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August 4, 2010 8:40 AM   Subscribe

How do you friend-dump your entire social circle?

It's recently become very obvious to me that I no longer want to be a part of the social circle I've been involved in over the last few years. This is a very large circle of about 40-50 people, only a handful of which could really be deemed actual friends, but I have spent a great deal of time with all of them over the years.

There are quite a few reasons why I just don't really want to continue spending time with any of these people, but the main reason is just that I don't feel very connected to any of them anymore and there are way, WAY too many petty dramas, personal issues and substance abuse problems going on. FWIW I'm in my 30s, as are most of the others in this group, so this isn't a case of silly high school dynamics - though it feels like it at times. I suppose that sounds judgy and mean, but it's how I feel.

Funnily enough, I realized that I needed to cut myself out of this group when I tried to organize a get-together a couple of days ago. The amount of drama and stress it's caused have made it clear to me that I don't want to put up with any of these people any longer.

So - how to proceed? Is it really just as simple as declining and ignoring invitations? (I guess I'm obligated to attend this event I organized, though I am even having second thoughts about that.) Am I obligated to explain to people why I'm no longer coming to events and parties and birthdays? Best case scenario is that I'm way overthinking this and that no one will even notice or care that I'm not showing up anymore. Has anyone else dealt with a full-scale social suicide like this? What, if any, were the repercussions?
posted by ladybird to Human Relations (37 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you're really not that close to anyone, you'll probably get a few questions from people about why you haven't been out with them. Just tell them you've been busy. Keep declining invitations. They'll eventually stop.
posted by inturnaround at 8:45 AM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

Fade away gracefully. It doesn't have to be outright social suicide annihilation - even if it is in your head. In fact, let the worst of it be in your head. These are people who, despite their pettiness or whatever, do have feelings and will probably miss you (maybe after it's too late, but whatevs, you'll have moved on).
posted by iamkimiam at 8:47 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

No, you are not obligated to tell them anything. In fact calling them all a bunch of losers would not be the way to leave. Go to the event you organized. Treat it like any other event. try to have fun. Then, start declining invites with, "I am sorry, I am working late/have other plans/feel tired etc type excuses. If it were me, rather than burn the bridge completely I would say yes to a select few events and show up for an hour or so just to keep an open door.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:49 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

You don't owe anything to anyone. Congratulations on having the courage to remove all of the toxic people from your life. Replace them with wonderful people who you aspire to be like, and your life will be transformed.
posted by brain at 8:50 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Honestly, just stop hanging out with them and decline invitations.

But the fact you're are way overthinking what to do makes me wonder if you're part of the drama problem you're perceiving in others. Perhaps you should review the dynamics going on and see if it really as bad as post is saying..
posted by nomadicink at 8:51 AM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

I don't feel very connected to any of them anymore and there are way, WAY too many petty dramas, personal issues and substance abuse problems going on.

First off, you congratulate yourself for making this decision and taking the measures to follow through. It's not easy -- the right thing to do almost never is -- but it's going to be very good for you, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, whichever way you experience "friendship." Always be aware that you're doing the right thing for yourself.

As for advice? Just start fading away. People need explanations? Whip out the little white lie. "Oh, I'm not feeling too well." "I already have plans, sorry!" Just make sure not to create a giant web of lies, and don't make any loose ends. Don't say you're hanging out with Frank if you're not, etc.

If the drama is as bad as you say it is, you'll stop mattering as they get more and more involved with themselves. Let them. The only repercussions are periodic loneliness, but you're clearly fed up enough with these people to even that out. Plus it'll be a reason to make new (well-adjusted, mature) friends.
posted by griphus at 8:56 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definitely phase out, and get busy with other things, you'll have valid reasons to decline. Some people probably will notice and care, and if you want you can meet them one-on-one for coffee or something outside the social circle's events if they get in touch.

If you burn bridges, they're burned for keeps and nobody tends to admire you for it, and even if you don't want to get back into the group once you've the perspective of distance, you might find yourself in some other totally awkward context with one of them where "yeah, sorry I haven't been around" is a lot better than being shunned, or you'll know you can gracefully be at, say, a friend's parent's funeral or whatever without the drama parade complicating it all.
posted by carbide at 8:58 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

There is no need to explicitly cut them off. Fade away. Don't go to things and don't make plans. Why? Because you can't know now that you won't change your mind in a few months. Perhaps something will happen where you will feel like occasionally seeing this group again. It would create more petty drama to explicitly tell them that you don't want to hang out with them anymore, and petty drama is something you stated that you dislike.
posted by millipede at 9:04 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've done this successfully.

1. Very quietly just check out. Don't explain. Never explain.

2. Don't return calls, reply to invitations.

3. Bump into someone with questions IRL? Just claim that you've been busy. Nice to see them.

4. Do not check in to see if you're missed. If this means online social network immolation, so be it.

5. Assign silent ring-tone and DO NOT ANSWER status to phone numbers.

That's it!
posted by kidelo at 9:06 AM on August 4, 2010 [11 favorites]

I've had to do this on a much smaller scale with certain acquaintances who tended to try to take advantage of me.

I went into my cellphone and set up all of their phone numbers to go directly to voice mail, so that I wouldn't have to speak with them. Even better, my phone wouldn't even ring when they called. By simply not returning their calls I seemed to drop off their radar after a brief period of time. I've run into one or two of them in public and we've exchanged pleasantries but that's it.
posted by BrianJ at 9:20 AM on August 4, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. I just wanted to point out that the reason I'm doing this is as part of a larger "project"; over the last few years I have been trying to identify things in my life that were not working and that were basically just preventing me from being as happy, productive and fulfilled as I could be. This meant getting out of a toxic romantic relationship, quitting a bad job and starting a new one, and now working on devoting what little spare time I have for socializing to people with whom I can have a mutually fulfilling relationship.

I realize that no one is perfect, everyone has their own issues, etc. etc., but I think we all know the difference between "issues" and self-made drama. My goal here is to extricate myself from this group without adding to the existing drama, and also to avoid hurting anyone's feelings if possible.
posted by ladybird at 9:31 AM on August 4, 2010

Are you on Facebook with all of these people? I would say delete all of them as your friends (tell them that you deleted your account), up your privacy setting so no one can find you, and then maybe in the future add the people who you think are still your friends.

Or you could delete your profile all together...
posted by Groovytimes at 9:33 AM on August 4, 2010

Nthing the "fade out". It's the only way to avoid ongoing drama from people who will take any excuse to make some.
posted by Aquaman at 9:36 AM on August 4, 2010

Again, let me congratulate you for doing this. And let me restate what others have: not only are you not obligated to explain this to anyone, if you do this, you are possibly going to bring it down to their levels and allow your good choices to be spun into drama. Just move along.

And don't burn bridges. You've changed. Perhaps some of them will too. It will be easier to reconnect if you haven't taken drastic action.

I'm not sure about you, but if anything, if you're a busy person, you're hitting the age where traditionally it actually requires work to keep your relationships in tact. This should be pretty easy if you let it happen.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:37 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know. I would rethink dumping your friends. I guess you can make new friends, but that can be pretty difficult. I found it's hard to click with people the way I did when I was in college. There's something about having friends that have known you for a long time. Most likely, they won't notice you're gone. If the dramas are toxic, tell them to their face that they're being ridiculous. But I wouldn't just shove everybody out.

You seem stressed from organizing this recent event. Could it be that you spent more time and effort and energy doing it than you needed to, and you're angry at them for not helping?

Maybe you just need to change the dynamic of how you relate to your friends. Maybe have more one on one relationships with them, like going to movies or whatever for low key low stress stuff. Because throwing old friends away isn't necessary. You just have to show them your limits and not let them become the sources of stress.
posted by anniecat at 9:38 AM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

Fading away gracefully is really the perfect solution. It removes the drama and toxicity from your life but doesn't raze the ground -- if particular ones from that group want to rediscover themselves as rational adults, you may want to strike up a friendship again.

Hopefully your larger project involves adding people who share your values and desire to develop friendships. It's a little more difficult in your thirties to add new people to your friend roster, because we are all so much more busy with work and families, but if you add the right ones, you'll be delighted to find them just as supportive and spirited as a really good group of old friends would be. And you've got the next several decades to become truly "old friends."
posted by mdiskin at 9:44 AM on August 4, 2010

I agree with many of the above, just stop returning phone calls, stop returning emails and don't RSVP to anything. If you have a facebook account, delete it for a few months and if you run into people just tell them you're busy with work or other activities. And if there are one or two of the group that you do appreciate and want in your life then keep them close and tell them that you want to pull away from the circle. They'll keep it secret if they are a good friend, and if they don't then the rest of the people will be offended on some level and not talk to you, which is what you want anyway.

I've done this before with great success. Good luck, and congratulations in removing poison from your life. Life is short.
posted by zombieApoc at 9:58 AM on August 4, 2010

Forgive me if this sounds a little harsh, but the wording of your question (social suicide, friend-dumping, repercussions) suggests that maybe you've become sucked into the drama a bit more than you realize?

Think of it from the other way 'round. If someone faded away from the group events but found it necessary to explain to you that they were doing so because they decided that they don't really like everyone that much, wouldn't you consider that to be drama-seeking behavior?

Go to the event you planned. Be pleasant and civil. Start declining invitations. Fade away. Eh, you're not up for hanging out with the crowd. Oh, so busy. Spending a lot of time on [new project.] Aw, you've got plans.

No need to burn bridges, though. When faded out of a group of people with whom I'd been friends, I was pleasantly surprised to find that one or two of them did wind up striking up one-on-one friendships with me later.
posted by desuetude at 10:00 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've done this successfully for similar reasons: making a scene of it will make it HARDER, not EASIER, to establish distance. In a nutshell, if you do that you'll be creating a new arc of drama for the group rather than getting away from its drama.
posted by verb at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2010

Congratulations on finding something you want to do with your time/energy and getting on with it!

Is it really just as simple as declining and ignoring invitations?

Yes. It really is.

At some point someone will probably ask you if all your recent not answering the phone, "very busy lately", "other plans" means that you hate them all. It's up to you how you answer.
Do you hate them all? Do you want to admit that you're avoiding them or do you want to say vague nonsense things and insist you're really just busy? (this might lead to them continuing to pester you) Do you know/like some of these people enough to give them (part of) the truth, or are you asking us for a convenient lie?
If someone asks, you can decide if that particular individual reaching out to you means something - does this person care about you, or are they just looking for gossip? "You know I made a lot of changes this year, with the new job and breaking things off with {old relationship}. It's been a really great time for me to kick off some new interests, and I've been getting really into {new stuff} lately, which doesn't leave a lot of time."

Assuming you don't go the bridge-burning route, you're not required to explain yourself, but your real options are (1) ignore like crazy so that nobody has a chance to ask, (2) fade gracefully away and be prepared with empty non-answers just in case people politely ask where you've been, (3) as well as a polite nonsense, be prepared to talk honestly (but tactfully) to the handful or people you consider real friends.
posted by aimedwander at 10:09 AM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: I did this about a decade ago for many of the same reasons. I changed my home and cell numbers, and would have changed my email address except that it was actually going to be more work to deal with the email address change than the phone numbers.

Funnily enough certain people went into "Oh no what happened to micawber, her phone #'s changed" but no one ever emailed to say "hey, what's up". Which confirmed my suspicions about my value to these individuals.

Now, this is pre-social media, so I didn't have to deal with Facebook etc. either. But I did recently decide there was a group of people I'd friended on FB that I didn't want to interact with, so I made a list called "PC" and put them all on it, allowed them to see basic profile information ONLY, and then hid them in my newsfeed so I never saw their stuff. My profile also tells people "I don't check messages on facebook, please email me if you want to chat."

Et Voila. I didn't have to unfriend them, they just think I don't use Facebook (if they think anything at all) and if they message me thru FB, I have my automatic out already above if I somehow run into them or they do email me with "OMG I CONTACTED YOU ON FB AND YOU DIDN'T ANSWER ME!!!111"

And like everyone else said, don't announce it. kidelo above has a good rundown of how to handle it.

A lot of people keep friendships because they think they have to or they don't want to hurt feelings or cause scenes, and if your friendships do not support you in a positive manner, there is no reason to keep them. It was one of the most freeing things I have ever done.

As others noted, after I did this, some people did come back into my life independently.
posted by micawber at 10:10 AM on August 4, 2010

Maybe you are participating in the drama, but that's why it's a good idea to extricate yourself. The people you hang out with will influence you.

Just decline all invitations with a hand-wave and fade out. Some of them may mature, as you have done, and then you'll be glad you burned no bridges.
posted by tel3path at 10:12 AM on August 4, 2010

I grew up and went to university in a mid-size city. I made lots of friends - everyone knows everyone in the Lefty / indie rock / arts scene here, so you see the same people at school, and then at parties post-grad into our twenties and thirties.

I went away for 10 years. When I came back I tried to reintegrate into this social circle. However, everyone was doing the same thing. No one had kids (or if they did have kids they were divorced and had a lot of free time to party hard between visits with the kids). I like to socialize, but I also like to socialize with my kids.

So I dropped my old social circle and made new friends (mostly people with kids with an Asian background). It was a little painful at first, but life goes on.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:13 AM on August 4, 2010

I asked a somewhat similar question about cutting off friendships. The best advice I got was to not burn any bridges. This means not having a big "Let's stop being friends" talk. Slowly fade out, as others have suggested. Just claim that you are busy lately.

The fade out is so important because you will still have the option to resume those friendships later down the line if you feel like it. Who knows, maybe you will reconnect with some of those friends and they'll have matured into better people.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 10:34 AM on August 4, 2010

Start building your new social group and getting into that as much as possible. If you do that, you truly won't have time to hang out with the old group and won't need to lie or turn down invitations to events you can truly make. Make the future instead of rejecting the past.
posted by wackybrit at 11:12 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

"How do you friend-dump your entire social circle?"

Yes. But I also moved to another continent when I did this step.

"It's recently become very obvious to me that I no longer want to be a part of the social circle I've been involved in over the last few years."
Well, you want to change things in your life which is totally fine.

"This is a very large circle of about 40-50 people, only a handful of which could really be deemed actual friends"
At that time I was very unhappy with my life. I also realized that I considered too many people my friends and wrong expectations can easily lead to disappointments An advise I give sometimes since that time: "Fire some friends". You would be surprised how many people think they have a god given right to your company (and benefit from it in whatever way).

"Is it really just as simple as declining and ignoring invitations? "
Yes, move on with your life.

"Am I obligated to explain to people why I'm no longer coming to events and parties and birthdays? "
Only to those people you want to keep as friends.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 11:45 AM on August 4, 2010

Fading out is the way to go here. But also, you don't need to think of all these people as a unit. 40-50 is a ton of people for a social circle, and I'd be surprised to hear that that many people routinely hang out together. So if there are, as you say, a handful that you like, feel free to remain friends with just them. You aren't obligated to be friends with all of your friends' friends.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:56 AM on August 4, 2010

When I dump a friend, I always think of the song "Thoughtless Kind" by John Cale.

When we grow tired of the friends we make
In case we mean to say something else
Say they were the best of times we ever had
The best of times were the thoughtless kind

It helps. ...Time to move on...
posted by rw at 2:21 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're over-thinking this.

Slowly stop hanging out with the people you don't want to hang out with. Make new friends and start hanging out with them instead. If anyone from the previous social circle asks, you can honestly say you've been busy... because you will have been busy (busy with your new friends, but you keep that part to yourself).

"So - how to proceed? Is it really just as simple as declining and ignoring invitations?"


If you don't like drama, don't create drama by explaining this to the old social circle. Just start making time to meet new people, and then make more and more time for them, while making less and less for the previous social circle. By trying to explain anything to the previous social circle, you're just creating more drama. The question is: why?

I hope I'm wrong, but I have a feeling you're prone to drama. Some people need it even though they don't realize that fact about themselves.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:48 PM on August 4, 2010

I personally vote for the flame out. I've done it before. It is a lot easier to get a group of people to ostracize you, than for you to have to go to the effort to ostracize them all individually. This is particularly easy if there is one person who is the center of the group. You can offend them, so the whole group has to decide which side they are on, his or yours. Arrange it so they all take sides against you. Go ahead, be the villain. Who cares about their drama and their feelings? These are the dysfunctional people you want to get rid of. Worried that they'll spread it around that they now hate you? I've been there. Nobody cares what they think. A guy I knew once told me, "a lot of people told me that you were an asshole. But I finally realized these people all had something in common: they were all assholes. Once I met you, I discovered you weren't an asshole."
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:00 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you and said social circle all connected via a social networking site (facebook/myspace/etc)?

Disable your account...or just stop logging in.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:01 PM on August 4, 2010

I did this about a decade ago, too, by moving halfway across the country. I don't have much to add advice-wise, other than to second the recommendations to just fade away, but I can say that within the last year, lots of the people I distanced myself from reconnected w/ me on Facebook and, one or two people who are very dear to me aside, that pretty much reinforced my decision to move on with my life.
posted by jennyb at 3:46 PM on August 4, 2010

Imagine yourself not as retreating, but as leading. Start acting like an adult and seeking out adult activities, and remain open to those of your friends you can tolerate best, and see who follows. Some may be grateful that there develops a segment of this circle that is drama-free and mature.
posted by dhartung at 3:55 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

You're overthinking this. Most likely no one really cares.

The only time I've ever had repercussions was when one person I knew kept insisting that another person I knew missed me and why was I doing this to her. Other than me fuming exasperatedly every time it happened for a few weeks, nothing came of it and even the worrier eventually left me alone after a few weeks.

I don't think anyone even ever asked me why I vanished. I think it got passed around by gossip (correctly or incorrectly) and no one bothered.
posted by tejolote at 10:04 PM on August 4, 2010

Please ignore everyone who responded that you must be a drama hound yourself or that this is all about you. And ignore the myth that if you don’t stay friends with your high school or college buddies forever you will be doomed to a life of loneliness. Life is not a sitcom. You will continually make new friends even as an adult. If you become a parent you will make friends with other parents, if you move you will make new friends, if you get a new job you will make new friends, heck, you will probably still be making new friends when you’re in a nursing home. That doesn’t mean there won’t be periods of loneliness in between major life changes (and some could even last years) but it beats the heck out of petty drama that’s infantilizing and unhealthy. Also, you’re not judgey and mean. No one is obligated to like anyone else, just to treat them with basic respect and human decency. Which is why you know it would be wrong and sinking to their level to send a mass email or make a big confrontational announcement. But on the other hand, I have done the social group switch before, and unfortunately, it was not so easy for me as “no one really noticed or cared.” That might be how you’d expect normal, well-adjusted people to think and behave, but the type of gossipy drama hounds I had gotten in with would ALWAYS notice. They’d make it their business to notice.

What I ended up doing was not a series of little white lies or outright ignoring them, but picking the person I got along with the best and telling them I was having a crisis (true at the time) of identity and that I might have to drop off the face of the earth for a while or move away. This person then spread the news to the others, which satisfied their hunger for “secrets” and also got them to hear it in a way that made me seem more sympathetic than just continually brushing them off. Eventually, I did move, and I ended up only keeping in touch with that one person I was closest too.

And it was definitely them and not me- they’re still embroiled as ever in their dramatics. I’m much happier.
posted by Nixy at 6:25 AM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

"I've been busy. Nice to see you. Gotta go."

I recently did this with a group for somewhat different reasons, but for the same result. One thing I did from a social networking perspective was move them all into a group and then set privacy on that group such that I didn't see their biz and they couldn't see mine. Seemed to curtail the "why did you unfriend me" stuff. A couple noticed, but most didn't.
posted by kjs3 at 10:31 AM on August 5, 2010

Don't ignore someone when or if they email or call. Say you have been busy and will continue to be busy and are giving them fair warning you won't be able to communicate, and that you'll get back in touch when you can. Then it's up to you when and if to get in touch. Expect to occasionally get a few messages from someone checking in. You'll need a good explanation of why you've been so busy. Maybe you should enroll in class somewhere or get a new girlfriend.

As much as it really seems that you know for sure you don't want anything to do with any of those people, you should proceed as if you might change your mind about them in the future. Certainly you can use the explanation of being busy for an indefinite period, but after you've achieved your disengagement, you might find that you miss one or two of them. Those you can get in touch with and explain you want to be friends with just them - but only if you have withdrawn from the group gracefully.
posted by conrad53 at 6:53 AM on August 6, 2010

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