Looking at the title of this article, you’re probably confused — how can ditching my friends help me expand my social circle? Aren’t those things counterintuitive?
A popular saying goes that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Even though most of us nod our heads to this and say “Yeah, that makes sense”, we never take a good, hard look at our own friends.
So ask yourself: who are the five people you spend most of your time with?
Your closest friends are probably people you met by pure chance. You either grew up together, went to the same school, or were introduced by someone else. After all, most of us have no alternative methods for meeting people at a young age.
These people surely have noteworthy qualities. However, as people change, their qualities change as well. If you’ve known someone for a long time, it is unlikely that they will hold the same exact values and have the same interests over the span of a decade.
Life happens. Events occur. People react and adapt.
Some people, more than we’d like to admit, change for the worse. Maybe you knew them at a time when they weren’t like this, but if they had changed their personality, and now behave derogatorily, should you continue spending time with them?
They might even purposely drag you down, make fun of you, or outward bully you. You will agree that they are untrustworthy and unreliable but won’t take it as a cue that they are a bad influence in your life.
Which is completely understandable.
No matter how obvious it may be that you shouldn’t really like these people, you fear breaking ties with them because of the lingering worry about having no friends. If you mostly spend time with them, who would you hang out with instead? How would you meet new people?
I have been in that exact same situation and avoided taking actions precisely because of this fear. Once I eventually took the leap, I realized that I have learned the most valuable lesson in my entire personal journey:
Cutting off people who don’t appreciate you is the single best decision you can make in your life and be completely sure that you made the right choice.
It is a scary thought to bear, let alone actually go through. But is necessary if you ever want to grow up and improve your life.
The Influence of Toxic People
During my high school years, I had a group of five close friends.
We would regularly hang out, hit the clubs, throw parties, and travel together. They had a large social circle outside of school and introduced me to different people from all walks of life. They were fun guys and a night out with them always led to a great story.
So what was the problem?
Well, those same friends constantly gossiped whenever a member of our group was not around. They constantly screwed each other over and purposely embarrassed others in public. They mocked anyone with high aspirations and rejected any worldview which contrasted their own.
They reminded me of a quote popularly attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
They never discussed ideas. They never discussed events unless they started with “So, last night at the club…” Most of their time was focused on discussing people; namely, people who suck or people who are hot.
When I talked about anything else I found interesting, they openly mocked me for it. If I told them I’m going to stay at home and work on developing better drawing skills, all they heard was “He’s not going drinking with us to do something we don’t understand. What a weirdo.”
In that crowd, I was an anomaly. Being creative and ambitious were not the traits they respected. And as much as I like indulging my vices like anyone else, I dedicate a lot of my time to learning, improving skills, and building projects.
At the time, I was trying to get into the Academy of Fine Arts. I was practicing daily, carrying a notebook around so I could sketch during class. While most of my peers thought it was cool, my “friends” would pass by, notice the attention I was getting, then loudly proclaim that they are going to “laugh their ass off” when I get rejected from the Academy.
In hindsight, it was a textbook case of an abusive relationship. And just like in most abusive relationships, I kept turning a blind eye to the abuse.
They were not people who support you and help you grow. They were not people you could count on to come through in a time of need. I could not trust them, confide in them, or rely on them. Yet, I kept referring to these people as “friends”.
As time went on, I had to face an unpleasant truth I have been avoiding for too long: these people were not my friends. In fact, they were the furthest thing from it.
Why It’s Hard to Break Up With Toxic Friends
When a relationship is going downhill, you can sense it. Things get more awkward, you start fighting more, and you generally don’t look forward to spending time with the other person. At the same time, you will avoid confronting what this means for the relationship until it reaches a boiling point.
Whereas you know that this means parting ways with your significant other, you probably won’t apply the same logic to friendships. After all, they are supposed to last indefinitely. Bros before hoes and all that, right?
Pretty or not, if you want to become a better person, you will need to create a better environment for yourself. Changing your thoughts and habits will mean nothing if you continue spending time with people who constantly challenge your beliefs and pull you away from your goals.
Having a strong mindset means making hard, but right choices. I am no stranger to this because I initially applied the same half-measures. My obviously flawed line of reasoning went along these lines:
Yes, they constantly mock and embarrass me. Okay, they screwed me over numerous times. It’s true they don’t have any ambitions or goals. Sure, they talk behind my back. No, I can’t rely on them. But… they’re still my friends.
These were the excuses I kept telling myself. Instead of facing an obvious problem, I placed the blame on myself: “Stop being so negative Phil! Just focus on the positive and keep an open mind. Nobody is perfect. Who are you to judge them?!”
So, I focused my energy on changing my mindset and becoming a different person, while still keeping in touch with my friends and casually hanging out with them. This, of course, didn’t have much of an effect. In fact, my change irritated them, as they wanted me to be either the guy who laughs at others or the guy who others laugh at.
No matter how much I tried to avoid the unpleasant truth — just like you are right now — I had to completely break up with them. The entire relationship. No casual hangouts, no keeping in touch, no partying together. Treat them as you would your ex.
Pitch black. No calls, no replies, no communication whatsoever. It might seem ridiculous, and extremely hard to pull off, but that’s exactly what I did. And it’s exactly what you need to do as well. It took some time getting used to but after a while, they simply stopped trying.
Half-measures seem appealing because they avoid the actual solution. They may seem to work initially, but you will only end up with half-success at best. You need to do it right or you will never really do it.
Have some standards. Instead of being available 24/7 for anybody who calls you up, decide who deserves your time and attention. Since my old friends didn’t contribute anything worthwhile to my life, I didn’t really lose that much by cutting them out.
I could have “broken up” with them in less extreme ways, but that would probably just lead to more half-measures. I could have thrown a tantrum, stuck it in their face, and explained why I was doing it. But what would be the point? That’s what they would do. I wanted to be better.
Realizing I have outgrown them, I decided to adopt a new guiding principle for all future relationships:
There are over 7 billion people on this planet. Why would you waste your time and energy on individuals who don’t respect you and enrich your life?
However, now I was confronted with the dreadful question I have been fearing from the start — what do I do now?
How to Meet New People and Find Better Friends
The main reason people have a hard time letting go of any kind of relationship is due to the uncertainty that follows. Will I ever meet someone new? How? Will that person be even worse?
This fear keeps people in relationships that simply aren’t working.
My “friends” and their social circles were the only groups of people I hung out with for years. Breaking that connection meant breaking up with most of the people they introduced me to. My biggest worry was that I’d be left alone — no friends, nobody to call up, nobody to hang out with.
However, the solution to this was pretty simple and straightforward. Think of it like dating. You already know a bunch of people, you’re just not close with them as friends. So “ask them out” in a sense, spend time together, and see if you click.
How does dating usually work? Instead of walking up to someone and asking them to marry you out of the blue, you start by asking them out. Then, you go out a second time. Then a third time. You keep spending time together and build rapport. Or you don’t and you stop seeing each other.
The same goes for other types of relationships. You find a connection. You ask them out. You spend more time and see if both of you want to continue spending more time together. From there, the relationships naturally evolve (or it doesn’t).
What I did was call up an old acquaintance from high school. It was as simple as messaging him and asking if he wants to hang out for the weekend. He invited his other friends and introduced me to the whole group. In less than a week after my “breakup”, I was spending time with people who were productive and ambitious.
And it’s not that I was just lucky, that I just “happened to know a guy who knew ambitious people”. In fact, I don’t spend time with that group anymore either. You can say they were more of a rebound friendship.
Just like with romantic partners, what oftentimes happens is that, over the course of a relationship, people simply develop different interests, acquire different goals, or simply outgrow each other.
This is what happened with the first group I ditched and I saw it happening with my new group of friends. We just weren’t a match. I didn’t completely cut them out because they weren’t a bad influence, but I stopped spending a lot of time with them.
Never settle for shitty friends
The sooner you rid yourself of the poisonous individuals in your life, the sooner you can surround yourself with genuine people who will encourage you to move forward.
If those around you have a negative attitude and are constantly unhappy, they will poison your perception of reality. If they don’t support you in what you’re doing, they’re not really your friends. If they mock or insult you, there is no reason you should talk to them.
Find people who make you grow — and make them the five people you spend the most time with.