Breaking up... with dozens of people at once
March 13, 2014 6:15 PM   Subscribe

I think I may need to detach from my main friend group, but I have no idea how to start over.

When I moved to a new city about three years ago, I fell in with a large social group who all lived close to each other and did lots of things together. (I no longer live in the same neighborhood as most of them.) For a long time, this was great- I didn’t have to painstakingly build up a network, it already existed! I always had something to do on the weekend! I was thinking, I’ve found my community. I’d come from a very tight-knit and expansive group of friends in college, and this group scratched the same itch. Unfortunately, it also kept me from building up a broader friend network, because I didn’t ‘need’ to.

But now, in my mid-20s, I’ve increasingly realized that I don’t have so much in common with many of these people, I don’t share their values, and I don’t really like who I become when I spend a lot of time with them. There is a ton of gossip, negativity, and outright meanness in the air. Lots of people have some vendetta against someone else in the group, and they aren’t shy about discussing it. Most of the socializing revolves around drinking and smoking weed a lot (fine sometimes, but this is almost every time). Once at a party I told people I was trying a diet where I didn’t drink, and every single person laid on the pressure until I got a drink just to shut them up, which I hated myself for doing.

I rarely come away from a gathering thinking “wow, that was so fun, I’m so glad I went to that!” I might enjoy myself, but not to a super amazing extent. There are only a few people in the group who I’d really enjoy hanging out one-on-one with- honestly, maybe only two or three. And when I imagine the kind of person I want to date, I don’t imagine being excited to introduce them to these people, the way I would be with many of my friends from my hometown or college.

Now, the thing is, the group isn’t all bad, and I don’t HATE hanging out with them. Sometimes I do genuinely have fun with them. And, more significantly, this group represents 90% of the people I know in this city. I know right now that if I keep hanging out with them, I have plans lined up for Halloween. My Facebook calendar is full of invitations to parties from these people. That’s very seductive and hard to give up. But I really think I have to, in order to become the kind of adult I increasingly desire to be.

But how? How can I friend dump 40 people in the age of Facebook, and if I do, how on Earth do I start all over again? I enjoy socializing and I’m not shy, but I am the type who needs to limit the socializing to a couple times a week or I’ll exhaust myself. So I’m afraid that I’ll cut ties with these folks, pat myself on the back, and then become a total hermit with no friends whatsoever.

I know I just need to stop accepting invitations and not make it a big deal. (I’d still appreciate advice on this front, though.) I guess I’m more wondering, how do I not just cut ties, but build a life afterwards? When I’m lonely on a Saturday night, how do I bring myself ignore a friendly invitation to hang out, from people I don’t despise or anything? When I go out and try to make new friends, or date, how do I explain to new people the fact that I have almost no local friends despite having lived here for three years? How can I not beat myself up for wasting my early-mid 20s investing my time and energy in a group that was obviously bad for me? In short, what happens AFTER the friend-dumping?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who recently carried out a large-scale purge of friends who didn't match my values, I think it's not as bad as you might think. Yeah, it can be a little scary at first to have more alone time but I think you will find that new people won't judge you the way you expect for not being a part of some huge social scene, there are always people who need new friends.
posted by steinsaltz at 6:17 PM on March 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I did something like this in my late-20's. My best advice is: if you're going to do it, do it fast, don't drag it out, and move on quickly. I'm a pretty outgoing guy, but there's a big gap in my social network because I wasted time trying to rehabilitate a bunch of dysfunctional friendships for about 3-4 years, only realizing later that these were prime years for building good and lasting connections with people. The older you get, the harder it is to meet new people and to make the sorts of memories that sustain that initial connection as life gets more complicated.
posted by R. Schlock at 6:26 PM on March 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

You're catastrophizing and over thinking! What you have is a group of acquaintances, and it doesn't really matter what acquaintances think of you. The ones you really like, invite out to do something you want to do. The ones you don't like, ignore. If you feel like going to a party on a Saturday, go. If you want to branch out and do something else, do that instead. It's not all or nothing.
posted by yarly at 6:53 PM on March 13, 2014 [16 favorites]

Three somewhat disturbing insights from someone twice your age who threw away vast legions of friends in his 20s:

1. It becomes exponentially harder to make new friends as you advance through your 30s, 40s, and into your 50s. There are many reasons for this (main one: your peers are increasingly focused on career and/or family, and friendships rate a distant third), but the upshot is that, as with savings or acorns, you'll be awfully grateful later if you've invested effort to cultivate friendships early on, while it's still easy.

2. When you're in your 20's, you have a clear recollection of your life as an unbroken narrative. The only real "break" in the narrative was pre/post childhood. You start losing this thread as you get older; your narrative starts to fragment into discrete parts, some of which can be hard to remember, much less integrate. You can kind of forget yourself...or parts of yourself. Old friends are the single best way to maintain a mirror of who you've been all along, and to help you remember who you are. When you're 50, a really old friend - even someone you don't necessarily love to death or have that much in common with - is worth their weight in gold. If you prune that tree too severely in your 20s, there won't be anyone in your life later on with a clear image of who you once were.

3. I've known both poverty and wealth, and I can assure you that the greatest treasure a person can have is a fat rolodex of go-to people - even if not all of them are particularly close or particularly awesome. It helps professionally, emotionally, and in every other way.

I'd suggest you find a way to compartmentalize groups of friends. That's how most people do it. It doesn't need to be a flat circle of equal and cross-linked relationships, like people on TV. They can be separate from each other, and some can be closer and others more distant. When you're 18 and someone doesn't invite you to something, it's like a stab wound. When you're 30, or 40, or 50, you have a much riper understanding that people travel in different circles and have unique priorities. Friendship is less about intense best-friends-forever, and more about "hey, we're both busy, but let's do something sometime soon" (again, it becomes third priority at best). The fact that it's getting to be time for you to transition to this more mature and nuanced model of friendships is evidenced by the fact that something's making you question your impulse to "fire" these friends en masse. Listen to that voice, it's right.
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:22 PM on March 13, 2014 [111 favorites]

i'm sort of going through the same thing, but while i do have this giant group of sorta-friends i've also managed to cultivate other friend groups from completely different worlds with very little overlap. i value each group in their own way, and circle amongst them based on what social need i'm feeling at the time - if i want to party, i call the party kids. if i want a bike ride, i call my cyclist friends. if i need a heart to heart there are only a few from any circle that i trust with even that.

what i recommend is to broaden your horizons, but don't cut this one off entirely. you may be disgusted with a lot of these folk but it doesn't mean you have to break ties. get busy but stay in touch, come around once every few months to check in while you're off building your life with new people. you won't miss out if you don't go to every little party they throw - i mean, after a while don't all the parties start to feel the same? it's kinda fun to play catch up later anyway.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 7:50 PM on March 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

Think of it like you would a job. Look for another job while you still have a job, right? So start turning down invitations, maybe limit to one gathering a week. Meanwhile, start cultivating other friendships, meetups, etc. that better mirror your values. I kind of did the same thing, and I really value being able to drop back in to 'the scene' if I want, while also building a network of people that I can go on hikes with, introduce my boyfriend to, throw dinner parties with, etc. It's not going to be as bad as you think; you just have to be able to say, honestly, 'I've been so busy lately! What's new with you?'. Because you are going to get a fair amount of, "OMG where have you BEEN? Did you find better friends or something?".

And honestly, if you're all in your mid-twenties, this is going to happen pretty soon to this friend group, anyways. Many, many people I know (myself included) found their primary friend groups start to unravel as everyone found partners, went to grad school, started families, or moved for their careers.
posted by stellaluna at 7:56 PM on March 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Stop going to big gatherings; start inviting individual people who you like out for small (four people or less) activities like going for dinner or watching a movie or some other thing you all enjoy; make a point of meeting new folks, as well.

It's almost never worth the drama and effort of actively cutting off a huge group of people. And there are probably other individuals in the extended circle who feel similarly to you -- find those people and cultivate one-on-one friendships with them.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:58 PM on March 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've done exactly what you're describing and have written about it in a few places on AskMe over the years. The people in question were eerily similar to your problematic group--they were catty, not very nurturing or caring, fun to DO things with, but in the end not people I felt a real meaningful kinship with. It stinks to be in that position.

The advice you're getting upthread about not jettisoning everyone all at once, with some kind of dramatic gesture or speech, is excellent. Definitely make the transition a smooth one and start to branch out now. Make new friends who won't intersect your current circle and just fade away slowly from the group you don't love. You don't really owe them a big explanation, and only the ones you care about will probably ask. Those few people you want to keep, you can see individually--there's no obligation that you spend time with the whole group.

When I pulled back, I don't even know that the dumped group even really noticed for a month or two. But it was exactly what I needed to do. I made new, non-intersecting friends, and through one of them, met my spouse. So I'd say in my case, there was a considerable upside.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:28 PM on March 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

I feel like the subtext for this post is "I want to quit abusing pot and alcohol". If drinking every weekend isn't your bag, just don't participate. If you can't resist the peer pressure, perhaps you should talk to a counselor.
posted by deathpanels at 8:39 PM on March 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

If drinking every weekend isn't your bag, just don't participate. If you can't resist the peer pressure, perhaps you should talk to a counselor.

A counselor who might give the common advice to take yourself out of an environment where you are pressured to use drugs and alcohol. You could just skip going to the counselor and just do what you planned to do.
posted by grouse at 4:12 AM on March 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have a vast network of people. VAST. I have friends from grade school and I consider them my best friends to this day. I have friends from a part-time job I had in my twenties. I have friends from work. I have a friend I consider another sister.

Tons and tons of friends. I feel like a Sim sometimes. "I have to call Lisa to catch up, or else she'll fall below 20."

You don't have to stay in the group, you can flit around on the peripheries. Go to brunch. Take in a movie. It's all good.

Your relationships grow and change as you get older. You can add more people, you can let some folks fade away. People you used to hang out with on a daily basis, can change to folks you see once a year. It's all good.

So don't dump your friends, just don't spend as much time with them. Find new folks to hang out with. I've made new friends in grad school, at moonlighting jobs, at corporate training, at work, on the internet through a common interest, through Husbunny, etc.

Damn. I know a LOT of people.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:51 AM on March 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Instead of thinking of this in a subtractive way (i.e. "I have to stop hanging out with these people") think of it in an additive way: "I want to meet more people and build friendships that really make me happy". When you get an invitation from the group, remember that the choice isn't really between going to hang out at Jeff's house and watch movies while drinking and smoking, versus staying at home alone and being sad. There's also the option of going onto meetup boards, or calling up somebody you vaguely know from work (they're only 90% of your contacts in the city, not 100%!) or going to a museum exhibit, or basically any of the things that you would have done when you were new in town, if you hadn't met them.

Challenge yourself that by the time their 4th of July party rolls around, you'll have something else to do: somebody else to bbq with, you're hosting a work party, a kayaking thing you signed up for, a date, whatever.
Start small - you don't have to start turning down every invitation you get from them to make that happen, you just have to start setting aside one night a week to actively meet new people.
posted by aimedwander at 6:58 AM on March 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

You seemed to dismiss the fact that there are "only" a few whom you really like. Keep them. Call them up sometimes and ask them (singly or as a pair etc.) to go to a movie or hear music or something and then have actual conversations with them where you find out what they really care about and what they're doing with their lives and want to be doing.

In other words, get out of the "pack" mentality and get more intimate with a few individuals. They will be your core as you transition to your new friendship life.

Then think about what your interests are and which ones you'd like to develop. see if there are Meet-Up groups or anything like that in your area where you can start to meet people who have common interests.

This new social life will build slowly. In the meantime, if you don't want to be alone on a Saturday night, you can still participate with the "bad" friends. But assert yourself, e.g., if you don't want to drink or whatever, don't. Practice doing what you want and being who you are. It'll benefit you when you start to meet your new friends.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:22 AM on March 14, 2014

Don't dump, just add. Start trying to find new friends now. Turn down one out of three events you'd otherwise attend.

If your worry is that the group is so toxic that you'll become the mark for bullying and backstabbing if you're not at every event, yeah, be drastic. Otherwise, no need.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:52 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's okay to have different groups of friends. It's okay that those groups differ so much that they wouldn't get along. That's what it's like being an adult.
posted by Neekee at 6:06 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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