Relationships, Un-Friending, and Burning Bridges

Are They Really FriendsMoving Forward

The holidays are a time when people across the country are packing their bags and heading home. For most young adults this means reuniting with hometown friends. However, this holiday season I have decided not to take part in this usually joyful reunion.

I’ve changed a lot over the last three years, making a huge effort to grow in all areas of my life. Though it’s been an amazing journey, this growth has caused a major rift in some relationships. Long time, trusted friendships that once felt unbreakable have now faded into a distant memory, only to be revisited through occasional stories. The once common interests and values are now vastly different, creating progressively diverging paths.

Yet, even though I know this truth, I have struggled with completely letting go, occasionally getting pulled back into the crowd I no longer am apart of. Repeated efforts to return to the genuine camaraderie of these relationships have left me burned, regretting the decision.

So this time around, instead of setting myself up for failure, I took a step back to evaluate my friendship situation.

Evaluating Friends

I subscribe to the idea that everybody is the average of their 5 best friends, therefore the company I keep is a major factor in my personal growth. In order to keep this growth in the direction I want, I continually strive to only surround myself with inspirational, motivated people.  I am fairly intuitive when picking new friends and evaluating new people, but this discernment lapses when it comes to old friends. Blurred by passage of time, underlying feelings, and unresolved conflict, it is difficult to clarify exactly where these friendships stand.

So, in order to understand my relationships better, I organized my friends into four categories:

  1. Good Friends – Those who add great value consistently and frequently or great value intermittently. These are the like-minded friends that push me forward, inspire me to accomplish more, and are there when I need someone.
  2. Friends – Someone who adds value occasionally. People who are like-minded, enjoy some of the same interests, and are there to associate with casually.
  3. Acquaintances – Someone who adds little value or who might add value at some point later down the road.
  4. Un-friends – People who no longer add any value, who take away value, who I don’t know, or who I don’t want around.

Then I defined how I see value, including some of these examples:

  • Insight / Advice
  • Support
  • Reliability / Trust
  • Presence
  • Love
  • Encouragement
  • Wisdom
  • Productive relaxation

This categorization led to more questions, more examination, and more perspective-shifting. I was looking at friendship and relationships differently than I ever had before. Tough questions kept arising, further pushing me to explore my relationship paradigms.

  • What do I want out of a friendship?
  • What type of people do I want to be associated with?
  • How can I increase my value output?
  • How do I associate with / treat each level?
  • How do I let go of friends without coming across as elitist or too good?

What I Realized

After walking through this process, I faced a few stunning, stone cold truths that had lingered subconsciously but had not quite completely surfaced:

  • Most of my “Friends” were actually “Acquaintances” or even “Un-Friends”.
  • I was wasting value that could be added to new relationships by clinging to broken, old ones.
  • A number of old friends don’t want the value I offer.
  • I was wasting time by putting myself in a situation where no value was being exchanged.
  • No matter how hard I tried, there was no going back to the original relationships.

“Where did all my good friends go?” Hayes Carll

I realized I was investing value into friendships that weren’t working and, in the process, these attachments were holding me back from moving on with new, value-filled relationships. I was trying to fill buckets (relationships) with value, hoping to be filled in return.

Trying to fill too many un-welcome buckets while not receiving value in return was wasting my value.

What To Do

Dunbar’s number says our cognitive limit to social relationships is about 150 people. Friendship is not a passive action; it takes sacrifice, patience, and energy to build a solid relationship and our brains can only handle so much of this at once. So why waste time and energy on broken buckets/ relationships?

4 Steps for More Meaningful Relationships:
  1. Decide Wisely Where to Invest Value: You only have so much value to add so use it wisely and sparingly. Once you have your rankings established, go all in. You know where you need to invest value so spend it there. Don’t pour value into buckets with holes. Our value stream isn’t infinite, which means we can’t add consistent and frequent value to everybody’s life: choose whom to let into your circle.
  2. Evaluate Rankings Frequently: Whenever issues arise with relationships, re-evaluate where the friendship stands. It’s perfectly fine to drop a “Good Friend” down in ranking when your equation isn’t working anymore. You can always move them back up.
  3. Un-Friend / Un-Follow: Do you really care about those 3000 “friends” on Facebook? That’s quite a few buckets. Try narrowing down your list to people you actually care about. Just because you sat next to that guy in a class doesn’t mean you have to be friends with him. (It’s amazing how this changes your perspective on friends.)
  4. Add Real Value Where It Matters: Go out of your way to thank your true friends for what they mean to you. Be grateful, express it, and work on improving those relationships. Not spending enough time with loved ones is one of the biggest death-bed-regrets. Don’t let this happen: start focusing on this NOW.

What’s the Condition of the Bridge?

In the process of evaluating, ranking, and reorganizing your friends list, you will have to make some tough decisions. You will realize that it’s time to move on from some relationships in order to invest more value in more suitable ones. When it came to this decision, I went against the popular theory of not burning bridges and decided:

If the bridge is rickety, fundamentally unsafe, and generally useless, burn the damn thing down.

Move on from limiting, wasteful relationships by completely moving on. Determine the value being invested in the relationship, both by you and the counterpart, and if it’s not worth it: grab the gasoline, throw the match and set it ablaze. It’s easier to rebuild from scratch than to fix something with major foundational flaws. Un-friend, sever ties, and feel the freedom.

Cheers to the good friends.

Please share this with your “Friends”.

And check out the follow up Thought: “7 Observations About Friendship”

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