Every person we call “friend” deserves our wholehearted attention, respect and consideration. But these activities take time and energy – relationships require ongoing work in order to succeed, or at least real and meaningful relationships do.
There seems to be a cultural expectation these days that we should have and keep up with as many people as we possibly can. A full address book or massive “Friends” list has become a cultural indicator of our own value and status. But having a long list of friends that you can’t keep up with is a recipe for resentment, because it creates unreasonable and unsustainable demands on our time.
Trying to meet the physical, emotional and mental demands of maintaining all of those friendships can be exhausting, frustrating and in many cases simply impossible. There’s only so much time in the day, and only so much of that time we can devote to maintaining our friendships. As a result, we either let some relationships lapse whether we want to or not or we give everyone an equally short shrift. Neither option is desirable, but it’s often hard to see a valid alternative.
In reality, the quality of your friendships should be of greater concern than the quantity. Like decluttering your home, decluttering your personal life can result in greater freedom, a calmer outlook and deeper feelings of fulfillment, meaning and enjoyment. Here’s how to go about reclaiming your real friendships and, in the process, building a much more fulfilling life.
1. Clean out your address book. Delete the entries of people you rarely or never contact, or whose relationships with you have ended. Un-friend online contacts you don’t actually know (or stop trying to keep up with them, at least). Clean your Christmas card list and other such “duty rosters” of anyone you don’t actually know, like or keep in touch with regularly.
2. Sort and categorize your remaining contacts. Label them as Business, Acquaintances and Friends, or whatever categories work for you. Some of these may overlap, but that’s okay. The idea is to get a better understanding of who is actually a friend and who is someone you are simply friendly with.
3. Limit your actual, active friendships to just those people you really, deeply care about. We all have people we call friends but don’t really like, and people we hang around with out of habit, history or because we feel we should. No one’s suggesting you give anyone the cold shoulder. But if you don’t actually feel a strong, positive connection with someone, there’s no point in acting as if you do. It’s exhausting for you and unfair to them.
4. Rebuild your friendships. If you’ve let important relationships lapse, or have given them less attention than you should, commit to reconnecting with them. Call them up, write them a letter, invite them to dinner – whatever seems appropriate. Yes, it can be awkward, especially if it’s been a long time since you were in contact. But if they really mean something to you, it’s worth the embarrassment to rekindle your friendship.
5. Spend more time with the people you love. Now that you’re no longer maintaining truckloads of not-quite-friends, you can use that time and energy to enjoy your real friends. Get together and hang out, engage in activities you mutually enjoy and make it a point to really be there when you’re with them, instead of being distracted by outside concerns.
Devoting yourself to a few well-chosen friends, instead of spreading yourself too thin trying to maintain relationships with a crowd of people you barely know, will pay you back many times for the effort you put into it. It will free up energy, eliminate stress and make you more mindful of how and with whom you spend your time.
In this life, we truly have nothing but our friends. Money, health, status, jobs, reputations and lifestyles – all of these can be lost in the blink of an eye. But a real friend stays at your side, supporting you and cheering you on through thick and thin. You owe it to them, and to yourself, to do the same.
Copyright 2008 David Bohl, SlowDownFast.com. All rights reserved.