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Ask Ainsley: How do I leave my friend group?

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Dear Ainsley,

I have been thinking about moving on from my friend group for a while, because they aren't really serving me anymore, and I think it's time. The hard part, though, is that we've been a set group of friends for years, and I'm not sure how to casually distance myself. How do I make it clear that I need to grow and do what's best for me without burning bridges?

Sincerely,

Wanting to Leave (WTL)


Dear WTL,

It’s great that you’re prioritizing your needs and recognizing that you need to make a change in order to better yourself. I wish I could give you a simple answer to this question, but unfortunately it’s rather circumstantial. I think the first thing you should do is think about why you want some distance from these friends—did they do something to hurt you? Or are you just feeling annoyed or bored by them? Take the time to figure out what it is that you value in a friend—or group of friends—that you don’t seem to have already.

There are a few things to consider before cutting yourself off from your friend group. If you’re simply feeling like you don’t have much in common with them anymore, or you’re feeling unstimulated when you’re around them, this is actually quite common. In fact, research shows that the average person only has one to two close friends who they feel completely comfortable around, but the other friends in our lives serve meaningful purposes in other ways, and are not to be discounted. However, if you find that something traumatic has happened or that your friends are toxic, it is probably more important for you to leave than if you’ve simply grown bored with your friend group.

Also, there’s more to friendship than just the way your friends are “serving” you. Remember that friendship is a two-way street; you have to put in just as much effort as they do, and your behaviour affects your friends’ lives as much as theirs does yours. By leaving your current group for your own reasons, you will probably hurt them.

Rather than completely switching out of your friend group, you could first try focusing on making new friends and adding more supportive people to your life. Keeping others’ feelings in mind, branching out and making new friends is always great—but this should not be done at the expense of your existing friendships. Joining extracurriculars or taking on a part-time job are both good ways of making friends. This way, you’ll meet people with similar passions to yours, which will lead to more meaningful friendships.

Before deciding to leave your group of friends, it would be beneficial for you to be upfront and talk to them about how you’re feeling in order to see if your friendship is salvageable. It’s much better to address the issues you have now than to leave problems lingering without answers, as this will most likely cause more tension between you which might cause you to lose each other permanently. When speaking to your friends about how you’re feeling, remember to use “I” statements, like “I feel sad when you do this,” in order to avoid making them feel guilty or targeted. If you want to save your friendships, addressing your issues is important no matter how difficult it is. And even if it doesn’t work out, knowing you did what you could will leave you with a clear conscience.

Lastly, it’s important to understand that now that you’re older, friends are a lot more permanent and meaningful than in your younger years. Although this is great in many ways, it also means that ending a friendship might be unexpectedly painful and have longer lasting effects. In order to avoid feeling guilty or sad, try and think about how you’ll feel in the future by distancing yourself from someone—and even more if you decide to cut them out of your life completely. It’s important for you to make decisions that will benefit you in the long run, even if they are hard.

Sincerely,

Ainsley

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