How to Know Which Friends to Keep

At some point, it pays to stop and discern who we really want in our life.

Posted Aug 10, 2020

Thought Catalogue/Unsplash
Source: Thought Catalogue/Unsplash

With the pandemic making friendships especially hard to maintain, many of us may be left wondering which of our friendships will endure, or more importantly, which of our friendships do we want to endure? Trimming friendships seems nonsensical in a society that's been getting increasingly lonely. Research finds, for example, that, our friendship networks have been shrinking over the last few decades, and we’ve been struggling to make friends.

But trimming does have its benefits.

One of the benefits of trimming is that it can leave us with more time to spend with people who truly matter to us since the more friends we hold onto, the less time we may have with each of them. This is evidenced by one study that found that having more contacts was associated with spending less time talking to each one. Another study revealed, albeit obviously, that we need interaction to maintain friendship. If we’re spread too thin, we may neglect to put in face-time with friends that matter, leaving important friendships to wither. We risk ending up with a bunch of shallow friend-quaintances.

Older people aren’t willing to take that risk. Socioemotional selectivity theory finds that as we get older—we have limited time left on this earth—we turn towards relationships that feel meaningful and let go of the rest. This tends to go well for older people, as research finds that while they prune their friendships, they are more satisfied with the friendships they keep.

Older people’s friendships show us that when it comes to friendship, more isn’t always better. We can be discerning about the friends we add to our lives, by asking ourselves questions about our resources like:

  • Do I have enough time for new friends amidst my other relationships and/or obligations?
  • How overwhelmed am I by maintaining the friendships I already have? 

Even if we do have enough time for friends, we may also trim friendships because we lack compatibility, or our friendships aren't necessarily healthy. We might ask ourselves questions to assess whether a friendship is working for us. These questions might include:

  • Do I feel like they are rooting for my success?
  • Do I like who I am around them?
  • Do I feel like myself around them?  
  • Do I typically feel energized or deflated by their company?
  • Do they show an interest in me?

Time and compatibility are two major drivers that help us figure out which friends to keep in our lives. That means, at certain times in our life, when we have less time (e.g., when we just had kids), we may be more frugal with our friendships. That's okay. The important thing is that we are discerning rather than passive with who we keep in our life, assessing our friendships to figure out where our needs lie and navigating our friendships accordingly.

Note: This article is cross-listed on my friendship blog