life, but knock her back a ring or three. She’s so self-involved, she might not even notice.”
We all have limited time and energy, and our lives are better allocating it proportionally to those who love us best. Here are some things to consider as we determine which concentric circle our friends belong in, if any at all.
1. The Biggest Thing: How do you feel when you are with them?
This has become my most important barometer. I picked it up (and repurposed it) from Logan Ury, author of How Not To Die Alone. It’s a dating book, but her approach is equally imperative for friendships. Ury says to stop going on dates with checklists and educational, financial and physical criteria. That’s “evaluative” dating and it’s the wrong mindset (not to mention not at all fun!). Even common interests aren’t relevant, she said.
What is? How do you feel when you‘re with them? Ury offers up a “post date eight” assessment - a series of questions to ask yourself that explore how you felt during the date - things like did you feel “stiff or relaxed?” “high energy or drained?” “curious or bored?” “listened to or talked over?”
These are just as relevant when considering who to keep close as a friend. Here is how I feel when I’m with my closest friends: Goofy. Expansive. Fun. Curious. Interesting. At ease. Also often emotionally intense. Listened to. Like they’ll give me a pass for not being able to complete a sentence before I’ve finished my morning coffee, or not being able to figure out where I placed my keys (again). (Not all of these things all of the time, and every once in a while none of them. But usually some of them.) When I walk into my friend Dina’s kitchen, I can literally feel the tension in my neck imperceptibly release. I know that I can bring every part of me there.
2. Are They Someone Who Shows Up for Their Friends?
Some people get the importance of friends. They organize their lives in a way that prioritizes and honors their important friendships. Others just can’t find a way to regularly fit friends in.
The people who show up for you are the most important. Of course sometimes even the most devoted friends have a conflict, but if it is truly critical, you want to feel like your innermost circle will try to move mountains. The 30’s and 40’s found a lot of us at the crux of the killer combination of careers, heavy-duty child rearing, aging parents and marriage, for instance. Those are tough years for friendships, even for those who value it. One of the gifts of hitting your 50‘s is that some of that eases up and leaves more space to enjoy and nurture friendships.
But let’s be honest, some don’t truly value friendship. Arthur Brooks identified people who value their exceptionalism above everything else his article “‘Success Addicts’ Choose Being Special Over Being Happy. There are some people you can love, admire and enjoy a friendship with but not put in your innermost circle.
You’ve got to play the long game in friendship, and you’ve got to cut others the slack (and understanding) that you’d want them to for you. So on some level you might be asking yourself about a friend, are they in a crunch or do they just not value our friendship? It’s not always immediately evident, but this gets answered in time.
3. Convenience, Shared Interests and Transactional Relationships
Don’t confuse proximity, shared interests, the parents of your child’s best friend, the most fun person you've ever met or a big rolodex with the qualities above. We need helpful neighbors, friends to play golf with, carpools, to have fun, to network — but we also need friends who make us feel good and show up for us. Reflecting on who is what is the mark of this wisdom thing they say we get as we mature. You can't prioritize and "inner circle" (yes I just turned that into a verb) anyone who is not doing the latter regardless of whether they do any or all of the foregoing. I spent my 20's and 30's believing that anyone who I had fun with was a best friend. And then I noticed who showed up for me at (and after) my late husband's death at 41 years old. Fun is not the same as true. (Though sometimes you get lucky.)
Shared interests are a terrific basis from which a deeper friendship can grow. But it is not enough on its own for you to get the kind of soul-fulfilling experience you get (and need) from friends who make you feel seen and beautiful and who show up for you over time. On the other hand, some of the friends you’ve had the longest and shared the most important moments with now have lives and interests that don’t resemble yours. Maybe your life has gone from afternoons at 4H Club meet-ups in the country to late nights at jazz clubs in New York City, while she became a country vet. But if she still shows up and makes you feel seen, find the thing you can do together now. Two-stepping at the local dive. Scrabble. A walk. There is something. Find it.
The important thing I remind myself about doing a friend edit is that by being conscious of who to keep closest, I’m being a friend to myself.
The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from Dish Stanley curating articles & intelligence on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?